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The Brit who crash landed in the UAE

Stranded for a week in Sharjah after a plane crash, Burns never dreamt he would one day become a resident

David J. Burns
Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/XPRESS
David J. Burns

Dubai: David J. Burns came here by accident — literally. He landed in Sharjah on April 10, 1967, after the engine of the Royal Air Force aircraft he was flying in blew up in Oman.

An 18-year-old private in the army, he was on his way to Singapore from England when the crash occurred. As it took time for a new engine to be fitted, he was sent to Sharjah. "I was stranded here for a week. And who could have imagined then that I would become a resident — and remain one 44 years later?"

Burns, 62 today, has donned many colourful caps over the years. Besides catering assignments at Spinneys, Das Island oil installations and Al Ain University — when he even served Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan lunch and dinner at his summer palace, he is very active in the British community.

He is the Deputy Chairman and COO of the British Business Group, Chairman of the Royal British Legion and Treasurer of the Dubai St George's Society.

He currently works as marketing director at a chartered accountancy firm, UHY.

But back to 1967. Burns recalls how his first impression of the desert was "heat, smell and dust".

"Having just left England on a mild spring day, the climate was powerful. A Land Rover across the desert to Abu Dhabi saw us camping at Umm Al Nar waiting for the tide to recede so that we could continue our journey to visit the Trucial Oman Scouts," he says, adding it took two days to Al Ain from Abu Dhabi and seven days from Musandam to Abu Dhabi.

"Before the Federation, there was little or no uniformity except for the military and Air Force. However, the tribes had their own identity — their unique head dress, or ghutra, which in some cases were quite dramatic."

Burns also talks of the early adaptations he had to make with regard to food.

"Tea in England was served with milk. Here it was black, minted and sweet and served in small glasses. Coffee was either black with sludge or some yellowy-green colour served in mini soup bowls."

"Chicken for me had always been roasted for Sunday lunch, but here it was available both for lunch and dinner — roasted, curried, grilled, with sauce or made into kebabs. I had never seen fish sold straight from the sea before or people eating with their hands in a restaurant or men smoking shisha."

But clearly a lot has changed since then. "Over the past 44 years, I have watched the development of the UAE — from the formation of the Federation to the presence of warships, streets occupied by servicemen on rest and recuperation. I have been through five drops in oil prices and a financial crisis. And still Dubai is growing, becoming more dynamic and remains my personal best place to live," says Burns, who lives with his wife — and three cats — in Dubai.