'Raw and authentic': US comedian Steve Harvey samples a taste of Emirati life

American TV star is making a video series for 'world’s coolest winter' campaign launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid

After scaling the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah and eating camel in old Dubai, Steve Harvey is on a mission to get people exploring the Emirates.

The American comedian and friend of the UAE teamed up with Arab-Israeli vlogger, Nas Daily, to put the spotlight on the country’s best kept secrets.

From chanting with local tribesmen in remote mountain villages to kayaking in the green-blue waters at Hatta dam, the 63-year-old said history runs deep in a country so young.

I found myself in a village talking to people who spoke in a type of Arabic dialect I had never heard before. It has been such a raw and authentic experience

"[If you ask the American people what the UAE is like], they would probably say parties and desert," Mr Harvey told The National.

“It is so far from it. That is the piece people pick up on, the skyscrapers, the place to go for a good time.

“But when you come here you discover there is so much more and by doing this I am trying to get that side out.”

Each episode of the six-part docuseries, 'When Steve meets East’, will be three to four minutes long and will be released on Mr Harvey’s social media channels every Friday, starting December 18, until January 22.

It was launched by the UAE Government Media Office in line with the "world’s coolest winter" campaign, part of a wider unified tourism strategy to promote the UAE.

A regular visitor to the country, Mr Harvey, who recently described the UAE as the safest place in the world for the way it has handled the Covid-19 pandemic, said his eyes were opened up to a whole new side of life on his most recent visit.

He stepped through the doors of Mary, the mother of Jesus mosque in Abu Dhabi and joined a male wedding celebration taking place in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah and even ate camel meat for the first time.

"The camel, it totally shocked me, it tasted like beef short ribs," he said.

“It has been such a raw and authentic experience for me.

“I participated in the drumming ceremony and got to wear one of my own kanduras too.”

Describing life in the UAE as a perfect juxtaposition of old and new, the bestselling author still gets shocked by the fact he has a big fan base here.

“I found myself in a village talking to people who spoke in a type of Arabic dialect I had never heard before,” he said.

“I got talking to a 27-year-old Emirati guy, super smart guy, and he told me he followed me on YouTube.

“He even handed me an Arabic translation of one of my success books, I was shocked as I didn’t even know it existed.”

In this new series, Mr Harvey will release three- to five-minute video clips on his social media channels capturing his journey to some of the most unique places in the country. Experiencing a snapshot of life as an Emirati, he wants to try and change perceptions in the US about the Middle East.

Speaking about the recent election of Joe Biden as president of the US, he said he hoped to see a more tolerant attitude towards Muslim nations by the American people.

“Biden as president, he has already said the first thing he is doing with the executive order is [reversing] the ban on the seven Muslim countries that [Donald] Trump put in,” he said.

“I experience peace every time I come to this country which is a rare emotion to feel.

“I truly think the world could take a page from the UAE’s book about respect.

“I’m not going to change world with six shorts videos but I hope I can change some peoples’ perceptions and make a small dent.”

The UAE’s domestic tourism sector contributed Dh41.2 billion ($11.2bn) to the national economy in 2019.

As part of the new strategy, the country aims to double domestic tourism revenue and and encourage more people to take staycations here.

Episodes: Living as a Local

How cheap is Dubai?

Mr Harvey spends a day in the Emirates with just $100. From dressing up in traditional Emirati clothing and trying local street food to riding the Dubai Creek abra for just Dh1, he shows just what you can do in the city without breaking the bank.

Tribal life in Ras Al Khaimah

In this episode, he lives in the mountains for a day with an Emirati tribe in Ras Al Khaimah and joins one of their wedding ceremonies. During his journey, he gets a first-hand glimpse of the eccentric communication style they use to communicate in the difficult terrains.

Foodie in the Emirates

In an episode dedicated to trying Emirati food, Mr Harvey goes on a tour around Dubai to discover some of the best traditional dishes in the Emirates. He uncovers the backstories and history of some dishes, including the Emirati pizza, and experiences a variety of traditional appetisers, mains and desserts.

Enchanting nature

Mr Harvey explores the enchanting nature of Hatta, Abu Dhabi, Khorfakkan and Fujairah. The episode covers the engaging outdoor winter activities and highlights hidden gems found across the country.

Tolerance and religious freedom

The Emirates is home to residents from over 190 nationalities with full freedom to practice their own religion. In this episode, Mr Harvey tours Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Mary Mother of Jesus Mosque. He also discusses the significance of the multifaith complex, the Abrahamic House of Fraternity in Abu Dhabi.

Architectural marvel

Mr Harvey dedicates an episode to a tour in the gigantic Qasr Al Watan in Abu Dhabi, a famous cultural landmark housed within the Presidential Palace.