It was Christmas Eve, and like any shopping Mall the day before Christmas, it was bustling in this big style metropolis. Last minute shoppers from every part of the world jammed at a pace certainly connoting time was of the essence before the 25th. Fanciful parades of artfully decorated trees nearly touching the stratosphere, displays of gigantic life size gingerbread houses, a Willie Wonka Chocolate Factory, snow men, and candy canes showcased in the boldest fashion. Music sauntered throughout the elongated retail store framed corridors with old school holiday tunes sung by the late legendary Crooners Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. Rudolph and his eight reindeer homies stood at attention awaiting their orders for the 12-midnight deliveries around the globe. Capturing the thrill and the anticipation of any child - even at my age - were the cues to see Santa Claus.
What did I want from Santa, I asked myself? Maybe I can join the line and sit on his lap too? However, after about two-seconds, I decided to call off that idea for many reasons. Instead, I continued to walk with my friend who almost always dresses in white; which seemed a bit brighter that day. We strolled down into the bed of the mall for lunch together one last time before my night flight back home. I was a babbling brook about Christmas and the gifts I received here from my friends inclusive of the ones from him. I was talking way too loudly about it. I sounded like I was bragging, but it wasn't my intention. I just felt that kid energy people feel when they are in the Christmas groove. A quiet man with a masterful ability in art, he is one of his country's most noted artists and sculptors. He just smiled approvingly; as though I was his daughter I still blathered along.
When we sat at our table, he placed our orders of lemon drink with fresh mint. Then, suddenly the "Aha moment" came. Without a lap time moment, Santa for the last twelve days of my stay, delivered to me in a multi-color ribbon of red, green, black and white the gift to recapture the childlike spirit of Christmas lying dormant inside me for years gone by. In a place thousands of miles away I experienced the rebirth of the hope, excitement and magic of this holiday -- and of all places, where it came together for this resurrection was at the Wafi Mall in Dubai.
An Arab and Muslim federation with seven provinces called the Emirates, for most Westerners, particularly Americans, this would be one of the last places you would expect to hear, "Hark the Herald Angels sing, glory to the new-born King," or feel the soul of the "Good News" by the Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson.
Countries like Lebanon and Syria mark the Christmas holiday with great fanfare, pomp and circumstance. The UAE is the only Gulf State that unabashedly embraces and celebrates the spiritual and secular significance of what Christmas means to Christians and the West -- a clear and strong message in support of acceptance and tolerance too often overlooked and unappreciated.
In America, most everyone has heard about Dubai from the media; once again showing the global recession is interdependent and a lot more work must be done to repair, realign and restore the world economic markets. A Christmas present the United States received from the Emirates days before Christmas was it reiterating its official decision from May of this year to turn down its GCC partners' invitation to create a single currency for the region. Despite the U.S. dollar's continued pitiful currency performance around the globe, Abu Dhabi did not join its sister states. The UAE, along with Oman, chose to stand firm with the United States dollar by continuing to link the Dirham to our currency.
The Minister of Finance & Industry, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum; Foreign Trade, Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid al Qasimi; and Economy, Sheikh Sultan bin Saeed al Mansouri; all in a Hallelujah chorus sing their ardent belief in America's economic resiliency and ability to rise like a Phoenix out the ashes of near financial ruin and bah humbug. These words are spoken more optimistically than our European allies.
The people of the region's unwavering faith in their own leaders to lead them through economic crisis, as well as their sanguinity about the United States at Christmas time, makes me wanna bottle up this hopefulness and scent my people in America with an Oud of positivity for 2010; something we truly lack at this time.
The UAE sees better days ahead for not only themselves, but for the US as well. However, too bad many of us do not think this way about them. Instead, there is Nah, nah, nah, nah nonsensical journalism and punditry reveling going on. Too much is at stake; and as we are way too "big" to fail, they are too. Joined at the hip we are.
Boarding the plane forty-five minutes before Christmas, one of my last text messages I received read, "I hope you enjoyed Christmas here with us - blessings for you and your family. Have a safe trip home."
P.S. - The artist and illustrator referenced in the piece is Abdul Raheem Salim of Sharjah