A woman’s mis­sion to spread the joy of Ara­bic via YouTube

A UAE-based grand­mother is launch­ing a YouTube chan­nel on which she’ll read Ara­bic-lan­guage books to chil­dren. Aye­sha Al­mazroui meets ‘Tata Aida’, a writer who wants kids to love their own lan­guage

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - Aye­sha Al­mazroui is an opin­ion writer at The Na­tional.

Aida Sno­bar Kas­sissieh’s en­thu­si­asm about the Ara­bic lan­guage in­spired her to take an ac­tive role in a trans­for­ma­tion that she’d re­ally like to see.

“I feel re­ally sad when I see young Arabs speak­ing in English. Some­times they even use words that would never be ac­cept­able if spo­ken in Ara­bic,” she says. “What upsets me [even] more is that par­ents some­times ne­glect the is­sue and even make their chil­dren feel proud that they can speak English, that they reached the sky.” She re­calls read­ing Amin Maalouf’s book Mur­der­ous Iden­ti­ties (trans­lated into English as In the Name of Iden­tity: Vi­o­lence and the Need to Be­long), which was pub­lished in 1998 and dis­cusses the iden­tity cri­sis which Arabs have been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing since colo­nial­ism, due to con­tin­u­ous con­tact with western cul­ture and val­ues.

“This book had a great im­pact on me. It made me stop talk­ing to my chil­dren in English and start speak­ing only in Ara­bic when I’m around them.”

Kas­sissieh would sit down with her grand­chil­dren in front of the tele­vi­sion to en­cour­age them to watch shows in Ara­bic even if it was Barnie and Dora the Ex­plorer in trans­la­tion. “I also made sure that my grand­chil­dren spoke good Ara­bic, even clas­si­cal Ara­bic and not just the di­alect.

“I even speak with them in clas­si­cal Ara­bic at home some­times, why not?” she says. “Peo­ple seem im­pressed when they hear them say­ing words in clas­si­cal Ara­bic that aren’t be­ing used any­more.”

Con­tin­u­ing this mis­sion, her lat­est project is a YouTube chan­nel on which she will read Ara­bic books to chil­dren.

Speak­ing about what mo­ti­vates her, Kas­sissieh says that dur­ing fam­ily vis­its to Am­man, Jordan, she would read sto­ries to her nieces in Ara­bic to en­cour­age them to use the lan­guage.

The girls loved her sto­ries, she says, and kept ask­ing their mother to take them to “Tata Aida” (Granny Aida) so they could hear her read­ing more sto­ries to them. Even­tu­ally her sis­ter sug­gested that she start record­ing sto­ries for them to lis­ten to when she was away. “When I came back to Abu Dhabi, I asked my son to take videos of me read­ing sto­ries for them, but he sug­gested that I do it for ev­ery­one, and with the help of a pro­fes­sional com­pany.”

How­ever, the process was not with­out ob­sta­cles and Kas­sissieh found her big idea frus­trated by copy­right pro­ce­dures and per­mis­sions. “Pub­lish­ing houses liked the idea,” she says, “and were col­lab­o­ra­tive, but they asked me to wait ... But I was so ex­cited that I de­cided to write my own sto­ries in­stead of wait­ing to get per­mis­sions.

“I chose the name of the book first, The Peo­ple of the Moon are Plant­ing Car­rots (which rhymes in Ara­bic) and my 6-year-old grand­daugh­ter liked the name. She said ‘Tata, it’s very nice.’

“Af­ter the catchy ti­tle I had to come up with a catchy story as well,” she says, laugh­ing. “I started writ­ing and read­ing for my grand­daugh­ter, to my hus­band, and to the rest of the fam­ily, who helped me to pol­ish ideas and im­prove the sto­ry­line. When I fin­ished the book, they all loved it.”

She chose to work with the il­lus­tra­tor Mohammed Ali and set about mak­ing sure the books were ready to present at Abu Dhabi In­ter­na­tional Book Fair last month.

“By that time, I had al­ready started a YouTube chan­nel, and Face­book and In­sta­gram [pages] un­der the name Tata Aida, since this is my nick­name in the fam­ily, and made sure to re­serve the name in all so­cial me­dia net­works in case I be­came fa­mous.”

Kas­sissieh is now de­vel­op­ing the con­tent of her new YouTube chan­nel and putting the fin­ish­ing touches to her se­cond and third chil­dren’s books. She is also de­ter­mined to get per­mis­sion to read chil­dren’s books by other au­thors.

‘Tata Aida’ de­scribes her­self as an edu­tainer whose goal is to en­cour­age chil­dren to love and learn Ara­bic us­ing so­cial me­dia as a plat­form. She also vis­its schools to read to chil­dren in Ara­bic. “I want chil­dren to love the lan­guage, to like to use it when they speak, to be proud of it,” says Kas­sissieh.

An avid reader her whole life, Kas­sissieh has long en­joyed be­long­ing to lo­cal book clubs. When she joined an English-lan­guage book group in the early 1980s, she re­mem­bers be­ing struck by the fact that she – and the Arab women in the group – did not know enough about re­gional writ­ers. She es­tab­lished her own book club, “The Elite Ladies”, in Abu Dhabi in 1984, which grew in mem­ber­ship from eight women to 12 and which only read books in Ara­bic, meet­ing at her house twice a month. She’s also a mem­ber of Al Mul­taqa, a long­stand­ing book club that brings Arab writ­ers and thinkers to its lit­er­ary sa­lon at Abu Dhabi’s book fair each year.

Kas­sissieh is her­self full of en­ergy, with a great will­ing­ness to con­trib­ute more to the Arab lit­er­ary scene. “The sky is the limit,” she says with a smile.

Pawan Singh / The Na­tional

Aida Kas­sissieh reads chil­dren’s sto­ries in Ara­bic to her grand­chil­dren, from left, Ed­ward, 2, Si­enna, 6, and Ge­orge, 2. She has also launched a YouTube chan­nel for chil­dren.

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