I learned everything from my mother. She taught me how to cook all kinds of food – stews, bread, fish… She taught me how to clean and wash, how to embroider clothes, how to make things. Every day we had to do work before we could play. We helped our mothers cooking, we had to go to the well to fetch water and carry it back on our heads. After we finished all that, we would sit and weave baskets and mats from palm leaves and we would sell them. We also embroidered clothes, such as the decorative cuffs of salwar (undertrousers) and kandoras. We made our own and we sold them too.
We did everything together as a community. We cleaned together, we fished together, we cooked the fish together, we made things together. We shared our food. After I had a child, I would leave it with a neighbour while I went to do some work. The children were not just the parents’ child, they were the neighbourhood’s child. After we finished our work we would sing songs together. We hardly did anything alone.
Life was much harder than now, but it was nice. It was a beautiful life. It was simple and everyone stuck together. Now everyone is scattered around and looking to his own affairs only. People don’t do things together like before.
My grandparents lived in Hamriya near the sea. During the Second World War, ships stopped coming from other countries like India and people were hungry. My grandfather caught fish and my grandmother cut the fish into pieces and distributed it to people.
They later moved inland to Dhaid and had a farm there. There were no stores or markets in Dhaid at that time and they would have to go to Sharjah by camel to stock up on things like sugar. It would take a whole day to get there and another day to come back.
They grew things on the farm and also bred camels and sold them. (Umm Salem, Dhaid)
When I was little. I used to go with my grandfather to his farm and he milked the camels. The milk was frothy and he joked that it was camel ice cream. We took the milk, put freshly made ragag (wafer thin bread) in it, poured honey over it and ate it. We thought it was delicious! (Sara, Dhaid)
My father was a very wealthy man. He started from nothing, but through his hard work and smartness, he built a successful business. By the time I was at college, he owned several tall apartment and office buildings, but he told us we had to work for ourselves. We lived at home with our mother but otherwise we had to manage on our starter salaries (around 7000 dhs). We bought our own cars and paid for everything by ourselves. He told us that one day we would have his wealth when he died. In the meantime, we had to make ourselves by ourselves just like he did. He wasn’t being mean. He wanted us to understand the value of things and to feel the satisfaction of being successful by ourselves. I really appreciate what he did. It made me a better person. (Mohammed, Dubai)
I was born at home in a small village. At that time there was no recording of births, so I don’t know exactly when I was born, around 1967. At that time, people would say something like ‘he was born in the year of the big rain’. (Ahmed, Ajman)
Mix all ingredients to a dough. Cover, leave out of fridge for at least four hours. You could prepare it the night before or in the morning. Deep fry in hot vegetable oil. Drizzle with dibs (date syrup).
Ajman is the smallest of the seven emirates at just 260 km sq and has a population of nearly a quarter of a million. Imagine that in 1980, the population numbered only 36,000.
The town was first settled by the Nuaim tribe around 1775 and is still ruled by the al Nuaimi family. It became a British protectorate in 1820 until it attained independence and became part of the new federation of the UAE in 1971. The main part lies between Sharjah and Umm al Quwain, however, it also has two enclaves inland, al Manama and Masfoot.
Al Manama is in the central mountainous area of the north. It was gifted in the early 20th century to Ajman as dowry when a Sheikha from Ajman married the ruler of Fujairah, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad al Sharqi.
There are two forts, the Red Fort and the White Fort, in the main town of Manama which were royal residences. Further down the road in the village of Naseem, Hassa Castle, a watchtower built in 1976, stands upon a small hill.
The Red Fort, Manama
Manama played a major role in saving the people of Ajman after the sudden collapse of the pearling industry in 1928. It has rich agricultural land which was already farmed at the time but then Shaikh Rashid, the ruler at the time, supported the farmers enabling them to make full use of the land and provide both food for Ajmanis and an income for the shaikhdom. The main crops were papaya and citrus fruits such as qumqat and limes. The Rohida tree also provided an income with its bark being sold to make medicine, its leaves and fruits sold as fodder and the rest sold as timber. Moreover, the area was rich in naturally produced honey.
The Trucial Scouts had a base in Manama. It is still standing and is now a training camp for the UAE army. Many of the young men do the first three months of their national service there.
Although just a small town, it has its own police, civil defence, health centre, etc. It is growing steadily as apartment blocks are being built, and new businesses such as burger and pizza cafes, gyms are opening.
The village of Naseem is part of Manama but is on the other side of the road from the main town. Originally a handful of houses, there are lots of new houses there now. It is surrounded by plains.
The weather there is hotter than coastal towns in the summer, but dry and much colder in the winter.
