art of resistance, Palestine, Syria

The Book To Read: Victims Of A Map.

7-berlin-biennale-khaled-jarrar-briefmarken-2012-651x940/photo © Khaled Jarrar/

Victims of a Map is a beautiful bilingual anthology of Arabic poetry, including works of Mahmoud Darwish, Samih al Qasim and Adonis. The three of them are absolute stars in the world of (Arabic) poetry.

Alongside the original Arabic, this book includes thirteen poems by Darwish and a long work by Adonis written during the Beirut siege in 1982 – never before published. It’s really a labour of love and you can feel it in every page (lovely translation by Abudllah al-Udhari).

In The Desert (Diary of Beirut siege), great Syrian poet Adonis writes:

“My era tells me bluntly

you do not belong

I answer bluntly

I do not belong

I try to understand you

Now I am a shadow

Lost in the forest

Of a skull”

Most of the poetry by Adonis and Darwish and al-Qasim particularly, is written in a simple, everday language, but it speaks of the things greater than life – the hollowness of isolation, inevitability of “destiny”, solidity of “roots”, overwhelming hopelessness and permanent yearning for freedom.


In We are Entitled to Love the End of Autumn Darwish writes:

“We are entitled to love the end of autumn and ask:

Is there room for another autumn in the field to rest our bodies like coal?

An autumn lowering its leaves like gold. I wish we were fig leaves

I wish we were an abandoned plant

To witness the change of seasons. I wish we didn’t say goodbye

To the south of the eye so as to ask what

Our fathers had asked when they flew on the tip of the spear”

As it is written in the introduction of this book, the poems in Victims of a Map express not only the fate of Arabs, Syrians or Palestinians, but also of the humanity itself, trapped in a contemporary tragedy. The resistance poetry by Darwish, al-Qasim and Adonis, raises a local tragedy to a level of a universal one.

Just think about it – how many people are today, and in how many ways – victims of a map? In The Story of a City, al-Qasim writes:

“A blue city

dreamt of tourists

shopping day after day.

A dark city

hates tourists

scanning cafes with rifles.”

Read this beautiful little anthology! Like it is often the case with great poetry books – you’ll never finish reading it and it is worth all of your time.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

War Works Hard

Desert Songs Of The Night

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

art of resistance, Iraq

The Book To Read: War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail.

dunya1/Dunya Mikhail, photo via Vimeo/

Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail continues to amaze me. I recently read The War Works Hard, Mikhail’s first poetry collection translated to English (beautifully translated by Elizabeth Winslow). The War Works Hard was also the first translation of poems by a female Iraqi poet published in the United States (it was published in 2005).

The poems in this collection were written between 1985 and 2004, during the two decades of mainly sad and painful moments for Iraq and its people. Years of war working hard. In a poem I was in a hurry, Mikhail writes:

Yesterday I lost a country.

I was in a hurry,

And didn’t notice

When it fell from me

Like a broken branch from a forgetful tree


Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965. While working as a journalist for the Baghdad Observer, she faced increasing threats from the authorities and fled first to Jordan and then to the United States in the late 1990s. In 2001, she was awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing.

When you first look at it, Mikhail’s poetry might seem very simple, but she manages to achieve so much with so little. Her writing is gentle, bare, unadorned, direct. The language is pointed, stark. There’s so much beauty, honesty and love in that – it’s moving, it’s thoughtful and respectful. It’s caring.

In a poem Prisoner, Mikhail writes:

She doesn’t understand

The prisoner’s mother doesn’t understand

Why she should leave him

Just because

“The visit is over”

I am thankful to Dunya Mikhail for continuing to write (Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea was published in 2009, Iraqi Nights in 2014), and to Elizabeth Winslow and Kareem James Abu-Zeid for translating Mikhail’s work and making it available for more readers everywhere.

I hope to read more of Mikhail’s new poetry, but I am also sure I will go back to The War Works Hard many times in the future. I’d go back, even if it was only for this verse:

You planted pomegranates and prisons

round, red and full.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Desert Songs Of The Night

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

The French Intifada

art of resistance, Egypt

Alaa Al Aswany: The Automobile Club Of Egypt (excerpt).


The following is an excerpt from Alaa Al Aswany’s lovely book The Automobile Club Of Egypt.

