x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Ali Story: A child's joy at Eid

Eid's bounty for youngsters offers lessons in money management - though I'll admit to having trouble heeding them.

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

Eid is always a time we looked forward to when we were children. It was a time when we'd have new clothes made for us and we'd get our hair cut so we'd look nice. It was also a time when we'd be given money.

One Ramadan, when I was maybe six or seven years old, I remember my mum telling me to remind my father to collect my new kandura from the tailor. We went to get it but it was always last minute and when we brought it home, the kandura was too short! This was a day or two before Eid.

My father went to get it fixed but there was no time. Then Eid came and I started crying, thinking my three sisters and four female cousins would make fun of me because I was a miskeen - a poor boy - in an old kandura and they were all in new dresses.

But even though it was last minute, my mother fixed it. She got an old-fashioned sewing machine out of storage. It was one that worked by hand - I didn't even know my mother was a good tailor.

She got my kandura and unpicked the hem at the bottom and made it longer so it fitted. Until then I hadn't realized why the hems are so long in kanduras.

Then I had a fresh idea and I thought to myself: "Maybe that means other people aren't making new kanduras."

My father said: "Who says that's a bad idea? If the people are poor and can't afford it, some will do that. It's why you have to say 'alhamdulillah' - 'thanks to God' - for having a new kandura." I also wondered why we don't give the old ones to the needy instead of throwing them away.

It was an amazing lesson, coming near the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Just before Eid, it's traditional for everyone to get their hair cut so they look nice. One time, when I was 8 years old, my mother gave me five dirhams and sent me to the barber, who was called Mukhtar. The whole neighborhood in Bani Yas used to see him and his two brothers, who also worked at the barbers.

Their shop in Bani Yas was at the end of a row of shops and the first one I went past was one that sold sweets. I went in and bought an ice cream for half a dirham. So I now had four and a half dirhams left but the haircut cost five dirhams.

So what did I do? I went in and spent another half a dirham buying a type of biscuit that had a card in it featuring a photo of a Disney character, which the kids used to barter and swap.

The neighborhood kids used to play a game where we'd hold up a pair of cards - one mine, the other belonging to the other kid - and let them drop. The one whose card hit the ground first kept both cards.

I played with another boy so I could make up for only having four dirhams left of the money my mother gave me. I was sure I'd make up for the money I'd spent before I reached the barber shop.

And I lost! And yes, it's almost like I was gambling and that was haram - forbidden - in Islam but, oh well, I was a child and it was cool.

So I bought another one - and lost that one too! Finally I only had three dirhams left. I was in big trouble but, fortunately, we lived in our neighborhood like a family.

I went to the barber and inside there were 30 people waiting to get their hair cut by the three brothers. It must have been 9pm before my turn came around.

I had Mukhtar and I said to him: "Listen, Mukhtar, I only have three dirhams. You tell my dad and he'll pay you the other two dirhams." He looked at me and said: "No problem." He cut my hair for three dirhams.

When I got home, I asked my father for two dirhams and he gave them to me. I went back to Mukhtar and paid him.

We woke up early the next day for the Eid Al Fitr prayer. It's a special prayer at 6am that only happens once a year. Our mother made sure we were there right on time.

When we got back from prayer was the time we all waited for, as on Eid Al Fitr everyone gives children money. My father gave me and my sister money and my mother would, too. Usually it would be five dirhams or more and when I was a child, to get Dh50 or Dh100 made us feel really rich. But even two to three dirhams made us happy.

The children used to go around the neighborhood houses and be given money, then my father took us to visit his colleagues and some high official home majlises around the city in Abu Dhabi. My father had five to seven main houses that he'd visit during Eid and share his greetings. But to me it was five to seven big opportunities to get more "eideyah" - the money children are given by the people at these homes.

How long did my money last? Are you kidding me? It was gone the same day.