At the Tea Vendor’s

February 18th, 2017

I sighed with relief, having made certain that I had not mislaid any of my bags, and then sat down to enjoy a well-earned cup of tea. After all, I had been strolling up and down the vegetable market for hours. The place was swarming with tea vendors. The smell of mint and cloves hung in the air, tantalizing the passers-by. The clientele was rather scarce considering the crowds the place usually attracts. Other than that, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, nothing qualified as visually entertaining. The day had barely begun and I didn’t want to return home just yet, given that, as an unemployed man, the alternative was to twiddle my thumbs at home all day. Thus, I decided to kill time by trying to memorize the messages printed on billboards and other commercial signs. I let my eyes bounce from the ill-looking people who dragged their feet to the pharmacy to the tea vendors, who seemed to be involved in a lively discussion, on which I decided to barge in.

Suddenly, a bearded young man sat down next to me. The ...Read more

The city that shares the fate of Saada

February 17th, 2017

Idlib, a city located in the North of Syria, was once famous for its thriving ceramics and olive industries. However, since it got caught up in the maelstrom of war, it is constantly threatened by air strikes.

The door stands ajar and through it a small chink of light streams into the otherwise dark room I find myself in. Suddenly, I realize that I need to believe that there is still a faint hope that the story of my city won’t end like Saada’s story, to wit, tragically and mysteriously.

Saada was an almost sixty-year old woman of unknown origin who had become a reference point for the people of Idlib. The skin of her face was as pitted as the moon’s surface. A few strands of gray hair that looked as if they had never met a brush before peeked out of the dark piece of cloth with which she covered her head. She cared for over fifty cats, while all she owned was the shanty she lived in. When she got lucky enough to lay her hands on some coin, she ...Read more

Nippur’s Virgin

February 17th, 2017

Doubts over my gender nag and niggle at the back of my mind, driving me to a state verging on despair. In spite of being painfully conscious of how I choose my words and style my narrative to tell it, the story never gets to shine as bright and sound as salacious as the sequence of events it celebrates. And I am left to hark back to the poetaster mistakes I made when delivering the report, the biggest being lying by omission to my readers and thus depriving them of the pleasure of assessing the relevance to the story of the noise the night makes when locking its jaws on the sleeping townsfolk.

I may throw up later. Who knows? The entire world, perhaps? From where I stand, that seems pretty damn likely! People around here seem to be constantly monitoring everyone else’s every move. There was a time when the night kept secret the wishes people made to the stars, until someone recognized the value of being plugged into what people lost sleep over and pawed through everyone’s dirty laundry. At ...Read more

The Earthquake Patio

February 17th, 2017

The places we build our lives around get stuck inside us. They are the backdrops of our recollections, the ones in charge of projecting the image that will linger in our minds long after everything else has faded away. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, there is always something of ourselves we leave behind when we depart from them. And when we finally get to return to them, we cannot but feel betrayed when we realize that they haven’t stayed frozen in time and aren’t exactly the way we remembered them.

I shot a look at the patio and thanked God for having allowed my grandparents to leave the country before the war erupted. The whole patio lay in ruins, coated with a thick layer of dust and ashes. Everything within sight had been drained of color and rendered gray. Suddenly, I recalled the graffiti a friend of mine had sprayed on one of the walls enclosing the patio to profess his love for his neighbor, and my heart sank. It read, “I confess to being madly ...Read more

Chaouen, 1936

February 16th, 2017

He ran, barefoot, chased by two. His rather poor strategy to shake them off involved turning arbitrarily at every fork in the road. The walls and doors of the houses around him were painted sapphire blue. He feared he was running in circles. After all, he knew that although the city might seem blue from a street-level perspective, it looked white if contemplated from above.

