A discovery voyage of self and other: Fadwa Tuqan's sojourn in England in the early sixties.
This article explores the notion of representation and the discovery of Self and Other in the autobiographical work of the contemporary Palestinian poet, Fadwa Tuqan, Rihla Jabaliyya, Rihla Sa'ba (A Mountainous Journey, A Difficult Journey), in which she talks about her encounter with the English people during her stay in Oxford in 1962-63. (4) The paper shows how Tuqan who has a very limited formal education and an unusual conservative and rigid upbringing in the city of Nablus in the twentieth and thirties of this century during the British mandate of Palestine, has carried with her to England a colonized perception of the Other and distorted views of England and English life in general. Her limited contact with two English families in boarding homes, with teachers of English as a foreign language in specific courses given at Oxford, and with ah English male friend identified as A.G., her reading of newspapers and books, her listening to radio and television, her visit to theaters and museums in London, all of these have shaped her views of England and changed some other preconceived ideas about English life and institutions. The colonized perception which emphasizes, for instance, the idea that English women are liberated and equal to men now gives way to the notion that even English women seem to have a very long way to go before they will ever attain any equality with men.
In speaking about the French colonialism in Algeria, Frantz Fanon argues that "It is not the soil that is occupied. It is not the ports or the airdromes. ..colonialism has settled itself in the very center of the ... individual and has undertaken a sustained work of cleanup, of expulsion of self, of rationally pursued mutilation." (5) Similarly Tuqan's disfigured self not only due to British colonization of Palestine but also to patriarchy and her very gender-specific case, has encouraged her to entertain certain colonized perceptions of the Other. But the journey away from home has helped the poet discover her true self, assume responsibility and develop some critical insight into self and Other.
Upon her return to Nablus, Tuqan manages to move out of the family home and to have her own place by the year 1965. She was probably 48 years old. We can never be sure of that, for her family never registered her date of birth. It is likely that during World War I recording birth of death in this part of the Ottoman Empire was not an easy matter. Fadwa's mother recounts that she has been pregnant for seven months when her male cousin, Kamil 'Asqalan is killed in the war. In order to get a birth certificate and eventually get a passport to travel with an official Jordanian literary delegation and to represent her host country abroad in 1959, Fadwa is forced to visit the graveyard where this man is buried in order to read the epitaph on his tomb and copy the date of his death which has occurred in 1917 (Tuqan 13-15).
Tuqan's journey to England is, in a sense, a reverse of that of a colonial anthropologist. Normally, the latter travels to an ex-colony, or a less developed country than the place where he/she comes from. Not knowing the language of the natives, of their history, of the meaning of their customs, the foreigner lives among these people. He/she attempts to learn their language, writes his/her observations, interprets customs, shows patterns of thinking and reveals implications of behavior to the outside world by producing a book, which claims to be an exclusive study of these backward and primitive people. The colonial anthropologist represents alien races, who are mainly silent and are unable to represent themselves, or talk about themselves in any coherent, or meaningful way. In this case there is no doubt about the relationship between representation and power. The colonial anthropologist asserts his/her superiority and hardly considers the necessity of self-criticism. But fortunately, many anthropologists since the seventies have taken a very self-critical look at what they are doing. Jacques Maquet, for instance, argues that it is not enough for an anthropologist to indicate that his of her object is "the social structure" of such and such people; but that "one should add: as seen by an anthropologist belonging to" a specific socio-economic and political and racial group. (6)
In contrast, Tuqan travels to an ex- colonizing country, which is more developed than Palestine where the poet is born, of than Jordan, her host country from 1948 to 1967. (7) Her knowledge of English is not sufficient. She must go to school in England and be taught by English teachers. Tuqan's brothers and male cousins have been going to England for sometime in order to study at Oxford and eventually return home to serve in prominent positions, first in Palestine, than in Jordan, or other Arab countries. Thus, England, in this context, appears as a model of civilization and progress, and the English language is the necessary tool that one needs to advance in life. Although the Tuqan's males have resisted British occupation in Palestine and embraced nationalist ideologies they mostly seem to be full of admiration of England and English educational institutions. As a woman, who was forced to leave school at an early age, and to lead a secluded life in a prison-like home, Fadwa's perceptions of England and English life in general must have been borrowed from her male relatives. However, these perceptions have at times either changed, or confirmed, when the poet finds herself all alone in England.
