Author: Fadia Faqir

Author

Pandemic Journal: Sweet and Sour

China-Briefing-Three-Things-Foreign-Companies-Need-to-Know-About-Chinese-New-Year

21/04/2020

Durham, UK
During my daily walks I pass by fields, which are part of Durham’s Green Belt, and farms. I stand by the dry stone wall of Elvet Moor Farm watching nature at peace with itself unlike us. The large open spaces and meadows highlight how constrained we are under the coronavirus lockdown. All you can hear is the rustling of leaves and the singing of birds, punctuated by ambulance sirens. The tranquillity of the countryside is in sharp contrast with a boisterous and unruly virus, racing in the air, looking for a angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor to colonise and destroy.
Spring has sprung unnoticed. In one of the fields the sheep and blackbirds share the feed and eat together in harmony; seagulls land on the freshly ploughed fields, white upon brown, then fly off; and the sunset turns the tops of beach, birch and oak trees into gold. Families cycle together. People wearing masks wave and thank each other for observing social distancing. We inhale the fresh air, which thankfully we still can do, and resisting our primal need for closeness we step away from each other.
When I got home, I sat in the garden sipping tea with fresh mint. I know I am in trouble when I start listening to the Egyptian diva Um-Kulthum and reminiscing about a youth misspent in Amman’s cafes and restaurants. A friend said, ‘You get intoxicated and become amorous and stupid listening to her songs. You could fall in love with the leg of this table.’ We laughed and filled our nostrils with the smell of Turkish coffee with cardamom, jasmine and freshly watered oleanders. We were young and life and oyster were close to each other.
During the 1970’s gender roles were defined and strict, and women should know their place, but we didn’t. We connived to be able to go out for a walk, or a cup of coffee somewhere. In exchange for the coveted permission to leave The House of Bernarda Alba, we did all the chores. These outings were such a treat and a break from our daily routine: dusting, mopping floors, scrubbing bathrooms, preparing breakfast and dinner, cooking lunch sometimes, ironing, and then studying. All had to be done to perfection and elders appeased so we could reach our destination, Jabal Amman, and live it up.
From our kitchen’s window above the sink, I could see the Hejaz Railway winding its way on hillsides, and watch aeroplanes take off and land at Marka Airport. Washing the suds off plates, I wondered where did trains go and aeroplanes fly? What lay beyond the hills? Birds migrated, but to where? Were there other worlds beyond the horizon?
I was a nomad like my aunt and my feet were always itchy. She has style and liked to try new restaurants, so when in 1975 the Chinese expatriate Peter Kwai (Abu-Khalil) opened the first Chinese restaurant, just off Rainbow Street, overlooking the Ahliyyah School for Girls. we were there in a shot. Then I was young and troubled, but sitting in the old stone house, with red lanterns dangling above my head, enveloped by foreign aromas: the smell of chicken cooked in soy sauce, ginger, fried rice, provided a much needed respite. It was a mental escape from the harsh reality. Surrounded mainly by diplomatic core and businessmen we tried chopsticks, sweet and sour chicken, and shredded beef for the first time. Abu Khalil knew that we liked chicken with cashew nuts, and he always served complementary extra portion. It was as close as we could get to a holiday outside the country.
It is now post-coronavirus and the other day I played the gang’s favourite song, Amal Hayati: the hope of my life. I found the lyrics sentimental, even sickly. ‘Take my whole life but let me live through today! Let me stay in the embrace of your heart!’ Seriously?
We lived on a staple of romantic fiction, false premises and promises, and a culture that objectified women. You were a burden and life was a hunting ground. Your raison de d’être was to catch an eligible bachelor. Wearing glasses, having bad posture, and reading all the time, which I did, was frowned upon. ‘You are destroying your looks and you will not get married.’ I ignored the warning and continued to consume my uncle’s library like a woodworm. Fashion had to be followed religiously and time must be spent perfecting your hair, make up, clothes. As for your mind you must leave it be because the more ignorant you are the better. Men do not like clever women. We were high on the ‘happiness ever after myth’ while most of our rights were either non-existent, being eroded or inactivated. We were second-class citizens and big brother was watching us all the time. We got used to being policed and created strategies to get out of the male family members’ curfews.
Having no other option but to survive, we did. Women supported each other in real time and terms, and ‘sisterhood’ then was not incubated in an ivory tower, but the grass-root grew it organically. In our neighbourhood the women’s subculture was that of solidarity. We rallied round the weakest and most vulnerable among us: those who were ill, were beaten by their husbands, or in financial need. We shopped for them, sent them food, took care of their children until they got back from health clinics.
The equivalent of a ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘put the kettle on’ were endless cups of Turkish coffee. You put some ground coffee with cardamom in a dallah, bring it to the boil, skim the surface, boil it again then pour it in demitasses. But before that, like red Indian smoke signals, you spill some on the cooker hob, so the aroma fills the air, travels in the breeze to the women’s noses, inviting them to your courtyard. Then the daily group therapy begins, chats about the price of lemons, exchange of recipes, recommendations of Indian films that really make you weep, description of the dreams you had the night before. ‘All will be alright at the end,’ we say and drink a glass of water, indicating that we are ready to leave. There was cooking, cleaning, laundry, teaching of children, and gardening to do.
Cliché alert! We cannot walk by, above, or below the coronavirus. The only way is through it. There will be loss, pain, and questions to be asked. Will the shift in our priorities remain unchanged? Will our identities metamorphose? How will we evolve as a human race? Will we respect nature and harmonise with it? All will be clearer in the fullness of time to those who remain alive. However, if you are born a woman in a male-dominated society, and you survive that and even prosper, your life skills are robust, and a pandemic is passable.

Copyrights © 2020 Fadia Faqir. All rights reserved.

