For 43 years, Dubai has been the only true home for Rita Bufton. This is where she worked, lived and spent most of her life. But now it’s time to say goodbye.
The British expat will leave Dubai this fortnight to begin a new life in Tewkesbury, a medieval riverside town in Gloucestershire, England.
But the single woman, who speaks seven languages (including Arabic), says she will never be completely at home again as a part of her heart will always be elsewhere.
“Time passes but memories never fade away. I have 43 years of wonderful memories of Dubai and they will forever remain in the deepest recesses of my mind,” says the 71-year-old as she puts the lid on a storage box and seals it with an adhesive tape.
The cardboard box contains her medical reports and other documents — too important to just give to the cargo company that transported the rest of her belongings to the UK a few days back.
Rita, who suffers from an incurable disease, says she is leaving the UAE on October 1 for good as she couldn’t get a health insurance.
However, she has no regrets. “I had a great time in this beautiful country. I landed in the UAE on a nippy afternoon in November 1979 and instantly fell in love with the place. The attachment deepened each year until a time came when Dubai became my entire world,” recalls Rita who’s planning to write a memoir of her experiences.
“I have written for a publication before so I knew the drill,” she says.
Originally from Bedford, Rita was working for a bank in Paris during the late seventies when she came across a job advertisement in the International Herald Tribune for a personal assistant’s role in Dubai.
“The company was called Mohammad Hareeb Al Otaiaba and it dealt with industrial kitchen appliances. I applied for the position and got selected. Soon I was on a plane to a country I knew very little about.”
Rita says she got the first taste of fabled Emirati hospitality barely days into her job when her employer gave her a day off on Christmas. “My boss said, ‘We are working but you can take a holiday.’ I was new to the country and didn’t know what to do, so I went to the Sharjah Gold Souq and wandered around.”
Rita says the UAE’s tolerance and the caring attitude of its people never ceased to amaze her.
“I remember how I once locked my keys in my car. It was New Year’s eve and I was headed to a party. I thought I would never make it. But random strangers came forward to help and managed to open the door. “
During a career spanning over four decades, Rita took up more than half a dozen jobs that included a 14-year- stint at Dubai TV. She also worked as debt collector, PRO, editor of a children’s magazine and private tutor.
Rita says she began teaching English, Mathematics, French and Science to Emirati and expat children in 1990 and continued the practise until the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2019.
“It gave me immense joy. Many students who I taught have grown up and have children of their own. They often call to check on me. I will miss them dearly. I am also sad to leave the many friends I made here.”
Rita says her most cherished memory of Dubai is meeting members of the royal family during Eid.
“They made me feel truly special when I would visit the Zabeel Palace to pay my respect on the second day of the festival. The Sheikhas would welcome us with open arms. It was tantamount to seeing the Queen of England. I couldn’t have done that in my home country but here I would easily chat with the wives of the rulers. I felt I was a representative of the European community and I am grateful that they made me feel important.”