Sharjah International Book Fair 29th Edition

My photo
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
ExpoCenter 7th - 17th November, 2012. Hours | Saturday - Thursday: 10a.m. - 10p.m.; Friday: 4p.m - 10p.m.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Travelogue to Sharjah Book Fair and the UAE » Spirit21

Arriving very early in the morning at Dubai airport, I was welcomed by my hosts in the UAE – the Sharjah International Book Fair – whose representative made me feel like a film star. I was greeted by one of those cute little golf carts that whizzes round airports making an annoying beeping noise (annoying for everyone else, as it says ‘look at me – you have to walk, I’m driving!) to a little lounge where we waited for our paperwork to be done. A gentleman in pristine white dishdasha emerged from the door carrying a bouquet of flowers to welcome me to Sharjah. Julia Roberts step aside! Very curiously, each rose was stamped with the book fair brand.

The Sharjah International Book Fair (or check out the blog here) is in its 29th year, and so is not some ‘new’ cultural bandwagon. Instead, it provides a valuable forum for the reading public, who attend in their hundreds of thousands. In fact, in the first weekend alone, 100,000 visitors were recorded, and 500,000 were estimated for the entire ten day event. Sales topped Dhs.133 million (probably in excess of £25m). In fact, book shopping is so prolific that visitors use a shopping trolley to wheel around their purchases. See this photo taken by the lovely Lisa Dempster who was also attending the fair as a speaker, from Australia.

My invitation to speak at the Book Fair was from Sheikha Bodour, CEO and Founder of Kalimat Publishing House, President of Emirates Publishers Association, Bookworm and Mother of 3. (and daughter of the Ruler of Sharjah – but a feisty firebrand in her own right). Along with inviting me to the book fair itself (I love speaking at book fairs – wonderful places to share ideas and engage with readers), she was kind enough to make time to meet me for a coffee during the fair despite her hectic schedule. I found her extremely personable, creative and visionary. (and no, I’m not sucking up – she really was). I think her leadership in the Fair’s activities will bear great fruit. You can follow her on Twitter. She even signed a copy of her new children’s book for my niece, a colourful and quirky book on girls dressing up with the hijabs from their big sisters and mum’s collection. (and apparently to be published in French. Hurrah!)

The highlight of the visit – and of course it’s main purpose – was to speak to the audience about Love in a Headscarf. It was an excellent opportunity to hear how the themes of love, marriage, identity and self-definition are dealt with in a part of the world which still has a strong

Speaking at Sharjah Book Fair (copyright spirit21)

heritage of community and tribal culture in its recent past. The audience was fabulous, sharing their intimate personal stories of love and marriage. One young Emirati woman told of how she had tried to blog about similar issues but was advised by relatives to stop writing for fear of her reputation. Another lady spoke of her worries of finding a spouse for her child given that she was not a native of the Emirates and did not have a network of contacts. One gentleman (yes! there were men there too – fabulous!) spoke of how parents must set an example in their household to train their sons in particular in how to be good husbands and fathers. The session was moderated by the fabulous Mujeeb Rahman, aka Jaihoon. His latest book is a travelogue across India comprised entirely of the tweets he sent during the trip. On his site you’ll find some photos of the author session. You can also read some of the other responses to the Author Session here and here. (google translate them!) An extra thanks also to Rupert Bumfrey and his magnificent work for the book fair on Twitter and theBlogosphere, and for his part in my involvement in the fair.

Whilst I was attending the Sharjah International Book Fair, I was fortunate enough to engage in some interviews. There were some fascinating conversations and I’m always intrigued by how journalists in different countries pick out different aspects of my stories.

I think my favourite interview was with Husam Miro of Al Khaleej. It felt more like a philosophical dialogue than a media story. I only wish we had a first language in common so that I could have turned the tables and interviewed him. As I expressed my intrigue and growing fascination with the UAE he asked “have you been introduced to any intellectuals?”. It was an unexpected but very insightful question given the curiosity that I had expressed. And one that no-one before or since had thought to throw my way. (see my article here before my visit to the UAE, asking what secrets people could tell me about the country. I think he had seen it.)