 

Pandemic Journal: Basil and Jasmine

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11/04/2020 – Durham, UK

Some days are bad. According to the Department of Heath and Social Care and Public Health England 9875 people have died of coronavirus in the UK. The figure does not cover those who died at home or in care homes so some argue that it should be doubled. I try to get my head round it, let it sink in. 9875 grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, grandsons, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles have died and most probably buried unceremoniously. There is stillness at the beginning as the neurotransmitters in my brain start sending excitatory messages, a drawing of breath, with fortunately I can still do, followed by anger.
Having witnessed and survived so many wars civil and otherwise, pandemics and epidemics, I despair about being a member of such an idiotic and short-sighted human race. This feeling makes death seem like a reprieve. As my late friend Elizabeth Anderson once said, ‘If death is oblivion, bring it on.’
We obviously learnt very little since 1346, when the black death swept many parts of the world. And despite all the pandemics and epidemics inflicted on us: cholera, the plague, Spanish flue, HIV/Aids, Ebola, Sars, we still prioritise amassing arms and protecting ourselves against mostly illusive enemies over our health and that of other species.
Arms manufacturers and dealers have thrived on wars in so many parts of the world from Korea and Vietnam all the way to Iraq. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the arms industry sales of the top 100 manufacturers reached $420 billion, a rise of 109% between 2002-2018.
That shows that we invested heavily not in science that cures, but in science that kills: the atomic bomb, stealth and precision guided weapons, drones. With billions of dollars at their dispense, arms manufacturers created weapons that can find you, follow you down an alleyway, dance the waltz over your head, and then explode, killing you and those around you.
I read somewhere that the Muslims in medieval Spain (722-1492) were defeated because they made a conscious decision to stop destructive scientific experimentation in its tracks. Whether that is true on or not the war machine, devouring people and capital, must be stopped and funds diverted to a ‘peace dividend’ to be spent on education, improving the infrastructure, providing health for all, and foreign aid. The UK alone spent $50 billion on arms in 2018. How many universities, hospitals, care homes, social housing, playgrounds could have been built with that amount? How many respirators, oxygen cylinders, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for NHS staff could have been resourced? How many lives could have been saved?
Some days are worse. Fear, distilled and pure, for myself and others, races through my veins, sapping my energy. I feel depleted and struggle to go down to have breakfast. I try to keep it together, but the slightest challenge unravels me like failing to open a milk carton. I keep forgetting my rituals, routines and rhythms and start again. Do I normally go for a walk before or after breakfast? Perhaps after lunch? Then lunch comes and goes with me still lying on the sofa watching television and trying to make sense of the random images. They seemed alien as if beamed from Jupiter. On days like this a phone call could drain me, tip me over. I take the phone off the hook, keep my mobile on silent, switch off my PC and iPad and block all contact with the outside world. Do not disturb!
It is a solitude in disquietude rather than tranquillity. Bad thoughts rush in tripping over each other. How would I cope if I lost a loved one in one of many the countries they are in: Jordan, USA, Bahrain, Germany? Would I be able to reach them, attend their funerals, grief with other members of my family? Will I be allowed to see them lowered into their graves, so I could in the fullness of time have a sense of closure. Would I forgive myself for the decisions I made such as making Britain my home, and not travelling to Amman when the airport was open. What about remorse and contrition? Have I loved enough?
Other days are bearable. I wake up fine and can go about my daily tasks. During such respites, death seems distant and, for some reason, I am immune to it, my blood stream is full of antibodies that can fight all diseases including Covid-19. Delusional, I convince myself that this crisis will be over soon, and normal life will resume, whatever that was. My family like going out occasionally to The South Causey Inn in Stanley – the name triggers an eruption of nostalgia – to have Sunday lunch, roast turkey, with all the trimmings, potatoes, sautéed carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli. We reminisce about such simple pleasures, which now belong to the pre-coronavirus era and console ourselves by saying, ‘maybe soon we will be able to go out for a meal again.’ We sit in the garden, thinking of our loved ones in Amman as we listen to the Lebanese singer Fairuz croon, ‘Ba’dak ‘ala bali: you are still on my mind, oh young and proud, oh fragrant basil scattered on rooftops!’
Oblivious to our hopes, fears and nostalgia, the circles of coronavirus on the pandemic meters’ maps are getting bigger, denser and angrier. Death is driving up the highway and will arrive at our neighbourhood soon. I apologise to the grim reaper because despite all his warnings, grey hair, dimming eyesight, and stiff joints, I am still unprepared. What about what I still intended to do? What about the heart’s unfulfilled desires? What about unfinished businesses? There are projects to carry out, books to write, places to visit, words to say, and love yet to be expressed.
My friend G tells me that she group-calls her sisters in London every Sunday. I suggest that we do the same. Few days ago, my sisters and I arranged a group video call with my parents in Amman. When my father saw his four daughters together on one screen, he was overwhelmed. We spoke about the lockdowns and curfews, about being careful, and how far saliva droplets teaming with Covid-19 viruses can travel. My mother said, ‘I stopped going out to the garden. Sometimes children play in the street outside.’
My mother’s ‘game’, as my father once said, is her garden. With the help of my sister E, an agricultural engineer, they created a beautiful oasis in east Amman: lemon and mulberry trees, bougainvillea where sparrows nested, and jasmine vines. Every morning she would feed the tortoises in the flowerbed, water the plants, and fill the small pool so stray cats don’t go thirsty.
‘How about if you wear a mask when you go out to the garden.’ My brother looked for masks in all Amman’s pharmacies but couldn’t find any. My sister W created a mask at home that had two layers of cotton, which could be stuffed with crunched paper towels. ‘You could dispose of the paper towels and wash it in high temperatures after use.’ Amman has many seamstresses and probably most are without income now. We decided to ask one of them to make masks for my parents. Perhaps we can get them certified and then fundraise to make many more and donate them to the old and vulnerable.

Copyrights © 2020 Fadia Faqir. All rights reserved.
 

Pandemic Journal: Stars Realignment

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30/03/2020

Durham, UK

Whenever I meditate in the evening, I watch out for Sirius, the largest and brightest star in the galaxy. Last time I noticed it I was on holiday in Tenerife in January. The sky was clear, and the star twinkled like that diamond in the nursery rhyme. It was twenty degrees and the distant sounds were that of a typical summer night: cutlery on crockery, clinking of glasses, chatter, laughter and a singer in the bar on the other side of the garden and lit swimming pool attempting an aria. The manicured garden had palm trees, with leaves braided like hair, orchid trees, flame vines, bougainvillea trimmed and used as a hedge, cape honeysuckle, hibiscus, freesias and birds of paradise. That evening their scent rose to the balcony and filled the air. I breathed in and exhaled. Then the glasses were still rose-tinted: life was good. Death was a distant eventuality rather than an imminent reality. Romance, love, happiness, recognition, and even immortality were on the cards. As Shakespeare wrote, ‘Why then the world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open.’

That was before the pandemic threw all the cards and oysters up in the air and then broke the table they were on. Our lives now are divided into two periods: pre and post Covid-19 pandemic.

