Willow Trees Don’t Weep: Interviewing Fadia Faqir


267927_251134238233496_6688446_nFadia Faqir is a national pride. She is one of the most successful Jordanian authors (if not the most). Her books were published in 19 countries and translated into 15 languages. She already has four published novels.  My Name is Salma”, which is perhaps the most known, and “Pillars of Salt” which got translated into fifteen languages.

In her writings we could see a needed close-up on the lives of Jordanian women. Stories she managed to bring out of this small country and echo to the world.

20763386I read her latest book “Willow Trees Don’t Weep” recently and was impressed with how well she managed to craft the storyline. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since she holds a Ph.D. in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of East Anglia and have been teaching that discipline at the University of Durham for many years now.

The book tells a story of a Jordanian young girl who goes on a mission to find her father who left home a long time ago to join the jihad fighters in Afghanistan. While the underline theme is a personal relationship between a father and his daughter, the book’s concern is much larger; it gives a needed perspective on the ramifications of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and its effects on our lives today. It shows the aftermath of the cold war and how it triggered the radicalisation of Arab societies. It takes us from Jordan to Afghanistan to the UK on a journey that depicts the lives of three nations affected by terrorism.

I had the chance to interview Fadia about her new book and asked her the following:

Fadi: When I first started reading the book, I was instantly hooked. It felt like another book of Khaled Al Husseini who is one of my favorite writers. Was it an intentional decision you made to follow his writing style? Were you influenced by his books? Or is it the way you crafted the book with such quality, following modern standards of storytelling that made it feel like Khaled’s books?

fadia1Fadia: I really like al-Husseini’s style, but I felt that the picture he drew in The Kite Runner, although beautiful, was not complete. Where were the so called ‘Arab Afghans’, jihadis from different parts of the Arab World, who joined the Taliban and fought against the Russians? Also if you look carefully my stance, perspective and vision are quite different from his. I don’t see the American invasion of Afghanistan as a liberation. It is simply an occupation and didn’t improve living conditions for ordinary Afghanis despite what is propagated in the mainstream media. The picture is far from rosy and the cycle of violence continues.

Fadi: Khaled Al Husseini saw a huge success telling the stories of Afghani people and the effect of the cold war and the soviet invasion of his country on their lives. I am happy to see someone else tackling the effect of that war on the lives of people in the region and the world at large. This is an important story that needs to be told. Where did the idea of this book come from? What motivated you to tell this story?

fadia2Fadia: When I heard that a young man from our neighbourhood in Amman ‘achieved martyrdom’ in Afghanistan in 1987 my fourth novel began germinating. I was puzzled by this piece of news. Why would a young man from Jordan travel all the way to Afghanistan to fight somebody else’s war? How could he leave his family and country behind and travel with the Taliban from one province to another, looking for Soviets and their supports? What happens to your loved ones when you prioritize the call to jihad, holy war, over them?

What about their women relatives who are left to fend for themselves, earn a living, and keep the household together? Their perspectives were mostly missing in everything I had heard or read.

More over the ramifications of the events in Afghanistan are far and wide. Difficult questions needed to be asked about the state of the world today and the only way you could tackle complex issues is through fiction.

Fadi: In my dissertation for the MA in Creative and Critical writing, I did a psychoanalysis read for the relationship between the father and the son in “The Kite Runner”. I was mainly interested in the effect of the father figure on the death drive of the son. For my creative piece, I reflected that into a relationship between a mother and her daughter. I could read the same in your book: Najwa has a strong mother’s figure that is doubled by her grandmother. I could see how these figures along with her concern about her identity fueled her journey into dangerous Afghanistan to look for her father. At the end of the book, you kill the father figure and pave the way for Najwa’s healing. Did you have this psychoanalysis dimension in mind while writing the story?

Fadia: No, I didn’t. This must have evolved unconsciously. There is a line I read somewhere, ‘Father die so I could be free to love you.’ And I wanted some of that in the novel. He does not literally die, but the myth of him does. So Najwa, like most of my heroines, manages to position herself within the historical web of events, and actualizes herself at the end of Willow Trees Don’t Weep. Like most of my novels it is a rite of passage and a narrative of initiation. Physical journeys from one country and continent to another are intertwined with internal ones. The odyssey humanizes and leads towards compassion for self and others and ultimately forgiveness.