Here is the article as it was published in Al Khaleej.

Meanwhile, the British Embassy in Dubai invited me to a round table with other arty and cultural types to talk about my experiences as a blogger, writer and erstwhile public figure. Somehow after two glasses of coke and a bowl of peanuts, they managed to persuade me to record this cheesy video about my visit to the UAE and the Sharjah Book Fair.

The evening was a real joy as I got to speak in detail about my experiences, my book and to hear intimate and very insightful comments from the attendees. Among them was Hind Mezaina who writes the thought-provoking and inspiring CulturistBlog, as was Mishal Al Gergawi, who is an Emirati columnist who says it how it is. And Isobel Aboulhoul who co-founded the successful bookshop chain Magrudy’s and who is the festival director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which has very rapidly become a feature of the international literary calendar. I got a verbal invitation from her to speak at the Festival (Isobel – I will be following that up!), but more than that it was fascinating to hear her own tales of travelling and living in the Gulf. She arrived in 1969 before the UAE even existed – an intriguing story indeed.

And before anyone pipes up in the comments – yes, there is a British Embassy in Abu Dhabi (the capital of the UAE), but in some turn of fate when the Trucial States gained independence from the UK it seems a British Embassy was also retained in Dubai, rather than turning into a Consulate. Go figure. But then I like these historical but somehow pointless quirks.

Perhaps the most challenging and inspiring of the book-related activities I engaged in were a series of visits to schools and universities which cater specifically to young Emirati women. In Abu Dhabi I visited Shohoub School and talked to the 16 year olds. The school was hidden away from the main road, but once inside there is a lively bubbly atmosphere. Although the girls wear the abaya and shela (cloak and scarf) to attend school, once inside they remove both of these since it is an all female environment. They listened wide eyed as I discussed how answering the question ‘Who am I?’ is a critical one to determining one’s place in the world and how to react to it.

A second session was at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, which is another one of these marvellous Gulf universities. Both in the UAE and in Qatar I have seen such places of higher education springing up, offering the best of facilities. I had been invited by the bubbly media committee and was installed in the main lecture theatre. Similar themes of identity came up, but of course the usually undiscussed subjects of love and marriage – topics which I brought to the fore of the discussion – were busily debated.

And then, it was off to Dubai Women’s College, who managed to pack out their main lecture theatre to the brim with young women, who were interested in the same subjects again. My thanks to all the organisers. It’s a real treat to get immediate interaction with Emiratis, particularly young women who are busy setting themselves on the path to create a better future for themselves and their country. I predict a bright future.

As a change from talking directly to readers, I co-hosted the morning show on Dubai Eye Radio with the very charming and talented Jessica Swann. The two hour phone in show picked up on Love in a Headscarf and talked about arranged and love marriages. The texts and calls came in relentlessly and varied from the downright romantic, to the shocking and gobsmacking. Read about it here in my weekly column. (Love and it’s seeming double standards)

I begin my article: “It’s fine for me to have a ‘love marriage’,” the male caller to the radio show said, “but I won’t accept anything other than an arranged marriage for my sister.” Do have a read, it was quite an incredible show. Alternatively, you can listen to the podcast here.

With all that book-related activity going on, you’d be forgiven for thinking I didn’t get a chance to travel around the UAE. And you might even think there isn’t much to see in the UAE. You’d be wrong on both counts. In fact, I barely got to see much of the country at all, given how many places there are to visit.

Ajman, UAE, copyright spirit21

One afternoon I popped up to the postcard-pretty Ajman, and watched the gorgeous waves crashing onto the deserted white sandy beaches. ‘Idyllic’ is the only word that came to mind – and only 15 minutes from Sharjah.

