As an airline pilot, I have visited many places. In few have I seen such an impressive city expansion as in Dubai, my home for more than 15 years. Historically a pearl-trading center, Dubai has reinvented itself in just a few decades—together with its six neighboring emirates—into one of the world’s busiest business, cultural and tourism centers.

During a walk on a Friday afternoon I came upon one of the weekend football matches that are popular along the sands of Jumeirah Beach. As the players seemed to mirror the skyline of Sheikh Zayed Road behind them, they made the city seem both big and small at the same time. I stopped to photograph the ebb and flow of the game as the light warmed toward sunset. At this particular moment, the players looked as if they had been arranged almost as deliberately as the buildings, and the sand reflected, for that instant, not the forms of the towers but the humanity that built them.

A few of the players looked up and waved to me; I replied with quick hellos. I didn’t learn where they were from, or where they work during the week. Like me, they could belong to any of the more than 200 nationalities that make this one of the world’s most diverse places. They turned back to the game; I walked on.