Alta’ir: Durham-Jordan Creative Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell Najwa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Libyan author Najwa Binshatwan

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Iraqi Author Ali Bader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We publicised the fellowship in November, 2016, and we received 198 applications. Some of the best Arab writers have applied. In December, in a meeting at the American University of Kuwait we chose the shortlist. Then the committee selected the Iraqi author Ali Bader as the first Fellow and he arrived in Durham on 23 January, 2017.

Truly, a dream come true.

*****

Ali Bader is a well-known Iraqi novelist and essayist, whose work is making an important contribution to contemporary Arabic literature. He is the author of thirteen works of fiction, two of which were long-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (aka Arabic Booker), and several works of non-fiction.

He was born 1979 in Baghdad, where he studied Western Philosophy and French Literature. His first novel,Papa Sartre: بابا سارتر, which was published in 2001, focuses on the legacy of the 1960s generation, and criticises their negative impact on their culture. Following its critical acclaim in the Arab world, he was awarded the State Prize for Literature in Baghdad in 2002, and the Tunisian Abu Al-Qassem Al-Shabi Award, and the novel was translated into English.

In 2002, his novel The Family’s Winter: شتاء العائلة revisits the of theme of the decline of the Iraq’s elite, but this time focusing on the aristocracy during the 1950s. That same year, he received the Literary Creativity Prize.

His third novel The Road to Mutran Hill, published in 2003, focuses on Iraqi’s social problems and the increasing division between different segments, denominations, and ethnicities, and it prophesies the disintegration of Iraq.

His novel Jerusalem Lantern is a fictional rendering of the life of the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said.

In his novel The Tobacco Keeper, which was short listed for the international prize for Arabic Fiction, he uses reportage, memoir, historical documents, etc. to constructs the life of Kamal Medhat, an Iraqi Jewish musician, whose body was found floating on the River Tigris. The novel follows his struggle to integrate into Iraqi society. The rich tapestry is layered skilfully and the distance between observer and observed is carefully orchestrated to create maximum impact. The narrative zooms in and out on the life of the composer, which mirrors the modern history of Iraq. Larger questions about identity, nationalism, and freedom both individual and otherwise are also raised.

His latest work, Crime, Art, and a Dictionary of Baghdad, is a novel about the sacramental and philosophical schools during the Abbasid era.

He is working on his new novel Liar takes All.

Ali Bader also wrote non-fiction:  Massion in Baghdad (2005), Sleeping Prince and Waiting Campaign (2006), Shahadat: Witnessing Iraq’s Transformation after 2003 (2007), and MNSG: Navigation between Home and Exile (2008), which won the Every Human Has Rights Media Award of 2008.

He is also a seasoned publisher and recently he took the reins of Alca Books. In addition, he contributes regularly to  the Arabic newspapers such as Al-Hayat, Al-Mada, Al-Dustour, and Al-Riyadh. He was also a war correspondent.

We are fortunate to have such a prolific and prominent Arab writer among us.

Reflections on my Experience as a Judge of a Literary Prize

I was delighted to accept Kuwaiti author Taleb al-Rifai’s invitation to join the judging panel of Al-Multaqa Short Story Competition 2016, sponsored by the American University in Kuwait and Al-Multaqa al-Thaqafi: Cultural Circle, found and managed by Dr al- Rifai.

Prominent Moroccan author Ahmad Al-Madini was appointed as a chair of the panel. My colleagues on the judging panel were: Egyptian author Ezzat al-Kamhawi, Iraqi writer and critic Salima Salih, and Kuwaiti writer and critic Ali Al Enazzi.

On 27 April, 2016 in Abu Dhabi the panel met in the presence of Dr Taleb al Riai, founder of the prize, to set the criteria for the selection. We agreed that on the following yardsticks: content and creativity in presenting it, language (accuracy, beauty etc.), use of imagination, impact (emotional and otherwise), and overall vision.

What made the process successful is that both the chairman and members of the judging paned observed total confidentiality, and never disclosed the procedure or discussed participants and their works with any outside parties. This resulted in a first round free of xenophobia, cliquism, preferential treatment and immune to outside influences.

As an academic and writer of fiction, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading one hundred and eighty-four collections of Arabic short stories and exploring the literary map of the Arab world farther.

