I never met my grandfather, Abu Adel (Ahmed Hankir). He passed away before I was born. But for years, I’ve heard about his legacy in ful (fava bean stew)-making, not only from my father, but from ful sellers and shop owners in my hometown of Sidon, where jeddo is known as the “King of Ful.” Every single time I say that I’m the granddaughter of Abu Adel, I’m met by these ful connoisseurs with warmth, enthusiasm and nostalgia. Last month, while I was back home, I reported and wrote this piece for Roads and Kingdoms, which touches on my grandfather’s legacy as the owner of one of the most popular ful establishments in Sidon, Ful Abu Adel, and his beginnings as a ful seller in Haifa, Palestine, where he first set up shop.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been woman-crushing on psychologist, poet and writer Hala Alyan for years now. So I was especially pleased to see the Palestinian-American’s debut novel, Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2017), receive heaps of well-deserved praise from everyone including the LA Review of Books to the National.
The book has garnered so much attention in literary circles, it’s even made it on to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s summer reading list. (Note that I interviewed Alyan about her book for Al Jazeera English. The Q&A, which I was ridiculously thrilled to put together, is here).
At its core, Salt Houses is a family drama about the multigenerational-trauma triggered by displacement. The novel, which starts in Nablus with the Six-Day War of 1967 and ends in Beirut with the Lebanon War of 2006, tells the story of the Palestinian diaspora through one well-to-do family, the Yacoubs.
Salt Houses takes us on multiple journeys with eight members of the family as Alyan expertly shifts generations and voice with each chapter. We move with the Yacoubs from Kuwait City and Amman to Boston and beyond, experiencing the intricacies of the aftermath of forced (or self-imposed) exile.
To so many people across the United Kingdom and indeed the world, the disturbing, tragic murder of Jo Cox still seems utterly incomprehensible.
This was a woman who very visibly cared deeply for others and whose altruism has been described by many as unblemished. Indeed, the more one learns about Jo Cox, the more one realises just how tremendous her compassion was. Cox was a champion for the less fortunate, the socially ostracised, immigrants, refugees, women and for diversity. She was also a genuine friend of the Middle East and the UK’s Muslim community.
My fave bit of journalism this week is this New York Times article on an Israeli lawmaker’s comments that Palestine can’t possibly exist because the Arabic alphabet doesn’t contain the letter P. In the journalistic gem, reporter Isabel Kershner states that “it is rare to meet an Arab who can pronounce the letter P.”
If you’re an Arab, or if have had the misfortune of communicating with Arabs, or living in the Middle East, you’ll know this is something of a fallacy. I say “something of,” as I acknowledge that the mispronunciation isn’t entirely unheard of. I’m fair that way. Perhaps your grandBa called you a SuBBer Star as you were growing up, or maybe you’ve been drinking Diet Bebsi all your life, but have never actually been able to bronounce the broblematic word.
In the six months since I started Florence of Arabia, one of my favourite things about the blog has been the infinite space it’s given me to write embarrassing love letters to some incredible Arab artists, journalists, writers, musicians and film-makers — mostly to spread the word on how much brilliance this troubled region possesses.
It’s the sort of quiet yet powerful talent that you want anyone and everyone to know about. In this vein, I’ve decided to ring in the new year with an intoxicating poem written by an equally intoxicating and talented Palestinian-American poet (who moonlights as a clinical psychologist in New York City): Hala Alyan.
“I’ve written for as long as I can remember,” Alyan said in an e-mail this week. “From a young age, I was enchanted by the prospect of storytelling and playing with language; it was like getting to live a thousand lives.”
Mariam alShaar is no ordinary woman.
She’s Palestinian. She’s a refugee. She’s gentle, yet she’s fierce and passionate. She comes across as being reserved, but she’s known in Lebanon’s Borj el-Barajneh as one of the refugee camp’s most powerful and influential women.
Perhaps most telling: Although Mariam doesn’t call herself a cook, she leads a team of chefs. She’s even launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a food-truck, which she hopes will bring employment to tens of women in Borj el-Barajneh.
Indeed. Mariam is all kinds of extraordinary.
Saturday evening, Frieze Art Fair, London. Lots of obscenely beautiful, hipster-chic people. Expensive artwork that I probably wouldn’t buy even if I could afford it (“The cliché around Frieze Art Fair is glitz,” the Independent reports). It’s fun to look at, though. Not to mention the event presents the perfect opportunity to do some serious people-watching. I wander around aimlessly before inadvertently, clumsily dropping my kuffiyeh (scarf) on the floor. No one in my immediate vision appears to have seen this occur.
Documentary: Trip Along Exodus (2014)
Director/producer/writer: Hind Shoufani
Watching Hind Shoufani’s deeply personal examination of her father Dr. Elias’s life from the comfort of an east London cinema felt a little like I was peering into someone else’s living room. In a series of interviews with his daughter, Dr. Shoufani tells the story of how and why he gave up a cushy career as an academic at Princeton and the University of Maryland as well as a doting Peruvian-American wife at the age of 40 to move back to the Middle East and join the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut in the 1970s.