Our name's changed, but that's all

No one in the sleepy town of Saih Sheib is really sure why its name has been altered on road signs.

The Seeh Shoaeb restaurant in Saih Sheib, where not much has changed in the past 20 years, except for the motorway exit sign on the E11, below.
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Ahmed Zaki could not remember the last time anything special happened in the tiny border town of Saih Sheib, until he drove to work one day and noticed the motorway exit sign had changed.

It used to read "Saih Ash Sheib". "It seems someone decided to remove the 'Ash' from the sign and we were not even informed," said Mr Zaki, the head controller at an isolated station that inspects lorries crossing between the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. To confuse matters more, the station is known as the "Seih Ash Sheib" station. And the area is pronounced "Sieh Shuwaib" in local dialect. Mr Zaki, an Egyptian who has lived in the UAE for 10 years, said the confusion over the name was understandable, as he used to pronounce it differently himself.

"A lot of the places in the UAE have been mistranslated, as it depends on who pronounces a certain area and in which Arabic accent," he said. Various signs around the town, located just off Sheikh Zayed Road, have different English spellings, but there is more consistency in the Arabic spellings. "We are not even sure what it means, really," Mr Zaki said. "Some say it means 'flat land of the al Sheib tribe', and others say it means 'the place where people run or flow like the stream'.

"They have been fixing up a lot of the signage in the past few years, and this one is probably one of them. We just haven't been officially notified of it." Given that the area is on the border that divides Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it was not clear who made the decision to change the sign. The Abu Dhabi Municipality would not comment on Saih Sheib, but said that in general, signs were changed regularly.

"What we need is not a sign changed, but the area developed and some life pumped into it," said Mr Zaki, who lives in al Samha and drives to work in Saih Sheib, often at odd hours because the lorry station is open 24 hours a day. "When the beach was open, there were many people coming here and camping out," Mr Zaki said. Now, the beach has been fenced off and there is talk of an electricity-related project being built in the area.

"It is just a truck town now," Mr Zaki said. The town consists of a handful of government buildings, a police station, an empty-looking villa or two, an Indian restaurant and vast desert. It is very much a ghost town, except for the non-stop flow of trucks and truckers. There are far fewer violations than five years ago, when lorries as heavy as 135 tonnes were on the roads, Mr Zaki said. Now, weights have been reduced to about 45 tonnes.

"There has been a good change for the road with reduction in truck violations, but nothing yet to this town itself," Mr Zaki said. "Maybe, the Dubai Metro will be extended to us and change everything," he added with a hopeful smile. When a reporter visited Saih Sheib, the Indian restaurant was packed with men taking a break as their lorries were being inspected. "Our customers are all truck drivers," said Mohammed Rafik, an employee at the restaurant, which has its own version of what the place is named a brightly coloured banner that reads "Seeh Shoaeb Restaurant."

"We named our restaurant based on what we heard the Emiratis call this place," Mr Rafik said, pointing to the sign. "The restaurant has been here for 20 years, and really, not much has changed except some more modern buildings were built and new and better roads were added." The restaurant is open from 4.30am to 1am and is almost always busy. Sometimes it stays open for 24 hours if there are enough customers. The owner said it takes in Dh3,000 (US$817) to Dh4,000 a month.

The most popular dishes are Biryani rice and curry, at Dh10 each. An increase in price is the biggest change the restaurant has seen over the years. "We try not to be expensive as our customers don't have money," Mr Rafik said. "We offer basic food and lots of drinks, as they always need coffee and cold drinks for their long drives." Mr Zaki may want a little more life in Saih Sheib, but others like it just the way it is.

The fact that there are no other food outlets in the area besides fuel stations is a great bonus for the restaurant, something the management appreciates. "The more developed this area will become, the more expensive and harder it will be on us and the truck drivers," Mr Rafik said. "No need for change." As waiters served a fresh stock of naan bread, drivers chatted with the restaurant staff and discussed the great "change in weather".

"I really like this place, it is my break from long hours of driving," said Mohammed Mohammed, a driver of a lorry carrying textiles who was having lunch. Some drivers take a break in a corner of the restaurant where a roughed-up mat is brought out for tired customers in need of a rest. Asked whether he noticed the change in the name of the place on the road sign along the motorway, Mr Mohammed said: "I don't care what the name is. I care that this place stays my rest spot."