Dubai offered a host of marvels – of which many indeed were shopping-related, but many others (of which I only got a brief taste), were not. Of course there were the two amazing malls – Mall of the Emirates (which is the location of Ski Dubai!) and Dubai Mall (home of the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa, and also home to the remarkably delightful Fountain), both of which were epic in size. With the number of luxury and designer outlets present, I did begin to wonder why Emiratis come to London to do their shopping – everything is available right here with the benefit of a swanky setting and air-conditioning.

I must admit to my embarrassment, my favourite mall of the ones I visited was Al-Wafi, which is constructed in the style of Ancient Egypt, with huge columns and sphinxes outside, and hieroglyphics. It stands next to the Raffles Hotel which is built in the shape of a pyramid. However, downstairs it has a remarkable ’souq’ area, which is built in a surprisingly convincingtraditional souq style, and has the most amazing shops with absolutely stunning abayas. I will be saving my pennies up so that if I get a chance to return I can purchase one of these remarkable creations. That Emiratis think nothing of spending £500 upwards on an abaya for day to day wearing (and that they always look so glamorous) is no unending source of mystery for me.

Best of all in Dubai was visiting old Dubai and observing the cargo port, the workers crossing the creek around which Dubai was originally built and observing the abra stations – the places where the dhows dock at regular intervals along

Abra Station, Dubai, copyright spirit21

the creek to form the water transport network. As a luxury I hired an abra for an hour at sunset to travel along the creek and see old Dubai in the falling light. At sunset the adhan echoed in stereo – literally – as it was called from mosques on both sides. The old area of Bastakiyya lit up with its golden lights, and men sat beneath the bridges to fish during the perfect early evening air. This was the magic of Dubai.

By contrast were the two most epic sights of Abu Dhabi – the Emirates palace hotel which is absolutely enormous. And has this legendary gold vending machine. Not sure what to get friends and family? Running out of time to go shopping? Insert $500 and give them their own gold coin or bar.

And on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi is the new Shaikh Zayed mosque. I wasn’t expecting to like it when I arrived, not being very partial to large mosques that are built too far away for daily usage, but the architecture and the decoration is exquisite, and quite unlike anything else I’ve seen – fair more organic and lyrical. And the mosque is staffed in a very friendly and gentle manner – unlike my usual experiences of being shouted at for being a woman trying to enter a mosque.

Shaikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, copyright spirit21

My final day was another complete change – this time driving through the glorious deep grey Hajar mountains that form the spine of the eastern flank of the UAE. On the other side is a separate part of Sharjah, and also an enclave of Oman. The eastern coast is much quieter and less developed than the rest of the UAE, and so is more relaxing and has the rugged natural beauty that

Hajar Mountains, UAE, copyright spirit21

contrast with the frenetic metropolis of Dubai. The drive along the coast encompassed Dibba, Khor Fakkan and Kalba, all seemingly untouched in their coastal beauty.

So many things were left unseen. Yas Island (with the F1 track, and Ferrari World), several art galleries, the burgeoning arts scene in Dubai, Jumeira Beach (observed only from afar), several older mosques, a dhow cruise along the coast, a foray into Oman, a visit to the Liwa Oasis… the list goes on.

Despite staying for several days, I felt that I had only just caught a peek of UAE life. If anyone tells you that all there is to the UAE is shopping – don’t believe them. There’s plenty more beneath the surface.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Which Arabs Read? Emiratis and Lebanese | Arabic Literature (in English)

Jordanian children's book author Taghreed Najjar reads to children in Dubai. Photo borrowed from Buzoor:

Part of the explanation behind the new Shorouk-Penguin publishing venture is that a growing number of young Arabs are picking up books.

And it may even be true—according to a new six-nation study published by the Ipsos Research Center—but these young Arabs with an appetite for reading are probably not Egyptians. Apress release put out by the survey’s authors reminds us of our old rag of a saying: Egypt writes, Lebanon publishes, Iraq reads.

The Ipsos press release notes:

However, the UAE has now destroyed such theories since it has been rated first in reading with 54.2%, followed by Lebanon with 53.5%, then Jordan with 47.6% while Egypt was ranked last at 10.6%, falling behind Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with 44.8% consecutively.

