Back in the 90s, my father drove us along the Jumeirah Beach coastline after Friday lunch with my grandparents. We exited the Al Shindaqa tunnel, from Al-Hamriya, and continued along the deserted coastline, towards Abu Dhabi. The number of cranes that engulfed the coastline were next to nothing. We turned right after Dubai Marine Beach Resort and headed towards ‘Chicago Beach Hotel’, demolished in 1994/95. In the late 60s, an American oil company built a village to accommodate their staff who were completing works related to oil fields close by. After completion, the area that was once exclusive to the company’s staff transitioned into a residential community with low rise houses, mainly for expatriates. In retrospect, it’s no different to today.
From the car, we watched tourists and residents hang out on the beach under the late afternoon sun while my mother’s favorite tunes played in the background; Julio Iglesias, Majed Al Roomi or Fayruz. It was everyone’s day off. People ambled along the beach where a ton of palm trees lined the shores dotted by colorful bathing suits. Beach mats were spread out, some people were sat on chairs or swam in the sea under clear blue skies sometimes shielded by towering kites. The sound of jet skis buzzed in the background. Mobile phones were alien, the clouds were visible and people were less famous.
With time, as the economy took a new turn, driving along the coastline was not as direct. Access to some parts of the beach were blocked by road works. A new 7 star development was the talk of the town. The day Chicago Beach went down was the day Dubai would change for ever. Step by step, we heard of new developments. Extra lanes on Sheikh Zayed Road, an influx of cranes, the up and coming Jumeirah, my grandparents moved to Mirdif, the Al Maktoom Hospital (demolished) area became commercialized, and camels were forbidden from roaming around freely. The building that looked like a sail and its shorter sister, wavelike, captured everyone’s attention. Meanwhile, the first skyscrapers were on the rise, Emirates Towers.
Although the construction was a pain in the neck, restoring the urban structure was a temporary fix to turn the old Dubai into a more desirable place and keep up with a growing community, consciously leaving traces of its origins. At what point will we stop looking back in awe and making visual comparisons of now and then?
Today, people are flying over the sea (kite surfing), fitness is a big thing – some people are doing TRX, cross fit, swimming in groups, yoga, training for running races, learning how to scuba dive, paddle boarding, meeting up with friends, or taking beautiful landscape shots with a single tap. Sometimes you’ll bump into Olympians or famous people you read about in magazines or pop up on your Instagram explorer and you think you know them but you don’t…#firstworldproblems. Meanwhile, food trucks with eclectic designs permeate the beach and offer all kinds of munchies people come to know about through social media.
The pictures below were taken by my dad. He loved taking pictures of ‘work in progress’. I’m glad that none of the progress or upgrading the ‘old’ took away his pleasures of visiting the old souk, the fish market, Al Bastakiya, riding the abra by the Creek or drinking fresh carrot juice from his favorite shop. When the area around Safa Park was under construction, he switched his morning routine to walking by the beach and then by the Dubai Canal once it was complete. He always found a way.
Digital or not. The key elements live on; the smell of the salty air, the sound of the waves slowly dissipating paired with the cries of white and grey sea gulls (when it’s in season) or black crows flying overhead. White fine sands sprinkled with footprints blend harmoniously with the emerald sea filled with perpetual motion. Whenever I look out into the open sea, I can’t help but feel grateful.