UAE National Day: Pakistani expat tells how she spent 54 years in the country

Saman Haziq
Filed on December 3, 2020
Photo by M.Sajjad/Khaleej Times

In 1966, Bano — now fondly known as ‘Akhter aunty’ — came to Dubai on a wooden ship with her husband whom she called ‘Khan sahab’.

Akhter Bano is a living example of how the UAE has served as a safe haven for millions of expats. She landed on UAE soil when she was a newly married 20-year-old — now, she’s 74, living on her own in a one-bedroom apartment in Ajman.

In 1966, Bano — now fondly known as ‘Akhter aunty’ — came to Dubai on a wooden ship with her husband whom she called ‘Khan sahab’. She is one of the few expats in the country who can boast about having the Trucial States visa on her passport, as she landed almost a decade before the UAE was formed.

Back in the ‘60s, they couldn’t wear shoes in Dubai, Bano recalled. “It was very sandy here and we could only wear slippers. The only currency used were Indian rupee notes and people would come from different areas to Dubai to look at this one-floor building that was located in Deira and marvel at its structure.”

Tragedy in 1984

In 1984, tragedy struck: Her husband died of heart attack. So, she had to single-handedly raise her five children.

“Although he was just a driver at a bank earning a meagre Dh220, we were happy and contented. After his death, when I was left alone with five young children, his bank came to my aid and apart from handing over a good gratuity, my elder son, who was in Grade 11 at that time, was able to take up a part-time job at the bank.”

Though the family had a hard time making ends meet, she persevered just so she could raise her kids well.

“Sadly, as I started marrying off my children, they gradually drifted away and got so busy with their lives that I was left alone,” Bano said.

With no one to fall back on and no property or house in Pakistan, Bano decided to live in the UAE alone. Even to this day, 15 years on, she hasn’t had much contact with her kids. She has been staying alone in a one-bedroom apartment in Al Nuamiya Tower in Ajman.

“I have given the main room on rent and I stay in the living room. This is how I am able to pay the rent of this apartment. I sometimes sell off my gold to survive but I am grateful to God for giving me a place of my own.” she said.

“I am happy to be here in the UAE as I wouldn’t have survived anywhere alone as I did here. This is because of the immense safety, security and peace I experience here in the UAE,” she said.

Bano’s visa was sponsored by one of her sons, whom she paid for the service. But because he lost his job, she is now on visit visa.

A mother figure in her neighbourhood

She may be alone but she’s certainly not lonely, Bano said. Her neighbours in the building would visit her regularly.

“They would also call me and give me so much love. It is the people of the UAE whose warmth and care keeps me going,” Bano said.

“At times when I walk to the market alone to get some grocery, the Ajman Police would stop by and ask me if they can drop me somewhere. This is why I want to be here in the UAE because of the love and respect I get from all.”

Shedding tears of happiness as she sees the UAE turn 49, Bano says she has spent the best years of her life in the UAE and now wants to spend the little more time she has in this country so she can be laid to rest beside her husband’s grave.

“I want to thank the leadership of this country for giving us residents so much safety and security and love. There is no place on this planet that I love more than the UAE.”

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