x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

National Day rewind: Emiratis impart UAE traditions to expats

Emiratis take the opportunity to teach expats about their traditions during National Day.

GEMS World Academy student Lara Elbilly, 6, runs through the school courtyard during one of its National Day events for students.
GEMS World Academy student Lara Elbilly, 6, runs through the school courtyard during one of its National Day events for students.

DUBAI // Emirati mothers and fathers have taken time off work to illustrate the “true UAE” to expatriate children and parents at private schools.

As part of National Day celebrations, local parents at the Gems World Academy (GWA) in Dubai dressed in the traditional Emirati attire of kanduras and embellished abayas. They shared their traditions with pupils and parents at a heritage village set up in the school compound.

“Everyone was asked to dress up in the local costume, and they are enjoying it,” said Hind Al Janahi, an Emirati whose daughter attends the school.

“I was overwhelmed when mums who come from countries like America, Britain and Canada came up to me and said they always wondered how Arab women wore something that is generally thought to be restrictive, but now when they have worn it they felt a sense of dignity and comfort.”

The parents association at the school worked for one month to bring in traders of bakhoor (fragrant wood chips), local sweets, bread and handicrafts for the village, plus costume suppliers.

Local high school boys brought falcons and stallions from their family farms to entertain pupils.

Saeed Al Murooshid, a Grade 10 pupil, was asked to bring his feathery companion to educate other children about the importance of the falcon in UAE culture.

“Our ancestors used falcons to hunt for food but nowadays, falconry is a sport,” Saeed told curious children. “A lot of them call it an eagle … no, it is not.

“I want them to know more about our lifestyle, our habits, traditions and religion.”

Mrs Al Janahi said National Day was a good opportunity for expatriates to learn about the history of the UAE and the motifs they see around them. “Many people do not know things, like what the colours on the UAE flag mean, when the seven emirates came together as a country and who the President is,” she said.

“This is the perfect occasion to make them familiar with all this.”

Briton Sassy Cracknell, who chairs the GWA Parents’ Association, said it was enlightening to work on a programme that provided an insight into Arabic customs.

“Our team sat down to decide on an agenda that would best represent the country, and we had the local parents immediately jump at the idea and support us with putting it together,” she said.

Running up to tomorrow, the 39th birthday of the UAE, the Parents’ Association at the Al Mizhar American Academy for Girls has set up stalls to sell badges, flags and local cuisine at the school.

“We want every child to have something that reminds them of the UAE,” said Fairouz Aziz, the mother of one of the pupils. “It’s nice for non-UAE nationals to see what kind of food we eat.

“Today, we had a mother bring in some traditional biscuits and we exchanged recipes, so it is a learning process.”

At the American International School in Abu Dhabi, local parents also stepped up to lend a hand in the celebrations.

Students made videos of their vision of the UAE. Local songs and dances will be performed at the school today.

Dema Shanti, the community affairs coordinator, said local parents offered to provide camels and horses from their farms, and to set up stalls.“Even for the new staff and students that have joined the school today, these festivities highlight the significance of National Day,” she said.



This story is one of a series this week from The National's past coverage of UAE National Day.