This essay and excerpted translations of Safynaz Kazem’s ran in the Winter/Spring 2020 issue of ArabLit Quarterly — the ROAD issue — and reappear here as part of our series on Women in Translation Month classics:

By Hadil Ghoneim

I tried to avoid writing about Safynaz Kazem, preferring to let her writing speak for her. I wanted to tune out the problematic politics and just echo the Nonnberg Abbey nun: “I’d like to say a word on her behalf, (her writing) makes me laugh!” But in the end, I gave in to my own curiosity and waded through all that I could find in an attempt to answer the question, slightly adapted from the Sound of Music, “How do you describe a (writer) like (Safy)?”

Overshadowed, banned and deliberately ignored

The first time I came across Safynaz Kazem’s name was in a magazine interview in which she declared that she had married poet Ahmed Fouad Negm as “a contribution to Egypt’s national debt to him.” The sentence was puzzling enough for a middle-grade student that I had to ask around for some background. It wasn’t hard to learn about Negm: the impoverished, repeatedly imprisoned voice of the downtrodden who made fun of tyrants with his unforgettable words, but I learned nothing more about Kazem until at least ten years later, when a friend gave me a copy of the 1997 documentary “Four Women of Egypt.”

The fascinating documentary of the four friends, who each had a compelling history of social and political activism, highlighted the strong Islamic impetus in Safynaz Kazem’s intellectual trajectory. Political history and ideology dominated the conversations in the film, and we saw very little of the literary side of Kazem, but her amusing sense of humor and surprising bursts into song tempted me to find out more. At that point, I’d graduated college and started working at a book-review magazine in Cairo and therefore managed to meet her. It became clear why Safynaz Kazem was not visible in the mainstream media: an outspoken woman with polemical skills would intimidated some, and a veil-wearing critic of westernized secularism and atheism would alienate others. Her Islamic inclinations, however, didn’t stop state security from accusing her of being a Marxist journalist and protester—and for that, she was arrested and sent to prison three times (in 1973, 1975 and 1981).

Unfortunately, some readers and editors were deterred by ideological labels while others focused on her association with Negm, and thus Safynaz’s singular literary voice and talent went little-noticed. Yet, thanks to her long writing career, and despite having been barred from publication from 1971 until 1983, and despite being deliberately ignored by the established intellectual community, several collections of Kazem’s many personal essays, memoirs, reviews and literary profiles have been published.

Bold beginnings

Kazem actually received significant attention in her early career as a journalist, when she and her photographer-sister hitchhiked their way around Europe for three months. The series of articles she wrote about the trip for Al-Jeelmagazine were hailed by writer Moussa Sabry as the “boldest journalistic adventure of the year 1959.” She was only twenty-two.

Safynaz started college in 1954 and was among the first 250 students in the faculty of Arts to major in the new Department of Journalism. In an interview with the writer Alaa Khaled in Amkinah (issue 10, 2010) she described how she belonged to a generation of young women who were empowered by the 1952 revolution:

 We were 15 when it sprang…and they (the free officers) were all young; we considered anyone over 40 senile… The whole country was dreaming. The slogan was “fighting poverty, ignorance, and disease,” and we entered college with Shadya’s song telling us to “get up and join the men in the fight.” A hundred and fifty of that first class were female, and it was a group of fierce women. We weren’t thinking about equality because we really were equal, our self-perception was that this was our right, and this was our land. We didn’t have the inhibitions of the previous generation… Our generation didn’t start from a defensive position, we started from a point of personal and national self-realization.

Soon after her hitchhiking adventure, Safynaz embarked on a bigger, longer, and farther journey to America, where she studied and worked for six years, from 1960 to 1966. She spent the first two years in Lawrence, Kansas, studying journalism and drama, then worked for one year in Chicago at the Egyptian Consulate to pay off her debts (she had fundraised her travel and tuition fees from friends and colleagues back home). After that, she moved to NYC for a secretarial job in the press office of Egypt’s permanent mission to the UN. This enabled her to study drama and criticism at NYU, where she earned her MA in 1966.

Safynaz went to the US with a sense of mission to learn in order to return and take part in the revolution’s dream of modern nation-building: “I saw that Egypt needed a drama critic, because all those who wrote about theatre are non-specialists. I will make myself into one for Egypt!” (Kazem, 2003).

