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Vending machine dispenses kindness in Dubai

Created by two Emirati friends, a new vending machine installed at Dubai Design District (d3) is dispensing kindness and promoting positivity as part of Dubai Design Week 2021.
WAW Machine

When Emirati friends Iman Almidfa and Hessa Ali Alechla started their lockdown Instagram project in April 2020, they had no idea Wild Arab West (WAW) would lead to over 50,000 followers and an interactive installation at the 2021 Dubai Design Week.

Stationed streetside at Dubai Design District (d3), the WAW Machine churns out compliments in Arabic and English, seeking to spread some positivity and put a smile on people’s faces.

Invoking a childlike joy in participants and prompting a slew of social media posts, the project’s roots lie in mental health awareness and promoting a more supportive society spirit.

“There was just last month mental health awareness week, and it’s definitely something that we wanted to focus on, especially now that everything's going back to normal regarding COVID,” cofounder Almidfa told Al-Monitor.

“We felt like we needed to start off with something positive. Our main aim behind all of our initiatives is basically to brighten people's day and just lift people up because I feel, especially after COVID, we really need some self-love and to be kind to one another.”

At the press of a button, a small, colored box delivers cards from a vending machine with sayings like "I would give up coffee for you" and "Has anyone told you how great you are?" written on them.

People have been lining up to see what the boxes contain and comparing with friends what messages they receive. The duo has printed 3,500 messages so far and anticipates they may have to print more due to the attention the WAW Machine has attracted.

“We're refilling several times on a daily basis. We used some of the phrases we posted on our Instagram account that we noticed had the most shares or were most popular with our followers,” Almidfa said.

“A lot of people have been messaging us and asking when we're going to be around to meet us. We've been getting a lot of support from our fans and we appreciate that.”

Sara Abdulla, a passerby who stopped to use the vending machine, received “You’re dazzling” in her box. Walking through d3 on her way to work, she said the installation gave her a boost for the day.

“I think they want to give you an optimistic moment,” Abdulla said. “I was just walking past and wondered what they were selling, only to realize it was a fun thing. I just pressed a random number and you get a little something that makes your day."

“It surprises you, makes you curious. They’re giving positive vibes to everyone,” she said.

The project first started during the 2020 pandemic lockdown as a way to bridge Eastern and Western culture in a comedic way. Anonymous for the first six months, many followers thought the creators were male and were surprised to find out it was two young women behind the quirky and brash humor.

Seeing a lot of projects focused on either Western or Emirati culture, the women felt the need to fill the gap.

“It's kind of our quarantine baby,” Almidfa said. “We feel like now the younger generation has a lot of Western influence, but we still want to keep our own culture alive, so we wanted to create something and it started as an Instagram platform. We create memes and scenarios which people can relate to.”

WAW went on to exhibit artworks at d3 in September 2020 related to their “Wild Dictionary” series, which Almidfa describes as the “Urban Dictionary of the UAE.” They take colloquial Arabic words or pop culture references and give each an English translation so everyone can understand it.

The project also acts as a tool to keep the Arabic language alive. With Dubai being so international, English is often the preferred language for business and educational institutes, giving Arabic less priority.

“There are so many people from different nationalities here, which is very good, but there are a lot of projects that focus on Western culture,” Almidfa said. “I think a lot of the international people actually want to learn about Arabic as well. It's more focused toward the younger generation, trying to bridge the gap between our modern international ways and our Arab culture.

“When we have Arabic posts or when we were describing an Arabic word, we tried to have it as well in English because we got a lot of feedback from our international followers that they would love to know when you use a certain word or ask how it’s pronounced,” she added. “So it’s kind of educational at the same time. At the end of the day, I feel that since we have this platform and so many followers that it's our job to send that message.”

WAW intends to create a few lines of merchandise for their online store and collaborate with other artists and institutions in the coming months. They hope to expand their installations by creating new ones, also with a positive message behind them. For now, the WAW Machine will be staying on at d3 and improving people’s moods with a little kindness.