Nadia alKowkabani


My Sana‘a

An excerpt from the novel

Translated by Suneela Mubayi

 

It is said that a special room called al-mandhar, the viewing room, on the top floor of the old buildings of Sana‘a draws you closer to Almaqah1, your beloved and venerated moon-god, and that the transparent marble of the window in that room, with its round shape and the soft light that comes through it, gives you the courage to converse all night until dawn like an ardent lover, babbling of a time gone by or a time to come.

Sana‘a is unavoidable!

Finally, my father returned to Sana‘a, after a long absence; but he returned a lifeless corpse. He was assailed by diseases of old age and the chronic anguish he was suffering over the city, so his heart decided suddenly to stop while he was clasping his favorite album of photographs from all over the city. He bade farewell to Sana‘a as he wished, even if it was by looking at photographs that always made him relish his love for the city, and made the clock’s hands stop at that very moment the pictures were taken.

After entering the house, I went through to say hello to him, as I was used to doing. I knocked on the door and went towards him. His drooping head bewildered me; I tried to find a reason for the stillness of his eyes other than him no longer being alive. I took the photo album from between his hands and flung it aside, and I began to shake him violently. My yelling became louder as I called for help from my mother and brother Nasr. They both hurried in. My mother checked his pulse and massaged his heart, shaking his body in the hope he would regain the life he had lost minutes before, to no avail. The three of us realized that he had become a body without a soul. My mother and I settled next to his feet and a sad silence enveloped us. She was shedding tears and wailing in words I could not understand, while I was dumbfounded in a state of nothingness. Nasr tried to calm us and remind all three of us of the duty of carrying out his last will and testament.

His will was to be buried in the Khuzayma cemetery in the heart of Sana‘a, the Sana‘a he had left voluntarily thirty years ago, refusing to return even to visit family and friends, yet at the same time obsessed with following the minutest details of its social and political news, as if he were still living there.

As we sat in the aeroplane, it was very painful to know that his dead body was among the suitcases in the luggage hold. However, the fact that we were carrying out his will, and the desire he had dreamt about for so long, gave us strength.

We were received at the airport by a number of his friends who always visited us when they came to Cairo. They had made arrangements for everything to do with the funeral procession to the burial in the Khuzayma cemetery. My mother and I were not permitted to enter the cemetery on the excuse that the presence of women at cemeteries is frowned upon in Islam. Only my brother went to the burial and accepted condolences, while we had to be content with waiting at the cemetery’s outer gate.

On the third day after the burial, my mother insisted on visiting the grave. We laid some flowers and basil on it, which were sold outside the cemetery walls and also took a pail of water for sprinkling on the grave. Why they do this, I do not know! Sana‘a was too cramped for my grief at that moment, to the point that I could almost feel myself suffocate. The cemetery walls almost pressed down upon my chest. The wind howled as it suddenly started to blow. It blew the withered leaves of the cemetery trees back and forth and lifted the dry ones high up. With the particles of dust, they created a whirlpool between the earth and the sky; rising higher and higher until it seemed to me they were taking my father’s soul to a place I did not know. My mother was on her knees reciting the Fatiha and praying for mercy and forgiveness for my father. Her wailing became choked as she clutched my hand like someone gasping for a breath of life. During all this the glances of an old man followed us. His clothes were tattered, but his looks were sorrowful, as if he knew us and knew my father. It seemed as if he was unaware of his surroundings, but he avoided looking me in the eye, which told me he was absolutely aware of everything happening around him. On the day of the burial, he caught my attention on account of his extreme bewilderment and the way he circled quickly around the funeral procession, giving everyone looks that were at once aimless and sad. Then he deliberately disappeared, after he noticed I was headed toward him. Who could he be?

As I said goodbye to the cemetery, that Jewish woman Khuzayma, who had converted to Islam while she was under the care of a Sanaanian family after the death of her mother, passed through my mind; she found she had a desire to memorize the Qur’an along with their children, so she converted and gave away the plot of land she had inherited from her father to be a cemetery for Sana‘a. Did my father sense his time of death drawing near as he recounted to me that beautiful story about Khuzayma a few days before his passing?