Yesterday in Durham I spotted the brightest star in the sky again. What was it called? Sirius A and B? It looked nothing like the one I saw in Tenerife three months ago, which seems like decades ago. It was smaller, less bright and like a tear in the dark fabric of the sky. The virus scrubbed the rosiness and other growths off the lenses. The world lost its sheen, became clearer and less safe. Sirius matured to what it is: a mass of hot gas. It was burning hydrogen into helium in its core to shine and was not the largest start in the galaxy, but it appeared so because of its proximity to earth.

I sat in the darkness looking at the silhouettes of trees and plants. Will it run out of fuel and die? The pre-Covid-19-me would have said at least it was shining bright and when it dies the heavier elements it releases will form new stars. But the post-Covid-19-me rejects that optimism. No romance, clichés, assigning objects with sentimental value, or seeing individuals and relationship not as they are, but as I wish them to be. No more artificial insemination of relationships or friendships via social media. No more self-deception.

After the pandemic is under control there will be a realignment of relationships too for some will get stronger and others will weaken or fizzle out. Covid-19 is a litmus test of people around you. Those who are genuinely concerned are blue and alkaline, and those who are not are acidic and red. You will see it in blue and red and you will not be able to deceive yourself, misinterpret it, or explain it away. This tempest will separate the wheat from the chaff, and then blow away the husks. You will be standing alone, but your loved ones and genuine friends will be standing by you albeit at a safe distance.

Copyrights © 2020 Fadia Faqir. All rights reserved.

Pandemic Journal: Navigating in the Dark

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25/03/2020

Durham, UK
I am back after spending weeks reading and digesting the news about the corona virus and coming to terms with a new reality. The novel I was working on seems irrelevant, and even self-indulgent now. Life has changed drastically and what was important before Covid-19 seems trivial now and visa versa. It is like installing a new GPS system that you know nothing about and then using it to navigate a new path. Every direction or decision has repercussions: when to tighten the mask, where to walk, when to turn and go back, how to act when face to face with other unwise homo sapiens, and what to do when someone directs a cough at you and the virus itself races towards you?
Before my morning and evening walks, I wear a hat, mask, jacket with hood, and gloves then venture out, stepping into a hostile environment – please bring back that of the Home Office –  that could kill me instantly.
Skilled at self-deception we denigrated death to a distant eventuality, something that happens to others, but the virus turned it into an imminent reality. We have to get ready for departure, pack our suitcases, tidy up, clean the slat, and reconnect with loved ones. Every Skype conversation could be our last so which words to select that could be our last. Will they linger in their memories?
Then resentment builds up because there is so much you want to achieve, loose ends to tie up, projects to carry out, places to visit? How could this journey end prematurely? It is absurd. And all the things you accumulated: books, photographs, paintings, heirlooms, and objects that have sentimental value, which you didn’t have enough time to explain to your children or grandchildren to instil your personal history into their memory. Could you and your story vanish just like that? Puff.
Counting steps, I breath in the fresh air. With the numbers of death rising, it tastes of salt and is laden with grief. Although no one can see or touch the deceased we feel the pain of their families and loved ones. This is bereavement at a global scale that could wrench the heart and unsettle the mind if we are not careful.

Copyrights © 2020 Fadia Faqir. All rights reserved.

Pandemic Journal: Mother’s Day

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21/03/2020

Durham, UK
The magnitude of the corona virus pandemic did not hit me until I saw a picture of my hometown Amman, ‘masqat ra’si: where my head landed when I was born’, empty. The boisterous city that rarely sleeps was deserted as if the country was at war.  Shops, restaurants and cafes were shut, and there were no pedlars, pedestrians or cars in the streets.
When I go to Jordan in the spring and autumn of every year, I normally stay with my parents in Jabal Al Taj in East Amman if I were travelling without my husband. Having no access to a gym or a swimming pool, I walk everywhere to keep my fitness levels up. Durham is hilly, and I am used to walking to the city centre here too. Early in the morning, before it got hot, I would walk to Al Mahatta: which was named because of it position next to the Ottoman Hejaz Railway station, through the Roman Amphitheatre, by the Roman Nymphaeum, by the Vegetable Market, to the city centre. When I arrive at ar-Rida street, I would hear the call of the fresh juice seller ‘Ahlan doctora, welcome, you’re back.’ Then we exchange niceties that are hard to translate into English.
‘You lit up the country,’ he would say.
‘The country is already bright with your presence.’
He would prepare my usual, a cocktail of orange, mango and carrot juice.’
‘This one is on me.’
‘No. Please. I wouldn’t have it if you don’t accept my payment.’
So reluctantly he takes the money. We would talk about his Egyptian helper who went back to Cairo, about the weather and  how well he is doing considering the challenges the country is facing.
Then I go to Abu Ali’s Book Kiosk to see which books are on display and to occasionally buy some. This is followed with either a visit to Jafra Cafe or having a Habiba Sweets’ kunafa, a stringy pastry layered with cheese and soaked in sugar syrup, which Ammanis have for breakfast sometimes. We eat it sitting on the pavements outside the shop.
Jordan’s measures to combat Covid-19 are strict and commendable. The lockdown began early, when the country had few cases. The virus turned Amman into a ghost town. When I saw the photograph of the empty streets, the magnitude of the tsunami we are facing hit me.
Will I be able to go back?
On 12 March I had to make a difficult decision: to travel or not to travel back to Amman. I had a few concerns among them the possibility of contracting the virus on the two taxi rides, two flights or in the three airports that I had to cross and then passing it to my elderly parents. If that happened, I would never be able to forgive myself. So, I decided to stay in Durham. Post Covid-19 every decision has repercussions, ramifications and might be the wrong one. Will I regret not going back to Amman when the airport was still open?
Mother’s Day in Jordan is on 21 March and on that morning my heart was tilting east so I wept into my porridge. I badly needed to see my mother, hug her, reassure her and make her laugh. Will I ever see her again? When will we be reunited? How long will we remain in a lockdown, under corona house arrests? Suddenly the world which seemed like a village in January split into separate continents. My parent, who seemed so near before Covid-19, are distant now, overseas, unreachable.
After composing myself, I rang my mother. We were emotional, but I didn’t want her to get distressed so I spoke of daffodils in the garden, which bloomed suddenly, of the jasmine my late fried Gwyneth had given me and how it survived another winter, of the Earley Ornamentals flowers’ catalogue, which I intend to send her in the post. ‘Hopefully we will meet again soon, mama.’ Our voices were strained, tears checked, and hearts heavy.
I washed my face with icy water and looked at the sky. The birds were still there and singing. Then I heard the click of the letterbox, after the postman had pushed a fat envelop through it. I opened it, got rid of the packing, washed my hands and inspected its contents: a card from my son and daughter-in-law, another from my grandson, and another from my granddaughter. ‘Happy Mother’s Day grandma.’ I caressed them, read their contents again and again and then displayed them on the side table, where I could see them.
The next day letterbox flowers arrived from my son and his family. I unpacked the roses, pink snapdragons, alstroemeria and foliage carefully, cut their ends, put them in a vase, filled it with water, stirred in the feed to help the flowers survive for as long as possible, then tied the ribbon around the vase. At least the flowers have arrived in perfect condition. Love will sustain us through this crisis, will carry us to the other shore and will heal us when the crisis is over.

