Saturday night falls over a smoggy Dubai. Cars streaming along the freeway, the thud of music playing 15 floors below on the hotel forecourt by the water, and my last night in the United Arab Emirates. I’ve been away from home for seven weeks and I’m so ready to get back that it’s an ache in my chest.
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature wrapped up tonight (just the farewell party to go). It’s been amazing. My first big international multi-lingual literary festival, and in a part of the world I don’t know very well. I’ve learned a lot about the UAE – enough to realize how little I know. It’s a fascinating and mysterious place and it would take much more than a week to get a grip on it.
Through the festival I met a couple of hundred local kids – both expats and Emirates (the majority being the latter). One of the best parts of writing for kids is the chance to meet them – they let you know just how they’re feeling, bored or otherwise, so if it goes well, it’s a heady experience. The kids from the school I visited, Ras Al Khaimah Academy, sent a package of thank you letters to me via their teacher, who said “RAK academy boasts approximately 60 different nationalities amongst our students, most speaking English as a 2nd language, many as their 3rd. Your visit has provided an opportunity for children to tell their own stories of riding or looking after horses and camels.”
I had wondered beforehand if the festival mainly catered to the expat community, but it was inspiring to see how the organizers extended themselves to go much further than that. Many – most – sessions had translators standing by so that Arabic speakers could have a simultaneous translation into English (through headphones) and English speakers could have it into Arabic, as required. The poetry performed at Desert Stanzas was all in the language it was written in – Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and English. Deliberately, no translations were given. We were invited to listen and understand at a different level.
Some of you will have seen my Facebook photos, many coming from the cultural program organised for authors by the festival. Walking tours, feasts, stable visits and the incredible Desert Stanzas night made for an incredibly rich week. Being pampered in a swanky hotel was pretty nice too.
This whole trip since leaving Australia has been a feast – of friendships, landscapes, creativity and inspiration. I’ve had both the solitary writing time that’s part of this life I’ve chosen, and the busy external social time that’s also part of it – meeting other writers, meeting readers, speaking about my work, sharing the stories.
I’m sated, satisfied, tired. Ready for the air of home, for my own bed, for my beautiful smiling lover who has been looking after the place where my heart is. I’m so grateful for Andi’s love and support – it’s the rock that allows me to go out on so many adventures, knowing there’s a safe place to come home.