x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The Ali Story: New Year blessings from the heart

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

Whenever New Year’s Eve arrives, I keep having these flashbacks of the good and funny moments that I’ve had with my family.

Most of my family members, in general, don’t treat it as a “celebration”, but they definitely don’t mind saying “Happy New Year”, or as we say in Arabic, “Kul’am wa antom bekhair”, which translates as “wishing you well every year”.

I remember how my parents really wouldn’t mind hearing me or my sisters saying “Happy New Year” to our maids, our expat friends or even to them, and it was never a problem when we had New Year cards signed by us and -presented to some of our friends.

In fact, my parents always encouraged us to add a few more words to the cards, such as a good prayer or two.

I never realised the importance of this advice until one day when my father asked me if I would be writing a New Year’s message to our Filipino maid, who was like a family member since she lived with us for more than 18 years.

I used to call her auntie, because that’s what we called our maids at home when we were young, which is part of how we show respect to any lady who is older than us.

So I asked my father: “Why should I write more than Happy New Year?”

He replied: “You should write something she would like to read for many years to come.”

I said: “So what should I write, then?”

He explained: “Auntie Corra will leave us and maybe never come back because she is about to return to the Philippines to take care of her family.”

I remember telling Dad: “OK, I’ll write ‘Don’t leave us’, and that I wish in the new year she will bring her family to stay with us.”

Dad smiled at me and said: “Perfect! Write that,” and then left me on my own to think of what else to write in the card. But I remember writing nothing more, and I got all the cards ready quickly because I had to hand them out to some of my friends.

Soon it was New Year’s Eve, and my parents, as usual, didn’t take it very seriously so neither did we. However, I remember how Auntie Corra surprised us with an idea to celebrate the moment without making a big deal of it, but simply to enjoy the moments of the 10--second countdown in our living room at our home.

In the evenings, we tend to chill in our living room and watch television. That evening, we were switching channels as usual and watching people all around the world ringing in the new year.

When the clock struck 11:59pm, Auntie Corra surprised us by turning off the lights in the living room. The television began showing the countdown to New Year’s Day, and at midnight she turned the lights back on and gently called: “Happy New Year, everyone, mabrook!”

And of course, being children, we were quite surprised, then -began laughing and felt very happy, because this was probably the first time we actually saw Auntie Corra in such a mood.

But at the same time, we appreciated the chance to live the moment of darkness as we said goodbye to the old year, turning the lights on to indicate our welcome of a brighter future and, of course, a brand new year.

Such a simple gesture – turning a light on and off – shows us how a seemingly small action or thought can bring lots of happiness and joy into our lives.

Auntie Corra left for her country later that year but she did return to visit us with her husband a few years later.

Wishes can come true if they come from your heart. God bless you all, and Happy New Year.