Madness and Mayhem: Celebrating 40 Years of Unity

During the past month there was a steady build-up to the UAE celebrating its 40th National Day on December 2nd with regular fireworks, cultural events and a variety of processions both on and off the water.

The energy and spirit of celebration were tangible and many caught on to it by decorating their cars. The signwriting shops all did brisk business, and on Thursday night many locals descended on the Corniche to show off their vehicles and party spirit.

Michael and I went for a slow stroll towards the Heritage Village where some traditional dancing and general feasting took place. Everywhere men in their crisp white kanduras and women in their black abayas were meeting up with friends and family. We only escaped the incessant hooting and revving of engines by ducking into a restaurant for a long leisurely meal. It was like escaping into a vacuum of calm and quiet. A vacuum that was rudely ripped apart by the antics of revelers with water guns, shaving foam and party poppers that sprayed glitter and streamers everywhere, once we emerged for the walk home. This time there was no real escape from the celebratory atmosphere, as our hotel sat in the middle of all the action.

Friday morning felt eerily quiet after the previous night, and it was with noticable sighs that we voiced our gratitude for it, but little did we know that it was the calm before the big storm… We left midday for Dubai to do some shopping and to attend a Hot-Air Balloon Festival, which stood in sharp contrast to what we have experienced in RAK. Families descended on the Meydan Racecourse where there was a lot of ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ when they inflated 8 balloons. Sadly they did not take off, but they were so close that we could almost touch them. The organisers hoped to release 40,000 sky lanterns, but as the event lacked in organisation, people started to release them long before they switched the lights off, and the anticipated spectacle was unfortunately a bit of a let down. Even so, we had a great day out and was happy to head home just after eight.

We knew that the party in RAK would continue, but we were not quite prepared for the madness and mayhem that greeted us. They stepped the celebrations up a notch or two, and the bumper to bumper traffic that was simply circling in a big loop around the Corniche, was interspersed with naughty teenagers carrying shaving foam as their weapon of choice as they dashed in and out of the traffic, spraying cars and people indiscriminately. Revelers were jubilantly honking away, having fun in all the chaos, and all the time without a single drop of alcohol! At midnight there was still no end in sight, but tiredness and sleep saved us from the noise that only occasionally intruded as rather loud background music. The mess that was left behind told a story of its own on Saturday morning and glitter will sparkle in the streets for weeks to come. I felt sorry for the workers who had to clean up the mess, but we also observed the generosity and kindness of emirati women who stopped to give the men some money.

I dragged Michael off before sunrise to Sheba’s Palace which, from its vantage point, offers a beautiful view over RAK and surroundings. Bleary eyed and tired we managed the steep ascent not too gracefully, but the breathtaking view and flasks of coffee allowed us to celebrate the beauty and magic of the sunrise. There is something extremely peaceful about watching the slow stirrings of life bathed in soft light. Wisps of smoke slowly gliding over date plantations spoke of human activity, even though the only visible movement was that of goats roaming around in the early morning light. What a peaceful way to end a weekend full of noisy celebrations!