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An account of life in Abu Dhabi from 1954-1958

This personal memoir covers the period from 1954–58, before life changed in Abu Dhabi with the discovery of oil.

Susan Hillyard was the only European woman in Abu Dhabi at that time, and her diaries the only day-to-day written record. The society she describes in a very informal manner ranged from the relatively well-off sheiks to those living in poverty. As an Arabic speaker she frequented all walks of life and wrote that “I was accepted in all my strangeness, and the stranger became a friend.” She regularly visited women throughout society, including the women folk of the Royal family, notably Sheika Salamah.

Susan Hillyard wrote this book first as an academic research project, but then reshaped it in its current form to make it readily accessible. She was prompted by Sheikh Zayed who wanted an accurate account of life at the time to be available to those in Abu Dhabi who did not know how their families had lived before oil changed their way of life.

She kept daily accounts on which she drew for this personal and affectionate memoir. Her book provides valuable insights into many aspects of the day-to-day lives of the people of Abu Dhabi, for example their customs, health, childcare, food or the lack of it. She describes the construction of arish huts; there were few stone buildings and permanent housing would come later, schools and clinics too. There were no roads, and transport was by Land Rover across the sabqah or by dhow.

This book is an invaluable source for those interested in the history and development of Abu Dhabi, and has been used as a source for the renovation of the Qasr el Hasn.

Photo: Abu Dhabi seafront
By permission of the 
B.P. Archives