How the Emirates helped my family find the courage to start over

In 1975, my father landed in the UAE and realised his destiny, writes Manal Ataya

The author's father arrived in the UAE in May 1975. The red stamp on the top right marks his entry into the country. Courtesy Manal Ataya
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I was born in Dubai in 1979, four years after my parents landed at Dubai Airport. My father was beaming with excitement to be back home in the Middle East after a few years as a student in the US. And yet from all the choices he could have made, his ambition brought him to a newly formed UAE that was opening its doors to talent. The country was as eager to build and shape new cities as it was to shape the minds of a growing local population and of the immigrant population that was slowly streaming in.

Those who entered the country in the '70s realised that the UAE was not conveying fantasies, but articulating future realities that were monumental in scope and scale from the onset. The UAE leadership has stayed true to an ethos of exponential growth in all areas for the past 50 years and it has proven fundamental to its current success regionally and globally.

As a young Arab engineer who wanted to return to the Middle East, my father knew it was his destiny to carve his life on UAE soil and it never faltered. He would set up his company which he ran for 45 years.

He was not just an engineer by trade – it was at the core of his being. His essence was that of a builder and an architect. And for that very reason not only did he build actual structures enthusiastically, but poured that same enthusiasm into an incessant need to build a family of his own, and to design his career and our future on his own terms. For he aspired to be the greatest architect of his own life, motivated by overwhelming circumstances of the past, including forced displacement and being part of the Palestinian diaspora.

My mother was his perfect life companion; she was a builder of minds, and with her degree in education, she enjoyed a long, fulfilling career teaching and shaping young minds in my high school in Dubai, where, with her stance of tough-but-fair love, she remained loved by those she taught, encouraged and supported. Similar to my father, she would proudly see what she helped build often come to fruition when she would meet many of her former students again, handing them their university degrees, as her career would take her to her current post as the founding registrar at the American University in Sharjah in 1997.

My father embraced the UAE's vision and leadership because he wanted his family to have what the UAE wanted to provide; safety, stability, education and opportunity. Whether you wish to see his story as intention or happenstance, this is where my father decided to plant his new roots, ready for the exhilarating journey of potential that lay ahead in a small country in the Gulf. From that moment on, he relished talking about his projects with us, describing building floor by floor until his high-rise tower was complete, erected where only sand had been, as this to him was a tangible monument to a magical moment.

And magic is often a feeling people describe when they come visit or live in the UAE, as there is undisputed, powerful energy surging through its emirates and a constant sense of renewal, whether visible in the urban environment or in the diversity of people that continually come to the UAE to fulfil their ambitions, making this country their home.

Many readers of this paper may have only lived in the UAE a few months or a few years, but a unique category will have lived here their entire lives, being of an age range where they were acutely aware of the changes in the UAE’s formative years and had a front row seat to witnessing what the country was and is today, thereby confident of its bright future.

It a very particular feeling of pride when you can be a part of something larger than yourself

But for many, like myself, the eyes have seen and the heart has felt the changes of over 30 years, which I recall vividly as I grew up. Few statements do justice to describing the idiosyncratic nature of the extraordinary evolution and transformation of this nation and, most importantly, how it impacted the lives of generations of families by giving them hope and happiness.

I have chosen to write this personal story because this 50th anniversary carries so much meaning for me and my family history. We were blessed by the ambitions and values of the UAE which enabled many to thrive and give their families the best possible future.

It has been 10 years since Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched UAE Vision 2021 in a cabinet meeting in 2010. For some it may be an irrelevant date, but I know where I was and how I felt. I was a young woman, early in my position as director of museums in Sharjah, grateful for the opportunity I was given, and consequently found myself continuing a family tradition as I became a builder of sorts myself.

I would play a pivotal role in establishing a cultural institution (now 15 years old) from the ground up, and begin working on building numerous new museum projects from concept to completion over the next 10 years, under the guidance of the Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi.

It is a very special feeling of pride when you can be a part of something larger than yourself, nurturing it daily, knowing that you are contributing something meaningful for generations of people, who will be forever enriched by the cultural opportunities you offer to enjoy, learn and experience.

The greatest value the UAE has given my parents, family and me, by far, is that of courage, to build something substantial and real when you find yourself one of the first few at the starting line.

Published: December 02, 2021, 5:30 AM