However, the amount of simple and simplistic works that get published in the Arab world is staggering and perhaps one reasons behind that is the way the publishing industry functions and publications processed. In many cases, authors pay publishers to get published not the other way round, which eschews standards and corrupts the measures commissioning editors apply when selecting a work. Alas most works that see the light should have been left in the dark. Another symptom of the lack of professionalism in publishing is the number of language and typographical mistakes. So, the author pays to be published and the publishing house spends very little on copyediting and/or printing the text and the result is poor indeed.

Most of the collections are either reportage, autobiography, memories, or confessional writing thinly disguised as fiction. They are hurried, shallow, crude and single-layered with little dramatisation and riddled with clichés without any plot or structure. In a few cases pornography is superimposed on the text and sexual scenes are not justified within the text or the context.

The description in most collections is stilted and the characters one-dimensional and static. And in many cases, you encounter sentimentality and emotions that are not justified within the text, therefore, could not be evoked in the recipient reader, a lack of what T.S. Eliot called the ‘objective correlative.’ Most collections fail at both form and content levels, which are interconnected of course.

There is a confusion concerning literary genres for prose is not poetry and no matter how beautifully-written a paragraph is that does not turn into a short story. Some writers use the twist or the surprising ending of poetry in prose. But poetic prose does not turn a text into a short story, which is a specific literary genre with its own prerequisites. There is also some over-writing and flexing of linguistic muscles without much success.

There is a marked difference in the levels of works considered for the prize and unevenness within the collections themselves. Many authors are full of good intentions, but they rarely realise them. Many authors suffer from shortness of breath and sloppiness where the movement of the hand is not completed. A disjointed literary work can be classified as ‘trauma literature’, where there are absences, but the text is normally complete and realises its full potential. But that does not apply to some of the collections I have read. Writers, in some cases, are not distant enough from their material so the they could turn them into resonant and meaningful literary texts and many use writing as exorcism or a way to vent out anger

Luckily a few authors master the art of writing fiction and in control of their tools. They use a multitude of techniques: the interior monologue, steam of consciousness, different perspectives, unreliable narrators, mixing of registers and voices, operatic corals, intertwining between fantasy and reality, intertextuality, and mythology. Some can be classified as modernist and others as postmodernists and very few are feminist. Some texts are original, creative and the imagination of their writer soars high.

In his multi-media collection “مصحة الدمى” Doll’s Infirmity”, Moroccan author Anis Arafai challenges the boundaries between fiction, essay writing, reportage and photography and the result is a tour de force. The collection cannot be classified as a photoessay or under graphic literature for that would be a reduction. Some of the prose rises to the level of poetry. Arafai uses the second person, which readers don’t encounter very often, adding to the uniqueness of his narrative. Overall his work is original, tightly-plotted, beautifully-written with a surprising ending.

It is a no mean feat for Arab authors to produce such works under the present circumstances. Some tackled political issues, such as how corruption permeates and destroys the societal fabric of a country with grace and lightness of touch. For example, in his collection “نكات للمسلحين” Jokes for Gunmen” Palestinian writer Mazen Maarouf, who unanimously won al-Multaqa Short Story Competition 2016, writes from a child’s point of view most of the time about oppression, lack of control over surroundings and other issues. This collection, in which each story is mature and complete, reminds us of the writings of the late Emil Habibi, but Maarouf takes Habibi’s writing to another level and a touch of surrealism is added to the combination of tragedy and comedy. The unusual and bizarre is mixed with the mundane to produce texts that are deceptively simple, but raise existential questions. The brutality of the occupier is always present in the background and presented indirectly or metaphorically without any mention of the political realities against which Maarouf’s texts are set or were produced.

Very few writers succeed in transposing us to their unique world, where reality is not only presented, but also reshaped. Some create rich multi-layered texts with a unique vision, which might help readers understand the complex realities of the region. In an Arab world riddled with wars, civil and uncivil, and conflicts, to pick up the pen and write is a triumph in itself. Furthermore, to produce unique and original texts that would stand any scrutiny whether local or international is a victory for Arabic literature and culture.

Published in Banipal 58, Spring 2017

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”

“*Over-writing”

“*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.

