Abu Dhabi: As a young boy, Nasser Sab’aan would spend hours in the majlis listening to his grandfather talk about the days of yore, when a loaf of bread and camel milk would sustain a Bedouin for an entire day.
“His memory was always excellent, and his tales would be replete with specific details about the exact time of day when something happened, and how far in metres they travelled to get somewhere. The majlis was like a school, and now when I tell these tales, I find that people love to listen,” Sab’aan, a 22-year-old Emirati graduate, told Gulf News.
So the young man decided to become a licensed tour guide last year, and share with others what it means to be an Emirati.
He was one of 28 guides honoured in the capital on Thursday by the emirate of Abu Dhabi’s culture sector regulator, the Department of Culture and Tourism, for their dedication and commitment in offering the Emirati Experience to tourists. The experiences include authentic elements of Emirati living, such as breakfast with an Emirati family, shopping for abayas and even palm frond weaving.
Officials announced that there are now more than 950 licensed tourist guides in the emirate, including 148 Emiratis. They work with travel agencies and cultural institutions, while also providing support services during annual events and festivals.
Sab’aan says he first realised that he would excel at being a guide when he volunteered at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival about four years ago.
“As an 18-year-old, I found myself telling visitors what I knew about traditional building practices in the UAE, including the skill of palm frond weaving. By the time I finished speaking to one visitor, I would notice that a group had gathered around us,” Sab’aan remembers.
Now that he has a licence and is a university graduate, Sab’aan hopes to turn his passion into a business.
“I recently came across a European tourist who thought all Emirati marriages are arranged. Another actually asked me if we still live in tents. The UAE is so much more than these misconceptions. We are so rich in hospitality and happiness, and I believe I have a responsibility to dispel these myths,” he said.
Amal Al Daheri harbours a similar passion for sharing the Emirati experience. She regularly hosts tourists at her home, serving them breakfast, showing them traditional attire and giving them an intimate experience of Emirati life.
“When I first started the programme, my parents — who are very traditional and not even conversant in English — were very hesitant. Now, they eagerly ask me when the next group is coming along, and when they meet tourists, they crack jokes in Arabic and ask me to translate,” said Al Daheri, who is in her thirties.
Al Daheri wasn’t always planning on becoming a tour guide in her spare time.
“When I was pursuing my masters in the States, my friend pointed out that I always talked about my country, our culture and our way of life more than anything else. When I returned to the UAE in 2013, it felt only natural that I do something to spread my love for the UAE,” she said.
Other than the Emirati breakfast experience that she is licensed to offer, Al Dhaheri is now planning an Emirati afternoon tea experience, complete with karak chai and other Emirati delicacies.
“I teach people about what it is to be an Emirati, but I also learn about them. We start every meet as strangers but end as friends. And the best part is when people say that they hope to return because they’ve enjoyed the UAE so much,” she added.