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HomeMiddle EastPortrait of a Nation: Illiterate Afghan businessman went from penniless newcomer to Abu Dhabi success story

Portrait of a Nation: Illiterate Afghan businessman went from penniless newcomer to Abu Dhabi success story

Anwar Ahmad

ABU DHABI // Noorullah Khan’s life was changed forever the day he stepped foot in Abu Dhabi.

The Afghan arrived in the capital aged 18, penniless and with little more than the clothes on his back. Fast forward three decades and he now runs a successful shop at the Carpet Market at Mina Zayed.

Now 51 years old, he has made a life for himself and his family, all the more remarkable for the fact he still cannot read or write.

“The UAE has changed my and my family’s lives, otherwise I was nobody. I loitered aimlessly back home but my father motivated to travel to the UAE,” Mr Khan said.

“I thought that I am uneducated, what I would do in the UAE? But this is the barakah (blessing or bounty) of the UAE so that I earned what I never imaged.”

The businessman, who is fluent in Arabic, was even lucky enough to meet and talk with the late Sheikh Zayed, who used to buy carpets from his shop and paid him generously.

“Baba Zayed (father Zayed) used to visit the market about two to three times a year to buy carpets. Apart from buying our stuff he encouraged us lot. Carpets were valued at Dh500 but he would pay us generously Dh2,000,” he said.

Nowadays shopkeepers at the Carpet Market enjoy all the comforts and conveniences of modern malls. However, it was not that way when Mr Khan set up shop with 47 other traders in a building made of wood and palm leaves. Air-conditioning was only installed after Sheikh Zayed ordered the market be renovated.

Life was tougher in the old days, recalls Mr Khan.

“When I landed here I didn’t had a single penny. Even the taxi fare of Dh10 was paid by a relative. I came to the UAE and joined my father’s business who worked in construction sites and earned some money, then he bought 10 carpets and started selling them from a wooden hut,” said the businessman, who now has more than 500 carpets from Turkey, Afghanistan and Belgium on sale in his shop, Al Noor Carpets.

Being illiterate was never a barrier to his success, said Mr Khan.

“I hired a couple of people who were briefly educated to run the trade. But my elder brother and my father taught me lot to run the business.

“Now my ambition is to provide good education to my children. I couldn’t go to school due to war,” said the father of 14 children aged between two and 22 years old.

“I struggled lot. Now I don’t want my kids to suffer and go through the same. I regularly finance the expenses of my family and parents as they don’t have any source of income back home,” he said.

“God’s blessings are on the UAE so anybody who comes here can get a share of it. Now I consider the UAE my home.”

Despite malls springing up around the capital, Mr Khan still has regular customers who know where to find a bargain.

“A good carpet at the market can be Dh200, but a similar one would go for Dh500 in a shopping mall.”

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The National