The Thin Line Between Respecting Tradition And The Modern Woman's Pursuit Of Happiness

BY Elaine Lloyd-Jones / Mar 21 2018 / 15:54 PM

We talk to Emirati mother and daughter Diana and Nada Hamade

The Thin Line Between Respecting Tradition And The Modern Woman's Pursuit Of Happiness
Diana Hamade (left) wears: Abaya, Christian Siriano; shayla, AKS; bracelet, all her own. Necklace, Cartier. Nada Hamade wears: Abaya, Christian Siriano; shayla, Touche; shoes, No21, all her own

Diana Hamade was 29 when her daughter Nada was born in July 1998. “I remember it so well,” she tells Bazaar. “It was the peak of summer, literally about 50 degrees and for the last two months [of the pregnancy] I found it difficult to do anything.” After a marathon attempt at natural labour – 20 intensive hours – and a caesarean, a game-changing 4.5kg bundle landed in her arms. “She was my first baby and I can tell you that the minute I saw her, I thought, ‘This is what life is about’.”

Diana, 49, – a successful lawyer and legal consultant – and Nada, now 19, live together in the family home in Dubai’s Al-Khawaneej with Nada’s father, and her brothers, Majid, 17, and Shabab, 11. Their social lives are inevitably intertwined, and they confess to always sharing clothes. “Of course, we have separate social lives too,” Nada explains, trying to establish a degree of separation, “But in Arabia there is a lot of togetherness when it comes to doing things as a family. And we don’t share shoes either, as we have different size feet,” she jokes.


Nada wears: Dress, Zac Posen; abaya, Studio 39; shayla, Mauzan, all her own. Necklace, Cartier. Diana wears: Dress, Georges Hobeika and abaya, her own

Law is likewise embedded in Nada’s DNA and she’s gearing up to follow in the footsteps of her straight-talking legal eagle mother. The pair are undoubtedly close. Their features are strikingly similar and their poses naturally mirror one another as they waft around their home during Bazaar’s shoot in dramatic black abayas. There’s unconditional love and respect and that joyful pride you always see in mothers who dote on their daughters.

Despite the close friendship, Diana has always managed to fulfil her role as the family matriarch. She’s a modern-thinking mum, savvy to the importance of Nada living her own life, among her own generation. Yet somehow, while encouraging her daughter’s independence, she still manages to keep a handle on her – quite literally, too.

“I created a Twitter account to follow my children,” she laughs. “They call me a stalker but I did it to connect with them.” For such a prolific lawyer, Diana is surprisingly candid, and she laughs a lot as well. Unlike many bewildered parents, Diana’s approach to social media is encouraging but not thoughtless. She’s not suggesting that Nada takes the customary posturing and peacocking approach. True to her change-the-world attitude, Diana astutely recognises social media as another tool to “reach people”, to “inform and educate” and give a truer depiction of who you are. Diana herself is an influencer of a different kind. Over the years she has unwittingly found herself cast as a poster child for careerwomen in the Middle East, with Nada and her peers forming an eager entourage. “Everyone I meet considers my mother as a role model. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh my gosh! Your mum... I can’t believe it.’ It makes me feel happy that she’s done so much, I couldn’t be prouder.” Nada smiles.

Perfectly embodying the beauty and brains cliché, Diana can rock Issey Miyake’s pleats just as well as she can deliver a room-shattering speech on humanitarian issues, law or business. She is one of life’s doers – a mother-of-three, a wife, a philanthropist, a business woman, a lawyer and a legal agony aunt – she gives all kinds of female-focused advice through her magazine column with Villa 88. She’s also all about making the best of what you’ve been given and she’s passing the positive advice down the proverbial ladder.

Nada wears: Abaya, Lounge by Hind AlShaali; shayla, Mauzan; top and skirt both Pleats Please, all her own. Necklace and earrings, Cartier. Diana wears: Abaya, Dhs785, Azzalia at Ounass. Top, Dhs1,900, Pleats Please at Symphony. Trousers and shayla, Pleats Please, her own. Necklace, Cartier

“I may have been quite the influencer in the home,” she says, glancing at Nada who is currently studying law. “I’ve tried to teach my children that we are there for a purpose and it’s about what we give. My kids, especially Nada, are all about what we give.”
It’s this humble attitude that centres Diana’s steady moral compass, and informs her open approach to motherhood, which she says has been guided by her own upbringing. “Sadly, I’ve lost both my parents,” Diana begins. “But my mum was the kind of mother who comfortably sent her 14-year-old daughter off to London to study English,” she recalls. “My father was a lawyer and mum was an English Literature graduate [from the American University in Beirut], so always pro-education. She bought us Jane Austen books when we were 10, and by the time I was 14 I’d read War & Peace. To them, education was everything.”

Diana has placed the same emphasis on the notion that knowledge is power, on her own brood. While Shabab is still at school, Majid is completing his mandatory year of military service.

“Boys are a different species,” Diana says of her sons. “Boys are boys until the time you can sit and have a conversation with them, and that can take a lifetime. I love my boys, they are my heart, but in Nada I find more of a friend. Someone I share things with besides clothes and outings. There’s a lot between a mother and a daughter.”

