x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Fond memories of old Ras Al Khaimah

Community Roots: As part of our weekly series exploring the nation's oldest neighbourhoods, Afshan Ahmed takes a look at Old RAK.

Servers outside a juice bar in Old RAK.
Servers outside a juice bar in Old RAK.

As Indian fishmongers shout out the going rate of the day's haul of hammour and jesh, Mohammed Al Nuaimi looks disappointedly at his catch, dumped at Ras Al Khaimah's morning fish market.

It is the second day in a row that the 62-year-old Emirati's boat has not delivered quite what he had hoped for the auction that signals the start of morning activities in the oldest part of the emirate.

By 8am, older Emiratis, some hunched with walking sticks, head to the bustling market that sits on the tip of the western creek in Old Ras Al Khaimah.

On display are the finest offerings from fishermen who took to the seas at dawn to land the best possible catch.

For Mr Al Nuaimi, who came to the profession late in life after working in healthcare for 22 years, the matter is one of prestige rather than profit.

"It all depends on chance," he says. "Today it was less but sometimes we get hundreds."

Taking stock on his boat Mulla that bobs along with several others on the creek, he thinks of what he will tell the majlis he will be attending afterwards, and reminisces about his first experiences in the trade which he took up full time in 2002.

"My father would take me out after school and taught me how to do this. It created a bond between us," he says. "At that time this used to be work and everything was manual."

Mr Al Nuaimi does not expect any of his six boys to continue the tradition.

"They all are big officials, working for the government. They don't want to do this. They don't like it."

Old Ras Al Khaimah, which dates back 500 years, was once the core residential and trading hub of the emirate.

Opposite today's fish market, is a road leading to the emirate's highest and oldest area.

This is the site of the 150-year-old Mohammed bin Salim mosque, which was open to worshippers until recently. In April, it was stripped to its foundations of gypsum, coral-stoned walls and thatched roof by archaeologists hoping to uncover evidence of an even older mosque thought to have been the emirate's first building.

For the aged population that continues to frequent the locality long after most families moved to more developed areas, the area offers a welcome respite from modernity, a place where the most important conversations revolve around their families and the freshness of that day's catch.

The fish market and mosque stand on opposite sides of one end of Mohammed bin Salim Street. At the other end of the street, a group of Bangladeshi workers are busy making bait out of a mound of stale bread that the fishermen will use the next day.

They toil away outside the air-conditioned Majlis Al Aabaa where retired army, media and health officers gather daily to exchange anecdotes, opinions and memories. The front of the white cabin is adorned with images of the Emirates rulers, a gesture of gratitude and loyalty to the country.

The majlis was built on the orders of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed, the former Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, who was passing through the neighbourhood when he noticed a group of elders outside a coffee shop who appeared troubled by the heat.

Seated on its diwan-style cushioned sofa is Salim Otthman, 60, who is in the middle of a disagreement over what preceded the assortment of garment shops and restaurants that stand in the market today.

"It was a market for women only," he says, only to be cut off midway by Jassim Al Ghassab, 62, who remembers it as being a fruit and vegetable bazaar.

Also attending the majlis is its youngest member, Mohammed Ahmed Kandar, 40, who has come to hear stories about his father from the other men.

"My father owned the first coffee shop here," says the retired air force pilot as he accepts a cup of kahwa and dates from an attendant. "They tell me how he was, what he did."

He says the wisdom of the other men has helped him be a better person. "I trust their advice on how to live and raise my children."

A block away, guffaws from a rather less traditional majlis at a shop in the Iranian market break the silence that engulfs the neighbourhood in the afternoon.

At the end of the line of shops, which sell everything from khanjar (daggers) to household decorations and fishing equipment, is the hardware store of Rashid Abu Al Hamam Al Shams, a 70-year-old Emirati trader and former pearl diver who is rapidly losing his eyesight and hearing but knows he can count on his friends for amusement.

"He is a well-respected businessman and is known for his charity," says Yaqaub Yousef, a 55-year-old Kuwaiti, who has been living in the UAE since 1980. Mr Yousef is one of a group of five men who cram into the shop's office on a daily basis to offer Mr Al Shams their company.

"We have nothing to do all day, so we just talk. We all have two wives," he laughs. "It gives us an opportunity to complain about them."


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