ABU DHABI // As visitors walk into the Abu Dhabi International Shopping Festival on the Corniche, they are greeted by Sabir Sharif.
The 37-year-old Jordanian salesman sits in a wheelchair, and is unashamed to say that this is to his advantage. Many passers-by, he says, feel compelled to buy. "Most people don't buy from me for the things I sell, they buy from me to support me," he says. A teenage girl, here with her friends, stops and pulls a red rose from the bucket and asks how much. "It is for Dh20," he says. "These are Dutch flowers - they last for a month."
She takes out a note, but goes back to the bucket for a better rose. Mr Sharif, though, needs no help. "It's OK," he says. "Give it to me, I will put it back so we do not mess the arrangement." He takes the flower with the three fingers on his right hand. On his left, he has just two. Mr Sharif has sold roses, toys and accessories for 22 years. He also makes and sells prayer beads. A mother, with her two-year-old daughter in a push-chair, stops and asks about a plastic ball.
He smiles. "It will light up once you bounce it. Pick one up and try." The mother walks on, but returns five minutes later to buy a ball. Mr Sharif's phone rings; it is his four-year-old daughter. She and his wife will be returning from Jordan in a few hours. "I don't feel deprived of anything. I live a productive life, I work and I'm married to a normal woman, and my daughter is normal, too. "I can even go up and down the stairs, and I move at home freely without the wheelchair. I roll on a basketball - my dad brought me one when I was a child and I learned how to move this way since then."
Farther into the park, a gaggle of 20-year-old girls giggle as they walk towards one of the rides. Of the six, only three summon the courage to climb into the huge, spinning basket. The others just watch, laughing at their friends. Afterwards, they are still laughing. One, Aya Salem, is crying, too. "My problem is I don't get scared, but I get dizzy," says the Palestinian-Jordanian student. Not too dizzy; she joins her friends for a ride on the spinning, shaking "Disco".
That is too much. As the ride stops, Ms Salem rushes to the bathroom. Her friends stay on. "My neck and back are killing me," says Reem Darraj, a Palestinian student. She thinks she will be on painkillers for a while. Even so, she says she will definitely come back. "It's nice to do something fun and different for a change." Over to the right of the park is a global village with areas for Turkey, Syria, Egypt, China and the UAE. A dabkeh group sings and dances near the stage.
A few people gather around the stage for a quiz. If they answer some of the questions correctly they could win Dh500. "We want to create an atmosphere for the family to enjoy," says Tarek Amer, the chairman of Royal Show, the company that runs the festival, which is now in its fifth year. He says the festival is a perfect way to promote Abu Dhabi as a tourist destination. Around the edge of the site are stalls selling perfume, clothes and traditional food. There are few takers, though.
"There are no customers," says Hazem Abdulaziz, who is standing in front of his perfume stall. "We are losing more than gaining." It is better at the weekends, he says, but still not profitable. On weekends he makes about Dh1,000. During the week, it can be as little as Dh300. The pickings are thinner yet for Um Mohammed. Today, she says, she has made only Dh100 from her abaya and sheyla booth. "If only they would reduce the rent, and cancel the entry fee.
"Customers have to pay Dh10 to enter, so it is difficult for them to come often if they have many children. "One customer told me she had to pay double the price of an item on entry fees to come back and exchange it."