Ask Ali: Pet etiquette depends on the animal you pick and the history of traditional poetry
Dear Ali: I’m an expat, living on my own in the UAE and dreaming of having a pet to add a bit of colour to my daily life. I haven’t decided yet which pet I should go for – a cat, a little dog or maybe something more exotic, such as a turtle. Are there any regional or cultural specifics that I need to know before I get a pet here? GL, Dubai
Dear GL: I’m glad you are interested to get more information on this subject before you take the step of becoming a pet owner. Taking care of any living thing is a serious responsibility.
It’s always great to have a pet. I personally have several saluki dogs, a horse, goats, sheep, peacocks, chickens and rabbits, but they all live on my farm, not in my house.
The most popular home pets among Emiratis are cats, dogs, birds and decorative fish.
Exotic pets could include reptiles, monkeys, tigers and lions. Personally, I’m against raising exotic and endangered animals.
We won’t discuss the comfort of a pet here, because it’s the responsibility of every owner to make sure their pets are treated well. But in terms of which pet is best to own, I will give you some recommendations that I hope will help you to make a decision.
First, it takes time for animals to get used to their owner, and they can feel stressed when separated from their master. If you plan on leaving the country at some point, I would suggest it’s best not to get a pet, unless you plan on taking it with you.
Pets such as cats that are out on the street are closely monitored in this country. Cat owners usually take them to the vet for necessary procedures, including vaccination and sterilisation when required. Cats that have been sterilised get a slight cut off the tip of their ear as identification of this.
There’s no doubt that people love dogs here, but culturally, they’re less tolerated in public or inside a house, for religious and cultural reasons. Mostly, dogs are kept on farms or in gardens.
It’s OK to own a dog, but don’t expect to be able to take it with you wherever you go, for example, when visiting your Emirati friend’s house if they’re not comfortable with it. And remember, they’re not welcome at most public places such as malls, restaurants and beaches.
In regards to turtles, which you mention as a possible pet, there’s nothing culturally to consider, but although turtles are less demanding when it comes to attention, they still need your care. Turtles can live for up to 90 years, so don’t consider them a temporary fad.
Finally, don’t forget to take into an account the extreme weather conditions that we experience in this country and the facilities at your accommodation. Some animals can’t stand the heat, therefore their home should be well air-conditioned at all times. If you leave your pet alone for a whole day, make sure somebody is available to check it’s all right.
Generally speaking, then, it’s OK to own a pet. Local supermarkets, convenience stores and specialised pet shops offer a wide variety of the pet food and equipment.
And if you still haven’t decided where to get your chosen pet, I would recommend checking out the local animal-rescue centres. Information on these can be found online and on social media.
Good luck finding your companion.
Dear Ali: Recently I witnessed a strange situation in a public place – a group of Emirati men were sitting near my table, chatting to each other, when suddenly one man started reciting something in a musical way, while the others repeated some words. I can speak a little Arabic, so I could understand that it was sort of a poem, but I noticed that he was reading his poem in a local dialect rather than classical Arabic. Was I a lucky witness of the traditional poetry performance that’s often shown on TV? Could you tell me more about your traditional poetry? RY, Abu Dhabi
Dear RY: There are several types of poetry in Arabic. The language is so rich that anything can be described in thousands of beautiful words. For example, “love” in Arabic has more than 20 words just to describe the level of love, ranging from philosophical emotion to strong affection. One word can have up to 20 various meanings when used in different contexts.
When someone is inspired to write a poem, they don’t need to be trained because it’s more a natural thing that comes from your knowledge of the language and richness of vocabulary. Sometimes the poetry skills are passed down from grandfathers to fathers and sons – that’s why you can meet many Arab families, including my family, who have some known poets. Even when I was young, I tried to write poems myself, but didn’t develop this skill more. Some continue to write poems professionally and enter competitions or make a living out of writing poems for music, literature and TV.
I think you saw something very typical to what we refer to as “Nabati”, our local traditional style of poetry that you can witness all across the GCC. Hence there is Emirati, Kuwaiti and Saudi Nabati – only the dialect makes it different and that’s how you know where the poet comes from. It’s also for both men and women.
Nabati appeared as a special part of Bedouin poetry, when people didn’t know how to read or write. People used their own dialect to describe the emotional side and remember all details of remarkable events, that’s why it’s different to classical Arabic. The depth and richness of the vocabulary in this poetry style was significantly rich, deep and strong. That’s why it was often used in negotiations between tribes, and the power of the words helped prevent many wars, praised many victories or relieved a man’s sorrow.
In the old days, people could hear Nabati poems at the Souk Okaz in Saudi Arabia, where Arabs from Gulf areas – Jordan, Iraq and all other nearby regions – would come to compete with the most beautiful and meaningful poetry. Once any poet became recognised, he would be highly honoured by everyone.
Poetry competitions continue today. Usually these events are international and anyone can participate. They are broadcasted live by the national television and considered to be among the most culturally significant yearly events. The famous TV show Million’s Poet is hosted here in Abu Dhabi.
Reading Nabati poetry doesn’t require a certain time or event. It can be recited at any public gatherings.
Someone who intends to read a poem would make signs to get people’s attention. The recitation should be loud, in a full voice, with a short pause between the lines so the audience has time to reflect on the meaning. To show appreciation to the poet, listeners would repeat in unison every last word of each verse after the poet. It encourages the poet and demonstrates respect.
History knows some poets who would stop reciting if they notice any sign of a lack of interest from the audience; that’s why interaction with the poet is important.
This is Ali Al Saloom’s last column for Weekend. Ask Ali has been advising readers of The National on cultural issues since the newspaper’s launch in 2008, imparting a wealth of knowledge and addressing a host of vital topics in the past eight years. Continue to follow Ali via social media and his website www.ask-ali.com.