x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The Ali Story: The bird boy of Baniyas

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

In my childhood, I had many hobbies. Well, you could say that I loved almost everything, I had no limits on what I really wanted to do, and the one person I still remember who helped me to be like that was my beloved father.

When I was 7 to 10 years old, my older sister and I were part of a few groups: the scouting team in Suwaihan, the karate group near Hamed Center and the Abu Dhabi Hunting and Equestrian Club near Maqta Bridge. I still remember how my father would come back from work around 1.30pm, have some lunch, sleep till around 3.30pm, pray and then call my sister to ask which programme we would be attending that day. He was very keen for us to try out different things.

Karate was the one that I sometimes hated a lot, even though I loved the kicking. But it was hard; plus, it was just weird seeing my older sister wearing the white karate outfit and having a higher grade belt than me. Our karate trainer was from Jordan and he was really tough and very strict, but gentle at the same time and made us really love karate.

Another day we would be getting ready to go horse riding and jumping, and this was my happy day, since I just love to be around animals. And, of course, horse riding and jumping was just a very cool and high-class thing to be involved with. Hence, I was always striving to do my best at it. I even had a dream of representing the country in an international horse jumping competition, but my mother just felt that would take us away from school, so she put an end to that.

We would leave our home in Baniyas every day, drive 30 minutes to reach Abu Dhabi to be at the horse club and then come back home late, which meant there was not enough time to rest, and study for school. So my father suggested that, instead of continuing at the Hunting and Equestrian Club, we could enjoy horse riding lessons at the Gulf Hotel, which used to be located near Maqta Bridge and was one of the best venues in Abu Dhabi. It had a great number of activities and, besides the huge swimming pool, the horse riding was really a highlight of that time. I still remember the name of the horse I rode: Pepper. I keep laughing every time I remember the name because, back when I was young, I used to read the name as "Paper". My sister would laugh at me and say "why don't you call it Al Ittihad"! My sisters would never stop making fun of me; oh well, girls! What to do?

So between scouting, karate and horse riding, our schedule was always full, but of course, we always found time for other hobbies. For me, that was raising pigeons. How did I get into it, I have no idea. Well, of course, Dad had a lot to do with it, but I recall how most households in Baniyas also had this hobby in common.

Our homes in Baniyas were perfect for any birds to live on the roofs, since we had huge water tanks on top of the house, which were covered by a wooden or aluminium shade to keep the water inside the tanks a bit cooler. And since it was too high and very difficult for cats to climb to, pigeons decided to call our roofs home by nesting in between the water tank and the shade. Once we started to realise this, guess what we decided to do? With the help of my Dad, we built a new, five-star wooden bird house for them. We would catch the pigeons and put them inside these cages.

Now, wait, don't think we did them wrong, because there's a trick: first, we caught the pigeons and kept them safe in these huge, lovely cages, serving them food and water for around 30 days.

And then came the magical moment of truth ...

We opened the doors of the cage and let the pigeons fly away. And guess what happened next? They all returned around sunset, directly into their cage.

What's next? Getting into the pigeon business ... for next week.