A pivotal moment in all of their lives came one day back in 2015 when Nada announced she wished to fly the nest, and pursue a law degree in London, alone, at just 17 years young. Her university application to SOAS had already been quietly filed and the big reveal sent ripples through the family. “Her choice to go to London and study for her foundation year was the shock of my life,” Diana reveals. “I said to her, you want to go and live in London, alone? She said, ‘Yes.

I want to do it.’” The shock was short-lived; further evidence of Nada’s inherited persuasive powers. “It’s not common in the UAE for girls to go, be alone and be away,”

Diana explains, and Nada had a reputation within the family of being a homebody.

The fact that there were no course options for English law available in the UAE at the time made the decision nearly impossible for her parents to refute. “Of course we trust her as well, that’s what helped us make up our minds,” Diana smiles. Despite her father thinking that she’d crossed a line, the family banded together, eschewed expectations and paved the way for Nada’s further education, and her future. “We went through it all together, and I held her hand through all the steps but I was so impressed that she managed on her own, too. She got her own tutors when she needed them, managed the daily groceries, took care of the house – that was all amazing for me. Seeing her find her independence was beautiful, I feel very proud of her willpower, too.” Diana says. The compliment is accepted with grace by Nada and quickly returned. She attributes the move almost entirely to her mother.

“She was the one who inspired me to make the step and study abroad. If she could do it, let me try. I usually find it hard to commit. Mum has always had to force me to horse ride, to play golf, to do everything. So when I came home and told her that I wanted to study and that I wanted to travel, she was like, ‘You?’” Nada recalls. “I just knew that if she could do everything she’s done so far, I could leave the comfort zone that I’m in and try a different lifestyle.” Diana admits her daughter has had to overcome prejudice, and break free from family and cultural traditions in order to pursue her dream. Nada’s father required weighty persuasion, “My dad can be a bit more traditional,” Nada admits. “However, he did actually let me travel, which was a huge step for him, and it caused controversy in his family.” Nada successfully left for a year, then came back home to the UAE to finish her studies. She hopes to return to London with her parents’ blessing for her final year.

Although Diana and Nada are part of a relatively traditional family, modernisation is a change they’re willing to embrace. “We like wearing abayas,” they chorus in unison, “They’re stylish and wearable, and we do actually wear them with more western clothes, too. We’re happy with the mix, but we still love the elegance of black abayas,” Nada says. While tradition rules on the surface, the family have been riding the currents of change – and some more seamlessly than others. In a house where men outnumber women three-to-one, but the women of the house are lawyers, or soon-to-be qualified lawyers, the power balance shifts on any given day. Diana laughs at the thought. “I don’t think it is only us. It’s a general thing. Women are getting educated in a society where women didn’t used to do that, so now men have to deal with women of a different kind. They’re not dealing with ladies of the home now, they’re dealing with women who work, travel, and who walk and talk independently.

Men feel intimidated by that. This is the problem we face in our society.” Diana’s Lebanese father and Palestinian mother moved to the UAE in 1970. The lifestyle then was completely at odds with that of now. Gone are the days of hopping on a plane to flirt with a more cosmopolitan society, today it sits temptingly on the doorstep.

Diana is quick to credit the Government for the city’s progression and for the evolution of women’s rights, “We have a government that empowers women. I’m so thankful for the leadership of the UAE. We have women ministers, judges, doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs everywhere. There are a lot of businesses set up in the UAE, run by women – young women. Honestly, when I look at women in this society I couldn’t be prouder,” she says. Although Nada’s father was educated in the US, Diana tells us he is “still trying to come to terms” with this reality. “He’s not used to it. In his upbringing women’s place in society was different, but now, it’s not only his daughter, it’s his nieces, too,” she says.

“Everyone is away and studying, it’s a revolution in the country. Some have concerns, some are looking at it disapprovingly, but it is happening and in the end everyone will have to come to terms with it.” Diana speaks as passionately about changing tides as Nada does of growing up with a working mother.

“At school none of my friend’s mothers worked, they would just go to coffee shops, because the environment we were in was limited. Ten years ago it wasn’t that common for women to show their faces and be out there. Sure, I felt out of place at times, having a mum that worked, but it was also nice. My school would call her in to give a talk and I appreciated that I had a mum that was different,” she says, pausing before developing the thought. “I should start learning from my mum, how she balances her work life and family life. She works but still manages to make us a priority. I would love to be able to do half of what’s she’s doing now, someday.”

Nada also credits her mum for bringing her brothers up to be open-minded, and while the elder has protective tendencies, he also encouraged Nada to study overseas and follow her dreams. “He wasn’t worried about what his peers would think. He said, ‘go’. The perspective he has is very different to a lot of boys and men in this region. I owe it to my mum and the way she’s brought them up to know that girls and boys are equal, and it’s okay for us to see the world.”

Ultimately, Diana wishes the same for her daughter as most mothers; for her “to be happy,” she says. “It’s all about being content in the end. I want her to feel that she is making the best of what she has been given. To do things that will fulfil her, make her feel that she has value, that she can make a difference.” For Nada, having a mum who’s aiding the revolution of change and empowering women, is all the inspiration she needs to flourish and pursue her dreams.

Hair and make-up: Blowout&Go. Prices approximate.