Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bridging Worlds 2008 Conference, Part 3: Keynote speaker, Nayla Al Khaja

[From Part 2]

Nayla Al Khaja. Independent national woman filmmaker.

One wondered what a young woman, from prosperous Dubai, had to share in a conference of librarians.

About "Bridging Worlds".

But she did a wonderful job, as far as I was concerned.

Nayla Al Khaja

Nayla, who was small in stature, spoke with the confidence of someone who was much older. I was definitely never that confident at her age.

Or as open in sharing personal stories.

She started by sharing how she proposed to a guy she barely knew, in order get married just to get social approval in order to study overseas. Now they are divorced, amicably, and good friends.

Sounded callous?

I wouldn't pass judgment that fast, without understanding the context of Nyla's world.

For Nayla, the gap she had to cross, to fulfill her potential, was gender disparity in her part of the world.

In Dubai, dating is taboo. Not a law but social norm, said Nyla.

She added that applications like Facebook and Flickr revolutionized marriage and boy-girl relationships in Dubai.

How people dated without talking. Texting, Bluetooth, file exchanges. Young couples got to know the person, before marriage, via online chats, online images and various means of online communication.

Challenges - Skype is banned (but it's circumvented somehow). How rumours about shutting down Facebook created panic among users in Dubai.

Language also a barrier. But changing. How students memorized. Less problem solving and critical thinking (sounds familiar to Singaporeans?)

Education was a bridge. Women in Dubai are curious, explained Nyla. Thirsty for knowledge and education. Whereas men take those for granted.

How she avoided rote learning. Credits her father for giving her a world view. Opened her eyes to the world by bringing home English language books.

She says she discovered libraries in her 20s, while studying in Canada. Impressed by how library was organised.

Said there was a sense of connection in Toronto, where she also learned how to be independent and picked up information skills.

She also tries to connect East and West filmmakers and viewers by setting up this website: thesceneclub.com


Nyla does Dubai proud. She is the first woman producer back home.

She's given Dubai a personal face for me. Dubai used to just mean money and facade and business and tourism. It still is, but it's image is a tad softer now.

For me, her story was a reminder that that are many worlds to be bridged. And that gaps in society has to be bridged by individuals and institutions, combined. And not necessarily planned.

From what I hear about the impact of social media in Dubai, we seem to show a common tool - facebook, youtube etc.

These companies and services didn't set out to change the world.

But they do.

Unintended consequences (something that Jenny Levine would pick up for her talk).

Nayla is a natural storyteller. Personal. She may not be representative of all young people in Dubai, but one is hopeful.

[Next: Part 4]


  1. hey Ivan

    Thanks for sharing this. It's a great story.



  2. Hi Jimmy. Yup, it was a great story.


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