I could not find the grave of my father’s friend, beside whom he had asked to be buried. I went looking through the graves, at the headstones that stood there, reading the names of the dead. Oh Father! All these years have passed in which you did not imagine what could happen to a cemetery in whose belly is the living hope for bodies to be buried, whose spirits beseech passers-by to recite the fatiha for them all day long. How many bodies, I wonder, have come to rest over your friend’s body? And how many bodies will settle over yours, Father? What I know right now is that you are in the comfort of your city. Sana‘a has swallowed you into its interior, Sana‘a that you passionately adored, that you preferred to keep away from so as to preserve its love pure in your heart, Sana‘a that I see spread out before me. Khuzayma’s cemetery is no longer at the edge of the city’s old walls as it was before, but in the centre of new Sana‘a. The city has expanded; its arms have branched off in every direction like an octopus. In spite of the newness of its construction, it has not been able to build a humane entity out of its architectural fabric, whose source is the needs of its inhabitants. Its residents have been overcome by greed and self-interest and they have not let pass any opportunity to rob its lands in every direction. Their thirst intensifies day by day with the depletion of the water reservoir in the city’s interior, while its beggars increase day by day. Outside the cemetery, children’s hands are outstretched, begging for whatever will pacify their hunger. Families use the pavement for a house and the sky for a ceiling, and do not care whether their nakedness is exposed to passers-by or not, as much as they are interested in the passers-by showing compassion for this nakedness with some money or any scraps of luxury that their thieves’ palaces may spit out.

I will speak to you of it, Father, in your present absence deep inside me, whenever there is a desire in me, whenever joy or whenever anguish wishes me to, and most importantly whenever fate wishes me to do that, only for you. Because you will not disappear, I may understand what you wanted to hide from me about Sana‘a all these years; and what it did to you!

 

 

The morning of July 7, 2009

 

A severe traffic jam in the heart of the capital Sana‘a, precisely on Presidential Palace Street and the roads leadings to Midan Al-Sabeen. Heavily-armed soldiers were searching cars and pedestrians very slowly, not caring whether employees or schoolchildren might be delayed from reaching their destinations on time.

It provoked not only my curiosity to know the reason, but also that of one of the passers-by, who asked the soldier busy searching him the reason for these unexpected procedures. The soldier replied in a voice tinged with a touch of anger: “Security measures for the 7th of July Victory Day celebrations! A motorcade of senior figures and guests will pass through here towards Midan Al-Sabeen for the celebration!” It seemed as if the inquirer (like me) had not fully grasped the implication of “July 7th” and “Victory Day”. I registered the date and occasion and, like others, began to search my memory. Whose victory? Over whom? Someone else passing by repeated the very same words, as if he could read my thoughts, adding to them a biting sarcasm and buried anger over the severe traffic jam! The soldier rebuked him, asking him to move on calmly or else he would take action.

One of the soldiers’ voices loudly demanded that the cars must quickly keep to the right. An imposing motorcade of black Mercedes passed through; on the fancy glass of their windows a dull image was reflected of the misery of most of the passers-by in their shabby clothes and wretched poverty. With the passing of the motorcade, the problem resolved itself.

Everyone delayed for work tried to go about their business. Shop owners took a deep breath and opened their stores, and the street vendors began to lay out their wares on the pavements, and life again slowly crept into the arteries of Martyr Ali Abdul Mughni Street.

When I returned from Cairo, I expected that I would find pictures of martyrs on the beginnings of the streets, or at least the facts that my mother, father and grandmother had told me about them. But I did not find anything. I remember that my maternal grandmother admired Sayyida al-Yajuri, the mother of the martyr Ali Abdul Mughni, the founder of the Free Officers organization, who led the revolution of 26 September 1962, because she did not shed a single tear when she heard of the news of his martyrdom for the cause of the homeland. My father admired his courage and his decision to sacrifice his life when he said to his mother, as he kissed her hands: “I swear by god, Mother, I will only die a hero’s death and will never submit to the Hamid al-Din clan.”2 My mother would also recall how his mother’s heart was content with divine fate and decree: she had been waiting for her son’s wedding procession to lead him to his bride; instead, God willed him to be led off to paradise. As for me, I was in awe of everything I read about him, how his enemies themselves testified to his courage and bravery, and how President Gamal Abdel Nasser wept upon hearing of his martyrdom, after meeting and talking with him on board an Egyptian steamship in Sharm el-Sheikh a few months before his death.

