x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The Ali Story: An unexpected journey

Ali Al Saloom shares his insight, and experiences from growing up in the UAE.

It has been 10 years, and more specifically, a bit over 3,650 days since I returned from the United States to my beloved home city of Abu Dhabi, after earning my bachelor's degree in hospitality and management. Time sure passes fast.

Before I travelled to the States, lots of real drama took place at my home. I'm the only son in the family, and how would my father let me go alone? Also, my mother has always been so protective of me and my sisters, and would never wish us to go away unless she were with us to make sure we are OK. Things got even worse when my father decided that he would send me to the States without getting a scholarship.

"Dad, everyone has a scholarship! Why not me? The government is supporting us all. Why do you want to pay out of your own pocket?" Questions asked by me, over and over again, and all I heard from my dad was silence... fixing his reading glasses, reading the Arabic newspaper, drinking his tea. So I had no choice but to get my bags ready for my trip to America.

During my preparation, I couldn't stop thinking about how I was going to find an apartment to live in, a car to rent or to buy, a mobile and so on, many concerns that just kept increasing the pressure on me.

A couple of days before my flight, my mother cried and wanted me to ask Dad to cancel this whole trip, but we all knew that when Dad gave an order, we all had to obey it. That was especially true when it came to education, something that adds value to any one of us.

So I hugged my mother and said to her: "Save those tears for the day I come back with the big certificate, and let them be tears of joy."

Finally, one night before my flight, my father came to speak to me. He knocked on the door of my room, sat on my bed and kept looking around my room. He asked me. "Did you double-check your bag?"

I said: "Yes, Dad, all is well, alhamdulilah."

Then he asked: "Are you sure?"

I said: "Yes, trust me, I double-checked and all is set, inshallah."

"Very good," he said, handing me a letter written by him. He told me to open it just before I landed in the States.

"Will do, sir," I replied.

Dad left my room and still didn't explain to me what exactly was going to happen when I arrived, who would assist me in registering at the school or how I was going to spend money on getting myself settled when I didn't have enough money to even buy a mobile!

The day I said goodbye to my family was not easy. I remember carrying a guitar on my back. I'd bought it two nights before my flight after being influenced by Desperado, the movie with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. I fell in love with the guitar. It provides a feeling of companionship if you are alone.

I never understood how I got away with it in front of my family, seeing me carrying that on my back while travelling to the States to pursue my bachelor's degree in hospitality. I laugh at myself every time I remember that moment. My father looked at me before I checked in and said: "I thought you were into piano!"

"Yeah, but Mom broke mine and threw it in the streets," I joked. In reality, a piano was just impossible to carry on my back.

Dad smiled and asked: "What about the guitar?"

"She thought it was a tennis racket," I replied.

I said goodbye to my family, and I remember my father's last words to me at the airport: "Son, remember, you don't own your self. There are other people on this planet from family members to friends who cherish and value your presence and existence in their lives and they will continue to pray to Allah so he protects you from any harm, and gives you the strength to explore life the best way possible and to nurture you to be the greatest man you can be, inshallah. So please take care of your self and come back greatly, proudly and safely to your country and us."

A few minutes before the airplane landed, I opened my father's letter and it had about 40 bullet points, all aimed at giving me directions about where and what I should do and whom I should contact.

I had a smooth arrival and checked into a motel and visited the university, so things were not bad in terms of getting settled. But what about my mobile, apartement, car and so on? Well, here came point No 40, and the most interesting one Dad wrote:

"If you feel you need extra pocket money to buy stuff you really want, then why not search for a job? I recommend a restaurant where you will improve your English."

I applied at a few restaurants and started as a dishwasher, then moved myself up to become a kitchen prep, earning $270 every week, after taxes. Because of this, I managed to buy myself a mobile and a used car, and my life in the States started off just perfectly, alhamdulilah.