Thursday, May 8, 2008

a bit of a story

They say writers are very self-conscious about their writing, scared to share for fear of criticism or for fear of failure, or for fear of... something else. I never thought of myself in this way. After all, I write this blog, I write letters all the time, have written more academic papers than I personally think anyone should write (though of course many people make a career of that!). But I have just finished writing a novel, and have actually been rather self-conscious about sharing that with people, so I guess what they say is true. So in the spirit of an open heart, I present you with a small little excerpt from Dreams in the Medina, a coming-of-age tale portraying the dreams and aspirations of young Syrian women... All criticism will be fully welcome.

"Huda, what has happened to our innocence?" Leila asked, instead of answering Huda's question.
"My innocence is gone, gone..."
Leila hesitated before speaking it: "Two years ago?"
"Almost to the day."
"Tell me."
"You really never knew?"
"I knew something, that you had trouble with a professor and that your family was in a tough spot. We all knew that much. But I never knew what happened."
"My life ended that day. I thought it was beginning, but it ended."
Leila had not imagined that this was the direction their conversation would have taken. Had she known, she would have run back to Maha's room and the familiarity of Roxy's problems, she would have ignored her best friend. Worse, pretended she didn't know her, she would have made up any excuse, anything to avoid this. What did the Medina do to her? It taught her to talk about real things. It showed her what it was like to feel, to really feel.
She thought back to a conversation she'd had with Maha earlier that year. Maha was taking an abnormal psychology class as a part of her course, and was explaining all the different ailments to Leila. A lot of the concepts were taught in French or English, because apparently they didn't even exist in Arabic. In Arabic, everyone was just expected to be alright. There was no mental illness in Arabic, and therefore in Syria. They'd talked a bit about that: why it was that this was such a developed concept in Europe and America but not in Syria. Was their country really just a healthier place, or was there some fear about considering that things just might not be perfect? In Leila's family, they all knew there were problems: the odd day of her father's abusiveness towards her mother, the four-month stretch that her sister wouldn't get out of bed, the year that her brother had gone missing - her parents had said he was making money in the Gulf but the whole family had known that they actually had no idea where he was. And Leila considered her family to be quite stable and supportive, especially as she got to know different girls at the Medina. All in all, she was quite well off. Anyway, so the girls talked about Maha's course in abstracts, never about themselves or their own families, but about mutual friends or characters in novels or TV shows.
Maha's lecture notes never gave Syrian examples. All the examples were from Europe or America, quite often from films or books. Such that Maha got the impression the professor was trying to teach about these problems as if to say that they're worth understanding, but they will never be relevant to anyone in the classroom. But one disease had caught Maha's attention and she and Leila had pored over its description together. They had thought of half a dozen girls in the Medina who they suspected had this ailment, and one of them was Roxy. In English, it was called manic-depressive, or bipolar. Maha was responsible for memorising the English names and a list of symptoms. Leila didn't remember all of them, but some had stuck in her memory: unrealistic expectations, reckless behaviour, less sleep needed, easily distracted, dramatic... Then, at another point in time, this person would be: extremely sad, cry a lot, neglecting themselves, too much sleep, withdraw from friends.
But as they'd talked, Leila and Maha had agreed that this was their culture. Sometimes manic: grandiose, reckless, excited. And sometimes depressive: miserable, weeping, withdrawn. But the most common treatment for this disease was a drug which kind of took out the extreme emotions. People with this disease often don't like taking the medication because they stop feeling. Life is a bit less wonderful and a bit less miserable. It's just lived. Syria was, they'd decided, a bipolar country on lithium. And moving to the Medina - leaving the shelter of her family's home - had knocked Leila off the medication. She was now feeling it all, in all its multicoloured glory and, at other times, in all its dark shades of misery. She'd known love and passion and parties and adventure - but she'd also experienced and shared in her friends' experiences of the most acute types of pain imaginable.
That was what the Medina had done to her, and as she sat here, realising she was about to be thrown into Huda's story, she longed for a big burst of that lithium into the Medina. Did all the marvel of the last four years make the pain of the last four days worth it?

2 comments:

Tiago said...

Seus leitores anglófonos que me desculpem, Kátia, mas vou escrever o comentário em português. :) Fiquei surpreso ao ver você como escritora! Enfim, o comentário é mais para me colocar à sua disposição para ler e criticar seu romance.
Beijos,

Tiago

Sherif said...

Dear Katiek,
Todo ben!
I came across your blogg through Dick Grady and his wife who spoke affectionately of you. I must admit that I was blown away with the way you express your perspective on the situations you described. Your affinity towards ethnic communities in general and towards the Arabic culture in specific is obvious. I wonder if this is due to the impact of the Arabic / Lebanese community had on the Brazilian culture.
Abrigado for sharing your perspectives.
Sherif

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