Romantikiyat and the ensuing drama

Much of the intense emotional oscillation between exuberance, anxiety, and loneliness of a foreign student in her twenties is captured in the main part of Kazem’s first book Romantikiyat (Romanticisms). Published half a century ago, it is a collection of letters, personal narratives, and short stories that she wrote between 1957 and 1970. The first and main section of the book are the New York letters, and they are the “Romantikiyat” after which the book is named.

Kazem’s writing is expressive, vibrant, and maintains a humorous quality throughout. It flows confidently in a stream that carries her wonder, anger, frustration, admiration, and sadness without ever being glum. Her prose is always personal and conversational and therefore entertaining, no matter how serious her observations.

In his lengthy introduction to Romantikiyat, editor and journalist Ahmed Bahaa-Eldin writes about how Kazem’s style caught his attention early on, and how he’d always sensed that, beneath her “loud, laughing, and explosive appearance lies a hard, serious core.” When he met her again in NYC, five years after she’d left Cairo, he says he was happy to notice that “she still cracked clever jokes and laughed and sang heartily, and that she still remained very religious, but that her hard serious core had grown and taken up all her cells.” It became obvious to him that her interest in journalism had diminished, and that she was obsessed with art, and, as chief editor of Al Musawar, he hired her as an art critic and theatre reviewer for the magazine, to start as soon as she finished her degree.

“After her return from America, Safynaz ripped through the air of compliments and lenience that pervaded the practice of art criticism; she raised thunder and lightning on the pages of Al Mussawar,” Bahaa-Eldin wrote. For five years, Kazem enjoyed fulfilling her dream role: she called herself “the warrior critic” and was happy to annoy those she perceived as enemies of “the revolutionary dream.” For her, the definition of theatre was shaped by the ideas of Peter Brook and Jerzy Grotowsky’s “Poor Theatre,” and she likes to think that her position was always aligned with the weak against “the imperious and the corrupt.” But all that came to a dramatic stop in 1971, when Kazem suffered a major defeat.

A new chief editor was appointed, Yusuf Sibai (who was an author, military general, and Minister of Culture, and is ironically referred to as the Knight of Romanticism), and the first thing he did, according to Safynaz, was summon her to his office. “He held a copy of my review of Naguib Surur’s play King of Beggars, and he shot me in the forehead with his assassinating blue eyes and said: We don’t want to see the name Safynaz Kazem published ever again, and I will bring your nose to the ground so you can stop your arrogance.” She calls him Egypt’s cultural McCarthy, and says that, as a result of his decision, she was effectively banned from Egyptian publications for twelve years. It was during those years that she performed her Islamic pilgrimage, put on the hijab, married Negm, had her daughter, taught theatre in Iraq, divorced Negm, and went in and out of jail.

Religion, elites and the arts

For a critic who is vocal about the centrality of Islam in her life, I was curious to know how far Safynaz allowed her religious beliefs to influence her judgement of literary works and art performances. After all, she never denounced art as categorically forbidden or haram.

When I asked the eighty-two-year-old author, she told me that she never apologizes for her faith, and that she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation, and she invoked T.S. Elliot’s avowed Catholicism.  But in an online article she wrote in 2002 for Islam Web, I found a more satisfying illustration of what might be her position.

In it, she was criticising the discourse of academics, directors, and critics who’d been asked by a magazine to discuss the challenges facing Egyptian experimental theatre, and who maintained that theatre is secular by nature, and that freedom from religious and societal constraints is necessary to present issues such as homosexuality. Safynaz wrote that they were insane to pit religion against theatre because, if they ask people to choose between the two, the people will say, “to hell with theatre.” After pointing to the religious roots of ancient drama in the world, and the moral references in Shakespeare’s plays, she accused “their type of secular extremism” as she called it, of cementing the wall between people and the theatre, which in her opinion should be “The People’s House,” not the elite’s.

Currently, Safynaz Kazem uses Facebook to republish some of her older articles and reviews that she’d written for various journals and magazines with limited circulation. One particular article that I found was shared widely by young users is her 2002 rave review in defense of the controversial movie El-Limby. While mainstream media and “grownups” denounced it as vulgar and immoral, Kazem praised it, comparing it to Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

*          *          *

When I asked Safynaz Kazem about what made her write her Master’s thesis on Eugene Ionesco, she said, “I found amusement in the worlds of Ionesco, Beckett, and the pataphysics of Alfred Gary, and a meaning equivalent to ‘this worldly life is but the comforts of delusion,’” from the Quran. And when I reminded her of Bahaa El Din’s description of her fifty years ago as “the eternal traveler on paper and in life…her journey hasn’t yet reached the harbor where turbulent waves are pacified,” she said that she’s now “in the blissful harbor of Islam; settled, content, and self-sufficient.”

