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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thoughts on National Day

Back when I was in elementary school (or maybe it was early in junior high), we learned about the concept of ‘Nationalism,’ the belief, creed or political ideology that involves an individual identifying with, or becoming attached to, one’s nation.

At the time, I didn't really think much of it.  I was the first generation daughter of an immigrant from Germany. An immigrant, who, as family lore has it, was so focused and headstrong about leaving Germany and getting to America from such a young age, that his mother actually learned English so that she could teach my Dad in hopes that it might help his chances of actually getting to the place. 

I guess because of my Dad’s story (and similar stories of immigration by my mother’s parents) it never occurred to me not to love my country -- deeply and enthusiastically. I was an All-American kid and speaking German in our house was verboten. I loved hot dogs and carried the American flag with a sense of honor in the Bicentennial Day Parade. I memorized the words to the Pledge of Allegiance as soon as my brain could manage it and took great pride in earning one of those Presidential Physical Fitness Awards complete with a patch and certificate and the president's signature on it (that I still own and cherish).

But fast-forward a few decades and take a big step back… back to my view of my home country from my new place in the UAE, and, well, it’s not all Bruce Springsteen and Fourth of July fireworks any more. These last few months have been a strain for my home country. A government in gridlock. The Ebola scare. The snow disaster in Buffalo and rains in California. Ferguson. Eric Garner. The never-ending shooting sprees. The Sony hacks. It’s been painful to watch from afar, as if every day brings a new reason to ask oneself, “What the hell is going on over there?”

And yet, I still love my country and my home with all my heart.

That said, there’s something about the breath of fresh air that is the United Arab Emirates.

Earlier this month we celebrated the UAE's National Day. This is the UAE equivalent of Independence Day, but without the secession (though there may have been a slight booting out of the Brits if you read through the lines of revisionist history). The United Arab Emirates is just forty-three years young (younger than me, gasp!) and yet the place has developed at an astonishing pace and is one of the world’s richest and most dynamic emerging powers in the world. (Whoa, I need to cut back on the Kool-Aid!).

Landmark Tower shows its UAE pride
The run up to National Day includes the appearance of cars being decorated with the flag and images of the nation’s founding father and leading sheikhs. There are massive light displays from buildings and along light posts, and large, landmark buildings draped in UAE flags (I'm talking flags that hang 15 stories). There are also fireworks. And air shows. And silly string.

Silly string?

Well, yeah.

Pretty much anyone who wants to partake in the revelry heads down to the Corniche on the day, where they watch the air show with some pretty kick-ass fighter jets, check out some military equipment on display, drive in an unofficial parade of pimped out cars, or stand on the curb and shoot silly string at each other while wearing funny hats, silly glasses and sequined and sparkly garb with UAE colors. 

Pimped out rides

It’s Fourth of July meets the Puerto Rico Day parade meets Carnival meets New Year’s Eve all wrapped up into one.

And the beauty of it?

All are welcome.

Doesn't matter the nationality, we all celebrate National Day in the UAE
You see, this is not an Emirati-only day. Down on the Corniche, the Emiratis are joined by the Pakistanis, the Filipinos, the folks from India, as well as the Brits, Aussies and Americans. We all celebrate, dress up and wave our UAE flags. And it’s exciting. I mean, in the days that led up to National Day, my heart swelled, my chest thumped. I was a kid all over again looking forward to the fireworks, flying UAE flags from the car and just generally getting pumped up.

Beyond the fun of the day, I guess the reality is that in a very short time I have developed a fair amount of national pride for the place. I know it isn’t perfect (I know, I know! But show me a country that is!). But it’s young and hopeful and so damn full of promise here, that’s it’s hard not to get caught up in the possibilities.

From the UAE, with love from the Air Show
So bring on the silly string while I send out hugs and well wishes to my true homeland.

I love you, and miss you, and hope with all my heart that we can get through this rough patch soon. 

My pimped ride

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