Celebrating 40 years of the U.A.E.

Since I finished teaching classes on November 30th, I would have thought I would have plenty of time to write blog entries. But a combination of trying to finish creating the final exams, and a series of activities aside from work have prevented me from being able to sit down to write. The exams have been finalized, so I am hoping to get a few more blogs written in the next ten days. I can’t believe that I will be leaving Dubai in less than two weeks.

Friday, December 2, 2011 was the 40th anniversary of the creation of the United Arab Emirates, known as National Day. On November 28th, we were informed that the university would be closed on December 1st, in honour of National Day. Since Friday is a normal weekend day, it made sense there would be an extra day off to acknowledge National Day. What was frustrating was the last minute notice of the timing of the extra day. I had expected that Thursday would me my last lecture of the term, but I had to scramble to reschedule the final lecture for Tuesday afternoon. I was surprisingly annoyed at the prospect of a three-day weekend. However, once I managed to finish up the lectures, I did enjoy the extra day away from campus.

On the 28th, there was a celebration of National Day at Dubai Men’s College (DMC). The University of Waterloo campus is housed in one of the buildings of DMC. We were invited to join in the celebration, which was scheduled to start at 4:00 p.m. and go on until 10:00 p.m. The programme was not clear, especially in terms of the times that things would happen. However, there was supposed to be an appearance by Sheikh Nahyan, who is the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for the U.A.E. I can’t explain why, but I was looking forward to seeing a Sheikh in person. At 4:00 p.m. I started to explore the campus to see what was set up. There did not seem to be much going on yet, so I headed back to the office. National Day DMC camel rideA little while later, I headed to the soccer fields with some of my colleagues. There were supposed to be camels, horses, falcons, and a hot air balloon there. I didn’t see any balloons, big or small, but the animals that were promised were present. My colleagues Giovanni and Kasia rode on a camel. I had ridden one during the first week I was in Dubai, and I was wearing a skirt that day, so I declined to ride myself. The most interesting part of a camel ride is when the camel gets up from the ground, and when it lies down to let off its passengers. It is fascinating to watch, and it is also a jolting part of the ride. Near the camels were some horses. They were beautiful animals, but my impression of them was that they were small. I assume they were Arabian, but I don’t know enough about horses to be sure. There were also several falcons that you could hold. They were standing on perches, with their heads covered with a hood. We each took a turn tolding the birds – with their hoods still on. Falcons are clearly important in the culture of the U.A.E., and a particular interest of the leader of Dubai: Sheikh Mohammed.Me with a falcon on National Day

The main part of the campus festivities was to take place in the auditorium. The formal ceremonies were going to start when the Sheikh arrived, but the arrival time was unclear. We sat waiting for things to begin for quite awhile. Finally, a large group of men arrived and were seated in the front section of the auditorium. I was pretty sure that the Sheikh was not among the group, since I had seen a portrait of him, and there was nobody who looked like him. I was told later that the Sheikh did not appear, but his son was part of the group in attendance.

The first part of the programme was a short film about the life of Sheikh Zayed, who was the founder of the U.A.E. I knew a little bit about him from our trip to the museum and palace in Al Ain earlier in the term. As I suspected, everything was in Arabic. I had hoped that the movie would have English subtitles, but it did not. After the movie, there were four poets who were introduced. Poets National DayThey sat together, along with a moderator, behind a table on the stage. Each of them recited three poems they wrote. Of course all of the poetry was in Arabic, and apparently some was in an older dialect that even Arabic speakers had trouble understanding. I could not understand anything that was being said, but it was interesting gauging the crowd’s response to the different presenters. It was clear that one of the poets was well known and popular. They all definitely have a passion for their work. The poetry readings were the centre point of the auditorium ceremony. This was such a different way to celebrate the birthday of your country as compared to what I have seen in Canada. Poetry appears to be a point of pride for people in the U.A.E. In fact, Sheikh Mohammed and his son Sheikh Hamdan, the crown prince of Dubai are noted poets themselves.

After the presentation of gifts to the poets, the we left the auditorium and headed back to the soccer field. They served cake and cupcakes in the hallway, and there were fireworks outside. This felt more like a Canadian celebration. I was hoping to see a hot air balloon when we got to the soccer field, but none was to be found. Shortly after the fireworks were done, we headed back to the hotel.

