Dubai’s Hoop Dreams

I came across the Jafiliya Basketball Court and its community entirely by accident whilst walking around the Satwa area shooting one evening. Two Filipino guys decked out in bright purple and yellow basketball jerseys – not the usual Satwa attire – casually walked out of their apartment building, they caught my eye and I followed them to the court. “You should come on Saturday night,” they said, and so I did, actually I went for the next 5 or 6 Saturdays after that too.

The Jafiliya Basketball Court is the fulcrum of Kababayan social activity in the Satwa area. It is a place where men come to shed the stresses of the daily grind of working in Dubai, shoot some hoops and participate in a team sport, where girlfriends, wives and fiancees cheer on their significant others and where expat children absorb musings on Tagalog slang and culture they otherwise wouldn’t learn in their everyday UAE school environment.  Tournaments are organized every few months, with designated coaches and players, printed out jerseys, referees and volunteers manning the logistics of the games. Games take place usually after work hours, so everyone in the community has a chance to come down, hang out and watch. They call this “Tambayan” in Tagalog meaning a place to hang out and not necessarily do anything.

The people that visited the courts almost every night came to know me quite well, they welcomed me with open arms, shared their stories with me and were happy that someone was not only photographing the winning team but also the strongly-built community they were so fondly proud of.