Friday 27 March 2015

A lyrical account of exile and return – I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti

I Saw Ramallah


Mourid Barghouti

Having recently read Susan Abulhawa’s novel Mornings in Jenin,  I felt compelled to read a biographical account. Abulhawa created such an atmosphere in her story that it felt and read like a true account of a real family, rather than a fiction. At least it did so until I read Barghouti’s memoire.  His book has been on my To Be Read list for ages, and not being much of a non-fiction reader it kept on being neglected. More the fool me! It is excellent. A lyrical, thought provoking account of homeland, exile, displacement, memory, loss and return.

Barghouti was born in Palestine in 1944, and aged 22 was returning to University in Cairo when the Six Days War broke out. This denied him re-entry and any return for 30 years. he suffered a second deportation later, from Egypt, leaving his wife and 5 month old son.  The man studied English Language and Literature and is a renowned poet and you can hear this in his narrator’s voice. His turn of phrase is exquisite, for example as he patiently waits to be finally allowed to cross home from Jordan, he describes the young soldier on guard at The Bridge across the River Jordan (The King Hussein Bridge/al-Karama Crossing/Allenby Bridge) , “His gun is my personal history. It is the history of my estrangement. His gun took from us the land of the poem and left us with the poem of the land. In his hands he holds our earth, and in our hands we hold a mirage”.

“What does my return, or the return of any other individual  mean? It is their return, the return of the millions, that is the true return. Our dead are still in the cemeteries of others. Our living are clinging to foreign borders. On the bridge, that strange border unmatched on any of the world’s five continent, you are overwhelmed by your memories of standing at the borders of others.”

On his eventually arrival in Ramallah, he see the settlements for the first time, how the road has been moved so you cannot see, and he cannot enter anyway, the city of Jerusalem, his mind is a riot of questions – was Palestine not green? what are these chalky dusty hillsides, striped of their olive trees?  why did West Bank-ers call their fellow Palestinians displaced there from coastal cities refugees and immigrants? - brimming over with emotions of his own, of his family’s and of  his nation’s caught in the triangle of time past, present and future, caught between the politics of governments and the politics of family. The reader really gets the turmoil of a man, displaced, a stranger in a strange land which is and should be his home land, a poet struggling for words, for his song.

His stories tell so much more than they appear to at first glance:  for example, his story about eventually succumbing to buy olive oil in a grocery shop feeling like an act of resignation that his home in Deir Ghassanah was gone, unreachable; how the Palestinian diaspora in Kuwait had set up a fund to help those in need in his village which stopped when the Gulf War meant Palestinians had to leave Kuwait; talking about his aunt who  like so many older women remained at home – “In the afternoons, her square courtyard becomes the meeting-place of forty-nine widows who are all that is left of her generation in Deir Ghassanah. Husbands, sons, and daughters have been distributed among the graves and detention camps, jobs and parties and factions of the Resistance, the lists of martyrs, the universities, the sources of livelihood in countries near and far. from Calgary to Amman, from San Paolo to Jeddah, from Cairo to San Francisco, from Alaska to Siberia

This book is packed with reflections, extracts from his poetry inspired by his memories of people, places and events, but what strikes you is that the places of his memories are in fact times, as he ponders just how much he really knows about the places and his homeland of now.

I loved his poem “The  Wink” which tells the story of a young village boy who received a wink from a girl as he dances at a wedding.  I also loved the comical nature of some of his anecdotes – when he is living in Budapest they have taken a friend to the airport after a visit she has made en route back to Cairo. Then they find out that Pres Sadat has had many people arrested who had not supported him, the list includes their friend. Anxiously they try to get a message to her, but she is already in the air. Two days later there is news from Cairo. Yes she had been arrested as soon as she landed, but she and her cellmates were enjoying her duty free purchases!

ashramblings verdict 5* One of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. A compelling account of return after exile and all its associated feelings of displacement, loss, memory and remembrance..




Friday 20 March 2015

Checking out loneliness and loss – The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library

by Haruki Murakami

Translated by Ted Goossen

In the Library basement, the narrator knocks on a door, “It was a normal, everyday knock, yet it sounded like someone had whacked the gates of hell with a baseball bat”. I wonder how many of us fervent readers can relate to that imagery of the depths of library deep in the stacks, down in the dungeons, alone, first time in that part of the library, in the dark and silence, facing our fears?

