‘My grandfather didn’t believe in textbooks, he loved to teach through stories’

'A journey to me is the vision of the future'. Ahead of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2017, which will explore the theme 'Journeys', Omaira Farooq Al Olama shares her grandfather's touching story about the UAE

If someone were to ask me, “What does the word journey mean to you?”, I would have to take myself back to when I was a little girl, sitting on my grandfather’s lap (God rest his soul), as he would tell me stories of Dubai, before it became part of a nation.

My grandfather came from a long line of educators, and I guess this runs in my blood. He and his father before him watched how this country and its people grew, and how they overcame the fast paced life that change brought with it.

My great grandfather used to teach at Al-Azhar University in Egypt, his name is still etched in the marble on one of the walls there. My grandfather, though, taught in a different way; he didn’t believe in textbooks or lectures, he loved to teach through stories.

One of the most touching stories he would tell me about was the story of Vision. He saw it as a journey of how old became new, and it went like this: “A few many years ago, the late HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum was on his way to a place called Jebel Ali, towards the very end of Dubai. Here, he arrived at the vast open land of sand and sea. He told his advisors to bring forth the Ambassadors of the UK and of the US, both of whom were stationed in the UAE.

“The year was 1972, and Dubai looked nothing like it does today. Both the Ambassadors were afraid, as His Highness (God rest his soul) had told them to come to Jebel Ali at around 5.45 in the morning, and during that time, the roads were not like they are today. There were no lights on the street. There was darkness, except for the little glimmer of dawn that was approaching. When both men arrived, they saw His Highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum (God rest his soul) staring out to the sea. When he saw the two men, he yelled with delight, “What do you see out there?” Confused, both men said, “we see land and we see sea.” He responded, “Is that all you see?” and both men agreed. He then said, “What a lack of vision you both have. I see a sprawling city, and a place where boats from all over the world will dock in my city, my country. These boats will then export goods from here to the rest of the world! I see a port.” My grandfather had tears in his eyes, as he said, “This is what a journey should be to you, my child.” ”

A journey to me is the vision of the future. Something that I can hope for. Something that I can work for and develop. My journey today is to teach my nationals. To watch them grow into the people they dreamt of and the careers they aspired to achieve. 

The 2017 edition of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature takes place from 3-11 March. For more on the festival visit www.emirateslitfest.com