Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 July 2020

Happy birthday to you? How UAE residents are baking cakes and using Zoom to celebrate their big day amid the crisis

'We’re so lucky to have technology and video chat options like Zoom and Houseparty,' says one Dubai resident

UAE residents are turning to video chat apps such as Zoom and Houseparty to celebrate their birthdays with friends and family. Getty
UAE residents are turning to video chat apps such as Zoom and Houseparty to celebrate their birthdays with friends and family. Getty

Under normal circumstances, Marwan Semaan would have been celebrating his 32nd birthday in the Dubai desert, listening to music and having a barbecue with friends. But instead, he stayed inside, adhering to the UAE’s social distancing regulations amid the coronavirus outbreak.

That didn’t stop him from having a good time, though. “It was so unexpected and full of surprises,” he tells The National. “I woke up to a very touching video montage my mum sent. It showed all my family members singing Happy Birthday to me.”

Semaan, who is the deputy managing director of Ramy Automotive, a car repair workshop in Al Quoz, lives with a couple of flat mates, who also prepared him pancakes before he woke up. “I received messages and calls from all of my friends around the world. I guess they had so much free time on hands that they remembered me!”

The best part, he says, was when his housemates started singing Happy Birthday. “They turned on the TV and all of my close friends and cousins were there, live, singing together, for me. I really didn’t expect this and was so touched.”

Like many of us, Semaan needed a nice distraction, as the coronavirus crisis has been tough for him on both a personal and professional level. “I am not able to workout or go outdoors. The business is very low … People have been afraid of sending their cars over for repair, so we are working on a plan that will make things more convenient for customers. [At least] this situation allows us to think outside of the box and focus more on ourselves,” he adds.

Alison Scott, who lives in Abu Dhabi, had a similar experience for her 34th birthday on Sunday, March 29. “I spent the day at home, obviously, with my husband, Fraser, and our puppy, Lola. I decided to bake a cake and then had lots of internet calls with my family. What else do you need?”

Scott, who is a freelance writer and social media expert, had planned to spend the day by the swimming pool and go out for dinner, but she soon realised that was off the table. “Spending the day indoors due to the current situation was a little odd. However, my husband was off work, so we made the most of it. My sister-in-law and niece baked a cake, too, and sang Happy Birthday to me on a video call, which was very sweet.”

Public relations specialist Ellie Keene, who lives alone in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, has big plans for her 32nd birthday on Sunday, April 5. “This Friday, I will do the McGettigan’s brunch delivery and enjoy it while on a Zoom chat with some friends. Then, on my actual, birthday I will definitely do a little workout to get those happy endorphins going … before I order some pancakes for breakfast and then continue to eat my favourite food all day.” She also plans to listen to all her favourite music and dance around her apartment.

Ellie Keene will spend her birthday with friends and familly via video chat this year. Courtesy Ellie Keene
Ellie Keene will spend her birthday with friends and familly via video chat this year. Courtesy Ellie Keene

“We’re so lucky to have technology and video chat options like Zoom and Houseparty, so I will be speaking to as many people as possible throughout the day from here and back home,” she adds.

How is everyone else celebrating?

People all over the world are making the most of a strange situation on their big days. American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey marked her birthday last Friday with a chocolate cake, which she enjoyed with her twins, Moroccan and Monroe.

It was low-key, family event, but Carey still dressed up in a beautiful black embellished gown, while her and the children donned party hats. “Spent 3.27 at home with my family and virtually with fans and friends from all over the world,” she wrote in a caption on Instagram. “Thank you for all the love #eternally12.”

While there’s ongoing debate about her real age and whether she just turned 49 or 50, friend Barbara Streisand sent a message congratulating her on her “big” birthday, and retweeted an article celebrating her own half-century.

Someone else who was celebrating a big one was Robert Weighton, who lives in the UK. On Sunday, he turned 112 years old, officially making him the world’s oldest man. While the Guinness World Records team were unable to meet him in person as they normally do, due to England’s lockdown, the assisted living home where he stays arranged for Happy Birthday to be sung to him on his balcony and then presented him with a certificate of his record.

“I enjoyed it that way,” Weighton later told Good Morning Britain. “I don’t like crowds and lots of hullabaloo.”

Robert Weighton from the UK has been named the world's living oldest man. Courtesy Guinness World Records 
Robert Weighton from the UK has been named the world's living oldest man. Courtesy Guinness World Records 

Keene, who is also missing out on her cousin’s baby shower due to the situation, would have much preferred to have spent the day at the beach or having brunch with friends in real life, followed by a karaoke session in one of her favourite nightspots, Lucky Voice, but she’s staying positive.

“I can’t complain," she says. "Right now I am just so grateful that my friends and family are safe and healthy. I think if it was a big celebration, like my 30th, I might be slightly more disappointed, but I am quite content in my own company, with my cat, so I don’t feel too upset by it. And there’s always next year!”

Semaan has adopted a similarly positive outlook on his circumstances. “I am working on ways to sustain the business during these tough times and perhaps even on ways to grow it,” he says.

Still, he does miss having those desert barbecues. “I have decided to focus more on the outdoors once things get better – it’s crazy how much we take nature for granted!”

Updated: April 2, 2020 06:48 PM

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