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 ...Read more

Miss D.

July 20th, 2017

Markaz Tama, Sohag Governorate, Egypt

She swept the streets with the tail of her coat as she wended her way across the city. While trying to haul herself from the noxious hole she had fallen into the day she was born, she had unwittingly wound up dragging a token of her misery along.

The thought of ending her life had crossed her mind more than once. At nights, she beseeched God to guard her from all the evil surrounding her, and more specifically, from her flatmate Ruhiya. She was a weird woman who spent a third of her nights mumbling gibberish while staring at the stars. Any sensible God-fearing person would have been wary of her behavior. The townswomen, however, seemed to trust her and often turned to her for help. As payment, she demanded a jar of corn, a fist of wheat—a rare commodity around these parts—, or a few cubic feet of gas for lighting. Ruhiya had moved out of her old house because her entire family had died there from an obscure disease, which her current flatmate wouldn’t have been surprised to ...Read more

Wadi el Kuf

July 19th, 2017

Wadi el Kuf, Lybia

On a night that, despite the full moon, seemed darker than nights are per se, all the most powerful necromancers of this world gathered in a secret location at the bottom of the valley known as the Wadi el Kuf. They had been eagerly awaiting that night’s arrival, because, according to their codices, that was the night the gates of hell were supposed to be unlatched, which only happened once every thousand years. They were certain that night was the night in question because all signs pointed to it. People had lost their sense of common humanity and nobody cared to distinguish between good and evil any longer.

After blessing the ground under their feet and muttering some incantations, the necromancers sat to wait for the gates of hell to swing open. Seeing that no fireworks ensued, they fixed their gaze on the three highest-ranking necromancers—the Buddhist, the Jew and the ISIL acolyte—by way of asking for guidance.

In an attempt to talk the devil into opening the gates of hell, the Buddhist said, “We have slaughtered the Muslim population and eaten ...Read more

The Days of Yore

July 18th, 2017

Bordj Bounaama, Tissemsilt Province, Algeria

White clouds scud across the sky. Peace and quiet reign supreme. The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful fall morning and Khaled is wearing a happy smile on his face as he wends his way through the old city. He has gone out to buy antiquities and look at the old houses of the neighborhood. That’s the only thing that keeps him distracted from the unbearable sorrow of having lost his dear friend. He has only recently found the strength to leave the house again. His friend’s demise has hit him hard, perhaps because of how unexpected it has been.

As he strolls down the Street of the World, he starts to mull over what it is that makes something deserve a certain name. “Take this street, for instance,” he says to himself. “It’s a pretty narrow street, but still, it seems to contain everything that makes the world a miserable place: beggars, thieves, mercenaries, traitors, tourists, neets, …” It is his all-time favorite street to peek on the bright side of life, especially in the ...Read more

Excused

July 13th, 2017

Classroom in Tazakht, Morocco

I saw him enter the school through a side door and head toward the classroom. I heard one of my students whisper from behind, “It’s Ziad’s dad!”

He was rather short, but strongly-built, and must have been about 50. In the solemn tone of voice his son adopted to answer questions in class, he greeted me and asked where he could find the principal’s office. I asked him why he needed to speak to the principal and he told me he had to take his son out of school. I immediately thought that he would need some kind of divine intervention to get the principal to agree to that, but I wasn’t going to be the one to dash his hopes—it wasn’t my place—so I chose instead to remain silent, smile at him and point him toward the principal’s office. People have the right to entertain hope. He, however, must have read the skepticism in my face, because he proceeded to offer me the context needed to understand his decision.

“The rose fields that surround this ...Read more

The Hole

July 12th, 2017

Pothole in Lotissement Zerktouni, Marrakesh

Sulma’s face crumples the moment she sees the pothole we call Al-Wazany, after the mayor. I can’t bear to see her upset. Enough is enough, I say to myself: One day, I am going to do something about it.

I have known Sulma my whole life. We were classmates and then dated for eight years. After graduation, I went to look for a job that would allow me to marry her. Unfortunately, I was not very successful at finding one, even though I had attained excellent grades in school. It was probably around that time when Al-Wazany was appointed mayor. The first thing he did was order the construction of a mosque that would carry his name. During the time he was in charge, some public baths and a soccer field were built. The roads, however, remained in poor conditions.

