… before the Arabs come


Every Friday morning, I like to take my daughter out to the park. Some much-needed father-daughter alone time after a busy working week.

Over the course of several park visits, and diligent observations on my part, I have come to realize an interesting routine.

In the early hours of the morning, the park would consist mostly of blue-eyed, fair-haired children, accompanied by both their parents. A relative calm seizes the park, mixed with quiet laughter here and there, and the occasional birds chirping.

A father will play a game of cricket with his son (with the occasional “Nicely done Mikey,”), as a mother calmly tells her daughter to pick herself up after a fall.

Everybody is minding their own business except for myself, subtly keeping one curious eye on my surroundings and taking mental notes, while another caring eye follows my playful daughter.

There was an unsaid understanding amongst the visitors of the park that these were public grounds used equally by all.

A Lebanese family makes an entrance at around 10:30 am. They would come eating their ‘za’atar’ or cheese ‘mana’eesh’, speaking their French-like Arabic, or their Arabic-like French. Then an occasional Egyptian one, with a big bellied father who’s trainer pants are up to his chest shows up, ordering his children what and what not to do. A Balastinyan family follows and the child shouts to his mother “Mum, LOOK!”, as he attempts flipping on the monkey-bars causing him to fall, and resulting in a smack on his cheek or buttock for being a child.

As the Arabs start to wake up and head to the park at 11 am, I find myself to be the only male adult, amidst a swarm of East-Asian nannies chasing screaming children who are eating their chips while running, as their fathers observe from a distance, smoking. The once calm laughter is exchanged with shouts, screams, and cries.

The place that was once a common area for public use has turned into an arena for individual dominance. The children who were restricted by an authority figure from movement in their own homes, were now staging a mutiny.

I can easily image how they would be confined into certain rooms without having access to the biggest room in the house. It brought back memories of the huge salon (guest room) in the small apartment I grew up in. That room was like a shrine. Ornamented with crystal vases, plates, ashtrays and candy bowls, a glass cabinet displaying unused China in the corner, ivory coasters on table cloths knitted by blind monks, and silver candelabrums that if used will generate enough heat to burn the uncomfortable, unused, upholstery in the room.

Our ceremonial entrance has to be done either barefoot or wearing new unused shoes and clean clothes. Like a photograph stuck in time, the space was maintained in such a way to always welcome the unexpected guest. We were like prisoners in our own home. The lines between public and private spaces were distorted.

However, in the park there was no control over the children. It was a direct and vindictive assault on all form of jurisdiction.

I notice my daughter turning frantic. Her once, “excuse me”-like demeanor with other children has turned into a struggle to catch a turn on the slide.

Without warning, the blue-eyed fair-haired families (along with the chirping birds) have evacuated the park, leaving behind a “post-colonial” feel to the park.

And so, every Friday morning I would scurry to the park thinking to myself “We need to get there quick …”

*This piece was co-edited by my good friend Ali Yasin


3 responses »

  1. trust me after living a wile in the west and being surrounded with cold dry lifeless proper people, you get to appreciate the loud inappropriate normal human behavior and miss all the madness overseas 🙂

  2. Funny, I broke my routine a couple of weeks ago and went for my run in the park. My whole experience consisted in me observing the happenings around me – very much in awe. It was a whole new world, a different atmosphere, groups of people and activities I never knew existed in Abu Dhabi.

    Laughter and attention-seeking shrieks filled the air. I had to be extra wary of children barricading into me.

    Since it was an 8pm run on a Friday night though, no blonde and blue eyed doll-like toddlers were around.


  3. Your mornings in the park sound lovely… I guess it goes both ways.. on the one hand, one would admire the solace and composure in which Western families enjoy their days out with their children; one the other hand, I feel outings are just not the same unless someone is obnoxiously talking over the other person, generous amounts of food going on every plate and parents’ yelling at their children demanding that they stop acting like monkeys and to SIT DOWN!! It is a memory I relate to all too well and while I don’t think the Arab way is necessarily the correct way.. I just feel a combination of the two would do the trick 🙂

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