May 02 , 2015

"Ablab" Zeinab rocking the Children's Village at the 7th Al Gharbia Watersports Festival

The last weekend of the 10 days Al Gharbia Watersports Festival saw an influx of visitors coming from all over the UAE for a splash of seaside traditions, fun and home made cooking. Driving hundreds of kilometres from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, even Ras Al Khaimah to the quiet coastal town of Mirfa in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate, families were pleasantly surprised with the festival's activities.

Sarah and Jonathan Russell, an Australian couple living in Dubai heard about the festival from friends who participated in the kite surfing competition here earlier in the week.

"Our friends said the festival is great and since we have never been to the Western Region before, we decided to come and see for ourselves," said Sarah. "Our 10 years old daughter Emily is having lots of fun in the children play area and we are enjoying sampling some of the local cuisine," she went on saying. The Children's Village proved a big hit for the little ones, who particularly enjoyed the drawing competition and the Emirati handicrafts demonstrations. Every seat at the two long rows of drawing tables was occupied by young girls and boys keen to show their skills with the colourful pencils. Some of their best drawings, scenes of the sea, boats and even portraits of a Sheikh Zayed, we're filling up the wall of fame in the Village.

All smiles, Zainab bin Hamadi, a Mirfa resident in charge of the Children's Village, was running around dozens of youngsters, making sure they are all ok. "I used to be a Police woman, but now I work with kids in events and festivals such as this one. By now they all got to know me and they call me 'ablab Zeinab' - teacher Zeinab," she said.

"In the week days it was a bit more quiet, but now, in the weekend, we get 200, even up to 300 children here of ages between 6 years old to 15 years old. After the drowning competition we will have rope pulling, sack jumping, kayaking and swimming for boys. We also have khoos demonstration, which is weaving with palm fronds, one of our long lasting Emirati tradition, and for the older children we have a photo studio if they wish to learn more about taking pictures. Basically, we have activities until 8pm, when the programme on the main stage will start," explained Zeinab.

In the traditional barasti opened majlis of the Village, Zeinab's mother, Fatma Al Hamadi, is busy weaving palm fronds at impressive speed. Also a lady of Mirfa, she has been making khoos all her life.

"The secret of palm frond weaving is practice," she said smiling.

"After you gather the dry palm fronds you have to soak them in water, otherwise they are too dry to weave. To make a basket or a floor mat can take days, depending how complex the design is, so you need a lot of patience," she told the dozens of young girls surrounding her.

Many of these children, while familiar with the khoos objects, have never seen the technique of making them and were truly fascinated by the experience. Twelve years old Isra Qashlan from Egypt has been living in Abu Dhabi for a while, but has never seen palm fronds weaving before.

"I'm so happy to be able to learn this. It's the first time I try and I really enjoy it. I think traditions like this one should be part of the school programme," said Isra.