So it isn’t young Egyptians reading (except online and on the phone), but it is apparently young people:

Observers are aware of the fact that reading in Gulf countries is generally done by the youth who are between 15 and 30 years old.

Indeed, the Emiratis seem to be making the greatest strides in Arabic-language education, Arabic children’s publishing, and in chastising themselves to read more. At this year’s Sharjah International Book Fair, Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, who opened the fair, urged participants to read, read, read. (Um, have you ever heard Hosni asking us to read books?)

Even more recently, in an opinion piece in The National, Sharjah-based media consultant Muhammad Ayish scolds:

I find it intriguing that reading was the first sacred commandment from Allah to Prophet Mohammed – a command that was fully heeded throughout Arab-Islamic history and observed as a knowledge-seeking practice. Yet, in our modern times, this habit has been relegated as a low priority in intellectual and cognitive development, a luxury that is optional at best.

Perhaps the best sign that a nation is reading more is that it scolds itself for not reading enough.

Meanwhile, the Ipsos study’s bandied-about headline was that “Arabs spend 1/3 of lives on mobile phones, TV, Internet.

According to the report, the “average Arab citizen” must not go to work, because he or she:

…watches television for four hours every day; talks on mobile phones for an hour and a half; surfs the Internet for an hour; and spends the remaining eight hours listening to the radio, reading newspapers or playing video games.

So: Egypt writes (this is still indeed true, at least in the world of grown-up literature), Egypt-Lebanon-Qatar-UAE publish, and Lebanon and the UAE read.

But it seems likely that Egypt’s writing prowess is coming for a big challenge from the nations that…read.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Writing Workshop at #SHJIBF « Zohra Saed

A highlight of the Sharjah International Book Fair was the creative writing workshop that my Sahar Muradi, Lisa Dempster and I ran at a lovely room at the fair itself (held at the Sharjah Expo Center).

We had some writing prompts:

“I remember…”

“The first time I…”

and finally “I am…” followed by descriptions using the 5 senses.

We gave everyone 3 minutes to free write.

@mohannad_adnan and @arabvoicesspeak writing

The results were:

@hamna Hamna Ahmed

‘I remember my 1st accident. I crashed the car and nearly ran *cringe*

@ArtLoversME Sarah

my 3min write up:’The first time I cry was the first time I fly|out of my mothers womb into a brighten room.How strange the change’

You can find her full poem Here

@MujeebJaihoon Mujeeb Jaihoon

I remember my own poem My mother my paradise which I wrote for my mom.

Of course, when technology is involved, there is always a glitch as in this case:

@musafirs Azim : something went wrong my tweets from #shjibf @ writing wrokshop did not come on line.. :(

He posted the entire poem, rather than 140 characters of it on his blog (quite clever).

@AlaskaMongolia Maryam Ismail also shared her vibrant poetry. Turns out Maryam also knew Suheir Hammad, which was a lovely connection.

Lovely writers: @yjraissati Yasmina Jraissati who is an agent for Arabic literature, and @ArabVoicesSpeak Samar Jarrah was generous to tweet our constellation of voices. Thank you!

my own chicken-scratch responses to the writing prompts

~ by zohrasaed on November 14, 2010.

Friday, 12 November 2010

@loveinheadscarf co-hosting Dubai Today : DubaiEye103.8

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogsite as well as being named by The Times Newspaper as one of the UK’s 100 most influential Muslim women. Shelina took time time out during her visit to the UAE for the 29th Sharjah International Book Fair to join Dubai Today for a discussion on arranged and love marriages, and the dreams of Muslim women.
Follow Shelina on Twitter @loveinheadscarf

