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A meal of two dates, then a shift of 14 hours

Mohammed Al Suwaidi is very aware of the UAEs pearling heritage for his grandfather, his namesake, was one of the hundreds of men who made his living hunting for the jewels in the hot briny waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Mohammed Al Suwaidi is very aware of the UAE's pearling heritage for his grandfather, his namesake, was one of the hundreds of men who made his living diving for the gems in the waters of the Arabian Gulf.

"I grew up hearing my grandfather tell stories of the very hard life he lived as a pearler," Mr Al Suwaidi remembers.

The elder Mohammed Al Suwaidi and hundreds of compatriots would go out pearling for months on end in 60-foot boats, packed with dozens of men. "Before sunrise they would eat just two dates and drink a little water," Mr Al Suwaidi says.

After this meagre breakfast his grandfather would dive for 13 or 14 hours, up to 250 descents in a day, hunting for the allusive pearl oysters. He would use a stone attached to a rope as a diving weight. Another rope attached to a basket worn around his neck would be used to pull him up after one or two minutes.

After a day of gruelling work the men would eat one proper meal together and then sleep for a few hours among thousands of stinking oyster shells, the flesh rotting in the heat as they waited for them to open, perhaps to reveal a prize within.

"It was the hardest life. It was all we had for money. Agriculture and fishing were very poor and only enough for sustenance," Mr Al Suwaidi says.

His grandfather would stay at sea for at least four months and 10 days, all summer long, even longer if they had not found enough pearls by the end of the season.

"When they returned there would be singing and dancing, the festival we call Al Gafal, we still celebrate it today with boat races in Dubai and all over the Emirates," Mr Al Suwaidi says.

Once next week's auctions are over he will return to the oyster farm in Ras Al Khaimah, and assuming the sale goes well, Mr Al Suwaidi will start preparing for the next one.

"The UAE pearl has returned now," Mr Al Suwaidi says. "Every year now we will produce small quantities of very high quality pearls so the world will come to know this country for fine jewels that we produce once more."



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