Abu Dhabi: When Emirati Yousif Mohammed Al Khouri went to school for the first time, he was holding the hands of Indian expatriate Abdul Rahman. So did his sister Fatima after a couple of years. When their children started going to school decades later, they were also accompanied by Abdul Rahman.
Having taken two generations of the Al Khouri family to schools and colleges in a span of 40 years of his life in the UAE, Abdul Rahman isn’t just a salaried family chauffeur. He was like a family member to the Emirati family in Abu Dhabi who let him stay in their villa and took care of all his needs and gave him much more through their special bonding.
On July 30, 2021, the Al Khouri family accorded a fond farewell to the sexagenarian from the south Indian state of Kerala — with a heavy heart. “We are very sad. It was a very difficult decision for him and for us,” said Yousif Al Khouri, who shared with Gulf News the family’s special relationship with Abdul Rahman. “When he came over here, we were kids. I was five or six then. I took the first step for my school, holding his hands. So did my sister and both our children. He has been part of our family. It is very difficult to let him leave us,” said Al Khouri.
Nobody can replace him
Living in a separate room in the Al Khouri family’s villa, Abdul Rahman drove the children and the ladies around, shopped for grocery and ran errands. But he always went a step ahead and did things that were beyond his immediate job brief, thereby winning the hearts of everyone in the family.
“I grew up seeing him in the house. When my children were born, they too saw him right from the beginning. He would always know what needed to be done, without the need to be told. We can’t express in words how much we value him in our family. I am sure nobody can replace him ... nobody understands our family like him. It is difficult to accept that he will not be around at home,” Al Khouri added.
The family currently has one more driver, who joined them 12 years ago. “We are looking for a new driver because Abdul Rahman is leaving, but we will always remember the time we spent with him,” Al Khouri said. He added that the family tried to convince Abdul Rahman to stay back and live with them for the rest of his life. “I told him he could stay with us without doing any work. I also told him to bring his wife over and stay with us. But he wants to go. So, we are praying for him to be happy in his life — wherever he is. All of my family wants to thank him. This is not just a matter of 40 years, it’s a lifetime. It is impossible to forget him.”
Abdul Rahman now wants to spend his retired life in his home country. But Al Khouri has requested him to visit the family in UAE whenever possible. “I have told him all the expenses will be on us. He can come and stay here.”
The decision to leave the Al Khouri family was the toughest indeed, said Abdul Rahman. “I have lived with them for most of my life. I have spent more time with the children in this family than with my children. They have treated me like a family member and took care of all my needs,” Abdul Rahman said.
It was in 1978 that Abdul Rahman first landed in Dubai. “I came to look for a job as a mechanic helper. My brother had sent me the visa.”
He recalled telling the taxi driver to drop him near Khader Hotel on Naif Road. “Palestinian bakery or Khader Hotel in those days were the drop off points for expats flying in. It was on Naif Road that relatives would come and pick you.”
He said his first colour photo was captured in the middle of Naif Road. “One of my relatives had clicked the picture. I can’t recollect who exactly it was,” he said.
After working for a salary of Dh350 in Dubai for a couple of years, Abdul Rahman said he decided to go to Abu Dhabi to look for further opportunities. “I could only send about Rs500 home.”
It was Yousif Al Khouri’s father Mohammed Al Khouri who gave him a job in Abu Dhabi for a salary of Dh1,500, which was increased over the years. “It was a very good salary then. I was hired as a driver for the families of three Al Khouri brothers who live in adjacent villas.”
He recollected making multiple trips to drop and pick up 20 children (Yousif Al Khouri, his sister Fatima and their 18 cousins) belonging to the three families, over the next two decades. By the time their children started going to school, Abdul Rahman was in charge of only Yousif’s six and Fatima’s nine children.
“I had the full liberty to take care of the kids. Once when someone informed Fatima that I was scolding her child for misbehaving while going to school, she told the person: ‘He [Abdul Rahman] took me to school. I know him.’ That is the speciality of the relationship they have with me,” Abdul Rahman recollected.
He said he always used to get Eid gifts from the family. “When they threw a surprise farewell for me, they used my photo from last year’s Eid on the cake. I was so emotional. I was overwhelmed with joy seeing the warmth of their love. At the same time, I was sad that I was leaving them.”
He said he used to bring his wife over on visit visa arranged by the Al Khouri family. His two sons now work in Abu Dhabi while his only daughter is married and lives in Kerala.
“Even when I am back home, I will always feel that this was my home. I will always be grateful to them [the Al Khouri family] and this country,” he told Gulf News barely hours before his flight home in the wee hours of Wednesday.