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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Neighbourhood watch: the original gateway to Abu Dhabi, Al Maqta is now a prime destination itself

Al Maqta is at the centre of two bridges connecting the emirate but is much more than just a place to pass through

A view over Maqta bridge. The National
A view over Maqta bridge. The National

Al Maqta has long been viewed as Abu Dhabi's gateway – a key driver for ambitious efforts to connect a rapidly developing emirate to the wider world.

Strategically positioned between the landmark Maqta Bridge – which opened in 1968 – and Mussafah Bridge, which was built a decade later, it could be all too easy to think of it as a place to pass through rather than a destination itself.

But Al Maqta has successfully bridged the gap between the emirates's past, the flourishing present and the promising future.

It is now home to a chain of glittering hotels, including the Shangri-La and Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, a variety of retail and leisure facilities, and a whole host government organisations while the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque provides an impressive backdrop.

It is a thriving hub of activity, not just a mere crossing point, a place to stay rather than see in a flash from your car window as you drive somewhere else.

Zabna Amer moved to the area with her family in 1998 and has witnessed firsthand two decades of remarkable development.

“When we moved, there weren’t that many services, and to do grocery shopping we had to go to Abu Dhabi downtown,” the employee relations manager, 34, says.

“Only tailors’ shops and cafeterias were there,” she said pointing to a line of tailors, cafeterias and small grocery shops that stretch across Al Maqta’s main street.

“There was also a clinic in a villa. We were well-acquainted with the doctors there, my mother used to send them iftar meals every Ramadan.”

The clinic was replaced a few year ago with Al Maqta Healthcare Center, another sign of the need to serve a growing community.

Ms Amer’s home is one of the earliest houses to be built in the area, and her family is steeped in Al Maqta's traditions.

Despite the rise of shiny new hotels, shopping avenues and business districts, there is still a vibrant sense of community here.

Ms Amer's mother, Museda Amer, said she made many friends at the mosque behind their house, where she learned the Quran.

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“We got to know the neighbours from the mosque,” the senior Amer, 69, says.

"When we first moved to the neighbourhood, I tried to introduce myself to the neighbours in vain; I knocked on their doors, nobody was home.”

However, once she started attending classes at the mosque, she befriended most of the women there. “We became friends and starting visiting each other’s homes and sending food to one another.”

“And Um Khamis, a neighbour, wakes me up every morning for fajer (dawn prayers).”

Her son Naser, remembers a time when life was “more simple”.

“I was around 10 when we moved. I used to play football with the neighbours’ kids barefoot outside the house, and when we became teenagers we used to go to where the [Abu Dhabi] Co-op is now.

Bein Al Jesrain Park is a popular attraction for youngsters who enjoy facilities such as the jungle gym. Victor Besa / The National. Section
Bein Al Jesrain Park is a popular attraction for youngsters.

“There used to be a small arcade with just two or three games and a billiard table.

“Also where the family public park is now, there used to be a dark sandy area, I used to go there with the guys at night and start bonfires,” says Mr Naser, 33.

While he feels nostalgic for the neighbourhood’s early years, he says it has evolved for the better.

He now lives in his family home alongside with his wife and three children.

“Now when the children want to practice football they go to a proper field, and when the younger ones want to play we take them to Junior Gym,” he said, referring to a playing facility dedicated for children.

He said a number of his friends aimed to become athletes, but neglected their studies doing so, and ended up “getting lost”.

“Now there are proper clubs that teach young people to maintain a balance between hobbies and studies,” he said.

Residents in Al Maqta cherish the UAE's rich history as well as embracing its bright future. Victor Besa / The National
Murals on the walls of the community celebrate its history

The neighbourhood’s public park includes a football field where many boys and young men come together in the spirit of fun and competition.

Mohammed Ismail, an 18-year-old pupil from Sudan, is one of the players regularly pitching up for action.

“I’ve been playing football since I was a child. We used to play outside, two streets away from here,” he says.

“But since the park re-opened three years ago and they added the field, we started playing matches here.”

“Having this field helped me develop my football skills.”

A few metres away from the field, children play on the slides and swings, groups of women sit on the grass for a picnic, while men cook up food on barbecues.

Bein Al Jesrain Co-operative is one of the focal points of a bustling community. Victor Besa / The National
Bein Al Jesrain Co-operative is one of the focal points of a bustling community. Victor Besa / The National

“I bring my daughters here on a weekly basis,” says Ashraf Moussa, while helping his three and two-year-old daughters on the swings.

“We live in Mussafah, so it is close by, and we like it here because they have good recreations and it is all families,” says the 34-year-old Jordanian engineer.

All roads lead to Al Maqta, and it is well worth stopping by.

Updated: January 2, 2019 07:36 PM

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