» أرشيف المدونة » شكراً معرض الكتاب

شكراً معرض الكتاب

معرض الشارقة الدولي للكتاب حدث سنوي أنتظره بفارغ الصبر كل عام، لن أتحدث هذه المرة بصفتي زائرة عادية للمعرض، فقد شاركت هذا العام في تنظيم المعرض في قسم المركز الإعلامي، نظراً لأني أعيش حالة بطالة – مؤقتة ان شاء الله – و كانت تجربة من أروع التجارب في حياتي على الإطلاق.
أن تكون زائراً للمعرض تذهب إليه في يوم أو يومين شعور مختلف كلياً عن أن تكون مشاركاً فيه و منظماً له وتذهب إليه كل يوم.
تعرفت على أشخاص من مختلف الثقافات و الجنسيات ، ماسرت العمل الصحفي مع فريق عمل رائع، حضرت ندوات ثقافية و محاضرات و مقاهٍ ثقافية بعضها بإرادتي و بعضها من أجل التغطية الإعلامية فقط ، قابلت العديد من الكتاب و المؤلفين ممن أعرفهم و آخرين تعرفت عليهم .

تعلمت الكثير ، اتضحت لي بعض نقاط ضعفي وبعض نقاط قوتي ، اكتسبت عدة مهارات ودخلت عوالم جديدة وحياة مختلفة.
هنا سأشارككم بعض المواقف و الأفكار التي كانت نتاج هذه التجربة المميزة :
أعتقد بأن الفكرة الأساسية و المحورية التي توصلت إليها بعد تجربة المشاركة في المعرض هي :
الحياة تفتح أبوابها لمن يفتح قلبه و عقله ، التجارب الجديدة لا تأتي إليك أنت من يجب أن يتحرك إليها.
كل ما حولي كان يقول لي ذلك، سواء عبر الأشخاص الذين تعرفت عليهم أو عبر المواقف التي مررت بها أو من تجربة التطوع في المعرض أساساً.
صديقتي الأمريكية من أصل أفريقي مريم إسماعيل تعرفت عليها في إحدى الندوات والتي كانت لمناقشة كتاب Arab voices speaks to American hearts ، والذي حصلت على نسخة موقعة منه ، سلمت عليها بعد انتهاء الندوة ثم التقيت بها في المصلى ، حكت لي قصة إسلامها منذ 15 سنة ، تنقلت ما بين تركيا ومصر و استقرت في الإمارات ، زوجها من الهند و لديها طفلتان ن كاتبة في جريدة انترناشيونال نيوز . حياتها مليئة بالأحداث و المغامرات ، خفيفة الظل نشيطة و إيجابية ، ثم أصبحت أراها كل يوم لأنها على الرغم من عربيتها الضعيفة إلا أنها كانت تحرص على حضور جميع الندوات و المحاضرات الثقافية.
قصتها وحياتها كانت إحدى رسائل الفكرة المحورية .

جهانا من لبنان ، تعمل في إحدى دور النشر الخاصة بالأطفال ، التقيت بها بعد انتهاء اليوم الأول للمعرض ، لم تجد الحافلة التي تقلها إلى الفندق وسألتني عن إمكانية الوصول بالتاكسي وأقرب نقطة مواقف ، فاقترحت عليها أن تركب معنا أنا وصديقتي آلاء لنوصلها إلى الفندق وتعرفنا عليها أكثر في الطريق ، عملها مع دار النشر و مشاركتها في معارض الكتاب في دول مختلفة كان نتيجة مبادرتها و حبها لدخول هذا العمل و تحملها المسؤولية بثقة و أمانة، مما شجع صاحب دار النشر على الاعتماد عليها في ذلك . تدرس الآن ماجستير علم النفس الاجتماعي مما فتح المجال للكثير من الأحاديث الممتعة و اكتشاف المزيد من الاهتمامات المشتركة.
وأيضاً قصتها وحياتها كانت إحدى رسائل الفكرة المحورية.

