Everyone knows that December 2 is UAE National Day - except this year in Astana, when it was also marked on September 5.
The occasion was Expo 2017, a gathering of 122 countries under the theme of Future Energy. Each nation has its own special day of celebration at the international festival, and with Expo 2017 coming to an end this weekend, it was finally the turn of the UAE.
The morning began with the raising of the UAE and Kazakhstan flags outside the Expo National Day pavilion and a rousing display of yolla dancing, which has rapidly become a crowd pleaser in Astana
Welcoming the UAE’s presence at the Expo, the Kazakhstan vice-minister of investment and development, Timur Toktabayev, hailed the UAE’s participation as “one of the most developed counties in the world in the field of future energy.”
In the past 12 years, the minister noted, investment by the UAE in his country had reached US$2 billion, while the UAE was involved in nearly 200 joint ventures in the capital.
In reply, Mansour Al Mansoori, the Director General of the National Media Council, and representing the UAE at the celebrations, said the UAE participation at Expo 2017 had been: “Both insightful and productive, as it provided us with a global platform to showcase our efforts in shaping the future of the energy sector. “
This Expo was especially significant, he said: “As it signals the countdown to the highly anticipated Expo 2020 Dubai.”
Formalities over, the delegation led a parade back to the UAE pavilion accompanied by the Expo mascots, Saule, Kuat and Moldir - apparently symbolising Sun, Earth and clean water - and an energetic performance by the UAE National Band for Folklore Arts, featuring traditional instruments including drums and bagpipes.
Crowds were already gathering at the entrance of the pavilion, which has been one of the most popular at the Expo, achieving, according to the NMC, “a 91 per cent visitor satisfaction.”
The pavilion’s design is inspired by the dunes of the Lisa desert, drawing visitors in to a 360 degree video that highlights the UAE’s vision for future energy, while recreating in sound and images, the experience of visiting the oasis at Al Ain.
As an added bonus, visitors were also able to leave with their name hand-written in Arabic calligraphy.
This is the first Expo to be held in Central Asia. Once part of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has enjoyed economic prosperity thanks to its vast mineral resources. It is the world’s largest landlocked country, and home to the Bailkonur Cosmodrome, where Yuri Gagarin made the first manned orbit in space in 1961. Around 70 per cent of the population is Muslim.
Astana is a planned city, named the capital only 20 years ago and with architecture to rival Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The closing ceremony this weekend marks the start of the countdown to the next World Expo in Dubai, with the UAE presence having particular significance, especially for many of the Takatof volunteers who have been the backbone of the visitor experience in Astana.
Among the 60 young Emiratis who have spend much of the summer in Astana was Nouf Alammari, from Abu Dhabi,who admitted that a first she was not sure where Kazakhstan was.
“But everyone has been very welcoming and sweet,” she said. “They have accepted us as we are; as Muslims and women.
“I feel the country is very much like the UAE in terms of development. We are from the desert, they are also from somewhere remote.”
Sarah Salman, another Takatof volunteer from Dubai, said language could have been a barrier, but they had soon managed, with a little help from the Google Translate app.
The experience for the volunteers, she said, had been good preparation for Dubai's forthcoming Expo. "It's been such a great experience. We have all grown and developed. Being here has been excellent for us, learning for Expo 2020."
[ Expo 2020: All you need to know ]