Fadwa Tuqan was born a few years after the outbreak of World War I in the city of Nablus, Palestine, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. Hoping that they would be an independent nation, her people, the Palestinians along with other Arabs, had fought against the Turks and the Germans on the side of the allies. But behind closed doors Great Britain and France sealed a secret deal. The Sykes-Picot agreement was a shocking document of English and French greed. It divided the Arab world into zones of permanent influence. Not suspecting anything the Arabs began their revolt on 5 June 1916. Meanwhile Arthur James Balfour, the British secretary, of state for foreign affairs sent a secret letter to Baron Lionel Walter de Rothschild, a wealthy British Zionist, seeking Jewish support in the war. Consequently, in 2 November 1917, the year Fadwa was born, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, and proclaimed that it viewed with favor the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, provided this did not prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing Palestinian Arabs in the country. Once the war was over in November 1918, and the treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919, the spoils of war were divided in April 1920 between Britain and France. The British secured the mandates over Iraq and Palestine. (8)
For Fadwa, growing up in British Palestine, Britain assumed the role of the colonizer in her mind in spite of her own seclusion. During the thirties she witnessed her father's arrest by the British authorities. But in prison, her father became very sick and was transferred to a hospital in Acre. Trying to interfere on his behalf, her British educated brother, Ahmad, who was working for the Education Department in Jerusalem, managed to bribe one of the British officials in order to release his old sick father. To his surprise, he discovered that the corrupt English man was his fellow student at Oxford. (Tuqan 112-113). Not allowed to see his family in Nablus, the father was taken out of hospital and sent into exile to Egypt with other prominent Palestinian leaders. Although Fadwa had a troubled relationship with her father, she wrote a poem, dedicated it to him and published it in a prestigious literary journal in Cairo. This was the time when she realized that a poet and a woman who lived under foreign occupation could not be solely concerned with her own personal problems.
Tuqan's memoirs refer fleetingly to the Balfour declaration, the consequent Jewish immigration to her country and the Palestinian rejection of the British idea of establishing a Jewish national home on Palestinian soil. Palestinians doted in 1929 in several cities including Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. Their leaders were unable to convince the British government to change its policy. In April 1936 when Fadwa was 19 years old, the Great Palestinian Rebellion began and lasted for three years. (Tuqan 101-104). But the British succeeded in quelling the revolt. Fadwa refers ironically to the Arab kings and princes who trusted the "British 'good intentions' and decided to sit down again with them around the negotiating table" (Tuqan 104). She also mentions the assassination of the British governor of al-Nasira with his bodyguard and the consequent British raids against unarmed civilians and the persistent search of homes. In one such search Fadwa's special pen, a gift given to her by her brother and mentor, Ibrahim, was stolen among other things from her home (Tuqan 105-107). In short, Britain became the source of all evil, not only in her mind, but also in the mind of other Palestinians, to the extent that a poet, with the pen name of Abu Salma, said in 1936: "If God were to be British I would urge people to be atheists" (Tuqan 107). But the image of the hateful British authorities in Palestine was even surpassed by the Jewish terrorist organizations, which directed its violence against both Palestinians and the British. In August 1939 Fadwa Tuqan relates how Jewish terrorists bombed the radio station in Jerusalem where her brother Ibrahim was working, but he miraculously escaped unharmed, only to be expelled from his job after one year (Tuqan 118-120).
The years leading to the British withdrawal from Palestine, the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 on Palestinian soil, the dispersal of the Palestinians around the world, and the dismemberment of whatever remained of Palestine are hardly mentioned in the memoirs. Fadwa refers briefly to the thousands of Palestinian refugees forced to leave their cities and villages in 1948. Some came to Nablus, lived in caves on the mountains surrounding the city, of squatted in mosques, or schools (Tuqan 137). In the midst of ruins and devastation, she tells us, that Palestinian women threw off the veil and managed to come out of the bottle, just like the jinni in the 1002 Nights, after years of imprisonment (Tuqan 138).
To travel, to discover other horizons, was one of Tuqan's main dreams in her childhood and youth. She tells us: "It is said that those who dream of roaming around the world are precisely those people who are living like animals behind iron bars. I used to live like that too. How often I watched the birds in our courtyard leaving the trees and flying beyond the walls of our house with no fear. How much I yearned to have two wings too to fly" (Tuqan 130).
England is not mentioned specifically as a desirable destination in this specific passage. But elsewhere, Fadwa confesses that "England was one of my constant, but remote dreams. I used to tell myself: I'll go there to a new station, to discover a new horizon. I'll immerse myself in this civilization. One year, two years' "(Tuqan 160). The fact that her cousin, Faruq, was studying in Oxford in 1961, had made it easier for her to realize her dream (9). It is the love/hate relationship between the colonized and the colonizer. Although England featured as the hateful enemy of the Palestinians in her memoirs, nevertheless England was a desirable destination for renewal, knowledge and discovery.
