x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dream of the high seas, or whatever else floats your boat

Today's young people have a better chance than their parents did to find a way to follow their dreams.

'The dreams of a cat are filled with mice" says an Arabic proverb. Compared to the cat's dreams, our childhood dreams are often far more creative, although cats probably have a better track record of living out their dreams.

One of the most common questions asked of us when we're young is: "What are you going to be when you grow up?"

There was bound to be someone who would announce they wanted to be a ballerina, a superstar, a doctor, an astronaut, a race car driver, a jet pilot, an athlete, an animator and so on. I recall there were even a few "fairies", "princes" and "princesses" in my class.

No word on whether any of these aspirations materialised. But no one can fault young people for dreaming big.

There are so many studies linking happiness to accomplishing childhood dreams that it is a worthy exercise to reflect on our dreams and see which ones we've actually pursued, and which ones were always just fairy tales.

I have, for instance, never become an astronaut or flown to Mars with my flight mate Basboos (the family cat). I haven't taken a bite out of the moon, either. Nor have I become a carpenter to make furniture for my parents and for my pets (though I have made a few bookshelves, cradles, and bird- and doghouses over the years).

But the one dream I do feel that I have partially accomplished is to become a pirate - disguised, of course, as a journalist, notepad and pen in hand rather than a sword, gathering information, not riches.

As a child I was obsessed with the idea of conquering the seas, living the life of an adventurer like Errol Flynn in the 1935 film Captain Blood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. I would demand to be called Rymhood Bint Al Bahar, a name taken from Robin Hood and given an Arabic twist with "daughter of the sea". I wanted to be a buccaneer dressed in cool colourful clothes. I even imagined I'd have a faithful crew of rescued animals (for some reason a tiger was one of them) who would be with me on this ship, sensing danger and guiding me with their instinct.

Today, of course, being a pirate is not as glamorous as I once perceived it to be. Just look at what's happening off our coast - how Somali pirates kill, kidnap and hold entire ships hostage. There's nothing heroic in that life.

A friend just reminded me of these dreams when she spoke about her own teenage aims. When she was in university, she had her whole life planned out (with dates) on a piece of paper hanging on her fridge with a magnet. "In 1998, graduate. In 1999, get engaged to Mr R (her crush at the time). 2000, wedding. 2002, first child. 2004, doctorate. 2006, second child. 2008, finish doctorate."

"Looking against what I have achieved today and where I am now, I think it was a stupid plan," said my friend, who is in her 30s now and didn't get married to Mr R.

Today's young people are, in many ways, luckier than previous generations. People are pursuing their wildest dreams, while entrepreneurs in the Arab world are really pushing new barriers. Instead of pursuing the old clichés - to become doctors or engineers - Arabs are following their hearts.

It wasn't always like this. My own father, an athlete and a poet, was stopped from pursuing his dreams and forced to become an engineer, despite his more artistic and less conventional talents. He gave up his dreams so that he could support his family.

Childhood dreams sometimes creep back into our lives at the strangest of moments. During a recent car ride with my father he broke into poetic eulogies. Some were lines he learnt from famous Arab poets, others were lines he composed back when he was still dreaming.

The "pirate" in me wished she'd had her reporter's notebook handy.

 

Rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @arabianmau