Passport control between emirates, roof made out of leaves: UAE seniors recall life in 50s and 60s

'Storylines' brought together stories from more than 30 senior members of the community and will be published later this year


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Mon 24 Jun 2024, 5:02 PM

Last updated: Tue 25 Jun 2024, 2:30 PM

Born in 1951, Yusuf Ahmad Tali Alali worked as a pearl diver and fisherman until the early 2000s. The Emirati recalls how life was hard before the unification of the UAE. “It was difficult to earn a living and to travel,” he said, speaking to Khaleej Times. “Everything that you needed, you had to make them yourself. Whether it was the pots and pans, a fan or even the roof, you had to handcraft them with palm tree leaves. It was only after the unification that life became easier.”

Yousuf’s adventures at sea and his seven decades of memories in the country are now documented in a book chronicling how life was in the UAE, starting in the 1950s. 'Storylines', a collaboration between local publisher Uhibbook and Abu Dhabi’s Authority of Social Contribution Ma’an, has brought together stories from more than 30 senior members in the country and will be published later this year.

“This was one of the most exciting projects we have ever worked on,” said Sadia Anwar, founder of Uhibbook. “We spent almost eight months engaging with these seniors and getting them to tell us their stories. It was a very enriching experience for us as we gained 30 years of their wisdom in just 30 minutes.”

Yusuf Ahmad Tali Alali
Yusuf Ahmad Tali Alali

Trip down memory lane

On Sunday, at an event held at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), the seniors, as well as volunteers, gathered to share their experiences for a final time. “What I enjoyed the most about this process was how many forgotten memories came to the surface of my mind while telling them,” said Christine Pentecost, a Scottish resident who moved to the UAE after marrying her Emirati husband in the early 1980s.

Christine Pentecost
Christine Pentecost

She recalled her days in Abu Dhabi when she first moved here. “My husband was working with ADGAS, and during winters, they would have staff picnics right here on Saadiyat Island,” she said. “We would take a boat to get here, and it was just miles and miles of sand and some shrubs and bushes. That was all there was on this stretch of land. Today, it is hard to believe that this beautiful building of NYUAD is sitting in the same place.”

Another Indian expat at the event, Farooq Musba, shared how he arrived in the UAE in 1973. “I first came to Dubai from Bombay in a ship,” he recalled. “After a few days, I made the trek to Abu Dhabi. In those days, there was passport control between the two emirates. From that day till today, I have been working in the emirate in the same company.”

Farooq Musba celebrating his birthday with other senior members
Farooq Musba celebrating his birthday with other senior members

Farooq, who celebrated his 75th birthday on Sunday, was surprised when a cake was brought in for him at the event. “This is the first time in my life that I have cut a cake,” he said. “And I am glad that it happened here with some new friends that I have made over the course of this book.”

Unforgettable experience

To collect and collate the stories, Uhibbook engaged several volunteers. For many of them, it was an unforgettable experience. Tojan Hamaydeh was looking for volunteering experiences when she came across the opportunity. “I never imagined that it would become something I would enjoy so much,” she said. “One of the seniors I was paired with lived in a small oasis in Al Ain in the 1960s. She even had a little measurement cup that she used in those days. The stories she shared and her experiences of the oasis life was absolutely new to me. I cannot even imagine it.”

Tojan Hamaydeh
Tojan Hamaydeh

Having lived all her life in the UAE, Tojan said the experience helped her understand the country more. “Another senior whose story I worked on was an 85-year-old Iraqi woman who has lived in the UAE for a long time,” she said.

“She shared this story when she travelled to Dubai from Abu Dhabi in the 1970s, and they spent their whole day there. When they returned, they realised they had left their main door wide open during the entire day, but nothing was missing. This safety and security is still present in the UAE. So, while there have been many changes in the country, some things like these have remained unchanged.”


According to Sadia, the name 'Storylines' symbolises many things. “They represent the lines that are formed on people’s faces as they age,” she said. “They also represent the connections that bind us all together. Not only were these seniors able to form new connections at the event but also rediscover old ones. For example, one of them mentioned an open-air cinema he attended in Al Ain. It turns out that another one of our seniors used to help his father and uncle set up the cinema. Some of them even rediscovered former schoolmates.”


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