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Dubai in the Early 1960s by Liz Canham


#27 - 16 - 4 - Dubai in the Early 1960s by Liz Canham
[ 2008-03-20 10:00:58 ] - lizc

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Travellers' Tales - Dubai
My Dad was an Air Traffic Controller and in 1962 he was posted to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates as Airport Manager.

It's my first memory really - I was four - Dad went out to Dubai first and, six months later, Mum and I joined him. He met us at Bahrain airport and in the months since we'd seen him, he'd grown a great bushy beard. He always had a wide moustache but this was different! I didn't recognise him at all and hid behind Mum's skirts and Mum wouldn't kiss him hello until the beard was gone.


A 'plane trip to Dubai now takes between six and a half and seven hours but in those days it took nearly ten hours to fly the 3,500 miles to Bahrain in a Comet.


Dubai was split in two by the Creek. We lived on the Deira side where the airport was (and is) and to cross to the Dubai side (without driving all the way round the end of the Creek) we had to take an abra (a rowing-boat water taxi). I loved to cross the Creek - the rhythmic rise and dip of the oars and the slight squeak of rubber against the rowlocks were fascinating and the dish-dasher clad, scrawny boatman with his turban loosely draped around his head just a touch exotic.


Our apartment was above a small supermarket called Spinney's and there were another couple of shops within walking distance but if Mum wanted to go to the Souk (market) she had to wait for my Dad to go with us. There were very few white people in Dubai then (less than 60 at first) and it wasn't the "done" thing for a woman to go to the Souk with only a child for company. A trip to the Souk caused great excitement for me. There were marvellous sights and smells - gold and spices, fantastic shimmering materials for saris and copper coffee pots, leather footstools and horse hair fly whisks, men in long white dish-dashers and ladies completely hidden from head to toe in their black burkas. The shops were long, tall and narrow, some run by Arabs and some by Indians. If I got bored with looking at curtain fabrics (usually within something less than five minutes) I could always be found at the top of the ubiquitous wooden step-ladder, for which I had an extraordinary liking.


Any outing was a bit of an adventure then. There was so little tarmac road that most people drove Land Rovers - ours was pale blue and could be seen against the golden sand from miles away. My Dad called it sky-blue-pink though heaven knows shy. There were bench seats along the sides in the back and of course, no seatbelts, so I would have to hang on tightly or be thrown onto the floor. I lost several milk teeth that way.


My favourite day out was to the beach. Mum and Dad taught me to swim using an inflatable mat which went under my chest and tied at the back. Each few trips, the mat would be inflated less and less until I didn't need it at all. This arm of the Creek was very sheltered and not especially deep so I was allowed to swim on my own. One day a group of us were swimming and there was a shout that we should all get out of the water. Difficult child that I was, I wouldn't get out until someone told me why. "Jellyfish" was the terse reply and I never moved so fast! Sometimes we'd walk along the shore looking for shells. Often we'd find cuttlefish washed up and once, a dead sand shark - only a couple of feet long, but discernibly a shark. The fishermen would be there mending their nets and repairing and painting their wooden dhows. These traditional boats, so elegant out on the water, looked rather forlorn pulled up on the sand and tipping over to one side.



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