عمان عمانان: غربية وشرقية

أدي تصريح منسوب إلى ابن وزير العمل والسياحة في الأردن نضال القطامين إلى زوبعة افتراضية اجتاحت مواقع التواصل الإجتماعي منذ عدة أسابيع. فقد قام ابن الوزير بنشر تعليق على الفيسبوك يهاجم فيه سائق سيارة من نوع كيا بعد مشاحنة نشبت بينهما حين توقفه عند إشارة ضوئية. و كان ابن الوزير قد قام بنشر ما يلي على صفحته في الفيسبوك “الناس غاضبون مني لمجرد أني أسوق سيارة مرسيدس س كلاس. وكما وصفه بعض أصدقائي , هذا شخص حاقد.  ومن الصعب فهم نفسية هؤلاء السافلين المريضين والمتخلفين فكرياً في هذا البلد.” وقد اعتذر القطامين لاحقاً عن تعليقاته قائلاً أنه لم يكن يقصد أية إهانة. كما عبر عن دهشته من مدى ردود الفعل تجاه الحادثة

على الرغم من اعتذار القطامين إلا أن تعليقاته التي ترجمت إلى العربية, و انتشرت بسرعة, أدت الى ثوره افتراضية في مواقع التواصل الإجتماعي. وقام العديد من النشطاء والمغردين بنشر تعليقات استياء واستنكار اتجاه الحادثة تحت وسم ابن _الوزير#. وفيما اشتبه بعض المعلقين أن الحكومة ترغب في إثارة النزاع الطبقي, عبر آخرون عن غضبهم لأن راتب الوزير القطامين مدفوع من عرق جبين المواطنين الذين يدفعون الضرائب. ورغم أن هذه الحادثة ليست, بحد ذاتها, بتلك الأهمية، إلا أنها تعد مؤشراً على حالة الامتعاض من الطريقة التي يعامل فيها الأغنياء والمتنفذين مع الفقراء والأقل حظاً في المجتمع الأردني, ناهيك عن أمد طويل من اللامساواة

العاصمة عمان مقسومة إلى شطرين أشبه ما يكونوا بكونين متوازيين, يقع الشطر الأول في الناحية الغربية وأغلب سكانه من الأغنياء المترفين وأما الشطر الثاني فيمتد في الناحية الشرقية من العاصمة وأغلب قاطنيه من الفقراء المحرومين. بدأت تجربتي مع ما يعرف ب”الربيع العربي” في كانون الأول عام 2010. ففي عطلة العيد المجيد اندلعت مشاجرة بين طفيليين  وهم شرق أردنيون و محسيريين وهم فلسطينيون  في منطقة جبل التاج في عمان الشرقية وهو أحد الأحياء المزدحمة والتي غالبية سكانها من الفقراء. وأدت المشاجرة إلى قيام شرطة مكافحة الشغب بمحاصرة الأحياء الحي مستعينة بالآليات المسلحة والسجون المتنقلة مما حدا بالمتقاتلين المشحونين ومعظمهم من الشباب بالهتاف تنديداً بالاضطهاد وبإلقاء الحجارة وحرق الإطارات ومهاجمة السيارات . فما بدأ كمشاجرة بين مجموعات متنافسة أخذ منحناً سياسياً تجلى بقيام المتظاهرين في نهاية المطاف بترديد هتافات تطالب بالإصلاح. ومنذ تلك الحادثة, بدأت الأزمة بالتصعيد حيث أصبحت هناك حوادث طعن و إطلاق رصاص متكررة في حي كان ينعم بالأمن والسلام

فور بدء قوات الأمن استعمال الغاز المسيل للدموع قمنا بإغلاق كل النوافذ والستائر وتلثمنا بالأوشحة. ذهبت خارجاً لأرى ما يحدث وحاولت تسجيل الإشتباكات والتقاط الصور ولكنها لم تكن واضحة بسبب الظلام والدخان. وفي صباح اليوم التالي لم يبق اى اثر لليلة السابقة، اذ تم إحضارعمال النظافة قبل الفجر لتنظيف المنطقة من اي دليل للاشتباكات. كان الأثر الوحيد المتبقي لما رأته عيناي هو علبة الغاز المسيل للدموع ،المصنوعة في البرازيل،  التي سقطت في حديقة  أحد جيراننا في الحي

