Wednesday, 14 April 2021 11:15 GMT

First day in UAE: 'Didn't take even a day to know Abu Dhabi'


(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Perhaps you won't believe. A heavy rain drenched Abu Dhabi in 1977 changed the landscape forever.

Dr Jamal Al Majaida a journalist- turned-entrepreneur who runs a PR firm IRIS Media in the capital shared with Khaleej Times that unheard period of Abu Dhabi.

Al Majaida arrived in the UAE during the same year. of the devastating rains. He says in his 39-years he saw the real transformation of Abu Dhabi - From a city that had few streets buildings and wooden cottages with asbestos ceiling to being one of the top 20 cities in the world.

"I cannot forget my first day of arrival in Abu Dhabi. It was a cool and breezy evening of December 29 1977. I came out of Royal Jordanian aircraft to welcoming atmosphere.

"It was shocking for me because I thought weather in desert would be bit warm. The aircraft was parked very close to terminal buildings so it took me less than two minutes to disembark from the aircraft and walk down to the terminal building to complete the immigration and baggage collection formalities.

"We were only 30-odd passengers who were walking to terminal as half of the 60-seater plane was empty when it took off from Amman. So all procedures took little time then expected.

For my first air travel that would change my entire life I had to borrow 700 Jordanian Dinars from one of my well off classmates and after purchasing an air ticket I was left with Dh50 for my expenses.

In the next ten years I saved enough to provide shelter for my family in Gaza.

"I was received by my relatives who had encouraged me to come to Abu Dhabi to explore opportunities after I had graduated in journalism from Egypt's Cairo University. In Gaza from where I came from things were bit hard.

It took me less than a day to survey the entire capital city which was not a metropolis as it is now. There were few streets buildings and structures.

Roads were not as wide like that of today and where most pedestrian-friendly streets have three more or lanes for the fast moving vehicular traffic.

Now in four decades Abu Dhabi's small and modest airport that once had dim lighting has now become the region's second busiest transit hub. Last year alone 23 million passengers used the airport for international travels.

Humble beginning

"People on streets were very simple friendly. There were a few streets no carpeted roads and that too without traffic lights. There was no tall and iconic landmark that would impress the newcomers like me. Apartment buildings could be counted on fingers as the city's population was spread across in localities of Madinat Zayed Khalidiya Al Bateen and Al Mushrif.

Unlike today where about one million people live in modern skyscrapers luxury villas back then people mostly lived in wooden cottages or single story villas.

"Even without any job experience I went to see the owner of Al Wahdah newspaper Rashid Owaidah Al Qubaisi who offered me to work for him as a sub-editor.

"My first salary was Dh3 500 that helped me support me and my family of eight younger siblings and parents back home. And working with journalists from Egypt Syria and Lebanon was a learning experience and in six years I rose to the position of managing editor.

Later he joined the Ministry of Information's external publicity wing where his job was to coordinate with the foreign media and provide them information on the UAE.

"In 1980 I got a chance to work for the Emirates News Agency as a senior editor which I accepted instantly. My job was to cover the international events conferences and summits. I covered all the Organisation of Islamic Countries Arab League summits and other conferences. I covered the US Presidential elections Afghanistan conflict Gulf war etc.

"In my 39-years in Abu Dhabi I saw this country evolving into the world's vibrant and resilient economy and its society respected for its tolerant progressive and liberal ideals. Yet it is deeply-rooted in their culture and heritage.

"The nation's visionary leaders are committed to the rule of law and offer equal opportunities to progress and prosperity to all its residents that has turned the UAE a land of opportunities."

How a devastating rain changed Abu Dhabi

It all started with devastating rains that began on December 29 1977 and which continued for more than one week.

The city's infrastructure was not prepared to the heavy rains; it played havoc bringing life to a complete standstill.

Dozens of wooden cottages where most people were staying could not sustain the impact from rains were damaged or destroyed disturbing people living in them.

Knee high rain water that had gathered in the streets could not be drained for days in the absence of a sewerage or flood water drainage system that could deal with the natural calamity of that magnitude. People couldn't go to work; shops and schools were shut for a week as heavy rains caused heavy flooding in the city.

It was a turning point in the national life.

The Late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan decided to lay the foundations of a modern country that had an unmatched civic infrastructure and modern facilities to help tackle such situations.

In the following years we saw the visionary leader sitting with engineers and consultants discussing plans for a new and modern capital.

So this tragedy was instrumental in the rebuilding of modern day Abu Dhabi.

The government setup Khalifa Committee that gave generous interest free loans to Emiratis to build multi-storied residential and commercial buildings that changed the skyline of the city.

The rise in crude oil prices in mid 80s brought windfall gains providing the economic managers with money that was used to put into place badly needed infrastructure.

Founding father Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan started sharing his vision with the people for a country to be built on solid foundations and on rule of law.

In the following years rules allowing foreign investment were softened that encouraged heavy investments into the construction travel hospitality and other businesses.

The construction boom that picked in 1985 and continued until 2005 saw hundreds of multi-storied buildings and other structures for a rapidly increasing multinational population.

Dr Jamal Al Majaida told Khaleej Times: "I remember the city had few educational institutions and that lacked capacity and modern facilities and now they are equipped with latest facilities and cater to the domestic and regional appetite. Over three dozen major international schools and universities have opened campuses in Abu Dhabi.

"Similarly health care sector has made great strides as from one hospital with 100 beds Abu Dhabi capital has more than a dozen modern hospitals managed by the world's top medical institutions and universities.

"And above all I feel myself safe and secure here even more than in my own country. This country has given me access to modern facilities a great career to pursue and opportunities to wealth formation."

(As told to Haseeb Haider)



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