x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Family trip to Spain turns into a lesson on the value of travel

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

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

It's thanks to my father that I now think of myself as an international citizen, having already been to 45 countries.

When I was a child, he was often travelling - either for education (he represented the Ministry of Education at conferences) or for sport (through Al Jazira Club) - and he would try to take me and my mum along with him. It was always very special for me, seeing different kinds of people.

My first memory, when I was two or three years old, was of a trip with him to Madrid. It was my first journey overseas.

We went back to Spain when I was 5 or 6 and my father took us to a bullfight. I'd seen Tom and Jerry on television doing the matador movements but, as a child, I really had no idea what it was about. My mum was not happy that I was being taken to see a bull being killed.

But I believe going through this journey in Spain is one example of why my father took us travelling a lot when I was a child. I didn't really understand what was going on. We had gone up to our seats, which were high in the stadium, and watched as the clowns were running around with the bull and then the matador came out.

I can remember exactly when the matador inserted the last sword into the bull. It was so close to his body I thought he'd stabbed himself. But I didn't really know what was going on. Even seeing the bull being dragged out afterwards, I didn't realise he'd been killed.

If I saw that again I'd probably flip; I'd go really crazy. How could this be a cultural tradition to be so disrespectful to anyone who loves animals? In Islam, torture of any animal is forbidden. It's haram.

Why would my father take me on this journey? It was a risk for his son to see this: I could end up phobic about such a thing. But it was about accepting cultural differences and cultural values.

You don't say: "You're wrong, you'll go to hell." Instead, you go: "It's different. I don't necessarily agree with it but I accept it as a part of the culture." It's different.

There was crazy stuff all over. Because I'd seen a lot, I developed a sense of tolerance for other people's beliefs and values.

I also have a memory of us walking in this garden beside a lake and seeing these birds that were very big and white.

They were, of course, swans, which I'd never seen before in my life. They were so beautiful and elegant. I'd only seen them on the Cartoon Network - my sister and I had seen Swan Lake, the cartoon programme, and she would have been so jealous of me then.

We walked along some more and saw some people kissing. But that wasn't my biggest shock. My biggest shock was from seeing the largest dog I'd ever set eyes on, and my mother thought it was a mini cow. It was really big; I think it must have been an Irish Wolfhound.

I was at the checkout in a supermarket and this dog entered the shop. As it walked past, its eye was the same height as my head. We had a German shepherd and a saluki and they were no where near this size.

Then we saw another dog that looked like a hot dog, long and skinny. I think it must have been a dachshund, which I also recognised because I'd seen it on cartoon shows.

Then three minutes after that we saw another dog. Every few seconds, we'd see another dog. There were dogs everywhere.

It was my first experience with so many animals (dogs mainly), something you don't see a lot of in my country. We had dogs in Abu Dhabi but nobody would walk a dog unless it was on the beach or at the farm.

Then, on the same holiday, I'd see little dogs in shopping bags and handbags. I asked my father: "Why are they doing this? Are there really so many dog types in this world and why are they taking dogs everywhere?"

The answer from my father wasn't "Just because". He took me to some store and purchased a book about dogs. It was really a Class 101 on all dogs.

This was my father's style. I was a child and didn't understand what he was trying to do, but his method was to give me a book to answer my questions.

In our hotel room, I finished the whole book.

My father taught us a few words of Spanish but said there are also some Arab words in Spanish. I was going: "What are you saying, they speak Arabic here?"

What I found was that you have to travel to these countries and respect their culture and learn their languages. You also have to know their history. My journey to Spain was the beginning of exploring the value of travel.