Category Archives: Fiction

Write for Rights

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I watched this video, and it made me think of the infinite power that writers possess. What really shook me the most is Adnan Ibrahim saying that the average Arab reads of his own free will for approximately three minutes a year – an utmost tragedy. Yet, I can’t help but wonder who is to blame. The Arab himself for not trying to find the tools to his own liberation, or the government for making the tools seem unappealing? I know people who HATE reading. Even more who actually can’t read. 18 year old full-blooded Arab students who stutter over their words in Arabic class, and use terms like “imaginating” in English class. It would be one thing if they compensated for their lack of Arabic fluency with their English skills, but it’s a total embarrassment when they can’t speak either of the two. Then again, I do have to say that schools, in this case, are partially to blame. When the material presented is deathly-boring and dry as a dead man’s bones, the student won’t show any interest and won’t feel encouraged to learn the material. But if you present him or her with poetry, or stories, or articles, or literature that they can relate to and will grab their attention, it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll want to take part in the class – and there you have it, he’s learning! I sometimes sit in my Arabic class while the teacher is talking about grammar, and I hide my poetry book under my desk and read. And to be honest, it feels like I’m learning more while I’m reading that book than while I’m listening to my teacher – my appreciation of language is deepened, my understanding of certain concepts expands, my own writing develops. How else can you be a better writer if you don’t read?

 

Almost every intellectual will tell you that he only managed to liberate himself through reading. And the ones in Kuwait will tell you they did it by reading many, many banned books. Adnan Ibrahim also mentioned self-critiquing; I along with several other writers I know have made this a habit through our writing. Keeping a journal to keep yourself in check is the best way to see how much you’ve grown from day to day. It gives you easy access to the person you were last night, or last month, or last year. That way, you can compare the ‘two people’. You can also compare yourself to the characters you read about, whether in fictional or in non fictional books. Read books that insult you, read books that provoke you, read books that make you squirm and feel uncomfortable and queasy. Those are the only books that challenge your frame of thought; if by the time you reach the last page, you still don’t agree, then your beliefs are firm. If not, then you’ve acquired new, better beliefs that would make you more comfortable with yourself. Read books that tell you to question everything, to doubt, to inquire, to aspire, to love, to fight, to rebel. Rebelling does not necessarily have to be violent. Simply by carrying a set of values and beliefs that opposes your society’s, you are rebelling. Simply by reading books that your society has deemed to be inappropriate, you are rebelling. And most importantly, by writing, you are rebelling.

In 1984 by George Orwell the main character keeps a journal. He’s afraid of keeping a journal, because he’s not allowed to – the ‘Thought Police’ arrest anyone who keeps track of his own thoughts or feelings or memories. Yet he writes, with a trembling hand and a quivering pen, he writes to remember. He writes so he can later assert the truth. He writes of his dreams, his secret desires, his childhood memories, the country he knew before it turned into a totalitarian state. Of course, later he is arrested – but it takes so much to break him after he had liberated himself. Books were also banned in this state, so when his new-found lover gives him books that discuss liberty and freedom and innate rights, he’s introduced to a completely new world. All of a sudden he’s awestruck with intimacy being an expression of love rather than a duty, with education being enlightening rather than evil, with family being sacred rather than a group of people put together to worship Big Brother. Of course, because he’s so enlightened, he’s caught. Intellectuals are always outcasts in these societies, and rejected because they think differently.

People of Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Arab world altogether – write. Write about the injustices you experience, the disrespect you’re forced to tolerate, the discrimination you witness, the hopes you dream of for our future, your ambitions, your goals, your disappointments, your expectations, your demands, your sadness, your happiness – whatever that may be. You’ll be surprised to find that you’ll experience your own epiphanies while you are writing. Do it through poetry, fiction, non-fiction, articles, books, editorials, blog posts, anything. Write for you, write for your people, write for freedom, write for rights. Bring back the true power of the pen. Pour your heart and soul on paper and then share it. I’ve finally realized that the only reason the radical religious figures are more influential than the liberals is because they are organized and the liberals are dispersed and afraid of speaking out, for more often than not, they are already social outcasts.