Fadi: I enjoyed reading in particular about Najwa’s mother. Though she sounded depressed, but also showed a strong character. It needs courage for a Jordanian woman to stand firm and admit that she is not a believer. The character has even gone beyond that into showing disgust and strong rejection of anything that is related to religion (partly due to her husband disappearance for his religious cause). I am sure that there are many Jordanian women who could relate to this character. I know that even showing such women exist needs courage. Where you reluctant in writing her this way?

fadia3Fadia: No. There had to be a wide spectrum of characters in a novel that is partly about faith and the intra dialogue between Muslims themselves, which you rarely see represented in the mainstream media. The fundamentalists, true and moderate believers, seculars and the non-believers interact and debate issues. Najwa says that she is caught between her father’s magic, ie belief, and her mother’s science, ie secularism. She has to navigate a way through all of this and forge her own ethical code.

There are many secular people in our society and in many households in Amman the debates about belief or lack of it rage. This had to be aired. Give voice to the voiceless if you have a pen and can use it as you weave aesthetically pleasing fiction.

Fadi: In all of your books, you show concern in women status in Jordan. Gender equality activism is not new in Jordan, much work has been put into this but yet things are not moving forward the way we aspire to see. We have seen good success in education where women makes more than half the graduates but we are yet to see this translated into economic participation and civil rights. What do you think is wrong? How can we tackle these issues?

Fadia: Jordanian society is male-dominated and had been for a long time. To tip the power in women’s favour requires social, legal, political etc. revolutions. This will take time and effort. The economic variable is so important, but women shy away from discussing property, earnings, inheritance with their partners and family members. Economic autonomy and independence is a perquisite for equality and equal opportunity. Oddly enough in some cases in Jordan, where domestic violence is rife, it is not leading to liberation. Male members of the family confiscate the earrings or women. However, education and economic independence are a must and then other things would follow.

fadia4The ceiling in Jordan is made of fire-proof glass and women need to keep chipping at it to break it. And every step towards gender equality taken by any woman anywhere in Jordan will push the boundaries farther. The personal is political and is our starting point.

One more observation: women themselves are mostly divided and do not support each other. In Britain things began to change when ‘The Old Girls’ Network’ was born and women began organizing themselves and truly supporting each other.

Fadi: It is a beautiful relationship you built between Najwa and her father, especially towards the end of the book where many things gets revealed. You dedicate the book to your own father Ahmad al-Faqir. It is a touching gesture. As they say there is a woman behind every great man, but I also think that there is also a loving father behind every great woman. How did he shape the woman you are today? What influence did he have on your character and literary career?

Fadia: My father taught me how to read and how to read between the lines for I rarely saw him without a book in his hands. He encouraged me to study history and emphasized the importance of understanding its movement in it’s totally and explained how events are interconnected. We disagree on some things, but our conversation never stopped.

His pursuit of freedom and justice inspired my writings, although our world visions are different. Despite the fact that he sometimes disagreed with my choices he stood by me through thick and thin and never stopped loving me or I him.

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Fadi: There is a good part of the book that talks about Afghanistan war with detailed scenes from battles ground. I assume that required much research from your side. Does living in the UK make it easier for you to access that information? When talking about historical incidents, do you think that Arabic authors are in disadvantage here in terms of the breadth of information they can access?

fadia5Fadia: A colossal amount of research went into the novel, but the reader is supposed to only see the tip of the iceberg. Since it began germinating in 1987 I hadn’t stopped searching for information. I collected material, watched documentaries, and monitored the press for twenty-seven years. My interest in the Afghanistan, its people, and the invasion is like a program that is always running in the background of the PC of my mind, an obsession, if you like.

Unlike some Arab authors access to books here in the UK is easy and their price is normally reasonable especially if you buy them secondhand. So yes some Arab authors who don’t have the facts at their fingertips are at a disadvantage. But the internet is changing all of that if you they have an unhindered and uncensored access to it.

Fadi: Do you have plans to translate “Willow Tree Don’t Weep” to Arabic?

