x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Old Emirati stories are new again for children

Author Ghaya al Dhaheri has revived tales of Emirati culture and history and tells them to children to help them appreciate the importance of the past and the future.

AL AIN // Ghaya al Dhaheri sits with two dozen children around her, telling them an old Emirati story about a palm tree that was experiencing some major internal conflict.

As the story unfolded, it became clear the various parts of the tree were arguing with each other.

"The trunk says 'I am the most important because, from me, houses are built'," she told the children, her voice resonating through the loudspeakers in the atrium of Bawadi Mall's main atrium.

"Then the leaves said, 'no we are the most important, because we provide shelter from the sun'. Then the fruit-bearing part of the palm tree argues that it is the part that produces the dates that feed the people who build the houses covering them with the palm's leaves."

The palm tree is still a steady presence in Emirati life, but Mrs al Dhaheri tells her stories because children today no longer understand how vital it was to past generations.

"I want children to understand its importance and the importance of the falaj [desert springs], learn about the desert environment, Emirati culture and history," she said.

"By reading books about the UAE's past, children will have a greater appreciation for what they have today. Communication with the youth about the past builds a bridge to the past."

Her twice-daily appearances have been a highlight of the Al Ain Reads 2010 book fair, which began Sunday and ends tomorrow. The event, put on by Kitab, a reading project under the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, has attracted more than 1,000 parents, students and teachers to the Bawadi Mall's main atrium.

There, 29 publishers and booksellers have set up temporary shop, displaying about 25,000 Arabic and English books - some for sale, others for display.

Each day hundreds of students have arrived to view the books. But this weekend there are several scheduled activities, including a meet-and-greet with Emirati authors, a concert by Emirati pianists and a book swap where people can trade their old tomes for new ones.

Mrs al Dhaheri, after growing up in Al Ain, married a member of the UAE armed forces who was posted to several overseas embassies and consulates. While living and travelling the world, she also became a mother to nine children, grandmother to 12 and an author. Her latest 12-volume series is Memories of Al Ain, due to be published in December.

During one presentation this week, Mrs al Dhaheri asked several girls to perform their favourite and most patriotic songs. Some chose to sing about Sheikh Khalifa, while others sang traditional Islamic songs.

One popular stand at the fair was the Dubai Police Academy, which was selling crime investigation and drug enforcement manuals.

Majed Zayed, 17, a student at Al Dhaher School, stood in front of the display for 20 minutes looking at the manuals.

"I want to be a police officer when I am older," he said. "This is the first time I have been able to look at the details of what I will be studying at the police academy after I finish college. It's a lot to learn, but it's so interesting."

The show is open tomorrow from 5 to 10pm and Saturday from 10am to 10pm. Entrance is free.