But yesterday with the Paint to Freedom incident, I was surprised to see how many people seemed to share the same thoughts. Once you get your ideas and concerns out, I guarantee you will find at least one more person who feels the same way you do. And it’s always good to find someone who’s on the same side as you are.

Literary Open-Mic Night

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I came across an announcement that caught my attention: a literary open-mic night. Only the one event I’ve forever dreamed of! The catch? It’s not Kuwait who’s hosting the event. It’s The Writing Club in Riyadh, who will be holding the event at The Sheraton Hotel, their sponsor, on February 15th at 7 PM.

Writing enthusiasts can attend and listen to young and talented aspiring female writers perform their literary works.

You can RSVP here: Literary Open-Mic Night

More info on their club can be found on their website: http://riyadhwritingclub.wordpress.com/

I genuinely think this is worth taking a trip to Riyadh for, and I really hope I’ll be able to attend this remarkable initiative taken by young Saudi women.

Note: this is a public event for women only.

Homeless Books

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My room has books all over the floors, pens over my pillows, and journals on my desks. I regularly sleep with and wake up next to my books, journals, and pens. As a result, my mind is very organized. I have all my thoughts down on paper and knowledge within my reach, sitting on my shelves and between my bedsheets. My room, on the other hand, is incredibly messy. It struck me just today when I had to literally jump over a pile of books just to get to the other side of my room. So, I looked through my books, and found almost a hundred books that I’m no longer interested in. I have some books that I could read over and over again, others that I know I will need for future reference, and others still that I have outgrown. Books are somewhat like clothes. When you’ve outgrown them, you give them away to others who could use them. The one hundred books that I need to give away are books that I grew up with, books that I read back when I was about 13 years old – but I’ve seen many people my own age reading them today. It’s probably always just been me who read books that weren’t for my own age, but I’m sure that someone else would enjoy reading them after I give them away.
I hold those books in my heart, but no longer have room for them in my room. As far as I know, there isn’t a place I can donate my books to where I know they will be looked after, so instead I’m posting this announcement to see whoever’s interested. The books I want to give away are mostly light-hearted fictional novels. For those that know me, they’re nothing like the heavy material I read nowadays, so you can rule that out 😉 I did ask a few friends to ask their school libraries if they take book donations, and a friend mentioned something called Vanguardia which I will look into and write about, but for now I’m keeping my options open to ensure that my books end up in good hands who will treasure them as I did.
Please let me know if you’re interested in a good read 🙂

Cane is Bitter

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In English class, we are doing a unit on Language and Culture. Our current focus is on a short story based in Trinidad, called “Cane is Bitter”. The story revolves around a Hindu family with several children, the eldest being their son Romesh. The family is very poor and uneducated, and their source of income totally relies on how much cane they cut. So the children work all day and into the night, and wake up the next morning to do it all over again, their entire lives – and then continue the same lifestyle with their own children. Since education isn’t offered, they don’t really have another alternative. But Romesh’s mother decides to send him to a city nearby where they do offer education. At this point Romesh is a grown man in his early 20s, and goes away for a year to study there. He studies math, English, learns to speak, read, and write in proper grammar, political science, history, poetry, philosophy, and reads a lot of fiction and non-fiction books. He feels like the horizons of his mind have expanded greatly because of the knowledge that has been bestowed upon him, enlightening his existence. He starts to appreciate beauty, romance, manners, words, poetry, and realizes how oppressed the people of his small village really are – especially his own family. When he goes to visit them (which is only on an annual basis), he is a completely different person. Though his mother is extremely proud of him, and glad that she had encouraged him to pursue an education elsewhere, his father is not. His father wants him to get married to a girl from a middle-class family (as the dowry in their culture is given by the girl to the man) and continue with the family ‘business’ of cane-cutting. As Romesh’s father and mother are discussing his future marriage — without his knowledge — a possibility crosses his father’s mind: “What if he’s in love with someone who is from a different culture?” In his case, he meant a black woman; but his wife quickly dismisses the thought from her husband’s mind.

