Linking cultures one story at a time

ABU DHABI // Claudia Mejia’s Colombian daughter, Sofia, was born and raised in Abu Dhabi. When people ask the six-year-old where she is from, she promptly answers, as though it were a single destination, “Colombia, Abu Dhabi”. “Raising a bicultural child is complicated,” Mrs Majia said with a soft laugh. “She feels very Emirati, my […]

ABU DHABI // Claudia Mejia’s Colombian daughter, Sofia, was born and raised in Abu Dhabi. When people ask the six-year-old where she is from, she promptly answers, as though it were a single destination, “Colombia, Abu Dhabi”.

“Raising a bicultural child is complicated,” Mrs Majia said with a soft laugh. “She feels very Emirati, my daughter.”

Sofia loves Emirati food and dancing, and speaks perfect English. While Mrs Mejia appreciated her daughter’s easy adaptation of her host’s culture, she wanted to ensure Sofia did not forget her Colombian origins.

“I want her to know her roots and keep Spanish as her mother tongue,” Mrs Mejia said. “A Spanish writer once said that your country is your language. And I feel like that, like I live in my own language here and I want my daughter to have language as part of her roots.”

So, she put pen to paper and wrote a children’s story based on her daughter’s experiences growing up Colombian in the UAE. The book, called ¿De dónde eres, Sofía? or “Where are you from, Sofia?”, was published by the Colombian embassy last year and has been distributed throughout the Arabian Gulf.

Fayhan Al Fayez Chaljub, the Colombian ambassador to the UAE, said the book illustrates the cultural connections between the two societies, which share many similarities.

“We have more in common than we think,” said Mr Al Fayez Chaljub, who was also raised in two cultures. The Jordanian-born ambassador moved to Colombia when he was three years old. His mother is of Syrian descent and his father is Jordanian. “I mean, my name doesn’t sound Colombian at all. It’s a little confusing when you see it,” he said.

Mrs Mejia’s book, which was also published in Arabic, is one of several initiatives backed by the embassy to promote the two cultures, which Mr Al Fayez Chaljub said were more complementary than exclusive. The embassy has also translated a book of Colombian poems into Arabic.

“Reading opens doors with every page,” Mr Al Fayez Chaljub said. “This is discovering new worlds when you read novels from authors from other countries, that’s discovering the world in another way, and discovering that country and another culture – it just opens your mind.”

Mrs Mejia said she was already thinking of a follow-up children’s story inspired by her daughter’s multicultural friends in the Emirates.

“It’s a good opportunity to start a dialogue with Arabic-speaking children,” she said. “If we are here in the Gulf, we talk about Colombia and about being from another place; and we have been doing some readings in Colombia and we talk about what it’s like in the Gulf.”

Mrs Mejia also helps to run a Spanish storytelling club for children called La Hora del Cuento, which meets every Monday. The club has branches in Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. During the meeting, the children listen to a guest storyteller read a Spanish book, sing Spanish songs and play games.

“We have two goals: One is to promote reading, because I believe in reading and the power of reading and books,” Mrs Mejia said of the club. “And the second is to keep our language because we want the kids to continue speaking Spanish.”

Sonia Gonzalez, a Venezuelan singer who led the storytime session last week, said the club helped parents to connect their children to their own culture.

“The kids can feel enthusiastic about learning the family language and you know they feel connected with their own roots,” Mrs Gonzalez said.

For more information visit facebook.com/groups/lahora-delcuentoAD/

rpennington@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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