From left, Ramesh Thangiah, Sajjath Saifu, and Kameswaran Arumugam at their bachelor accommodation in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National
From left, Ramesh Thangiah, Sajjath Saifu, and Kameswaran Arumugam at their bachelor accommodation in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National

It may be a ruin, but it’s home



When Mohammed first set eyes on the building where he now lives, he thought his friend was joking. It appeared abandoned but for a few items of forgotten laundry.

“I asked my best friend and he told me, ‘Mohammed don’t worry’, but when I came to see the building outside I thought it would fall down at that moment,” said Mohammed, 38.

Now, he calls it home.

Four months after moving into the derelict building, Mohammed has found a life in the cafes, shops and mosques of Al Falah Street to ease the loneliness of separation from his family in southern Egypt.

He is one of hundreds of migrant men who fear that they will be pushed off the island city of Abu Dhabi as old buildings are demolished to make space for modern skyscrapers.

Workers have the option of lower rents and new, safer buildings in suburbs off the island, such as Mussaffah. But they are willing to pay more for humble bed spaces in crumbling buildings in the city because of shorter commutes and community engagement.

Despite rising rents and the declining safety of aging buildings, some tenants want to live in the city for as long as they can.

Portraits of the sheikhs hang in an empty foyer of Mohammed’s building. Upstairs, doors are decorated with UAE flags. The aroma of Mohammed’s cooking fills the halls.

For all the life tenants have invested, the building is neglected by its owner. The ceilings are cracked. The staircase is crumbling.

There are rumours that the building is the subject of a dispute in the Abu Dhabi courts.

“The building owner, he doesn’t care to do maintenance inside,” Mohammed said. “I think if the municipality allowed him to demolish the building he would agree. Anyone who sees the building would think nobody lives inside, but all people are here from many nationalities and all people live in a safe way.”

Mohammed and a friend pay Dh2,500 a month for a nine-square-metre room and share the five-room flat with Moroccans, Indians and a Vietnamese family.

Mohammed has one complaint – their room is too small to entertain. “There in my room I cannot receive anyone to come to visit me. There are no places for people to sit.”

Instead, he has the street life of Al Falah.

The street has layers of communities that give emotional support to migrant men. The Panaderia Bakery across the street is a hub for Filipinos across the city and those who live in the flats above.

For Robert Dizon, 52, a forklift operator, the food and company offered by the Panaderia and the Casa Pampanga restaurant next door have been comforts since he left the Philippines to support the education of his four children.

“My life is very happy here,” said Robert, who pays Dh500 a month for a bunk space in a flat above Panaderia. “Why would we leave?”

Many tenants consider the building unsafe but choose to stay for the community. A fire in April trapped residents inside the building. There was no working fire alarm and safety has not improved. It was the building’s second fire in recent years.

While such incidents are a reminder of the dangers of old buildings, low-wage workers cannot afford new flats and they work split shifts that do not give them time to commute twice a day. They usually rely on public transport or illegal taxis to travel between the city and suburbs such as Mussaffah, which can be expensive and time consuming.

Abu Dhabi Municipality is continuing its urban-renewal campaign to remove old buildings that are unsightly and unsafe. The average Abu Dhabi building has a life of 15 to 30 years.

The municipality issued 282 demolition permits in 2009, 260 in 2008 and 162 in 2007. A quarter of the 1,000-plus construction projects overseen by Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties in 2010 required the demolition of an existing building.

Instead, the Abu Dhabi government plans 23 labour cities across the emirate to raise living standards for low-income workers off the island. The Dh20 billion investment will eventually house 400,000 people and provide cinemas, markets, mosques, parks, sports facilities, health clinics and hospitals. The first opened in Al Ain in May.

But the men in Mussaffah’s new labour accommodation are not always happy with the move from the city, despite cleaner and safer rooms. The area has few amenities and little feeling of community.

“We want to come to the city. If you ask people if they’re happy or not happy, they’ll directly tell you they’re not happy. Only the poor people, the kachara people, the dirty people, live in Mussaffah. It’s not the same as the good city,” said a middle-aged Egyptian taxi driver who lives in ICAD Residential City, a new labour accommodation in Mussaffah.

Low-income male migrant workers, commonly called “bachelors”, are usually here to work for the families they left behind. They worry that they are being pushed outside the city because families are intimidated by crowds of men.

“Abu Dhabi government thought we’re only for labour, that we should want to go to Mussaffah,” said Kameswawan Arumugay, a petrol-pump attendant. “The government thought bachelors here are maybe a problem for families. That’s why they need to separate us.

“Because the government thought if you’re a family man, you can bring your wife and kids. Our company is not like that. Family is only for executives.”

His colleague, Sajjath Saifu, agreed. “The majority of bachelors here are leaving their families, their home town. Sending them to Mussaffah is not good for them.”

Kameswawan and Sajjath, who are from Chennai, pay Dh550 a month for bed space in a pink-walled, perfumed room that holds six men. A plywood-box shrine with a candle is nailed to the wall over one bunk bed. Their uniforms hang on hooks.

