There he was again – but this time he was selling tissue boxes. This little boy was selling packets of chewing gum a few days earlier.
He would go tapping on the windows of cars at traffic signals and often return to the corner of the pavement empty-handed and sit on a rag.
One day, this orphan refugee was seen with a kitten in his lap. He went about trying to earn a living with this new furry friend tightly held against his chest. There was something different about him now – it seemed that he had got a new lease on life. He was smiling and his eyes were sparkling. He had hope again.
As journalists, we have an important job of giving a voice to the voiceless, highlighting their stories and drawing people’s attention to something they may see every day without really seeing it.
The boy, who could be from anywhere in the world, inspired me to write a book, Spot and the Little Boy (published in English and Arabic by Rimal), as I didn’t want his story to disappear in the piles of articles written about orphan children like him. I dedicated the book to him and the profits from sales will go to orphans. The boy doesn’t have a phone so I cannot contact him.
“I have no one to call and no one will call me,” he told me then. But he is wrong; I will find him and call on him.
I believe every individual can make a difference – this has been the main drive behind writing columns such as this one, which I have been doing for this newspaper since its inception. I often took things for granted, but as I went through the weekly routine of researching for a topic, I refocused my lenses and saw things differently.
I struggled in my youth with dyslexia, so I was consistently discouraged from a career in journalism and writing. At the end, I have proven that if you really believe and tackle your disadvantages, anything is possible.
Some of the wisest people I have encountered over the years said something like this: “It is better to be a kind nobody rather than be a self-entitled somebody.” And often they were “somebody” in society. They were VIPs, but they didn’t allow our obsession with categorising and titling individuals to alter their personalities.
As we bid farewell to Ramadan and welcome Eid Al Fitr, it is our hope we have learnt something new about ourselves in those hours of prayers and self-reflection, and are ready to embark on previously taken roads with a new mindset or try completely new roads.
As I tread a new path, this will be my last column. It has been a privilege and a responsibility I never took lightly, as it gave me the chance to express issues, concerns, thoughts and ideas of people I have met. I hope I have been able to engage you through the stories I narrated mostly in their respective voices. From the struggles of a family living in a car outside my home to the courage of the Emirati members of the secret antiterrorism and anti-crime intervention squad known as Q7 to difficult issues children and women face.
Other stories such the one about a group of Arab women of different ages, who lost their husbands to wars and illnesses, yet managed to enjoy life on meagre means and travel to places such as China and Cuba, hit a chord with readers, who found inspiration in the tales of those who don’t have much yet live their life to the fullest.
As the region continues to face many crises, there are far more widows and orphans than any time in the past.
From the plight of refugees and human-trafficking victims, the tactics of terrorist groups and the impact of social media on individuals’ psychology to shrimps that travelled to space and the Christmas tree on a street in Jeddah that inspired residents to celebrate the occasion, the topics that I discussed in my columns can’t often be as discussed as openly, honestly and humorously in regular reports.
These columns in many ways are like letters written to a dear friend, and I thank you for allowing me to share this way the stories about the great people I have been lucky to meet.
I leave you with the wise words of the first Syrian and the second Arab in space, Muhammed Faris, once a national hero who is now a refugee: “When you go up there, you realise there are no borders, no countries, no nationalities. Just Earth. Mother Earth. We should protect this Earth, as who wants to hurt their mother?”
I wish you all Eid Mubarak.