x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The UAE: the land of opportunity

Bolstered by a can-do attitude, new things are getting done here.

In the wake of celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the UAE, we have time to reflect on the real magic of the UAE - the stuff that lies beneath the skyscrapers, minarets and monuments.

It is witnessed in the cosmopolitan society growing as a result of the country's expansion.

But there's more to it than that.

After nearly a year spent reporting on the city's cultural landscape, I've seen a different story emerge about the UAE - one far removed from the country's much-touted promise of economic advancement.

It's far more personal and real; away from the glamour of red carpets and openings.

It is a story of opportunity that embraces all, including a migrant, a sheikh and a musician.

It was a job at the government's then-fledgling water and electricity department that brought my recently married father here from war-torn Eritrea in 1979.

I was born two years later, and then went on to spend nine years in a country that helped shape my multicultural outlook on life.

With childhood friends from Sudan, Egypt, Palestine and India, I quickly realised tolerance was the social currency needed to make and keep friends.

That early experience also held me in good stead when I migrated to Australia in 1990, where I didn't suffer the cultural aftershocks others migrants faced.

Like my father before me, it was opportunity that drew me back to the UAE two decades later - writing for this newspaper, to be exact.

And now it is through my reporting on the UAE's cultural scene that I have found other stories that demonstrate rare chances. The UAE, for example, gave Sheikh Mohammed El Yass a voice.

It is his beautiful melodic tone often heard at the crack of dawn when he makes the call to prayer from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The Pakistani-born Mohammed El Yass remains grateful that the job was extended to a non-local.

"It is definitely an honour and a responsibility I take very seriously," he said. "The generosity afforded me here in this country is truly a blessing."

Similarly, the Australian expatriate and musician Paul Kelly says the UAE is a place where he can create something out of nothing.

Despairing at the lack of avenues where local bands can display their talent, he set up www.triplew.me. The site has grown to become an influential portal where young music and filmmaking talent can showcase their latest work.

Kelly says the "you can do it" attitude that prevails in the UAE is behind the site's success.

"I just find people are more open to listening to new concepts and ideas here than other places in the world," he says.

"Not only that, they are then happy to embrace it and act upon it."

sasaeed@thenational.ae

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