x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Reflections on a decade: cosmonauts and a cup of tea

So, it is the end of a decade, and I am still single. Ten years have passed already? It doesn't feel like it, until I start to reflect over these years and realise, wow, it has been some journey.

So, it is the end of a decade, and I am still single. Ten years have passed already? It doesn't feel like it, until I start to reflect over these years and realise, wow, it has been some journey. Also, there may be a few new fine lines here and there, and strands of silver hair, but all well-earned. In the past decade, I became a godmother to five different children of childhood friends, lost some family members and reconnected with others, lost childhood pets and adopted new ones. I witnessed and reported on two major wars, numerous unfortunate conflicts and pointless political bickering. I protested - against occupation, war, climate change, animal cruelty ... you name it. And finally, after so many decades, my family moved this year out of my childhood home, forcing all of us to bid a final farewell to all those reminders of our past.

I realise that for all their glory and fame, the people that I have met at the top are quite lonely, and that sharing one single tea bag with a family of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon's Sabra and Shatila camps remains one of the memorable experiences of the decade. While they had nothing, they were genuinely happy and content. They taught me their secret: inner happiness doesn't falter in the face of worldly problems. While I forget sometimes, that secret is here with me, thanks to that family.

In 2000, I bought my first car, a new silver Honda coupé, which I "souped up" and personalised in Fast and Furious style, even having my Arabic nickname (Ramroom) painted on it. To this day, that Honda remains my favourite car, despite this year having settled on a more luxurious, more clichéd car with far less personality. There have been some real automobile adventures this past decade, from driving across Canada to dodging bullets and avoiding bomb craters in Iraq and Lebanon to just cruising the corniches in cities across the Middle East.

Thinking about those experiences, I also remember how many friends have died in car accidents this past decade. I also lost three of my teachers and two other friends to cancer. May they all rest in peace. It was also the decade that we lost the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, marking the end of a musical era. How his lyrics influenced me are only now apparent. The breeze of "change" in the United States, in the election of Barack Obama, is something we still need in Canada. As things have got worse there, with higher taxes and unemployment and fewer benefits and opportunities, many Canadians like myself have moved overseas to support our families.

The decade also saw the adoption of the euro currency, and the entrance of Poland into the EU. It changed the status of every Polish citizen and, having been born there, I saw it as a great success. I remember how it was before and see how it is now: no more lengthly, humiliating queues for petrol and food. It was a complete transformation, something I have yet to see in the Arab countries - with the exception of the UAE - that seem to have been struggling with the same issues since I was born.

And in this past decade, I finally achieved my dream of swimming with dolphins. I performed the Haj for the second time and reconnected with my roots by spending time with people from traditional Arab tribes, replicating the experiences portrayed in the old black and white photos in my family home. I conquered some personal fears and met and befriended one of the original cosmonauts of the Soviet Union, Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space. Having grown up looking at a photo of my father with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, I wonder decades later if it is just a coincidence.

It is very difficult to sum up 10 years, and I am sure I am forgetting many things. Funny how things fall into place when we reflect, realising how silly it was to worry about some things. One annoyance that has remained constant, however, is somehow I always end up coming home to a dark house with an electricity failure. So now I think it must be me, not the place, that is blowing the fuse. As for New Year's resolutions, I have given up the "I want to lose weight" one. I'm just going to enjoy my Nintendo Wii Fit whether it's effective or not.

So, I start off the new year, hopefully a little bit wiser, kinder, more patient and less adventurous. I probably will start planning my return home. Wherever that is. rghazal@thenational.ae