Dubai Diaries: Life lessons from a toddler

anjana@khaleejtimes.com Filed on September 11, 2021

Watching a child's unmatched focus and joy in everyday nothings teaches one a thing or two about life.

The beauty of people-watching in Dubai cannot be overstated. We come from all over the world, in all sorts of shapes and hues and ages and forms. Sitting in any mall or restaurant and watching a veritable Olympic parade of nations walk by can give you better perspective on life than any spiritual retreat in the mountains can offer.

I’ve made an art of subtly gazing at passers-by, and imagining them as protagonists or villains in fictitious stories. I’ve noticed, though, that there is one group of UAE residents who are always universal in their behaviour. They are rather united in their antics. Though predictable, their actions defy logic and understanding. They can amuse and annoy the world around them. Whether you like them or dislike them, there is no way you can ignore them. The toddlers!

Last weekend I was sitting in a cafe when I saw her coming toward me with her father trailing gamely behind. In her arms was a hat — a pink hat — which she twirled and talked to and clasped as she spun around. Oblivious to the world, her hat was all she needed to focus on in that moment. Behind, carrying his morning coffee, her dad watched with a mixture of amusement and concern that she might run into someone.

He saw me smiling at his daughter as she strutted past, and we exchanged the knowing glance of parents, understanding the love and pride and occasional exhaustion that we find in our offspring. Five minutes later, she returned from the opposite direction. To say I heard her before I saw her would be an understatement. It was impossible not to.

She shrieked and cried, railing against the injustices she felt were dealt to her by the unkind fates. None of us knew what those tragic levels of grievance entailed, but it is not hard to guess that they involved the pink hat that was resting with her now steely-eyed father.

Or so I thought. No sooner had I ordered a refill to my jasmine tea than the tot strolled back past the cafe again, heading in her original direction, hat planted firmly on her head, a motivated stride in her shoes. There was a bit of a bounce in her gait, though not as much as the first time.

Her father knew I’d be sitting there, watching the entire interaction with a bemused smile, as I remembered the many, many similar interactions I had with my now college-aged son when he was a wee one (most of his meltdowns and recoveries were over a red truck, not a pink hat, but the story arc was the same).

We nodded at one another, grim allies in a parental army fighting the ‘Forever War.’ How I wish I could hold on to the attitude and resilience of that toddler! The unmatched focus and joy in everyday nothings. As I took the final sip of tea and set off home, I was telling myself that I will not go down without a fight if anyone messes with my ‘pink hat’ too. Sometimes a little kicking and wailing is all that people need to behave.


Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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