Pandemic Journal: Stars Realignment



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



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

Amman lockdown 1


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.

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.


“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.

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.

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.

عدد الأعمال السطحيّة التي تنشر في العالم العربي مفجع

أسعدني أن أوافق على الانضمام إلى لجنة تحكيم جائزة الملتقى للقصة العربية القصيرة لعام 2016 التي تمولها الجامعة الأمريكية والملتقى الثقافي في الكويت. ولقد استمتعت بقراءة مئة وتسع وثمانين مجموعة قصصية ضمن المجموعات التي تم ترشيحها للجائزة وباكتشاف جزءٍ من الخارطة الأدبية للعالم العربي

ويمكنني أن أقول بأنّه وللأسف فإنّ عدد الأعمال السطحيّة التي تنشر في العالم العربي مفجع، ولعل  أهم سبب وراء ذلك أنه في كثير من الحالات يدفع الكاتب للناشر مقابل النشر مما أخلّ المعايير التي يطبقها المحررون لاختيار العمل والسماح له برؤية النور. وسبب آخر أيضا، هو شح الروح المهنية لدى دور النشر المتمثل في تفشي الأخطاء اللغوية والمطبعية في النصوص.  فكما هو معلوم  في بعض الدول العربية، يدفع المؤلف لدار النشر، وهي بدورها تحتفظ بمعظم المبلغ وتنفق القليل منه فقط على تحرير وطباعة وتدقيق النص

حقيقىة، يمكن تصنيف معظم المجموعات التي اطلعت عليها تحت بند السرد الصحفي أوالتقرير النثري أوالسيرة الذاتية أوالمذكرات أوالخواطر أو أدب الاعتراف، وذلك دون  أدنى استخدام للأسلوب القصصي الدرامي. وربما كتب كثير من النصوص بسرعة، ولهذا نجد أنّ معظمها ضحل وفج وأحادي الطبقة ومليء بالتعابير المستهلكة دون أي حبكة أوبنية مدروسة. وفي حالات قليلة يتم إسقاط المشاهد الجنسية دون حاجة الى ذلك أو دون توظيف حقيقي لها في النص ودلالته مما جعلها تبدو دخيلة

وقد ظهر الوصف في معظم الأعمال جامدا، واللغة ركيكة ، والشخصيات مسطّحة. وفي كثير من الحالات تم استعمال الرومانسية التي عفى عليها الزمن، حيث نجد فيضا من العواطف والمشاعر غير المبررة في النص، وبالتالي؛ لا تستحضر في القارئ المتلقي أي ردود فعل نفسية لعدم وجود ما سماه إليوت بالمعادل الموضوعي*. وهكذا فشلت مجموعات كثيرة على مستويي الشكل والمضمون. وتجدر الإشارة إلى أن هنالك التباس بشأن الأنواع الأدبية، فالنثر ليس شعرا ومهما كانت الفقرة مكتوبة بشكل جميل فإنّ هذا لا يحولها إلى قصة قصيرة. ومن الملحوظ أيضا وجود حالة مفارقة شعرية إدهاشية في نهاية كثير من النصوص، وبالرغم من ذلك تبقى نثرا أو نثرا شعريا ولا تنطبق عليها معايير القصة القصيرة. وبعض الكتاب قد “أفرط في الكتابة*”  محاولا استعراض العضلات اللغوية بلا طائل، حيث بقي النص ضحلا

وهنالك تفاوت كبير في مستويات الأعمال المرشحة للجائزة وضمن المجموعات نفسها. ولا تكفي أن تكون نية الكاتب حسنة ليتحقق نجاح العمل الأدبي

وكثير من الكتاب هم من ذوي النفس القصير حيث لم يستطيعوا إتمام إبراز جمال القصة. ومن الأعمال ماهو مفكك، ولكن لا يمكن أن نصنفه تحت بند أدب الصدمة*، الذي يتميز بوجود فجوات في السرد  القصصي، مع اكتمال العمل وتحقيقه لأهدافه. وكان جليا أنه في كثير من النصوص تم إستعمال الكتابة للتنفيس عن الضغط النفسي وتطهير الذات