I continued on my way, as those memories surged up in me, in the direction of the path that led to al-Sayila, a low-lying path resembling a valley that separates the eastern part of old Sana‘a – which before the coming of Islam in the 7th century AD was known as al-Qati‘, the Cutting – from the western part which was fertile land known as al-Sarar, the Fertile Quarter. Rainwater drains into al-Sayila from gentle slopes around the city and exits to the agricultural farmlands north of Sana‘a. Since the late nineties it has been paved with black stone to become a road accessible to cars.

I entered the old city of Sana‘a, going through narrow alleyways that allowed only a single car to pass through. I parked my car in the nearest spot, next to Bustan Sharib quarter and walked in the direction of my workplace. Being late did not stop Amm Salih from doing his duty. He would open the atlier, clean it and receive visitors, and by the time I arrived might have sold them any handicrafts and paintings that the atelier had for sale.

Amm Mohammed was clearly worried since he frowned when he asked me why I was late. I had not come by to take my potato sandwich, my usual breakfast on the days that I was around in the old city. I reassured him: “Today is the seventh of July, Amm Muhammad!” He too expressed surprise at the measures being taken. He tried to make me understand what had happened on that date, July 7, 1994, given the fact that I was outside of Yemen at the time, in his capacity as a graduate of Sana‘a University’s History Department, who could not find any job other than selling potatoes from a hand cart.

“The newspapers gave the name ‘The War of Secession’ to the events of May 1994, and called its outcome on the day of July 7 of that same year a ‘victory’ over those who were demanding a return to the split after four years had passed since the reunification between North and South Yemen.”

He continued with the enthusiasm of someone asked for his opinion at a press conference: “There was a lot of sense in not celebrating Victory Day and trying to make it a normal day in previous years.”

I became a little distracted from Amm Mohammad’s words. I now understood well what my father said about continuing to celebrate Victory Day over the years: “When families solve a problem that has caused them much pain, they do not rake it up every year in commemoration of its resolution, not paying heed to the pain that remembering it will cause those who suffered from it; a pain that will not end except with the death of the last grandchild of all those who died from both conflicting sides during those hateful days for them!”

Amm Mohammed departed, striking his hands together in a gesture of resignation, and returned to the cart from which he sold egg, potato and cheese sandwiches to the students of Nashwan School and those passing by it. Were it not for that cart, he would not be able to support his mother, wife and eight children. Amm Mohammed was like other Yemenis, who pride themselves on having lots of kids but not on the quality of how they raise them. Not one of his children had finished junior high school, and yet he insisted on continuing to have children, even though he was now fifty years old. Some of them helped him to work on the cart and prepare the sandwiches, while others worked in various construction jobs. He would smile at me, saying: “God will provide for them, my girl, let them work and earn their living. What did the university diploma do for me? Nothing!”

I repeated under my breath: “If everything is up to God, Amm Mohammad, then what is up to us?”

 

* * *

 

My Atelier

 

An old house in the heart of Old Sana‘a. This is how it came to be named after the outbreak of the September 1962 revolution. And when it was included in the list of World Heritage Sites in 1971, its name became the “Old City of Sana‘a”. In spite of the crumbling of its walls on three sides and its south side holding out after good restoration, it is still intimate and present in the minds of its residents, embracing the city’s memories and history with all the reinforcements of the clay and stone it was provided with over the years.

There, outside the wall, is another, new Sana‘a, a modern one with its concrete buildings and civilized inhabitants fleeing from anything old that reminds them of a past in which they suffered much injustice, deprivation and domination, a past they must forget by distancing themselves from it. Which is why they slip out from between the alleyways whenever they can find a suitable opportunity to acquire a house in the new city, even if in cold rooms irregularly constructed overnight out of fear of the municipality, so as to live in them in the morning. Homes of the night, which have formed the periphery of the new city, spawn new outskirts that eat away at the city’s beauty dispelling the course of history and stripping people of a dignified life.

Only the elderly remain in Old Sana‘a, conferring on it the warmth of the memories of their lives gone by, and continue to stay there rather than depart. They carry out shared tasks and rituals in different parts of the city’s configuration with its spread-out buildings, alleyways and neighborhoods, as if they were one man who goes out to pray at dawn, however severe the cold may be, and is glad to sit with his friends in the late afternoon in the neighborhood’s communal front yard, that spacious area that their homes and memories simultaneously overlook, the space where they share their sorrows and joys between themselves in equal portions.

