Dubai: ‘You’ll never guess who I picked up the other day’ is a cliché more synonymous with London taxi drivers than Dubai abra helms, but for Mohammad Allam, his story trumps all.
The 40-year-old Bangladeshi was going about his business as usual on Monday evening, transporting people from either side of Deira Creek for Dh1 a ride, when to his surprise a royal visitor embarked.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, paid a surprise visit to the Gold Souk in Deira, and used none other than Allam’s abra or traditional boat to cross the Creek.
A video of the trip has now gone viral on social media making Allam the most talked about abra driver on either banks of the creek.
Indeed, it only took Gulf News five minutes to track him down out of hundreds of boats and drivers on Tuesday morning, just by asking a few passers-by the right question: ‘who was that lucky driver?’.
“We were told by my boss that he needed an abra set aside for some officials from the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). I didn’t know Sheikh Mohammed was coming too, so I went along and thought nothing of it,” Allam told Gulf News when we caught up with him between trips on Tuesday.
When Shaikh Mohammad stepped on the abra, I was amazed and very happy to see him in person for the first time. He shook my hand and asked me how I was, and all I could reply was ‘fine thank you’ before asking him the same.
“It was only then, when the officials arrived, that I realised Sheikh Mohammed was there too,” added the father of two, originally from Ukhiya in the Cox Bazaar District of Chittagong, south eastern Bangladesh, who makes Dh140 day for the company and takes home Dh1,000 a month in commission, working from 6am to 11pm on every alternate day.
“When Sheikh Mohammed stepped on the abra, I was amazed and very happy to see him in person for the first time. He shook my hand and asked me how I was, and all I could reply was ‘fine thank you’ before asking him the same.
“I didn’t get nervous steering the boat with Sheikh Mohammed onboard, I was normal because I do this all the time, I was just honoured to have him onboard and to do my job.
“Of course I didn’t go around and ask each member for a Dh1,” he laughed. “How could I do that?”
In 13 years of doing this job since coming to Dubai in 2006, Allam said he had never had a passenger on board as famous as Sheikh Mohammed, but now his No.60 boat has got a bit more recognition, he may well be the ‘go to’ abra driver in Deira for anyone who wants to replicate the royal ride.
“I woke up this morning and felt famous, with lots of messages after seeing my boat ferrying Sheikh Mohammed on social media,” he said. ”I haven’t phoned my family yet to tell them. They probably won’t believe me until I show them the video.
“I feel incredibly proud to have Sheikh Mohammed on my boat because there are hundreds of abra drivers in the creek, and for my boat to be picked makes me very happy.”