x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

My life: Manar Al Hinai on her love of airports

Dreams take wing at the airport, even if life flies off in another direction.

I did not visit Disneyland until I was in college, but I never felt that I had missed out because I had my airports.

Growing up, holidaying in south-east Asia's tropical islands, a simple trip to an airport was magical. I even tagged along with any friend or relative headed that way, for a dose of adrenalin. The jets were my rollercoaster rides, and the terminals were mazes that led me to exotic new destinations. Even the chairs scattered around by the terminal gates were enchanted objects, coated with magical dust of people who flew in from far-away kingdoms. I remember as a child pressing my face against the airport's floor-to-ceiling windows, gazing through the skies as airplanes swooped their wings, and flew away like fierce falcons. I always wondered if the passengers were able to see me waving my little hands as they disappeared through the fluffy clouds.

As I waited for my flights, holding my yellow backpack, filled with everything from game cards to puzzles that would entertain me in my journey, I stared at stewardesses from different airlines, as beautiful as princesses but with purpose and direction. They did not need a prince's kiss to wake up, nor a shoe to lead them to a royal life. They were more like glamorous superheroes, who knew how to save their passengers in case of emergencies, and perfectly cater to their needs with a smile and no complaints. At the age of six, I was determined that I wanted to work in airports, add to their magic, and make people as happy there as I was.

But a conversation with my father one night when we were building a castle out of building blocks convinced me that I was meant for something else, and so I tucked my dream in a box and placed it at the back of my mind, and went on to discover what my true "life calling" was.

I loved entrepreneurship, a trait I have inherited from my two grandfathers. Exchanging products for money excited me, and I organised many retail exhibitions in my own backyard when I was barely 10.

Friends and neighbours came along, and enjoyed my choreographed dance shows, my handmade products to be sold, and games to be played. I made my first Dh500 profit and could not believe it. This passion evolved until I launched my own fashion label and small business.

Yet I still felt I was meant to achieve more.

As a child, I told my little sister magical tales that I came up with every night before bed. She was determined that I would be an author one day, and my stories would stack up the shelves of famous bookstores.

I had a skill for narrating, and so I decided to put my writing to use. Soon enough, I unleashed my writing demon, and could not stop. I loved every bit of it; being lost in my own bubble and expressing matters that I could not disclose to my closest friends. My father and number one fan was convinced that this was my ultimate true calling in life, to be a successful writer, the author of a great novel, and a winner of a Pulitzer Prize. Something was still missing though…

And I knew what it was just a few weeks ago. I was asked to be involved in a creative airport project and I instantly agreed to meet the team. I woke up extra early that day, overwhelmed with excitement, and could not decide what to wear; just like a little kid on the morning of Eid.

As I walked with a team member past the security guards and towards the concealed offices behind the check-in desks, a tiny box that I had once tucked away at the back of the mind, slowly reopened.

 

Manar Al Hinai, an Emirati, is a fashion designer and writer based in Abu Dhabi. She was recently named an Arab Woman of the Year.