Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Special Guest: Leah! on the Emirates Airline Festival Of Literature

L Polonenko

Rachel here: I am excited to feature my sister Leah on the blog today.  Leah made a guest appearance a few years ago when I featured her for International Women's Day .  Leah has a PhD in Global Governance, is a season
ed world traveler, has worked in the field of development for over 10 years and has a passion for promoting cultural consciousness but also providing tips for experiential travel with an ethical slant.

When Leah volunteered at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, I asked if she would tell us a little bit about it.  You can find Leah's blog here.  Visit Leah on instagram. Follow Leah on Twitter 



Somewhere between the 45 degrees of mind-blowing heat of summer and the cold desert nights of December, the UAE has a perfect month called ‘March’.
In March, not only is the weather perfection, but it is guaranteed that the month will always ‘come in like a lamb’, as the saying goes because of this one uniquely brilliant week-long event:


I know, I know.  If you follow Rachel’s fabulous blog, you already love books and have probably been to festivals yourself.  But there was something uniquely brilliant about this Dubai festival that should inspire all of us, even if we’ve been to a million and one book events.

At the festival, I was brought back to my 5 year-old days when I sat on my mom’s lap, proudly reading lines from a Little Miss book.  The festival brought me back to the greatest joy and power of the written word: its ability to connect and empower.

L Polonenko


The UAE is unique in that 19% of the population is Emirati, whereas 81% of the population is expats (thank you - CIA World Factbook for this factoid).  The literature festival recognizes this unique opportunity:  both Arabic and English authors are widely represented, the majority of presentations/discussions offer translation, and there are authors from every corner of the globe to appease expats, but also to reflect the true multiculturalism that is the UAE.

What this meant is that I learned about the power of folktales to contribute to national identity by Qatari female author Dr. Kaltham Ali G Al-Ghanim, about the Icelandic culture of words from one of the country’s most popular authors Yrsa Sigurdardottir, about the resilience of Afghan women from Deborah Rodriguez, about the power of women in leadership by Emirati Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi, and about how Botswanan adventures are shaped through prose by Alexander McCall Smith.

Literature connects us.  It transports us to new lands we wouldn’t otherwise see, cultures we might not otherwise understand, and into the mind of an individual that represents a religion, culture, and experience that might not belong to us.  Literature connects us all.


Words bring power.  The ability to write down your inner-most thoughts, to work through a particular topic, to give a voice to the otherwise voiceless…words are very powerful. 
Authors are sharing a piece of their soul, and putting onto paper how they see themselves and the world around them..

And what’s so intriguing about hearing from so many authors from so many walks of life is you realize that, in the end, writing holds onto that one amazing virtue - it gives people a sliver of our mind.  So the American turned UK dweller turned Emirates resident Liz Fenwick can introduce us to her love for Cornwall, so David Nicholls can share with us the interesting notions of a man writing about relationships and love, so that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can share her thoughts on modern feminism…

And we grow.  And we perceive.  And we learn through stories and struggles, fables and non-fiction, prose and poetry about worlds and cultures and people that we might otherwise not quite understand.  Or might not even know exist.  Or think about ever.

And we can learn that Afghan women really are ordinary women living in an unfortunate situation. (Deborah Rodriguez)

And we can understand the need for all of us to resurrect our inner creative self. (Kathy Shalhoub)

And we can question our body image perceptions by understanding ‘beauty’ as defined in Botswana. (Alexander McCall Hill)

photo: L Polonenko

And we can wonder why we so quickly see differences between ourselves and others in reality, whereas in novels we seldom see divisions, but understand characters as if they are our friends or closest neighbours.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature was a wonderful event, but these take-home lessons were the most impactful.  To go back to your 5 year old self and remember how powerful it did seem when finally…after days of sounding out letters and making sense of funny symbols…you could…at last…read the thoughts of a stranger.

Interested?  Come next year, March 8 - 16.
Visit for more details or follow @EmiratesLitFest

Organized by the Dubai International Writers Centre: or follow @diwc

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