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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Proud to be an Emirati in New York

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Khalaf Al Habtoor admires the medals
A traditional UAE majlis tent in Central Park

New York is one of my favourite cities. It has an energy and excitement all of its own. I love everything about it; the contrast between noise, traffic, crowds with sophistication, green areas and an explosion of cultures. I especially love the coffee served in Trump Tower, which I was relieved to note has not erected a dart board with my face on it despite my criticisms of the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. I take great pleasure in my early morning brisk walks around Central Park in all weathers and there is no place in the world that makes better burgers than New York. If the 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson were still alive, he would surely have said “If you are tired of either London or New York City, you are tired of life.”

I only ever need half an excuse to schedule a visit to catch up with my straight-talking New Yorker friends and was delighted that the Al Habtoor Group was invited to be the main sponsor of a Zayed Charity Marathon that has previously been held in the UAE, Cairo and New York.

I was happy to be involved with the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K Marathon on 14 May because it raises awareness for a worthy cause honouring the generous, caring spirit of the Father of the UAE Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and also because it hoisted my country’s flag high in the heart of the world’s financial, diplomatic and entertainment capital.

This wonderful initiative is the brainchild of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for which he has my greatest respect. Sheikh Zayed has sadly left us but his philanthropic legacy still shines bright thanks to his children and grandchildren.

Most importantly events like these bring our two peoples closer together and I believe that is crucial during an era when relations between the US and the Arab World are at not their best at the political level. This was a day that reminded us that we are all human beings sharing the same planet with similar concerns, hopes and dreams and proved that the barriers separating us are merely man-made. At the people-to-people level we are one; all members of the same human race feeling compassion for those less fortunate.

For the tens of thousands who participated in the run, including officials from the UAE embassy, members of the UAE’s United Nations mission and a delegation from the Cancer Care Society, this was a chance to show their competitive edge while representing their country or their cause. It was a fun day out for runners and spectators alike. All who participated were proud but none more so than winners Lucas Rotich and Cynthia Limo, both from Kenya, who each received a cheque for $25,000.

The traditional UAE majlis area set up in Central Park, hosted by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was a hub attracting Emirati holidaymakers and students studying in the US. It also offered New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world the opportunity to get to know us while sampling traditional Arabic hospitality and sharing coffee and dates.

The temperature was a perfect breezy 15 degrees centigrade; the sky was blue, the smile count at its highest and the atmosphere electric. But its prime value was the promotion of cross-cultural communication and global philanthropy. All proceeds went to help the National Kidney Foundation, an organization dedicated to the prevention of kidney diseases, improving the well-being of affected individuals and to encouraging organ donation.

I joked on social media that I had won, but in truth I am more of a tennis guy than a long-distance runner. Perhaps next time I will give it a try. I did not hit the grass but even so, I enjoyed every minute of this extraordinary New York kind of day.

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