وفي اليوم التالي كان لدي اجتماع في فندق حياة عمان الذي تصل كلفة الإقامة فيه لليلة واحدة إلى 515 دولار أي أعلى من معدل الدخل الشهري للكثير من الأردنيين، أما الجناح فتبلغ كلفته 6166 دولار. عند دخولي الفندق، وجدت نفسي وسط  واحة هادئة مليئة بالأزهار المستوردة الباهضة الثمن تتوسطها مدفأة وشجرة عيد ميلاد مذهلة انعكست صورتها على الواجهة الزجاجية فوق ظل لمئذنة مضيئة منتصبة فوق تلة بعيدة. وكانت نغمات الموسيقي الكلاسيكية الممزوجة بأصوات قرع الكؤوس و الضحكات  تتردد في المكان ورائحة العطور والسيجار الغالي تعبق في الأجواء. كثيراً ما يقوم فندق حياة عمان بتنظيم حفلات تذوق النبيذ للأغنياء وأصحاب الذوات.  ووظيفة رجال أمن الفندق، الذين يقومون بتفتيش الأشخاص والأمتعة ،هي حماية رجال الأعمال الأجانب والسياح وكل من يستطيع شراء مشروب بسعر 7 دولار. أما قبح الأحياء الفقيرة ومخيمات اللاجئين و بيوت صفائح “الزينكو” فهي بعيدة عن العين والقلب.  فهذا الجزء “الراقي” من المدينة يكاد لا يدرك شيئاً عن ذاك الجزء الثاني القابع على مرمى بضعة أميال فقط والذي كان متقداً في الليلة الماضية، خاصة أن مثل هذه الأحداث لا تحتل سوى سطوراً قليلة في بعض الصحف الإلكترونية

ترجع بي ذاكرتي إلى الوراء عندما كنت جالسة في أحد مقاهي عمان الغربية أحتسي القهوة مع صديقة لي لينضم إلينا ابن أحد العوائل الغنية المتنفذة. أخذنا النقاش إلى الوضع الراهن، وحين قلت أن الفجوة بين الفقراء والأغنياء آخذة بالاتساع و أصبحت أكبر حجماً وأكثر وضوحاً مما قد يؤدي  إلى تداعيات لا يحمد عقباها كانعدام الأمن والإستقرار رد قائلاً: “يجب على الفقراء أن يبحثوا عن وظائف ويباشروا بالعمل”. استأذنتهم على الفور وأخذت سيارة أجرة لأعود إلى عمان الشرقية حيث يسكن والداي. في الطريق, قال لي سائق التاكسي أن الفجوة بين دخله وما عليه إنفاقه شهريا تبلغ حوالي 423 دولار. بحسب إحصائيات البنك الدولي 12% من الأردنيين تحت خط الفقر

يقبل معظم سكان عمان الشرقية بأي وظيفة كانت مثل ترميم الملابس وبيع السلع الرخيصة وتصليح الأواني وتوصيل الطلبات والمشتريات للمنازل. وعلى الرغم من ذلك، ازداد عدد الشباب المتسكعين في الشوارع. وبحسب تقارير البنك الدولي إن معدل البطالة الرسمي المعلن عنه يقدر ب 15% بينما يتراوح في الواقع ما بين 25-30%. ويصل معدل البطالة للشباب الذين تتراوح أعمارهم بين 20-23 سنة إلى 40% و36% لمن تتراوح أعمارهم بين 25-39 سنة. إن عدم وجود فرص عمل إضافة إلى قلة المراكز الترفيهية والمساحات المخصصة  للمجتمع المحلي يؤدي إلى الشعور بالإحباط العام  الذي يحوله أقل استفزاز إلى غضب عارم

