The hotel checkout at Sharjah Hilton was at 12 noon and I had been all set to go earlier to the airport, spend the night there and wait for my 3 AM flight. But what does one do when she has fifteen hours to kill? Good thing my kind-hearted Dubai-based cousin Roman took pity on me and told me that he and his lovely wife Arlyn will pick me up and take me on a quick tour of Dubai.
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.”
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.
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.
I came to Sharjah eager to share of myself and Philippine children’s literature. Five days later, I flew back home, my mind and heart filled with wonderful and shiny new treasures. Attending the 2017 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, I unexpectedly became a richer individual than I had been five days before — in terms of inspiration and insights.
Day 1: My flight was late. We touched down at around 5:00 AM, almost an hour late. When I finally got out of the airport the sun was just coming out.
By the time we’d turned into Corniche Road where the Hilton was, the sun had already risen (below). I come from a country very famous for its sunsets. Only then, I realized that I had for years been programmed to look westward and at the end of the day, to look at the sun; I had never seen the sun at sunrise as immense as magnificent as this. It felt like a warm hug. It truly seemed as if God was smiling at me. What a beautiful greeting Sharjah gave me. Sadly, my phone cam did not do it justice at all.
Despite the lateness of my flight, it looked like I arrived too early for the festival. The SCRF 2017 booth at the Hilton lobby had not even opened yet when I checked in. In my room, I napped for a couple of hours and then freshened up, then went down again to check the booth again to get my guest badge and inquire about transport to the opening ceremonies of SCRF 2017.
I got this box of cute doodads as a welcome gift from the Sharjah Book Authority (below).
It had felt so surreal, to be in the United Arab Emirates. The place is so unlike anywhere I’d ever been. But even then, within the UAE, the contrast between the emirates of Dubai and Sharjah seemed so marked. You will notice this in the architecture of the skyline. While Dubai is all modern, cosmopolitan and shiny, Sharjah’s sand-colored cityscape is proud, elegant and genteel, designed to complement the changing colors of the sun. Both are fascinating gems in a crown setting, each uniquely beautiful in its own way.
On the way to the Expo Centre, we passed by the iconic Eye of the Emirates (below).
It wasn’t a dream after all, as I checked my FB news feed. In just a few hours, I was already going to be in my first SCRF event, a panel discussion on “Illustrated Stories and Its Status”. The Sharjah Book Authority had already announced it on social media (below).
The entrance to the Sharjah Expo Centre, venue of the 2017 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (below). The theme for SCRF 2017 is “Discover Beyond”.
A handy guide to the activities and a map to help you locate these in the huge venue (below).
Had to pinch and tell myself again that this was really happening.
Cute preschoolers in very colorful costumes hold up hashtags in Arabic (below). It was only my very first few minutes in the Expo Centre, so I’d been unable to ask anybody for a translation of the signs.
Very young schoolchildren waiting for the Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi to open the festival gamely pose for photographs (below).
A typical panel discussion that simultaneously happened around the venue. This featured two very young talents (below). One was a published writer who wrote her own stories in English while the other one was a storyteller who specialized in interpreting traditional Arabic stories. The forum was bilingual and the rapt audience was composed of middle schoolers.
(Below) Our panel discussion entitled “Illustrated Text: Illustrated Stories and Its Status”, facilitated by Linda Abdel Latif (Egypt) and co-paneled by Sheena Dempsey (UK) and myself (Philippines). The questions were in Arabic. Sheena and I and the audience were provided headsets while a translator in the booth interpreted the questions and answers alternately in Arabic and English–in real time. So cool.
Sheena discussed the importance of the various roles the illustrator plays to meet the changing needs of the child readers in their various developmental stages, “Illustration plays different roles in different genres of books. In picture books for instance, the illustrator co-invents or co-authors the book, while it is seen playing a slightly different role in fiction where the illustrator responds to the author’s text – something I did for Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow,” said Dempsey.
I talked more about the expanding definition of literacy, beyond reading and writing, to include the visual as well. “In the college where I used to teach back in the Philippines, we have pushed illustration to include the visual metaphor, the visual pun, and visual analogy — traditional terms normally used in the formation of text — and applied these to visuals. There is a similar movement in visual arts schools in the US toward visual literacy. In a media-dominated world, we not only read books and magazines, but film, internet content, TV shows, and we need to learn to respond to these critically.”
Linda, Sheena, and I pose for posterity (above).
My lovely host, Ms. Cool-under-pressure Qurrat of the Sharjah Book Authority and I finally meet, and of course, we celebrate our first meeting with a selfie.
What an incredible first day!
On the way back to the Hilton, the glittery Eye of the Emirates winks at me.
The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival is a cultural celebration attracting not only children, but extending the joy of learning to parents and adults in a family- friendly atmosphere. SCRF encourages learning and self-education from a young age, helping raise a generation of leaders, scholars and professionals who will contribute to the development of their society.
SCRF is held annually under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Muhammad Al Qasimi.