The sun always shines in Dubai and I’m looking forward to meeting the real Lina LitFest in Shindagha where the Emirates Literature Foundation offices are based. Lina gave us a tour of her beautiful home before sitting with us in the stunning red Majlis on the roof top so that she could share her story.
There’s something about books and animals that just fits. Is that how you were introduced to the Foundation?
Yes, there are plenty of animal-lovers among the literary fans that inhabit the Emirates Literature Foundation. It’s also not out-of-the-ordinary for the Foundation to receive occasional visits from an animal, large, medium, and, in my case, very, very small.
Let me tell you what happened. The Foundation is usually abuzz with activity in the mornings, mostly because someone or other has brought in tempting snacks to share, but there was an altogether different kind of buzz one November morning in 2015, because I had come to meet the team. As I learnt later, it’s very unusual for people to meet a baby tortoise!
Chrissie, known to most outside the Foundation as Manager of Foundation Friends, Radio and Volunteers, is better known within the team as the Queen of Furry (And Not-So-Furry) Creatures. Animals are drawn to her and she to them.
And how did you meet Chrissie?
Well, my entire tortoise family was taken in by Chrissie some years ago. My great-great-grandmother and father lived in the British Embassy and then moved to Sharjah with Chrissie. They had 12 progeny but most of them didn’t survive. The ones who did eventually included my mother and father.
I wasn’t the only baby tortoise Chrissie had nurtured but I was the smallest, so she brought me all the way from Sharjah to meet the team.
And what was the reception like? You’ve mentioned how excited the team were to see you.
There was so much excitement! I’ve never had so many admiring fans. I had almost hourly visits from different team members. Of course, everyone wanted a photo or a video of me. It was exciting and a little bit scary to meet everyone.
You were quite the hit on social media, weren’t you?
Yes, I was! Seeing a real baby tortoise entranced people and apparently photos of me trended on social media. This was when the Content Manager decided that I would be a perfect mascot.
Could you tell us a little bit about that journey? To becoming the Festival’s mascot?
Once our Content Manager Ronita Mohan shared the idea with the Foundation’s CEO, Isobel Abulhoul, I was invited back for a photo-shoot. I really enjoyed the process and getting to see the beautiful offices once again. It’s very special to be surrounded by so many books; I wanted to read all of them! When Isobel asked me to be the Festival’s mascot, I just couldn’t say no.
We’re curious to know how you were given your name? Is there a story behind that?
Well, I was initially nicknamed Charlotte, for Bronte. It’s a literature festival, after all, and the team called me ‘Lottie’ for a while.
But, Isobel and I agreed that we would rather pay homage to our Arab World heritage and Lina seemed like a good fit. And thus, Lina LitFest was born.
And what is your association with the Foundation? The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is an initiative under the Foundation, isn’t it?
Yes, indeed. I’m officially the Festival’s mascot but I’m also an honorary member of the Foundation. I attend all the Foundation events, held year-round, and I also meet with the authors and speakers who come to the Foundation.
Education is a huge part of the Foundation’s remit so I will be working very closely with the Education Department, as well.
Could you tell us a little bit about life as a Mascot?
Quite busy! We’re gearing up for the 2019 Festival, which is going to be larger and more diverse than ever before. The Foundation has a packed calendar of school visits planned for this autumn, starting with Curtis Jobling who will be returning to Dubai in October. I am really excited about visiting some of the schools with Curtis. After all Curtis created Bob the Builder and Raa Raa the lion cub. I am sure that Curtis will like me too.
I can’t wait to meet children and their parents over the coming months. See if you can spot me at the next event, won’t you?