x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Notes on coming of age

Feature In the first of a four-part series, UAE-based teenagers share their thoughts on home and friendship.

The Dubai National School student Masha Abdulla Nami, 15, at her home.
The Dubai National School student Masha Abdulla Nami, 15, at her home.

Adolescence - the years between childhood and adulthood - is an important time, and often a difficult one, no matter where you spend it. It is a time of transition, physically and emotionally, a time when we are learning how to socialise, how to be adults, and trying to discover the person we want to become. But youth is defined as much by where we grow up as it is by our families and where we are educated.

Growing up in the Emirates is a unique experience, and this summer we asked teenagers in the UAE to write to The National to tell us about their lives. We asked them to tell us what is it like to mature in a country that is under construction - a nation that is changing every day. We wanted to know what it is like to grow up in a country with so many foreigners and what it is like to be an expat teenager coming of age in a foreign country. Do teenagers here care about the same things as their counterparts in London, San Francisco, Beirut or Delhi? Is there a common experience shared by all those who grow up here? What would a UAE-based coming-of-age novel be like? Would Dubai's Holden Caulfield spend his day cutting classes at the Mall of the Emirates?

Over the course of several months, more than 100 teenagers wrote in with their thoughts on home, family, friends, socialising, school and their hopes and fears for the future. The results are surprising and eclectic. Over the next four days we will print a selection of the letters we received, all of which offer a candid and intriguing snapshot of what it is like to come of age in the Emirates. Today we present responses on the subjects of home, family life and friendship.

Masha Abdulla Nami 15 years old Dubai After every single trip or just an exhausting day at school, I long to go back to my sanctuary, to the place where I call home. Life is a cycle of repeating routines. My life is very simple, focused mostly on school and social life. As we get older, our schedule fills up as we start to stand on our own feet to guarantee a happy and successful life. We go through different phases and emotions, but there is only one single emotion that remains the same no matter how old, tired or angry we become. This emotion is the feeling we have towards our homes. Many people define home as the apartment, villa, or palace they live in. To me, home represents a much greater image. Home is the place where I feel safe and sound. It's the place where I'm surrounded by my loved ones who provide me with warmth and affection whenever I desire. And last but not least, it's the place where I belong, no matter how small and simple it might be. Therefore, I must say that I feel very lucky every night, as I have the blessing to sleep in my own bed, in my own private home.

S Feroz Khan 12 years old Ruwais, Abu Dhabi Home is considered to be a real paradise, because of Mother. Prophet Mohammed said, "You can feel the earthly paradise at the feet of your mother." She sacrifices her whole life for the welfare of the family members. Home is the first school for a growing boy or a girl. He gets the first playground in the home. Family members are his companions. He enjoys safety and security in the home. He is getting experience and all kind of guidance for his future benefit. He enriches his body, mind and soul. His behaviour is the reflection of the family background. His diet habits, moral behaviours, observing prayers are all taught by the family members.

One poet said, "A good family is a university where we can get all schools of thought." A Chinese proverb says don't give alms to the poor but teach them how to earn. In a family we learn every aspect of life from morning to evening. In between we have hundreds of work to do. All these practices are taught without any strain. Therefore, home is made up of number of beloved hearts.

Jannat Nalwa 17 years old Sharjah, now living in Canada As I mature by the day, like every other teenager of my age I wish to be independent and self-reliant. Most youngsters today dislike living at home with their parents and would prefer to stay alone or with a friend. My parents believe that my brother and I need to grow up to be individuals who are independent and capable of dealing with situations of all kinds. They have sent me on holidays alone to foreign countries to give me the experience of living alone and dealing with the world the way it is. I think living at home is like living in a shell. Our parents feed us, cater to all our needs and demands and protect us from a world that most teenagers of my age don't even know exists.

We often take for granted what is easily available to us, such as the love, affection and care given by our parents. When my friends crave for freedom and wish to live alone I hope they remember those children who are so unfortunate that they don't even have a home. We wear the best of brands and are educated at the most expensive schools while there are children who don't even get two square meals a day and haven't ever been to a school. I love my home and my parents because I know there are children for whom a place called home does not even exist. My message to all the teens out there would be, don't think of the privileges you don't have, but thank God for the ones you are blessed with, for starters, a home!

Marietta Perera 15 years old Dubai At the first glance of the word "friends" you would think people to gossip and hang around with. But with a deeper look at the word you would see that it actually means someone who is always there and makes you the person you are today. I was taught the value of a friend the hard way. My friend Christine left for India this month to attend a boarding school. I didn't want her to leave but I didn't really think I'd miss her this much. I recall having an argument with her and made up only two days before she left the UAE. It later made me realise that if I made up with her that day I could have spent more time with her. It didn't quite hit me about the phone conversations I would miss until I called her house and her father picks up and says she's in India.

I was taught that "people come in to your life for a reason, a season, a lifetime". Christine served as a reason and a season but I wanted her to be a lifetime. We both realised the value of friendship a little too late. Like Christine, all my friends and relationships mean a lot to me and I would like them all to be a lifetime instead of a season.

Mariam al Alami 15 years old Some people think of friends as merely people to pass the time with or as tokens for popularity, but for me, my friends and family are ­tokens to my sanity. Many people think that they need a lot of friends to be happy, the more friends you have the more popular you are; but, in truth, to be happy all you need are a few close, trustworthy friends, even if it is only one or two people. In different books and movies, the happiest, more secure characters are often the ones with a handful of friends, not the ones with countless people they may call friends. Some examples of characters in books are Harry Potter in the Harry Potter ­series and Bella in Twilight. Some examples of characters in movies are Sam in A Cinderella Story, ­Tracy in Hairspray, and Gabriella in the High School Musical series. In the movies, the characters ­began with only a handful of friends and by the end of the movie they had more friends but not because of conforming to become popular. By staying true to yourself you get friends that like you for you and accept you for who you are and not who you ­pretend to be. For me, my close friends and family are my most valuable possessions. I cannot live without them. Catherine Sangster 16 years old Dubai We spend 35 hours a week in school, learning information that may or may not help us in the future, but we all have those special people who help us get through. These people are our friends whose smile or hug makes the day go just that much faster. Merriam Webster defines a friend as "one attached to another by affection or esteem", but friends are much more. They are the people you confide in, the people that know more about yourself than you do, the ones that could blackmail you with your deepest secrets. They are the people who will not judge your actions, or try and change you, they will love you just they way you are. Friendship is something I value a great deal. My friends are my brothers and sisters, the people I run to crying and know they will make everything all right. Living in ­Dubai, we have the best friends that we see daily and the best friends who live thousands of miles away, and we are constantly reminded that we must value the true friends we find and keep them close living in such a materialistic world. I value the words of advice and knowledge, the hugs that my friends present to me. I value the time we spend together and apart, and the discussions that make our relationships stronger. Friends are the people who get me through the teenage drama and assure me everything will be OK. Friends are the people who will always have your back.