Driven to Distraction 3
December 30, 1993
Abu Dhabi, UAE
None of the Abu Dhabi maps, or the city's residents, use the aforementioned numbering system.
Instead, they use both 'official' and 'unofficial' names - neither of which bear any relationship to the zones, sectors or street numbers used by the street system signs.
Sometimes the official and/or unofficial street name will be posted at an intersection, sometimes not. None of the buildings have numbers; all business addresses are post office boxes.
It's all very confusing for newcomers...
A Street by Any Other Name…
Let me illustrate with an example. One of the three main streets, which run in parallel to each other, and the sea, and which form the backbone of the city centre, is officially called Sheikh Zayed the Second Street.
You'll never hear it called that though: it's commonly known as Electra. However, it's only called Electra east of Old Airport Road. West of Old Airport Road (where it's officially called Sheikh Zayed the First Street), it's unofficially called the "Electra extension" or "Khalidiya" street - not to be confused with the official Khalidiya Street, which intersects the unofficial Khalidiya near the Spinney's store.
And by the way, when somebody talks of Airport road you have to find out if that's Old Airport Road or New Airport Road. They run in parallel about four blocks apart. New Airport Road is officially called Lulu Street downtown and the East Road outside of downtown. If you follow the signs for "Airport" Road you'll be taking Old Airport Road not New Airport Road. Gotta’ remember that.
To complicate matters further, the names are almost as difficult to remember as they are to pronounce and they're all so darn similar: there's Khalifa bin Zayed Street, Zayed the First and Second Streets, Hazaa bin Zayed Street, Sultan bin Zayed Street, Mohammed bin Khalifa Street, and Hamdan bin Mohammed, to name just a few.
Mostly the streets are named after members of the ruling family, past and present. Thus, Zayed the Second Street is named for His Highness Sheikh (pronounced "shake") Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
Sultan bin Zayed and Khalifa bin Zayed streets are named for his two sons His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, respectively.
"Bin," as you have probably already guessed, means "son of." Somewhat unusual in this crop of streets named for sons is the fact that none is named for a Mohammed, Abdulla, Ahmed, or Hamad.
It seems that at least every second or third male Arab, at least those who are Muslim, is called Mohammed. (In fact, from what I know, it is the world’s most common name.)
Not Lost for Long… I Hope!
Luckily, with the exception of about ten main streets, people generally don't refer much to names anyway.
When you phone a shop, for example, and ask where they're located, they'll ask if you know where a certain landmark is and then they'll say: "we're in the third building down from there on the opposite side of the street. First floor. Just ask the doorman for Naeem. No problem."
Right. I've been known to drive around in circles for hours looking for someplace that I was supposed to be able to find "no problem."
Or they'll say "we're in the tourist club area," a section of the city that covers about 20 square city blocks.
But ever so slowly I’m learning where the landmarks are, and the more places I go the more places I know, and hey, after awhile I won't feel quite so lost anymore. It’ll just take time. And a sense of humour. And a helluva' good memory!