Copyrights © 2020 Fadia Faqir. All rights reserved.

A Wild Patience has Brought my Sister so Far

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In 1999 I began writing an article about women’s psychological health in Jordan. Finding data in a conservative society was extremely hard. One of the top psychiatrists in the country agreed to be interviewed and he said, ‘To be brief: about 40% of men are schizophrenic and 50%of women are depressed.’ But to find case studies and write a robust academic paper was impossible.
Like American women in the 1950’s, when the number of housewives on tranquillisers was on the rise, many Jordanian women are unhappy or even depressed. They are finding it difficult to be ‘perfect housewives’ and conform to assigned gender roles. Many are trying to break out of the constraints of an unbalanced domestic life within a male-dominated society. Due to their dissatisfaction divorce rates are rising in changing society. Power structures are shifting.
The Black Jasmine: my Journey with Depression, written by my sister Eman Faqir, is ground-breaking because it tackles these issue head on with extreme honesty. It is an autobiographical text about suffering from depression most of her adult life. She briefly describes her journey from diagnosis, to taking a cocktail of different antidepressants and tranquillisers, to submitting to electric shock therapy. Admitting to having depression and seeking treatment for it is mundane in western societies but is an act of bravery in the duplicitous and hypocritical Jordanian society.
In one of the chapters she talks about her list of phobias: speaking in public, agoraphobia, claustrophobia etc. This develops into finding communication with other people draining. The life of the depressed person is a lonely one. ‘I sit on the sofa folding the laundry, which I waited so long for it to dry on the balcony because autumn has started. The sky is cloudy, and the cold wind carried distant barking to my ears and tossed dry yellow and red leaves into the sitting room. I don’t like this season with all its yellowness and dryness. When I was young, in my twenties, I used to love autumn and winter, and consider them the seasons of romance. I played songs about autumn leaves, rain, snow, small cafes. I would listen to Julio Iglesias’ song ‘Autumn Leaves’ sitting by the window and gazing at the sky. Life was full of promise then. Regrettably events knocked all romance out of me and replaced it with realism and depression.’
One poignant chapter is about people’s reaction to her depression. She lists the types of reactions she gets, which were mostly negative and accusatory. Many told her that her depression is due to her lack of belief and piety. Some said that she should exercise more and eat healthy food, others used stronger terms like ‘pill-popper’ and ‘self-inflicted’. Many stopped communicating with her afraid of catching her depression as if it were contagious. This reminded me of Susan Sontag’s book Illness as a Metaphor, which deals with the stigma surrounding illness. The ill deserve their illness because they are not passionate enough or for some reason brought upon themselves.
The book is simple, honest, and does not expose all the causes behind her depression, apart from her son’s diabetes and the collapse of her business, yet it is pioneering. Although it is a summery it is an act of bravery in a society that oppresses and terrorises women. Jordanian women must remain sweet and silent, but Eman Faqir is one of the few who spoke out. This is the tremor before the earthquake. Watch out for her next book.
•  Title echoes Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far’

الصبر(الجامح – الوحشي) قد أوصل أختي إلى هنا

في عام 1999 بدأت في كتابة مقالٍ عن الصحة النفسية للمرأة في الأردن. وقد كان العثور على بياناتٍ في مجتمعٍ محافظٍ لأمراً في غاية الصعوبة. في حينها، وافق أحد كبار الأطباء النفسيين في البلاد على إجراء مقابلةٍ وقال: “باختصار”  حوالي (40%) من الرجال مصابون بالفُصام، و (50%) من النساء مصاباتٍ بالإكتئئاب. ولكن العثور على حالاتٍ للدراسة للتمكّن من كتابةِ تقريرٍ أكاديميّ متين كان أمراً مستحيلاً

مثل النساء الأمريكيات  في خمسينات القرن الماضي، عندما كان يتزايد عدد “ربات البيوت” اللاتي يستخدمن المهدئات، فإن العديد من النساء الأردنيات تعيساتٍ ومكتئبات. حيث يجدن صعوبة في أن يكونوا ” ربات بيوتٍ مثالياتٍ” يلتزمن بأدوار جندريّة كرّسها المجتمع. يحاول الكثير منهنّ الخروج من قيود الحياة المنزلية الغير متوازنة في مجتمعٍ يهيمن عليه الذكور. لذلك سترتفع عدلات الطلاق بسبب عدم الرضا مما سيعمل على تغيير المجتمع لأن هياكل السلطة تتغير

تعتبر رواية “الياسمينة السوداء: رحلتي مع الإكتئاب” التي كتبتها أختي إيمان الفقيروالتي صدرت عن الآن ناشرون وموزعون، رائدة لأنها تعالج هذه القضية في أمانة قصوى.إنه نص للسيرة الذاتية حول معاناتها معظم حياتها من الإكتئاب. حيث تصف بإختصاررحلتها من التشخيص الى تناول كوكتيل من مضادات الإكتئاب والمهدئات العصبية الى الخضوع للعلاج بالصدمات الكهربائية. إن الإعتراف بالإكتئاب والسعي للعلاج لأمر شائع فيالمجتمعات الغربية، ولكنه لعمل شجاع في مجتمع  تسود به المعايير المزدوجة و يعم به النفاق

تتحدث في أحد الفصول عن قائمة الهلع  (الفوبيا) الخاصة بها: التحدث في الأماكن العامة، اضطرابات القلق والخوف من الأماكن المغلقة…. الخ. ويتطور هذا الى حد تجد به التواصل مع اشخاص أخرين مرهق ومتعب. إن حياة الشخص المكتئب تتسم بالوحدة. “أجلس على الكنبة، أرتب الغسيل الذي انتظرته مطوّلاً ليجف على الشرفة، لأن الخريف قد بدأ. السماء ملبدة بالغيوم، وقد حملت الرياح الباردة نباح كلبٍ أسمعه من بعيد  وقذفت أوراق الخريف الصفراء والحمراء الجافة الى غرفة الجلوس. أنا لا أحب هذا الموسم بكل لونه الأصفر وجفافه. عندما كنت صغيرة, في عمري العشرينيّ، كنت أحب فصليّ الخريف والشتاء واللذان طالما اعتبرتهما موسميّ الرومانسية. كنت أبحث عن الأغاني التي تتعلق بأوراق الخريف والشتاءِ والثلج والمقاهي الصغيرة. حيث كنت أجلس بجانب النافذة و أستمع الى أغنية  “أوراق الخريف” لخوليو اغليسياس وأحدق في السماء.عندها كانت الحياة مليئة بالوعود. مع الأسف الحياة قتلت كل الرومانسية في داخلى واستبدلتها بالواقعية والإكتئاب