ولحسن الحظ هنالك قلة من الكتاب المرشحين للجائزة بدو متمكنين من تقنيات الكتابة القصصية وأدواتها، اذ استخدموا المونولوج الداخلي والأبعاد المتعددة والرواة غير الموثوق بهم وتيار الوعي وخلط اللهجات الاجتماعية والأصوات المتعددة، والتحول اللغوي والمزج بين الواقع والفانتازيا، واستخدام التناص والموروث الثقافي والأساطير. ويمكن تصنيف بعض النصوص بأنها حداثية أو ما بعد الحداثة، والقلة القليلة منها نسوية. وهنالك نصوص أصيلة وخلاقة يحلق فيها خيال الكاتب عاليا

وعند القليل من الكتاب، كما في حالة أنيس الرافعي، كان المزج بين الاجناس المختلفة كالقصة القصيرة، والسرد الصحفي، والتصوير الفوتوغرافي خلاقا. والنص هنا أصيل والبناء محكم والحبكة متينة ولغة النص شعرية أحيانا والنهاية مفاجئة. الخطوج الروائية تمزج بمهارة فائقة ويتم جمعها ببراعة. وقد استخدم الكاتب ضمير المخاطب وهذا ما لا نراه في كثيرا من النصوص القصصية

ومما يدعو للتفاؤل أن الكتاب استطاعوا إنتاج مثل بعض هذه الأعمال في ظل الظروف الحالية الصعبة التي يمر بها العالم العربي. حيث عالج بعضهم القضايا السياسية ببراعة؛ مثل كيفية تسرب الفساد ببطء إلى أن يتدمر النسيج الاجتماعي. وعلى سبيل المثال هنا، مجموعة الكاتب الفلسطيني مازن معروف “نكات للمسلحين” التي فازت بالجائزة بالإجماع. كتبت  هذه المجموعة على خلفية الاحتلال الإسرائيلي لفلسطين وهوما يتناوله الكاتب في بعض القصص فعليا وبعضها الآخر مجازيا. وذكرتني بكتابات الكاتب الفلسطيني الراحل إيميل حبيبي إلا أن معروف تميز عن حبيبي بقدرته على خلق عالم سوريالي يتوازن فيه ويتساوى الخوف والمرح والسخرية والكابوسية. ويتعامل معروف مع هذا الموضوع الجاد بسخرية وفكاهة أحيانا لينتج نصا مضحكا ومبكيا في آن واحد . وقد نجح في تعرية وحشية ودموية المحتل بسلاسة وخفة في هذه المجموعة دون أي ذكر للأحداث السياسية التي اسهمت في إنتاج هذه النصوص

ويمكن القول أن القلة القليلة من الكتاب قد نجحت في نقلنا إلى عالمهم الغرائبي الخاص وقدمت لنا قصصا قصيرة فريدة لا تصور الواقع فقط بل تعيد تشكيله. وخلق البعض نصوصا غنية متعددة الدلالات ذات رؤية خاصة قد تساعدنا على فهم حاضرنا واستشراف مستقبلنا، وهذا يشكل انتصارا لنا وللغتنا وأدبنا بالرغم من كل التحديات




“*objective correlative”


“*Trauma Literature

Arabs Writing in English

The full text of Hani Bargouthi’s interview for 7iber.com:

1. Could you walk me through the process of deciding to write your novels?

The creative process is complex and has a mystery to it. You do not ‘decide’ to write your novels. They come to life on their own volition. Issues germinate and at one point it becomes necessary to express your enthusiasms through the medium of fiction. Each novel tackled questions that I was grappling with or exposes an injustice through a medium that hopefully humanizes and beautifies.

2. Where did choosing to write in English fit into the process? Why did you decide to write in English, despite the subject matter mostly being Arab countries, characters and storylines?

I didn’t choose to write in English. The British Council gave me a scholarship to do an MA in Britain, and as a freelance journalist then the idea of doing a creative writing degree was appealing. I wrote my first novel in English and then went back to Jordan, studied Fusha Arabic and was determined to write in my mother tongue. But in the 1980s oppression was the order of the day at every level whether political or personal. I could not breathe let alone write.  Let me quote Sartre, ‘The art of prose is bound up with the only regime in which prose has meaning, democracy.’ One of the prerequisites for writing is freedom. So I decided to go back to the UK and do a Ph.D. in creative writing. After that – as Conrad said – English became a capability.

3. How did writing in English affect the publication process, and was it easier to find a publisher in English than it would have been to find an Arab one? Did this contribute to writing in English?