At one point or another, Kazem may have replaced her youthful enthusiasm for the socialist revolutions and liberation movements of the 60s with one for an Islamic revolution. However, a closer look at her more subtle personal and creative writing suggests a consistent intertwining of the two intellectual sources throughout her life and career. It seems that she has a tendency to fall in love with abstract ideas, but, as soon they’re impersonated by fallible men, she divorces them.

Romanticisms

By Safynaz Kazem

Translated by Hadil Ghoneim

 

New York, April 13, 1964

… In the evening, I went to see John Gielgud’s modern take on Hamlet at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on 46th Street. Are you interested in hearing my story about this wonderful experiment that successfully performed the miracle of translating those remote pulses and aged torments as if they were pains born only today? Did you know that Hamlet’s agony is the same as mine and that of all humans? That we are all sitting on a backless chair? There is no back you can trust to rest on. All the walls are collapsing. And the problem isn’t in this fact, but rather in all the illusory backrests: the deceitful images we see around us picturing that everything is alright. Those words: “everything is alright” piss me off more than anything in this world. Fakeness is what caused Hamlet’s revulsion. It’s what drove him to feign madness. Isn’t madness our only escape to a chance to say what we really want to say? Sometimes I see madness as the only reason. Do you want to know how I see myself and others?

Like this:

1          1          1          1          1          1          1

1          1          1          1          1          1          1

1          1          1          1          1          1          1

Erected columns sentenced never to lean, their sole chance of escape is to curl up inside the womb or inside the earth. I don’t know if this is coming from what Shakespeare meant or from what I meant to see.

New York, October 18th, 1964

This time your letter was not a surprise, it was a miracle. I had come to accept that our conversation was over, and, to be honest with you, I was sad, and I spoke to Safy as she was getting ready to go to a concert. “Going out to listen to music?” I didn’t let her be, even as she sat in the audience:

-You’re sitting here with people who think you’re smart, with those eyeglasses you’re wearing, pretending to be all grown up and mature. None of them know that your friend is no longer your friend. Way to go. That’s what you do every time: you make a friend become upset with you.

-That’s fine, and I won’t make any friends in the world ever. I am better off rude like that. My dear sweet Safsaf, it’s okay darling, nobody forced them to play with you. Don’t listen to her, she who is scolding you. You know what I found for you yesterday? A great silly looking dress that would suit you very well. Because no one sitting in the audience should tear up like that unless she’s silly. Look! here’s Wilhelm Kempff. Allah, look how flexible his fingers are. There, there, look at his face. Now listen to what Beethoven will tell you. Shush.

-I’ll buy you chocolate in the intermission.

-I don’t want any.

-Okay, then orange juice, and you better straighten up! We said no getting sad over anyone.

At the intermission, with a chocolate bar in one hand and a cup of orange juice in the other.

-Feeling better? Good girl, Safynaz Safawy Zadah.

-I have one program, should I get another to write to him in it about the music?

-That’s it. We made an agreement. No more. From now on, we are going to talk only with Alfred Jarry the pataphysicist.

-Alright then, here—take your orange juice and leave. I don’t want to drink anything. My friend! Come save me from her!

That was the first of two piano nights by Wilhelm Kempff. The second night was the day before yesterday, and I was expecting a letter from you in the morning, and I didn’t find it. I went to my office and an issue of the magazine Hiya fell into my hand. It contained news and things that I hadn’t written that were ascribed to me. I felt nauseous. Hadn’t they learned yet that when I don’t write about Fifth Avenue and so-called sensational news, that I do that intentionally? Would a resignation letter be sufficient, or should I have to send a death threat too?

I was summoned by my boss at the other news office I work at. He said things that I couldn’t make any sense of, but I quickly replied: “Yes affendum!” It seemed like he didn’t understand what he had said either, so he snapped back at me: “Aren’t you going to stop this apish politeness?!”  “Yes sir!” “One resignation is enough for today,” I said as I left the office.

When the evening papers arrived in the afternoon, I read my horoscope telling me: “Hold your tongue and stop quarrelling.” I packed my bags and went for a two-hour nap in the American Drama class. I woke up at eight and the sun had gone completely. I ran to catch my eight thirty date with Wilhem Kempff. He played Shubert and Schumann and I found my head spontaneously writing you a letter. I liked it, and I thought it would be a waste to keep it in my head and not write it on paper, so I went home and began to write then I stopped. It occurred to me that my correspondence with you could be the seed for a daily journal for Al-Akhbar newspaper titled “Letter to a Friend Whose Address I Have Lost,”  and so I started editing it by crossing out paragraphs and adding lines and shading meanings, because what’s the difference between you and the readers? You are all strangers to me, and you’re all closely tied to me.

