The LitFest Blog
For two weeks in September, the Festival had the pleasure of having Zoe intern with us. She has kindly written about her experiences with us and Dubai.
As an English student cooped up in freezing libraries in the north of England, I jumped at the chance to get some work experience at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. I was eager to learn about what goes into running an event that celebrates books, my entirely un-guilty pleasure, and to experience the melting pot of cultures, aspirations and 1km-high skyscrapers that is Dubai.
After a cramped flight from London I arrived at Dubai’s colossal airport, greeted by hologram Emiratis pointing me to the arrivals lounge. I walked out with my adoptive parents for my time here, the lovely Yvette and Austin, only to find the life knocked out of me by the heat that left my poorly-chosen skinny jeans instantly clinging to my legs. I soon learned that walking anywhere in Dubai in the summer is an impossibility.
My first day at work was unlike any other I’ve had. The office is in Dubai’s old town near Al Fahidi, so coming to work every day felt like stepping into an Indiana Jones set – all wind towers, sail shades and stifling courtyards, but beautiful and exotic to my western eye. I was introduced to the friendly (largely female) team that runs the festival and afterwards had a long chat with Yvette about event calendars and each person in the office’s role, soon finding out how busy everyone was even at such an early stage of planning. I have honestly never been around so many strong, conscientious, intelligent women before in an office environment. I was hugely intimidated, but also confused that they were so lovely and welcoming to me. I was a long way from the ice queens of the City back home.
Once I had gushed about authors and got over my feelings of inadequacy as a young working woman, I was assigned a desk in the Communications section of the office. My ongoing task of researching the writers confirmed for the 2015 Festival was both interesting and enlightening for a student, who only really has time to read ‘the classics’ required on her university reading list and knows little about contemporary writing. Within approximately half an hour of my sitting down to work, however, my colleagues asked me about my plans for lunch and immediately ordered Indian food for me as if my life depended on it. Food was the number 1 priority in this office and I was definitely ok with that!
My weeks at the festival were coloured by souks, skyscrapers and sweat, radio appearances, post-it notes, air-conditioning, long, clamorous lunch breaks and of course Ronita’s mother’s baking abilities. The experiences and knowledge I gained working even for such a short time were fantastic and hugely changed my perceptions of Dubai. I see it now as aspirational; a place where you take what you need from it and it takes what it needs from you in return. When prejudiced westerners make faces about my working for a cultural festival in Dubai (“but wait, why would they be interested in culture?”), I am sure to shut them up. Even if it does mean ramming a few dozen camel milk chocolates in their gob.
Zoe has resumed her university course after her Dubai adventure. We wish her all the best with her dissertation and hope to see her again very soon.