All his friends and family members secured positions of authority. Corruption and nepotism ran wild. Most of the people that ended up being chosen for qualified positions didn’t even have to bother to take an ...Read more

The Bitter Taste of a Broken Promise

June 30th, 2017

Fouka city, Algeria

I woke up late and sweaty. The beast I had spent the whole night running from in my dreams had eventually caught up with me. I rubbed my joints and wetted my lips with my tongue. “Today is no ordinary day” I said to myself. I was meeting Louisa in the afternoon. She had promised herself to me. I was to unwrap and savor a woman for the very first time. My body was quivering with anticipation! I had welcomed her suggestion to meet at Le Bungalow with unbridled enthusiasm. I had hit twenty, an age at which men must put their manhood to the test. I couldn’t afford to stay behind in the race to become someone, especially in such an effervescent city like Fouka, and I didn’t want to wind up falling into the category of those Colin Wilson branded as mediocre.

I descended the rusting stairs of the derelict building while staring out over the city stretching before me. The big clock at the square said it was already two o’clock in the afternoon. It was September and at that hour the streets were usually ...Read more

The Arui: a Wonder to Behold

June 29th, 2017

The Arui Cave in the Tafilah Governorate, Jordan

The Arui is a cave bordering on the Beautiful Region, that lies around 200 kilometers away from the capital, in the Tafilah Governorate. It provides goat hunters shelter for the night during the hunting season, which takes place in October, and is bounded on the East by a green landscape with streams and waterfalls, and on the South by a place called Sulman’s Bite Mark in honor of a guy named Sulman who died there after being bitten by a poisonous snake.

By the time they reach the cave, the goat hunters have usually been hiking for a while already and are happy to find a place to rest where the temperatures aren’t that extreme and where they have fresh water flowing nearby. The arui, which is the goat that inhabits these parts, is usually pretty hard to spot and hunt down.

Many spend the night praying and reciting the names of the fellow hunters who have died in these high latitudes, while others make preparations for the following day.

Last year, rumor had it that the ...Read more

A Vampire

June 28th, 2017

Lake Qarun in Egypt, Faiyun Province

The electricity failed and the house sitting on the shore of Lake Qarun was plunged into pitch-black darkness. He counted on the reflection of his familiar surroundings on the still waters of the lake to allay his fears of hidden perils, but when he went out on the balcony, the moonless night revealed itself as more inclined to favor those with dubious intentions. An ominous silence prevailed. For a while, he just stood there, straining his senses to detect any sign that might point him to the proximity of the little beast that had fucked up his life before it loomed out of the darkness. He didn’t want to be caught off guard, because, not only had that ruthless bastard killed his father, who both him and his mother had loved dearly, by infecting him with a fatal disease, it had also set off the chain of events that had left them heavily in debt and had forced them to sell all their possessions, but for the house and the small plot surrounding it.

His mother had passed shortly ...Read more

Natural Disasters

June 27th, 2017

Ad Daljamun, Ad Delgamon, Kafr El-Zayat, Egypt

Lightning lights up the night sky. A shiver runs up my spine. Perhaps, I ought to take the storm as a good omen. However, I can’t wait for this daunting night to be over. I return home, crawl into bed and throw a thick blanket over my head.

The sky has not yet cleared when I wake up the next morning. It seems daylight might never fully break again. I feel blue, as if my intention were to make up for how the sullen skies are shining. I get dressed, in the hope that, by the time I am ready to step out the door, the sky’s wrath has petered out. Once again, I come to realize that I am guilty of wishful thinking.

Hence, I sit down with the rest of my family to stuff myself with food and idle the day away, mostly, in silence, for none of us are any good at entertaining an audience with words. We just eyeball each other, while trying to find something to say. Someone suggests, jokingly—most likely—that we should offer a sacrifice to the sky, so that the ...Read more

Ain El Fouara Fountain

June 26th, 2017

The fountain with the statue of a naked woman rising out of it, close to the old mosque and in the middle of the beautiful city of Sétif, was built a year before he was born. He doesn’t like it. According to him, it mars the city’s appearance, because it signifies the values that were held by the French colonizers of his country. He hates himself for it, yet, for some inexplicable reason, he cannot help being titillated by it.

She always seems to be standing in the way when he goes out in the morning to do some shopping or sit down at the nearby café, and he never misses a chance to let the stone woman know how he feels about her.

He is now over seventy and retired. He used to run a café, but he has now bequeathed it to his sons. People show him respect and call him mister, because he attended a Koranic school and should thus be regarded as an enlightened person.

He didn’t mind the fountain when he was smaller. He used to play around it, drink from ...Read more