New book features the stories of people who call Dubai home

Aim of co-authors Marie-Jeanne Acquaviva and Olivia Froudkine was to celebrate the emirate and its people

Authors of Dubai is my Home Marie-Jeanne Acquaviva and Olivia Froudkine wanted to reveal a different side of the city to the world. Photo: Olivia Froudkine
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Everybody in Dubai has a story, and it’s not always what you think. This is what Marie-Jeanne Acquaviva and Olivia Froudkine began to realise after they each moved to the emirate more than a decade ago.

“You're hit by the fact that, wow, this is absolutely not what I expected,” Acquaviva, a writer and editor, tells The National. “This is so different and so interesting, and so not what I’ve seen from abroad.

Froudkine, a photographer, adds: “If you read anything about Dubai in English newspapers, American newspaper, European newspapers or magazines, you're just like, this person came for five days and left.”

Both were frustrated by how Dubai, the place they call home, had been positioned and is still viewed in many parts of the world. So, they wrote a book documenting ordinary people, aiming to share their stories, break stereotypes and celebrate the emirate for what it really is.

“The idea was to say this is our city, it's yours, it's mine – people actually really live here,” Froudkine adds. “Sure, some people might have a more exciting life because of their job, but it's not the core of the city – it’s more than just that.”

The result was Dubai is My Home, a book with the stories of 40 Dubai residents who are given the space to describe their connections, roots and experiences.

Acquaviva and Froudkine were part of this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature’s LitFest Launch Pad, which provides debut authors from the UAE the opportunity to introduce their work to readers. It was a chance for the authors to tell more people about their project and to share the stories of the people they chose to feature.

“We wanted to show that the normality of Dubai,” Acquaviva says. “Everybody who comes here comes with bravery, courage and the will to start something.”

Written in each resident’s voice, as dictated and edited by Acquaviva and photographed by Froudkine, Dubai is My Home is designed to embed the stories of the people who live there within the city itself.

Each person featured is photographed in a location in Dubai of their choosing, one in which they have a special connection to. At the bottom of the portrait page is a QR code that, once scanned, reveals the location to readers. The book also includes a colour-coded map that reveals the varying locations of the shoots.

Acquaviva and Froudkine say this was another way for readers who are familiar with Dubai (or not) to experience the city through the eyes of its residents and what makes it their home.

“We chose the title Dubai is My Home because when you speak to anyone who's never been here, it’s the last thing they’ll assume,” Acquaviva says.

“For most people who don’t live here, they think Dubai is never home – it's just a city, you come, you make your money, spend your money and leave. It's never portrayed as a city where you actually grow roots and a life.”

The book features a varied spectrum of people from all experiences, backgrounds, and stories. There's Ali Saqr Sultan Al Suwadi, an Emirati who comes from a family of pearl divers who can trace their lineage back more than 500 years, or Linda Krockenberger from Germany who fell in love with the desert and camel culture.

There is Sydelle Bhala, an Indian ballerina born and raised in Dubai; Benjamin Founes from France, who spent the past four years of high school in four schools in two countries but couldn’t stay away from the emirate; and Iranian-Austrian Yasmin Sinai, whose connection to the city is moving and powerful.

“It was not a matter of how long you lived here, it was just somebody willing and able to tell their story with the city,” Acquaviva says. “Why did you come, why did you stay? What's your link? What's your root here? And that's it.”

Dubai is My Home features locals and residents from the region and across the world. There is a pilot, four religious leaders, a perfumiest, a skateboarder, an artist and more. There are stories of struggle, grief and loss but also stories of growing up, finding love and understanding your purpose, all of them connected by Dubai.

“The portraits of the older ladies are quite powerful in their own way,” Froudkine says. “They are into sport, cooking, books, they are strong. And that is another thing – when you're very naive and you come from the West, you don't expect [to see] that here. Either from local woman or residents, and this is another way of destroying this type of narrative.”

All the people Acquaviva and Froudkine featured in the book surprised them with their personal stories and reaffirmed their belief that Dubai is an incredibly diverse and multicultural city.

“For me, the really key point about Dubai is that you don't have to blend in, you don't have to change who you are,” Acquaviva says.

“Little by little, you realise that what is very specific about Dubai is that it gives you that space to stay who you are, when you arrived, but to also grow and stay.”

Updated: February 12, 2024, 3:51 AM