Rs102 ticket, visa stamp from 1964: Meet Dubai resident who arrived by ship before UAE was born

His first job was in construction, which paid a salary of Rs150 — a significant sum at the time


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

Published: Wed 15 May 2024, 8:21 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 May 2024, 4:32 PM

Sher Akbar Afridi is gearing up to celebrate an extraordinary milestone of his lifetime – 60 years of living and working in the UAE. His journey began in 1964 when he arrived from Karachi on MV Dwarka Ship with just a Rs102 ticket.

“There was no air connectivity to the Trucial States and we had to cover the journey by ship, which took us 3 days to reach. Also, the Indian currency was used in the Gulf region those days,” said Afridi.

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Afridi’s father arranged a visa for him under his sponsorship. “I did not have the passport too. When I reached Karachi from my hometown, I applied for the passport,” said Afridi, who was just 17 years old then. He has a passport with a Dubai visa stamped in 1964.

KT Photo: SM Ayaz Zakir
KT Photo: SM Ayaz Zakir

Reflecting on his arrival, Afridi recollected the moments when he saw different Trucial States from the seas. “I saw the Kuwaiti mosque in Deira from afar, and then Dubai emerged on the horizon. Today, Dubai's development is unparalleled, visible even from space,” said Afridi.

Reflecting on Dubai's evolution, Afridi observes, “When I first arrived, Dubai was walkable. Today, even short distances seem far due to development and world class infrastructure.”

Start of the journey

Upon his arrival in Dubai, Afridi sought assistance in securing employment, ultimately finding himself working in the construction sector. Despite facing initial challenges, he was soon taken under the wing of an engineer who enlisted his help in daily tasks. For his efforts, Afridi earned approximately Rs150, a significant sum at the time. “With working over time, I could make around Rs400,” said Afridi.

Starting with construction work on the UAE's first concrete road, Afridi has planned the future of Dubai. “I worked hard for meagre pay, but it paid off. I was involved in laying the first concrete road in the UAE, which is the road from Baniyas to the old Airport and the road leading from Sheikh Rashid's Palace,” said Afridi.

Afridi still drives the same car. (KT Photo: SM Ayaz Zakir)
Afridi still drives the same car. (KT Photo: SM Ayaz Zakir)

Meeting the late rulers

When Afridi could not bear the heat due to a health issue, the engineer who was deputed to oversee the construction made Afridi his assistant. “His name was Luiji. With him, I got to meet the late UAE Rulers Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Shakhbout (then Ruler of Abu Dhabi), Sheikh Rashid, and many more.

Once, he accompanied the engineer to Abu Dhabi to get approval for a concrete airstrip and they travelled by car, taking over 4 hours. “There was barely any population along the way and we had to stamp our passport to gain entry to Abu Dhabi,” said Afridi.

“Our vehicle encountered some problem and we had to stop and repair our vehicle. As Sheikh Zayed was passing from that place, he offered us water during our journey, which showcased his hospitality. After reaching the palace of Sheikh Shakhbout, we got approval for the first concrete airstrip contract in Abu Dhabi, which I was a part of,” said Afridi.

Afridi as a salesman at Majid Al Futtaim. Photo: Supplied
Afridi as a salesman at Majid Al Futtaim. Photo: Supplied

Transitioning to retail

After quitting his job from the construction company, Afridi transitioned to retail.

“Majid Al Futtaim offered me a job at his business establishment. It was a watch and electronics store. Sheikh Rashid's office was nearby, and I would often visit for water and the late ruler would offer me Arabic coffee. He often addressed me as Khan. He was a people's leader,” said Afridi.

Afridi joined his father, embarking on an entrepreneurial journey of diverse ventures ranging from textiles to watches and beyond. After meeting setbacks, he shifted his focus towards a new endeavour, establishing a car wash business.

Afridi with his father. Photo: Supplied
Afridi with his father. Photo: Supplied

However, it was in 1998 that he found his niche, venturing into the travel industry with the inception of a travel agency. Remarkably, two decades later, Afridi continues to actively manage the agency, personally overseeing its operations with a dedication that sees him visiting the office four times a week.

Social service

Afridi's commitment to social service remains strong. “I've assisted earthquake victims in Pakistan and helped thousands of prisoners in Dubai to return home. Giving back is essential,” said Afridi.

A big family

Afridi's familial ties run deep within the UAE, with all six of his sons proudly calling the country their home. Three of his sons have found their place within the government sector, contributing to the nation's progress and development.

Afridi with his sons. KT Photo: SM Ayaz Zakir
Afridi with his sons. KT Photo: SM Ayaz Zakir

“I find joy in the company of my 23 grandchildren,” said Afridi.

As his family prepares to honour his 60th anniversary, Afridi reflects on his legacy. “My children and grandchildren were raised here. They're continuing the journey my father started—the fifth generation in this country.”


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