Actually it is very easy to find a publisher in Arabic. All you have to do is pay them and you get published. This is how most publishing houses in the Arab world function: authors pay publication costs.

In Britain the story is different. Publishing is on merit only and you cannot buy your way into it. I wrote because I was silenced by my society and finding a voice in whatever language was essential for my survival. I honestly didn’t expect to be published or catered for an audience.

4. Did you find it easier to write in English considering some of the subject matter being taboo?

Yes, at the beginning. In Nisanit I was free to write whatever I wanted and because of that newly-found freedom the text is full of four-letter words. Fusha Arabic, which is a product of a male-dominated culture, is masculine and riddled with taboos. So I took refuge in another language and wrote about sensitive issues. But after writing in English for a while I discovered its own restrictions so each language has a cultural residue that comes with prohibitions and etiquettes. A skilled writer navigates through all of that.

5. How do you feel the work’s publication in English has affected the size and type of audience?

There is no doubt that if you write in English your audience is international. My books were published in eighteen countries and sold well in Australia, the USA, India etc. That wouldn’t have been possible if I wrote in Arabic. However more and more Arabs read and the audience in the Arab world now is considerable.

6. Would you be open to your work being translated to Arabic? How involved would you like to be in the process?

I was translated into Arabic. The Arabic translation of My Name is Salma went into a third edition, which I am really pleased about. I was completely engaged in the translation process and oversaw every word, every sentence.  By the way the translation is faithful to the English original and not a single word was omitted or idea censored. Willow Trees Don’t Weep is being considered for translation into Arabic.

7. Given the subject matter, how do you think people would have received the work had it been written in Arabic instead?

Judging from the reviews and my engagement with readers of the Arabic translation the reaction is overall positive despite the controversial subject matter. The Arab world is in turmoil and readers are eager for literary works that tackle taboos and sensitive issues.

8. Do you feel that the Arabic language is equipped to cover all the topics discussed in your work?

Now I think it is. Language is just a tool and if you master it you can create whatever you want: feminist, dystopian or magic realist novels. But women, for example, have to expose its misogyny and purge it first.

9. Will you continue to write in English?

I don’t know where the journey will take me after finishing Petra Mon Amour, the novel I am working on. Will it take me back to writing in Arabic, my mother tongue? Who knows? Watch this space.


1. More than any other novel I can think of, The Cry of the Dove is suffused with the tastes and scents of food, herbs, trees, and flowers—often overlooked aspects of the natural world that affect us on a day-to-day basis. In the novel, all of the most poignant moments and many of the descriptions of women are focused around specific foods, beverages, and landscape elements, rendered in wonderfully evocative language: lavender, ripe olives, orange blossoms, jasmine, sage tea, lentils, frozen fish sticks, biscuits, spicy ghee butter sandwiches, cardamom, fresh coffee beans ground in a sandalwood pestle and mortar, fish & chips, orange juice, French strawberry jam, English cream tea, falafel, grapes, goat’s cheese, tomatoes, peaches, melons. Most of the chapter titles also refer to foods, scents, and flavours: Vines and Fig Trees; Lilac or Jasmine; Peaches and Snakes; Butter, Honey and Coconuts; English Tea; Milk and Honey; Dal and Willow Trees; Turkish Delights and Coconuts; Lemons and Monkeys; Musk Roses and Dogwood Trees. Was this done consciously? Why? What does this tell us about Salma? About England? About Hima? About being a stranger in a country? What do these beautiful sensory details add to the progression of the story and to the development of the themes?

It was done consciously to create a clear sense of Hima. It also tells us that Salma is in harmony with the natural world. Growing up a Bedouin farmer in Hima, she was always very aware of her natural surroundings. This richness is not reflected in the urban environment in which she finds herself in in England, and the lack intensifies her sense of loneliness. Also, the chapter headings were meant to draw the reader’s attention to specific points in the narrative and evoke a sensory reaction that would give a certain flavour to each chapter.

2. One chapter is titled Milk and Honey. The Levant has been known as “the land of milk and honey” for around two thousand years. Salma says that she “expected to find milk and honey streaming down the streets.” What is the significance of “milk and honey” in The Cry of the Dove?

This image is taken from the Qur’an and is used to describe Muslim paradise, where rivers of milk and honey flow. So Salma is pursuing not only material gain, but a dream of happiness, wholeness and access to paradise. It is a tall order, of course, and life takes Salma in a tragically different direction.

