x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

On location: Hor al Anz

While there has been an influx of people into Hor al Anz in recent years, many who grew up there have moved to other parts of Dubai.

The Hor Al Anz neighbourhood in Dubai.
The Hor Al Anz neighbourhood in Dubai.

Wrapped in flowing pink and yellow robes, Umm Ahmed, 53, sits on a chair outside the one-storey house in the neighbourhood where she spent her childhood.

Colourful pieces of fabric for sale are laid out on a mat in front of her, alongside a table of perfumes at the main entrance to her family home in the area of Hor al Anz, where her elderly mother still lived until recently.

While there has been an influx of people into Hor al Anz in recent years taking advantage of cheaper accommodation close to the heart of Deira, many of those who grew up in the area, like Umm Ahmed, have moved to other parts of Dubai.

"Before it was a very nice place. There was no traffic, just families," says the mother of four, who now lives with her husband and mother in Rashidiya. "It was a simple and beautiful life."

Where there are now hundreds of houses built along winding, narrow streets, once was a slight valley where horses and camels would graze not far from Dubai's coast, said Dawoud al Hajiri, the director of planning at Dubai Municipality.

Homes like the one belonging to Umm Ahmed's family sprang up in the 1970s when local authorities built government housing for Emiratis in the area named after Al Anz - a famous horse that belonged by Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum, a former ruler of Dubai.

When Umm Ahmed was growing up, more people started to move into the neighbourhood. She recalls families sharing meals together, with the children running between each other's homes.

"All the ladies used to come together at one house and some would bring tea and another would bring coffee and fruit," she says, as a couple from Tanzania stop by her makeshift stall. "Now everyone is separate - not like before. Now, at 9 o'clock, you close your door and you go to sleep."

Nabil Saif, 50, another longtime resident of Hor al Anz, strolls past Umm Ahmed, waving as he passes.

"The atmosphere and everything has changed now. Everyone used to be together," he said. "We're still happy here, but before was much better."

Over the last decade, rows of beit shaabi, or traditional one-storey, government-issued homes, have given way to converted villas to accommodate the single men - many from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and India - and small families moving into the area.

To reflect the changing face of the community, Dubai Municipality rezoned Hor al Anz about two years ago, Mr al Hajiri said, to allow for more commercial activity in the neighbourhood that is dotted with small tailor shops, groceries stores and restaurants.

"Many nationals have moved on to areas like Rashidiyah, some moved to places like Mirdif - it was a natural migration," he said.

Sitting on a ledge outside the main gate to the villa where his family have lived for three decades, Bader Mohammed, 18, said many of the relatives and friends he spent his childhood with have moved to places such as Al Warqa.

"This is still home for us," said Mr Mohammed's brother Haitham, 26. "I like this area, it's between everywhere. Sharjah, Deira, the city centre - everywhere is close."

Not far away from the Mohammed family home, a group of friends play football on a sand-pitch at a recreation area. Taking a break from the game, Rubel Ahmed, 24, from Bangladesh, explains that he has worked as a mechanic in Dubai for three years. "It is so nice here. It's a clean area and the people are good," he said of Hor al Anz, where he lives with friends in a villa.

Just around the corner from the football pitch, young boys take their dogs for a walk, as a woman in a burqa face-cover and bright yellow jalabiya walks out of her front gate to pour water into a tray for her chickens.

On a large, open gravel area close by, a group of men in shalwar kameez played a game of cricket on a cement pitch with bricks for makeshift stumps, while spectators gathered on the edge of the the field.

As the game got underway, on a street nearby Umm Ahmed remained seated outside her family home watching as residents returned home to Hor al Anz for the evening.

"Of course I miss the old days, but this is still a quiet place and there are no problems," she said.

zconstantine@thenational.ae