Geekfest Abu Dhabi — same same but very different

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Geekfest Abu Dhabi had many firsts. It was the first time that twofour54 had opened its hallowed doors to an ‘unorganised’ event. 

It was the first time Dubai peeps had boarded a coaster bus and been ferried to represent Geekfest in the land of bureaucracy. It was also the first time I managed to actually corner Lina Vasiloudis (@linavasili) of the Park Rotana, who’s been successfully avoiding me for the better part of eight months.

It was the first time film maker Nayla Al Khwaja and Ali Al Saloom of Ask Ali fame addressed the informal crowd almost one after the other, representing two opposing Emirati viewpoints on censorship and cultural sensitivities. And most importantly, at least in my completely unbiased opinion, this was the first time the Geekfesters got free drinks post event, courtesy Lina and  Park Rotana.

I was amongst a band of select Geekers who caught the bus from the Shelter, which left pretty much on time thanks to a vociferous Micheline (@mich1mich). We trundled off, all of six people in a large bus. Abdullah Al Suweidi (@Aabo0), habitually in the wrong place at the right time, wanted us to swing by JBR to pick him up. In our utter righteousness, we were having none of it; particularly after I proposed Ibn Batutta as a convenient meeting point and realized he’d been distracted yet again by the moon barfing rainbows.

The twofour54 buildings don’t look officious from the outside: The trio of squat structures is gaudily painted. The fun starts on the inside. In another first of Geekfest, we were stopped at the gates and strip-searched. The gloves came out for cavity probing. I exaggerate, of course, but we WERE asked to deposit our IDs and get visitor badges.

After grumbling suitably about Geekfest turning into Gestapofest, yours truly and erstwhile companions meandered to the mezzanine floor where the fest proper was to start.

We reached - only to see a relaxed Mcnabb of Alexander Mcnabb fame sprawled out, and about fifteen boxes of delicious, wholesome pizza. Thank you, twofour54. Rest assured, by the time the Abu Dhabians started showing up, there were only about five boxes left.

Geekfest Abu Dhabi slowly came to life - and what life! It was brilliant. Of course the Dhabians have yet to grasp the concept of ‘unorganization.’ In yet another first for Geekfest, the talks were kicked off by the guys making a formal plea along the lines of:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the talks are about to start, so please take your seats as soon as you can…”

Of course, the raucous Dubai crowd, which incidentally outnumbered the Dhabians for the better part of the evening, demurred.

“Sorry, we don’t do things like that at Geekfest”

“But this is Geekfest Abu Dhabi”

Cue loud chants of “Geekfest Dubai, Geekfest Dubai, Geekfest Dubai…visiting Abu Dhabi.”

Right then.

After Alex of the clan Mcnabb had nattered his aimless way around the idea of Geekfests and what they are, the fun started. Up first, Nayla al Khawaja. Fun and spritely, she pointed out the utter contradiction between having film fests in the UAE showcasing international films without any censorship, while blocking and rejecting local residents and citizens who tried anything risqué. She dispensed handy tips on how to pass scripts past censor boards. It’s all context, she said. Many things look horrific on the script, only to be perfectly fine on screen. How much to compromise is a question that can only be answered by the individual.

Up next, Mark the Kuwaiti blogger behind popular blog 248am, who joined us via Skype. While we’re all probably familiar with his story- how Benihana Kuwait are suing him for a very reasonable review (those who have no idea what I’m rambling about should visit his blog here and also read this), we learnt a few laugh-a-minute titbits.

a) Benihana Kuwait don’t really have a case. It was probably an intimidation attempt that went wrong.

b) The Benihana Kuwait team met with Mark - at Benihana again, strangely. They offered to withdraw the lawsuit. They wanted to settle. Mark said fine. And then, wonders of wonders, they asked: “Yes, but what’s in it for us?” Excuse me? “Well, you’re asking us to withdraw the suit. What do we get out of it?”

c) The Benihana Kuwait team actually believe the entire fiasco and resulting outrage has been excellent publicity for the restaurant.

Well then, Benihana Gaddafi. Stay delusional.

Ali al Saloom of Ask Ali offered his usual mix of extremely jovial attitude, showmanship, and conservative cultural sensitivity. He called for respect and acceptance, and an understanding of Islamic culture. His very polished, very interactive presentation was brilliant, for all that it highlighted yet again the growing dichotomy between progressive and conservative Emiratis that Nayla al Khwaja had been at pains to point out earlier.

It was cute- I was asked several times by various Dhabiaans : What’s the purpose of Geekfest? What’s the agenda? What are its goals? My reply seemed to befuddle them somewhat: “Anything you want. We gather. We talk. The rest…is up to you.”

Post Geekfest, Mita - that’s @mita56, ensured I arrived at the Park Rotana in style, half dangling out of her stylish little z4. We headed straight for valet, because that is just how we roll.

And while Nick Regos (@theregos) stuck to his little pink Shirley Temples, and I managed to attract enough free drink coupons through obliging females (thanks Lin, Mita, Mish) to not have to reach into the wallet all evening, the evening took off. There was dancing, there was singing, and much merry making. Lina is threatening to forward my Benihana Kuwait diss song to TimeOut Dubai Abu Dhabi.

When all was said and done, the bus crew trundled back - only to find the Shelter parking’s gates padlocked. With our cars inside. I of course, in my usual delicate way, kicked the gate open. Cue security descending on us. Point being, we all made it home. Safe, sound and happy.

Geekfest Abu Dhabi - it was different, it was far away, and it was utterly, fabulously, awesome. We had a great time. Thank you, AUH. Long may Geekfest Abu Dhabi continue. Viva la Geekfest.