x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Scout still dreams of desert friendships

A man who worked in the UAE as an electrician in the 60s is hoping to get back in touch with his friends from the Trucial Scouts.

SHARJAH // The friendships Alan Sanderson made here as a teenage volunteer in the Trucial Oman Scouts in 1968 made such a lasting impression that he would love to reconnect with the men he met all those years ago.

The British electrician from Newcastle came out to serve in the Scouts, the military force that preceded the UAE army, when he was only 19.

He was based on the Umm Al Qaiwain border "about two miles from Sharjah Town" at Ras Al Makab, where he worked with Mohammed Rafiq, a jeweller and electrician from India, an Arab electrician by the name of Saeed Azziz and a Baluchi electrician, Lal Mohammed.

"They were the best people I ever met in my life, they were the friendliest and they would do anything for you," said Mr Sanderson.

"They were genuine and honest people."

Mr Mohammed and Mr Sanderson were tasked with inspecting batteries and generators at camps in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Hamham, Manama, Masafi, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah.

Their driver, Busti Khalifi - a nickname that Mr Sanderson translates as "big chap, big lad" - had such mastery of the Land Rovers and Bedford lorries that he could make the "tech tour" across the untamed terrain in an average of 14 days.

Mr Sanderson's first tour began three days after his arrival in Sharjah.

"I had to learn Arabic within three days because my Arab driver, Mr Khalifi, he could speak no English at all. The technician could speak a little bit of English but he said, 'Why should I, when there's two Arabs and one English guy?'"

Each squadron had about 300 men from across the Gulf and Asia. In those days, patrols engaged in diplomacy and "checked that there were no illegal wars going on and try to help them sort it out between villages".

"There were little problems, 'he's feeding his goats in my ground', just little silly things.

"But, you know, out there little silly things grow in proportion because there are lots of rulers," said Mr Sanderson. His responsibilities included the delivery of letters and city luxuries such as cheese, biscuits and cigarettes to the villages.

Before long, families would bicker over the honour of hosting Mr Sanderson on his visits.

"I got on great with the lads," recalled Mr Sanderson. "I got very close to them."

On one trip, Mr Sanderson rescued a man and his lorry full of ripe tomatoes stuck in a washed-out wadi after the rains.

The farmer came to his workshop the next day to repay him with four boxes of tomatoes. The next week he returned again and again.

"That's one of the reasons I just like these people. They were as honest as the day was long," said Mr Sanderson.

Mr Sanderson went on to work in half a dozen other countries but no place has held his heart like the Trucial Coast, as the UAE was then known.

At the age of 62, Mr Sanderson dreams of returning to the UAE, which was founded a few months after he left the area.

"I have never been back. I would love to go back but obviously now it's so, so expensive," said Mr Sanderson.

"If I ever win the British National Lottery or anything, it's my first port of call. As a matter of fact it would be my only port of call. I would love to see what Sharjah and Dubai are like.

"It's the best place I've ever been in my life."

azacharias@thenational.ae