3. While many of your Western readers have some knowledge of Muslims and the Middle-East, many of us do not know much about the Bedouin in particular. Can you tell us about them? Why did you decide to make Salma Bedouin?

I spent part of my childhood with the Bedouin, who were semi-nomadic then, herding the goats and sheep, reaping crops and traveling to the wheat-threshing floor. My second novel, Pillars of Salt, was written to document that magical landscape and to preserve the Bedouins’ noble way of life, which is fast disappearing. The Bedouin live a simple, pure, yet regal life and because I lived with them they are part of my mental landscape. Salma embodies all the characteristics of the Bedouin—on the one hand, the landscape and the people are wonderful, and on the other, traditions like honour crimes are widespread. This paradoxical setting keeps the novel from becoming a one-sided Orientalist narrative.

4.I think I can say that being a shepherdess is also quite an unfamiliar concept to Western readers. Are many women in the Levant or among the Bedouin shepherdesses, or is Salma a rare case and thus an outsider not only in the Western world but even in some parts of the Middle East?

I lived with the Bedouin when I was young and women shepherdesses were quite common. At that time, the Bedouin were still primarily nomadic, taking their herds to meadows. They are mostly settled now and it is harder to find shepherdesses unless you travel deep into the desert.

5. In effect, Salma’s desperate last actions negate all the time, money and emotion many people have exerted to save her from an honour killing and help her make a new life—Miss Nailah, Khairiyya, Miss Asher and the Little Sisters, Minister Mahoney, Mrs. Henderson, Parvin, Max, Gwen and John. Some of these people even risked their own lives to help her escape. What does Salma’s decision to return to Hima alone mean? Was saving her in the first place interfering? Or was not enough done to make her forget her past and fully embrace her new life? Or was it “fate” and the call of her lost daughter that she couldn’t ignore?

Salma had to go back to save her daughter. The tug of the past was so strong that all the investment in giving her a better life could not combat it. Salma took one step forward and two steps back. She wanted to look for her lost daughter. Call it “fate” if you like, or Bedouin justice.

6. Is it common for women who have been saved by outsiders from an honour killing to return voluntarily to the place where their lives are in danger?

Women who are victims of honour killings simply die. It is rare for women who are accused of tarnishing the honour of their community to leave their countries. Most Western countries, for example, still do not give asylum to victims. So the second part of the question is irrelevant. I created Salma and sent her back to show how entrenched concepts of honour are in some societies.

7. In the UK The Cry of the Dove is published as My Name Is Salma. What is the difference in the significance of the two titles?

“The Cry of the Dove” was born because I used the lyrics of Prince’s song When Doves Cry. Then I had to take them out because of copyright rules. “My Name is Salma” is closer to what I intended to say. Salma uses different names, but when she is being truthful and closer to herself, she says, “my name is Salma.” Elsewhere I wrote:
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 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 the women who were senselessly murdered. One day the spirits of the unknown victims shall return home, to 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 can 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 she was left for four hours, bleeding to death before her father called an ambulance; this one was pushed off a high cliff by her aunt; that one set fire to herself in the bathroom, it was “suicide.” The sound of keening fills the deserts, plains and hills of Jordan. Wherever black iris grows you will find the victims. I shall kneel down to mark their graves and name their names.

8. Parvin seems to have a much easier time adjusting and integrating. Why is this?

Parvin is a second generation immigrant who is familiar with the rules of British society. Salma arrives late in life and tries hard to understand her alien environment. So Parvin guides Salma into the maze of British society. It was important to show the contrast between different immigrant groups.

9. Although Liz and Salma are very different in many ways, they both suffered tragedy in love at a young age—tragedies caused by their own families. Did you intend this parallel? Did you intend a general comment about the destructive effects of strong family or cultural traditions clashing with passionate young love?

Yes, I wanted to show that traditions, whether they are in England or the Arab world, are a straitjacket and can cripple the individual. The parallels between Liz and Salma were intentional and also an attempt to humanize Liz so the reader is not quick to condemn her. This novel is an attempt to humanize both the Arabs and the British.

10. Salma is brought to life so vividly in The Cry of the Dove. I’m just the reader and I find it hard to believe she’s “gone” (and the book finished!). How do you create your characters? How do you relate to them? Do you miss them once you’ve finished a novel?