ومن أحد الفصول المؤثرة هو حول ردود فعل الأشخاص الاخرين على إكتئابها، فقد سردت فيه أنواع ردود الأفعال التي تلقتها، والتي كانت أغلبها سلبية وتوجيه الإتهام إليها. فقد اخبرها الكثيرون أن سبب اكتئابها يعود إلى إفتقارها للإيمان والتقوى، وقال البعض أنها يجب أن  تقوي إيمانها وتزيد من ممارستها للرياضة وبأن تتناول طعاماً صحياً. بينما استخدم البعض الآخر وصفٍ أكثر شدّةً مثل ” مدمنة الأدوية” و”المحبحبة” و “المسبّبةُ ذلك لنفسها”. لقد توقف الكثيرون من التواصل معها خشية الإصابة بالإكتئاب كما لو أنه مرض معدي. وقد ذكرني هذا بكتاب “المرض كمجاز” لسوزان سونتاج، الذي يتعامل مع وصمة العار المحيطة بالمرض. حيث أن المرضى يستحقون مرضهم لأنهم ليسوا أصحاب إرادةٍ أو شغوفين بما فيه الكفاية، أو لسببٍ ما كانوا قد جلبوا المرض لأنفسهم

الكتاب بسيط وصادق، ولا يكشف جميع الأسباب الكامنة وراء إكتئابها، بإستثناء إصابة ابنها بمرض السكري وهو صغير وإنهيار أعمالها، إلا أنه رائد. وعلى الرغم من أنه موجز/ مختصر إلا أنه عمل شجاع في مجتمع يتم فيه قمع كثير من النساء وترويعهنّ. يجب أن تبقى المرأة لطيفة وصامتة ولكنّ إيمان الفقير هي واحدة من القلّة اللاتي تحدّثن

هذا الكتاب هو الهزة ماقبل الزلزال. إنتظروا كتابها القادم

Alta’ir Durham-Jordan Exchange 2019 no hi

 

Alta’ir is a partnership project between the Durham Book Festival/New Writing North (co-founder), the British Institute in Amman/Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) (co-founder), St Aidan’s College, Durham University (co-founder), and Dr Fadia Faqir (initiator and co-founder).

The project aims to encourage dialogue with Jordan and the Arab world through literature. The cultural exchange and dialogue that it will enable and create, will open windows for non-Arab audiences in the UK onto the realities of Arab cultures in all their diversity and vibrancy, enabling fruitful discourse to develop. It is hoped that this will lead to further exchange, to mutual respect, to new writings, and deeper understanding.

Why?

“We live in dark times and are witnessing the return of fascism. As an Arab woman I go to sleep and wake up the next morning criminalised although completely innocent. Constantly misrepresented and deformed by the British Media, I started to feel insignificant and helpless. To empower myself and marginalised others like me and to counter the rise of racism and xenophobia, I began thinking about a project that could be an antidote to the toxic culture of hate prevailing all over the world. An exchange programme between Jordan and Durham seemed a fitting way of challenging preconceptions and creating spaces for conversations and meaningful dialogues between civilisations, peoples and writers.
“I was born in Amman and spent the first third of my life there, then I studied and taught at different universities in the UK, but 25 years ago I settled in Durham. It was time to give back to my hometown Amman and to Durham, the city that adopted me, and what better way of doing that than shining a light on the writings of Jordanian authors and poets and their counterparts based in the North East of England. So, as a Jordanian/British writer I initiated the exchange programme to give back to both cities, which are part of mental landscape and fiction.”  _ Fadia Faqir, initiator and co-founder of Alta’ir.

British Author Who Went to Jordan
Andrew Michael Hurley (born 1975) is a British writer whose debut novel, The Loney, was published under Hodder and Stoughton’s John Murray imprint in 2015. It is the winner of the 2015 Costa Book Awards First Novel Award as well as the British Book Industry award for best debut fiction and book of the year 2016. His second novel, Devil’s Day, was published on 19 October 2017 by John Murray and Tartarus Press and was joint winner of the Royal Society of Literature’s 2018 Encore Award for the best second novel. Hurley has previously had two volumes of short stories published by the Lime Tree Press (Cages and Other Stories, 2006, and The Unusual Death of Julie Christie and Other Stories, 2008). He lives in Lancashire, where he teaches English literature and creative writing.
Andrew Michael Hurley began his stay in Jordan with a welcome lunch at the British Institute in Amman/CBRL. The lunch was hosted by: Dr Carol Palmer, the director of the institute, and Mr Firas Bqa’en, Operations Manager for CBRL, and was attended by author Fadia Faqir, the initiator of Alta’ir exchange program, HE Haza’a Albarari, first secretary of the Ministry of Culture, authors Kafa Al-Zoubi, Mofleh Aladwan, and Jalal Bargas, and architect and artist Ammar Khammash. The delicious lunch was cooked to perfection by Um-Mohamad.
Andrew then visited The House of Poetry in Amman on 3 September 2019. Located in Jabal al-Jofeh, the house, which is a fine example of 1930’s architecture, is now a home to poetry recitals, cultural activities and a database of Jordanian poets and poetry.  From its large veranda and garden, you can see the Citadel on the opposite hill and the Roman Amphitheatre in the valley, at the heart of Amman’s city centre. The visit was kindly organised by writer Mofleh Aladwan, director of the Royal Cultural Centre, and Ms Shima Al Tall, head of Dept of Culture at Amman Municipality.
Andrew spent a few days in Wadi Fynan, Wadi Rum and Petra and went back to Amman through the King’s Highway passing by Tafilah, Kerk and Madaba. Mr Ammar Khammash took him on a tour of the Eastern Desert. He also visited Bethany, the Dead Sea, and Madaba.
The Narrative Lab in Amman organised a meeting for him with Jordanian writers at the Shoman Foundation. It was chaired by Mofleh Aladwan and attend by Carol Palmer, director of the British Institute in Amman and co-founder of Alta’ir, Firas Bqa’in, Operations Manager for CBRL’s British Institute in Amman, Fadia Faqir, writing fellow at St Aidan’s College, Durham University, and initiator and cofounder of Alta’ir, and Rachel Telfer,  UK executive officer at CBRL, and the following Jordanian writers: Fida’ Al Hadidi, Kafa Al Zoubi, Muhammad Jamil Khader, Khairi Al-Dhabi, Kawthar al-Jondi, As’ad Khalifa Mekhled Barakat, Kawthar Khalid al-Zoubi and Hashim Gharaibeh.
Andrew spoke about visiting Wadi Fynan, ‘This valley was one of the routes our distant ancestors took during their migration from Africa to Europe and so to touch the water here is to touch what binds us all. And now the name of the project that’s brought me to Jordan – Alta’ir, the bird, the flying one – makes complete sense. It’s a reminder of our shared aspiration for freedom and flow. From the sky, the bird sees nothing but an open world.’ Read the full text here

