x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The Ali Story: VIP's praise for pearling

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

Two weeks ago, I received a surprise call from my friend, who works for Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he informed me that His Highness was to visit my firm's latest venture, the Abu Dhabi Pearl Journey, which is a humble but creative scheme aimed at reviving the pearl culture. It enables people to enjoy a sea trip while opening a real pearl oyster, and finding a real pearl waiting for them.

I remember nothing after hearing this great news but I do recall I was so proud and happy I nearly burst into tears. I was in a panic, but did my best to handle the news with lots of pride. Here, I was remembering the days when my father and mother used to tell us stories of when our beloved Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the country, was dedicated to visiting the various tribes and people from different places to listen to their needs.He clearly wanted to offer them his support to help them achieve a comfortable standard of living.

I still remember how much my mother would say that when Sheikh Zayed visited some of the schools he was so proud to see his countrymen and women working hard in the education sector, and my mother would still recall the warm, hospitable, generous, gentle and positive energy he radiated.

"His words and talks to the people made them feel he was their brother or a true friend and a father at the same time,"she said.

For a president to check on his people's latest achievements and hard work and share his appreciation of them is like a big certificate to be proud of for the rest of your life.

The Sheikh came to the the InterContinental hotel's marina area, where our jalboot (a traditional pearl dhow) is moored. My team had started the engine of the dhow and were waiting for his party to arrive.

As we were all embarking, we were chatting together with the Sheikh and he asked me how I was doing, and enquired about my latest achievements and initiatives. I was honoured, as were all the members of my team. We were delighted that our government was clearly showing its support of what we were doing.

We started sailing via the jalboot, and another great conversation began as we started talking and highlighting what our goals and objectives were. I was able to witness and experience the great, positive energy Sheikh Abdullah was sharing with us, and how proud he was to experience such an authentic product. His Highness also started sharing more facts and figures and information about the history of our pearling industry.

The moment of truth came when we brought the real oysters to the Sheikh. It was such a great moment to see him picking the opener tool, finding the pearl and holding it in his left hand. He smiled broadly, and we all started taking pictures of him. This was the proudest and happiest moment for the team and me. We had overcome many challenges to achieve our goal of reviving the pearl culture so the next generations can "own" a real pearl from the sea, without having to resort to museums and history books to know how to do it.

I can't thank His Highness enough for his visit, and his encouraging words, warm smile, and support will always be embedded in our hearts and minds for years to come. Without a doubt, we shall continue to meet our leaders, and the people of the UAE will be even more proud of what we can achieve.