A pink taxi

A pink taxi

September 30, 2010

The Iranian Hospital

It was another era.

In the 70s or 80s, Al Wasl Road didn't extend all the way to what was then the Chicago Beach, now renamed the Mina Salaam hotel. That was considered very far and you could only reach it on the single lane Beach Road, past fishing villages, now replaced by strip malls and nip/tuck clinics.

Al Wasl Road used to be called "The Iranian Hospital Road", the hospital having been founded by my grandfather, Abu Torab Mehra. It was a grand hospital, providing the brand new nation with state of the art health care. The building's architecture is reminiscent of Iranian architecture, its arches and tiles worthy of a miniature painting.

In order to attract the best doctors from Iran, my grandfather built an accompanying infrastructure for them. They enjoyed modern housing, on campus or close to the hospital. A very large and beautiful garden surrounded the central buildings: an oasis for an emerging desert city. In the garden, discreetly hidden behind the main building and the doctor housing complex, was a large swimming people for their recreation. Fridays, the doctors and their families gathered there for chelo kebab which was always delicious! We were part of the "faculty family" and we stood in line for self service rice and koobideh on trays. I still remember the single orange or apple for dessert.

There was also  a set of swings and see-saws for the doctors' families and the children who visited the hospital. I often enjoyed playing on hospital grounds with my cousins. An elder paternal cousin and my youngest maternal aunt once babysat me there. I fell of the see-saw and broke my arm, and of all places on these hospital grounds! I twisted my arm in the cast and  have since kept the souvenir of the fall: a strange twist in my elbow, which I call my trademark!

This small misfortune wasn't a discouragement from taking my sons to this same hospital, many years later, when accidents have occured: a broken wrist or stitches. There is a such a large turnover in the cast and stitch rooms because of all the workers who come as a result of  accidents in the workplace. Indeed, the hospital is a quasi charitable organization, with medical care subsidized by the Iranian government. Even the drugs that are prescribed are given free of charge to the patients... well, those patients who are willing to swallow elixirs with exclusive farsi labeling.

Abu Torab Jr, my son, asked me recently about the friendship between  my grandfather and the Sheikhs of Dubai. How did "Jedo Torab" know Sheikh Muhammad? I told him that the present ruler must have been in his late teens when my grandfather met him. My grandfather also knew his father, Sheikh Rashid, very well. He frequented his majlis and probably had much in common, as the ruler was building a new city in which my grandfather was an active participant.

Today, In the heart of Satwa, once the "Irantown" of Dubai (gradually changing into a little Manila), the Iranian Hospital, despite the change of regime, has not altered except for renovations and some growth. Only the swimming pool has been removed. I often personally benefit from the good will of the institution. I went for my second pregnancy test there and was blessed with a warm "mobarak khanoum" (congratulations madame).

My husband has his own anecdote of arriving with a swollen finger, his new engagement ring put on his right hand, which had been priorly injured. The doctor took a look, called the maintenance man, who came with huge pliers and  was advised to cut the gold ring off his finger. The ring was cut in half (but not the finger thank God) and was melted at the gold souk for a new one.

I always remember my grandfather when I enter the gardens, cross the corridors or walk to its adjoining polyclinic. A very adequate anecdote expresses my grandfather's philosophy: he once awaited the arrival of health officials and inspectors from the Home Country, Iran. He stood at the entrance of the hospital, elegant in his searsucker suit. The cars halted, and just as the VIP stepped out of his chauffeured limousine, the man decided to spit. Nothing bothered my grandfather more than these unhygenic bad habits. He preceded his hello by bending to the area the guest had spat on and wiping it with the silk handkerchief he had in his lapel pocket, in front of a stunned audience.

Sometimes, when I drive by the Iranian Hospital, I feel tears stinging my eyes, because I miss my grandfather so very much.


  1. The Chicago Beach area was named after Chicago Bridge Co.,the US oil sevices company that built the first inverted Champagne glass shape oil resvoirs,that were used to store Dubai's Fateh field production.Ever since,the area was called Chicago Beach,which gave its name to the first beach hotel built by the Kuwaiti investor AlHasawi.There was also the Chicago Village which was a compound of 100 villas built and designed by an American developer,and owned by the ruling family.This area is now home to Madinat Jumeirah,Jumeirah Beach Hotel,Al Qasr and Mina Salaam 5 -star hotels.
    "Al Wasl" means Connection in Arabic,and it really became the most important artery that snakes from AlDhiyafah roundabout passing through by the iconic Iranian Hospital in Satwa,all the way to the new hotel area and Mall of the Emirates."Al Wasl" also was the name meant to connect the various Arab tribes together.
    Upon my first visit to Dubai end of 1971,I stayed at the guest house of the "Mustashfa Irani",which had the most beautiful gardens,Persian mosaic facade and sport facilities,a rarity in Dubai.The gardeners of the Hospital,moonlighted in their spare afternoons,and the greenery spread into the handful of villas that sprouted around the Persian monuement.As a matter of fact,the Duabi Municipality landscape engineer was an Iranian national,who brought his knowhow to the sleepy town.
    The Director of the Hospital had a semi-diplomatic stature in Dubai,and was highly respected by the late Ruler Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed,the father of the present Ruler.Dr Mehra knew Al Maktoum family since the 50's when he started the Nemazee Hospital in Shiraz,Iran.The Medical Centre was one of the two best known medical institutions,other than the American University Hospital in Beirut.The Royal families in the Gulf frequented the Nemazee Hospital for badly needed medical services.HH Sheik Mohammad used to remind Dr Mehra of the little operation that was performed on him when he was only 12.The friendship with AlMaktoums goes back to over 60 years built on respect,and gratitude for an important and much needed service at the time.

  2. I found a beautiful letter that your grandfather wrote to John Steinbeck in 1944. I found it in Steinbeck's archives.

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