I bought the house nine years ago. Its price was very reasonable in comparison with the madness of prices these days. The mandhar sits on the top of three floors. Its windows are uncovered in three directions and to the east the room overlooks Mount Nuqum. The houses next to it are not as high, which allows one to see the peak of Mount Aban from the west. In the western part of Bustan al-Sultan quarter the mandhar room is called the observation room or mafraj, a name given by the Turks during their presence in Yemen; they moved it from the top floor to the ground floor to be a room from which residents could watch the water fountain, or shadhrawan to use its local name of Turkish origin, in the centre of a green lawn when they met to chew qat or during family get-togethers.

I have made the ground floor a showroom to sell my artwork. In one corner, I sell whatever antique products the people of the city want sold, in addition to some traditional handicrafts that appeal to me, supplied to me by some housewives, and that attract the taste of the tourists who come in droves all year long to visit Old Sana‘a. Some of these tourists are not fazed by the kidnappings by some of the tribal chieftains, that have become widespread in recent years, as soon as the tourists go to visit some of the other ancient cities. They insist on visiting the ancient cities because they are utterly enamored with them. An Italian named Marco told me that his experience of being kidnapped was unique for him, in that he did not feel afraid, but rather fascinated enjoying the generous hospitality of the tribes until the government acceded to the chieftains’ demands, such as releasing prisoners who were being held by the tribe or resolving disputes of blood vengeance between the ruling families in those cities.

As for the first floor of the house, I have made it into a permanent gallery for visitors of all kinds, whether they are foreign tourists, or residents of Sana‘a interested in painting and visual art. The second floor I have all to myself. I keep in it all my tools, from paints and fabrics to frames and easels. In one corner I make my art, according to the mood I am in at the moment. I do not abide by set times for painting, I let my mood be the one in control. I do not share access to this floor with anyone other than some models from the locals who agree to be painted. My happiest times are when I am at one with painting the faces of women or men who stir up something inside of me, or children who have devilish features of naughtiness, or are brimming with innocence, or blended in a special Sana‘ani mix in their shining, bright eyes and unblemished skin.

Higher up above, there’s the mandhar, which overlooks Bustan Sharib and some buildings around it, where I often go to spend time all by myself and where I am carried away by nostalgia for my few days in Sana‘a as a child. I could never get my fill in those scattered visits during vacations. From the mandhar ’s wide windows, I would contemplate the city, unique in the world for its architecture and tall buildings that rise up as high as seven floors and whose windows and wooden doors are ornamented with white plaster. The reflection of light from the outside onto the moon-shaped stained-glass windows, which they call qamariyyat, makes the mandhar palpably romantic and tranquil, so I realize why it was a room to seclude oneself in to confide in the ancient Yemeni god Almaqah. I am struck with a delicious tingling in my body while reminiscing over those myths that enveloped the city, its buildings and residents in a fantastical world.

I open my atelier from eight in the morning until twelve noon. I close it at the time of noon prayers – after the sounds of the adhan rise up in an amazing sequence from the hundred minarets present in Old Sana‘a alone. The people of the city do not like being provoked, especially at times of worship. They do not impose their rituals on anyone, but are grateful to those who respect them and pay heed to their concerns about observing them. At five in the afternoon, I leave for my house in New Sana‘a, while Amm Salih stays until nine in the evening to sell products.

Rarely do I paint an ambiguous, surrealist portrait or an imaginary, abstract one. I like realism. I am accomplished at painting portraits of faces, especially of the elderly. I challenge myself to skillfully portray the wrinkles of their skin, as if I am providing them with the life that has almost dried up in their veins. What I love the most is to paint those tall, old buildings, as if they were the first skyscrapers in the world, to delve into their details, imagining worlds in them that I have not experienced. From time to time there descends upon me a state of unbridled emotion as I make intricate brushstrokes to show my artistic creativity in emphasising a dim light emanating from the windows of a small home, or in painting a small traditional pinnacle on the top of a house overlooking the Old City, leaving the new city as a sprawling, drab background.

I often seclude myself in the atelier. I do not have specific routines like other painters. I do not muss up my hair, or wear unclean clothes. I do not smoke heavily while painting, but I enjoy exhaling my tiredness at the end of each portrait with a mint-flavored cigarette. I prepare myself to paint as if I have a rendezvous with a lover. I comb my hair, line my eyes with kohl and put a light touch of makeup on my face. I put on a sleeveless top and shorts.