“The story started when a man called Karl Benz met a woman called Bertha.

In the only extant photograph of him, Karl Benz appears distracted, his mind so preoccupied by something other than the details of daily life that he has forgotten to do up the buttons of his jacket as he stands for the camera. His face appears to show a deep-­grained sadness, a look of despondency left by a hard childhood. His father, a railroad engineer, had died in a terrible accident when Karl was just two, and his mother fought hard to provide him a good education.

Still, he had had to start working at a young age in order to help support his siblings. The photograph shows his intelligence and determination, but it also portrays him as somewhat distant, as if he is looking at something on the far horizon that only he can see. Bertha’s photograph, on the other hand, reflects a special type of beauty, one not sensual but brimming with maternal tenderness.

Still, the captivating graciousness and angelic modesty of her features cannot hide a steely determination of her own and a readiness to sacrifice herself for duty.

It was July 20, 1872. In the German city of Mannheim, the church was full to the rafters with men and women in their Sunday best, so many people having been invited that some had to stand during the ceremony. Despite rebukes and reprimands, the children kept babbling and fidgeting. The smell of the freshly painted church walls permeating the hot air did nothing to relieve the stifling heat as the women muttered and rapidly fanned themselves with their patterned silk fans.

Suddenly, cries of joy went up, along with scattered clapping, as Karl Benz appeared in his elegant white suit, arm in arm with his bride, Bertha, who glittered in a beautiful gown of green French lace encrusted with small clusters of diamanté, the gown glistening and the deep round neckline showing off her exquisite skin. It was pulled in tightly to highlight her fabulous waist and below that puffed out in a bell shape like a ballet dancer’s costume.

The couple walked slowly up the aisle to the altar and then repeated the marriage vows uttered first by the corpulent priest, who, due to the heat, took a sip after every sentence from a glass of cold water placed near him and wiped the sweat from his brow with a large white handkerchief.

Karl held Bertha’s hand and spoke his vow in a staccato and rasping voice, as if he was reticent about the words. When it was Bertha’s turn, her face reddened slightly, her breath becoming irregular, and the words came out in the disjointed fashion of a schoolgirl reading out a difficult text for a demanding teacher:

‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I take thee, Karl Benz, to be my lawfully wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.’

A dinner for the family and some close friends followed the ceremony. Just before midnight, Karl opened the door to their new house, and Bertha paused before walking across the threshold. She thought about how one part of her life was coming to an end and a new one was beginning, and she whispered a prayer to God to bless their life together.


She knew that he was an engineer at a workshop and that he had set something up with a partner in order to earn a living. One day he came asking her to lend him a sum of money to buy out the partner. She did not hesitate for a moment but handed over the amount from her own savings, with Karl kissing her hands in gratitude.

He said excitedly that he would never forget her kindness, but within a few days he had gone back to his odd ways. He told her that he had rented the cellar of the Millers’ house in the next street as a workshop. There, he said rather brusquely, he would be able to finish what he had started in the workshop. Then he avoided answering any of her questions, smiled cryptically and left the house.


Karl started spending long hours at the cellar, refusing to allow Bertha to see it, and when she asked him who was cleaning the place for him, he pretended not to hear. As the days passed, his behavior became more erratic.

He would settle himself down in the far corner of the sitting room, smoking a cigar and saying nothing, completely aloof from everything around him, when suddenly he’d jump to his feet and rush out of the house as if he had just remembered some urgent chore. He would be gone for hours on end and, when he returned, would carry on as if nothing was awry.


Deep down, she was afraid of confronting the truth. Anxiety over her adulterous husband had been gnawing away mercilessly at her soul, and there was only the most remote possibility of his innocence. What if she were to confront him and he confessed to adultery? What would she do then?

Should she tell her family, walk out on him? She had to think it through properly first. She decided to play for time while preparing to have it out with him, remembering that once you start out on the road downhill, there is no stopping.

One morning after breakfast, as he was about to leave for work, she was standing by the door to see him off and was surprised to hear him say, avoiding her gaze, ‘I won’t be home tonight.’

‘For what reason?’

‘I’ve got some work that I can’t put off, so I am going to work through the night in the cellar.’

