Mohammed Ahmed Al Hebsi - APRIL 2018

By Aysha Majid

Mohammed Ahmed Al Hebsi discusses the environmental differences between the Emirates, his love of poetry and diversity and the cultural differences that effect Locals' interaction with Expats...

Mohammed Ahmed Al Hebsi is an Emirati poet, novelist and historical researcher. His short novel, The Devil’s Hut, won the commendation award at the 2016 Emirates Novel Award. From 2006-08, Al Hebsi wrote several episodes for television shows on Ras Al Khaimah Channel covering the heritage, museums and poetry of the UAE. He is a regular on local radio stations and columnist for Al Roeya newspaper. He currently works as Manager of Poetry and Prose at the Literature Department of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority.


How important do you think it is to celebrate the art of poetry in this day and age?

There is no specific time to celebrate poetry. Everyone around me— my grandfather, cousins, uncles, nephews— they all celebrate poetry. When we hangout in the evening, we have different majlis where we celebrate poetry. But these seasonal events allow us the privilege to interact with other people in the public.


How was life growing up in Ras al Khaima as a child and what is your fondest memory growing up?

Poetry was our heritage. My father was a very well known poet, so poetry was around us when we were children. My father had his own library with history books and poetry, to educate the children. Our life was very simple growing up in the mountains, not like Dubai, the Madinat, the city— my life was country style. When I was 13-14 my father got sick— he had a nurological disorder. For seven years he was sick and he died at 39-years-of-age and I was 17, so this was a difficult point in my life.


How did this influence your poetry?

When I was 12-years-old the first person who new that I had this gift was my father and he was who guided me through poetry to the age of 14 (then he was sick for seven years) but as he was a known poet, he had many friends and I had the chance and privilege to learn from them and spend time with them and to be exposed to more poetry— I call them my Uncles.


What are top three tips to young writers who are hoping to have their work published in the region?

My advice is, before they even go to a publishing house or publish a book, they should start to criticise their work and criticise other people’s work and that way they will know what is good and bad. Get other people’s opinion; don’t be shy, get comments and feedback and allow people to criticise your work and you will know how to build on it. Having an expert opinion would benefit also, to build on what you have. And a very important point… You have to have a good image. The first impression is important.


Which poets do you admire and how have they influenced your work?

Sheikh Zayed, Salim Al Jumri influenced many people and was very loved and Rashid al Habar from Ajman. There is a specific way of writing poetry in the Emirates, it is a regional writing and very specific— Emirati style. Also, Poet Baha' Al-Hussein from Amman and Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi from Tunisia.


What is your perception of Dubai, coming from RAC?

Ah, my mother is from Dubai, so my heart is Dubai! But my HEART is Ras al-Khaimah. Ras al-Khaimah is Bedouin, it’s more natural, there’s no traffic its more local focused and you have mountains and plants and beaches but Dubai is more desert and a city and diverse with new technologies.


What does being Emirati mean to you?

As Sheikh Zayed said, being Emirati means to be proudly half Arab and half Muslim. Being Local means humanity and forgiving to all people (all of the world). As evidence we have a ministry of happiness and a ministry of forgiving.


What makes a city great?

Reading and being exposed is your weapon. No reading— no culture. To quote Sheikh Zayed; without reading and without planting we have no culture and the city would not be so successful. Without plating we wouldn’t have food, or shelter. As simple as it is, the palm tree has a lot of benefits for a human being. With good planting comes good weather, good environment, good climate, good shelter.


What do you feel are the negatives of Dubai’s Expat community and how does this impact on the city?

Expats benefit the country on many different levels— education and economy-wise. The emphasis is on economy because it increases tourism and at the end of the day, the expats also helped in building the country. For example, one of the biggest personalities in the festival is Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh. He's currently a Minister of State, however, originally he's Palestinian, so you can see that expats are actually becoming leaders in the country.

However, I have a daughter (11-years-old). From the negative side there are cultural differences, for example, expats don’t consider our culture sometimes. One time, I was sitting with my family, in a decent restaurant, with my young daughter Salama and Zayd (who is 10-years-old). We were sitting and having our meal and suddenly a couple in front of us started French kissing, so I went through a very awkward moment. I was very embarrassed and I didn’t want to move the table right in front of them and my daughter was staring (it wasn’t even quick, they really took their time)! So that is sometimes hard, when people don’t consider our culture and our kids. We have little children who are growing up, they still have young minds and perceptions and we’re trying to build on this— so this is the negative side. Even in front of our children, we are not that open, they are shy about this, it is not ok for them to see. We like to show love but we have boundaries.


How did you react?

I tried to play it down and my children said “Baba, what are they doing Baba?” However, there are not a lot of negatives. These are minority situations that sometimes happen, where some people don’t consider the place they are in or the people they are with. The only negatives come from the difference of culture. One of the beautiful positives of expats, especially foreigners, such as English and Americans, is they love reading. They read everywhere, even the metro, when they are going to work, taxis, bus, wherever and our children can look up to that. I love this.