Years ago, we were looking for a Bahraini driver with a high school certificate. We received applications from six candidates. I interviewed them, and chose the candidate with the highest grades. I noticed his calmness, his morals and his remarkable presence. I remember asking him why he hadn’t continued his education; he replied that he was unable to finance his studies and that he needed to work. I respected him and his answer.
During his years working as a driver, he demonstrated noteworthy interpersonal skills and handled even urgent tasks well. His ability to solve problems meant that he became friends with many of our guests, who came from a variety of different backgrounds.
Eventually I asked him, “If you had the chance to pay for university while working flexible hours, would you take it?”
Once he realised I was making him an offer, he asked what I wanted him to study. I told him to choose a course and to take evening classes at any university. I said we would finance his studies and create a flexible work schedule so that he could earn a degree and change his career.
At the time, we had established a department of field studies at the Journal of Folk Culture, and we needed qualified people to collect data. It was hard to find people in Arab countries who were interested in protecting or preserving heritage. We designed intensive training courses to introduce folklore to university graduates and non-graduates.
The driver enrolled at a university and he took bank loans to pay his fees on occasions when we did not cover his expenses. He succeeded in earning a university degree, which changed his career.
We suggested to the brilliant graduate that he study folklore, and he made some inquiries. After an intensive training course by one of the most prominent people in the field of culture, he took part in a field study. He loved the discipline, and he did well and surpassed his peers. He learned about folklore in the field. At that time, the International Organization of Folk Art (IOV) chose to make Bahrain’s capital Manama its regional headquarters for the Middle East and North Africa.
Eager to become a field collector of folklore materials, he immersed himself in the books we provided in his field of specialisation. Then we offered him a scholarship to study folklore, earn a diploma, and do postgraduate studies. He accepted.
Several things happened to help this promising man continue his studies. He received support from the IOV’s branches in Sudan and the Arab Republic of Egypt, and from professors in both countries. He studied folklore at the University of Khartoum’s Institute of African and Asian Studies, and earned a diploma in folklore and conservation techniques. He received excellent grades at the Academy of Arts’ Higher Institute of Folk Arts in Egypt.
He proved to be serious, diligent and disciplined. We encouraged him to pursue a Master’s degree. A son of the sea, he chose to write his thesis on the documentation of folk traditions related to shipbuilding. He worked hard collecting information from the remaining narrators, and he produced a documentary study with drawings, photographs and videos.
We realised that his study was the first of its kind in the field of academic documentation. We attended a meeting at the Higher Institute of Folk Arts in Cairo, and we were very proud when we heard the professors' comments on his thesis and his confident responses. We were even more proud when he received a Master's degree with distinction and it was recommended that his thesis be printed and distributed to Egyptian universities.
His story is very inspiring; it is the story of a man who made great achievements after starting from scratch.
We are now arranging for Khamis Zayid Al Banki to join the Department of Folklore at Indiana University in the US so he can pursue a PhD in his field of specialisation.
Ali Abdullah Khalifa