x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The Ali Story: On the same page

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

A few days ago I was arranging some old boxes from our old home in Baniyas and was going through some albums when I found this little white gadget that put a big smile on my face and prompted me to share the following story with you. Our mobile phone revolution started in the 1990s, and we were probably one of the first countries in the world that actually received great telecommunication services. Without a doubt, credit goes to the launch of the one and only telecommunication company at the time, Etisalat.

That period was almost like a Star Wars movie scene but very much organised, meaning we had either one or two models of phones, made by Nokia or Alcatel, then Eriksson and later on, Motorola. All of them started to introduce their models one after one, so we all had similar phones, and I still remember how huge the batteries were.

But to be fair, the phones at that time were simply phones, not a mini PC like we have today. So there were fewer distractions; you simply dialled a number or sent a text message, and oh yes, we used to have one game that was called Snake that was exciting as it could get until later, when we started having ring tones where we had the opportunity to compose our melodies and play them by pressing on the phone keyboards. Trust me, we had Beethoven's talents come out for real. Imagine how exciting that time was for all of us!

Now let me take you back a few years earlier, when we had none of that. We only had home phones for which we had to queue to use. Everyone on one floor of our house could take the phone to his or her room if we were lucky, because our parents hated this act and sometimes you had to fight for your turn. Well, if you are an Emirati in your 30s you would remember those days; it wasn't that long ago, but those days were beautifully crazy.

Anyway, during this time, the UAE and I'm sure all Gulf people would agree that we received some of the happiest news in the history of telecommunication at that time, when Etisalat introduced this little white gadget that allowed you to be paged. Yes, pagers were kings in those days. You had a pager number, which you shared with your contacts, and if you didn't have a direct phone line or even a mobile phone you would simply get paged by the person who wanted to contact you and what you received is his or her number so you could call them back.

I consider this a milestone in my adulthood, as I never owned a mobile until I was 17. This was my parents' wish; I had no idea why, and many times I was really upset because most of my friends had phones but not me.

However, I stayed positive and trusted that my father would eventually give me his used cellphone. My positive thinking worked but not exactly, because what I received from my dad was not his mobile but a new white pager. I still remember the moment he showed me the pager box and gave me its number and right away I inserted the batteries and went to our home phone and dialled the pager number and bingo, it was ringing. And guess what? It was vibrating as well. I said to Dad: "I'm off to the Al- Jazira club for my training, so can you do me a small favour, please?"

My father replied with his usual "I know what you are about to ask but go ahead tell me" look. I said:"Dad, by 8pm I'll be done with my training so could you please try paging me?"

My father smiled and said: "You want to show off, don't you?"

I said no, but Dad didn't want to embarrass me more, so he said: "Sure, I'll page you but only on one condition: if you keep your pager on vibrating without ringing."

I replied, "OK, sure, done."

My training finished and I was chilling with my clubmates waiting for our bus to take us home, so it would have been the perfect moment for my dad to page me. Time was ticking 8pm, 8.05pm, 8.10pm… Then it was 8.30pm: nothing, no vibration, no tone, Dad wasn't paging. Oh God, did Dad forget about me? But he promised... I remember how frustrated I was, but nope, nothing happened and I was really disappointed.

Back at home, Dad asked me: "Why didn't you call me?"

"Dad, come on, you forgot. Why, why, why?" I said.

Dad asked: "Are you sure you didn't get any notification?"

I said, "Nope, not even a half vibration!"

My sister, the naughty one, said: "Dad, you're right, he probably got over-excited and didn't turn the pager on."

I was really upset at my sister and said: "Haha, not funny." I went to my room and silently checked my pager... and guess what?

I hate to say it, but she was right: the pager was off. It's still a secret I keep from my sister, but I learnt a valuable lesson and that is: never get too excited because things can just be off.