The founders of the city were probably fugitives as well. That would explain why they built the city pressed between two mountains, instead of down by the river, in the valley bellow. If he were to venture a wild guess, he’d say they were in all likelihood hot on security measures. Alter all, they didn’t know whether those who made them pick up the habit of running in the first place would chase them all the way to their new homes. The horrors they must have been trying to escape from in order to choose the plight of the wandering foreigners who have to be constantly wading through the waters of the unknown over the alternative—whatever that might ...Read more

A Journey Back Home

November 23rd, 2016

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230. It can be expressed in numerous ways. Two hundred and thirty, an increase of 277 % in the amount of works the first edition of the “Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest received, a tremendous success. And this is how we feel: ecstatic.

We have already started reading the stories that have been submitted to the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest and can say hands down that the entries look promising. While discovering some of the places into which our authors’ carefully selected metaphors breathe life, we have often had a hard time trying to curb our desires to immediately begin checking flights and planning our upcoming holidays.

The jury now needs to take some time to first allow our authors’ words to beguile them and then to break free from the finely woven spells. After all, the jury cannot allow them to cloud their good judgement when considering their final verdict on the five stories that deserve to ultimately emerge as the representatives of the five finalists. This is why we are hereby asking you to exercise ...Read more

On the Constraints the Arabic Language Imposes on Arabic Literature Writers

July 23rd, 2016

The Exact Spot Where We Pitched Camp Yesterday

The Exact Spot Where We Pitched Camp Yesterday

 

It’s been one helluva ride. Whenever I tell people that I translate Arabic literature, I know they’re wondering, Is that even a thing?

Well, kinda. And there are probably several reasons for the world’s reluctance to translate literature written in Arabic. In this post, I will try to uncover some of those reasons.

First, I am going to explain how the way people answer the age-old chicken-or-egg question of “What came first, language or reality?” depends mainly on the language with which they’ve been raised. In other words, I am going to expound on how language determines how we accept reality. Next, I am going to focus on the structure of the Arabic language to try and prove my theory that the way the language works influences the way Arabic speakers write when creating literature. My hypothesis is that, due to its inner structure (which, in my opinion, doesn’t equip Arabic speakers for acknowledging the indispensable figure of the third party—the arbitrator), the Arabic language makes the idea ...Read more

Homecoming

July 3rd, 2016

Helwan, Egypt

How many days had gone by since her return? She had spent the last fifteen years abroad and had only distant memories from back when she used to call this place home. She used to be a timorous little girl who wore her hair in braids. She had not only left the country on account of the area’s political and social unrest but also because she had needed to gain insight on how to deal with the world’s contradictions.

She never had the chance to break free from her mother’s vigilant eye back then, save for when she sprinted. Her mother chose to deck her out in short Sunday dresses so that it would look like she hadn’t gotten any older; she wanted her to come to the realization that she had become a woman as late as possible. Was her mother concerned about her welfare or maybe afraid of what she would actually become? That was yet another question she didn’t really want to know the answer to. She had her sanity to thank for the fact that she could come to terms with leaving questions such as those provisionally unanswered. ...Read more

A Whiff of Farewell in the Air

July 1st, 2016

Tablat, Algeria

You are headed toward the road flanked by trees. Your heart aches as you remember.

The sun slants across the mountains. You watch the roaring waterfall tumble down the cliff. A sudden breeze rustles the grass. You are not lyrical about what the bucolic setting bodes for the future. The landscape is blanketed in snow. The almond trees are in bloom.

Tablat’s spirit endears the town to everyone who has been lucky enough to traverse its streets. They come like migrating birds, which despite having had to circle around the world several times dare not cover the safe distances the different cultural worlds comprising our globe keep with one another.

On the day of your date, the air smells so sweet that it cloys your senses. We may be meant to be, you think, secretly wishing destiny will allow you to play a part in your own story. You step out the door and Tablat’s sparkling everyday nature unfolds before you. You bang the door closed behind you, careful not to slam it on your heart, which clings to the frame. You stride confidently down the lane. You are set on taking decisive steps ...Read more