Now, for the first time, Bertha could not control herself. She exploded, and her voice could be heard throughout the house, ‘Just stop it, Karl. I can’t continue putting up with your lies. What work would make you spend the night out of the house? What do you take me for? I am neither a child nor a fool. I know what has been going on. You’re cheating on me, Karl. But why live a life of lies with me? Leave me and go to her, if you’re in love.’

She said all of this, standing with her hands on her hips, her hair disheveled, a look of fury on her face and her greenish eyes exuding bitterness and anger. She was raging, ready to fight it out, but then she burst into tears. Karl looked at her calmly, in a state of incomprehension. He knitted his brows and said nothing but tried to embrace her. She pushed him away forcefully, sobbing, and she shouted, ‘Get away from me!’

Then, suddenly, he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the door as she cried out, ‘What are you doing?’

‘Come with me.’

He grasped her hand more tightly and pulled her outside.

The autumn sky was dull, overcast and threatening rain. Karl strode forth while Bertha tried to wriggle out of his grasp, almost falling a few times; they were such an odd sight that some passersby started giving them sidelong glances.

When they reached the Millers’ house, he led her down to the cellar and unlocked the door with his right hand while keeping hold of her with his left. The door screeched open in response to his kick. He pulled her inside, finally letting go of her hand to turn on the lamp.

Rubbing her now freed wrist, she looked around. The space was full of strange objects, machines great and small, bicycles of various sizes lying on the floor, a large blackboard covered with scores of equations, technical drawings hanging on the walls, a wooden workbench with engine parts on it with countless nails and screws in containers nearby.

Karl sat her down on the only chair, and he leaned against the old wall covered in flakes of paint as he started to explain. As she listened to him, she started to put the whole picture together, and her sullenness turned into astonishment. When he’d finished explaining, she asked him a few questions, to which he gave straightforward and complete answers.

Finally, there was nothing left to say, and a pregnant silence fell over them. Karl knelt down beside her, kissed her hands and knees and said, ‘Bertha, I love you. I will never love another woman. I am so sorry that my work has kept me away from you, but I have been working for years to achieve the dream I have been living for. I am trying, one day, to invent a horseless carriage. A carriage driven by a motor.'”

art of resistance

The Book To Read: Desert Songs Of The Night.

somuchlove/Cairo by Nour El Demerdash/

Desert Songs of the Night: 1500 Years of Arabic Literature is a new anthology of Arabic poetry and prose, published last year by Saqi Books.

It reminded me of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (2010, W.W. Norton & Company), which I really liked, so I decided to get my hands on Desert Songs of the Night as soon as possible.

Desert Songs of the Night presents some of the finest poetry and prose by Arab writers, from the Arab East to Andalusia, over the last fifteen hundred years. It was edited by Suheil Bushrui and James M. Malarkey.

I’ve read most of Bushrui’s work on Kahlil Gibran and was really enthusiastic to see him involved in this project. Bushrui died last year, so reading this book felt like the right way of paying respects.

The book itself was a huge task to take on – presenting fifteen centuries of a literature still largely unknown outside of the Arab world, finding a proper way to introduce each period and provide a wider context, linking it all together, choosing what’s important and what can be left out, adding the always present translation doubts…

It wasn’t easy, and that is obvious when reading the book.

desert songs-xlarge

The collection moves from the mystical imagery of the Qur’an and the colorful stories of The Thousand and One Nights, to the powerful verses of longing of Mahmoud Darwish and Nazik al-Mala’ika, and the resistance of the great Fadwa Tuqan.

It includes translated excerpts of works by the major authors of the period, as well as by lesser-known writers of equal significance. The editors stress that Arabic does not necessarily mean Islamic – in this anthology, there are many works by Christian and Jewish authors who formed an integral part of the culture of the Arab world.

Most of this collection covers the seventh to the 15th century, and then the 20th century – the time of revival in Arabic literature. There are many good selections – interesting, unique, important works – but the book left me craving for more structure, for the links binding it all together (literature with the body of history and time).

It would be amazing if each section included an introductory essay by the editors, it would make some of the writing much more understandable and allow the reader to connect all the dots. It would be nice to find out more about the authors and what their art meant in times and spaces they were living in.

All of that being said, this is still a really important anthology and I highly recommend reading it. The variety of the collection offers a good glimpse of the diverse and beautiful world of Arabic literature. Like the old poet Abu Tammam, quoted in the book, described it: “Blood relationship we may lack, but literature is our adopted father”.

