With colorful fabrics strewn on tables around her, Zarinah El Amin Naeem, took children visiting her workshop at the Sharjah International Book Fair on a trip with head wraps from around the world.
"I use head wraps to educate and to build understanding and respect for different cultures," said Naeem, who has a background in Anthropology. She starts by asking children: "where am I from?" "Today they said Africa and they're right, I am dressed like I'm from Africa but I'm actually from the US." Naeem then shows them a map of the world and takes them first to Africa where they get to see the different styles of head wraps. "It's amazing to know that in a part of Africa, the men wear a wrap that covers their face called a Tuareg. It's normally in indigo and the depth of the indigo can be an indicator of the area you come from.
Children also got to learn a little bit about the technicality and functionality of the head wraps. "If it's a stiff material, it'll give more volume," she said as she elaborately tied, within a few seconds, a Damask - a style of African turbans on a little girl. When she was done she asked her: "Do you think the women wear this for parties? Or for school?"
After covering Africa, she goes on to show them that head wraps are also popular around the world. The Czech Republic, Tunisia, India, Vietnam, Guatemala and the Arabian Peninsula are some of the countries that she covers. She tells the children about the various reasons people wrap their heads around the world - for protection, religious reasons, modesty, fashion, loss of hair, cultural expression and social status.
During her workshop, Naeem encourages children to touch the fabrics and to identify which ones are hand woven. But girls are not the only ones who get to have fun and learn in Naeem's workshops. Within a few days of being in the UAE, she admits to having learnt a lot about the different styles of head wraps of men from the region. Little boys coming to her workshop, also get to explore them.
This is the first time that Naeem takes her workshops outside of the United States where she also runs her own business as a book consultant, helping budding authors self-publish their books. "During my work in Anthropology, though my topic was completely different, I always had a passion about studying head wraps on the side," she said adding that luckily, there's a great interest in head wraps today due to its use by high end fashion designer and the fact that American icons like singer Erykah Badu often don stylish head wraps. "Sometimes women would stop me in the bathroom and ask me how I did my head wrap and so I decided to organize these workshops for both adults and children," she said.
"I'm excited to be here in Sharjah, to showcase the different head wraps. I've been stopped so many times by people who just wanted to take pictures with me," she said, adding that she started to write daily narratives on her Facebook page that have been liked by many of her friends. "I'm glad that they're getting to experience the UAE through my eyes. This is not something that I take lightly," she said.
In another workshop, children were taught the basics of making a strawberry sorbet with simple ingredients at home. Silvia Martinelli from Vasa Vasa ice cream shop in Abu Dhabi told her audience that selecting good ingredients that are healthy is essential. "We often hear people classifying food into good food and junk food. Food is food and it should always be good if we're going to eat it," she said.
As she added her ingredients she explained the importance of each one. Sugar, she said, prevents water from turning into ice, she said and flour when added is like a thickening agent. "Also when you pick the fruit, it must be good quality so that you get good tasting ice cream," she said. In her shop in Abu Dhabi, Martinelli says that her ice cream comes straight from Italy. "Today we're trying to work with local flavors like dates that are a bit tricky because they're naturally, quite sweet, she said."