My Grandfather and the Bookseller

Literary, Translations, Uncategorized

Written by Abdullah Al-Bayyari and originally published in Romman Magazine

Translated from the Arabic by Dima Masri, published with permission from the author

Free picture (Old books) from

My maternal grandfather was a multilingual reader, and his library, as the tale of loss passed on to me goes, held a large number of diverse books in French, Arabic and English. I did not know the man well. He passed away before I could really know him, when I was still a child. But in my journey to discover myself, my roots and my identities — in which he, with or without approval, has a share — I was destined to meet him at several stations; for I lived enchanted by his shadow in the tale, in the thickness of his silence.

After his passing, my grandfather’s library ended up being sold, most of it given to roaming junk sellers, stuffed into plastic bags and sold by the kilo for a paltry sum— or, more probably, in exchange for other “junk”. I learned of the books’ fate when my relationship with books and writing began to grow as a manifestation of my solitude as a medical student with (almost) nothing in common with my classmates who were amazed by my skill and dexterity as a dentist, despite my loathing of medicine. That solitude praised by Tarkovsky as the source of richness, originality and intellect and which I must have repeated to myself quite often by way of consolation, is the reason I loved Tarkovsky and his films so much. I always thought one day I’ll find a book from that library of his I lost, that I would find a paper written in his unfamiliar script, or perhaps a note on the margin of some page. That has not happened yet, but I have not lost hope.

Cairo had its share of that solitude, and of that relationship and tale, and of that loss. Cairo, that massive city, with all the stories it carries, never ceases to defy my imagination. And imagination is solitude’s best friend. So, my relationship with it was exhausting for both of us, or at least mostly for me. I would wander through Cairo’s neighborhoods searching for the sellers of old books, antiques and used items ranging from appliances to furniture known as roba bika (these roaming traders on donkey-drawn carts are no longer as common a sight as they used to be). And while I did know many of them in neighborhoods like Ma’adi and Masr El-Gedida, Downtown, Masr Al Qadima, Al-Sayidah, Al-Bahr Al-Aazam, Al-Hussein and others, I also know that I only knew but a small portion of them. And this is where my relationship with Cairo grew exhausting: It was as if it were challenging me, first, with the loss of the library, and second, with the lure of the possibility of finding just one of its lost books.

I searched for any sign in any book, scouring without a single clue to help me trace back my grandfather. I did not know my grandfather nor anything about his taste in books. All I know about the tale of loss is that he read widely and in multiple languages. And even this piece of information has been taken hostage by the imagination, conspiring with memory in drawing pain. I do not know if, nor do I think, this confrontation is necessary- at least for now.

I have found many inscriptions in many books on a variety of subjects. Then, I began to feel that I was no longer simply searching for traces of my grandfather through his inscriptions to bring him back. I became certain that my search was not for signs that would give me directions on where to go but rather that these inscriptions were a conversation with him, without even having to use my history as a guide. There was something different about this epiphany that took me back to Carlos Zafón’s first novel, The Shadow of the Wind, from his famous quartet The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, in which he writes:

“This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”

In Paris, more than 15 years after my grandfather’s death, I walked the boulevard Saint-Michel on the banks of the Seine contemplating the stalls selling old books that lined the sidewalk. I thought to myself, After all that searching in Cairo, could I possibly find a book from my grandfather’s library here? I knew perfectly well that it was almost impossible. There was no chance of that happening, and even if there really was a book from his library here, there was no way I would be able to identify it. But the idea was tempting. Something took hold of me and I responded. I slid my big leather bag off my shoulder, placed it between my feet and started searching through the books. I was possessed by something, something with no sense in it or to it, an inner voice calling out, alone, in that space inside me: Search, you’ll find something. 

I was searching for my grandfather within me, trying to piece him together like a puzzle made of a thousand little pieces. I searched within myself, in the tale of loss, in my memories of him from childhood and of his room overlooking a garden in the Cairo neighborhood of Masr El-Gedida. The temptation of knowing and searching took hold of me and I started gathering every little detail I knew about him. I remembered the photo of Sadat in the living room, his rosewood ebony closet. I recalled the scene of books and the recorder on top of them, his walks through the neighborhood and his friends, even the name of his cigarettes. 

Memories crowded in on me, and I made room for them as my eyes passed over the old books, searching every page in every book, carefully examining them, despite my proficiency in the French language being no match for the subjects of the books I searched through. The quest went on for days and days, long enough to arouse the bookseller’s curiosity. He asked me, ”Are you looking for something specific?” So I told him my grandfather’s story. He laughed and said, “In that case, I don’t think I can help you on your journey but I wish you the best of luck.” This incident was enough for my relationship with the man to develop to the point where he would hand over the responsibility of selling to me while he crossed over to the other bank to smoke a cigarette with a friend.

The same thing happened in every city I passed through: In Berlin, in Frankfurt, in Dijon, in Beirut, in Damascus. In every city and every book, there was something of my grandfather’s spirit. I remember that I even found some books with Arabic inscriptions on their pages. But I have not yet found my grandfather.