We should let literature teach us, let it enable us to grow together, to get to know each other. Also important to mention, like Hanan Al-Shaykh puts it:

“At a time when the world is obsessing about violence and bloodletting in the Arab world, this remarkable anthology, which spans 1,500 years of Arab literary genius, is a stark reminder of the story we keep missing about the region.”

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

The French Intifada

The Librarian of Basra

art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Playlist: Nakba Day.

shatila 5 ivana/Shatila, photo © Ivana Peric, MER/

Today’s playlist is a little different. It’s fifteenth of May, Nakba day, the day of the catastrophe.

It is the day when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes, when they watched skies falling on their heads, when they died or continued to live – with sadness and longing, always looking back to that all-defining 1948.

To commemorate this day, I am posting a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, called The Dice Player. This video features a beautiful animation by Nissmah Roshdy. Darwish writes:

And so the fear strolled within me

And I strolled barefoot in its path

Leaving behind my childhood memories

And the dreams I had for tomorrow

Previous Playlist:

Ghalia Benali

Alsarah & The Nubatones

Kaan Wafi, Pieces From Exile

Yasmine Hamdan

art of resistance, Egypt

Ahmed Naji: The Guide For Using Life.

ahmed-nagy-1-768x430/Ahmed Naji, photo via Daily News Egpyt/

The Egyptian novelist and journalist Ahmed Naji has been given a two-year prison sentence two months ago for “violating public modesty” after publishing a book with references to sex and drugs. An Egyptian citizen brought charges against the author after an excerpt of his novel The Guide for Using Life was published in the magazine Akhbar al-Adab.

The prosecution argued that the published work “violates the sanctity of public morals and general ethics”. The United Group, an organisation comprised of lawyers, legal researchers, and human rights advocates, submitted the appeal to the prosecution with the cooperation of Nagi’s family.

The sentences handed to Naji and Al-Taher have received widespread condemnation and have been criticised for being unconstitutional by many politicians, writers, media figures, associations, and parties.

Naji wrote the experimental novel collaborating with the illustrator Ayman al-Zorqani, who drew for the book. The following English translation was done by Ben Koerber (it was first published on Arabic Literature). Read the excerpt, share your support for Naji’s case!

That’s not to say life in Cairo was completely miserable. There were good times to be had year-round: some during our long summer, and quite a few during our short winter. Such times were, invariably, either days off work or days without it. They say the city never sleeps, they say it bursts at the seams. The city rotates and revolves. The city branches out. The city beats, the city bleeds.

In their places of work and worship, the people of this city swarm. They shop and scurry and go for a piss, so the Wheel of Production might go on spinning despite the traffic. That’s how it all looks, if you’re an eagle soaring up above. But if you’re just a little mouse of a man spinning inside that great Wheel, you never get to see the big picture. You go to work and do your job, and might even earn a reasonable salary. If, by some great fortune, you manage to see the fruit of your labors, it still won’t move you an inch. Whether you work or not, the Wheel of Production keeps on spinning, and the current carries you along.

Which brings me to the time Mona May and I went over with a group of friends to Moud’s apartment in Garden City. This was after a party at Youssef Bazzi’s place. We stayed up until the morning smoking hash and competing to finish a whole bottle of vodka. I remember seeing the music dissolve into monkeys that clung to the ceiling. There was a blonde German tapping her leg to the beat. Erections popping around the room. A young Palestinian-American, with poor Arabic, talking a lot about racism. Smoke, cigarettes, hashish. And more smoke.

“Bassam,” says Kiko, turning to me with a totally bloodshot look. “I’ve got smoke in my eyes.”

“Go easy on ’em, baby.”

I pull a tissue over her eyes and blow gently.  The German girl watches with a confused look.  As I pull the tissue away, my palm drips with the dark freshness of Kiko’s face.  I plant a light kiss on her lips.

“Did you know there’s a kind of sexual fetish called ‘licking the pupil’?” says the German girl in English.

“How exactly do you mean?”

“Yeah, I read about that once,” interjects Moud.

“That’s disgusting,” objects Kiko, wrapping her arms around me.