63611_184340641579523_5515078_nFadia: As you know I don’t translate my books although I oversee closely my translations into Arabic. I worked really hard on the translation of My Name is Salma because it was the first time my writing appeared in Arabic and it had to be perfect. It isn’t, but the Arabic text is close enough to the original. I do hope that Willow Trees Don’t Weep will catch the eye of an Arab publisher soon.

Fadi: Why did you choose to write this one in English?

Fadia: After writing in English for thirty-one years it has become as Conrad said, ‘a capability’. These days I wake up and write in whatever language comes first and English is normally my morning visitor. I am not sure after living outside Jordan all these years my Arabic would be good enough to draw the kind of world my fiction conveys. Funnily enough social networks have improved my Arabic and widened my contact with the Arab world. I am also planning to partly move to Amman. So watch this space.

Fadi: How do you see the state of the Arab world today? I feel that we hit a rock bottom with terrorism and that we are yet to see a u-turn. People today are more aware of the dangers that comes from religious extremism. Do you feel a positive change is anywhere in the near future?

Fadia: Unfortunately I don’t envisage a positive change soon and because of that I am suffering from post-Arab Spring depression. Its symptoms: silence, self-examination and searching for ways forward. 

fadia6When the educational systems and institutions were attacked and slowly destroyed by regimes afraid of an educated dissident the seeds for extremism were sown. Katatib and religious schools, where mostly Wahabi dogma is taught, began spreading. And the elite bear some of the responsibility for that because difficult questions about religion and its relation to politics were either dodged or never discussed openly. For true enlightenment to take place intellectuals must apply reason and discuss the role of traditional institutions in society openly. But alas that pivotal moment had passed. So the damage is done and it’s going to take a long time and much effort to reverse the tide in the Arab World towards liberal, democratic and tolerant societies.

Fadi: Have you started working on your next book?

Fadia: Yes, and the working title is ‘Catherine and Omar’. The second draft is almost finished, but it requires a few edits. A female British archeologist arrives in Jordan and joins an excavation in Petra. This cross-cultural encounter proves to be life-changing for her and some people around her.  It is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but there isn’t much laughter in me these days because of the events in our region.

Fadi: What do you advise young Jordanian ambitious writers?

Fadia: I recently stayed in Amman for a while and I could see how much it has changed. East Amman, where native Jordanians, immigrants, asylum seekers jostle for work and live side by side, is in a state of flux. This miasmic shift needs young writers, like you, to chronicle it. Indian and Latin American fiction comes to mind. And I am looking forward to reading something similar to Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia in Arabic and with a clear Jordanian flavor.

Also it will be great if a Jordanian literary agency is established to represent, defend and promote local writers.

If I were younger I would look carefully at self-publishing on the internet. Digital books opened up possibilities for authors everywhere and Jordanian ones are no exception. It is hard at the beginning but if you establish a cyber footprint you will be in charge of your own brand, earnings and future.

To conclude the closer a writer moves to him/herself and their own voice the more international they become. This journey towards self, distinct style, and unique vision is life-long and arduous, but the rewards are many. Some readers prefer authentic and sincere narratives with a distinct cultural flavor and Jordan is a fertile ground for that kind of writing.

Fadi: Thank you Fadia, as you said, we have many stories that deserve to be told, and have Jordanian talents that are up to bring these stories to life. Keep on impressing us. 

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A tale of two singers: Elissa and Fadel Shaker – the ambivalence of the Arabic culture


Fadel Shaker holding a gun

Fadel Shaker holding a gun

Elissa winning two Murex D'or Award 2013

Elissa winning two Murex D’or Awards 2013

A few years ago, Elissa and Fadel Shaker came together into a duet song called “Gowwa Al Ro7” (inside the soul); a romantic song of two lovers conversing how much they love each other. At that time, it was a perfect match for two of the most popular Arab singers who excelled in these types of songs. Fadel was no less romantic than Elissa, and his songs carried no less love.

