Fireworks across the water. Photo courtesy of Abu Dhabi Events.
Over-The-Top Decorated Cars Filled our Streets Yesterday!
Yesterday, the United Arab Emirates turned 42. It was a holiday here called National Day. It was marked by parades, celebrations, fireworks and some of the most over-the-top, flamboyant decorations I have seen since the Puerto Rican Pride parade in NYC. Schools and the private and public sectors were all closed in observance. We were told told not go out because people can get a little crazy. In a land where drugs and alcohol are pretty much verboten for its citizens, I am not sure how this kind of “crazy” might manifest itself, but I didn’t need to find out this year. Anyway, I turn 42 in April. My mother was pregnant with me when the U.A.E. was born as a nation. I feel some commonality with my adopted land given our shared age and a few common characteristics.
So what might a country and I possibly have in common, you may ask?
Youthful Exuberance. You’re jeering at that, I know. “Youthful” is a ridiculous (maybe wishful?) way to describe a 41 going on 42-year-old! Yes. I still think of myself as really young, maybe it’s just because I act that way, and I have a really dumb sense of humor. I don’t know. I have aches and pains, but for the most part I still feel like I have barely lived this life of mine. I have so much yet to accomplish, so many places to see and so many people left to meet. I still am not even sure what I want to do for a living! I think the UAE is a lot like that. It is trying to mark its rightful place on the map, but is not really sure how to define itself, so it’s just trying everything and hoping something will stick. That’s perhaps why I am here—just hoping to get stuck and trying to do something that means something in my mid-life and not just plod along doing what everyone else does.
Leaping Before You Look. The U.A.E. and I both like to take giant leaps of faith with major life decisions—some might say we jump before we think. The UAE is such a new country with so much to learn compared to its European counterparts, even compared to the youthful USA—we do have almost 200 years on this place, believe it or not! Respectively, I am not all that young, but despite my years, I still like to leap before I look. I have to say that it’s been an all right way to go through life. I have made many mistakes, but even my friends who have carefully planned their lives have been apt to make similar ones or worse ones. After all, your choices are only half chance when you really examine them, aren’t they? The UAE is building, growing, and breaking boundaries and records at a breakneck pace. Unlike me, this country has more money than God and crazy ambition. Like me, it wants to do it fast and now! It wants it done often before it’s been well planned. It wants aesthetics over sustainability. It wants beautiful islands carved into unusual formations without considering the ecological side effects. I get this. I want to paint murals on my houses’ walls and to paint my kitchen lime green without worrying about resale. If I were building a country, I would also probably consider beauty over infrastructure–some of us are just like this. We can’t all be engineers, can we?
Modern & Traditional Fashions clash on the daily.
Clinging in Vain to Tradition. While you won’t see ever me in an abaya, and I do walk around this town flaunting my shoulders and knees for all the world to see, I am actually kind of conservative compared to a lot of my friends back home—even some of my more seemingly conservative ones. For example, I won’t let my daughters wear make up or the color black until they are 16. Why? Because my mother didn’t let me, and I cannot think of a much better reason than that. I agree with my mother though that children should be children for as long as they can. They should wear bright colors instead of black—don’t you wish you did? I know you probably think that sounds like it’s from the 1960s’ small town America, and it is—that would be the cultural milieu that formed my mother’s parenting, wouldn’t it?! I do agree with it though. Kids under sixteen don’t need to be dating, shopping, texting, or painting themselves up when they could be playing in the sand, dirt, sea, making things or reading. So, I kind of get the desire to shelter your children from–what most think is–the inevitable in the age of the internet, social media, over sexualization in the media and kids growing up way too fast. I also get the contradiction. The UAE is a shining example of said contradiction. Unlike its more traditional neighbors, the UAE is struggling between its conflicting desires to be both a playground for the rich and to adhere to traditional Islamic roots. The UAE opens its door to expats who bring with them all the trappings of the western world, and, for the most part, the two worlds exist in accord. I want to keep my kids young, but I broke down and let my 12 year old have a Facebook account. It was one of those moments of parental weakness for having moved my child away from her friends and across the world. I don’t regret it though. She has already figured out what a bore it actually is—just an adult self-congratulation fest. Anyway, I want my tradition and my modernity to live in harmony, on my terms, as I choose it. We all know that’s a dream.
So, happy 42nd birthday United Arab Emirates! I think you are a little swath of sand full of great potential and passion. We are probably not that much alike really. After all, you are a country and I, just a visitor. Right now at just this moment in time though, you are right where I need to be. Here, I can be whatever I want to be. I can be younger or older. I can leap before I look–Wait! I already did that–that’s why we’re here! I can protect my kids here in a way that I cannot at home and still keep in touch with home through technology as though there are not 12 hours and a millennia or so of modernity in between us. No one knows my past successes, failures and life experiences. You are not so fortunate given your world-wide exposure, but at least you honestly have your youth!