x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Ali Story: Warm on the cold

Insight and experiences from growing up in the UAE.

Whenever winter arrives - or shall I say visits us - in our country, many other things come with it. Better moods, outdoor activities, more and more BBQs and, of course, desert visits. Plus, my favourite part: the clothes. Yes, winter clothes.

I refer to it as my "mum's winter ceremony". It's not an official one but it was for us at home.Once we started to feel the cold, and Mum decided that winter had come and that we were officially cold, she would give the green light to get warm. That meant she would equip us all with the winter clothes she had placed in storage. This was really something special because it made us all feel as if we had just bought new clothes, but paradoxically, clothes that carried memories. Once we had all got our bags of the previous year's clothes, we would try them all on. What surprised me was how well they were packed, clean and not ruined at all. Later on I found out that Mum would get the maid's help to take the clothes out every month, clean them and put them away again in the bags so they stayed in good shape all of this period.

The "ceremony" would take place in our rooms and the main hall of our living room area. Every minute, I or my three sisters would wear something and then go in the main hall and scream out loud: "Hey guys, check this out, remember this jacket from Spain?" or "Do you remember this shaal Grandmother bought me?". My favourite part was the underwear pyjamas I would wear under my kandura. They came mainly in white and I would make sure to wear them when it got really cold.

And, of course, whenever we could no longer wear things because we grew out of them, we simply collected all of these pieces in a separate bag. Mum would seal her winter ceremony by visiting some of the neighbours who she knew were in need of such things but would never say, so she would go and gift them these clothes after making sure they were all cleaned and put in a nice bag.

I never understood the significance of what she did until I started to realise how difficult it was for many people from around the world to afford even a jacket to protect themselves from the cold winds. Maybe there are not many of them in the UAE but there are certainly many people in need around the world. Hence, my mum's winter ceremony became part of me, and I would do the same every winter with my extra kanduras, ghutras and other clothes that I feel I'm not using anymore; I would make sure to hand them myself to whomever is in need or donate them to the Red Crescent Society.

The chilly breeze at this time of year puts everyone who is living in the UAE or anywhere in our region in a good mood. I still remember how winter results in more outdoor activities, which means more bonding with family, friends and colleagues. I also remember how Dad and his colleagues used to walk from the office to the restaurant close by to enjoy an outdoor chat and bite, and of course for me this was heaven because it meant I could play outside while Dad was having a meal at some garden nearby his office at the Ministry of Education.

The only downside of winter back then was that our swimming pool was simply freezing, and as a result we hardly ever went in. And we never had a heater, either. So the next move would be to empty the swimming pool and simply let it irrigate our home garden so we didn't waste the water. And this became another part of the winter ceremony. It would stay empty until summer kicked in again.

I miss those moments of happiness when winter started to change our domestic way of life in terms of what we wore, what we did and of course, what we ate, since many fruits would only become fresh during winter. But I still find it really refreshing and, of course, a blessing to have such a good change; hence we shall appreciate God and also enjoy every moment of it.