Our Women on the Ground: Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World (ed. Zahra Hankir)

Our Women on the Ground - on the ground

a nutshell: an extraordinary, ground-breaking, and pulsingly intimate collection of essays by 19 Arab women journalists – rather than meeting my high expectations, it soared above & beyond them

a line“We don’t publish the picture. It’s too graphic, and people are too sensitive. Those of us who count as people, with sensibilities” – Natacha Yazbeck

an image: born in Iraq and raised in Hull, Hind Hassan recalls many beautiful scenes of hospitality in the unlikeliest circumstances during assignments in her homeland, as well as a memory from the Iraqi community in which she grew up: a friend secretly slipping in & out of an ajar window to clean and cook for the whole family while Hind’s mother was having birth complications

a thought: I was fascinated by Egyptian journalist Lina Attalah’s reflections on her journey towards activating a “belated lens on gender” in her work, particularly her thoughts on the duality of selves (in the family home and the “street home”) and on power both inside & outside the newsroom – its complexity and, at times, invisibility

a fact: many of the women’s stories include the trauma of losing family, friends and colleagues to conflict zones or political repression, and it’d be remiss not to mention the very real risks they face just for doing their job – I hope their voices resound worldwide

N.B. Amira Al-Sharif’s chapter Yemeni Women with Fighting Spirits is my recommendation for writing by a woman from Yemen; as its title suggests, it’s a unique insight into resilience and empowerment in even the most trying conditions

want to read Our Women on the Ground? visit here

Always Coca-Cola by Alexandra Chreiteh (tr. Michelle Hartman)

a nutshell: Abeer, a 20ish-year-old woman from a conservative family in dusty Beirut, lets us into the concerns preoccupying herself and her friends (think: virginity/pregnancy, sanitary pads, appearances)

a line: “Should I wait for an Always pad to fall from the heavens like rain, or a white dove, flapping its wings that keep the moisture from leaking out onto my clothes?”

an image: a boy informs Abeer that just as lemonade has three essential ingredients – water, lemon, sugar – so does a woman have three attributes; she must be a virgin, a wife, and a mother, in that order (blergh)

a thought: even with its attempts at humour, this is a sad novel voiced by a young protagonist with a blinkered attitude to women’s rights & essential freedoms; also, the second half contains a harrowing incident that is somewhat skimmed over

a fact: according to the blurb, the book received a stormy response in Lebanon (“an electric shock … grave social anomalies”) despite Chreiteh centring the book around Abeer, rigidly conservative & dogmatic, with her friends as the far more progressive characters

want to read Always Coca-Cola? visit here

Farewell, Damascus by Ghada Samman (tr. Nancy Roberts)

a nutshell: a fervent ode to liberty, this novel follows an idealistic young writer – Zain – who strives to be independent in (and ultimately beyond) circles that wants to repress her

a line“A homeland should have enough room for everybody, even for people who have the audacity to criticise … As it is, our coffee shops and restaurants have ears planted in their walls. They’re even planted in the walls of our lungs, our arteries, and our fear-sickened souls.”

an image: towards the end, Samman lovingly daubs a colourful picture of Beirut’s hive mind in contrast to the conservatism of Damascus; roundtable discussions send conversation and laughter through night air “like sparks from a bonfire”

a thought: the last few chapters are disappointingly inconsistent with Zain’s character, and felt like it betrayed the earlier progressive nature of the book

a fact: Samman (b. 1942) established her own publishing house, Ghada al-Samman Publications, to circumvent censorship – looking at a biography, Zain’s story is very reminiscent of the author’s own

 

want to read Farewell, Damascus? visit here