Today, and after 10 years of returning from Paris and leaving medicine, I am now a bookseller in a bookstore in Amman. Amman is not Cairo nor is it Paris, but still, I am enchanted by that same magic. Now, though, the magic is not just found on one bank of the book but on both. Here, I am the seller of the books and not just the buyer. True, the bookstore I currently work at sells new, unused books, but I still look at the faces of the people who buy the books, searching for myself, or for a similar story, in them. I wonder, Who is this man or that girl searching for? What soul has touched them, and why? Then I look down at the book in my hand before handing it to the buyer and that same Parisian thought comes to mind: Could this book by Farah Anton I hold in my hand be a new edition of the same book my grandfather may have one day read?

Poem Translation: Incomprhensible by Deek al-Jin

Translations, Uncategorized

عصيّ على الفهم..

بغرغرة الحوت يشعر بالموت يجري مع الدم..
وتمنعه سنوات من العنفوان العظيم بأن يستحيل طعاما ..
وأن يغدو منهشة لصغار السمك..
فيجنح في كبرياء مهيب..
نحو شطّ غريب ..
يموت عليه وحيدا..

ببؤس الحمامة حين يختطف القط روح زغاليلها في الظلام..
ويقعدها الجبن عن أن تحاول إنقاذ تلك العيون الصغيرة ..
تلك الضلوع الكسيرة..
فتجلس رابضة فوق غصن قريب..
تراقب هذا العشاء الأخير بقلب محطم..

بكل الأسى الذي يسكن صدر حصان أصيل..
ألقت به الريح ..
بعد سنين الفحولة..
بعد عصور البطولة..
في يد سائس بائس يعرضه في مهرجان ملون..
ليصبح تسلية للصغار ..

بحزن الفدائي يجلس فوق حطام ربوع صباه..
يعانق بارودة باردة..
يعض على الشفة الجامدة..
يحاول أن يتذكر ما كان قبل الطغاة وقبل الغزاة وقبل انهيار سماء الوطن..
يفكر فيها وفي أمه العاجزة..
أما زالتا حيتين؟
أما زال في العمر متسع للأمل؟
يحدق نحو السماء ..
فيدرك أن قد لا يعود ..
وإن عاد قد لا يراها..
وقد لا يرى أمه..
يعانق بارودة باردة..
ويعض على الشفة الجامدة..

بحزن عصي على الفهم.. آتي إليك..
بقلب عصي على الفرح .. آتي إليك..
بنفس تمور كما الطير في لحظات النزاع الأخيرة.. آتي إليك..
فلا تتركيني..


Gargling, the whale senses death running through his blood

Memories of his heyday forbid him from turning into food,

Into a feeding ground for little fish

So he flees with majestic pride

Toward an unknown shore

And dies there, alone



With the misery of a pigeon whose babies’ souls a cat kidnaps in the darkness

and whom cowardice forces into surrender instead of trying to save those small eyes,

those broken ribs

So she sits idly on a nearby branch

And watches this last supper with a broken heart


With all the woefulness in a thoroughbred’s heart

Whom the winds threw

After years of strength

And eras of heroism

in the hands of a miserable manager

who puts him on display in a colorful festival

as entertainment for children


In sorrow, the freedom fighter sits on the debris of his youth

hugging a cold rifle

biting a frozen lip

Trying to remember what he was before the tyrants and invaders, and before the sky of the homeland collapsed

He thinks of it and his powerless mother

Are they still alive?

Is there still room in the years left of his life for hope?

He gazes toward the sky

And realizes he might never go back

And if he does, he might not see her

nor his mother

He hugs the cold rifle

and bites the frozen lip


With incomprehensible sadness, I come to you

With a heart incapable of happiness, I come to you

With a soul heaving, like a bird in its final moments, I come to you

So don’t leave me.


This poem was originally posted on Deek al-Jin’s Facebook page on 30 March, 2017.








The logo Orenda Tribe

The Orenda Tribe Turns Refugee Children’s Art into T-Shirts


Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist”. Through introducing children in underprivileged communities and refugee camps to art and then printing that art onto T-shirts and sharing them with the rest of the world, The Orenda Tribe helps children discover art and the artist within. Orenda is “a mystical force present in all people that empowers them to affect the world, or to effect change in their own lives.” When asked.”Why Art?” The Orenda Tribe says:

Why art? Art is a neglected subject in most distressed communities although it is very important in building skills in children that will allow them to build a better future for themselves. Skills such as creativity, problem-solving, communication and confidence. Add to this, that art spreads smiles and happiness into children’s lives.

In addition to the art lessons given at Jerash refugee camp in Jordan, The Orenda Tribe has also held an art workshop for SOS Village mothers, art therapy sessions in cooperation with Art Therapy International Centre, and winter clothes drives for the children of the camp.


orenda tribe t-shirts

Photo credit:


Want to help The Orenda Tribe fund their art activities? Here‘s where you can a T-shirt.

To hear more about The Orenda Tribe from Zaid Souqi, watch this video from A Minute Marvel.

