By Jonina Veloso
From the perspective of city dwellers used to the bustling frenzy of other energized cities, –Dubai, New York, London, Manila-, Abu Dhabi is a quiet sort of town. Despite being the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is considered calmer than most capitals. Yet come National Day, the city leaps into life like it’s been waiting to celebrate all year.
The Corniche, a long stretch of road from the Marina Mall all the way to Mina market, overlooks the sea and a lush area of parks for a long stroll or a drive. On National Day, that stroll becomes a wild, invocative assault on the senses. Not so much for the uninformed driver though, who might choose to take his or her commute through the Corniche on the day people parade their cars, decorating their exteriors with the local symbols of UAE heritage or pictures of the great men who make the people of the Emirates proud.
Car décor aside, National Day is a great time for foreigners to get in touch with what makes the UAE’s Arabic culture uniquely its own. Emiratis descend from different tribes of Bedouins. Abu Dhabi’s royal family descends from a group that once wandered and then finally settled in what is now called Liwa. The Emiratis’ early beginnings in camel raising, pearl diving and fishing are seen as humble to many yet it carries the allure of a poetic time, innocent of the great change their future had to offer. Emiratis have a fascinating history shrouded under a misconception that there is little worthy of note in this desert before Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyan (PBUH) began the urbanization project that changed millions of lives.
As Filipinos living in the Middle East, there is something to personal to celebrate in this foreign land. For many Filipinos born in the UAE, National Day is a Thanksgiving of sorts, since many of Middle East-born Filipinos wouldn’t have been born had their parents not met here. Many Filipinos from different parts of the Philippines continue to meet all over the Middle East, away from home, finding love and creating friendships they wouldn’t have if they didn’t go abroad.
One only has to google Abu Dhabi’s events websites to take their pick of activities and festivities and choose how they want to celebrate. From concerts, to art and sports exhibits, or cultural events or just choosing a good spot to watch the fireworks, there is no “one way” of celebrating National Day.
Abu Dhabi is not a sleepy town, as many would suggest. It is a place where people from so many different countries come together as one. Abu Dhabi is a cultural hub where every day, meeting strangers from all over the world can be a fascinating and educational cultural experience. Whether we are watching the fireworks or sticking a UAE flag to our car or windows, on National Day, Filipinos too are celebrating the promise of a great change our own futures have to offer.