 

*                      *                      *

 

 New York, October 1964

… Before I started writing to you, I was discussing “The Selected Letters of Robert Frost” with my cat Rasha. I told her that my relationship with Frost is emotional and artistic. I love his face. I was so happy two years ago, when I sat in one of Chicago’s big theaters listening to him recount his trip around the USSR and then recite some of his poems. My eyes were fascinated by his 87 capable years and fixated on the scattered halo of white hair surrounding his head and his eyes. I held my breath along with the crowd as we watched his lips move. There was love tying us to the old sage. And here was my question: is this love all connected to the poet’s genius and his art, or were we savoring the paternal and prophetic threads reflected in his voice and his face and his humor that comforted our latent feelings of childhood?

… Lawrence Thompson introduced Frost’s letters, trying to lay out the revelation that he thought would disappoint many in the pristine image well-enacted by Frost on stage and in his poetry. That is because his letters uncover his selfish side, his cruel, neurotic, frightened and jealous side. A man devastated by a deep feeling of inadequacy. And none of that worried him because his only worry was that people wouldn’t like his poetry. I take it that Thompson wants to direct our attention to Frost’s letters as if they reflect his true being. And I don’t know my friend, but I suffered some kind of a mental cramp when I reached this point with Thompson. Why do we think that Frost’s letters reflect more of his true being than his poetry? I don’t believe that a human being has one reality anyway, and especially the artist. What is his reality? Is it his daily life? When he sits at the table discussing the price of meat? Or is it the abstract dimensions he tries to capture in his moment of artistic creation? I view art as expression; the desire to convey to others what we see, believe and feel… It is honesty, not in relaying the affairs of daily and personal life, but in saying that which daytime hypocrisy was unable to say… For me, art is the only outlet for the courage that the artist misses in his daily life. It’s the moment he takes off the clothes that he wears to suit him temporarily among the strange crowd, the moment he feels he is alone, that he can free himself from that role and slap faces with a real scream or pat their cheeks tenderly in the way he couldn’t attain for himself.

I guess what I mean to say is that I disagree with Thompson and reject his revelations, because everything that comes across in Frost’s letters as cruel, harsh, or violent is nothing but the hedgehog’s suit that an artist puts on when he’s dealing with the audience and the necessities of daily life. But the tiny hedgehog, the weak and kind Frost, lived underneath that skin writing the tenderness that overflowed from his true being.

 

 

New York, September 20, 1965

My friend: Today I sent you a book. It’s about the life of the Russian modernist poet Yevtushinko. It’s not exactly his biography but it illustrates the environment in which he emerged both as a poet and a visionary. I had promised you a while ago to send you that book, but I was broke and I found it at a very good price, a dollar—its original price was $3.95—so I bought it right away. I read it two years ago and really enjoyed it. And as it is my habit, I found a lot of similarities between Yevtushinko’s revolution and my own moral revolution. I think I’m a “moralist” with all due reservations on how I define what is moral and what is immoral.

I think we all need to read this book now. It translates things that might very well happen to us if it hasn’t already. It articulates the tragedy of the true believer when he finds that his faith has become a ploy in the hands of merchants, using it to solicit their livelihoods. It articulates the devoted believer’s revolt against the mercenary. No matter what the religion of the believer is, the revolt of all believers—as always—is one.

I am not done discussing this topic, but my body is shaking with anger from an argument I just had over the phone about the tragic state of our Arabic media here. I will discuss this when I’m calmer.

 

New York, August 17th 1965

My birthday. Alone in the room…preparing myself for a feast of daydreams… The others don’t understand, the others being my serial roommates, “Let’s do something.” Why do they insist on tying their boats to mine? I’ve always meant to keep my boat free, to follow only what occurs to it without the burden of explaining and answering questions and racing and group outings. The truth is I have nothing to explain, and my answers never convinced anyone in the past. I had to lie to make my answers sound more reasonable. I didn’t have the money for the race. I am arrogant because I like to be virtuous. Sorry.