The kitchen in the five-bedroom flat has six gas canisters connected to several two-burner stoves.

The room’s annual rent increased to Dh33,000 in 2011. “All for the owners, not for us. In their business there is no fire safety,” said Sajjath, 32. “In this building, risk is there, but we are staying for no other choice. Mussaffah is not an option.”

The friends lived in Mussaffah for two months but moved to the city to cut the two-hour commute. They have more time to cook and dine with friends. Here, they can visit shopping malls, the Corniche, the cinemas.

“In Mussaffah we stay in the room only,” Kameswawan said. As for entertainment: “We cannot go out.”

Abu Dhabi city offered Kameswawan freedoms he did not expect when he heard stories from migrants returning from the Arabian Gulf. “Other countries like Saudi are not free, but here we’re all free,” he said.

They were informed last year that their building was listed for demolition. Whatever happens, they plan to stay on the island.

"If you come to the city you can see a green place, you can watch everything," Sajjath said. "You feel that everything is there."

azacharias@thenational.ae

The specs

Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo (BMW B58)
Power: 340hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 500Nm from 1,600-4,500rpm
Transmission: ZF 8-speed auto
0-100kph: 4.2sec
Top speed: 267kph

On sale: Now
Price: From Dh462,189
Warranty: 30-month/48,000k

The specs: 2018 Jaguar F-Type Convertible

Price, base / as tested: Dh283,080 / Dh318,465

Engine: 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Power: 295hp @ 5,500rpm

Torque: 400Nm @ 1,500rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 7.2L / 100km

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

Dark Souls: Remastered
Developer: From Software (remaster by QLOC)
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Price: Dh199

If you go:
The flights: Etihad, Emirates, British Airways and Virgin all fly from the UAE to London from Dh2,700 return, including taxes
The tours: The Tour for Muggles usually runs several times a day, lasts about two-and-a-half hours and costs £14 (Dh67)
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is on now at the Palace Theatre. Tickets need booking significantly in advance
Entrance to the Harry Potter exhibition at the House of MinaLima is free
The hotel: The grand, 1909-built Strand Palace Hotel is in a handy location near the Theatre District and several of the key Harry Potter filming and inspiration sites. The family rooms are spacious, with sofa beds that can accommodate children, and wooden shutters that keep out the light at night. Rooms cost from £170 (Dh808).

Inside Out 2

Director: Kelsey Mann

Starring: Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri

Rating: 4.5/5

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE

 

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

Hydrogen: Market potential

Hydrogen has an estimated $11 trillion market potential, according to Bank of America Securities and is expected to generate $2.5tn in direct revenues and $11tn of indirect infrastructure by 2050 as its production increases six-fold.

"We believe we are reaching the point of harnessing the element that comprises 90 per cent of the universe, effectively and economically,” the bank said in a recent report.

Falling costs of renewable energy and electrolysers used in green hydrogen production is one of the main catalysts for the increasingly bullish sentiment over the element.

The cost of electrolysers used in green hydrogen production has halved over the last five years and will fall to 60 to 90 per cent by the end of the decade, acceding to Haim Israel, equity strategist at Merrill Lynch. A global focus on decarbonisation and sustainability is also a big driver in its development.

COMPANY PROFILE


Company name: Clara
Started: 2019
Founders: Patrick Rogers, Lee McMahon, Arthur Guest, Ahmed Arif
Based: Dubai
Industry: LegalTech
Funding size: $4 million of seed financing
Investors: Wamda Capital, Shorooq Partners, Techstars, 500 Global, OTF, Venture Souq, Knuru Capital, Plug and Play and The LegalTech Fund

The specs

Engine: 3.6 V6

Transmission: 8-speed auto

Power: 295bhp

Torque: 353Nm

Price: Dh155,000

On sale: now

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

The 10 Questions
  • Is there a God?
  • How did it all begin?
  • What is inside a black hole?
  • Can we predict the future?
  • Is time travel possible?
  • Will we survive on Earth?
  • Is there other intelligent life in the universe?
  • Should we colonise space?
  • Will artificial intelligence outsmart us?
  • How do we shape the future?
The specs

Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl turbo
Power: 299hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 420Nm at 2,750rpm
Transmission: 10-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 12.4L/100km
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh157,395 (XLS); Dh199,395 (Limited)

Women & Power: A Manifesto

Mary Beard

Profile Books and London Review of Books 

Napoleon

Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Tahar Rahim
Rating: 2/5

World record transfers

1. Kylian Mbappe - to Real Madrid in 2017/18 - €180 million (Dh770.4m - if a deal goes through)
2. Paul Pogba - to Manchester United in 2016/17 - €105m
3. Gareth Bale - to Real Madrid in 2013/14 - €101m
4. Cristiano Ronaldo - to Real Madrid in 2009/10 - €94m
5. Gonzalo Higuain - to Juventus in 2016/17 - €90m
6. Neymar - to Barcelona in 2013/14 - €88.2m
7. Romelu Lukaku - to Manchester United in 2017/18 - €84.7m
8. Luis Suarez - to Barcelona in 2014/15 - €81.72m
9. Angel di Maria - to Manchester United in 2014/15 - €75m
10. James Rodriguez - to Real Madrid in 2014/15 - €75m