It is similar to childbirth—painful, emotional and a sort of exorcism. As Flaubert said of Madame Bovary, “Salma, c’est moi.” She is part of me, yet not me. We have two things in common: our sense of loneliness in an alien society and a deep sense of loss and yearning for our child. I lost custody of my son when he was thirteen months old. So, like Salma, I thought of him, pined for him, looked for him everywhere. That is where the similarity ends. However, I miss Salma terribly.

I am writing a new novel entitled At the Midnight Kitchen. In it, a group of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions live next to one another in a block of flats in Hammersmith, London. There is violence, self-hatred, guilt, pursuit of redemption, compassion, humour and forgiveness. I am reluctant to finish it. I don’t want to say goodbye to my characters. It is a strange feeling. You want to keep the baby inside you rather than give birth to it and leave it fending for itself.

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

Whidbey Island Blues

Grandma Shahrazad
‘Get up girl and learn the names of trees:
Look how clever the mouse is!
It is hiding from the fire in the Douglas fir cone.
The western red cedar’s scales are intertwined.
The Lebanese cedar is taller and finer.
Minor differences, same tribe.

Whenever you are homesick
Run your fingers on the silky leaves of the vine maple then look up
Shreds of Andalusian sky flickers between the see-through leaves.

Out write the sword fern!

Don’t be brittle like a willow tree!
Girl, the red alder seeds float to survival.
Hagar must find water!

When your soul is under siege
Go to Cedar Deep! Hum and hum
Until the currant flowers
The robins, finches, singing sparrows, and even whales return,
Until the dark winter wrens fly away!

And, yes, whatever you do do not write about daffodils and clouds!

When missing grips your heart
Stick a white dogwood flower in your hair
And look towards the curvaceous harbour and the native mountain!
Her stolen spirit will tingle her way back to you.

When all is said and done girl
Lay your head on the dry leaves and scales and let go!
Fill your heart with the scent of nearness!
Turn your head not!
Fear not!
Women you have never seen or heard will deliver you.
In *Hedgebrook it is easy to die.

*Hedgebrook is a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, Seattle, USA

Back to School
He dressed me in orange,
Sat me down,
Pointed at the board
With a red laser beam
And said, ‘Repeat after me!’
I could not say it.
So he prodded me with his pointing stick.
The word looked unfamiliar,
A glimpse of a distant past.
I cleared my throat,
Forced my jaws open,
Twisted my tongue
And repeated after the American GI,

The Peace Wheel
My father used to read verses from the Qur’an,
The ‘I seek refuge’ then blow on my face
To ward off the evil eye ‘mine and theirs’.

I filled my ribs with the wind of love
And blew and blew,
Like wounds wars healed,
Borders turned into tourist attractions,
Poverty became just a memory.

Displaced, Arab I stood in *Langley Park
And blew and blew until
The peace drum started spinning,
A confetti of prayers swirled to the sea,

Hearts and sand dunes shifted,
Until the baby girl stopped crying.

* The Peace Wheel is a drum full of prayers located in the centre of Langley Park, a town in Whidbey Island, Seattle, USA

Arab Coffee in Indianapolis
(For my brother Salah)
My Circassian mother crosses seas on your high cheek bones
Then you tell a sassy joke and Eman like a jinnee appears
When you say ‘no really?’ Wafa’ smiles
You savour your coffee just like Ekhlas

I search for traces of home in your face
For the familiar to prop up my heart
With the coffee I drink your face
Like my Bedouin ancestors dry yoghurt
I store your voice, almond-shaped eyes, your aging hands
In glass jars made of blue Hebron glass

I am the one who loves first
Sees least and regrets most

A demi tass lined with mouldy coffee grains
Roof and sky close in
Lightening the only cracks in Indi darkness

Suddenly like fireflies the jars glow

*Wafa’, Ekhlas and Eman are the names of my sisters.
Indianapolis 15 May, 2005,

The Pump House,Hedgebrook, Whidbey Island, Seattle, USA
May 12-20, 2005

Dedicated to:
Alia Mamdouh, Raja’ Alem, Shadia Alem, Suhair Hammad, Ibtihal Salim and Chomin Hardi.
Justine Barda, Jacinda Denison, Beth Bradley, Kim Berto, Jess Dowdell, Barton and Gretchen Cole, and Billy Pape
The Arab American Community Coalition and the members of the Women Writers of the Arab World Steering Committee