The foreign students have been instructed to learn a famous love poem by a modern-day great of Syrian writing, Nizar Qabbani.
For my benefit, as much as yours, here is my translation of the central stanza:
I love you lots and lots and lots
I love you a lot and I know that I’m exiled
And you are exiled
And between you and between me
There is wind
And ice and fire
And I know that arriving at your eyes is an illusion
And I know that arriving at you…
When I was living in Damascus at the end of my teens, I had a German neighbour who lived with several Kurdish guys. He invited one of them to mine to help us with our Arabic, a chap called Qasim whom I hadn’t met before. There seemed something odd to me about my neighbour’s attitude that evening and gradually I realised, as he began to squirm with delight and Qasim began increasingly to posture, that he had told Qasim that Qasim had a chance with me.
I had no interest in furthering my acquaintance with Qasim, and I attempted politely to hint that they go home. My fellow student understood completely and made no move to leave.
‘You’d better go now, Qasim,’ he teased. ‘The man she lives with will get back soon, and he’s a big strong man.’
Qasim leant back on the sofa and stretched his arm out.
…’Really, Qasim, he’ll be very angry to find another man with his woman.’ (He would not)
‘I am not afraid.’ Qasim made a great show of nonchalance, in a chest-puffy way.
‘He might fight you.’ (My boyfriend would have in no way fought him).
‘I am not afraid. I have an AK. An AK47.’
My neighbour saw the struggle I was having balancing my duty as a hostess with the absurdity of the conversation and he grinned. It was too clear I found reference to an AK ridiculous. It was clear too that Qasim was offended by our non-deference to his gun and was ready to prove his manhood, his newfound love for me and the existence of this gun in one trigger-squeeze. I felt v real misgivings that this machismo would turn into shooting in my living room. My neighbour was not deterred. The same neighbour enjoyed asking the secret police what they thought about Assad and his Assad jokes. He had very little regard for personal safety.
‘Ah but he will throw stones at you maybe. He will fight you by throwing stones. He’ll go outside and fetch some from the street’.
This was a vexing thing for me to hear, but far more so for Qasim. He was visibly frustrated. There weren’t stones in the street! And how could we seriously think we had any chance? How could we be so foolish? Why didn’t we understand? Did we not believe he had a gun? A gun! An AK47! In his bedroom in his house nearby. First vehemently, then plaintively, he expostulated to the foreigners in defence of his honour and his refrain remains clear in my ears. My AK is much stronger than your stones! My AK will defeat your stones! I can shoot all of you!
That evening, after finally shooing the boys away, and not opening the door to Qasim’s knocks when he returned a little later (with his gun?!) I got a series of texts from him, about my beauty and the moon and the night and his love and his pain. They were copied, the German delighted in telling me later, from a book of sexy texts the Kurdish boys shared between them to use on girls. Reader(s), I end this post with another excerpt of Nizar Qabbani. But before then, in honour of young men’s ardour for dramatic romance, here is a link to love-texts for you to send your own crushes.
Should a woman
desiring her lover
lie down with
grammarians and linguists?
I said nothing
to the woman I loved
love’s adjectives into a suitcase
and fled from all languages.