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Mapping the future.

Dubai: Little did Giovanni Cantalupo know when his plane landed on the runway in Sharjah that he would be playing a very long innings in the UAE.

Cantalupo, a civil engineer from Salerno, Italy, was just 22 years when he arrived in 1964. He came to the UAE on a three-year working contract with the Royal Air Force.

Today he is 66 years and proud to drive on the very roads he had laid down in the emirates of Sharjah and Dubai.

"I landed at Sharjah Airport, arriving via Bahrain, accompanied by 16 other passengers. I was previously stationed in the port city of Aden, Yemen, for two years while working with the British government with my Italian-based construction company, Zompi. In those days none of us spoke Arabic, so I taught myself basic Arabic during my first three months there."

His company then negotiated a contract with the Royal Air Force to build their camp in Sharjah, which was a vital city in the UAE.

"I stayed in Sharjah for four years and built 90 per cent of the roads, until Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum came to know about what we were doing and asked us to build the first roads in Dubai. There was absolutely nothing there except for sand."

Four currencies

The first roads were from Al Shindagha to Zabeel and near Al Maktoum Bridge, which included all the areas behind the British Consulate, as well as Khalid Bin Al Waleed Street and all the main arterial roads in the city.

During his first 10 years in the country, he vividly remembers going through four currencies. "First there was the Indian Rupee, then the Saudi Arabian Riyal, which was used for less than a year. Then it became the Qatar-Dubai Riyal and finally it was the Dirham."

He continued his employment with the Italian firm Zompi until it was sold to Khansaheb Civil Engineering in 1974, and to this day continues to work there as a manager at the roads division.

"We used to drive on the left-hand side until 1971, when British rule ended and Shaikh Rashid instructed everyone to drive on the right-hand side. But the problem was that people living far away, like in Ras Al Khaimah, did not know about it," he says while showing his broken wrist. "That's how I broke my wrist. I had a head-on collision while driving on Al Maktoum Bridge because a man from Ras Al Khaimah was driving in the opposite direction, heading towards me."

Cantalupo was not at all accustomed to the heat and to cope with working under extreme conditions in the summer, he and his colleagues conjured up new tricks on how to keep cool.

"We would put ice cubes inside a jug the night before so that it would be cool to store our water in the next day. To hide from the sun, we would take our breaks inside a tent. As a site engineer in those days you had to do everything, such as conducting the survey, oversee the execution of the work, the usage of materials and be in contact with the authorities. It was a very demanding job.

"People only used to drive around with Land Rovers and because there was no air-conditioning, we would keep the windows down so that the wind would circulate through the car."

While settling in at his new home, he said he never felt alone because the community was very friendly in those days and organised many social events to keep everyone entertained.

"Because this country was in need of everything, all the people who came out here were very intelligent so we would have very interesting and intellectual conversations. We all came for a specific reason and we were able to understand each other's difficulty in living far away from home."

During his time spent here, Cantalupo has one particular memory that he holds close to his heart, the day Shaikh Rashid praised his work. One day at 7am while he was working at the site, four of Shaikh Rashid's bodyguards walked towards him and said that the Shaikh wanted to have a talk.

"I was shaking like a leaf because I thought that I had done something wrong. But instead, we sat on the sand dunes and drank gahwa (Arabic coffee). He praised my work, and told me to stay in the country as long as I liked and that I could take any land I wanted to build my house. Unfortunately, I didn't take him up on his offer and missed out on the house."

Comparing how rapidly the city has developed over a span of four decades, Cantalupo described that, "the astonishing development in Dubai has taken the world by surprise."

[c] Al Nisr Publishing LLC 2007. All rights reserved.

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Article Details
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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Apr 4, 2008
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