لذلك، ضربت تعليقات ابن الوزير على الوتر الحساس لا سيما أن الفساد والمحسوبية في تفشٍ مستمر. عندما كنت في الأردن، ذهبت إلى إحدى الدوائر الرسمية لأقوم بتجديد بطاقة الأحوال المدنية. أما رحلتي لفرع دائرة الجوازات العامة في المحطة، فقد استدعت إلى ذاكرتي شيئاً مشابهاً رأيته في بوغوتا. ففي عام 2008 ذهبت إلى العاصمة الكولومبية لحضور المؤتمر الرابع و السبعين لنادي القلم الدولي كضيفة شرف. حين وصلت الى الفندق كان في استقبالي ثلاث مجموعات مختلفة من الحرس إضافة إلى الكلاب البوليسية. فالجرائم منتشرة والأجانب في خطر إذ لا يسمح لهم  بالتجول أو حتى مغادرة الفندق بدون حماية أمنية مشددة. وفي إحدى المرات التي غادرنا فيها الفندق ركبنا باصاَ صغيراً مر بنا في شارع بدون أية إضاءة. بدا المنظر كأنه نسيج من وحي مخيلتي. فجأة، وجدت نفسي أمام مشهد من فيلم عن نهاية العالم إذ كانت الحشود تتجمع لشراء البضائع أو للمقايضة عليها في الظلام، أي سوق سوداء بالمعنيين المجازي والحرفي. نشر الباعة المتجولون رقعهم على الأرض لتترامى على جانبي الشارع. وعلى بعد بضعة أمتار ترى النيران والدخان وتسمع الموسيقى الصاخبة، ورائحة الطعام الدسم تفوح في الهواء.  احتشد الناس في الشارع يغنون ويرقصون في الظلام مما اضطر السائق إلى القيادة بحذر ليتفادى الاصطتدام بالأكشاك المتنقلة

على خلاف بوغوتا، كان الوقت مبكراً والشمس ساطعة في عمان. أخذت تاكسي إلى المحطة ولكن المرحلة الأخيرة من رحلة تجديد البطاقة كانت بطيئة. بدا المكان مثل سوق البراغيث او الجمعة إذا كان مليئا بالاكشاك المتنقلة لبيع الملابس والأحذية والأثاث القديم والأساور وقلائد الخرز. تم نشر البضائع ومعظمها مستعملة ورديئة الصنع على الأرض بل وتجاوزت الرصيف لتُنثر في الشارع نفسه فكان لابد لسائق التاكسي من توخي الحذر كي لا يدهس الباعة وبضائعهم المبعثرة في كل مكان

عندما وصلنا الفرع المحلي لدائرة الجوازات بدا كل شئ متواضعاً ولكن منظماً. وكانت الإشارة الوحيدة من الماضي التي تلوح في المكان هي الرجل المسن الذي يجلس على كرسي قش ويبيع الطوابع في الخارج. قدمت طلبا ثم دفعت ووقفت في الطابور. لم أرى أي دليل على معاملة تفضيلية. في أثناء انتظاري اتصل بي مسؤول رفيع المستوى وسألني عن مكاني. وعندما أوضحت له أنني أنتظر تجديد بطاقة الأحوال المدنية أجابني مستغرباً: “لماذا؟ سأصطحبك إلى مدير الجوازات العامة وتجدد بطاقتك بينما تنتظرين في مكتبه مستمتعة بكاسة شاي”. رفضت عرضه بأدب

هذه الواقعة تدل على أن  الكثير من المتنفذين والأغنياء في البلد يدبرون شؤونهم دون تعبئة نماذج أو الإنتظار في طوابير حيث يدير لهم أمورهم ومعاملاتهم آخرون. وفي بعض الأحيان يحصلون على مبتغاهم و يقومون بإجراءات رسمية بدون أية زيارة، حتى لو شكلية, للدائرة أو الوزارة المعنية. وهذا خير دليل على تفشي الواسطة والمحسوبية. فإذا لم يكن عندك واسطة فلن تستطيع تدبير امورك بسهولة. على سبيل المثال, هناك وظائف معينة في وزارة الخارجية تذهب فقط لأبناء وبنات عائلات معينة. لذلك كانت هذه النقطة بالتحديد، أي الشفافية والوضوح في توزيع فرص العمل، من مدرج مطالب حملة “ظلمتونا” وتيار الإصلاح الأردني حراك

