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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 56 SEPTEMBER 2003 / BACK
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postcard from leon fulcher

From the United Arab Emirates

Marhaba and hello from the United Arab Emirates and more specifically Abu Dhabi, the capital and largest of seven independent sheikhdoms that formed into a confederation in 1971 to become one of the world's newest countries. While the country is comparatively new, the culture of the UAE peoples isn’t new at all, having evolved from traditions of the Arabian pearl divers, traders and Bedouins with strong adherence to Islam. Visitors to Abu Dhabi find a modern city with world-class facilities. Thank goodness for air conditioning! With summer temperatures ranging between 40 and 47 degrees C (110-120 degrees F) the heat takes your breath away.

Ancient and more modern air conditioning

While being oriented to new work duties at Zayed University “the new women's university established five years ago “there has been plenty of time for the pastime of people-watching in shopping malls. One incident in particular sticks in my mind. Two young mothers brought their children to Food Court tables near mine: two little girls with one mother, a little boy and his sister with the other. The cuisine of choice involved McDonald's Happy Meals, this month offered with crayons, colouring books and stickers. As the mothers settled their children and the girls started eating quietly, the little boy was preoccupied with in his new colouring book instead of his Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal. The young mother wanted her son to eat but he had already started pasting stickers into his Happy Meal colouring book. What followed was a public challenge of wills, with the young mother insisting that her son start eating the chicken nuggets she held to his mouth. The four year-old threw a public tantrum as tensions mounted in our section of the Food Court. Finally the little boy took a bite and with cheeks swelled from chewing, the tensions eased. Then, both young mothers left their children with the Filipino nanny and went shopping.

Back to school time for UAE kids too

Peace and tranquility of sorts returned to the Food Court. As the little girls continued to focus on their Happy Meals, the little boy focused on his colouring book. Conversation developed between the two sisters and between the little boy and his sister, and also between the nanny and all four children. Sitting in the middle of the little group, the nanny spoke so quietly it was impossible to hear beyond the proximity of their two tables. The little girls sat in their chairs at tables strewn with Happy Meals while the little boy kneeled on the floor using his chair as a desk for artwork. Now and again he would stand up and show the nanny and the little girls the results of his creative efforts. After each of these efforts, the nanny reached over to offer the little boy a bite of chicken McNugget while maintaining focus on his artistic machinations. By the time I left, the Happy Meals were almost devoured and the little boy’s artwork was also being celebrated.

It made me think what a great image of relational child and youth care practice. The nanny paced her interventions with each child, tuning in to interactions between the little girls as well as to the rhythms of the artistic little boy. The Happy Meals were eaten but social relations weren’t dominated by food ingestion. How often does this simple little lesson about mealtimes get ignored in practice? As-salaamu alaykom. May the peace be upon you all.