Our lives are getting more complicated by the day. It would serve us well to reflect on the simplicity of how the older generations lived.
For the most part of my life, some of my most memorable moments have been spent with my grandfather Ali, who represented the true essence of the Emirati ethos and integrity to me. Sitting with him on Friday afternoons, I always loved hearing his stories of the years gone by – stories about people and interesting experiences, many of which sounded like fairytales to me. However, in 2013, I lost this special person in my life, and I faced many questions regarding my links to a culture and era gone by. In an increasingly international country, how can I and the future generations connect better with our roots?
While there have been many historians who have published works on the lives of people in the UAE, I wanted to know more personal tales of people and details of their daily lives. The more I spoke with people, the more I realized that my grandparents’ generation had a simple and beautiful life.
The Emirati way of life, before the discovery of oil, was one that revolved around the families coming together to make every day happen. To begin with, the day started very early in the morning, where the whole family would be up by 6:30 am latest and sleeping in late was unheard of. Breakfast was basic, consisting of paper-thin Rigag bread, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, Chbab and Khmeer.
School timings were shorter in those days – they started at 7:30 am and ended at 1 pm. All students had to study Arabic, Islamic Studies, Geography, and History with English and French being offered as electives in high school. Lunch after school brought the whole family back together on the table. However, it was never about just food, but all about sharing traditional dishes such as foogah, maale7, m7ammar with a side dish of vegetables like spring onions and water or Pepsi. Dessert was even more basic, usually watermelon. But the best thing was that all families shared their food by sending a portion of their cooked meals to their neighbors. Back then, the streets were safer and the sense of community was strong.
After lunch, homework was rushed by the young ones so everyone could watch TV and play in the neighborhood. TV programs back then started at 4pm and finished early. Dinner was served after the Maghreb prayer and everyone ate what was served to them regardless of whether they liked the dish or not. Evenings were spent together as a family and the lights were out most days by 10 pm.
Days were busy, yet life was humble. But our lives have changed dramatically over the past four or five decades. As I compare between the lives people led back then and how today we go from day to day barely living, only surviving, I yearn for a less complicated lifestyle and wonder what can be done to make life simple again.