x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The Ali Story: An Emirati boy recalls the songs of a sweet-sounding bird

From a childhood memory of swimming wth his father, Ali Al Saloom also remembers the sweet songs of a colourful bird.

As a boy, I was crazy about swimming, and in Bani Yas, we were one of the only families with a swimming pool.

My father would advise me to swim in the early morning because it was better for you. One Friday, when I was about eight years old, I remember waking up early and my father asking me "Do you want to swim?".

I didn't even have to go to my room to get changed - I had my shorts under my pyjamas. I was always ready for swimming.

It was an essential thing in our family - having the maximum fun possible through water. Now my mother and my sister both have pools at their home.

After I was in the water, my father jumped in. Then he said, "Listen, do you hear that?"

It was whistling - the most beautiful whistling I'd ever heard.

It was coming from a bird, a bulbul, in one of the trees surrounding our pool. It was black and white, with a little bit of yellow on its neck. Then I saw bulbuls in the other trees too.

Bulbuls can be trained, like parrots. They're smaller, but their brains are big enough to learn tricks and relate to the person training them. But I didn't want to capture one and raise it in a cage.

A few days later, my father brought a baby bulbul, just a few weeks old, into the house. It looked like it had fallen from its nest.

My father mashed up some bread and mixed with some water then said: "I'll show you something." And he put the bit of bread on his lips and let the bird peck at it and take it from his lips.

Then he put the bird in a small potted tree in our living room. He checked on it every 30 minutes, covering it with his hands in a way that kept it warm. We named him Bulbul.

It's amazing how fast birds grow. After a few weeks, Bulbul had beautiful wings full of feathers. His tail was complete and he was able to fly.

After raising him and successfully taking care of him, Bulbul's first flight was a real magic moment.

Soon he started to fly around the house. He flew on to the top of the chandelier in the living room, on top of the air-conditioning unit, then onto my father's shoulder, where he would stay. Finally, we opened the door and he flew away. It's not like birds will come back. I could have clipped his wings but I was against that.

Not all Fridays were as memorable as the one when we found Bubul, but they remain a time of the week that touches my heart. On Friday mornings, my mother and the maid would make breakfast and my father would put on his reading glasses and would read the newspaper. My sister would wake up before me. About an hour before the start of the dhuhr prayer, my father would get nicely dressed before he went to the mosque.

It was such a beautiful moment, because young children or even young grandchildren will often follow their fathers or grandfathers to the mosque after spending the morning with their families.

It's a Muslim ritual, but there is also a very social aspect to Friday prayers. You're joining spiritually in a Muslim ritual to gather for prayers. You see how everyone holds their hands as they pray and you start to look at all these things.

When done, everyone would go outside. Afterwards, I'd watch my father shake people's hands and everybody would gather around and catch up on what happened in the last week.

I'd see my classmates. People would make plans for the rest of the day.

Other kids would say "I'm going to the park", or "I'm going to the circus", or "I'm going to the ice rink at Zayed Sports City", or "I'm going to watch the match".

Then there was my answer. It was a magic moment: "I'm going to Chicago Beach." And they would all ask me excitedly, "Ooh, you're going to Dubai?"