Reflection

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

Tang of Orientalism

In his book blog “Beat and dust: Tangier’s tang of history“, published in the Guardian newspaper, 23 November, 2010, Sam Jordison explores the counter cultural heritage of Tangiers, which was once a hub for experimental writers Like Paul Bowles, Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs, Kenneth Williams and Andre Gide.

The writer has read some of the literature set or written there and went to Morocco to look for that fictitious landscape, the Tangiers of the mind. There is so much to take issue with in his colonialist, eerie piece, but I will concentrate on the following extract:

˜Then there’s the Hotel el-Muniria, where Burroughs did most of his work on the Naked Lunch. When I visited, it was shuttered up. It looked like a place that has never really seen better days and may not see many more days of any kind at all. But the fact I couldn’t get in didn’t matter: there was more than enough atmosphere just from walking down the street, with its tang of urine and fear, and dark corners that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up even in the midday sun. The place hummed with the paranoia and disgust of Burroughs’s sick masterpiece, which made me feel better equipped to understand the state of mind that could produce such a book.”

My experience of Hotel el-Muniria is totally different. The fact that I could get in did matter because I wouldn’t have slanted it without experiencing it first. We arrived in the afternoon, siesta time, and the place was quiet. There was a magical hush in the garden yet we were welcomed warmly by the receptionist and waiters. I still remember clearly that view. How rich was the architecture and the interior design! How beautiful the tea glasses and how delicious the gazelle horns! How unique their civilisation! The air was warm when we walked out and laden with the scent of mint, dates and orange blossom. The streets were welcoming.

There was no tang of urine or fear and the place did not hum with paranoia or disgust. The paranoia experienced by Burrough was not related to the sedate landscape and its people, but to the amount of drugs he had injected and smoked. My copy of the Naked Lunch, given to me by playwright Trevor Griffiths, is old, published by Corgi in 1968. The book is structured as a series of loosely-connected vignettes. The reader follows the narration of junkie William Lee, who takes on various aliases, from the US to Mexico, eventually to Tangier and the dreamlike Interzone. The vignettes (which Burroughs called “routines”) are drawn from Burroughs’ own experience in these places, and his addiction to drugs, heroin, morphine, and while in Tangier, ˜Majoun”, a strong marijuana mixture. The image of Morocco portrayed by Burrough is mostly a product of a drugged mind and unrelated to its complex reality then.

The location and the Moroccan people are incidental to Burrough and Jordison. The writing is mainly preoccupied with the self. The Moroccans, although the villains of the piece by implication, are consequential and neither the subject nor the object of the blog, which belongs to a long tradition of representing the other to consolidate your own subject status. The dominant subject in the above passage is built on conceptual binary of verbal fluency-power versus mutism-subalternity.

The Moroccans were muted and cannot speak in a way that would carry any sort of authority or meaning for Jordison without altering the relations of power/knowledge that constitute it as subaltern in the first place. The subaltern is invisible to the writer therefore it was˜disappeared”. The country of Morocco and its people are irrelevant and are neither the subject nor the object of Jordison’s blog. The ˜cruel” landscape was conveniently depopulated so he could represent it freely and to his own ends. The inability to see the native or engage with him/her reeks of Orientalism. Plus plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.

One Day the Baby Girl will Stop Crying

Honour killings are the killings of women for deviation from sexual norms imposed by society. Families in different parts of the world associate their honour with the virginity of their unmarried daughters and with the chastity of the married ones. Most female violators of the honour code are killed instantly by their male relatives on the strength of a rumour. Honour crimes have been reported in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda and the United Kingdom. Most crimes, however, often go unreported so it is difficult to determine the actual number of victims in honour killings. The United Nations Population Fund estimates as many as 5000 females are killed each year.

In pre-Islamic Arabia female infanticide was widespread. Female babies used to be buried alive in the sand for socio-economic reasons until Islam came and put an end to it. And although the Qur’an in the following surat condemns this practice it has survived for centuries and kept resurfacing: ‘When the female (infant), buried alive, is questioned for what crime she was killed.’

An average of 25 females are killed every year in Jordan in crimes of honour and an average of 27 adult females commit suicide, which professionals argue are crimes of honour in disguise, where the victims are forced to commit suicide. In 1993 for example the total killings in Jordan were 96 and 33 of those were related to honour. So one thirds of killings in Jordan are honour crimes.

Chastity can be achieved through purity of breed, which is seen as synonymous with the purity of females. “In Arab Muslim culture, the honour of the patrilineal group is bound up with the sex organs of its daughters and a specific term ‘i’rid’ combines the two.” Girls or women can sully their family’s honour and destroy their reputation until they get married and become the responsibility of their husbands. Women who are suspected of “immoral” behaviour usually end up dead, even though most of those who get examined by forensic scientists are found to have been sexually inactive.

Although relating women’s honour to their suspected sexual behaviour is a worldwide phenomenon, imposing a legal penalty for any deviation from the norm survived in Mediterranean societies and a number of Islamic countries such as Pakistan. While most countries, however, have abolished laws related to such crimes, a number of Arab and Muslim countries still maintain specific articles in their penal codes, which justify honour killings. The laws crime down honour killings so judges hand out light sentences a maximum of six months in prison, for example. Honour killings go virtually unpunished, which encourages the surveillance, policing and killing of females in Jordan today.

