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Emirati ladies regard the souk as a great economic opportunity, most making up to AED 30,000 profits during the Festival


Hundreds of Emirati women arrive every morning at Al Dhafra Festival with bags of goods that top up the supplies of their shops in the Festival's souk. Trade and economic opportunities, particularly for the people of Abu Dhabi emirate's Western Region, have been the main focus of this annual event, along with Emirati heritage preservation, ever since it started 10 years ago.


Over this past decade, Al Dhafra Festival's souk has been growing in both size and popularity. For the first time in 2015, an indoor market was built in the heart of the festival, right next to the outdoors traditional souk, the hospitality majlis, the children's playground and the camel beauty competition arena.


Abdullah Butti Al Qubaisi, Director of the Communications Department of Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee - Abu Dhabi, pointed out that the souk is a major part of the Festival, hence it has received some extra attention this year.


"Through Al Dhafra Festival we have created a platform for the UAE citizens to express their pride for our traditions and continue preserving the heritage of the UAE by passing it to their children. As a platform, the Festival has been growing, it has been focusing on the elements of our heritage, not just through camels, saluki, falcons, Arabian horses or dates competitions, but also through the traditional market," he said.


"We have finished the phase 2 of Al Dhafra souk, so we have 100 shops now built inside the souk; next, we will start working on phase 3, which is the main stand of the festival and some administration and operation offices. These will be ready before the festival next year".


"The souk is not only bigger this year, but more diverse too, as it is part of our strategy to attract more visitors. In the previous years, the food, for example, was provided mostly by Emirati ladies, but we have learnt that visitors, even from the Western Region, want more variety of food. To make sure we cater for everyone's taste, we have added several food trucks within the souk area," Al Qubaisi also said.

The new souk shops were built as a result of the cooperation between the Committee and the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations (ADCO), now the total market area reaching 48,000 square meters.


Both participants and visitors have noticed improvements in the market's "looks". Some of the Emirati ladies in the souk have been coming here for several years and they've always found Al Dhafra Festival one of the greatest opportunities in the Western Region to sell their products - or handicrafts.


This weekend alone, several thousands people from across the UAE and abroad came to visit the Festival - and the souk. Many of them are looking for specific, traditional items that they cannot easily find in the big cities or souvenirs to take back to their home countries.


"I've been looking all over Abu Dhabi for a bisht, the Arab winter coat, for my son, but I couldn't find one at a reasonable price. We go camping a lot in the desert during winter months, and the bisht is ideal to keep warm. Now I'm happy to find one here, at the festival. It will make a great Christmas present for my son," said Mark Leason," an Abu Dhabi resident from the UK.


"This is the second time we are visiting Al Dhafra Festival - we were here two years ago - and I must say it looks much better now that everything is more compact and within walking distance from one another. We particularly enjoyed the falcon beauty show today and, of course, it's always nice to see the camels, especially the black ones, which we don't usually see in the UAE, and which look quite striking in their golden, sparkling harnesses," he added.


From home mixed perfumes, toys, dresses and honey to hand crafted palm fronds household objects and woven wool cloths and jewellery, the souk is an opened window into the old age of Emirati culture and traditions.


Most of the hundreds of Emirati ladies at the market work for months to create these traditional Sadu (the art of weaving cotton and wool), Telli (golden or silver embroidery) or Khous (weaving palm fronds). They usually make between AED 15,000 and AED 30,000 at Al Dhafra Festival. As they all claim, though, it is not just about the money. They come here, along with close friends and relatives, to re-live life as it used to be in their childhood years.


Al Dhafra Festival will continue in Madinat Zayed, the Western Region of Abu Dhabi emirate, until December 29th.