Anyway, so one of the discussion questions had asked us what we would do if we were in Romesh’s situation. In my head, Romesh basically had to choose 1 of the following:

A) Keep his education and marry the girl his family wants, keeping his family happy and embracing the knowledge he had received

B) Keep his education and marry the girl *he* wants, which would end up with him having to give up his family

C) Refuse to get married and risk losing the education he is receiving, since his parents can easily prevent him from going anymore.

Our teacher was more detailed about the question, she wanted to make it more local, more personal. She asked us girls, “If your family said you could study abroad, as long as you would get married, would you?”

And we are talking about university. As in, she was asking us, 17 and 18 year old girls, if we would get married after our high school graduations just for the sake of having a male escort in order for our parents to approve of us going to a good university and getting the education we deserve. She told us that this had, in fact, happened a few years ago. A high school female student of hers got accepted to a university in the U.S. to study medicine, but her family wouldn’t agree unless she was married. Though the girl posed no objection, and did get married, she couldn’t juggle marriage with medicine, since she got pregnant a year into her studies, and had to drop out to care for her husband and her child.

What my teacher said was, that we didn’t even have the same options as Romesh. She pointed out that as Kuwaiti girls, if our families did not approve of the man we loved, that was it for us. It’s not like we can leave our families like Romesh can and choose our soulmates instead. We do not have that option, of walking away and running after the one we love; we let go, which was a really sad but very accurate point that she made.

Two of my classmates shocked me with their answers by saying, “I would find any guy to marry, travel with him abroad, and get a divorce when I’m done.” which is, in my opinion, taking advantage of a guy that doesn’t want to take advantage of you: he’s marrying you, he wants to spend the rest of his life with you! I told them that it wasn’t fair, that was using him. Their response was that “men are always using us, what’s the difference?”

It just got me thinking. Personally I would rather not get married and travel abroad than marry a stranger just for the sake of using him and be stuck with him forever – because I know myself and I wouldn’t leave someone who has been there for me for four years. Marriage is meant to be a commitment, not a way of taking advantage of your partner’s benefits for your own personal needs. I don’t know how my classmates would have the heart to use a man for four years and then leave him. What if, despite it being an arranged marriage, he falls in love with you during those four years? Would you break his heart and leave him anyway? How would the woman be any different than your typical man in that case? The only difference is that the typical man is seeking ways to satisfy his male ego, while apparently the typical woman (since I know two others who have said the same thing, making a total of four) is seeking ways to satisfy her academic dreams – and the trend seems to be that the best way to do that is by finding a man to ‘tolerate’ for 4 years.

I think it’s more than fine, to get married and travel abroad, if it is of the couple’s own free will and it was their own decision. I think that’s great, when two people are in love and decide to be together and support each other through their university years. But when that is the parents’ condition, and the girl marries a stranger with the intention of leaving him, then it isn’t fair to him. And regardless of what everyone says, both ends have feelings, both ends get hurt when their hearts are broken. I don’t think that men are always using women. I’m lucky enough to know a few really good men who would never take advantage of women. Some men do use women. Some women use men. If we were to go by the stereotypes, men love having their ego fed, and women love having their wallets fed. If we were to go by stereotypes, we would never be able to trust each other – not even when we’re married. Personally I think you can’t fully trust the stranger you are marrying if it is an arranged marriage, especially if you are planning to travel abroad with him at 18. Trouble could easily escalate, as mentioned before, pregnancy being one of the concerns, as well as domestic abuse; if you don’t know this man as well as the back of your hand, how do you know how he will behave when he is angry? In a foreign country, away from your family, living only with him, what will you do if he crosses a line? For me, it’s too fishy. I guess it works for some people though.

