Suad Amiry took twenty years to live and write about her life under occupation. The book told her life in Ramallah through diary entries and e-mail correspondence, primarily describes a life spent waiting: waiting for the Israeli occupation of Ramallah and other Palestinian territories to end. Waiting for the correct documentation to arrive to allow passage through numerous security checkpoints. Waiting for 7 years before she and her husband could live in the same roof. And perhaps most painfully, waiting out a military curfew while being stuck in the house with her mother-in-law.
The book is easy and a joy to read. Amiry’s quick pacing and narrate dialogues in such clarity that you feel as if you have the first hand of how chaotic the situation is. The book is separated by short chapters with a specific theme and told through diary entries and e-mail correspondences. The book primarily describes a life spent waiting: waiting for the Israeli occupation of Ramallah and other Palestinian territories to end. Waiting for the correct documentation to arrive to allow passage through numerous security checkpoints. And, perhaps most vividly, waiting out a military curfew while being stuck in the house with her mother-in-law.
The book doesn’t give you a background of what’s happening but the onus is on me to find out about the historical background:
The history of the city of Ramallah was captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, governed for three decades by the Israeli Civil Administration, transferred to the administration of the Palestinian Authority in 1995, re-occupied by the Israeli army again in 2002 and the advent of the Separation Wall. After the eruption of the Second Intifada, during which Israeli military curfews were even more stringently enforced and barriers between Israeli and Palestinian territories constructed.
It is rare to find a book that could make me laugh. It is even more rare to find a book that could make you laugh in the most tragic and pressing situation. Knowing that I am not suppose to laugh about a grim situation, yet Amiry humourous narrative made me laugh.
She relates the experiences of getting her dog Nura a Jerusalem passport (when she herself is unable to acquire one); the soap-operatic events in her neighborhood, which she refers to as The Bold and Not-So-Beautiful; one night when her husband, husband’s cousin and herself got caught in a curfew, she stared at the young Israel soldier until her stares unnerves the young man; a possibility of inciting another heart attack for an old Israeli man that Amiry pick up from the roadside when he knew that she is a Muslim, and of course, trying to get her mother-in-law out of her house before the onslaught of Israel’s army Amiry recounts trying to get her mother-in-law out of her home (which is close to Arafat’s compound, was effectively in a war zone), while her mother-in-law asks if she should pack her purple dress or water the plants and even the formidable task of contemplating a way for the 90-year-old mother-in-law to scale a high wall in the backyard!
‘Suan, we seem to have a little problem here.’ She said in her rather serious English accent.
‘what is it, Doctor?’ wanting to know what the problem was, I did not correct my name.
‘Did you say Nura (Suad’s dog) lives in Ramallah?’ she asked.
‘Yes, with me of course,’ I answered nervously.
‘but the Jerusalem municipality vaccines are only for Jerusalem dogs.’
‘But you know it is illegal for us to live in Jerusalem, Doctor, as we have Ramallah IDs,” I said, interrupting Dr Tamar in a panic.
‘No need to change residency. Would you be willing to pay for the vaccine?” she asked.
<Suad paid for the vaccine>
‘We still seem to have a little problem here,’ I heard Dr Tamar say before I even saw her.
‘What is it now?’ I asked, standing up.
‘Well, this certificate is issued by Jerusalem municipality, and I am not sure whether it is recognised by the newly established Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah.’
She must be kidding, I thought to myself, but unfortunately Dr Tamar looked damn serious (at that time people were still taking the Oslo Agreement seriously).
‘Don’t worry, Dr Tamar. It would be good enough if the Palestinian National Authority recognised its own certificates, let alone Arab dogs holding Jerusalem certificates.’
(and that’s how Nura the dog got a Jerusalem’s passport, and how when passed the checkpoint, Suad passes the checkpoint because she is the driver of a Jerusalem dog. How lucky Nura the dog is when Suad thinks about little Yasmin, Sawsan’s and Samir’s only child. The Israelis would not give her a Jerusalem ID because her father had a Palestinian Ramallah ID, and the Palestinian Authority would not give her a Palestinian ID because her mother had an Israeli Jerusalem ID).
With her sense of humour intact and also provides flashes of the inconveniences of everyday life in occupied territory, Amiry spins a head whirling, heart palpitating account story of her unusual life. It is impossible to quote the many humourous examples of her daily life without running it at 6 pages long so if you want to look for a book that will make you laugh and yet make you cry a little inside and be inspired, look no further. Let Amiry revealed to you what goes behind the scenes and what actually happens beyond the international news headline. I wanted to read her other book next “Nothing to lose but your life”.
Read about another conversation about muddy coffee served in a Captain’s office and here Suad Amiry speaks here:
In the spirit of participating in Arab Lit Top 105 Challenge in which I read a book which is not in the top 105 (it’s no good isn’t it?) 😦
Hardback. Length: 194 pages. Publisher: Granta Books 2005. Source: Own. Setting: 1981 to 2002 Palestine – Israel. Finished reading at: 29thAugust 2011. Written in English.
About the writer:
Suad Amiry is an architect, and the founder and director of RIWAQ: the Centre for Architectural Conservation in Ramallah. After growing up between Amman, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo, she went on to study architecture at the American University of Beirut, and the Universities of Michigan and Edinburgh.
Amiry has been living in Ramallah since 1981 and participated in the 1991 – 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Peace negotiations in Washington. She won Italy’s prestigious Viareggio-Versilia Prize in 2004. This book was longlisted for the Lettre Ulysses Award for Reportage and has been sold to publishers in 11 countries.