بناءً على ذلك، عندما التقي سكان عمان الغربية مع سكان عمان الشرقية، الأغنياء والفقراء، على تلك  الإشارة الضوئية, كان من الطبيعي أن يكون هناك حالة تنافر واستياء أدت إلى مشاجرة. وإن ردود الفعل على العبارات التي كتبها ابن الوزير على صفحته في الفيسبوك، مشيراً إلى الجدال الذي نشب بينه وبين المواطن الأردني العادي، هي ليست موجهة له شخصيا ولايمكن إدراجها ببساطة تحت بند الغيرة أو الحسد أو النزاع الطبقي بل هي خير دليل على حالة القرف العام من الواسطة والمحسوبية والفساد المتفشي والحرمان الاقتصادي

تم نشر هذا المقال في جريدة القدس العربي

Behind the Façade in Amman

Statements attributed to the son of the Minister of Labour and Tourism in Jordan, Nidal Katamine, caused an uproar on social networking sites few weeks ago. He posted a tirade against a motorist driving a Kia, who started an argument with him on a traffic light. The minister’s son posted the following on his Facebook page: ‘People are angry with me because I drive an S-Class Mercedes . . . He is what my people call a ‘hater’. But you don’t seem to understand the psychology of sick minded backward cunts in this country.’ Katamine apologized for his remarks, saying that he did not intend to cause any offence, he also expressed surprise at the scale of the reaction to the incident.

Despite his apology his comments, which were translated into Arabic and circulated, caused a storm on social media. Under the hash tag ‘son-of-the-minster’ activists and tweeters posted comments, which were either deprecating or critical. Some suspected the government of stirring class conflict. Others were angry because his father’s salary is paid by the taxpayers. Although this incident is not important in itself it points to a malaise in Jordanian society: the way the rich and powerful treat the underprivileged. And a large number of poor Jordanians have been at the receiving end of unequal treatment.

Amman is divided into two parallel universes one on the west, mostly affluent, and one on the east, mostly poor. This is how I experienced the so called ‘Arab Spring’ which began in December 2010. One Christmas three years ago a fight between Transjordanian Tafilis and Palestinian Mahsirys erupted in Jabal al-Taj, a crowded poor area in East Amman, and instantly the riot police surrounded the neighbourhood with their armoured vehicles and mobile prisons. The mostly young men charged, shouting abuse, and hurling stones. They attacked stationary vehicles and burnt tyres. What started as a quarrel between rival groups turned political and towards the end the demonstrators shouted slogans calling for reform. Things have escalated since in what used to be a peaceful neighbourhood and incidents of stabbing and shooting are reported recently.

When the riot police began using tear gas we closed all the windows and curtains, wore scarves and wrapped them like masks around our faces. We were worried about my mother who has a chest condition. I went outside to see what was happening. I could not film the attacks because it was dark and smoky and the photos I took were blurred. The morning after there was no trace of the night before. Street cleaners were brought in before dawn and they swept the rubbish and carted all evidence away. The only evidence that what I saw actually happened was a canister of tear gas made in Brazil, which fell in one of the neighbour’s gardens.

The next day my meeting was at the Grand Hayatt Regency hotel, where a room costs up to 365 JOD, higher than the average monthly income of many Jordanians. You could also pay 4365 JOD for a suite. I walked into an oasis of calm, imported expensive flowers, open fires and an amazing Christmas tree. Its reflection on the glass was against a lit minaret on the distant hill. The sound of classical music, clinking of glasses, and laughter, and the scent of expensive cigars lingered in the air. Hayatt Regency often organise wine tasting for the uber wealthy. The body and luggage searches before you get in, and security guards protect foreign businessmen, tourist and those who can afford a drink for about 5 JOD. The ugliness of poor neighbourhoods, refugee camps and shanty towns is out of sight and mind. This part of the city knew little about that other part of the city few miles away, which was on fire the night before especially when such riots merit few lines in an on line newspaper.

I remember sitting in one of the cafés in west Amman having coffee with a friend. The son of a rich and influential family joined us. When I said the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and more visible and this will lead to instability and lawlessness. He said, ‘the poor should find jobs and start working.’ I excused myself and took a taxi to East Amman, where my parents live. The driver told me that the gap between what he earns and spends is about 300 JOD. According to the Word Bank 12% of Jordanians are under the poverty line.

