x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Ali Story: Nous with newspaper

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

My country's National Day was the best event I ever got to attend at school without having a problem waking up in the morning to catch the school bus! This was because everybody had worked so hard during the previous weeks to finish our National Day paintings and handicraft pieces, all aimed at representing the traditional elements of our country. Since I used to play the accordion, I was also practising the National Day pieces that we were to play at the event.

Those days were really amazing, I have many memories of being at home with Mum, my older sister and my younger siblings and how we gave Mum such a hard time to help us create original ideas to celebrate National Day. We then had to go to Dad and give him a hard time to help us finish some of our National Day assignments. Then, both would say: "Go ahead and we will come later and see if you need help."

Mum and Dad never wanted us to be dependent on them. That might be laudable, but at the time I sometimes thought they didn't care about me. Now, I know how important it is for parents to balance monitoring their children's output, ie letting them tackle their homework on their own, and only helping out when they really need it. As a result, I see myself as being totally independent, no matter how tough life can be, alhamdulilah.

This mindset gave us a sense of creativity and determination to impress everybody - Mum, Dad, the teachers and fellow pupils. I remember going to the small grocery store we had near our home in Baniyas and buying all the newspapers and several copies of each one. I brought them home and just started searching for all of the images of Sheikh Zayed, and anything that was related to National Day. Cutting these images from the newspaper and placing them on a big piece of white paper enabled me to do some meaningful calligraphy around these images.

However, Mum was aghast at all the newspapers strewn all over the living room floor, and cried: "Where did you get all those from?" I owned up and had to admit that I had just spent Dh40 from my piggy bank, and was expecting a telling off. Fortunately, she simply said: "Oh good, mashallah. Ok, let's see what you have."

I couldn't believe what had just happened. All I could say was that I had used my own money and got myself a load of new newspapers and my mom didn't mind it. This was simply because it was my decision and the cash I used was the money I had saved. Dad and Mum would often boost our pocket money by putting coins into our piggy banks.

My National Day mosaic piece was now ready and was full of beautiful black-and-white pictures of our beloved Sheikh Zayed and all of the emirates' leaders at the time, as well as the beautiful paintings of the UAE flag that I had done with my Dad, who had lent the benefit of his artistic talents. It was about three metres in width and half a metre high. I was so proud to finish it and present it to my class where my teacher took it and presented it to the principal, who decided to display it in the school halls so everybody could see it. My name was on it and I remember it said Ali Abdulkarim Al Saloom, Grade 4 - Saad Bin Obaidah School. This was around 1988.

I really felt so proud that my piece had been a success. At the same time, I played on the accordion our national anthem, then the flag song. Every class presented a play that contained the spirit of our National Day.

I reflect on how my parents helped us to celebrate National Day: not just talking or saying we love our country, but by creating and producing things for the sake of our country, because it deserves all the effort we can give to raise our flag up high and make our country proud. God bless the UAE.