Fast forward to the 23th of Jun, 2013 (yesterday), Elissa is on stage in one of the biggest celebrations of the TV industry in the Arab World, The Murex D’or, celebrating her success with two awards: Best Lebanese Singer, and Best Arabic Song “As3ad Wahdah” (the happiest). On the other hand, Fadel Shaker is sieged in a Mosque in the Lebanese town Seida, and fighting with a terrorist Salafi group against the official Lebanese army. On stage, Elissa appears in an extravagant white dress, she talks about how she doesn’t feel being the happiest tonight for one can’t help it not to be affected by the killings happening on the ground, but yet what makes her happy is the fact that this event is actually taking place and that people are still celebrating music and life. In a video that came out early in the same day, Fadel Shaker appears with a long beard, cursing Hezb Allah and his leader Hassan Nasrullah and threatening – actually promising that he will – to kill the mayor of Seida.

Seeing Fadel Shaker in video talking like that is mind boggling. I can never understand how a man who has an angelic voice and who has been singing for love for many years drops everything and becomes an agent of hatred and murder. I don’t want to play the devil advocate here, but watching other videos for him, he comes across to be sincere in terms of believing in the cause he is fighting for. One can’t deny the horrors happening in Syria, and the urges of wanting to stop the killings is totally natural, still the means of defending those innocent people are questionable. I would rather see him fighting with his voice, singing for that nation, singing for peace and harmony, that would be much more effective than joining the devilish game. That’s what Elissa is doing. She has never shied of speaking up her political stand. She probably hates Hassan Nasrullah and Bashar Al Asad even more than Fadel, but she expresses that in words, not bullets.

But looking at the photos of both singers above, I can’t help myself thinking about the gender divide in the Arab world. We regularly talk about the injustice women face in the Arab world, and that is totally true and I am an avid advocate for the fight against that injustice, but taking a closer look, one would wonder if men are in no less horrible situation. In fact, Arab men are on the track of a death discourse. The value of life has taken a backseat next to distorted values of honor and pride.

If one looks at the most Arab followed tweeps online, one would see the list is divided between the female lebanese singers and the religious Saudi leaders! In fact Elissa herself enjoyed more than 1,375,000 follower and is ranked at number 4 in terms of online influence in the MENA region according to Klout. In comparison, Fadel Shaker’s twitter account shows 147,830 follower. That is a huge indication of the polarisation taking place in the Arab world between religious and non-religious people and how men and women fit into that.

While no body can deny Elissa’s popularity, one can not also deny that there is a big side of the Arabic culture that looks down at her and what she represents. In her fist video clip she appears with no clothes, only a blanket that covers her body and moves along with the wind. The song, “Baddi Doub” was a big hit, but Elissa had to fight for years to prove herself and break out of the accusations of her using her body to overcome her weak voice. The “blanket singer” is still how many sees her today after more than 15 years of her career.  It is also true that her appearance in that clip opened the door for a new wave of singers that flaunted their sexuality and femininity to gain popularity, something that is rejected by many men and women in the Arab world.

If you look at Fadel Shaker’s singing career, he had to face nothing of that. After all, he is a man. He has been pretty much respected for his voice and his songs. Sadly, he asked people not to listen to his music for he believes it is forbidden (haram!). What is interesting is the reaction of people to that change. While many people have been cursing and insulting him for appearing like a terrorist and fighting the Lebanese Army, others on twitter have been applauding him for “repenting” and choosing Allah’s path. They see him as a hero who is fighting to protect his fellow Sunneh.

For me, I would vote for Elissa heroism all the way. We had a history of looking down upon female artists especially those who escapes the boundaries of the culture and celebrates their femininity. For some, it may be an over exposer of women sexuality and objectifying of the subject of women, yet it may very well be what were are missing these days; more women celebrating their gender expressions in whatever way they see fit.

I really wish Fadel Shaker was there yesterday next to Elissa on stage, receiving an award for celebrating life.

Damn me! demanding my child right for my citizenship!


Oh damn me!

How selfish am I asking for the right to pass my citizenship to my husband and children.

Is it selfishness? or is it insanity?

Insane enough to ask for an equal status with Man
Insane enough to think that the half genetic code that I pass to my kids are not that inferior to the second half provided by my husband

After all, he is the MAN!

His genes comes through his sperm, that comes out of his phallus!

That damn phallus!