What are your typical twenty-somethings to do in Cairo? Might they go for pupil licking? Are they into eating pussy? Do they like to suck cock, or lick dirt, or snort hash mixed with sleeping pills?  Or one might ask how long it would take for any of these fetishes to lose its thrill.  Are they good for life?

Everyone here has done lots of drugs, both during and after college. Yet here we all are, little islands unto ourselves, with no greater aspiration than to hang out together. We manage to stay alive by sucking our joy out of one another.

Mona May is standing next to the speakers. Her eyes are glazed over as though her soul’s been sucked up by the music monkeys on the ceiling, and her body sways to the beat.

After a while, taking drugs clearly got old. Or they were just not enough. And if one of us ever gave in to total addiction, his life would be over in a few months: this we know by trial and experience. Those of us left in this room are too chicken to end our lives in this or any other way, maybe because we still cling to some sort of hope, some sort of love or friendship.

For all that Cairo takes from its residents, it gives nothing in return – except, perhaps, a number of life-long friendships that are determined more by fate than any real choice. As the saying goes, “He who goes to Cairo will there find his equal.” There’s no such thing as smoking by yourself. And the food’s only got taste if you have someone to chow it down with, happily, carcinogens and all.

In this city, you’ll be lucky if you can get over your sexual tension, and appreciate sex as just one of the many facets of a friendship. Otherwise, your horniness will make you a testy bitch. Kiko rubs my back, and I feel a heat between my legs.

useoflife/The Use of Life/

As dawn came up, Moud went to his room, and everyone else went home. Too lazy to head back to 6th of October City, I lay down and fell asleep on the couch. I woke up early with a slight headache, an army of ants marching in the space between my brain and my skull. I went to the bathroom and took one of the pills Moud had brought from overseas to fight hangovers. After taking a warm shower, I called Lady Spoon and agreed to breakfast at Maison Thomas in Zamalek.

On the way, the streets were washed over and empty of traffic.  It’s a holiday: perhaps the Islamic New Year, or Victory Day, or Revolution Day, or Saltwater Catfish Day.  Whatever it was, the city looked drowsy and everyone was checked out.  At moments like this, I barely recognize the place.

When I’m able to get from Qasr al-Aini to Zamalek in under 20 minutes, I almost feel like she’s decided to warm up to me.  But I know that wicked smile on her face: She’s telling me, “At any moment, I can have you stuck in traffic for over an hour, with nothing to do but sit back and feel sorry for yourself as the noise of the streets slowly sucks the life out of you.”  Open veins spewing blood all over the bathroom.

I met Lady Spoon outside the restaurant.  She had on a long white dress showing her arms and a bit of cleavage.

“You smell really nice,” she said, kissing me on both cheeks.

“It’s Moud’s cologne.”

It was her neck that made me fall for her. She’s nine years older than me, but she knows how to stay youthful, exercising regularly and always eating healthy. She’s pretty, cheerful, and has a successful career in advertising. Unfortunately for her, she’s a Protestant and happens to love Egypt, and her chances of meeting someone with both these qualities in Cairo are slim at best.

She studied overseas before spending quite a long time being terrified of getting married or settling down. Sometimes, she’d like to have children. She had been used to dating men who were older than her, but suddenly, they had stopped showing an interest. Those that did show interest didn’t interest her. This was the first time that she would be dating someone younger than her, which made her embarrassed to tell her friends.

The name “Lady Spoon” was given to her by Mona May.  She saw her once at a concert wearing a pair of spoon-shaped earrings.

These were the same earrings she had on now. They swayed with the movement of her hand as she chopped a loaf of bread. In spite of the dryness in my throat, I’d been smoking since I woke up this morning. Cigarettes have a different sort of taste with the morning breeze in Zamalek: something resembling bliss, desire, a softness in violet and orange.

Our breakfast was eggs, along with slices of the finest quality pork, imported from abroad. After honey, jam, and a glass of orange juice, I’m back to life.  As the poet says, “You ain’t you when you’re hungry.” At Maison Thomas, her smile nudges me awake under a white bed.

We walked around the streets of Zamalek in the direction of her apartment.  She had a thin silver bracelet around her ankle and toenails painted red.  Sometimes we would walk hand in hand, and sometimes with my arm around her waist.  Under the shade of the trees, we laughed. We shot smiles at the officers standing guard outside different embassies, but their solemn demeanor didn’t change.

