Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nothing to Lose but Your Life

The late Edward Said has repeatedly asked us to "reaffirm the power of culture over the culture of power,” and that’s exactly what Saud Amiry has successfully done in her new book Nothing to Lose but Your Life.

Applying the same successful formula she used in her first book Sharon and my Mother in-Law, Amiry’s ability to be both funny & balanced even when documenting the inhumane & miserable conditions under which the Palestinians live in the occupied territories is truly powerful. It is also much more effective in amassing the support of people around the world than tens of speeches by politicians.

Amiry’s book is a chronicle of the 18 hours journey, mostly spent running or hiding, she experienced first-hand when she accompanied a group of Palestinian men from a small village in the West Bank trying to sneak into Israel to reach the worker’s market, where Israeli employers pick them up to do various manual labor jobs.

I usually complain to everyone I know, and sometimes to people I don’t know, that I have to wake up at 6:00 a.m. every weekday morning to be at my office at 7:00 a.m. I was ashamed of my petty grumble when I realized that Palestinian laborers, who were denied work permits after the second Intifada, leave their homes at 2:30 a.m., to start a hellish journey that takes them across hills and valleys, through tunnels and over fences, all this while trying to avoid and evade Israeli security forces waiting for them in the darkness of the night.

Exhausted by the dangerous hide-and-seek game between the Palestinian potential laborers and the Israeli security forces, and getting genuinely scared for their safety when the sun cruelly rises before the group is able to reach its destination, I wondered why they just don't turn back and try again the next day. Amiry doesn't leave me wondering for long. A member in her group tells us that the men would chose being arrested or injured over the embarrassment of going home to their families empty handed.

When Amiry and her three companions, Murad, Saed and Mohamed, manage to avoid being arrested, injured, or discouraged by fatigue and the slim chance of finding work that late in the day, and finally go past an opening in the infamous Security Wall in the afternoon, Amiry was shocked, and so was I, when she was reminded that the military check points, the separate roads, the hiding, the chase, the arrests, and the gunshots were all happening in the West Bank, that is, in undisputed Palestinian territories. It is ironic to note that once in Israel; they had relatively much more freedom to move from one place to another, and they even managed to ride the Israeli public transportation.

I strongly recommend this book. The English version was published in 2010 by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. The book is also available in Arabic under the title مراد مراد      

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Help

The Help was not on my to-read list (yes I do have a to-read list, people with OCD like myself love lists), but was recommended to me by my once art teacher (who gave me my only fail grade in my school years) and who after over thirty years of not seeing or hearing from her, I now consider her (thanks to Facebook) a very good friend.

In a nutshell, I did not hate the book but at the same time I did not like it much. After only a few pages, I could not but think that this is a book about black maids telling how it was to work for white families in Mississippi back in the sixties, but it is obviously told by a WHITE woman.

Why this book was chosen to be made into a movie is a mystery to me. If Hollywood wanted to make a movie about this delicate issue, then Langston Hughes' "Not Without Laughter"- to give one example - would have been a much more poetic, genuine, and honest alternative.

I wonder if the choice was driven by commercial or racial reasons.

OK I have a confession to make, a few days after reading The Help, I was driving home from work and I saw the young man who helps with the house work walking in the direction of the bus station. I waved at him and drove home. Then I remembered a scene from The Help, and I found myself backing up, catching up with him, and insisting on giving him a ride to the bus station. In the four months he's been with us, I never did that before. I guess what I am trying to say is: reading The Help is not a complete waste of time after all.