I had the opportunity of being selected as part of the Emirati Delegation of publishers and authors by the UAE’s Ministry of Culture to the Casablanca international book fair in Feb 2016. The Ministry has organized few sessions by Emiratis whether speakers of culture and history, the story and novel writing in UAE, poetry, and publishers. In a way or another, my group that I was part of, beyond the session I gave, was of 4 men, 3 of which were of the 60s born generation, the educated well-read part of them. And their company in this trip was such an enriching experience in so many ways.
First of all, I was being entertained so often by their random bursts of poetry recitation, whether by poems they wrote or poems they remember from different poets since their early years. They would burst into recitation and they would continue each others’ verses and get mesmerized by them. The poetry they recited was like nothing I heard before, so beautiful and gentle in its form, and expressive in a real emotional way.
Second, being the only lady in the group, and obviously two decades younger than them, their way of dealing with me would alternate between you’re a lady and we are the ones who serve you, and between the old Arabic proverb that says “the youngest of the tribe is their servant”, and it’s not like I was serving them really, it’s just offering to go ask the information desk about something they are wondering about. But they were so conscious about it, which kept cracking me up because they were borderline guilty about allowing me to do this for them, but half of them are my dad’s friends so I did it cheerfully.
Third, they are the classic old generation that truly believed a woman should never spend on a man, and they ensured I never pay on food or drinks! And they always fought on who is paying the bill for the whole table. I forgot about such scenes as I grew up and stopped hanging out with my dad and his friends much. But it’s such an endearing thing to keep watching.
Fourth, those men were such a rich source of information about almost everything! They would suddenly start discussing things and events from the history, whether tribal, trades, food, literature, and so on. It’s like having a crash course in so many subjects in a storytelling format. How I wish they document those oral history tales properly for the coming generations.
Fifth, I used to believe that that generation are always the very tight religious generation as they have witnessed the 80s Islamic strict phase as adults. But being with them taught me that the educated segment of that generation are far from tight. They understood the true essence of Islam through their own research and curiosity, they understood that Islam is about tolerance, inclusiveness, and forgiveness. They understood many of the wrong conventional beliefs for what they truly are, and were light hearted towards those who were in the strict belief about the wrong conventions that may forbid many things that aren’t really forbidden.
Sixth, being with them reignited my passion towards research and getting a PhD. I’ve always wanted to, and I keep considering the idea then I back off when I get concerned about the financial burden of it or my already hectic schedule and agenda (but if they were able to do so with their high level important jobs, then I must give it a try!). One of them is in his final two months of his PhD research, another is in the application process. And their researches are focused on interesting matters in our culture, and hearing about their process of research just brings joy to my heart. I can’t wait to start applying.
Seventh and last, something I almost always talk about (and planning to write about it very soon), it’s the talking in Arabic dilemma. Being a bilingual and speaking fluent English gets me always questioned by pure Arab speakers with questions as: are you not proud of your Arabic, do you not know how to speak Arabic, where is your identity, why do you keep talking in English, and all those questions that are aimed at shaming us for speaking English rather than Arabic in our daily conversations. During this trip, I mostly, if not entirely, spoke in Arabic. And I didn’t speak it because they told me not to speak in English, it’s because they spoke in such a beautiful Arabic I couldn’t but feel nostalgic and always converse back in Arabic. I did have my occasional English words slips, but they never even made me feel like I’ve done a mistake or tried guilting me or pointing it out or shaming me, and by that kind of behavior I naturally spoke Arabic with them. It’s the kind of attitude we need to start following with the youth to encourage them to speak more Arabic, by trying the shaming approach you only push them away further and they end up hating Arabic.