Writer Who Came to Durham
Kafa Al-Zoubi is a Jordanian writer, born in 1965. She obtained a BA in Civil Engineering from Saint Petersburg University, Russia, where she remained until 2006. She is the author of six novels. Her second book, Laila, the Snow and Ludmilla (2007) dealt with the collapse of the Soviet Union and questions of Arab and Russian identities and was published in Russian in Moscow in 2010. Her fourth novel Go Back Home, Khalil (2009) was published only in Russia. Her fifth novel S was translated into Spanish in 2018. Her sixth novel, Cold White Sun, a multi-layered, modernist novel, with a trace of post-modernity, in which the social realism of great Russian literature is mixed with absurdism and existential philosophy, was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2019 (OKA Arabic Booker). Kafa Al-Zoubi writes for the Jordanian and Arab press and lives in Amman, Jordan.
Kafa stayed at St Aidan’s College, Durham University between 3-17 October 2019. New Writing North/Durham Book Festival invited her to a welcome dinner at Indigo Hotel on 4 October. Then she met Leila Aboulela, who was speaking at the festival. Kafa attended the Gordon Burn Prize Ceremony at the Gala Theatre and the private view of Mr Ammar Khammash’s exhibition and the following special dinner.
Al-Zoubi and Hurley spoke at the Durham Book Festival on 12 October 2019 about their writing and their impressions of the countries, cities and the towns they had visited. Andrew read an extract from his novel Devil’s Day and Kafa read a few lines in Arabic and then Ouissal Harize, translator and interpreter, read her full testimony. Issues related to colonialism, orientalism, misrepresentation, and inclusion were also discussed.
A talk at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures was jointly organised for Kafa before her departure by the Arabic and Russian departments.

Artist Who Came to Durham
To accompany the writers’ exchange an exhibition of Jordanian artist Ammar Khammash’s work will open to the public between 11-17 October at St Aidan’s College, Durham University. Ammar Khammash is one of the more prominent artists to come out of the Middle East in the 21st century and is a multi-talented Jordanian who has made his mark in several disciplines. He held eighteen solo and participated in over 20 group exhibitions since 1978. His paintings are multi-layered and transmit the richness of Jordanian landscape and his deep knowledge of the terrain, its geology and history. http://www.khammash.com/art
Mr Ammar Khammash arrived in Durham to attend the private view of his solo exhibition at St Aidan’s College, Durham University and the following special dinner on 11 October. He attended the Gordon Burn Prize Ceremony and Alta’ir event at the Durham Book Festival.
On October 13 he went with Kafa Al Zoubi on a tour of Housesteads Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall, and Roman Vindolanda Fort and Museum. Then attended an Art Tour organised by the Curator of Western Art at Durham University.
On October 14 poet Linda France, Alta’ir fellow 2018, led a creative writing workshop entitled ‘Ancient Landscape’ on Ammar Khammash’s art. The workshop was a rare opportunity to explore these dramatic landscape paintings at close hand and consider the poetry of place. It experimented with the rich possibilities of ekphrastic writing – giving words to our in-the-moment sense of the artist’s vision – transported to Jordan’s spectacular terrain.

Farewell Lunch
On October 15 a farewell lunch was organised for Kafa Al-Zoubi and Ammar Khammash and was attended by Andrew Michael Hurley. Dr Susan Frenk, principle of St Aidan’s college, welcomed the guests and presented them with gifts. Fadia Faqir, writing fellow at St Aidan’s college and initiator and co-founder of Alta’ir, described how the exchange has blossomed and how a seed, which was planted in 2016, grew into a beautiful tree with a bird ‘Alta’ir’ perched on it. She also thanked all partners, supporters, and sponsors.

Supporters
It is important to acknowledge the help and support Alta’ir Durham-Jordan:
Creative Collaboration programme has received from the following amazing people:
On the Jordanian side:
Carol Palmer and Firas Bqa’in at the CBRL for their kind hospitality
Writer and playwright HE Haza’ Albarai, first secretary of the Ministry of Culture
Writer and playwright Mofleh Aladwan for his continual help and support of this project
Ammar Khammash for his generous support
Writer Jalal Barjas at the Jordanian Narrative Lab
Valentina Kassisieh, CEO of the Shoman Foundation, and her amazing staff
Shima Al Tal and her amazing staff
Kafa Al-Zoubi and her husband Salam Qubailat for their generous hospitality
On the British side:
St Aidan’s College, Durham UniversityMy colleagues Dr Susan Frenk, principal; Sukanya Miles-Watson, assistant senior tutor; and Emma Wilson, college office coordinator
Rebecca Wilkie, senior programmes manager, Durham Book Festival
Claire Malcolm, CEO of New Writing North
Adam Talib, Director of Studies at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, Durham University
Ouissal Harize, School of Modern Language and Cultures for carrying out all the translation and interpretation for the exchange.
Eman Al Assa, DPET scholar, School of Modern Language and Cultures, for helping out with instant interpretation.

Sponsors
This year’s exchange wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of Durham Book Festival/ New Writing North, The British Institute in Amman/CBRL, St Aidan’s College, Durham University, and Mr Ammar Khammash.

