Somebody’s Having a Birthday!

Situated along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf- known as the Arabian Gulf here- the area formerly known as the Trucial States was basically a vast desert that was comprised of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ras al Khaimah, Fujaira, Bahrain, and Qatar, each ruled by a different Sheikh. After the rise and fall of the pearling industry, oil was discovered in the 1950’s and 60’s and the money making began. Soon after, in December 1971, the leaders decided to unite, forming one nation. While Bahrain and Qatar declined, six of the states united, with Ras Al Khaimah joining the following year. With Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (believe me, after only four months here that name rolls off my tongue) as the first President of the United Arab Emirates, the new country quickly flourished and has since become one of the most progressive areas in the world. Tourism has skyrocketed despite the generally suspect reputation of the Middle East. The economy is flourishing and construction is at an all-time high- just tool around town with me if you want to see for yourself. Dubai is the most recognizable city to Westerners and boasts the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building to date. Dubai Mall houses an aquarium while Mall of the Emirates sports an indoor ski hill. Abu Dhabi is home to the Grand Mosque, Yas Marina Circuit with its Formula 1 track, and the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World. Though “bigger, better, faster” is the name of the game in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, each of the seven emirates has its own distinct feel. Some are largely comprised of camels and sand, as many people picture this entire nation. But no matter the composition, each area celebrates National Day like you wouldn’t believe. Although the official date is December 2nd, party preparations began on November 3rd (Flag Day) with the festivities snowballing from there.
Commonly referred to as “Our Father,” Sheikh Zayed, who passed away ten years ago, was and still is revered by the people of the UAE. I kept mentally equating him with George Washington but it just didn’t work. Who drives around with a George Washington sticker on their car? That’s right… nobody. The Emirati people have a deep love, respect, and admiration for what Sheikh Zayed did to turn the UAE into the prosperous country it is today. While his image is permanently plastered on billboards and buildings, at this time of year his face is also on pins, scarves, hats, candy, coffee mugs, car decals, etc. People dress in the UAE flag colors of black, red, white, and green; some paint their faces like this:

Many locals decorate their cars or even drape a flag over the front.
There are elaborate parades and “pride” contests with sizable monetary awards (big surprise). Buildings are covered in colored lights and decorations line the highways.
Fireworks displays abound, and they’re beyond extravagant. Picture a never-ending 4th of July celebration. Everyone goes crazy. Although our official school break is Dec 2-6, the students have already stopped showing up, not that I’m complaining! A funny thing here is when the families think it’s important to be home celebrating together, they ignore the school calendar and decide individually how much time off is appropriate.
We already celebrated National Day at school last week.

Our school lobby

The English department hosted a spelling bee, created an art display, and manned a table where the girls could create yarn bracelets in the national colors. Other departments chose their own ways to promote national pride. Some of my friends’ schools had authentic Arabian meals, henna, camel and falcon visits and lots of other coolness. Although our celebration was tame, this was still exciting for the girls who attended because we normally don’t have a lot of extra activities going on. A talent show was scheduled for last Thursday (US Thanksgiving Day) but we only had several dozen students out of 1000 present, so it was postponed until next trimester. Here are some cute sentiments expressed by a few of the students:

To reward myself for working on Thanksgiving Day last week, I’m gonna hightail it out of here and take a short trip to Sri Lanka over break. My bags are packed and I’ll be on my way to the airport in a few hours. So I’ve posted photos to give you a taste of what the National Day holiday is like, knowing this post doesn’t convey even a fraction of the insanity that will be on display tomorrow. Happy 43rd birthday, United Arab Emirates- let’s enjoy our fabulous 40’s together!!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mary Ann Jahrling
    Dec 01, 2014 @ 22:50:34

    I really love your posts. I have learned so much from all you have shared. Enjoy your break and safe travels.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Deb Mech
    Dec 03, 2014 @ 02:57:19

    Have a great time in Sri Lanka! (Never thought that sentence would come out of my mouth!)

    Liked by 1 person


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