RAS AL KHAIMAH // On the day that Dubai police banned parades because of safety concerns, one driver in Ras Al Khaimah was rewiring his vehicle with twinkling fairy lights.
Abdul Sultan Rajput, a bus driver from Lahore who has lived in the emirate for more than 32 years, was so proud of the light display on his 1984 Datsun pickup that he parked it beside the road and left it running each night when he was not participating in the weekend’s impromptu parades.
“I have this country, I love this country,” he said. “I need only Sheikh Zayed.”
It was not evident that Mr Rajput had spent 12 days and more than Dh1,500 on his vehicle. It did not have the high-end decals of Sheikhs or a veneer of gold glitter that fancier cars did.
By day, the Datsun looked like a moving ball of tinsel. By night, a blinking Christmas tree on wheels.
Most of his money was spent on a new alternator. Even then, the Datsun would creep forward towards the road when parked. Mr Sultan owns a Toyota Camry, but insisted that only the Datsun would do for the parade.
“It is old and the country is old,” he said.
Stickers of the Sheikhs’ faces could be seen through the tinsel as the truck jumped over speed bumps. “All Sheikhs, any Sheikhs,” Mr Sultan said.
With that, he stuck an airhorn out of the window and sped off, leaving his friends in the dust, watching in admiration.
It was his son Kamran, a used-car salesman, who drove in the parade at night with his lights blinking.
“We keep changing the lights display every two days to make it interesting for viewers,” said Kamran.
“This car is in excellent condition, all original parts. By the grace of God everything was fine and there was nothing to change.”
The Ras Al Khaimah parade was a more controlled and peaceful event than last year thanks to strict policing. Young men were stopped from using water guns. This year, drivers were able to enjoy the parade without the use of their windshield wipers to clear off foam and silly string.
Better conditions meant that families felt more comfortable staying longer. Emiratis and expatriates planned to circle the Corniche for eight hours.
The teddy bears, painted poetry and full-car body decorations of previous years were limited due to police enforcement in line with Ministry of Interior regulations for car decorations.
Some vehicles were completely bare.
Ahmed Al Shaheen, 21, had paid Dh1,500 for a decal of the flag and the founding President, Sheikh Zayed, that covered his bonnet and windshield.
Police ordered him to remove the transfers and the only colour on his 4x4 this year was silly string sprayed from passing vehicles.
“Come join this parade, because parade has a different spirit,” said Mr Al Shaheen, a student at the RAK Men’s College.
“Everyone is joining, men, women and children. That is what makes this parade special.”
Many of his friends from Dubai joined him in Ras Al Khaimah this year.
But not everyone was a willing participant.
“Too much traffic,” said Faisal Showkat, 21, a scooter delivery driver for Lulu Fried Chicken who was caught in the parade on his way to work. “It’s nice, but deliveries here should be forbidden.”
Najim Udeein, an electronics salesman, joined forces with two friends to turn an expected Dh200 profit each from the night selling silly string cans. His regular salary is Dh1,200 a month.
After evening prayers, when part of the parade diverted to the mosque, fireworks boomed from both sides of the Corniche.
Drivers honked in appreciation.
In Dibba, Fujairah celebrations were more subdued but no less loved.
For Obaid Mohammed, National Day is a two-week celebration. His family’s happiness cannot be contained in a single day.
Mr Mohammed, his 18 daughters and two sons, have good reason to love the holidays: he was born in a house built of sand at the Dibba Fujairah beach on December 2 in 1961. He is proud to share the country’s birthday.
Today they live in an Italian-inspired mansion worth Dh1.7million. Each year, Mr Mohammed makes two more flags to hang from its arched balconies. This year there were 11 flags: seven on the house, four on the gate.
“The idea is from my soul,” said Mr Mohammed.
The customised flags cost more than Dh3,000 so far, but it is a small price to pay for a country that has given him so much.
The son of a rope hauler, Mr Mohammed spent the first five years of his life migrating between a summer house built of palm fronds and a winter house built of sand bricks. “It was all from the sea,” he said.
Mr Mohammed’s years in the military and government assistance in schooling and health care allowed him to support his large family.
His adult daughters are all university educated. His youngest daughter, Sheikha, is seven months old. “Alhumdulillah,” he said.