Alta’ir: Durham-Jordan Creative Collaboration

Amman 1Alta’ir means bird and is the Arabic name for the brightest star in the constellation of Aquila. The name is an abbreviation of the Arabic phrase النسر الطائر, al-nesr al-ṭā’ir: “the flying eagle”.  Alta’ir is a partnership project between Durham Book Festival (co-founder), the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL) (co-founder), St Mary’s College, Durham University (co-founder), and Dr. Fadia Faqir (initiator and co-founder), and the British Council.
Partners:
Durham Book Festival
Founded in 1990, Durham Book Festival is one of the country’s oldest literary festivals. For many years it was a well-kept secret in the region’s cultural calendar, but it has grown significantly in the recent years. The festival is now part of Durham County Council’s festival programme, and since 2011 has been produced by New Writing North, with support from Durham University and Arts Council England, as well as a range of trusts and foundations and corporate sponsors.
CBRL’s British Institute in Amman
The British Institute is an international research institute in Jordan established in the 1970s. It is part of a wider regional network, the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL), a registered charity in the UK that is affiliated to the British Academy. The Institute aims to provide as a core part of its mission a venue for thought, critical reflection and the exchange of knowledge. It has recently identified literature as a discipline that it would like to develop. The Institute has accommodation on site and can introduce scholars or writers to other researchers in Jordan, as well as programming public events and discussions.
St Mary’s College, Durham University
Established in 1899, St Mary’s is one of Durham’s oldest Colleges. Originally founded as a pioneering women-only College, its community is now mixed and comprises around 750 undergraduate members and 150 full-time and 200 part-time postgraduates. It is a warm and friendly College situated in a great location, close to many of the University’s academic departments and central facilities. Its neoclassical buildings and extensive grounds provide a beautiful environment in which to live and study.
Fadia Faqir
Durham-based author Fadia Faqir is a dual citizen of Britain and Jordan. Her work has been published in eighteen countries and translated into fourteen languages. She is the author of five novels: Nisanit (Viking Penguin Inc.,1990), Pillars of Salt (Quartet Books, 1996) My Name is Salma (Transworld Publishers, 2007), Willow Trees Don’t Weep (Quercus Books, 2014), which is partly set in Durham city, and Petra Mon Amour (in progress). The Danish translations of her second and third novels were the runners-up for the ALOA literary award 2001 and 2010 respectively. A prologue entitled ‘At the Midnight Kitchen’ was published in the USA by Weber Studies and won their fiction prize, 2009. She has written several short stories and plays. Her short story ‘Under the Cypress Tree’ was short-listed for the Bridport Prize 2010. Her play, Turn Your Head Not, was premiered in Copenhagen. She is also the editor and co-translator of In the House of Silence: Autobiographical Essays by Arab Women Writers (1998) and was the senior editor of the Arab Women Writers series, for which she received the Women in Publishing 1995 New Venture Award. She was a member of the judging panel of Al-Multaqa Short Story Competition 2016.
She is an Honorary Fellow of St Mary’s College and a Writing Fellow at St Aidan’s College, Durham University, where she teaches creative writing. She is a trustee of Durham Palestine Educational Trust, a charity that sponsors Palestinian students, and initiator and co-founder of the Banipal Visiting Writer Fellowship.
The British Council
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. They create friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries. They do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries they work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections, and engendering trust.

The Project
Writing and reading development agency New Writing North which also runs Durham Book Festival will identify a writer from the North of England who can spend up to one month at The British Institute on a paid residency. They will develop their own work, and the Institute can introduce the writer to places of interest in Jordan.  NWN and the British Institute is particularly interested in the idea of the writer visiting places that are outside of Amman (that have parallels with the north of England)
Each year the residency will provide a unique space for a British published author to reflect and to write, and to also have the opportunity to share their work with Arab audiences. The residency will raise the profile of British writing in Jordan and the Arab world and Arab writing in the UK in the hope that long-lasting connections between writers in the UK and the Arabic-speaking world are forged.
The goal is to encourage dialogue with the Arab world through literature. The cultural exchange and dialogue that it will enable and create, will open windows for non-Arab audiences in the UK onto the realities of Arab cultures in all their diversity and vibrancy, enabling fruitful discourse to develop.
It is hoped that this will lead to further exchange, to mutual respect, to new writings, and deeper understanding.
The overall aims of the project are to build on the cultural dialogue between the UK and Jordan, and to develop the Civic role of the British Institute in Amman.

An Exchange
Durham Book Festival/ New Writing North plans to send a writer from the North of England over to Amman to spend up to four weeks there as a guest of the British Institute in Amman. We have identified May 2018 as the best time for the visit to take place.
The UK writer would:

  • Work with (up to 5) selected Jordanian writers including emerging writers on a development programme
  • Deliver writing workshops that are made accessible to the general public
  • Visit and run workshop outside of Amman in more deprived South of Jordan
  • Deliver a series of discussion events around the work that the writer generates whilst in Jordan

We would like to bring a Jordanian writer to the UK, ideally in October 2018, to tie in with the Durham Book Festival.  This may be a writer the UK writer has been working with while in Jordan.  New Writing North would like to host an event at Durham Book Festival about the project bringing together the Jordanian writer and the British writer.  This may be the presentation of new work by the writers, or a more general discussion about the project, which would include some readings.  While they are in the UK we would organise an itinerary for them which would respond to their interests, and could include visits to places of interest, some writing time, meetings with other writers and / or scholars and public events.

How 
Durham Book Festival, the British Institute, and Dr Fadia Faqir would draft a call-out for writers to be promoted through NWN’s networks.
Once the writer is appointed in the UK DBF and Dr. Fadia Faqir will meet with the writer to talk in more detail about the Institute, Jordan as a country, and some of the areas they might cover during their residency and agree on the objectives of the residency.
Once the writer is appointed in Jordan, the director or the assistant director of the British Institute in Amman will meet the writer to talk in more detail about Durham and St Mary’s College, UK as a country, and some of the areas they might cover during their residency and agree on the objectives of the residency.
The British Institute can provide accommodation, catering facilities, lecture and seminar space, access to the library and will make travel arrangements associated with the residency.
The director or assistant director of the British Institute will host and accompany the writer while in Jordan, including setting up and promoting public events and workshops.

For more information click on the following:
English
Arabic
Durham Book Festival Event

Farewell Najwa

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Saying goodbye to Libyan author Najwa Binshatwan, Banipal Visiting Writer Fellow 2018, at Whitworth Hall 19 April, 2018

To counter the rise of racism and xenophobia, I began thinking about a project that could be an antidote to the toxic culture of hate prevailing all over the world. A fellowship in the west for Arab authors seemed a fitting way of challenging preconceptions and creating dialogue between civilisations.

During my travels over the past two years, I spoke to academics, writers, intellectuals, journalist both Arab and non-Arab about my dream.