On some days, I feel an overwhelming desire to continue work, even late at night, which forces me to sleep in the atelier. This annoys my mother a lot, but she grudgingly accepts it. She is the one who insisted that we not live in the old city, without telling me the reasons. I urged her to buy a more spacious house than the atelier, which could be both a home for us and an atelier at the same time, but she refused vehemently. It was something she did not want to remember. Something that had left a scar that had not yet healed, which she refused to discuss. So we remained in our house that we had left thirty years ago to go and live in Cairo, and then she allowed me to buy this small house in the Bustan Sharib quarter on the southern edge of Old Sana‘a.

In my atelier, I walk around freely, wearing colorful clothes. I throw off the black overcoat I wear outside the house. My hair being visible is no longer a problem for visitors to the atelier, just as it no longer attracts attention outside when half of it shows from under the head-covering. Perhaps the scarves that I cover my hair with, with their flamboyant colours, attract more attention than what is visible under them!

I returned with my mother from Cairo in 2000 after spending those long years there. We returned for good exactly a year after my father’s death. Despite my father’s great love for Yemen, above all for Sana‘a, he never thought of returning, even for a visit, from his exile in Cairo that he had chosen wholly willingly since the early seventies. Just as he did not for a day stop talking about Sana‘a, confiding in it like an eternal lover whom he would hold close to his bosom every night. He would close his eyelids over it and sleep contentedly, preserving the image he wanted, and perhaps the image he left behind before the passing of all those years. He would drink his Yemeni coffee every morning. And every morning when he took the first sip, he would deliberately make a loud slurping sound, enraptured with the special flavour it had for him. I often watched him as he roasted the beans over the fire, first elegantly dividing whatever quantity was available into two for dark and light roasting. He would add the cardamom and grind small quantities at a time so that they would not lose their flavour, which he loved.

I never asked him what he remembered of Sana‘a, or how he felt, yet I could feel the same rapture. I experienced the moment along with him, with more hope of returning to it and building my own memories in it, just as he had done, even if Sana‘a hurt and bloodied him until he nearly died!

Through all his love and talk of it, he was planting its love, and a love for returning to it, and let the hope of living in it take root inside of me. Sana‘a the enchantress, with its history, lying dormant at the foot of a mountain, bare of verdant, extensive trees or volcanic rock. As he always said about it: “You always feel cold and insecure there.” He would ask about nothing but Sana‘a, how it was and how its people were every time my mother, brother Nasr and I returned from spending our annual vacation in Sana‘a without him.

My mother could not bear to remain in Cairo after his death, especially after she felt reassured about my brother Nasr, who had married an Egyptian girl.

For my brother and mother, or even my father, marriage to someone of another nationality was not a problem; but for me, it would be a disaster. How could I marry a man who did not resemble my father in his upbringing and the atmosphere of his birthplace, a man alien to me who knew nothing of my country other than what he had heard about it, a man who had not walked its streets together with me, playing in its neighborhoods and hiding in the corners of its alleys. A man who could not savor the essence of my memories when I narrated them to him and could not feel their pulse, and whose joy, sadness, disappointments and hopes did not touch him!

I never declared this to my parents, lest they felt like failures in raising me the way they wanted – to accept the other without regard for race, color or religion. My father, particularly, did not want me to think like those who once called him a muwallad, that is, someone born to a non-Yemeni mother and not a pure Sanaanian, on account of his Ethiopian mother. I, too, was cosmopolitan to my bones except when it came to being tied to a man not from my country! Thus, I became good at inventing excuses to reject anyone who approached me to ask for my hand while I was a university student in Cairo.

I always dreamed of marriage, but to a Sanaanian man. Yes, a pure, one hundred percent Sanaanian, born and raised in the old city specifically, who knew its alleys, played in its neighbourhoods and was moulded by its customs and traditions, so much so that the love of the city and its radiance, which has not faded for more than two thousand years, coursed in his blood. A man of Sana‘a like my father, with the same intimacy of his little hidden secrets shared with my mother, with his great love for her, with the everyday details of his Sanaani masculinity that I do not know where he got from; was it from the kind folk of Sana‘a or from his mother, my grandmother Masarra, the beautiful Ethiopian woman who endowed him with her dark skin color and all her tenderness, and passed on to me even more adoration for the city that even foreigners fall in love with.

