The Things People Tell Me

The United Arab Emirates as a country was founded today, 2 December, exactly 50 years ago, when Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, and Umm-al-Quwain joined forces. Ras-al-Khaimah, the 7th emirate making up this confederation, joined a couple of months later on 10 February 1972.

I remember very well when I first arrived in the UAE late in October 2011, how the build-up to the 40th National Day celebrations unfolded. Flags could be seen everywhere, and the red, green, white, and black colours found themselves on cars in creative swirls the closer time creeped to the 2nd of December. The signwriting shops all did brisk business, as people were marking their pride on the cars they drove – from the smallest city car to the biggest SUV.

The air fizzled with an exuberant joy, as festivities reached a climax. People descended on the Corniche to show off their vehicles and party spirit, slowly driving loops around the corniche in Ras-al-Khaimah. Revving engines and incessant hooting were interspersed with laughter and shrieks, as revelers both on foot and in the cars used water guns and shaving foam on those who didn’t pay attention. Party poppers sprayed glitter and streamers into the night sky, like some sort of harbinger to the fireworks that later filled the it.

The apartment hotel we lived in was in the middle of the celebratory joy, hence it is an impression of the country and its people that is ingrained in my memory.

The Saturday morning after the celebrations the empty streets were littered with the remnants of a communal exuberance. Bleary eyed and tired, I looked down on cleaning crews doing their best to scoop up the glitter that would sparkle in dark corners for weeks to come. But what stuck with me most, was the many cars who stopped to hand these men some money in what I came to understand as a trademark of generosity and kindness of most Emiratis.

I doubt that this will be the spirit of celebration tonight, as over the last ten years, laws prohibiting the decoration of cars shaved off the last remains of some of the rough edges that marked the celebrations ten years ago. My guess is that a more sedate, although not less proud, atmosphere will mark events.

In my heart I will celebrate with this country I have a deep love for from the quiet of the land where I now live in Portugal. The nine years I’ve lived in the UAE gave me a deep respect for all that was achieved since the discovery of oil in 1958. The leaders have worked hard to better the lives of their people so that everyone can benefit. Half a century ago most buildings in the country were palm frond houses. Today, it is filled with some of the most iconic buildings in the world. Life could not be more different than what it was then.

One of the most curious things I’ve experienced and still do, is the reaction of people when I mention that I’ve lived in the UAE for nine years. Most often than not, I get a lecture or long monologue of their impression. It often turns out that they have either passed through the airport as a transit passenger, had a short stopover in Dubai, or like a recent tirade I had to listen to in which the person simply read an article in a British newspaper. Her punchline, proving that everything her view is based on is true, was that the reporter “went there himself”!

I’ve learned through these encounters that it doesn’t help to contradict these people, as, even though it riles me, they have no interest in listening to my lived experiences. I’ve been pitied that I had to live in a country where I ‘wasn’t allowed to drive, where women are treated like secondhand citizens, and migrant workers are nothing more than slaves.’

The reality is so vastly different that it is almost impossible to know even where to begin to dispel these myths. Yet, spurred on by my curiosity and respect for a country, which has achieved so much in a mere 50 years, I’ve created an e-book that takes the form of a 14-day journey through the country to explore the cultural, historical, and physical landscapes as they intertwine to create a place steeped in beauty and culture often overlooked by visitors and critics alike.

If you are curious about different cultures, love to travel, are planning a trip to the UAE, or even are a resident, you may find this interactive journey eye-opening. Written from my own intimate experience with the country and culture, I will guide you through all seven emirates with immersive writing, photographs, facts, as well as embedded links to articles, videos, and websites to create an intimate and personal experience in the form of a virtual journey.

Until 7 December 2021 you can buy it at a Special Introductory Price of €1.99

 Simply click on the link above, or at the bottom of the image to purchase your copy.

Format: Pdf with embedded links

Language: English

Print Length: 221 pages

File size: 83,346 KB

Publication date: 5 November 2021