In 2013 I had an author’s round table and a book signing at the Fourth Annual Translation Conference, held at the Hamad bin Khalifa University, and co-sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. Iraqi author and journalist Samuel Shimon, the London-based editor and co-founder of Banipal, a renowned international magazine of contemporary Arab literature published in English, gave a keynote speech in which he said that in his experience of publishing from Arabic into English, Western publishers needed to move beyond narrow stereotypes of Arabic novels and writers. Listening to him, the idea of cooperation with Banipal began germinating.

I went back to Durham and had a meeting with Dr Susan Frenk, the principal of St Aidan’s College, Durham University, where I hold a Creative Writing Fellowship, and this distinguished scholar and amazing woman welcomed the idea.

On 27 April 2016, at the Abu Dhabi International Bookfair, I had a meeting with Margaret Obank, trustee of Banipal Publishing, and discussed the idea with her. The outcome was positive, and we agreed to hold a meeting in Durham to discuss it further.

On 26 September Dr Sudan Frenk, Margaret Obank, Samuel Shimon, and I met, and we agreed to set up the Banipal Visiting Writer Fellowship (BVWF) for published authors writing in Arabic. History was made for the fellowship is the first of its kind. I have nothing but praise and gratitude for the Banipal team, and the staff of St Aidan’s College.

Margaret kindly offered to conduct negotiations with the British Council. After a number of conversations and a meeting they agreed to support us.

We publicised the fellowship in November 2016, and we received 198 applications. Some of the best Arab writers have applied. We chose the Iraqi author Ali Bader as the first Fellow.

In 2017 we received over 90 applications and selected the Libyan Woman writer Najwa Binshatwan.

Najwa Binshatwan is a Libyan academic, novelist, and playwright. She was an assistant lecturer at the University of Benghazi and was awarded a PhD in human science from La Sapienz University in Rome. She is the author of three collections of short stories and three novels, including The Slave Pens, which was shortlisted for IPAF 2017 (aka Arabic Booker). In 2003 she received the Arab Creativity Prize at the Sharjah Festival, and her novel The Horses’ Hair won the inaugural Sudanese al-Begrawiya Festival prize, when Sudan was Capital of Arab Culture in 2005. She was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project and her story The Pool and the Piano was included in the Beirut39 anthology, which was published by Bloomsbury in 2010. Her work is also featured in Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations, which was published recently by Commapress, and showcases new works by previously unplatformed writers.

Nahla al-Ageli interviewed Binshatwan for Shubak Festival. She wrote, “An ugly shadow side of Libya’s history is that it was a slave market route for centuries under Ottoman rule, way before the Italian occupation and prior to Libya’s declared independence in 1951. Growing up in Libya, children might still hear stories from elders about the black maids who used to work in their household or about distant cousins in Africa who carry their same recognisable surnames.

There would be no elaboration on the reality of the trade that used to buy, sell, and barter human beings and rarely admission of how the ancestors may have been involved in the mistreatment of those held captive. Few Libyans have the courage to revisit that period with its many ghosts or to bring up the racism issues that persist in the culture.

Not up until now that the talented author Najwa Benshatwan has taken the task to heart by writing a novel so powerful, beautiful, and so sensitively fashioned in the narrative voice of the slaves. She has creatively wrapped it up into a love story that touches upon the era and the taboo subjects that have never been exposed before.”

One of the themes of the novel, and it has many, is visibility and its perils. In a vivid scene, the young slave endangering herself to have a glimpse of her face. Looking at her reflection in a shard of a broken mirror she becomes visible. That act was penalised not by the racist, misogynist society but by her mother because appearing in the picture, becoming visible even if just to yourself was subversive and might endanger your life.

Slave Pens can sit comfortably alongside great literature about slavery from Haley’s Roots all the way to Toni Morrison’s writings. For many reasons, the novel is a milestone, but the main one is that a woman writer dared to investigate, describe, and expose two slaveries: that of slaves and that of women.

Introducing Libyan author Najwa Binshatwan

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Fadia Faqir, Najwa Binshatwan, and Ouissal Harize (translator)

On 20 February 2018, Libyan woman writer, Banipal Visiting Writer Fellow 2018, Najwa Binshatwan, gave the annual lecture at St Aidan’s College. I had the honour of introducing her, The following is an extract from my introduction:
“Najwa Binshatwan is a Libyan academic, novelist, and playwright. She was an assistant lecturer at the University of Benghazi and was awarded a PhD in human science from La Sapienz University in Rome. She is the author of three collections of short stories and three novels, including The Slave Pens, which was shortlisted for IPAF 2017 (aka Arabic Booker). In 2003 she received the Arab Creativity Prize at the Sharjah Festival, and her novel The Horses’ Hair won the inaugural Sudanese al-Begrawiya Festival prize, when Sudan was Capital of Arab Culture in 2005. She was chosen as one of the 39 best Arab authors under the age of 40 by the Beirut39 project and her story The Pool and the Piano was included in the Beirut39 anthology, which was published by Bloomsbury in 2010. Her work is also featured in Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations, which was published recently by Commapress, and showcases new works by previously unplatformed writers.

Nahla al-Ageli interviewed Binshatwan for Shubak Festival. She wrote, “An ugly shadow side of Libya’s history is that it was a slave market route for centuries under Ottoman rule, way before the Italian occupation and prior to Libya’s declared independence in 1951. Growing up in Libya, children might still hear stories from elders about the black maids who used to work in their household or about distant cousins in Africa who carry their same recognisable surnames.
There would be no elaboration on the reality of the trade that used to buy, sell, and barter human beings and rarely admission of how the ancestors may have been involved in the mistreatment of those held captive. Few Libyans have the courage to revisit that period with its many ghosts or to bring up the racism issues that persist in the culture.
Not up until now that the talented author Najwa Benshatwan has taken the task to heart by writing a novel so powerful, beautiful, and so sensitively fashioned in the narrative voice of the slaves. She has creatively wrapped it up into a love story that touches upon the era and the taboo subjects that have never been exposed before.”

One of the themes of the novel, and it has many, is visibility and its perils. In a vivid scene, the young slave endangers herself to have a glimpse of her face. Looking at her reflection in a shard of a broken mirror she becomes visible. That act was penalised not by the racist, misogynist society but by her mother because appearing in the picture, becoming visible even if just to yourself was subversive and might endanger your life.

Slave Pens can sit comfortably alongside great literature about slavery from Haley’s Roots all the way to Toni Morrison’s writings. For many reasons, the novel is a milestone, but the main one is that a woman writer dared to investigate, describe, and expose two slaveries: that of slaves and that of women.”