Boycotting Bu Qtada & Bu Nabeel

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Apparently a large number of tweeps have decided to boycott the popular Kuwaiti TV show, Bu Qtada w Bu Nabeel. The show criticizes our society in a humorous way, and is shown annually on Al Watan TV, usually airing 30 episodes — to fit Ramadan. They also have cartoon strips that they publish daily in the Al Watan newspaper, covering whatever is the biggest social or political story on that day. It’s a very clever and light way of addressing serious matters through animation.  The tweeps have decided to boycott anyone that watches the show or reads the comic strips by unfollowing them. Personally I don’t really find that to be a painful blow, I find it silly that these people get huffy whenever someone criticizes them by discussing reality and telling the truth. We all love the country. Denial won’t help us improve it, and it certainly won’t help solve our problems. Once we acknowledge them, and take criticism with an open mind, only then can we progress properly.

Forgiveness

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I got this beautiful story off of Paulo Coelho’s blog:

An old man sold toys in the Baghdad market. Knowing that his sight was not quite perfect, his customers sometimes paid him with fake money.

The old man discovered the ruse, but did not say anything.
In his prayers he asked God to forgive those who cheated him.
“Perhaps they’re short of money and want to buy presents for their children,” he said to himself.

The time passed and the old man died. Standing before the gates of Heaven, he prayed once more:

– Lord! – he said. – I am a sinner. I did many wrong things, I am no better than the false coins I was paid. Forgive me!

At that moment the gates swung open and a Voice was heard:

– Forgive what? How can I judge someone who all through his life never once passed judgment on others?

 

بنات الثانوية

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3eidkom Mbarak! 🙂

Since today was the first day of Eid, it was also the last day of Ramadan TV shows; most of them aired their finales today. I’ve only been keeping up with two shows, the rest were too dramatic for my liking. It seems like every year, there’s a certain theme that all the directors and writers agree on. Last year it was how men are unfaithful cheaters, the year before it was domestic abuse, and there was that one year where homosexuality and AIDs were pretty popular on TV (of course, Shujoon was the carrier), etc… This year, though, it’s ‘the evil mother’: the mother who won’t let her son marry the girl he loves because of the difference in social status, the divorced mother who won’t allow her children to see their father, and so on. There’s also the middle-aged woman having a midlife crisis by getting involved in a relationship with a man 20 years younger than her (Al-Malika), but that’s another story altogether.

The one show I’ve been consistently keeping up with is Banat Al Thanawiya, and that’s because I’ve read the book before by Mohammed Al Nashmi. The book is sold at Virgin Megastore in Marina Mall, but from what I’ve heard it’s not allowed in public schools; students are punished if a teacher finds a copy of this book with them. I wasn’t all that impressed with the story, I found the plot to be rushed and uninteresting, because the events were very cliche. The main characters, Mohamed and Samar, fell in love way too quickly — in both the book and the series, which were drastically different from one another. In the book, Mohamed holds Samar’s hand the very first moment he meets her. I can see why Kuwaiti channels banned the series, I suppose, but the writer has stated that most of his story’s plot was twisted to suit society’s views. Censorship committees probably considered the book to be breaching certain traditional values, and thought it would spark too much controversy.

Though the novel was very poorly written, with way too many grammatical errors and very simple language, the story itself was a controversial one that, in my opinion, should’ve been aired unedited.