Mine are hidden in my vagina, nearly as invisible as myself

Invisible genetic code vs a phallic genetic code, that explains it all, no?
It has all been set from long time ago; children carry the name of their fathers.
That is what religion tells us, what God wants, what our traditions entails, and what our habits are accustomed to.

Simple and easy.

and in a modern, civil country, where a citizen is suppose to be a ‘citizen’, old habits get translated into laws
So yes, the invisibility of my genetic code is naturally transferred into the penal code.. of my country
Children who used to carry the name of their fathers, can only carry the citizenship of their fathers as well

Simple and easy.

Why change that? for women are not really full citizens. You know?

They don’t really pay the same amount of taxes, do they?
They don’t really work as hard as men, do they?
They are less smart, less educated, and less worthy, aren’t they?
and guess what? They get pregnant! and become burdon to their employers and society.
but hey, once they pop their child out, it is no longer theirs

Well, how could it be when the woman herself becomes a property for her husband? when she, herself, abandons her family and claims his family name?
Sorry, forgot that this usually happens ‘out of love’
He loves her too, don’t get me wrong, but a Man’s love is different too.. it comes with privileges..
such as ‘a citizen can be different than another citizen’ (based on sex, country of origin, religion, race, color, sexual orientation, etc)
of course there will always be pigs who are more equal than other pigs.. this is life.. deal with it

and damn me

I opened the pandora box.. and whispered ‘Equality’

woooooww! hold on! Equality? me and Man? is it even possible?

Equality that risks to destroy the ‘Jordanian Identity’?
Equality that risks to destroy the ‘Palestinians Identity’?
Equality that would pull all of the Palestinians and destroy any hope for a Palestinian future (as if that is happening tomorrow).
Equality that would kill Jordan and turn it into a substitute land!

This is what Israel wants, isn’t it? what the devil wants? what the immoral civil world wants? Equality!

I know, I am just being selfish. I am just looking at my own selfish gain without looking at the broader picture and the best for my country.
My country? Can I even say that? while being a woman?
The best for the country is what is best for its men. Remember, I am invisible?

So Jordanian men can marry Palestinian women all they want. They can marry up to 4! They can pull them all out of Palestine, grant them their citizenship and get as many children out of them who would only be Jordanians.

That wouldn’t affect the Palestinian cause… neither the Jordanian identity!
You know, Israel is like us, they don’t count women. Even the UN, they don’t really count women, do they?
They don’t even acknowledge the linkage between a child and a mother..

Remember? Mother genetic code is invisible..

Maybe I am just choosing the wrong time? you know ‘the global conspiracy’ that is after us? I am just a tool, I know it!

It has always been.. my rights are equal to human disasters! alien invasions! armageddons!

That what happens when I step up.. when I stop being that invisible!

Isn’t it?

Sincerely,

Haya

One of the SEVEN: Don’t miss it!


SEVEN

I am honoured to be part of a play presented by Swedish Institute and embassy that highlights women rights around the world. The play called SEVEN will be shown in Amman for the first time this month on Saturday 20th, Oct and Sunday 21th, Oct. I will be taking a role in the Arabic version of the play alongside some amazing Jordanian women:

Nadine Toukan, maverick producer
Samar Dudin, director of RUWWAD
Rabiha Dabbas, previous minister of municipal affairs and previous governor
Nabila F. T. Abdel Masieh Managing Director EN-CAPS Consult
Lana Nasser, playwright, actress

That is quite an honor to be among these women and read a woman’s part.

If you can’t make it to the Arabic version on Saturday, make sure to make it on Sunday. The role I am playing in Arabic would be played by the beautiful Swedish Ambassador in Amman Charlotta Sparre.

DONT MISS IT!

Here is the event’s page on Facebook. Join in and invite your friends 🙂

Haya’s 30 years bday resolution regarding men.. and women


I thought that 30 years old would be the number where people would stop/shy of asking me questions about when am I going to get married. I was wrong. I now know that people have no shame… no shame at all.

When I am talking about people here, I am mostly referring to other women, those who call themselves friends and seize every little chance to ask me: “Haya, nothing yet happened with you?” “dear, you are 30 now, you have to work harder?” “Haya, you need to change, you are too serious, men don’t like that!”