Although I had a three day weekend to finish the term, I did not have any big plans. I found out from Liz that there was a hockey game at the Dubai Mall on Wednesday night. Liz, Peter, Stan, Eric, and I all headed to the mall for dinner and to watch hockey.Dubai Mall hockey We had a nice dinner at the Organic Foods & Cafe in the mall, and then went to watch the game. I had been to the Dubai Mall several times, but I had not explored it completely. The mall is big in area, and it has five floors. Most of the time when I went to the mall, I wanted to see the fountain show, and had not seen all of its sections. I knew there was an ice rink in the mall, but what I didn’t realize was that the ice rink was “in the mall”. You literally turn the corner, and the rink is right there, beside an Adidas store and a Reebok store. I was a little shocked when I saw it, but I suppose it is much easier to build a rink in the middle of a mall as compared to a ski hill. You could watch the hockey game from the stands on one side, or you could stand on the railing surrounding the rink on any one of three levels of the mall aisles.

We got to the game about half way through the second period. The score was 3-1, with the Al Ain Vipers leading the Dubai Might Camels. Now, despite being Canadian, I don’t really watch much hockey. I have never been to an NHL game, and I rarely watch games on television. However, I almost always enjoy watching live sports, regardless of the level of play. As I said, I am not an expert, but I wouldn’t call the game “great hockey”, but it was entertaining enough for me. It is a non-checking league from what I could tell. There was one big hit in the corner, but shortly after that one of the players was ejected from the game. At first I didn’t think they were connected, but it might have been an illegal hit. I have never seen an OHL game live, or on television, but I don’t think the hockey is close to that level. I would guess that the players vary in age from their early twenties to their late thirties. I noticed that the players had a small Canadian flag on the front of their jerseys. At first, I thought that everyone had that flag, but then I spotted a few other different flags on some players. I think that they must be wearing flags from their home country, and Canadians dominated the lineups for both teams.

Close to the end of the second period, the Camels had a very nice tic-tac-toe play for a goal to make the score 3-2. However, overall there were far more shots on goal by the Vipers than the Camels. I thought the goalie for the Camels was doing a great job. Unfortunately, there were a couple of quick goals in the 3rd period, and the Camels seemed to lose focus. I think the final score was 6-2.

After the game, we walked back to the hotel. This was the first time I had walked from the Dubai Mall back home. The distance of the walk is not far, but it is awkward. As with most of Dubai, the sidewalks beside roads are intermittent. If I wasn’t following people who knew where they were going, I would have had real trouble getting back – despite the fact that I could see my hotel in the distance most of the time I was walking. When we arrived home, Stan invited us up for a drink, which somehow turned into more than one. We eventually left at about 2:30 in the morning. It is a good thing that the Sheikhs had declared the next day a holiday.

Friday was actually the National Day. I had been invited for dinner that night, so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go out in the evening – even if there was something to see. However, from what I could tell, there were no official fireworks displays anywhere in Dubai. I was pretty surprised by that. I had been told that the main way the locals celebrate National Day is to decorate their vehicles and cruise along Jumeirah Beach Road. I thought that it would be tough to drive in that area, so I decided to walk to Jumeirah Beach Park. It takes about an hour from my apartment. I headed down there around 2:00 p.m., and was pretty disappointed with the lack of decorated vehicles. National Day decorated vehicle I saw a few, but nothing like what I had expected. I wandered around the public beach for awhile, and then decided to head back to the apartment. As it was getting closer to sunset, I noticed many more decorated vehicles on the road. There was also a noticeable increase in honking, as well as lots of kids who were standing up, holding flags through the sunroof of the cars. Every once in a while, someone would fire a confetti cannon out of their window into traffic. This seemed like an accident ready to happen.

I stayed for awhile and watched some of the cars and took pictures. Then I needed to head home so I would be back in time for dinner. I could see that things were just ramping up for the evening. The roads were getting busier and louder. I am sure that the main time for cruising was after the sun went down. On my way home, I decided to walk through Safa Park. It costs three dirhams to get in, and I could walk around it without going out of my way, but I really wanted to get something to drink. I also thought that the walk through the park would be nice. I was really glad that I decided to take this route home. The park was filled with people. I am not sure if this was a typical weekend day in December, or not. I suspect that Fridays are the busiest days of the week in the parks, but it may have been busier than normal because of National Day. All I had to compare it to was the last time I was walking through Safa Park during the first weekend in October. That day, we were out in the middle of the day, in extreme heat. We had gone to the park to check out the flea market in the morning. Afterwards, Liz, Peter, and I decided to walk around the rest of the park, and it was essentially empty. What a difference two months made. Now the weather was cooler, and the locals were enjoying the outdoors. People were playing soccer, badminton, and cricket. There were people barbecuing and riding in paddle-boats in the small pond. It felt like a completely different place.

Overall I was surprised at the low-key nature of the National Day celebration. Dubai is always boasting that it has the tallest, or the biggest, something. Although the country clearly celebrated, it didn’t seem too opulent. I am glad I was here to see the 40th birthday of the U.A.E.

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