If the woman hands herself to the police she ends up living for the rest of her life in “protective custody”. The state can protect her inside the prison most of the time, but cannot do anything about angry male relatives outside the prison. I read once in the early 1990’s that a Swiss organisation approached the government to smuggle out victims to Europe to give them a profession and a normal life under a different name. There was an uproar in Jordan and opponents argued that Westerners were planning to kidnap our daughters and force them into prostitution on the streets of Europe. So the whole proposal was nipped in the bud.

No linear narrative can tell Salma’s story in My Name is Salma. She manages to escape from a Jordanian prison and sails away towards another type of prison, where she ends up an asylum seeker on the streets of Exeter. She arrives on the shores of Britain totally unequipped to face an alien society, which is suffering from post-empire depression, and learn its languages and subtle codes. On the way to her destiny she meets people who are considerate, others who are exploitative, Christians who are either fundamentalists, applying the letter of the Bible, or imaginative and compassionate. Although this mirrors her own experience of religion she is full of doubt and dissent. Throughout the novel she observes Islam being practiced from the outside, but she never practices herself because after the loss of her daughter she comes to the conclusion that religion does not offer any consolation.

If strict penalties are in place for sex out of wedlock in Jordan it is encouraged in the UK and without it she might not enjoy any intimacy or human contact. Salma is torn and is always trying to forge a new identity for her self, negotiate a new path. She ends up in a new country with a new identity, but with the same old, torn heart. It tugs her back to Jordan, to her daughter. She has no doubt that her daughter will be lynched eventually and that she has to save her somehow.

Today victims of honour crimes are dumped in unmarked graves without any funeral services. Their families bury their life histories with them and repress any acts of remembrance. This novel celebrates the life of one of the faceless victims of honour crimes and is a humble attempt to give her a name, a voice and a life. One day the civil code which allows such crimes to be committed will be replaced by a humane and egalitarian law. We shall call it Salma’s law to commemorate all the innocent victims of honour crimes. One day we shall build a mausoleum in the centre of many capitals and inscribe on it the names of women, who were senselessly murdered. One day the spirits of the unknown victims shall return home where they belong, shall return to our hearts and minds.

In the meantime . . . whenever the Jordanian breeze hits my face a sudden chill runs from the roots to the ends of each hair on my body and my chest collapses as if I were drowning. I could hear all the innocent victims calling me, their cries of pain rend Bedouin garments. This one died of three shots in the head, that one of twelve stab wounds and the victim was left for four hours to bleed to death before her father called an ambulance, she was pushed off a high cliff by her aunt, that one set fire to herself in the bathroom, it was suicide. The sound of keen fills the deserts, plains and hills of Jordan. Wherever black iris grows you would find them.

I shall kneel down to mark their graves and name names.

One day she, ‘the baby girl buried alive’, will stop crying.

Why Write?

I write to bear witness and do justice. I also write to ward off fear, to exorcise it. Writing is a futile attempt to empower myself. The journey was and still is long, hard with no arrivals, but it is also rewarding and full of little surprises. Recollections in disquietude rather than tranquillity. A jasmine tree in a hostile garden. Torture chambers and tunnels in the Arab world. Racism and misrepresentation in the West. Sipping mint tea with my mother under a large trellis wrapped up with vines. The haunting faces of the maimed, the displaced and the missing. Clouds of perfume in a blossoming orange orchard. Not exactly that, but much more than that or much less than that.

Then there is the heart, the strongest weakest muscle in the human body pumping out grief joy. Thud Thud bereavement. Throb throb pain. Thud thud health. Throb throb loss. Unconsolable. Just a muscle with chambers, valves, arteries and veins it quivers in a pool of warm blood. It starts beating then suddenly it stops. Wheezing. Death rattle. A cold tart liquid oozes out.

Looking at the blossoming Iraqi winter jasmine in my garden I said, ‘But this is not what I intended. This is not what I meant. It is not it at all.’

©fadiafaqir 2007

For Mai Ghassoub and Julia Darling

On 17 February my dear friend Mai Ghassoub passed away. On the 1 March she was cremated in London and the service was beautiful, dignified and fitting for her. I kept thinking that the coffin was too small for her generous heart. I shall miss her, her smile, her vivaciousness and her polyglottal and limitless knowledge. We were bookish, you see, always reading around. Whenever we met her first question to me was, ‘Waynk: where have you been? And where is your next novel?’

We shall meet somewhere kind
A sea-side café in Beirut or Whitley bay
In a still frame
Enveloped by perpetual luminous light
At an endless sa’at ‘auns: an hour of conviviality
In a cloud of orange blossom perfume
Your fine hands captive, but flying
Your eyes listening
You are the one who loved most

I am the one who saw least and regretted first

We shall meet somewhere
Where our limbs are safe
Where the Green Line* is just a colour
Where words are free
And static* ideas are obsolete
Somewhere, my friend, east of the

Your eyes listening
You are the one who loved most
I am the one who saw least and regretted first

We shall meet somewhere
Where our limbs are safe
Where the Green Line* is just a colour
Where words are free
And static* ideas are obsolete
Somewhere, my friend, east of the heart,
Where mirrors are complete
And Arabic coffee is extra sweet

___________________________________

* The Green Line used to separate east from west Beirut during the Civil War
* Referring to Adonis’s book The Static and the Dynamic

5 March, 2007