Fight card

Bantamweight

Siyovush Gulmamadov (TJK) v Rey Nacionales (PHI)

Lightweight

Alexandru Chitoran (ROM) v Hussein Fakhir Abed (SYR)

Catch 74kg

Tohir Zhuraev (TJK) v Omar Hussein (JOR)

Strawweight (Female)

Weronika Zygmunt (POL) v Seo Ye-dam (KOR)

Featherweight

Kaan Ofli (TUR) v Walid Laidi (ALG)

Lightweight

Leandro Martins (BRA) v Abdulla Al Bousheiri (KUW)

Welterweight

Ahmad Labban (LEB) v Sofiane Benchohra (ALG)

Bantamweight

Jaures Dea (CAM) v Nawras Abzakh (JOR)

Lightweight

Mohammed Yahya (UAE) v Glen Ranillo (PHI)

Lightweight

Alan Omer (GER) v Aidan Aguilera (AUS)

Welterweight

Mounir Lazzez (TUN) Sasha Palatnikov (HKG)

Featherweight title bout

Romando Dy (PHI) v Lee Do-gyeom (KOR)

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
What is the Supreme Petroleum Council?

The Abu Dhabi Supreme Petroleum Council was established in 1988 and is the highest governing body in Abu Dhabi’s oil and gas industry. The council formulates, oversees and executes the emirate’s petroleum-related policies. It also approves the allocation of capital spending across state-owned Adnoc’s upstream, downstream and midstream operations and functions as the company’s board of directors. The SPC’s mandate is also required for auctioning oil and gas concessions in Abu Dhabi and for awarding blocks to international oil companies. The council is chaired by Sheikh Khalifa, the President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi while Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, is the vice chairman.

CRICKET WORLD CUP QUALIFIER, ZIMBABWE

UAE fixtures

Monday, June 19

Sri Lanka v UAE, Queen’s Sports Club

Wednesday, June 21

Oman v UAE, Bulawayo Athletic Club

Friday, June 23

Scotland v UAE, Bulawayo Athletic Club

Tuesday, June 27

Ireland v UAE, Bulawayo Athletic Club

Where to donate in the UAE

The Emirates Charity Portal

You can donate to several registered charities through a “donation catalogue”. The use of the donation is quite specific, such as buying a fan for a poor family in Niger for Dh130.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments

The site has an e-donation service accepting debit card, credit card or e-Dirham, an electronic payment tool developed by the Ministry of Finance and First Abu Dhabi Bank.

Al Noor Special Needs Centre

You can donate online or order Smiles n’ Stuff products handcrafted by Al Noor students. The centre publishes a wish list of extras needed, starting at Dh500.

Beit Al Khair Society

Beit Al Khair Society has the motto “From – and to – the UAE,” with donations going towards the neediest in the country. Its website has a list of physical donation sites, but people can also contribute money by SMS, bank transfer and through the hotline 800-22554.

Dar Al Ber Society

Dar Al Ber Society, which has charity projects in 39 countries, accept cash payments, money transfers or SMS donations. Its donation hotline is 800-79.

Dubai Cares

Dubai Cares provides several options for individuals and companies to donate, including online, through banks, at retail outlets, via phone and by purchasing Dubai Cares branded merchandise. It is currently running a campaign called Bookings 2030, which allows people to help change the future of six underprivileged children and young people.

Emirates Airline Foundation

Those who travel on Emirates have undoubtedly seen the little donation envelopes in the seat pockets. But the foundation also accepts donations online and in the form of Skywards Miles. Donated miles are used to sponsor travel for doctors, surgeons, engineers and other professionals volunteering on humanitarian missions around the world.

Emirates Red Crescent

On the Emirates Red Crescent website you can choose between 35 different purposes for your donation, such as providing food for fasters, supporting debtors and contributing to a refugee women fund. It also has a list of bank accounts for each donation type.

Gulf for Good

Gulf for Good raises funds for partner charity projects through challenges, like climbing Kilimanjaro and cycling through Thailand. This year’s projects are in partnership with Street Child Nepal, Larchfield Kids, the Foundation for African Empowerment and SOS Children's Villages. Since 2001, the organisation has raised more than $3.5 million (Dh12.8m) in support of over 50 children’s charities.

Noor Dubai Foundation

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Noor Dubai Foundation a decade ago with the aim of eliminating all forms of preventable blindness globally. You can donate Dh50 to support mobile eye camps by texting the word “Noor” to 4565 (Etisalat) or 4849 (du).

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Dengue fever symptoms
  • High fever
  • Intense pain behind your eyes
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swollen glands
  • Rash

If symptoms occur, they usually last for two-seven days


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