I thought … Do I love her?

Of course I love her.  I can’t touch a woman I don’t love. But then, what is love exactly?  It’s a relaxing of the heart, a tranquility in your soul, a warmth in your stomach.  It’s like any love in Cairo, always ready to disappear.  A lover of companionship.

art of resistance

Five For Friday: A(nother) Year Of Writing.

Umm-Kulthum-3/The Best Lady Of Them All,  © Chant Avedissian: Cairo Stencils. Issa, Rose (Ed.) London: SAQI/

Two days ago was Umm Kulthum’s death anniversary (the best lady of them all). Tomorrow is Middle East Revised’s second birthday.

That is the reason why this edition of Five for Friday will be a little bit different. It’s five categories and each one of them includes something I really liked (writing about) throughout the year. Hope you’ll enjoy it and find something interesting.

1. Book Palestinian Walks, Notes On A Vanishing Landscape

DSC08257/Wadi Rum, photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

It’s hard to choose one book, and many more wonderful writings wait for you if you scroll though The Book To Read section. However, there was something special about Raja Shehadeh’s experience presented in this lovely book.

Seven walks captured in the book span a period of twenty-seven years, in the hills around Ramallah, in the Jerusalem wilderness and through ravines by the Dead Sea. Each walk takes place at a different stage of Palestinian history.

The loss of such a simple pleasure as walking around freely is much more important than it might seem, for it exists within a much greater loss – deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land. Read the full review of the book for more.

2. Interview – Samar Hazboun On Living And Working Under Occupation & All That’s Left Is Women Wearing Black

hush/photo © Samar Hazboun/

These two interviews were and are so important to me. I am so happy I managed to speak to Samar Hazboun and Aida Baghdadi, both brave, creative, inspiring souls. Hazboun is a great Palestinian photographer, Aida is a great Syrian lawyer and human rights activist.

Samar’s work is always filled with depth and empathy. She makes projects and not products, her work is a constant learning experience, and not a calculated pose. Read the full interview.

Aida Baghdadi managed to break my heart and put it back together at the same time. We were both crying at the end of the interview, and it’s the first time that ever happened to me. Read the interview here.

While you’re reading it, remember Syria is more than numbers, more than a word you hear all the time – Syria is Aida, her family, her friends, her dreams, her love. And she is just one person.

3. Film – The Dupes 


The Dupes is a film by Tewfik Saleh, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun. It’s one of the many films I wrote about throughout the year, but it stands out because it reminds me of so many other things that happened this year. It’s more than just one film, it means more…

It is the story of three men who try to leave their impoverished and hopeless lives to get work in Kuwait. They hire a water-truck driver to transport them illegally across the border in the tank of his truck.

The journey is not an easy one. It’s a journey that millions of people embark on nowadays. They are the dupes of our time. Read all about it here.

For more films, I recommend two other Five For Friday posts: Ten Years In Turkish Cinema & 90’s Iranian Cinema (just to name a few).

4. Remembering Sessions Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans

moroccans/photo © Leila Alaoui/

I already wrote it – it seems way to early to pay respect to Leila Alaoui, talented French-Moroccan photographer, in MER’s Remembering sessions. Unfortunately, Alaoui succumbed to her injuries sustained in the Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) terrorist attacks.

One of her most beautiful projects was The Moroccans. It is visible how she was interested in dignity, in humanity. She gave herself to that struggle. I hope she will remembered for that – it’s the greatest legacy one can leave. Read more about Alaoui and her work here.

5. Photo EssayShatila, Still An Open Wound & Afghan Women

shatila 2 ivana/photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

Shatila stayed on my mind ever since I visited Beirut. It was one of the moments of the year that will stay with me forever. But that “burden” is nothing when you compare it those people in Shatila have to carry. Most of the things we know about Shatila are connected to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila (1982) and the War of the camps (1984 – 1989).

Since all of those events took part during the Lebanese civil war I think our brain tends to put them in the “past” department. But there is no “past” departments in Shatila, everything spills into present. Read about it and see the photos here.

Afghan Women is a beautiful photo series by Farzana Wahidy. She’s an amazing Afghan woman herself – she was the first female Afghan photojournalist to work for an international wire service.

