In this serialised feature, Ali Al Saloom shares his insight and experiences from growing up in the UAE. This week, he talks about the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair and the importance of reading.
The Ali story: Grow through reading
Our beloved Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of our beautiful country, had a great vision to enhance so many areas of our nation. One of the areas he cared so much about was “educating the people” through reading.
Having this vision, he encouraged the birth and launch of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) in Abu Dhabi.
I remember the beginning of the ADIBF. My beloved father took me with him and showed me around the fair. It was during this time that my father looked at me and said: “Son, this is like a very special festival that happens once a year, so in order for it to actually grow in the UAE, it’s important that you and other young generations visit the book fairs at a very young age.” When you are a child, such inspiring words stick with you – no wonder I got so excited to go to the next festival.
I don’t remember exactly the things we did or how we would walk through the fair at that time, but I do remember that the centre of the fair was really different. For example, there weren’t large or creative stands that we see today at the bookfairs. Sales people would stand behind a table; there would be a little piece of cloth on top of the table and agents would simply show their books to the curious visitors.
At the time, there was a lot of Arab participation from Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Morocco and obviously from the Arabian Gulf countries. There were really very few from the UAE – I’m not saying that there were no Emirati writers or publishers, but the movement was just still at its beginning.
Some of my memories centre on my mom and dad bringing us to the fair, but the schools would also take us on picnics for the book fair. Every school would choose three or four classes from different grades for special trips. The would offer us free books – some were good for kids and some we just took and gave to our parents.
Years passed by and I remember how my father said once to me: “Son, remember: many people talk and few speak, so take care to speak and not to talk.” Then he continued, “If you have published a book, it better be something good and valuable, as writing a book is a responsibility toward our future generations. So make sure you speak and write well.”
I wish I can share this news with my Dad, but I did manage to become a speaker and I’ve also published books already. My last one is about the influence of the internet on us and how it can lead to wealth, but this time I wrote my book in Arabic. For those who don’t know, I have already published two other mini-guides to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, both in English.
Attending the book fair gave me flashbacks and just made me feel so proud of the achievements of both myself and my country; it made me realise how the visions of our great fathers and leaders are always something that we should care about, hold on to, make sure that we participate in and work to build over a long period of time.
Now there are many Emiratis who are writers or are otherwise in the publishing industry.
Reflecting on those extraordinary experiences at the ADIBF shows you how our society is moving and changing. You can see how visions can sometimes take time to be achieved, but what’s most fascinating about them is that they are already in the process of being achieved. What our beloved Sheikh Zayed wanted was something like this to happen – to have people start attending book fairs, to explore the significance of reading, gain more opportunities to read, learn to understand other people’s way of thinking, find ways to network through various cultural and educational exhibitions to achieve things and educate yourself. Today this is happening successfully, alhamdulillah.
Good book fairs such as the latest ADIBF bring more memories, flashbacks and excitement. I took my little ones to walk through the book fair with me because I believe that we need to pass on the traditions that my beloved father taught me, inspired from Sheikh Zayed’s vision. I hope I can also influence and engage the younger generation to embrace these traditions as well.
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