x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The Ali Story: Happy homecoming

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

The first day of my return home after spending six years in the United States was a special day; not just because I had graduated and had just reunited with my family, but because there was something else that really added to the excitement to the whole situation.

For those who haven't read my stories from the beginning, I have previously mentioned that, when living in the US, I used to visit my country almost every year during summer or Christmas and New Year holidays. However, during the events of 9/11, my father advised me to stay in the US and not return. He had a feeling that things would change and felt that it might be nearly impossible to get a visa to enter the US (as it is today for me, don't ask me why!) once I had left.

Anyway, I took my dad's advice and stayed in the States from 2001 until I graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando in the summer of 2003.

Now imagine how many changes would have happened in my own country during my three years in the States.

Even though I enjoyed every day and moment of my life in the States, I still missed my family and friends and had to rely on international phone cards to keep in touch.

I kept on calling my family during these 1,000 days to check up on them and reassure them I was doing OK and would graduate.

I would hear all their news, good and bad; the death of a good friend, another friend who had got married, and my sister who had received a marriage proposal.

Out of all the women in town, my sister was the one that my now brother-in-law decided to marry. Next, my second sister graduated from high school and was preparing to go to Sharjah University. The youngest one had moved to a private high school.

My beloved Al Jazira Football Club had made significant strides and were starting to compete for the championship in the football league. My dad had retired from the ministry of education and my mum was no longer a school headmistress. These events took place while I was in the States attending my hospitality courses and taking care of my business.

Now imagine after experiencing both the good and tough times from 2001 until 2003, I return to my country, being picked up by my beloved father, who told me: "Son, my first advice to you is to switch on your 'ready to be surprised' mood!"

I said: "What do you mean, Dad?"

He said: "You've been away for a long time. Yes, it's just three years. However, lots of events took place during this period."

I said: "Yeah, I know about my friends."

He said: "Yes I'm sorry about the loss of your good friends, but son, I'm also referring to us as a family."

At this point, when Dad was parking his Mercedes-Benz, the family home gate was opened and suddenly I saw mother was waiting for me. She hugged me and I saw tears were streaming down her face, even though it was covered by the shayla. My sisters had all gathered round and there was a moment when we were all united in family joy.

Suddenly, I heard this little sound of laughing and scurrying behind my mother! My mum picked up this cute little girl whom I had never seen before and said to her: "Sara, say salaam to your uncle. Yes, this is your Uncle Ali."

I never thought I could be that emotional, but I remember crying, knowing that this thing, this beautiful baby belonged to us, to our family. In 1,000 days, many things can happen, but this was the happiest moment I had had since I arrived on my first day back to my country from the States.