Dubai: As dust collects on a litany of history books recounting the United Arab Emirates’ past, vivid yarns of a sea-faring nation are very much alive in the mind of Mohammad Ejaz Khan.
Khan, 75, arrived in Dubai 45 years ago in September 1967, after a group of British contractors recruited him from Karachi, Pakistan, to work as a project engineer in their company to build roads across the country.
“There was nothing here except for a small road from Sharjah to Dubai, so my job was to help with the construction in building a road network. My first project was inspecting the road works from the roundabout of Dubai International Airport to Khawaneej,” he said.
Through his job as an engineer, Mohammad Ejaz Khan was able to visit all corners of the country and witness the UAE’s evolution from a close-knit community to the cultural melting pot that it is today.
He recalled that during his years as a bachelor, before he married in 1972, how there were hardly any activities to do and how he mostly kept busy in his spare time by catching up with friends on the weekend.
“I was living in Bur Dubai and the only thing I did in the weekend was sitting with my friends near the Creek drinking tea, because there was not much else to do. Sometimes I would drive to Deira and walk on the corniche, but it was mostly the same routine as Jumeirah was not the place it is today, and there were no such things as the shopping malls to which we have grown so accustomed to.”
Khan was one of the few people in the city to have a Land Rover in the early 1970s, which was distinctively painted yellow with a white top, and so it was not uncommon for him to be stopped and greeted by UAE nationals as they walked past his car.
“Well known businessmen had farms in Al Dhaid and Khawaneej, and I would be invited to visit them in their homes for a chat and share a cup of tea and gahwa. Everybody was close because it was such a small community and it was full of friendly faces, and I was treated like a brother.”
The turning point in the country’s development towards a better future, was in 1971 when the federation was formed, and it was at this time when Khan met the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
“I was in Khorfakkan Port and was project manager on building the wharfs and one day, Shaikh Zayed visited us to see how the project was developing. The project team all had lunch together with and as I was wearing trousers, Shaikh Zayed told me that I should wear a Kandora all the time, because its easier to sit down with it while I’m eating.”
To celebrate the UAE’s first National Day, Khan stayed in Dubai but for the second anniversary, took a three and a half hour drive to Abu Dhabi.
During his years as an engineer, Khan explained that he was able to travel to all the emirates and visit each of its unique features, such the area of Habshan in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Buraimi.
“I retired two years ago and am content here, living with my family in Ajman, running errands and taking my two grandchildren to school. My wife and I have sold all our property in Pakistan and I consider the UAE my home now, and as one of our daughters married a UAE national, she made the dream of living here possible.”