Jakarta. Hailing from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed and his younger brother Peyman Al Awadhi recently came to Jakarta to film the second season of their television show.
The two brothers have traveled to 24 Asian, European and Middle-Eastern countries to film Peeta Planet, a reality TV show about two Arabs that travel the world. Easily recognized for dressing in their national dress, which is a plain kandora tunic, checkered ghutra head dress and white sneakers, Mohamed and Peyman bring their own history, custom and traditions while opening up to world’s culture.
Peyman said they feel traveling is in their genes, because their father and grandfather, both merchants, have traveled the world extensively for their commodity trading businesses.
“They always came back with these amazing stories of how people lived, what they ate and how they dressed around the world,” the 38-year-old said.
Inspired with their stories, Peyman and Mohamed followed in their footsteps. Both their business studies in Texas and worked for a number of high-profile international companies around the world.
“But there’s more to life,” Mohamed said. “At some point, we started to look for meaning in what we did, and not necessarily just money and status. We started to think what truly makes us happy.”
So, the brothers decided to return to Dubai and started their own restaurant, Wild Peeta Shawarma Kitchen, in August 2008. The restaurant had a unique concept, because the menu, furniture, events and music were chosen by the customers. Their clientele grew very rapidly because they engage with guests. Customers are welcome to submit creative suggestions for the restaurant through social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Unfortunately, the busy restaurant sapped the two brothers’ energy. After a couple of years, they decided to take a vacation. Again the Mohamed and Peyman asked their followers where they should go and what they should do.
“They said let us plan the trip for you,” Peyman said. “So, they planned for us to go to Sri Lanka. They booked the hotels, arranged the drivers and tour guides for us.”
Peyman and Mohamed enjoyed their holiday in Sri Lanka. Within four days of their vacation, they visited age-old Buddhist temples and trekked the rainforests in the exotic country. They even climbed up the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka, Mount Pedro.
During their adventure, they took pictures and uploaded them to social media, with a brief description of what they were doing in Sri Lanka. Their followers were ecstatic.
“They thanked us,” Peyman said. “They said that we’ve made them feel as if they’re traveling with us.”
This brief holiday gave the brothers the idea to start their own reality TV travel show.
“We presented the concept to the Abu Dhabi government and they liked it,” Peyman said. “They gave us $100,000 to shoot the pilot.”
The brothers shot a pilot in Tokyo and uploaded it to their social media accounts. The video caught the attention of Dubai One TV, which then agreed to commission the show.
As in their holiday to Sri Lanka, the two brothers encouraged their social media followers to suggest the countries that they should visit and film.
But the brothers do not film popular tourist attractions during their visit.
“Our show is actually the anti-tourism show,” Peyman said. “We promote something that’s called social travel. We think it’s a new way of traveling.”
Social travel, according to the Emirati brothers, is a way of seeing a city or country through the eyes of its people.
“That’s why, [during our travels], we always look for young people that are doing innovative things, which we feel are going to change the cities that they live in and also the rest of the world.”
The brothers film the best restaurants and cafes in the cities that they visit.
“So, we hang out with the locals and just exchange cultures,” Peyman said. “We want to see what the creative and entrepreneurial scenes are like and share a bit of ourselves, as well.”
Unlike other cities that the brothers film for their TV show, they have chosen to come to Indonesia themselves.
“Indonesia is one of the places that have these tropical rainforests, beautiful beaches and we’d love to come over here and explore all that,” said Mohamed, who graduated from Del Mar Community College in Texas.
Unfortunately, during their six-day visit to the country, they had only time to explore Jakarta. But the brothers claimed that they had a good time in the Big Durian. They visited and filmed some of the best cafes and restaurants in Jakarta, including the ToGo Cafe Gourmet on Jl. Sudirman, the Namaaz Private Dining Restaurant on Jl. Senopati and Coffeewar Cafe on Jl. Kemang Utara in South Jakarta.
“I’m now a huge fan of Indonesian food,” Mohamed said. “I love the beef rendang, chicken satay [Javanese-styled kebabs with thick peanut sauce] and nasi goreng.”
They also met with Jakarta’s creative people, such as toymaker, Cipta Croft-Cusworth, and hijab fashion designer, Barli Asmara.
“I was actually quite surprised when they came to see me,” Barli said. “But I’m also proud of the fact that Indonesian hijab fashion has become well-known across the world.”
The brothers interviewed and filmed the 36-year-old fashion designer in his workshop in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta, for about an hour.
“Their show attracts a lot of viewers,” Barli said. “I hope, [by being in the show] more people will know about Indonesia and our chic, yet compliant hijab fashion.”
The brothers stick to their unique fashion style on their TV show. They always dress up in their national ensemble, kandora and ghutra, during their travels for Peeta Planet. Partly, they do it to introduce the custom of the United Arab Emirates.
“The UAE is one of the few countries left in the world that actually wears the national dress on the daily basis,” Peyman said.
But they also do it to promote a more positive image of their countrymen.
“When you watch TV and movies, the Middle-Eastern characters are usually terrorists, angry people or very rich guys that don’t know what to do with their money,” Mohamed said in a heavy American accent. “They paint a terrible stereotype of Middle Easterners, so, with Peeta Planet, we just want people to see us as normal people, because there’s not enough Middle Easterners portrayed as normal people [in TVs and movies].”
The brothers have had a lot of unique encounters due to the way that they dress. A waiter of a coffee shop that they visited in Athens asked whether they would buy the place.
“I said, ‘Don’t be silly. We’re here to buy Athens!’ ” Mohamed said with a chuckle.
Most people that they met during their travels are curious about their fashion and lifestyle.
“Wherever we go, we encourage them to ask questions, [without] worrying to offend us,” Mohamed said. “Any questions that you ask, we’ll answer them.”
These encounters become a chance for the brothers to promote a positive image to the people that they meet and their international viewers.
“We don’t represent every Arab, [or] every Middle Easterner,” Mohamed said. “We’re just two examples. And we think that we need more such shows around the world, showing Middle Easterners doing different things normally. That’s it.”
“What we’re trying to do with Peeta Planet is to show our similarities from simple things, like we all love to play football, we all love to sing, we all love to smile and we all cry,” Mohamed continued. “There are little things that make us part of the human race. And it doesn’t matter what color you are, or what passport you hold. We’re all human beings at the end of the day.”
The first season of Peeta Planet, which was aired on Dubai One in 2013, was a success.
“We’re the third-most-viewed show on the channel for season one,” Peyman said with a proud smile.
Their second season is now aired on Dubai TV every Tuesday at 1 a.m. (GMT). The TV channel is available in all The InterContinental Hotels and most five-starred hotels worldwide.
You can also watch it on YouTube and their website www.peetaplanet.com.
Their episode on Jakarta is scheduled to be aired around mid-July.