The Martyrs’ Wall

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 ...Read more

Ramadan Where I Live

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 ...Read more

An Art Like Any Other

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 ...Read more

The Land of Gold

 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 ...Read more

Je suis Bardo

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 ...Read more

Romans are a Culture of Soft Daddies

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 ...Read more

Everyone Has their Own One True God

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 ...Read more

An Excursion to the Graveyard

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 ...Read more

A Dotted Sky

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 ...Read more

In the Clouds

Jabal Yafuz, Yemen

I stuck my head out the window and looked up to the mountains. Their height and intense green color had us all filled with awe.

At some point, the road we had been following all the way from the city of al-Hudayda ended. My father parked the car and instructed us to leave the vehicle. We were going on a hike to the top of the mountain called Jebel Yafuz, which belongs to the range of the Raymah Mountains and is the one my parent’s village, which can only be reached by foot, is perched on. Before setting out on our excursion, we rented a donkey to help us carry our baggage and a few bikes for our parents to haul us children up the slopes with.

On our way up, I couldn’t help but notice the agricultural machinery the locals seemed to have built with their own two hands to work the fields. It spoke volumes to their resolve in making a living under harsh conditions.

A gentle breeze swept through the trees, whose top branches spread up to where ...Read more