For more information visit The Orenda Tribe’s website and Facebook page.


Hotel Zaatari: A Short Film That Brings the Human Back to the Refugee

Uncategorized, Writing

Hotel Zaatari is a short film written and directed by two Jordanian filmmakers, Mais Salman and Zaid Baqaeen. The film shows four Syrians from the Syrian city of Daraa near the Jordan-Syria borders who settled in the world’s largest Syrian refugee Camp, Zaatari. With beautiful cinematography and poignant, poetic narration, we are introduced to 13-year-old Ali, 64-year-old Abo Abdo, 52-year-old Hayat, and nine-year-old Sarah. In 17 minutes, the word refugee is stripped of all the politics, the numbers, economics, and pity and the human is re-seen.

According to the film’s website, “the film aims to raise awareness and change perceptions towards the displaced Syrians, and shed light on their plights, fears, hopes and dreams. Challenging the notion of ‘the other’, the film hopes to express and reveal the core of what it is to be human, and what it is to be humane.”

Hotel Zaatari is not only a film but an initiative. Forty limited edition prints from Zaatari are sold to fund programs in the camp in association with Save the Children International.

Watch the film and visit the website.

Khaled Hourani's The Blue Figure. Darat Al Funun

Self-Rediscovery via Khaled Hourani’s Exhibition at Darat al Funun

Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing

Rediscovering passion is rediscovering the self. Khaled Hourani’s A Retrospective exhibition nestled in the beautiful villa and garden that is Darat al Funun helped me rediscover that mind-captivating exhilaration and wonder at the beauty that surrounds us — the mind that thinks the art, the artist courageous enough to make the art, the Creator’s art: the bee pulled by the magnet of rosemary bushes and lavender, the sun as it warms the cold stone of the Roman columns standing tall in the backyard.

In this space of art and beauty one finds acceptance, universality; we are all one and the same, stripped of all the backgrounds that tell of differences.
That is the essence of Khaled Hourani’s newest work, The Blue Figure. By removing the refugee, resembled in the UNHCR logo as a blue figure, from its context, Hourani challenges our conception of a refugee. Seen in different settings: on a balcony, in the lap of a parent and in a tent, the figure’a individuality and humanness is returned. Each becomes one, all a part of the whole.
khaled hourani the blue figure

Photo credit: Dima Masri


Photo credit: Dima Masri


Photo credit: Dima Masri


Photo credit: Dima Masri


Photo credit: Dima Masri


Photo credit: Dima Masri


Photo credit: Dima Masri

Watch a report and interview on Al Ghad about the exhibition.

Bringing Music and Art to the Streets of Amman

BarakaBits, Writing

While walking down Amman streets, Sami found time and time again that they were void of life and beauty. A lover of music, he thought to himself, “Why not bring art to the streets?”

That’s exactly what this exciting event “Music Rings in the Streets of Amman” aims to do. While speaking to Sami Nada, one of the organizers of the event,he explained to BarakaBits that the goal of this event is “to introduce people to street art and its beauty and spread a message of peace and love. It also aims to break the rigidity of the art culture on the streets.” He defines street art as a spontaneous artistic expression of freedom, peace and love and one that creates an intimate relationship between the artists and audience.
Sami adds that
“there is a growing group of artists and lovers of art in Jordan who do not seek any monetary gain out of their art. All they want is to send a message of peace and love through their art but they do not have the space to freely do so.”

According to the organizer, “this event, which is the first of its kind in Jordan, will provide that space.” The event will share both the culture of street music and street art with a complete performance by inspiring percussionists and other artists in the field of street art such as freestyle dancers, fire performers and mime artists. Local artists  from Jordan will bring life to the streets of Amman through Arabic music as well as other exciting performances.

So if you’re an artist or an art lover, don’t miss the event! This one-of-a-kind street art event will take place in Jabal l’Weibdeh on Thursday October 20, 2016.
For more information visit the event’s Facebook page.
This article was originally published on BarakaBits on October, 15, 2016.

How to Transform Negative Energy to Positive Energy

Articles, Translations, Uncategorized


… The human resource specialist explained that if you face any of these causes you may be experiencing negative energy but you can move away from that through transforming it into positive energy through the following 10 steps:

  1. Return to God in saying and action
  2. Always repeat the phrase, “I am capable, I can achieve all my ambitions whatever the circumstances” and imagine you are in the place you dream of, see yourself succeeding, people clapping for you and the world speaking of you. Live the moment deeply until your subconscious mind believes it and opens the door of positive success to you.
  3. Believe in values, role models and sound life principles
  4. Create a clear future plan executable in a specific time frame
  5. Expose yourself to the sun, exercise, pray and feel gratitude
  6. Discover your skills and positive qualities to put them to use
  7. Attract positive energy through attracting positive thoughts
  8. Focus on the solution when facing crises
  9. Benefit from your own and others’ experiences of failure and success
  10. Learn skills of effectively communicating with others as well as thinking and success skills

Read the full Arabic article in Al Ghad newspaper.