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

Back at Bab Al Louq

June 23rd, 2017

Bab Al Louq, Cairo, Egypt

I decided to spend a few minutes observing him from afar before letting him know I had arrived. He was like a magnet, like what the homeland is to those who have been forced into exile, like the family one wrongly thought one could live without. I looked at him while he smoked, taking one puff after another. I had had mixed feelings about our rendezvous. With every step I had taken to get to where I was, I had felt tempted to turn around. And suddenly, I had arrived, at the Souq El Hamediya café, the agreed place, where he was already waiting for me. He looked up, saw me and chuckled. He had cleaned up well enough to let the handsome show through. On this occasion, he seemed to have gone the extra mile to impress, attire-wise, at least. And he certainly had achieved his goal. I immediately lamented having missed out on giving birth to that jolly man’s children.

He stood up to greet me and pressed a kiss on the palm of my hands, as he ...Read more

The Martyrs’ Wall

June 22nd, 2017

Martyrs' Wall, Batha, Irak

“And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so al-Khidh restored it.”

It is fall and early in the morning. I have left the house to go to work. I know exactly what I will find every step of the way, for I have been following the same route every day for the last five years.

Just across from where I live, stands a pumping station. In front of its iron gate, sits the compound’s security guard, who is always on the alert for intruders. I greet him, continue walking and pass by Sulman’s and Hasan’s workshops, the blacksmith and the carpenter. I then cross the muddy area verging on the city park and my shoes get dirty. I reach the garage with the white fence, whose paint has started to flake. Next to it, stands a wall that is covered with pictures of martyrs. Most of them are wearing military uniforms, carrying guns and smiling. Some have even been portrayed leaning against tanks. They appear to be glowing.

I greet them as well, like always. Suddenly, I notice there ...Read more

Ramadan Where I Live

June 19th, 2017

Mosque in Alexandria, Egypt

I feel on top of the world: Ramadan just started. The Mahmoudiyah Canal glistens in the moon light. It is crammed with ships. Ali Samra, who has a special gift for remembering people’s names, picks us, kids, up to go from house to house bringing seasonal greetings to everyone. We sing in unison to the beat of his drum. We may not qualify for assembling a great symphony orchestra, but at least, we are having fun.

We kick off the day by meeting in front of the mosque to play in the water coming from the outdoor faucet installed between two palm trees. My grandfather, Abdel Razaq, whose appearance matches that of the typical eighty-year-old who has squeezed the most out of life, always to be seen covering his chrome dome with a checkered skull cap, comes prancing by. He doesn’t use his walking stick during Ramadan. He claims to feel rejuvenated by the sense of joy floating in the air. Word has it he has cheated death not once, but several times.

He opens the ...Read more

An Art Like Any Other

June 15th, 2017

Cairo, Egypt

An elderly lady hands me a few coins, but I still need to make more cash before I can call it a day. My father won’t let me return home unless I have bagged a minimum of three hundred Egyptian pounds.

I am sitting curled up on the pavement with my arms wrapped around my legs. The temperature plummets when night falls. I have warmer clothes at home, but I am not allowed to wear them while at work. According to my father, I will be more successful arousing pity if I shiver. I see a young couple approaching. He tries to take her hand, but she jerks it back. That is what I call a great target. Pulling a long face, I go ask them for some spare change. She looks sad and defenseless, almost more so than myself. The boy glances at me, reproachfully? Pityingly? It doesn’t matter: it worked. He reaches for the wallet in his pocket, takes a banknote out of it and tosses it over to me. I can feel proud of myself. I might be ...Read more

The Land of Gold

June 12th, 2017

 Corridor of Sphinxes, Luxor, Karnak, Egypt

I recall thinking that I had to be dreaming, for I was unable to believe my eyes the first time I set them on the archeological site.

I took the road flanked by sphinxes to get from Luxor to Karnak Temple and continued walking until reaching the Sacred Lake, which was certainly a sight to behold. Priests used to inhabit these temples and worship the giant scarab of stone located at the front. It used to be a place of pilgrimage for women seeking to conceive. Now, tourists circle it, in the hope that it may somehow bring them luck. The first time I went around it, I wished to become a tourist guide someday and be able to return to that place with a party of tourists eager to catch pearls of wisdom from my lips. Now that my dreams have come true, when I round it, I giggle inwardly like the girl I used to be back then and ask for love.

