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Dubai before they found Black Gold by Liz Canham


#28 - 16 - 4 - Dubai before they found Black Gold by Liz Canham
[ 2008-03-20 10:25:09 ] - lizc

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Travellers' Tales - Dubai
When I was a child, my father was an air traffic controller, working abroad for a UK company. In 1962, when I was four years old, Dad was posted to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, as Airport Manager. Any reader who has been to or through Dubai airport recently will know that it is a huge place gleaming with glass and chrome, seething with travellers and home to some of the best and most exclusive tax-free shopping in the world. It is also home to the prize draw in which you can win whatever is current in shiny car models worth tens of thousands of pounds, dollars or riyals.
It was very different in 1962. Oil had not been discovered yet and there was no tourist industry in Dubai. There were less than 60 Europeans/Americans/Australians etc. in residence and barely a mile of tarmac road existed. There was, however, a roaring trade in Land Rovers, about the only vehicle capable of negotiating the treacherous soft sand of the desert. The airport terminal building was a small, two-storey, brick built affair with zero in the way of facilities or even security arrangements. In those days, if you were meeting an in-bound flight, you could greet the arrivals on the apron, once the plane had been marshalled to a standstill.

I loved the airport with its smell of aviation fuel and dust plus curry wafting from the fire-station where the firemen would cook their meals in between flights, infrequent in those days.

I loved to watch my dad talking to invisible aeroplanes in that curious tone and techno-speak which radio operators adopt the world over. He would make notes about each plane and its movements on strips of card and occasionally move to the control tower window, binoculars in hand, to scan the sky for inbound flights and conflicting traffic.

Sometimes Sheik Rashid or one of his family or ministers of state would use the airport. At those times, Dad would leave the control tower in the charge of an assistant to make sure that he was on hand in the arrivals or departures area or on the tarmac to ensure the safe and trouble-free passage for important passengers. I remember once, John Profumo visited, with much ceremony - he was still a Conservative MP then, before the story broke about his affair with the call-girl, Christine Keeler.

Often the air traffic would be a two-seater fixed wing private aircraft or a small cargo plane carrying spices or gold from India. I used to watch the Arab coolies unloading the gold - sometimes they used to let me help. I couldnt even lift one ingot and I certainly couldnt master the strange pose the coolies adopted when carrying the gold blocks - bent backs, bent knees, hands bearing the weight of two or three ingots hanging just a few inches above the ground and a strange shuffling movement of the feet. They were very kind though and didnt seem to mind me getting under their feet.

From Travellers' Tales
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Dubai in the Early 1960s by Liz Canham



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