Dubai: Home to over 200 nationalities, the UAE is a microcosm of the world. The UAE has taken a quantum leap of development in the 49 years of its existence to be a world-class country and top of the charts among tourist destinations around the world.
Ahead of UAE’s 49th national day celebrations, Gulf News speaks to expats who have lived here for decades and settled down here for generations. Besides telling us why they love the UAE, they share memories of national days celebrated decades ago. It is a walk down the memory lane for these expats.
Indian expat Ramesh Shukla came to the UAE way back in 1965. With Rs55 in his pocket, little food in a bag, barely enough to last him through the five-day long voyage, he took a boat from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Sharjah, Ramesh Shukla has come a long way. He has recorded UAE’s history through his pictures and he shares with Gulf News on key milestones of the country and how was privy to it all.
“I was there when the Federation was formed at the Union House in Dubai. Four days before the agreement signing, I got a message from the Royal family to photograph the momentous event. It was a breakthrough in the history of UAE, a big moment and I am so honoured I was part of it. After the successful meeting at the Union House, the UAE flag was raised up. Until then every emirate had their own flags. For the first time we saw the national flag of UAE. We were all one big family.”
Shukla said the following year in 1972, the National Day celebrations took place in Abu Dhabi. “There was a three-hour long parade. Since then celebrations have evolved as more expatriates came to the UAE to work for a livelihood. I cannot imagine not living in the UAE. This is home to me.”
From business visit to residency
Pakistani expat Mohammed Shabbir Khan, 63, a businessman living in Dubai, first visited the UAE in 1977. “I used to work in Saudi Arabia and made regular visits to UAE for business purposes. There was so much promise in the UAE. After the Federation, the progress in UAE was tremendous. Every time I landed in the UAE I saw the growth in the country.”
Khan recalled how National Day celebrations has evolved through the years. “National Day celebrations in the UAE was like a festival. The streets, the roundabouts, the palm trees would all be lit up from evening onwards. The entire would light up in festive spirit. In the 1980s, we used to see people doing bungee jumping in the Dubai Creek side — 1984, 1985, 1986. It was a treat to watch.”
Khan feels honoured to have witnessed the growth of UAE. “In the 80s there was one five star hotel and others were three stars. Today we have a plethora of five stars and even a seven star hotel. That tells you how the UAE has grown from strength to strength.”
Khan is an American passport holder but the UAE is home to him now. “I cannot imagine living anywhere else.”
In love with the optimistic feel
UK expat Karen Osman, who came to live and work in Dubai in 2004 said like many people, she too fell in love with the hospitality, the sunshine, and the optimistic feel of the city. “There were, and still are, many opportunities here if you are willing to work hard. There is also a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the UAE, which I capitalised on in 2011 when I set up my content writing business Travel Ink,” said Osman, an author by profession.
“Dubai helped me launch my career as an author when I won the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature novel writing prize in 2016. Career aside, one of the main reasons I live in Dubai is because I met my husband who was raised here. Although we married in the UK, we both enjoy living in Dubai especially since having kids. The UAE is a very safe place and that is so appealing when you have children. The high standard of education and health care also are major positives.”
'The best of me'
Filipino expat, Chris Calumberan, a freelance photographer came to the UAE in 2002. “The UAE helped me turn into the best version of myself. I had graduated in computer systems design and came at the time of economic boom. As part of my job, I had to be on the lookout for great locales as a photographer. So I was so excited to watch the UAE develop an urban landscape with all finesse. The Jumeirah Beach Residences, the Burj Khalifa, the Marina, the Palm and a host of other developments were a visual treat. It was absolutely mind-blowing to witness and document.”
Following his sibling's footsteps
Sri Lankan expat George Hettiratche, an IT professional cannot think of another place to live. “The UAE was highly recommended by my sister who started work here before me. I followed her at the age of 24 soon after my graduation, way back in 1984. Initially I thought I would not spend more than two year. It has been 36 years now since the UAE has been home to me. This place is my second home, for my children who were born here the UAE is home.”
“Back in the days, the Trade Centre was the tallest building. I used to walk to the building and stare at it. For me this was an architectural marvel and now with such fascinating developments over the years, it is difficult to see the Trade Centre on the city’s skyline.” Talking about how the UAE has developed, Hettiratche said back in the 80s a shared taxi cost Dh1 to go to the Sharjah Cricket Stadium to watch matches from Dubai. “Today that is unimaginable.”
Hettiratche is grateful to the UAE as it has given him a livelihood, happiness, confidence. He found his family here in the UAE. The Sri Lankan expat, who formed the Sri Lankan Welfare Association, ‘Sahana’, said the association has helped people in the UAE and back in Sri Lanka. “To me I cannot imagine living anywhere else in the world besides the UAE.”