شالينا جاه محمد بريطانية من أصول هندية-تنزانية ، مؤلفة كتاب love in head scarf، كانت محاضرتها من أجمل المحاضرات التي شهدتها ، تحدثت في كتابها – الذي للأسف لم أستطع الحصول على نسخة منه ولكنني سأستعيره من مريم ! – عن خطوات الخطبة و الزواج في مجتمعات الجاليات المسلمة وربما بالتحديد الهندية التي تعيش في بريطانيا و المواقف التي حصلت معها وتجاربها و رؤيتها للموضوع ، كان الحضور متفاعلاً جداً وكل واحد منا عبر عن رأيه في الموضوع ودارت نقاشات طويلة بين الحاضرين ، كنت راضية عنها تماماً وشعرت أننا جميعاً متفقون على أفكار واحدة ولكن المسألة مسألة وقت حتى تتغير بعض العادات و الأفكار البالية .
شجعتني شالينا على الاستمرار في التفكير بصوت مرتفع في الموضوع و قالت بأن هذا سيكون جزء من عملية التغيير البطيئة ! وسأعمل بنصيحتها فلدي الكثير لأقوله حول هذا الموضوع بالذات !

ياسمينا جريصاتي ، صاحبة موقع مبتدأ وخبر الذي يعتبر مبادرة فريدة تعنى بصناعة الكتاب العربية وهدفها النهائي الإسهام في تطوير صناعة الكتاب في العالم العربي.
سمر الجراح مؤلفة كتاب Arab voices speaks to American hearts .
عبدالباري عطوان و الذي كانت محاضرته الحدث الأكثر طرافةً في المعرض – بعكس ما توقعت – !
روبرت الشخص النشيط “تويترياً” جداً ! و المسؤول عن الحساب الرسمي لمعرض الشارقة للكتاب في تويتر والذي تعاونا فيه سوياً لكتابة “تويتات” أو تغريدات باللغتين العربية و الانجليزية .

فريق العمل في المركز الإعلامي ، فرداً فرداً ، أصحاب دور النشر ، الأصدقاء الذين التقيتهم في المعرض لأول مرة ، كلها لحظات قدمت لي الكثير و دفعتني للأمام خطوات و فتحت لي الأبواب على مشاريع جديدة وحياة مختلفة.
أنا الآن أفكر كم كنت سأخسر لو أنني لم أشارك في هذه التجربة ؟ كم من الأشخاص الرائعين كنت سأفوت ؟ كم من الخبرات كان سينقصني ؟ ترى كم من التجارب المفيدة ضيعتها من قبل بسبب تسويفي و تكاسلي و تفضيلي للراحة و الدعة ؟
لذلك نصيحتي لكل إنسان : افتح قلبك و عقلك للتجارب الجديدة ..
لا تدع فرص الحياة تفوتك بحجة راحة البال و الحياة الهادئة ..
العمل التطوعي فرصة لمن لم يجد وظيفة تناسب طموحه و مواهبه ..
شخص واحد يمكن أن يكون مدرسة لك في وقت من الأوقات ..
المبادرة و الإيجابية أساس الانطلاق في أي تجربة جديدة ..
الحساسية و الكسل و الشعور بالاكتفاء أسوأ ما يمكن أن يتصف به إنسان.

في النهاية أريد أن أقول : شكراً لكل القائمين على معرض الكتاب في الشارقة ..
شكراً معرض الكتاب ، لقد ملأت فراغاً كان ينقصني.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lebanese Writer: How brilliant is this artwork? Ghada Amer's Snow White

Here's another piece of art I fell in love with at the Residua exhibition (Al Maraya Gallery Sharjah

New York based Egyptian artist Ghada Amer is known for her intricate acrylic hand embroidered artwork, which employs threads and needles to create artwork that tackles issues of gender and sexuality. Amer’s dynamic body of work encompasses painting, sculpture and multimedia, exploring aspects of feminine identity, sexuality, and the representation of women in Art History and mass media.

Born in Cairo in 1963, Amer emigrated to the United States aged 11 and uses embroidery-an activity often associated with women- as a subversive tool to comment on contemporary women’s issues. Her technique consists of stitching and knotting loose threads on the face of the canvas and then using transparent gel and glue to paste them to the surface, thus creating an appearance likened to paint drips. Due to the complexity of this process, which often demands three months to complete, Amer’s portfolio is limited.

Ghada Amer studied at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Nice, the School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques in Paris. Her art has been exhibited around the world.