Most East Ammanis take any job going: mending clothes, selling cheap merchandise, fixing utensils, couriering groceries to houses. But over the years the number of young men gathering in street corners rose. According to the World Bank Report unemployment is officially pegged at about 15%, but actually may be in the range of 25-30%. The unemployment rate for those between the ages of 20-24 is almost 40% and is 36% for those between ages 25 and 39. Living with no job prospects and few urban recreational centres or spaces, the youth are frustrated and their anger comes to the surface at the least provocation.

The son of minister’s comments hit a raw nerve because corruption and nepotism are rife. I went to one of the departments to renew my Identity Card. The trip to the Mahatta branch of the Passport Office reminded me of something I saw in Bogotá, Columbia, where I was a Guest of Honour at the 74th World Congress of International Pen in 2008. When I arrived at the hotel I was welcomed by three different groups of guards and sniffer dogs. Crime was wide-spread and foreigners could not leave the hotel or travel unescorted. In a mini bus we drove through a dark street with no lighting and the sight seemed like a figment of my own imagination. I was suddenly in a post-apocalypse film where crowds gathered to buy or barter goods, a black economy literally. Vendors spread their knick-knacks on the ground on both sides of the street. There were camp fires and music, and the smell of street food filled the air. People haggled, sang, danced in the darkness and the driver had to drive carefully to get through the makeshift stalls.

Unlike Bogotá, it was morning and the sun was shining in Amman. I took a taxi to Mahatta. The final leg of our journey was slow. The place looked like a flea market and was full of makeshift stalls selling clothes and shoes, old furniture, bead bracelets and necklaces. Most of the used goods and low quality items were spread on the floor and infringed on the main road itself. The driver had to navigate carefully so as not to run over peddlers or their merchandise.

When we arrived to the local branch of the Passport Office all seemed humble, but orderly. The only nod to the past was the old man, sitting on a straw chair and selling stamps outside. I applied, paid and joined the queue. There was no preferential treatment and the only thing that you might encounter in any other county was that one of the female civil servants was in a bad mood. A high ranking official rang me and asked me where I was. I explained that I was waiting for my new ID card. He said, ‘Why? I will take you to the head of the Passport Office. It will be renewed while you enjoy a cup of tea.’ I politely refused his offer.

So some of the affluent and powerful get their affairs done without filing a form or waiting in queues. It is all handled for them by others. Sometimes their applications are processed without even visiting the relevant department or ministry. Nepotism and preferential treatment is wide spread. If you don’t have a wasta: an influential intermediary you don’t go far. Certain jobs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example, go to sons and daughters of certain families and one of the demands of Thalmtouna Campaign and Hirak, Jordanian Reform Movement, is transparency about job allocation.

When the residents of the two parts of Amman met, the rich and poor, at that traffic light, they didn’t like each other and an argument ensued. The reaction to the row of the Minister’s Son with an ordinary Jordanian citizen and his Facebook status is not personal, or can be easily classified under the politics of envy, or as spite and class war. It shows simmering resentment at nepotism, pandemic corruption, and economic deprivation.

Metamorph

Zantedeschia 2

Zantedeschia 2 by Boo Beaumont

It was winter. Lying in bed I watched us crack. You packed your bags, but left the black wedding suit labelled ‘Next’. Your manhood’s paraphernalia: cufflinks, ties, boxer shorts, the watch I bought you, cards, anniversarial vowing of undying devotion and my love for lemons that perhaps rubbed on you.

They brought me so far: watching flames in the fireplace tilting this way and that in his cottage, funereal music, phone calls through crackling lines, e-mails, freesias, endless cups of English tea, Farsi fereshteh, Palestinian fatit humus. ‘Have a warm soup dear! Keep calm and put the kettle on!’

It is autumn now. I stand on the wet grass with the viaduct behind me, each arch lit a different colour. X-Rayed flowers projected on the sandstone wall and round-headed sashes of the church.  Austere into sublime. We look, but don’t see what lies beneath a face. Images of inners exposed melt into each other.The scan shows how they regroup, disperse, tear, mend. Petals pulsate and reach out. The stoma and grana capture light, turn it into energy. Nectar.An eternal call answered. Breathe out! Cells dancing to the music of be. Soundtrack cyclical. A libretto without a tenor. Flora in f major. Life.That you could not pack.

This piece was inspired by Boo Beaumont’s Metamorph, Durham Lumiere 2011. See more of her work HERE