Category Archives: Author Visit

Nurture vs Nature

How much does nature contribute to an individual’s formation? How much does their environment influence their being? Is behavior inherited (ie genetic) or acquired–or both?

“Nature is what we think of as pre-wiring and is influenced by genetic inheritance and other biological factors. Nurture is generally taken as the influence of external factors after conception e.g. the product of exposure, experience and learning on an individual.”

from simplypsychology.org

According to their LinkedIn page, “Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children is founded on the belief that culture is essential to understanding both ourselves and the world in which we live today. The overall aim is to enrich the cultural lives of children and prepare them to welcome their future.”

This, I believe, is what the world needs to nurture confident, culturally literate and emotionally intelligent kids–a cultural centre like the Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children. The Centre encourages creative self-expression. They even have a 24-hour family radio station, Pearl FM (with 5 studios) where kids can call in and talk about just anything.

I was privileged to be taken on a tour around the complex, and I was just awed at the facilities and the conceptualization, creative energy, as well as resources that brought the centre to life.

Grateful to the Sharjah Book Authority for arranging my storytelling activity at the Al Jalila Cultural Centre for Children as part of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2017. Thanks also to Ms. Ayesha Juma, AJCCC Director for Program Management, and the very accommodating AJCCC staff for making me feel so welcome and taking me on a wonderful tour around their centre.

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Sharjah Scrapbook

Sharjah is widely considered to be the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates. It is a city that beautifully juxtaposes the old with the new. For the 2017 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, we were billeted at the Sharjah Hilton which had a vantage view of the sunrise over the Khalid Lagoon. The sunrises are spectacularly beautiful from the hotel, as the city’s sand-colored palette amazingly reflected the colors of the sun.

We rewrite our story: Day 2 of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival

We are so different, and yet, in many things, we are also alike.

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The Al Jalila Cultural Center for Children. An amazing place. This was where did my storytelling on the morning of my second day at SCRF.

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Ms Marwa (below, left) welcomed us and ushered us to the AJCCC Library on the second floor.

I was assisted by SCRF 2017 student volunteer, the petite Amie (below, right), who balanced herself amazingly in stilletos while lugging an LCD projector.

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I felt so privileged to do my storytelling in such an inspiring place. (Was later taken on a tour of the place. Will post the pics in a separate post.)

School children magically appeared as soon as we had settled and set up our projector in the library. Shortly after we’d gone up to the second floor, a couple of school buses must have arrived carrying some thirty school children and their teachers. There was no sign of them while we were in the lobby earlier. Or, maybe there is a school adjacent to the cultural center?

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Me: I heard that the kids who come to the AJCCC are the smartest and most creative…
Kids: Yes, Teacher!
Me: I was wondering if you could help me with my problem.
Abdulrahman M: What is your problem, Teacher?
Me: I wrote a book, and I used some Filipino words. I want to rewrite it using Arabic words so Arab kids can understand it. Do you think you can help me?
Kids: (chorus) Yes, Teacher!

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And so we brainstormed (above), and chose the best words to use in our storytelling:

Yammah. Souk. Rafiqui. Sellah.

I was very pleased. I liked the sound of our words.

It was impressive because these kids were not only bilingual, but they were literate in writing in Arabic and English. They were very specific with the pronunciation as we agreed on our anglicized spellings of the Arabic words. The teachers beamed as they listened to their students enthusiastically interact with me. When the Head Teacher saw that the kids kept raising their hands to suggest even more words, she laughingly said, “We have about twenty words for everything!”

Was also told that it is easier to learn to write in English than in Arabic. These kids are geniuses, then, to both know how to write in Arabic and Latin.

In exchange, I taught them Filipino words: Nanay (mother), Palengke (market), Suki (customer-pal), and Bayong (native basket).

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And I read them my book with its new title,  “A Day at the Souk” (above), using the Arabic words:

Today, I woke up early.
I was still sleepy when Yamma helped me get dressed.
I will spend the day with her.
Today is souk day!

Yamma and I each carry a sellah.
Yamma’s sellah is big and colorful.
Mine was small and yellow.

I told the story using slides. There was an awkward moment of silence, as I clicked and showed them this scene (below).

I had told this story a hundred times. I had forgotten it was there.

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A little boy, whose name I would later find out, is Abdulrahman M, raised his hand, and exclaimed:  Teachur, der ees a P. I. G.!

His outburst caused the class to titter. I felt faint, and flushed all over, about the faux pas.

I remarked to the Head Teacher:  I apologize for that oversight.

She smiled, gave a little compassionate nod, and waved her hand, as if to say, “Don’t worry about it.”

Then I explained  to the children that it was a typical scene in a Philippine market, unlike in a souk, where the meat they sell is halal.

After the storytelling, I told the children that it was only my second day in the UAE and so I’ve not yet been to an Arabian souk, and if they would be so kind as to draw me a picture (below).

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The activity made them quiet for about five minutes, hahaha.

The Head Teacher thanked me. “You were wonderful with the kids,” she smiled.

“The pleasure, really, is mine, Ma’am, ” I told her.

We took some group pics, but Amie took my pics for my camera from the side, huhuhu.

As the kids formed lines and waited to exit the library with their teachers, Maha came up to me, stood on tiptoes and gently pulled me toward her, to whisper in my ear:  I drew your picture at the back of my drawing, Miss May! (Maha’s drawing of me as Miss May Buterskawt, below.)

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Was overwhelmed, because I believe I gained more than I gave of myself in this storytelling session.

Thank you, Sharjah Book Authority. Thank you, Al Jalila Cultural Center for Children.

It was a truly unforgettable experience.

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