The women’s majlis: A talent that will pay off one day

When pursuing a writing career in this part of the world, the definition of a writer is somewhere between grey and non-existant

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When pursuing a writing career in this part of the world, the definition of a writer is somewhere in between grey and non-existent. Try explaining to someone that you love to write, or that you have fallen into the habit of writing and the most likely response is a head tilted to the side followed by: “Oh? Are you a journalist?” (As it happens, I do have a degree in journalism.)

Even when you painstakingly explain that you like writing fiction, specifically English fiction, the slightly amused look becomes something close to hostile. “You mean you don’t write Arabic fiction?”

Although it’s lessened recently, this walk-by interrogation is something a few Emirati English writers go through – and we’re quite used to it.

The way I explain it to people makes me feel we’re a special niche, usually held at an arm’s length from those Emirati writers who write in Arabic. The result of that downplays your writing identity.

I only share this with a few of my friends. My Instagram followers are appreciative, but other than that, you won’t see me walking into a room and introducing myself as a writer.

In my mind, my writing activities are small – minuscule compared to some of the amazing things other writers around me are doing, but it’s still mine.

So I couldn’t have been more surprised when I was treated differently for being “a writer”.

My family hosted an Italian couple – parents at my sister’s school – for iftar recently. Even though I barely knew these people, I’d heard about them from my mother. I had no doubt that they had heard about me too. In fact, this woman sent me books she thought I’d enjoy. It made my day each time I received those books.

I thought that being a bookworm was all they knew about me. I was wrong. I was questioned the whole night about what I did, what I wrote, when I wrote and how often. “Oh, you keep a blog? Please share”.

To someone who’s only comfortable talking about the craft within small writing circles, being under the spotlight in this way was so alien to me. There’s a safe haven among fellow writers. As we create our art, writer communities are formed or expanded.

Events such as poetry slams and writing competitions are organised – these act as an encouragement and a reminder that there are so many creative and talented individuals in this country.

Feeling this with people outside of my circle threw me off. It felt like what I did mattered, not only to me, but to them also.

It’s one of those moments when something clicks in the most truthful way, and you realise you are not pretending to be anything, but you.

Asma Al Jailani is a blogger and writer living in Abu Dhabi.

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