The novel’s story is as follows: Mohamed and Samar meet at a shady ‘gathering’, a double-date of sorts. The moment Mohamed meets Samar, he takes her hand, and she moves away — because she didn’t expect the ‘relationship’ to begin so quickly. Of course, it is conveyed that Mohamed and his buddy do not have ‘pure’ intentions, and that’s proven when Mohamed holds the hand of a perfect stranger the moment he meets her, and scolds her when she moves away. The relationship escalates, and they find themselves falling in love with each other, surprising themselves — they expected it to be nothing more than a fling. Strangely enough, they don’t know each others’ full names; they are on a first name basis for months. They grow physically intimate, and the writer describes these scenes in his book. The couple even rent an apartment on Valentine’s Day for one night. Of course, that would explain why the story was changed; according to Middle-Eastern traditions, physical intimacy before getting married is inappropriate. Samar also takes up smoking, which she picks up from her ‘bad girl friends’ — but this wasn’t shown in the series.

As their relationship develops, Samar starts fantasizing about what it would be like to have children with Mohamed, but doesn’t say so out loud. To her great joy, Mohamed is having the same thoughts; he throws hints at her numerous times, how he’s relying on her to help their son with his homework. At this point, they still aren’t aware of each others’ last names…until one day, Mohamed takes her out for ice-cream at a local ice-cream store. She waits in his car as he goes down to the store to get their ice-cream, and as she’s waiting, curiosity gets the best of her when she sees his civil ID on the floor. She picks it up, and when she reads his last name, it changes everything. She goes home and cries later that night, not telling him what she has just found out.

She finds out that Mohamed comes from a Shiie family, while she comes from a Sunni family. It breaks her heart because she knows they will not be able to marry each other in the future, as the union of Shiia and Sunna in marriage is usually very difficult to convince both families to accept. She can’t hold it in for more than a few nights, and she does end up telling him. He hangs up on her, but only because he’s angry she went through his things rather than just asking him. After they kiss and make up, they sit down and discuss their future plans. Mohamed tells her he plans on speaking to his mother and seeing what she thinks. So he does, and his mother tells him she has no problem with it, and would like to speak to Samar’s mother. Samar’s mother, on the other hand, expresses undeniable rejection of giving away her daughter to a non-Sunni. When the mothers speak, Samar’s mother tells Mohamed’s mother that she would not have a problem with their marriage, as long as Mohamed would ‘convert’. Mohamed and his mother are both open to the idea, but his father strongly opposes it, along with all of his uncles. Long story cut short, he goes against his father and his uncles, and he converts. Mohamed and Samar marry each other, both as Sunna.

On their wedding night, they stay at a hotel. As they are settling in, Mohamed gets a call from his mother and his sisters, saying his father won’t let them in the house until he has seen Mohamed (to basically yell at him and tell him what disgrace he has brought on their family). Mohamed apologizes profusely to Samar, tells her he won’t take more than an hour and he’ll be back. Samar is understanding, tells him it’s fine, she’ll wait for him. He drives over to his house, deals with his father, and gets his mother and sisters in the house. As he’s leaving, he calls Samar, tells her he handled everything, and is on his way to get some knafa for them to have for dinner. An hour later, he still hasn’t returned. Samar calls him, and he doesn’t pick up. She spends the entire night calling him, and his phone is off the whole time. When the morning came, Samar still hadn’t slept, and she hears a knock on the door. Her mother and sisters are there, and they tell her Mohamed died in a car accident. Samar laughs, tells her mother, “No, he’s on his way back, he’s just bringing us some knafa.” Personally I think the knafa was an a w f u l touch. It made the death scene turn into a comedic moment rather than a sad one! Granted, most of these writers absolutely suck at properly creating grievous scenes, but knafa just ruins the whole thing! I was actually telling a friend of mine the book’s story the other day, and he laughed his heart out. Knafa and death should never, ever be on the same page!

I didn’t find the show’s ending to be realistic whatsoever. I understand that they were attempting a ‘happy ending’ sort of deal, but if the happy ending isn’t realistic, kill the main character and get it over with. Mohamed’s mother suddenly turning into a saint and hugging the girl she once referred to as a low-class trashy peasant just doesn’t register in my head. Whatever floats the audience’s boat, I guess…