….You didn’t see anything from what I saw. In reality, I wasn’t with you, and you didn’t notice my absence. You will never notice it. You won’t notice anything because you are rational… “Don’t sit alone.” I deserve these insults because I became so good at lying out of pity. What would you do, my roommate, if I unleashed my madness, and you knew that I was living with millions of creatures in my imagination? That I love them, and await the moment when I’m alone with them, and that I want to talk to my friend. My roommate, you are so kind. Always praising me with things that I wash my hands of, and apologizing on my behalf for things that I am intentional about. You clarify my moments of honesty with lies. Yesterday you ruined my plan when you translated me in front of those strange people in a manner that totally terrified me. Why don’t you hate me in order to unshackle me from your kindness and care? If you hate me, I will love you very much!

…Sad stories are what make me laugh the most, for people recount sadness with astonishment, as if it were a surprise. Others escape from it in fear, while your friend embraces it with all her heart, for it is her beloved clown. And these days, I’m sad. Freely sad, and it feels as if I’m binging on a dessert that I’ve been deprived of for a long time. Sadness is my humanity and the sense with which I conceive of things around me. My sadness is private. It’s very private but not shabby, contemptible, or silly.

 

New York, September 1965

….Everyone must have their own undying internal pilot light to be the source of all their joy, fun, happiness, and great sadness. A self-sufficiency that satisfies all their needs. I don’t feel the anguish of a person living a joyless life because he lost his source of joy: another person. I have no sympathy for those tormented by love, unless (like me) suffering is part of their joy. Love is a state of imagination and creativity that we invent in an exterior person who suits our artistic taste.

 

New York: March 1966

I am not going to send you this letter. I woke up today to the realization that fear of angering you is robbing me of a large part of my spontaneity and honesty. Your slow correspondence finally liberated me from my fear. It broke the habit of expecting a letter from you. I trained myself back to my old regimen: not to expect, not to lean, and not to attach. (Do you remember that tone from my first few letters to you? Is it a protective shield? So be it.) The only way to rid ourselves of fear is to place our head in the ghoul’s mouth. I’ll tell myself that you’re not there anymore. That you never were. My friend? My boyfriend? Do I mean you? Or do I mean he who I’m always searching for and give different names to—it could be you or someone else, or another. But my friendship with you is still murmuring in my heart. For two years, I have told you about myself more things than I’d imagined existing in it. Yes, I miss you very much, but I’m happy. I feel purified. The comfort that comes from a crushing pain. I gathered your things and shrouded them in a golden case.

 

A matter of opinion

Since he wrote short stories, our meeting was justified.

He told me the story of his life. I paid attention the whole time. “It is my turn for a chance to speak next,” I said. I planned to begin by talking about false eyelashes, because it is an easy way to know where he is coming from. He criticized them, and I knew he was sucking up to me. I smiled sweetly and told him that his story was very bad. I reached out my hand in intentional spontaneity to brush imaginary dust from the shoulder of his suit, which is being sold on Madison and 67th for sixty-seven dollars and sixty-seven cents, down from its original price of one hundred and five dollars. Even though the discount means it’s all over the place, it will still look smart when he steps off the airplane to his relatives, who will be there to greet him at the Cairo airport. He said he accepts criticism because it’s all a matter of opinion, and I agreed. He asked me, “What’s a good story in your opinion?” I remained silent. He assured me that he accepts criticism, and he repeated the statement that it’s all a matter of opinion, and I found this a chance to withdraw my agreement.  I asked him seriously if a man really hates an intelligent woman. He remained silent and kept staring at my forehead. I told him that I love children. He sighed and wrote with his pen on an unused tissue paper “a woman who loves children loves men.” I laughed and took his pen and wrote “a woman who loves children loves herself.” He raised his head and said, “Yes. A man really hates an intelligent woman.”

Our parting was now justified.

New York, 1965

 

 

Gulistan

I have been hanging a note written by my friend Albert Camus over my head for three years now. In short, he says that what gives value to travel is fear. The mysterious fear that seizes us when we travel far from our home countries, filling us with a persistent desire to return to the security of what we’re used to. This in fact is the primary benefit of travel, because that fear awakens our sensibility to a maximum degree, causing us to be deeply moved by the faintest touch, and then we are able to see the minutist things with a clear vision. Thus we shouldn’t say that we travel for pleasure, for there is no pleasure in traveling; it is but an opportunity for spiritual examination. Pleasure takes us away from ourselves in the same way temptation takes us away from God, whereas travel returns us to ourselves.