The other enclave, Masfoot, is also in a mountainous and richly agricultural area not far from Hatta. It has a population of around 6000, 90% of whom are UAE nationals originally from Bedu tribes. The area includes two villages, Muzaira and Subaigha and originally belonged to the al Nuaim tribe of Buraimi, however, it was seized by the Nuaims of Ajman in 1948 and has belonged to them ever since.
The Ajman Government has plans to develop Masfoot as a tourist destination. Its location in the mountains makes it a great place for those who love walking and exploring the great outdoors. As in many inland locations, there are archaeological sites going back around 5000 years.
Two structures of interest there are Masfoot Fort, dating back to the 19th century and Masfoot Gate built in 1961.
Back in Ajman, Ajman Museum is found within an original 18th century fort and is well worth a visit. Take a look at some photos here. Look out for a separate blog coming up on Ajman Museum.
Enjoy some snippets of people’s memories from the old days
The traditional wedding in the houses …The buying of fabric for friends and family …choosing goats and camels… the animals in pens by the house waiting for slaughter..traditional food distributed for 3 days…The zehiba party …displaying jewellery n suitcases prepared for bride ..showing genorisity of grooms family..excitement of neighbours old and young…preparing bride for 1 week…pasting her with ‘neal’ blue chalk which is used to whiten clothes ….keeping her indoors to whiten her ….inspection of body by elders….party was a really happy simple occasion, not showy like today …and many such traditions of the simple bedouin wedding.
I remember the al Ain ones to be the best. What great humble generous people. They had little but gave a lot. (Alia, Dubai)
We used to get lots more rain. I remember having to pick my kids up as the school closed because of the rain and I had to wade through the water and my boots being filled with water. I had to carry the children out. (Salma, Sharjah)
When I was at primary school in the 70s, it often rained so much that the whole area was flooded and we couldn’t go to school. (Rashid, Central Region)
We lived in a small town near a British training camp. We didn’t have electricity or running water. There was a big tank at the camp and we could collect water from there. There was also a fallaj running from the Shaikh’s land and we used to play in it. (Mohammed, Manama, Ajman)
I remember when the Trade Centre was the biggest and brightest building on Shaikh Zayed road. My children used to call it the fairy princess castle as the lights used to shine between all the others buildings. Now there are too many castles to choose from, each one brighter. I still call trade centre the princess castle. Nothing replaces that fond memory. (Salma, Sharjah)
In the old days you could drive from Safa Park to Karama any time of the day in just ten minutes. (Salma, Sharjah)
I remember when we first got tv and when the man came on to read the news my grandmother covered her face. And when we watched a movie on tv she would shout, ‘watch out, he’s behind you with a knife!’ (Salman, Abu Dhabi)
We didn’t have electricity or water until I was about seven. We lived in a small house which was just one room. We all slept in it. And we were all born in that house. (Hamid, Manama)
When I first moved to Dubai in the 90s, I lived in one of the few towers on Shaikh Zayed Rd. My living room looked out the back and it was just empty. We could only see Zaabeel Palace. Sometimes you could see camels off in the distance. That area is now completely built up with towers, Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa and Downtown Dubai. (Aisha, Dubai)
I remember camels just wandering amongst the villas in Dubai. And there was a Bedu man who came every Ramadan and set up camp near our house with all his camels. (Mel, Dubai)
Shaikh Zayed Rd was just two lanes and we could walk across to get to the Metropolitan hotel with hardly any cars around. (Mel, Dubai)
As salam alaikum . (Literally ‘peace be upon you.’) The response is ‘walaikum salam’ meaning ‘and upon you be peace.’
Ahlan wa sahlan (Welcome)
For ‘how are you?’, you can ask ‘kayf halak for a man or ‘kayf halich” for a woman. (Literally, ‘how is your situation?’)
You can also use ‘shoo akhbarak’ or ‘shoo akhbarich’ for a lady. (Literally, ‘what is your news?’)
Kayf aylatak/aylatich? – how are your family? (Note: a man should not ask another man how his wife is. The same goes for women and husbands.)
If you’ve paying attention and worked out that the ‘ak’ ending is used when talking to a man and ‘ich’ when talking to a woman.
* Note, the ‘kh’ is ch as in the Scottish wordloch and the ‘ch’ is as in chair.
Zayn (good) You can also use alhamdulillah (all praise be to God.)
You may already have noticed that Arabs don’t usually ask how you are just once, but ask several times in different ways. For example, a conversation may start with ‘kayf halak?……Kayf aylatak?…….Shoo akhbarak?… Kayf sahitak?’ (The last one means ‘how is your health?’)
Ma’a salama -goodbye, literally ‘with peace.’
Nowadays you will sometimes hear Emiratis using the word ‘bye’ even between each other.