x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Joys of living in Shahama's peace and quiet

Community Roots: As part of our weekly look at the country's oldest neighbourhoods, Jen Thomas takes a look at Shahama in Abu Dhabi.

It is easy to drive past Shahama without noticing it unless one has to stop for gas at its ADNOC station.
It is easy to drive past Shahama without noticing it unless one has to stop for gas at its ADNOC station.

ABU DHABI // The traders who man the stalls at the Green Market in Old Shahama rarely see a customer at this time of day.

As the late afternoon sun beats down on the neighbourhood, one of the first developed areas on the mainland, only a handful of cars pull up to the sea foam-coloured structure set apart from the main road.

Fruit and vegetable sellers from the subcontinent lounge in the market's large circular atriums, while three workers mindlessly mop the same stretch of linoleum floor.

Outside, the only people visible on the tree-lined residential streets are three small children walking to a corner store for a snack.

Next door, at the Rainbow Cafeteria, Yousef Mohammed enjoys his usual after-work coffee. Mr Mohammed, a UAE resident for the past 40 years who works as a cook for the Civil Defence, is the only customer.

"When the sun goes down, people come out," said Mr Mohammed, a 56-year-old from India. "Shahama is where you live if you want quiet and no problems."

The predominantly Emirati area, which lies about 30 kilometres from the capital's city centre, is separated into two distinct parts separated by a small underpass.

Old Shahama is a predominantly residential neighbourhood that includes small pockets of commercial activity and borders the coastal area of Bahia. New Shahama is nestled directly off the E10 and E11 motorways and consists principally of two long commercial strips.

In the centre of New Shahama, abandoned bicycles lie on their sides in front of empty shopfronts. As the sun sets, the long pavement in front of the shops fills up with business owners lounging in plastic chairs, families buying toys from the gift shop and customers searching for car accessories.

Mohammed Abdullah, 19, from Pakistan, and two of his friends have no plans to leave Shahama after finishing their studies at Abu Dhabi University.

"You think it is boring here, but we can live here in peace," says Mr Abdullah. "In Abu Dhabi, there's too much noise."

But major changes are coming to Shahama within the next two decades.

As part of the emirate's Vision 2030 plan, the Urban Planning Council (UPC) has developed a revitalisation schedule for Shahama and Bahia that emphasises sustainability and connectivity.

New parks, infrastructure improvements and the creation of town centres are all part of the plan. Neighbourhoods will be designed to encourage a greater sense of community, and more amenities will be constructed.

Shahama's residents can expect "a complete sustainable community that provides all the necessary facilities needed to serve the residents and improve the quality of living for future generations", said Humaid Al Marzouqi, a senior associate planner for the UPC.

"In addition, the UPC has planned a town centre that will serve the residents of Shahama, as well as provide a number of proposed connections that will bring Shahama closer to other neighbouring towns and improve the transport between them," said Mr Al Marzouqi.

The Dh700 million Deerfields Town Square in Bahia, just minutes from Old Shahama, is being pitched as a community mall with more than 200 retailers and is expected to be ready by the end of the year.

For Nawem Han, who runs a car accessory store in New Shahama with his nephew Naveed, not all the changes in the area are positive.

"When I came to Shahama 10 years ago, business was very bad, but it's been better for the past five years," he said. "But now it is getting bad again. Many stores are closed, the streets are dirty and there are not too many customers."

He says he is happy that he will have to relocate to Mussaffah as part of emirate-wide rules affecting most car shops.

Surrounded by flags, Arabic decals, and stickers of Sheikh Zayed's face, Mr Han lights a cigarette and urges visitors to browse the dimly lit space.

Neighbourhood boys, customers from Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and friends frequent the shop, which is in the centre of a block of similarly sized businesses also selling car accessories.

"After 5pm, this place comes alive," says Mr Han, a 45-year-old from Pakistan.

Back at the Green Market, Shahama is paradise for at least one shopper.

"Everything I need, I find in Shahama," said Butti Mohammed, a 22-year-old Emirati who travels to Shahama from Al Rahba to shop.

As Mr Mohammed leaves Al Baliya Garments and Gifts, a shop featuring wall-to-wall offerings of perfume and cologne, he tugs on the ghutra he has just purchased.

"Shahama contains many things that you want," he says. "We don't even have markets in Al Rahba."