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Ras Al Khaimah | Heritage | History | Documentary

Documentary Project Captures the Stories of Ras Al Khaimah’s People in Their Words

Al Qasimi Foundation
December 31, 2015

When Easa Al Nuaimi was a child, he hated the sea. His father, a respected sea captain, sent him to school to learn how to read and write so that he could keep tallies on his ship. None of the other men on the ship could read. However, after just one season at sea, Mr. Al Nuaimi insisted on returning to school.

“There were high waves, waves that hit us hard,” he recalls. “On the ship at sea, the waves were never ending. We faced rocks from Mangalore to Mombasa.”

Returning to school meant returning to lessons under a sidr tree. Within a few years, Kuwait opened the first modern schools in Ras Al Khaimah, and Mr. Al Nuaimi became one of the first teachers.

Mr. Al Nuaimi’s story is one of more than 50 portrayed in “People of Ras Al Khaimah,” a documentary project being supported by an Al Qasimi Foundation Seed Grant. The project tells the story of Ras Al Khaimah in the words of citizens and long-term residents, captured in photographs and interviews by Canadian journalist Anna Zacharias and American photojournalist Jeff Topping.

“We had wanted to do this project for years, and the Seed Grant allowed us to get started and commit ourselves full-time to the project last winter,” said Ms. Zacharias.

“There’s really no way to do a project like this without living here full-time because many interviews are done over several days. A lot of elderly residents don’t use phones, and family obligations mean people cannot always commit to meetings ahead of time. You just have to be available and show up.”

“The support from the Foundation was fantastic,” said Zacharias. “They have helped us with every step, from logistics to community connections. They opened a lot of doors for us.”

The project looks at the longstanding integration between Emiratis and migrant workers, and why people from overseas chose to stay here for generations. It focuses on the early modern history of the emirate in the late twentieth century.

“People in Ras Al Khaimah have grown up beside each other,” said Zacharias, who was raised in Ras Al Khaimah. “There was no segregation in neighborhoods or at school. Nationality did not matter. People only cared about your personal investment in the community, and I think this is why so many of us have stayed.”

Mr. Topping agrees and says that Ras Al Khaimah’s strong sense of community is what made the project special to work on.

“It’s important to know about your community and the people you inhabit that community with—who people are and what they do—as this develops cohesion. I believe we help accomplish that with this project by not only showing the residents of the emirate those neighbors they didn’t know, but also by helping visitors get a closer glimpse and understanding of who makes up Ras Al Khaimah.”

The project also provides a visual record of women and includes detailed interviews about how women worked inside and outside the home.

“From the beginning I felt it was highly important to have as many women as possible represented,” says Mr. Topping, “not just Emirati women, but women of all different nationalities and professions to show their impact on the community and the country in general.”

Each person was photographed in a place that is significant to his or her life. In this way, Topping presents the dramatic landscapes of the Ras Al Khaimah mountains and desert but also more intimate settings—a perfume maker in her majlis, a tailor at work on the hidden upper floor of his shop, a tea maker in the back of a steamy kitchen.

“We were very excited to support Anna and Jeff’s work because of their respective expertise,” says Dr. Ridge, Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation, “and because of their integrity in relaying the stories of the remarkable people who have made Ras Al Khaimah the uniquely integrated and nuanced community that it is today. Their experiences deserve to be heard and preserved, and we’re honored to be a part of that process.”

A selection of interviews and photographs will be compiled in a book, People of Ras Al Khaimah, that will be available in 2016. Find out more on Facebook ( or on Instagram (@peopleofrak) and Twitter (@RAKPeople).