My mother once told me: "Every leader should go on a retreat at one point in his life. Just like a small seed, you have to plant it by itself in the sand before it can blossom into a fruit." She has always taught me how important it is for a person to have the chance to sit alone in the middle of nature's hush and tranquillity, to allow him to release his soul, and to ponder about himself and the universe. My mother and I once sat on the sands near the camel roundabout in Al Ain, not far from the airport. It's a place where you can see nothing but red flaming dunes in every direction. You can look at them for hours, hearing nothing but the quietness of the desert. My mother told me how people in the past used to travel for months on camels, and asked me to imagine how difficult that must have been, especially at night when you couldn't see anything without fire or moonlight. Her eyes sparkled with tears when she took me back even further - 1,400 years - to tell me about the age of the Prophet Mohammed, his daughters and his people. My mother is a writer and an artist; she loves nature, the sea and sands. She adores the 20°C weather we are having in Abu Dhabi at the moment. And who doesn't? It's the time of the year everybody waits for. You can feel a vibe of happiness in the streets and in the quiet places in the emirates. People drive more slowly than usual, with their windows down, which means there are fewer accidents. Children go to school smiling, even when they have tests and exams, and teenagers take a break from the PlayStation and wait for the weekends so they can go to the desert - to Bedayer, Al Ain, Liwa, Awafy - or head to the coast - from Harmiya to the Selaand islands. There are so many places we can choose from to suit the weather or the mood or atmosphere of the day. During the Eid holiday, my grandmother and father decided we'd all go to Al Ain; our immediate family, my aunts, my father's uncles and aunts and their families. There were children of all ages. On the first day, the girls joined the women, and the boys joined the men at their majlises. They paid attention to the grown-ups, listening to them talk, and, surprisingly, went to bed early, too. Smart kids; they knew what was waiting for them next morning. After fajr prayer, we gathered everyone up and went to the sands. We had seven motorbikes, one white Toyota SUV and a black Nissan Super Safari. The boys took the motorbikes and off they went. The sand wasn't hard because it had not yet rained, so some of the bikes got stuck. All the other boys came to the rescue. Two would dig under the bike, two would pull it and one would sit on it with the motor running. Mohammed, the eldest, kept an eye on them and the bike was usually back up and running in no time. My brothers managed to do this without anyone fighting or complaining. It directed their energy in a positive way, it was fun and taught them how to work together as one. These trips bring together all the members of the family, old and young. They give us a chance to commune with nature, nurture our spirits, and to listen to and observe what has been created for us. Whether this weather prompts you to take part in energetic activities in the desert, or organise a large family trip somewhere, or if it just lets you sit around the fire and renew the tradition of storytelling and pondering like my mother, it is a blessing and an enjoyment on every level. Fatima al Shamsi is away.
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