The traditional souq is a regular feature of heritage festivals across the UAE and the Liwa Date Festival 2011 is no exception.
With over 160 stands dedicated to highlighting traditional and modern aspects of Emirati culture, the latest edition of the festival showcases several new concepts that derive from the festival's main element, dates. Among the products visitors can browse through, sample or purchase include date kohl [eye liner], date tea, besides of course a wide variety of dates.
"For the 2010 festival, I created two types of Dkhoun [perfumes] made from palm leaves and dates. This year, I created a toothpaste using dates...I always enjoy experimenting with dates and different parts of palm trees to see what I can make. I've already received many positive comments for my previous products that use dates, such as kohl, tea, coffee and even coal," Um Saleh, a homemaker and entrepreneur from Liwa, said.
For many participants, however, the biggest appeal of the souq is as a place where they can make new friends and catch up with those they haven't seen since the previous year, especially with not many visitors turning up during the first few days of the 10-day festival, which concludes on July 21 this time round.
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"The Liwa Date Festival is a wonderful event because we not only are able to catch up but also exchange information about what's happening in our respective emirates as there are participants from Dubai and other emirates. Another nice thing about the festival is that we are able to share information about Emirati culture and learn about other cultures from the visitors that come here," Maitha Al Mansouri, who is from Liwa, said. She is taking part in live demonstrations alongside other Emirati traditional handicraft creators, including sisters Mouza and Hamda Mohammad Al Mansouri.
However, some stall owners expressed their frustrations at not being able to sell any products, despite the effort that goes into producing such novelties.
"I've participated in this festival and in the Al Dhafrah Camel Festival since they were first established. While they are good venues to highlight our culture and heritage, for participants in the traditional souq, it is often a frustrating and sometimes even demotivating experience.
"Despite the efforts that go into our creations, we never really sell anything; sometimes [an expatriate] or foreign visitor may buy one of our traditional items but, for most of us, the souq is more of a meeting ground than a market venue," Kaltham Ain Al Mansouri, a homemaker and mother of six from Al Ain, said.
Another observation raised by the participants was that for the first few days, the festival did not attract many visitors. They, however, expressed the hope that, as the event goes along, more people will make the trip to Liwa, especially during the upcoming weekend.
"The first few days are always quiet, so we usually just meet up among each other ... I expect it may become more crowded during the weekend, which will allow us to interact more with not only expatriate visitors but also Emiratis who may travel from around the country to the festival," Um Mohammad, a resident of Dubai, said.