…It is amazing how a fervent desire for closeness always explodes from the distance. A closeness that the traveler possibly never felt before departing from his land: the songs you never thought you would remember drift and float in your head and acquire a fresh taste that you never recognized before. The values and traditions that you once admonished as regressive, backward, and severe now appear to have new angles that justify them and even make them necessary… The reality is, you cannot understand yourself until you learn to see others, and you don’t know your country until you have seen other countries.

…Recently, a new obsession seems to have overcome me with the love of drowning myself in “yellow books.” The books that, for some stupid reason, I haven’t read before, as I should have: the old books from our old Islamic Arabic Eastern heritage, our “turath.” Who do I blame? My ignorance? School curriculums? Or the pioneering writers whose every word I have eaten up in the papers and magazines of my age, and who directed my compass westward, while I left the stores in my house to the nesting pigeons?

….(On Saadi Shirazi’s Gulistan:)  I am not exaggerating or joking when I insist that in his garden, I saw Eliot and Joyce and Beckett and Brecht and Ionesco and Sartre and Camus and even Karl Marx. I saw them all in their schoolboy shorts and I said to them, “Hi!” and they asked me: “Who are you?” I replied: “I’m the owner’s daughter.” They laughed and I laughed with joy.

The thing that the modern reader would admire the most, and which I admired, was how the book was unfettered by the constraints of “form.” The constraints that artists created and fell into, and that the modern artist is trying to get rid of with great difficulty. Saadi did that with boldness and spontaneity not yet reached by the modern artist, for the book is neither a novel, nor short stories, nor poetry, nor a collection of articles, letters and aphorisms.

New York, 1965

 

 

Artists are dead people amusing themselves with the living

I’ve finally gained the courage to admit that I hate art. I am sure of the feeling despite being unable yet to articulate it in words. Very few people before me expressed their hatred of art and therefore the literature on this topic is meager and unavailable, which makes me a pioneer in the field, and that’s very exhausting. All that I’ve reached so far is some broad outlines of the idea as follows:

My opinion is that the artist is a dead person amusing himself with the living: To my surprise, I have reached the observation that the artist is someone who has failed in achieving life and therefore escaped to creativity. Whereas the complete and content person is someone who has achieved life and is incapable of artistic creation because he’s not hungry. The artist’s deafness to life, which is planting and harvesting, love and revenge, idealist and primitive, sweat and weariness, man and woman and childbirth and death, is his inability to feel flesh and blood. His compassion for his mental protagonist, statue, or painting, and his concern for his form and method exceeds his compassion and concern for his neighbor… He usually shields his hatred of people with all kinds of accusations. The most common of which is framing them as superficial, unable to understand, and too dull and insensate. All the while he’s drowning in self-pity, tending to regard himself as belonging to a finer class and deserving of special exceptions… Yet any complete human being who has come to know artists, whether by chance of a friendship, a marriage, a family relation, or an interaction can attest that living with them is very boring…and there are many anecdotes about the disappointment that has met anyone who has come to know an artist after previously admiring his art.

New York, 1966


Meters of luxurious suffering

This holy month, I ended my journey and returned bearing heavy boxes filled with great sadness and meters of luxurious suffering. I looked into my old mirror, and it smiled at me. She found that I’ve kept my promise the night of my departure: “I won’t grow up,” I told her…. Maybe I didn’t leave at all, maybe I stayed a day or part of a day. Maybe I imagined the whole thing… I went to the market:

I went to town with my money to find the tastiest food. They looked at my bills and asked me: Who are you? …I told them my name. They yawned and said: Yes, yes, she was here years ago and she went away to search for the green one, Khidr.

-I found him.

-Did you accompany him?

-I found him and accompanied him and didn’t ask him any questions.

-Then you have learned everything.

-I didn’t learn. I sensed.

-Khidr is a teacher.

-Khidr is an experience.

-Name the towns for us.

-I don’t remember the towns.

-Then tell us the names of the king, the child, and the people with the treasure.

-The king was a tyrant, the child was an infidel, and the people with the treasure were orphans.

-Describe the treasure.

 

…. Cairo 1966

Safynaz Kazem is a journalist and theater critic who has written a wide range of books, from memoir to social and cultural criticism. She was also featured in the 1997 documentary Four Women of Egypt (Quatre femmes d’Égypte).

Hadil Ghoneim writes in Arabic and English and is the author of several fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults, most recently, Layali ShahrZizi, Al Balsam, 2019. Her writing has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review Online, Mada Masr, Al-Shorouk, Al-Ahram, Al-Hilal and Wughat Nathar.

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