x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

One country, so many celebrations

Citizens and expatriates come together across the emirates to honour a country that has become a world player in only four decades.

Rowing competitions mark National Day off the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
Rowing competitions mark National Day off the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI //The official National Day event may have taken place at Zayed Sports City, but the official after party erupted on the Corniche.

Traffic was chaotic all along the Corniche after police closed off sections of the road. The air was thick with the smell of exhaust fumes and overheating brakes.

On the side of the road, people of all nationalities pulled out camping chairs and set up shop to watch the unfolding festivities.

Young men ran between the stationary vehicles spraying foam and silly string into open windows. Others pulled their cars over to the side of the road, climbed on the roof and danced.

At one point, men on horseback were seen weaving through traffic.

"It took over an hour to get halfway down the Corniche," said Jane Williams, 44, from Australia. "But no one minded - we were all feeling festive."

"The national celebrations have been fantastic and it is so nice to see people so proud of their achievements and looking forward to their future," said William Moloney, 37, who took his wife and three young boys to the corniche.

This was the third time David and Margaux Dombkins have been in the country for National Day and, while the flag was a wonderful spectacle, it was the way people decorated their cars that made the holiday special for them.

Seeing young children dressed in traditional clothing waving to people from their cars added to the family feel, they said.

"It's just fun," said Mrs Dombkins, who was wearing a National Day T-shirt and wrapped in a flag.

Ahmed Ali, 19, and Ahmed Suhail, 17, were happy to walk across the city, taking in all of the events.

For the two Emirati teenagers, who spent the rest of their day on Yas Island, this year's celebration held more importance than most.

"It is because it is the 40th," said Ahmed, who wore a specially designed scarf, in spite of the sun.

In Fujairah, the Corniche was quiet for most of the day, with only a few decorated cars zooming and honking loudly along the water strip from time to time.

But things started to liven up by 5pm when a parade of cars arrived with passengers shooting paint out of their windows.

"I love you, UAE," shouted a boy from the front seat as he sprayed water at nearby cars - taking special aim at those with open windows.

At the Ajman Corniche, families thronged the beach and boardwalk.

Some crowded around volleyball matches being played for a National Day tournament. Others kicked footballs on the sand or strolled along the water.

A police officer in a go-kart tried to break up groups of men, saying he wanted to distance them from families, but they regrouped as soon as he left.

Cars paraded up and down the street showing off their UAE colours. Special features included painted handprints, a feathery carpet, a teddy bear tied to the roof, a doll dressed in a burqa sticking out of the sunroof, falcon emblems, and images of sheikhs and camels.

In Ras Al Khaimah, yesterday marked the third day of parades along the emirate's Corniche.

Thayeb Abdullah needed four friends, three giant teddy bears, one week and Dh2,000 to ensure every inch except the licence plates of his Hummer was covered.

"It's a problem for the police," said Mr Abdullah.

"Every day he stops me and he says, 'What is this?' I don't know what I can say to him. I say, 'OK, no problem'."

Mr Abdullah, who is also a police officer, has already been fined Dh200."It's nothing," he said, laughing.

"If he says to me, 'Pay Dh1,000' I pay but I will not take it off because that's my day, that's my country, you know. I don't care."

Tents lined Palma Beach in Umm Al Qaiwain where Emirati women selling local handicraft and cuisine greeted visitors at the entrance.

Saaqina Mohammed, a cook, explained to passers-by how she made her Liqamat (sweet dumplings).

"A lot of people like this and on UAE National Day what better way to explain the culture of the country than food," she said.

Large fleets of cars moved at a snail's pace along the Sharjah Corniche as Emiratis and expatriates united in jovial celebrations. The evening processions began at about 4.30pm and continued through the evening amid major police presence.

"This shows how the UAE is becoming strong and powerful, uniting the locals with expatriates to celebrate a nation's achievements," said Ali Al Serkal, one of the happy celebrators at the Corniche.

"Our fathers did not live to see this victory, but we are witnessing the vision they had."


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