What the heck! Suddenly, every woman who have a ring in her hand, becomes a relationships expert! The ugliest one from school who married her own cousin, the self-centered one who was madly in love with her boyfriend for 10 years only to leave him for the first wealthy groom who knocked her door, the unconfident, self-pity, woman who drove me crazy because of her fear of never getting married and seized up the only chance she got, and the woman who is nearly my age who only got married 2 months ago and now behaves like she is the queen of the world. All experts now! heh!

But hey, I am Haya. Haya who knows exactly how to strike back; women can ever be good enough, right? I know where to hit. “Aren’t you pregnant yet?” I hit the one with no children yet. “when are you plannin on getting the boy” for the one with a girl child. “only one boy? you need to get him a brother” for those bitches with a son! I always manage to find a way to hit on their nerves.

Honetly, like every other woman, I dream of my wedding day, I dream of finding the right man who would love and cherish me for the rest of my life. That is hard to find these days due to different cultural and personal reasons that sometimes make no sense to me.

Anyway, recently I came up with some realizations that would help me increase my chances of finding the right man, I will do the following:

1. Drop my fear package: Throughout the years, I built this shield of not trusting men. Men have proved to me to be assholes over and over again, and thus, I have always let this barrier of mistrust to eat out from any potential relationship in the horizon and eventually killing it. If I am going to love someone, then I am going to love him fully – with no fears

2. Hit the gym: No matter how much we try to trick ourselves in believing that men do really appreciate our minds, it is always our bodies who they appreciate first! I will take a loan and subscribe at VY. There are many wealthy bachelors out there for me to target.

3. Read the book “why men marry bitches”: It has always amazed me how those women who treated their boyfriends like garbage managed to get them to the alter! Me, being the nice girl, never managed to keep a man for more than 3 months!

4. Social butterfly: The more poeple I meet, the better chance of me meeting the right guy. Whether it is a wedding ceremony, a birthday party, or a cultural event, I will make sure to always be there. That is offline.

For the online, I will make sure to use the power of social networking. I will keep on updating my facebook account with pictures that I take on various events, I will write more here on this blog – if the observer allows me -, and I will be more active on twitter.

5. Expand the pool of *acceptable* husbands: If there are few single men older than me now, then why not looking out for younger? People would talk, but so what? It is becoming a trend anyway.

What else? help me out

Your’s,
Haya

My inner leader and Sandi bell!


This is funny, today we had this leadership and gender workshop. The lecturer asked us to take a moment and meet the inner leader of us! It was a weird request, we had to sleep and relax (mediate) and she was guiding us of what to imagine. She asked us to image a place. I don’t know why, but I imagined myself in the beautiful garden of Sandi bell! (Dont laugh), Do you remeber it guys? The beautiful small garden where Sandi took care off and dreamed of her lover Mark. Anyhow, she then asked us to follow a path, and I imagined a road with a green sides to Sandi’s house! I entered the house and my inner leader (which is me) came in! Surprisingly wearing the same jacket I was wearing today! I couldn’t keep up with the instructions of the lecturer as I fall asleep and started snoring! how shameful!

When I woke up, some talked about their experience, she had asked them to imagine their inner leader giving them a box and to open it and check what was inside. I continue my imagination then, and imagined mine giving me a black box, and in it a message saying that I have a beautiful live infront of me :). I believe there is, and look forward for it.

Back to the lecture, which was mainly about leadership and gender. Sweden seems to be so concerned with gender equality, I think they have a Ministry for Integration and Gender. The other day I found this booklet in the Swedish Institute where they have all of those statistics about men and women and their numbers in different occupations and roles. Inspite of the social awarnace and government and non-government work to achieve gender equality, there is still inequality in achievements of women in leading roles. The lecturer pointed out that there has been a study that found that women in middle managerial positions have better skills than men. And that there has been a study in Finland which found that companies with a female CEO makes 10% more profit! That doesn’t mean that women are more competent than men, but it means that women have still to put more efforts and gain more skills in order for them to occupy a position that a man would fill with less skills.

Women around the world have achieved a lot in the past decade, but still they have a long way to go.