Fast Food with Sheikh Rashid Ruler of Dubai 1971
In the early 1970s, Dubai was a "small town" with an equally small population and degree of intimacy that is hard to imagine today. Sheikh Rashid was part of Dubai's daily life. Most residents had seen him at some time, many had met him as he moved around Dubai. This is a story of how four newly arrived Expatriate Couples came to sit down for Dinner with Sheikh Rashid - but only just!
A New Home then an Invitation to a Wedding
It became known as the V V and Sons Building. The building was owned by Mr Al Owais and Dubaiside's first "high rise".
The building was new. So were we! Four European Expatriate families newly arrived in Dubai to work in Port Rashid. The Building was popularly know as VV and Sons Building to anyone interested in buying the latest HiFi Equipment. VV and Sons' shop on the ground floor sold all the best makes - Nakamichi - Kenwood - Denon - Harman - Technics - all of them were available there. VV and Sons was THE place to go for Dubai's HiFi enthusiasts. We all lived on the Third Floor - four apartments on the same floor - which Dubai Port Services had rented for us. Our arrival increased the European families living on Al Fahidi Street to five! Barely three weeks after moving into our new homes, we each received an Invitation from Mr Al Owais, our Landlord. His son was to be married the following day. We were all invited to the Wedding Dinner to be held at the nearby Ambassador Hotel. Dinner was at 7pm. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai was the Guest of Honour. We were delighted to accept of course.
Dinner with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai
Our apartment building was only a half kilometre or so from the Ambassador Hotel. It was April so the weather was still cool. We walked, the men were in their best suits, the ladies in newly unpacked evening dresses. We arrived early (better not be late!). Outside the Ambassador Hotel a crowd had gathered awaiting Sheikh Rashid's arrival so we joined them. No one was allowed in until after Sheikh Rashid arrived which he did just before 7pm, driving up in his old Mercedes Benz. Mr Al Owais greeted Sheikh Rashid then, together, they moved into the hotel heading for the Ballroom where dinner was to be served. The crowd followed Sheikh Rashid and Mr Al Owais. We followed the crowd. Once in the Ballroom, the crowd quickly found their own tables. We, on the other hand, were politely guided to a "special table" reserved for us! "Special" ?!! It was the only table in this large Ballroom equipped with forks and spoons. All the other tables layouts assumed their Guests would be eating their food in the traditional Arab way.
Ambassador Hotel Ballroom
Looking around the Ballroom, it was soon apparent we four couples were the only Europeans in the Ballroom and our wives the only ladies present. But our presence was accepted as a normal course of events which, of course, it wasn't. Everyone remained standing once they reached their tables. When Sheikh Rashid sat down, we all sat down. Food began to arrive. Hommus, fatoush and other dishes familiar around the world today but not so familiar in 1971. No one ate. When Sheikh Rashid began to eat, we all began to eat. Conversation stopped. But not for long! Sheikh Rashid waived his hand at the waiter serving his food. Sheikh Rashid stopped eating. Everyone stopped eating. Immediately food was removed from all the tables.
Then the next course appeared. Roast Goat, rice and the accompanying hot dishes were laid on the tables. Everyone waited for Sheikh Rashid to start eating. When he did, eating became the sole focus of everyone in that Ballroom. Soon Sheikh Rashid waived his food away and stopped eating. Everyone stopped eating. Sheikh Rashid stood up. Everyone stood up. Sheikh Rashid made his way out of the ballroom accompanied by Mr Al Owais. Everyone else left the Ballroom following behind Sheikh Rashid as closely as they could. Outside the hotel Sheikh Rashid said his farewells to his host, climbed into his familiar Mercedes Benz and was driven away. Now, barely an half hour later, we four couples were again waiting outside the Ambassador Hotel standing in the same place we had eagerly anticipated dinner with Sheikh Rashid! By now we were really hungry! What to do?? Ambassador Hotel's new bar and restaurant beckoned - it seemed the best solution!
We had not realised Mr Al Owais's Celebrations provided a series of dinners at the Ambassador Hotel that week for all his Wedding Guests of which there were many. Sheikh Rashid only attended the first dinner. Mr Al Owais gave us the honour of attending that first dinner and being in Sheikh Rashid's company albeit from a distance. No doubt the following dinners lasted longer and, in all probability, the Guests ate a lot more food!