The majlis: Reflecting back on a more innocent childhood

Sadly, today’s children, my own included, have so many distractions to turn to that living in the moment and absorbing the world around them aren’t high on the priority list.

Abeer Al Tamimi and her family in Sharjah in 1985. Courtesy of Abeer Al Tamimi
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Growing up in the UAE in the 1980s was much like anywhere else. We lived outdoors and enjoyed the simple things. I was lucky enough to grow up in the suburbs of Sharjah which, back then, was the place to be.

My immediate family is small by Middle Eastern standards, consisting of just my parents and my brother and I, but our extended family is huge. My childhood revolved around the neighbourhood children and our huge family get-togethers and outings on the weekends. Life in Sharjah in those days was hugely dependent on your imagination and your immediate environment. We obviously didn’t have computers, mobile devices and technology to keep us busy so we filled our days with nature and the great outdoors. It was an amazing time to be a child. I try to explain my childhood to my children, conveying to them the sheer joy we took in its simplicity and in each other but, sadly, today’s children, my own included, have so many distractions to turn to that living in the moment and absorbing the world around them aren’t high on the priority list.

As a child, my fondest memories are all centred around the world my parents created for my brother and me. Both animal lovers, my parents raised us with a menagerie of animals to care for, love and play with. From parrots, chickens and bunnies to turtles, ducks and fish, we had a veritable farm around us. And always by our side was our faithful and much-loved German shepherd, Antar. Our parents instilled in us from early age the wonderful experience and responsibility we have as humans to love and care for animals. I have tried to pass that on to my own children by introducing them to animals of all shapes and sizes from the beginning.

Another fundamental element of my childhood was the importance of family and building relationships. Every weekend, we would go to my grandparents’ house for our traditional family lunch. Every member of our huge extended family would be there and the love and warmth of being surrounded by all of your loved ones was immense and pivotal to how we regarded our place in this world. We were defined by our family. Our social life was one and the same. We would plan elaborate desert barbecues, fishing and camping trips and as we got older, we would go water­skiing and jet skiing in the unspoilt lagoons of the Northern Emirates.

During the week, the physical presence of our friends was everything to us. I remember having picnics with all the goodies we’d buy from the tiny neighbourhood grocery shop. Since we didn’t have mobiles to text each other or social media. We would look forward to meeting up after school every day and sharing stories about our teachers and classmates and catching up on each other’s news. It was a magical time growing up and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Today, my childhood friends and I find ourselves reminiscing about those days and the purity and innocence we shared. Our childhood defined us and I see its presence in my life every day. In a modern world dictated by trends and friends, it is challenging for children to find their own way, to discover personal passions and hobbies. It seems that everything is for everyone and diversity or individuality is slowly disappearing.

Try explaining to a child who has an iPhone, iPad and a laptop that in our day, our greatest achievement was growing our ant farm, not a virtual ant farm but real live insects. Try to get them off their PlayStation and encourage them to go outside and ride their bike or rollerblade around the community and they look at you like you’re nuts.

And lastly, try to explain to them that when I was young, all we had was one shopping mall called Al Ghurair and it had a tiny arcade called Sindbad… and it was enough.

Abeer Al Tamimi is the founder and owner of Kids HQ in Dubai.

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