So the unnamed young narrator finds himself in a Kafkaesque underground world, jailed in a cell within a labyrinthine maze of corridors below basement, his food served by a beautiful, dumb, girl who speaks with her hands and floats in and out of his cell, and his sheep-man jailor, both of whom serve the custodian, an old man, in charge who has confined the youngster there until he has memorised all 3 books about Taxes in the Ottoman Empire, the subject which brought him to the library in the first place. If he is unable to memorise all the books within one month, his brains will be sucked out and eaten by the old man.

This is a mesmeric tale, almost like a fairy story but creepier with the usual off-the-wall Murakami surrealism – a typical Murakami exploration of loss. The youngster looses his new shoes, his pet starling and eventually his beloved mother to be left alone in the world, unsleeping at 2 o’clock in the morning and thinking again about the basement and its darkness.

Physically the book’s cover has an old –fashioned library ticket pocket stuck to its cover. The short story/novella’s text is augmented with drawings and graphics, imaginary and such as one would expect to find in an old reference tome. There was an article in Independent about book design which mentions this book.

ashramblings verdict 4* – probably one of the more accessible Murakami stories, and it is a short read. I can’t explain Murakami nor why there transcendence beyond reality works, but am a huge fan and I loved this one!

Monday 16 March 2015

The Perfect Now

For today’s trigger, our Creative Writing Tutor brought in a small stone he’d found on a beach years ago. It is about 1.25-1.5 in in diameter and unusually for natural materials, almost perfectly round. We spent a few minutes hypothesising whether it was natural or man made, whether it had been fashioned by nature or man, whether it was a fossil or not, whether there was something inside it or whether it was solid stone. Here’s what I wrote.


Would I have the patience to wait

until my final day

to crack the stone

to open the box

and see what had been left inside?



would I, like a child,

fiddle with it,

caress it, smell it, lick it,

sit on my hands and fidget,

turning my head this way and that,

crawl beneath the table it lies on,

hide it in a cupboard,

in a vain attempt

to banish it from my mind?


No chocolate to be left on the plate.

No stone to be left unturned.

No adventure to be left unexperienced.

No future to be left untransformed

into a now

to be lived to the full.


© Sheila Ash 16th March 2015

Sunday 15 March 2015

A Red Nose Day Pantoum

Logo Comic Relief

Every two years the Comic Greats perform

to support all the little Violets

to encourage us to empty pockets

to save a life tonight.


To support all the little Violets

to grow in health instead of mounds of earth,

to save a life tonight

we need to slay the dragon of poverty.


To grow in health instead of mounds of earth

to chase away the stench of death

we need to slay the dragon of poverty

so no child works the rubbish dumps.


To chase away the stench of death

we buy red noses, laugh and cry

so no child works the rubbish dumps

we wear red noses, laugh and cry.


© Sheila Ash 15th March 2015

A Pantoum is a verse form with the structure Stanza 1 A B C D, Stanza 2 B E D F, Stanza 3 E G F H, Stanza 4 G I (or A or C) H J (or A or C)

Monday 9 March 2015

Green Fractal

This week our tutor brought in an old green glass fishing float similar to the first of these pictures. Our task was to take it as our inspiration and to write without describing the object.

Round and round in a circle
in a wheel within a wheel
never-ending nor beginning
ever spinning, ever rolling
running ragged, twirling twister
in the whistling whirlpool
floating clouds
the mists of time.
Expanding eddies
swirling spirals
galactic gorges
the folding spaces of Mobius ribbons
red giants and white dwarves
binary pulsars
densely packed
explosive Big Bang.
With thanks to the lyrics of The Windmills of Your Mind
© Sheila Ash 9th March 2015

Tripping the light fantastic!


Our tutor asked us to write either a joke or an amusing occurrence in 40 words


Purple Rain is playing. I’m dissolving in an orange sky – hands go right, stomach goes left.

A Wonderland with Johnny Depp and the Mad Hatter shooting a wormhole.

I fall over a pair of feet as I try to stand.


© Sheila Ash 8th March 2015