London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Perhaps the last thing you would expect is an Irishman speaking in a Najdi dialect talking about ‘al mataziz’ and swiftly switching to a fluent Hejazi dialect when he talks about making ‘ruz al bukhari’* as though he were a Saudi native. However, Sean Redmond does precisely that.
In fact, the local Saudi Channel Two has given him a spot as hot of the program ‘Traditional Meals with Sean’ in which he tours various regions of Saudi Arabia to present popular meals whilst dressed in traditional Saudi attire as he meets people and learns about their customs.
Sean, or ‘Yehia’ as he has come to be known after embracing Islam, currently resides in Riyadh. He has a unique story with the Arabic language and the region as a whole, particularly Saudi Arabia.
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat he said that he had been fond of languages from a young age. Born in England in 1974, Sean’s father is an Irishman who married a Maltese woman, which according to Sean is what helped him learn Arabic, as he believes the languages are very similar.
Sean specialized in Middle Eastern studies and modern European languages; and graduated from the University of Manchester. He explained that his fascination with Arabic compelled him to study Islamic history because both were closely related.
Sean embraced Islam in 1993 after studying with the Arab Muslim community living in Manchester, which helped him learn more about the religion and its teachings.
Between the years 1994-1996, Sean traveled to Egypt where he learned to speak Arabic with an Egyptian accent. He returned back to Britain and became a certified English language teacher. Sean found he was making many friends in the Saudi community and used to frequent the Saudi student club, however his next stop would be Kuwait.
Although he continued to teach English in Kuwait, Sean said that he took greater pleasure in teaching the basics of the Arabic language to the residing expatriate community. “The beauty of Gulf countries is that you are exposed to a number of different [Arabic] dialects because of the various communities living there, and through watching satellite channels,” he said.
He added, “I noticed that Arabs have a tendency to compare their dialects and try to ascertain which country’s dialect is more correct.” Sean, however, does not try to conceal his inclination towards the Gulf Arabic dialect in particular. He said he knew the different Saudi dialects from watching the popular television series ‘Tash Ma Tash’.
Following seven years in Kuwait, he settled in Saudi Arabia where he first started working as an English teacher then took a job as a training coordinator in a company that is contracted with the Saud Arabian National Guard (SANG).
In the kingdom, Sean discovered his fascination with the rich cultural heritage and soon began to familiarize himself with the country’s customs and traditions. His first televised appearance was in Ramadan of last year where he hosted a program on Saudi Channel Two that discussed embracing Islam. He was soon asked to present a regular slot in which he shared information and expressions that could benefit the expatriate community living in Saudi.
Sean’s current show ‘Traditional Meals with Sean’ is a hit on Saudi television. Asked how he was able to acquire such a fluent grasp of the language and all the related dialects and expressions, Sean said that he had always had been interested in learning Arabic and about the Saudi culture, especially since he married a Saudi woman two months ago.
“I am against segregation and what helped me understand the local culture well was my close association with the locals and by making friends in the local community.”
* ‘al mataziz’ is a meaty stew and ‘ruz al bukhari’ is a rice dish and they are traditional Najdi and Hejazi dishes respectively.