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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

UAE Portrait of a Nation: the barber of Black House Saloon and the bag of Dh200,000

Anil Shill moved to the UAE in 1978 from his home country Bangladesh

Anil Shill opened Black House Hairdressing Saloon in Abu Dhabi in 1992 after first moving to the UAE in 1978. Pawan Singh / The National
Anil Shill opened Black House Hairdressing Saloon in Abu Dhabi in 1992 after first moving to the UAE in 1978. Pawan Singh / The National

Anil Shill is known as the barber of Black House Saloon on Electra Street but few know the story of how he came to own his business.

Mr Shill was one of the men who built Hamdan Centre. He arrived to the UAE in 1978 and worked at Hamdan Centre for six months in 1978, earning Dh20 a day, working from 6am to 6pm without a break. That Dh20 was all he got. Accommodation and food were not included.

He ate at a hotel near Hamdan street, a plate of rice with fish or chicken curry and salad for one dirham and 50 fils.

Mr Shill slept on the roof of a house behind Hamdan Centre. A man from his village in Bangladesh had arranged it. Its rooms were full but he slept on the roof for free.

He had never really been alone. He was 18 or 19 and had always been surrounded by lots of family. “You know, my family is a very big family. They are eating, sleeping all together. More than 20 people. Nobody is separate.” After boarding that flight from Dhaka, he was on his own. “No friend, no brother, nothing,” said Mr Shill. “I got to Abu Dhabi and my life changed. I had to be responsible for my mum and my papa. I had no relative here, nothing. No friend, nothing. Only alone. I got the job alone. I was 18 and sleeping on a roof.”

He would remit Dh300 a month.

When a friend from his village offered Mr Shill the chance to work in a private house, he took that opportunity and the pay cut, earning Dh400 a month.

His life changed forever when a bag of Dh200,000 in cash was dropped in front of him.

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Read more:

My barber: the constant in a city defined by change

The framers of Electra Street: the men who freeze moments from history

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His employer, Mohammed Rashed, had put it on top of his car and driven off. Mr Shill picked up the packet.

Mr Rashed returned within an hour and Mr Shill heard him telling his wife about the missing money.

When Mr Shill unzipped the bag, he couldn’t believe his eyes. “More than how much? More than 200,000 dirhams,” he remembers.

“I said to him, ‘sir you lost something?

“‘No, no, no, no,’ he said.

“So I said to him, ‘I found one packet. Is this your money?’”

Mr Rashed was delighted.

“He said, ‘thank you very much. Take Dh10,000’.”

“I told him, ‘no, sir, I won’t take the Dh10,000’.”

To repay him, Mrs Rashed got him a job in the military as a barber.

“I will never forget his wife, she really helped me. She was like my big sister. So that changed my life.”

Mr Shill was up for the job. He had worked as a barber in Bangladesh when he was 12, at the hairdressers across the road from his school. He was taught to shave and cut hair from a 15-year-old boy.

After some time in the military, Mr Shill went home to marry the woman his sister had chosen. He went to the house of a stranger with fifty members of his family and put a ring on her finger. “I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me. But after we married.”

From then on, he would work in Abu Dhabi for five months and spend the sixth with his wife in Bangladesh. She has never visited Abu Dhabi.

In 1992, Mr Shill retired from the military and opened the Black House Saloon. He named it for Electra Street, which was dark when he arrived.

His son, now 29, joined him eight or ten years ago. He comes in at 11.30 every morning, and covers the afternoon shift when the other barber takes a one-hour siesta.

“I relax now,” says Mr Shill, who is 61.

Retirement?

“I will tell to you: if my health is Ok, I’m working.”