The post is decidated to Wahidy and the women she captured in her photos, but I also wrote about Nadia Anjuman and her poetry and Setara from the Afghan Star. Read it!

Two other photo essays/series I would like to add to this great category – Yemen: In Beauty And Sorrow (all captured by lovely Jonathon Collins) & Libya, Where Art Thou? (about Naziha Arebi and her photos of everyday life in Libya).

Bonus songYalalela by Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud


What’s birthday without music?

Thank you all for reading and let’s keep growing together! ♡

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Ten Years In Turkish Cinema

90’s Iranian Cinema

Postcards From Syrian Refugees

Costs of War

Conversations With History

art of resistance, Syria

The Book To Read: A Hand Full Of Stars.

Rafik_Schami/Rafik Schami, photo by Andreas Pohlmann/

First of all, I have to say that I am so happy I discovered Rafik Schami and Syria through his eyes. A Hand Full of Stars (published in 1987) is a book about a teenage boy who wants to be a journalist. The book is actually his diary, in which he describes daily life in his hometown of Damascus.

Inspired by his dearest friend, old Uncle Salim (a man whose great love for telling stories reminded me of another uncle – Uncle Jihad from Alameddine’s Hakawati), he begins to write down his thoughts and impressions of family, friends, life at school, political situation in Syria, working in his father’s bakery and his growing feelings for his girlfriend, Nadia.

With time, the diary becomes more than just a way to remember the daily adventures; on its pages he explores his frustration with the government injustices he witnesses. His courage and ingenuity finally find an outlet when he and his friends begin a subversive underground newspaper.


Born in Syria in 1946, Schami is the son of a baker from a Syriac Christian family. Much of the story in A Hand Full of Stars seems autobiographical. From 1964 to 1970 he was the co-founder and editor of the wall news-sheet Al-Muntalak (The Starting-Point) in the old quarter of Damascus.

Like his main character in A Hand Full of Stars, he faced regime’s oppression on daily basis. In 1970, he left Syria for Lebanon to evade censorship and the military draft, and the following year he moved to Germany, where he still lives today.

Storytelling and writing books remain one of his biggest passions. A Hand Full of Stars is a simple and sweet book. In all its simplicity it manages to make you happy, angry, sad, but most of all – aware and hopeful.

I love that it’s an obligatory read in some elementary schools in Croatia (which was also a discovery to me, since I didn’t encounter it during my formal education years).

It is a great way to inform children and young people about other societies (in this case oppression and political instability in Syria), but also help them discover the beauty and diversity of different cultures – Schami’s Damascus is a great window into that.

And maybe the most important thing – it teaches children (and all of us adults – because everyone should read it) about compassion and solidarity, about the little ways we can help each other and help our society. It tells us that being kind and corageus in small, everyday situations, actually goes a long way.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Palestinian Walks: Notes On A Vanishing Landscape

Night Draws Near

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

Anti-Arab Racism in the USA

art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

The Book To Read: Palestinian Walks, Notes On A Vanishing Landscape.

DSC08257/Wadi Rum, photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

“Take a walk” is pretty much my answer to everything life throws in front of me. Walking can heal you, change your perspective, give space to new ideas, put your mind to rest, it can connect you with nature, landscapes, buildings, other people, yourself.

It is no wonder I really liked the idea of Raja Shehadeh’s book Palestinian Walks: Notes On a Vanishing Landscape (first edition published as Palestinian Walks: Forays Into A Vanishing Landscape). I’ve had it on my to-read list for couple of years and I finally managed to get it and start reading it just this last week. I actually bought it in a bookstore at the American University of Beirut campus, where Shehadeh studied forty years ago.

Shehadeh is a Palestinian lawyer and author, and a passionate hill walker. He is also a founder of the human rights organization Al-Haq, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists. He has written several books on international law, human rights and the Middle East. Some of his books include Strangers In The House, Occupation Diaries and A Rift in Time: Travels With My Ottoman Uncle.

In Palestinian Walks, he captures the changes his beloved landscape endures under Israeli occupation. He started hill walking in 1970s, not aware of the fact that he was travelling through a vanishing landscape. Shehadeh writes: “As I grew up in Ramallah, the land from my city to the northern city of Nablus might, with a small stretch of the imagination, have seemed familiar to a contemporary of Christ. Those hills were, I believe, one of the natural treasures of the world.”