After our visit to the Luxor and Karnak Temples, me and my group ...Read more

Je suis Bardo

June 9th, 2017

Bardo National Museum (Tunis)

All Hamady could hear was the grating sound of sirens. He had recoiled in horror and his heart was beating frantically. The explosion had set his ears ringing. His mouth was dry and his eyes roamed around the scene. A moment ago, he had been almost run over by a car driving directly towards him at full speed. It was the second time he had found himself at the brink of death that day. He wiped a stray tear from his cheek and started recalling the events of earlier that day. For instance, Roberto’s hug. They would probably remain etched in his mind for a long time.

Maria, Emilio, Sofia…later, they would be recognized for their bravery.

He felt proud of them. Now, it all seemed like a distant nightmare. He took a cigarette out of the packet he carried in his pants pocket, placed it between his lips, lit it, drew on it and swallowed its poison. Then, he exhaled the smoke, which slowly billowed its way to the sky. His body loosened up and a chill ...Read more

Romans are a Culture of Soft Daddies

June 8th, 2017

Cerez, Belimour, Algeria

This story is inspired by the history of the castle that lies in the vicinity of the city of Belmour, which was called Thamascani during the Roman Empire.

May God bless you, Sidi Okba, you magical city. The daughter of the Romans sings and dances to the beat of the morning breeze rustling the grass in the fields. She knows her wishes are her father’s commands. What is it this beauty will want next, the oil from the olive trees that grow in this neck of the woods or the fish of the sea? Rejoice, you lucky bastard, for you can have it all. Sleep, Sidi Okba, and don’t worry, because we will watch over the land handed down to us and cultivate it with the seed of our dreams.

The castles of the area have weathered all sorts of calamities in the past and have withstood the passage of time with dignity, the kind maintained over generations by those who inhabit these parts. Bella is smitten with the taste of their pose and asks her father, Tary, the one always about to ...Read more

Everyone Has their Own One True God

June 6th, 2017

Saint Catherine's Monastery close to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt

The year is 2066. I don’t know the exact date. It’s winter, though: that I can say for certain. I know I shouldn’t be writing on the back of a historical papyrus that has been kept zealously inside a monastery for centuries, but I can’t find anything else to write on and, since I don’t know how much time I have left to live, I figure I’d better not waste it in trying to come up with a better solution.

By the time we held our sixth biannual meeting, there was no denying that the end of times was upon us. Dense clouds had swallowed the sun and everything on the ground had frozen to death. Helios probably didn’t want to witness what was about to go down.

Since they cut out my tongue three years ago–as they did to each of the guardians of the monastery—I have been devoting all my time to praying. I pray every day all day long, much more often than the scriptures require of me. Not to be spared, lest I ...Read more

An Excursion to the Graveyard

June 4th, 2017

Shanway WA Kafr Al Badranah, Ashmoun, Menofia Governorate, Egypt

Women stricken with grief and its derivates lose their ability to conceive. Plus, her husband started spending most nights away after their daughter passed. As it happened, he silently pressed their daughter’s doll into her hands and its hair had become the only thing that was able to lull her to sleep since. She uses the time awake in bed to figure out how she will manage to regain her composure the next morning. Her husband had gone to the wild and caught the snake that her mother-in-law had thrown at her to scare away the evil spirit she was convinced her daughter-in-law was harboring and free her from it, so that she could become pregnant again.

Her daughter’s complexion turned blue the last time she held her in her arms. She recalled kissing her on the forehead, smelling her hair, stroking her skin, which had started to lose its elasticity and moisture, and wiping tears from her cheeks that her dead eyes had shed just a moment earlier. Then her daughter’s grandmother took her away ...Read more

A Dotted Sky

June 1st, 2017

Bayt al-Suhaymi, Cairo, Egypt

The sun warmed her head. The asphalt boiled under her feet as she treaded warily down the street between rows of warped buildings which seemed to bend towards her, as if wanting to squash her, syncopate her and thus turn her into an expression that has lost its meaning. She was indeed already feeling the symptoms, for she could only think in phrases with a mangled syntax that impaired her ability to interpret her surroundings and left her standing in awe. She rubs against reality with every step she takes. She has become a weathered rock, whose alligatored surface has blackened over time. It was meant to happen; at some point she had to wind up getting used to the stench around her. She used to have high hopes for the future, in the past, and would have never thought she might one day turn into stone, the type one finds anchored to a bathroom wall.

She gathered her speed and arrived at the pedestrian street of Al Moez, which belongs to Cairo’s old city center. The ground under her feet ...Read more