I miss everything about Ireland: friends, family, Taytos, Grafton Street – the list goes on

Saniya Chughtai now lives in Dubai, where her new children’s book is about a hurling turtle

Saniya Chughtai: ‘It was a pleasure to give the proceeds of the book to Dubai Celts’

Saniya Chughtai: ‘It was a pleasure to give the proceeds of the book to Dubai Celts’

 

Saniya Chughtai, who was born in Karachi, in Pakistan, came to Ireland in 1996. She now lives in Dubai with her husband, Brendan McKittrick. Two of their five children, Zain and Alizeh Chughtai, now live in London; the other three, Oxin, Marixa and Nahia McKittrick, from Brendan’s first marriage, live in Ireland

When did you leave Ireland?

I left Ireland in 2010 and went to Oman to pursue a charitable cause there, and set up an interior-architecture company, Pulse of Life.

Did you study in Ireland?

I did my degree in interior architecture at Griffith College in Dublin. It was an amazing learning curve and experience.

What do you do now?

I run an edutainment company called the Wadi Tribe. We develop curriculum and programmes for primary kids based on emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning using fun interactive characters.

Tell us about your love of children’s fiction

As the eldest of my cousins on both sides of the family, I grew up telling stories to keep the young ones busy. I guess I was always a scéalaí (storyteller). I have a creative and vivid imagination, which I’ve realised I have to write down, otherwise the stories start accumulating in my head.

Your new book, Tach and the Cosanthor, is about a hurling turtle. What inspired you?

During research I came across the words “hurling is an ancient warrior sport”. That was the inspiration I needed, and the story was the fastest one I wrote. The book is about an endearing little turtle called Tach, who has many fears and learns how to get over them through sport, in this case hurling.

Hurling intrigued me from the start. It is a story that takes hurling back to its beginning and how it started as a warrior sport. If you want to introduce a young child to the game, I think it is a good place to start. The book is part of the series: there is more to follow, when I focus on camogie and hurley makers and, of course, Croke Park. It is intended to be a book of Irish heritage and hurling.

How many books have you written, and what are they about?

I have published seven books so far and have five in the pipeline. The first five are in a box set titled The Adventures of Chee and Dae. The next book is for children aged three to six, called Tach plays in Croke Park. The name says it all. You can get a children’s starter Tach hurl box from the Wadi Tribe website too.

Saniya Chugtai in Dubai with Tach the hurling turtle
Saniya Chugtai in Dubai with Tach the hurling turtle

Is hurling a thing in Dubai?

Yes. We have hurling clubs here and juvenile clubs too. It was a pleasure to give the proceeds of the book to a juvenile club, Dubai Celts, in the form of camáin and sliotars.

Why are you concentrating on books for children?

I think growing up with young cousins has always drawn me to tell stories to young ones. And I have a childlike curiosity myself.

Do you still work as an architect and in interior design?

Yes, on selected projects. I am keen on different unusual, visionary projects, big or small.

When did you work on TV, and what on?

I loved working on Showhouse, which was on RTÉ in 2008 and 2010, and I’d love to do something similar again.

How do your children feel about Ireland?

They were born and raised there. It is home for them. Growing up, they were the face of the new, changing, diverse Ireland.

What is it like living in Dubai?

I love it here. It is a great, diverse city where you meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and of all nationalities. And, of course, the sun and the beaches are great. Plus it is a very safe city to live in.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected you there?

Like the rest of the world, we have seen the effects of the pandemic here. One was that I dealt with it by taking the business online and doing online storytelling sessions instead of being physically in schools. It did open up a whole new young following globally, especially across the world, like in the United States.

Do people know anything about Ireland in Dubai?

We have a very active Embassy/Consulate here, along with Irish societies. Enterprise Ireland has a strong presence here too, along with the tourism sector in Ireland. There is also the Irish business network and many more groups. There are also hurling clubs in the Middle East, including the Dubai Celts and the Jumeirah Gaels.

Is there anything you miss about Ireland at the moment?

Everything! Friends, family, people, air, Taytos, apple pies, Grafton Street – the list goes on.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do