Memories take me back to the early 1960s when the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum permitted us to set up a Coca-Cola factory in Dubai. He would later appoint us as the first employees to operate the factory, which I had worked in for 25 years.
The factory was inaugurated in July 1964.
I arrived in Dubai via Sharjah Airport with an entry visa issued by the British Commissioner. While Dubai was a small emirate back then, it looked like a beautiful flourishing city overlooking a wonderful, welcoming beach. It’s small size did not stop it from scaling great heights. Dubai had a small cinema in the heart of Deira, restaurants that were considered luxurious at the time, beautiful hotels, a fish market, a commercial marketplace known as Murshid Souq, the labyrinthine district of Al-Sabkha, and a market for cattle and another for vegetables.
Movement between the two sides of the Dubai Creek was easy. We travelled by boat or car, but people mostly preferred to use wooden boats.
A great opportunity came my way when one of the Coca-Cola factory owners and I had the chance to visit the office of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. His Highness had a diwan and an office where he received many of the emirate’s workers, visitors, citizens and whoever wanted to consult him or find a solution to their problem.
Some of the beautiful and unforgettable memories also include visiting his palace during Eid to greet him and his sons. The late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his office manager took this opportunity to discuss the conditions of the company and it’s business operations.
My family and I moved to Sharjah in 1994, where we continue to live until this day. I have been working there in an electromechanical contracting company for more than two decades now.
We made so many memories in Dubai, which continued to be our beloved city. It is where we all grew up. Memories we made in Mushrif Park, Jumeirah Beach, Al Khawaneej and Al Awir are firmly rooted in our hearts and minds. On this good land, I started a family where my four children were born and raised. They started working here in education and technology, had their own families and raised their children.
When these three generations gather around the dining table every Friday, we remember our days in the past and our stories in the UAE. I’m overwhelmed by pride and happiness because I gave my children and grandchildren this gift that God Almighty bestowed upon us, thanks to this country in which we live safely and securely. And just like I had the opportunity to be part of the UAE’s journey in the past 50 years, I know my children will be part of it’s next 50. This is a land where dreamers can come and realise their aspirations and visions. It never disappoints and is filled with opportunities for those wise enough to know how to seize them to make a difference and give back to this land.
Helmi Afifi is a Jordanian national of Palestinian origins. He was born in 1943 and moved to the UAE in 1956 where he and his family currently live in Sharjah.