When I was thirteen years old, for reasons I did not grasp until I had gone beyond the age of twenty, my grandmother Masarra related to me the story of my grandfather whom I am unable to forget. She told me how he would wait for her as soon as she returned from the Turkish baths with a cold glass of traditional rose sherbet that he had brewed for her the previous night, promising her a magical night and repeating to her the Sanaani hammam song, so that she would not forget the stages of its rituals he passionately loved. He wanted his sweetheart to have a body dyed with henna, hair that exuded the smell of amber, rose-coloured cheeks and eyes lined with kohl that aroused him . . . All this for the sake of sweet abandon and enjoyment with one’s intimate and to leave the world behind on a promised night of passion with her that itself promised joy and happiness to help the lovers’ escape from life’s concerns!

My grandfather taught her the Sanaani accent, marked by the resonance of its letters when articulated and by the coquetry of its pronunciation, until she mastered it. He also taught her Sanaani dance with its seductive, playful steps of flirtation and coquetry that he adored, to the point that she became the source of his passion and its apex. They would spend their night between dance and beautiful conversation, until morning would take them unawares without their sensing its approach. My grandmother Masarra would say that rarely was there a day when she fell asleep before him or woke up after him, so that she would be the last face he saw before falling asleep and the first face he welcomed upon waking up.

My grandmother was extremely patient when she taught me Sanaani dance with its three sequential steps, as my grandfather had done with her. In brief, she would tell me: “In the first, da‘sa or stomp step, sway your body seductively; in the second, wusta or middle step, swing your body in harmony with the rhythm of your feet, and in the third, sari‘ or rapid step, add joy and delight to the rhythm of both the body and the feet.”

Our listening to Yemeni music in Cairo had a special pleasure to it. Everyone would listen to its melodies and words in ardent rapture. The songs echoed the Sana‘a of the musicians so as to amplify their artistry inside people’s hearts. Whoever sings of Sana‘a comes closer to God; love shall embrace him and he shall understand the meaning of homeland! What’s more, he will live life amazed at the simplicity of both its joy and sorrow. Listening to those songs aroused a feeling of melancholy deep inside me; and a dream of meeting their singers as well as a desire to listen to them in the company of the one I love. With my father, I would leave him in the mood of the music while he listened to it without any interruption or question from me. With my grandmother, however, I showed more curiosity to know everything about them. She would explain some of the words to me until I memorized them. I came to know more about their poets and singers. My grandmother said: “When Mohammad al-Harthi sings the words of the poet Mohammad Sharaf al-Din, who was nicknamed “al-Humayni”,3 I feel they are a single entity who lived in the same period, even though they were separated by more than four hundred years.” She would grab my hand and withdraw into her own world while we danced to the song whose words were:

They tried to wrest your name and came down hard on me

With their reproach about you they tortured me

 

They brought the Holy Book and made me swear

What they mean is to burn me with fire

 

I swore I did not love you, they said “Liar”,

although they did believe me, prior

 

They reckon I am dishonest in my vow

and I said God stands between us, then and now

 

When light radiated from the voice of the artist, Ali al-Ansi, as he sang the words of the poet Ibrahim al-Hadrani, or of Abbas al-Muta‘, Muthar al-Iryani or of Mohammad Sharaf al-Din, she would listen to all his singing enthralled. She would remember my grandfather and almost sense him at her side, dancing and flirting with her, making sweet talk as he repeated to her all those words by Sharaf al-Din that throbbed with love, as if he had written them just for her:

 

That lithe figure for whom I’d give my soul

His words are few, why does he keep them untold?

 

If he returned my greeting, it would my heart revive

Did he fear reproach from one forever cold?

 

I asked her: “How can light radiate from a voice?” She said: “It is when you can feel it illuminate you from the inside with happiness and it makes your heart feel ‘just like a rose’, as the people of Sana‘a say.” Day by day, that light was reaching me. I felt it overwhelm me in ecstasy, making my body sway gracefully, and envelop my voice with a feverish desire to sing along to those songs, and to know even more of their stories and secrets that exuded passion. I would dance with my grandmother and soar in my dreams and hopes above the Sana‘a that I desired.

I loved my grandmother, and hoped to fall in love with a man like my father.

 

From the author’s novel Sana’ei, published by

Markaz Abadi lil-Dirassat wal-Nashr, Sana‘a 2014

 

Notes:

1  Almaqah was a god of the ancient Yemeni kingdom of Saba’

2  The Hamid al-Din clan is the [Zaydi] clan that ruled Yemen from 1918-1962 under the name of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen

3  Humayni refers to a poetic genre specific to Yemen used in Sanaani songs

 

Published in Banipal 52 - New Fiction 

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