Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Festival Co-Ordinator Prachiti Talathi recounts a chance meeting with the former residents of the Festival office
It is drizzling in Dubai, temperatures have dropped and the heavy cloud-cover announces winter is coming. While I was enjoying my ginger tea I saw two ladies standing in front of our office door. I asked if I could help them. The older lady told me in Arabic, “I used to live here. This is where I spent my childhood”. It took me a few seconds to understand what she was saying. I requested her to come and sit and offered her some refreshments, but she was so happy to be back home that she humbly denied it.
Then she started telling me about her old house. While talking, we walked around her home. Our conversation got my other office colleagues interested. (Volunteer, Festival Friends and Radio Manager) Chrissie came out immediately to meet her. The lady was happy to see a large audience gather to listen to her stories.
“I lived in this house from the age of 2 till the age of 10. My grandfather was a pearl diver. He was so wise that without any help from technology he used to dive in to the exact location to get pearls. 3 families used to live in this house… That part, there”. She pointed in one direction. “Was my uncle’s house. There were no air-conditioners in the rooms. We used to sleep outside.”
It was a very simple time, she explained. Everybody was honest, no cheating. The team were engrossed in her story. She was narrating in Arabic and her niece was translating it in English. I could see that the lady was very excited and was talking too fast and her niece was finding it difficult to translate at the same speed.
Sometimes language is not a barrier, you can listen to the voice of the heart. We urged her again and again to write a book about her history and her life in old Dubai. She even had photographs of her family which she showed us. Her niece added, “She downloaded these from Instagram”. She was so enthusiastic to tell us everything. All of a sudden I heard another familiar voice talking Arabic. I turned around and it was Chrissie talking in Arabic. It was a surprise for me and I am sure for most of the office people standing there.
We all wanted to listen to the lady for a while longer, but it was time for our weekly team meeting and we had to bid our adieus. We proceeded to the meeting but were still thinking of those beautiful stories about old Dubai and our office building.
I will always remember this chance meeting that taught us about the history of our work ‘home’ and for learning about Chrissie’s Arabic speaking skills!