The Old Guiding the New





The Old Guiding the New

Imagine a small little Bedouin boy growing up in the era of change witnessing barren deserts transform into epic metropolitan cities; that was I. The United Arab Emirates had followed the wise counsel of Napoleon Hill that whatever the mind conceives it can achieve. These ideas grounded on hard work will definitely become a reality; this was proof. Upon exposure to the skyscrapers that defied the laws of gravity, I fell in love with architecture, more specifically with the hidden forces that made this defiance possible – technology. My world was changing progress was inevitable, with or without me it was happening. After a laborious day at the library, I arrived home and went straight to my usual resting place, the roof of our antique bungalow. My heavy eyes did not disrupt my deep meditation as I stared at the clear desert. Amidst the reflection, an epiphany was born; at that moment, I knew that my place in the history books of my country was secure.

“One step for Hamad, A giant leap for United Arab Emirates!” blurted Ahmed as we alighted from the Emirates A380 plane at John F. Kennedy. We made it, a fully paid scholarship in Computer Science at the University of Maryland at the heart of Baltimore County. “To infinity and beyond” would have been my preferred mantra. We had come to where it all began, the United State of America the centre of modern civilization. The demand for local professionals back home was deafening. Having hearkened to the call, data, and skill to would be my reward to my motherland for the tender care it had shown me. We had to connect a flight to reach the State hosting our school, Maryland. These two Arab boys seemed to be only ones fascinated by the buildings below, always by the window. For two months the allure of the new country was still fresh and the fascination was not about to dull any time soon. We stayed up nights on end discussing the wonders ours eyes had partaken of, the privilege accorded to us, and the elaborate grandiose plans we will enact upon our return home equipped with the keys to the longevity of the country’s current prosperity. Time passed by and the glamour was replaced with mundane schoolwork.

What do they say about time and its healing properties? On good days, I called it nostalgia on a bad day I preferred longing. In a span of one weekend afternoon, I had relived my entire childhood. Back to the present, I walked into our room to find my roommate infuriated. “Did you know I have an exotic accent?” Ahmed asked as I burst into laughter. Having bragged that he was the most eloquent and articulate Arab he knew, discovering that he had an accent was a humbling experience. The subjects of our night vigils equally changed, we joked about writing our autobiographies. The reflections helped us realize the subtle pleasures our motherland offered that we had often ignored. A newfound respect for my homeland was borne and subsequently matured into love. The sense of community embodied by my mother, and her delicious cuisines, every thing I did seemed to remind me of home. Four slices of pizza is what passed for dinner here. When the depression had reached its zenith, I would take runs under the midnight moon within my new neighborhood.

 Despite the overwhelming nostalgia, I thanked Allah for the opportunities availed to me. In addition, I got the chance to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds and benefit from their diverse perspectives on life. The said homesickness seemed to give me that propelled me towards academic excellence. The US had bestowed upon me the indelible lessons on the strength of diversity. In this regard, they had helped me forego the bliss of ignorance for the empowering ideal found in knowledge. The longing did not stem from the inadequacies of Baltimore rather from a fresh outlook at the beauty and opportunities inherent in U. A. E. Indeed, absence did make the heart grow fonder.

“Hamad! Hamad! Close the windows a sand storm is brewing,” my mother said, “and make sure that all the mats are inside lest they get carried away like last time.” As I ran outside, the cloud of dust could by seen from a mile growing closer and nearer with each second. I grabbed the brown cashmere mat with golden embroidery, my father’s favorite prayer mat. It being my first priority was not a coincidence. My failure to preserve the said mat would attract punishment. As I was the brightest son, so to speak, the punishment would be less severe, but present nonetheless. In fact, my siblings and I preferred the swift physical punishment as opposed to the more lethal sanctions that prolonged for months. After salvaging the last mat, I locked the door securing the family.

The home was made of bricks, mud, and straw. With these seemly weak materials, the house was over three centuries old. Our home’s chances of weathering the said sandstorm were the least of our worries. The house’s architecture was similar to that of the Forts of Liwa. The building structure of our neighborhood was among the last remnants of the past ages. Majority of the neighbors had brought down their houses in a bid to embrace a more contemporary look. Laughter resounded through out the house as two of my younger siblings, Suleiman and Fatima, chased each other around the premises. If it were my house, I would have ridden on the urbanization wave that flowed through our neighborhood. The head of our house a rather conservative man would hear nothing of it. You could often hear him say, “It is our mandate to ensure posterity enjoys the cultural landmarks passed on to us by our ancestors. We should not sacrifice past memories for Westernized values.”

My mother was on the phone with my father exchanging briefs on the safety protocols they had implemented in the respective locations to evade the storm. The children required no invitation; the aroma drew everyone present to the dining room. Mum had prepared Tabouleh her specialty served together with hamour, this is bulghur wheat spiced with mint, and a fair amount of parsley, the latter was a delicious fish variety indigenous to the Gulf waters. My father often joked that my mother cooked just as well as she looked. You could hear the storm rage on outside as we chattered happily inside about life in general. My mother was angry at the storm as it was delaying her opportunity to brag to the neighbor’s about her genius boy’s scholarship to the States. Beaming with pride, I took a piece of the appetizing fish and put it into my mouth.

“Argh! Argh!” I screamed in pain causing Ahmed to come running to my aid, this was the third time this week I had bitten my finger thinking it was fish. Each time I dreamt the experience was more vivid than the previous one. This time I had literally taken a bite of myself and was bleeding profusely. My roommate took alcohol, a new habit we had picked up, that was lying around and disinfected my finger before bandaging it. For the rest of the night, I remained alert wondering why I kept on reliving that specific day.

The dream reaffirmed the significance of community and its accompanying values. In short, where there is joy and love, there will be serenity in the midst of a storm. The dream also helped me emulate my father in his focus on the heart rather than the hut when making decisions. These lessons have made me adjust my initial vision for my motherland in line with my enlightened perspectives. Rather than strive to be the force of modernity, I will aspire to reconcile the technological advancements with the country’s rich cultural heritage. Modern architecture can draw upon ancient building techniques that proved effective in sustaining the prosperity the country is enjoying. As the people say, “New brooms sweep clean, but old ones know all corners.”


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