But the landscape he traverses decades later is the site of a tense standoff between his fellow Palestinians and settlers newly arrived from Israel. Seven walks captured in this book span a period of twenty-seven years, in the hills around Ramallah, in the Jerusalem wilderness and through ravines by the Dead Sea. Each walk takes place at a different stage of Palestinian history.

On the changing idea of Palestine, Shehadeh writes: “Palestine has been one of the countries most visited by pilgrims and travellers over the ages. The accounts I have read do not describe a land familiar to me but rather a land of these travellers’ imaginations. Palestine has been constantly re-invented , with devastating consequences to its original inhabitants. Whether it was the cartographers preparing maps of travellers  describing the landscape in the extensive travel literature, what mattered was not the land and its inhabitants as they actually were but the confirmation of the viewer’s or reader’s religious or political beliefs.”

As decades pass, it becomes harder and harder for Shehadeh to enjoy his walks. He is often harassed by Israeli border patrols, during one walk he is horrified when his young nephew picks up an unexploded missile and on one other occasion, when accompanied by his wife, they come under prolonged gunfire.

He also describes intense legal battles he fights for Palestinian landowners, and the way it also became harder with time. It so happens that even when the client’s ownership of land is proved, it gets taken by some overarching new directive. Legal battles have worn him out, and that’s when his writing saved him from total desperation.

He feels the need to capture his experiences, to describe the land the way it used to be and how it changed, to show the effect it had on people, for there is a fear it will totally disappear and nobody will ever know, nobody will ever remember – no justice, just long and empty silence. The loss of such a simple pleasure as walking around freely is much more important than it might seem, for it exists within a much greater loss – deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land.

Take this walk with Shehadeh, it’s one of the rare chances to still walk around Palestine, to travel back in time and witness the changes of the land and its people.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Night Draws Near

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

Anti-Arab Racism in the USA

A Tale of Love and Darkness

art of resistance, Palestine

The Dupes of the Day.


This post is a small mental note, to capture the disturbance I am feeling and don’t want to forget.

The Dupes (1972) is a film by Tewfik Saleh, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun. In Men in the Sun the story is a story of Palestine – story of memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting. Constant internal state of chaos and confusion is inevitable.

It is the story of three men who try to leave their impoverished and hopeless lives to get work in Kuwait. They hire a water-truck driver to transport them illegally across the border in the tank of his truck. The journey is not an easy one.

It is a journey that millions of people embark on nowadays. I just came back from Belgrade, where there are thousands of refugees, most of them trying to reach Hungary and enter the European Union (I will write more about that soon). They are being smuggled and cheated on, they are played with, their lives are bargain cheap to politics. They are the dupes of our time.



Watching The Dupes right after I came back from Belgrade was a truly emotional experience. The film managed to capture the essence of Kanafani’s novella perfectly. The characters are philosophical and the focus is on them rather than the plot. Their internal struggle is what matters.

All of them are, through desert and heat, for days and weeks, staring at the same invisible door somewhere ahead – to open, to let them in. What they are ready to go through for that is beyond imaginable. Last couple of years, from time to time, media shows us the photos of bodies of drowned refugees, bodies of refugees suffocated, bodies of refugees who died from hunger…



Their whole life is what they are ready to invest to travel into the unknown. Saleh’s film and Kanafani’s novella capture that so well. We have a refugee crisis, Europe screams. The thing is – we’ve been having a refugee crisis since Saleh made this film (1972), since Kanafani wrote this book (1962), and way before that.

Palestinians have been refugees for so long now that being a refugee is a normal thing, it’s an identity, it’s one’s whole life. People are fleeing Afghanistan and Iraq for decades now. People are leaving Syria and Libya for years now. And that is just to name a few.



Europe is acknowledging refugees now only because they are now coming to Europe, because they are not far away, somewhere out there. And the saddest part is that this new awareness is not obtained in order to help the refugees, but in order to preserve ‘our’ borders.

The truck moves through the desert, carrying people, their thoughts, their dreams, their families. All of them stare in silence. When will they reach it, that inivisible door? How will they see it? Will it see them?

/You can watch the The Dupes on YouTube./