x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

My Life: Manar Al Hinai on what it means to be related

Family ties are strong, and resemblance can go beyond physical features.

Wassan's black hair and heavy Bahraini dialect; Nada's fair skin and Saudi Arabian tongue; my long nose and Emirati accent - our contrasting speech and features are only the beginning of differences that make my friends scream: "I cannot believe you are all related! "

Wassan and Nada are only two of my cousins and are among many members of the Bahraini side of my family.

Born to a Bahraini mother with all her family members living in Bahrain, I share with my cousins one root and numerous aunts and uncles, but few physical features. Yet the ties of loyalty that bind us would rival the best of the Kennedys and the Kardashians.

Wassan, 22, is a physical therapy specialist. Her strong personality and light soul always leave my cheeks aching from smiling for hours, and our endless discussions about life, love and our mysterious future exercise my mind. Although we hold different views on everything from politics to preferred physical looks, she is one of my best friends and the person I would turn to first to share important happenings in my life.

Nada, 21, is the family's camera person who would happily snap away for hours. She has more pictures taken of me than I would own in a lifetime. We are still trying to find common interests other than laughing at silly cartoons and cheesy Arabic songs.

I have five aunts and two uncles. Uncle Hassan is not your typical army man. He shows his emotions, and is not strict. At get-togethers my cousins and I would all gather round him after a meal, munch on sweets, and laugh at his hilarious stories about his childhood adventures in Saudi Arabia and his army trips around the world.

His brother, Uncle Tariq, who owns the biggest library of films I have ever seen, is the opposite. He does not say much and is more content laughing at jokes than cracking them. His bedroom was my heaven as a child. After dinner at my grandmother's house, we kids would follow him up to his room through the narrow staircase to choose whatever film we decided to borrow. Of course, we wanted to grab as many kung fu films and Walt Disney classics from his stacked shelves as our little hands could carry, but we were allowed only one a night.

My grandmother was the glue that held us together all these years. She was the reason why we loved Eid, treasured family gatherings, and longed to spend hot summer days in Bahrain instead of in a European destination. After she suddenly passed away on a beautiful summer morning in June 2007, we family members grew even closer. The traditional Friday lunches still take place at her house - the same place where we would all congratulate each other during Eid and indulge in white rice and fried Bahraini safi fish, her favourite.

As I so love spending time with my Bahraini family, I hate that we live apart. I cannot recall the number of times I was upset to miss out on important family occasions such as my cousin Bayan's birthday or my Aunt Loloua's first business exhibition because I could not get out of work or had a college deadline to meet.

Still, growing up in Abu Dhabi away from my mother's family has given me a wonderful avenue of opportunity, and valuable life lessons such as how to keep strong family ties even when living far away from each other.

When things get serious, I can always count on them to watch my back. They are there for me during the good and the ugly, just as I will always be there for them.


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