Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 29 May 2020

Life lessons: ‘My mother is British ... but I am 100 per cent Emirati’

When I graduated university and came back to the UAE, I had changed a full 180 degrees. I rarely wore western clothes, spoke Arabic regularly and married an Emirati woman. The question still remains, however. How different am I?

What defines an Emirati? Interestingly, in a society where tribes and traditions still hold deep roots, a lot of what is used to identify an Emirati is based on what is seen on the surface.

Your name, tribe, the way you look or the way you talk. Speak a little differently and you raise eyebrows. If your skin is a little too dark or a little too light, people start wondering what your story is. Then when you hit them with the news that your mother or father is not Emirati you get the familiar excited response of “I knew it. I knew there was something different about you”, but how different am I?

It was a question I always used to think about growing up. A lot of children who have grown up in a multicultural household seem to wonder which side to lean ­towards.

For me, throughout most of my younger years, I was a typical British boy, spoke mainly English, went to an international school and pretty much only wore national dress at Friday prayers or on special occasions, such as going around the neighbourhood during Eid asking for money from people I didn’t know. When I got to Grade 11, I had a slight transformation. I started wearing a kandura more often, hanging around with other Emiratis, and tried to speak Arabic as much as I could, often times failing miserably.

Funnily enough, it was only when I went to the United Kingdom that things started to shift. I lived with Saudis and Emiratis, so I was speaking Arabic all the time, watching Arabic TV, and cooking (yes, you read that correctly) Arab food, most of the time. When I graduated and came back to the UAE, I had changed a full 180 degrees. I rarely wore western clothes, spoke Arabic regularly and married an Emirati woman. The question still remains, however. How different am I?

Deep inside I always believed that I wasn’t that different at all, but I had a hard time putting it into words. Using myself as an example, most “halfies”, for lack of a better term, will usually say that their father is Emirati and their mother is from Scotland, or vice versa, others will say they are half Emirati, half Scottish. However, it wasn’t until Omar Ghobash, UAE ambassador to Russia, whose mother is Russian, was being interviewed last year at the Arab Media Forum did I hear the best self description to date.

During the on-stage interview on UAE achievements, the interviewer mentioned several times how he was “half Russian”. Ambassador Ghobash then stopped the interviewer and said: “For clarification, my mother is Russian, I am 100 per cent Emirati.”

That was it. As a viewer I saw a man who identified himself with the country that raised him, the country he represents and the country he fights for politically or otherwise – it made so much sense.

When we focus on the surface of what identifies an Emirati, such as names, tribal lineage or skin tone, we miss what really makes an Emirati – their national spirit, their love for the country, and their willingness to work hard for it and faith – however, you can’t see all that on a birth certificate or a passport.

My mother and father raised my brothers and I in the UAE. We carry UAE passports, we work for UAE Government entities. Both my brothers have completed their National Service and my father volunteered during the Gulf War. My uncles work in the Army and police. I married an Emirati lady and together we raise two Emirati boys. I work on national initiatives and have volunteered on national missions raising the UAE flag in the countries we have supported. My mother is British and I love her – however, I am 100 per cent Emirati. It is all I have ever known; it’s the country I love and work for every day. So how different am I? I don’t think I’m that different at all.

Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati ­columnist and social commentator. He lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and two sons.

Updated: January 26, 2017 04:00 AM



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