Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid [ruler of Dubai from 1958 to 1990] were part of our daily life growing up. I’d see Sheikh Rashid many times on my way to school in the mornings and he would always wave at us as he passed.
I have very old memories of meeting Sheikh Zayed. He came with Sheikh Rashid to celebrate the end of our school year. We performed a traditional dance and then got to meet them afterwards, where they kissed us on the head and said thank you.
Sheikh Zayed was like a father to all of us. Everybody called him “Baba Zayed”. The UAE was his vision. He believed that the people were its blessing, and that it should be a happy country where everyone lived in comfort. During the 1973 oil crisis, Sheikh Zayed said that the young generation was the UAE’s treasure, not its oil.
There is a story that someone came to his majlis asking for a house. Sheikh Zayed asked him, “Where are you from?” and the man replied that he was from Dubai. Sheikh Zayed didn’t believe that the man was without a house. He said, “This is impossible, this is not why I am here!” He wanted to know why he wasn’t aware of this situation. And this was the seed for the plan that each national should have land and a house.
Why did Sheikh Zayed share the country’s new wealth when so many other leaders around the world did not do the same? He was a human. It was in his nature, it was his upbringing.
There is another story that he was in a car with his driver – who, by the way, was also his friend and Sheikh Zayed would always sit in the front with him – and there was an accident. The other driver, who was an expat, was upset and shouted, “What have you done?” not realising who was in the car. When Sheikh Zayed got out, he calmly replied that he was sorry and would arrange for the repairs. The man didn’t believe him, but when he got home there was a call from the ruler’s office to sort it out. He was so shocked that he went to the newspapers to tell the story of what happened.
It is stories like this, and many others, that make us so proud to have had Sheikh Zayed as a leader and to have Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed [president of the UAE], Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed [Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi] and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid [Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai]. In other countries you don’t see kings or politicians out in the malls, shaking hands and taking selfies with people.
Foreigners cannot really understand how much pride we have in our country and our rulers. According to our tradition, you go to the head of the family when you have a problem. Our rulers are like our fathers and they have always had their doors open so that if we have an issue we can see them.
Is it different now the country has grown so much? No, our rulers still try to meet the needs of their people. You can still go to them. I see Sheikh Mohamed maybe once a week, driving his own car. If you beep he will wave back. For all the issues they have to deal with, they have the time for us. As a retired teacher, and still a volunteer and councillor at a school in Dubai, I know that we have been given a lot of opportunities as women.
But this didn’t only come from Sheikh Zayed. When the men used to go pearl diving for up to six months at a time, the women would take care of the house and family; they would trade land, gold and pearls on behalf of their men. We have always played a big role in this country, though the rest of the world doesn’t know about it.
That is why today, when we organise the National Day celebrations in our school, we tell the children about the future plans of the UAE. But we also tell them about the rulers who started this country. They are the ones who planted the seed that became a big tree. It was their hands that started this.
Tribute by: Tagreed Abdulla, Retired Teacher and School Councillor
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