x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Gifts come from heart of the north

40 years of the UAE: Every year in late October, the men in the northernmost village of the country organise a meeting to decide what they will give the country for its birthday.

Every year in late October, the men in the northernmost village of the country organise a meeting to decide what they will give the country for its birthday.

The town of Al Jeer in Ras Al Khaimah houses a collection of past presents, including an 8-metre-tall golden falcon from last year and a 37 metre-high flagpole from 2008.

Tariq Al Nar, a burly man with emerald eyes, is this year's hero for his idea of a 18 metre-wide UAE map painted in the national colours.

Villagers of the Northern Emirates spend hundreds of thousands of dirhams and countless hours every year on UAE decorations.

Objects that cannot be festooned with ribbons or flags are painted and sprayed.

The villagers insist they do the decorating themselves.

"We want to live the life, we want to feel National Day," said Ali Saleh, 28. "If you used the car, if you use foreign [labour], if you go to a factory … you did nothing. We have to work from our hands, from our mind."

About 50 people carried the iron frame of the giant map from the mosque to the main road, where it will stand for years to come.

The RAK town of Ghalailah collected an estimated Dh50,000 in donations for its decorations this year. A flag runs 530 metres along the road into town.

In Wadi Ghalailah, men and boys painted the dam with UAE flags and maps.

"Today is National Day for the Government, but earlier we were celebrating outside the cities," said Sara Ali, 35. "The nationals are all in the mountains."

Ms Ali and her nine children decorated her pickup with stars and feather boas weeks ago for school parades and tribal parties.

In Fujairah, a host of plastic tents sprang up under trees as campers came from across the UAE to join in the celebrations there.

A group of 12 cars, all decorated with images of the Rulers and heart-shaped flag stickers, were making a round trip of the UAE as part of a "Spirit of UAE Caravan".

"Our ancestors would go on long camel caravans rediscovering their country," said Badr Al Baloushi, 24. "We are doing that with our new camels, the 4x4s."

To mark the anniversary, the Al Baloushi tribe of RAK gathered 40 of its members and hit the road on Thursday morning, making stops at campsites in different emirates.

By midafternoon they were in Fujairah, enjoying a break along its Corniche, before heading to Sharjah, then Dubai, then Abu Dhabi.

"We love the entire UAE, and Allah protect it from envious eyes," said Ali Al Baloushi, in his 40s, another member of the caravan. "The leaders really take care of us."

As they were packing up to leave, the children in the group sang the national anthem - a new road-trip tradition that began this year.

"Every emirate we visit, we sing the national anthem before we move on to another emirate," Mr Al Baloushi said.

In Umm Al Qaiwain, most residents gathered in Al Khor Park to celebrate with picnics, shisha and family fun.

In Ajman, visitors to the Ajman City Centre enjoyed bands, face painters, balloonists and an appearance by the grandmothers from the cartoon Freej. The characters in their colourful outfits waved as shoppers and cleaning staff crowded around to have a picture taken. A few children ran away scared as their parents laughed.

At Al Qasba Hotel in Sharjah, celebrations merged culture with entertainment. There were traditional dances, fireworks displays and Emirati artworks and paintings on display.


* With reporting by Carol Huang, Anna Zacharias, Afshan Ahmed, Rym Ghazal and Yasin Kakande