This is not a unique case. Albert Memmi, a Tunisian Jew in French occupied Tunisia, posed this question in the preface to his book The Colonizer and the Colonized. He asked: "How could he [the colonized] hate the colonizers and yet admire them so passionately? (I too felt this admiration in spite of myself)." (10) Other writers who grew up under occupation had similar attitudes towards their colonizer. Fatima Mernissi (11) and Leila Ahmed, (12) among others, have hated and loved the French, or the English respectively to different degrees. The colonizer was despised, but was also associated in their minds with modernity and progress. For Mernissi, the French, for instance, are occupiers and aggressors. They "kept crossing the sea, bringing death and chaos" (Mernissi 1) to her country Morocco. "We knew that the French were greedy and had come a long way to conquer our land" (Mernissi 23). But her family sent their intelligent males to French schools and insisted that they learn French beside Arabic. After independence, the family sent their girls too to modern Westernized schools instead of the Koranic traditional ones. Her illiterate mother preferred, for instance, French fashion for she believed that "Western dress is about salaried work" (Mernissi 85) and wished her daughter to wear nothing but French costumes. Although Mernissi's uncle warned at some stage that "One day, we will probably manage to throw the French out only to wake up and find out that we all look like them" (Mernissi 85), no one seemed to consider this serious statement and its implications.
Colonization in all its forms, but particularly of the mind, is the most dangerous. It robs the colonized from knowing who he/she is. It creates an identity crisis and inferiority complexes vis-a-vis the colonizer. To be ignorant of one's history, language and heritage willingly or unwillingly, but to know, or wish to know more about the history, the language, and the heritage of the colonizer is the beginning of psychological problems in one's life. Perhaps Leila Ahmed's memoir is the best illustration of my point. Her book, A Boarder Passage From Cairo to America, shows the devastating effect of cultural colonialism on the mind of the colonized. Unlike Fadwa Tuqan, who has limited formal education and limited contact with English people and English culture during her life in Palestine and during her journey to England in 1962-63, Leila Ahmed has been in touch with English culture and people since her childhood in Egypt. Ahmed has immersed herself in English culture during most of her life. But Tuqan and Ahmed emerge at the end of their memoirs as very different women. Tuqan discovers something about herself and corrects her colonized misconceptions of the Other. Ahmed discovers roe something about herself, but continues to entertain colonized perceptions of England and the English people. Her questioning at times is never crystallized and does not take a definite form. To Ahmed, the English remain her mentors. Their system of education is to be commended and even imported to an Arab country, like the United Arab Emirates (Ahmed 279-282). Egypt and other Arab countries have nothing good to offer. Brought up as a child to admire the English and their achievements, she never managed to sharpen her critical ability against them. Even when she criticizes her graduate years in Cambridge, talks about the gap between the West and the Third World, the interest of the white English and American students and teachers vis-a-vis the interests of students from Asia and Africa, and the outrageous racism in English society, she remains faithful to her English mentors and English education.
Fadwa Tuqan, who has written poetry in Arabic, a language that Ahmed would rather not hear of, has discovered her true identity as an Arab Palestinian woman during her short visit to England. Ahmed on the other hand, who is much younger than the Palestinian poet, and who has only an English education and is not familiar with classical Arabic literature or heritage, which she dismisses as the heritage of middle-class men, has embraced her Egyptian spoken dialect and English as part of her true identity. The journey to England has led Tuqan to assert her Arabness, but led Ahmed to assert that classical Arabic/or Modern Standard Arabic is colonialism (Ahmed 282-283).
Tuqan met English landlords, old men and women, some of their offspring at Christmas, one obscure English painter, and very few Oxford students at a party. Ahmed met mainly English intellectuals at Cambridge University and English teachers in Egypt when her country was still considered as part of the British empire. Tuqan read English newspapers and a few books and articles, listened to radio and watched television. Ahmed lived in England, did her undergraduate and graduate degrees there. For her, England was not a foreign country, but more like a home. Tuqan's first mentor was her brother Ibrahim, a famous Palestinian poet. Ahmed's mentors were all English. Some of them were steeped in Christianity. Tuqan hardly knew anything about her society. Her parents were strict with her. She was also a weak woman, who could not challenge her parents' of brothers' authority. Nevertheless she was able to learn about her people's history and literature from books with the help of one of her brothers until she was able later on to liberate herself and assert herself as a poet and a memoir writer. Ahmed hardly knew anything about Egypt although she lived in Cairo and Alexandria. Her parents were certainly not as strict as Tuqan's parents. But she went to ah English school. She spoke English of French at home. Her nanny was a foreign woman, a Catholic Croat from Yugoslavia. Her friends were Italians, or Egyptian Jews with foreign passports, or Christians, who also preferred to go to missionary and foreign schools (Ahmed 53-66; 173-175). Certainly there were many Egyptians going at the time to public schools. They learned different things, mainly about the language and history of their own country, but also about the history and language of other people. Not all of them turned out to be hopeless creatures. On the contrary, some excelled, in spite of the fact that they went to schools with fewer resources than missionary and foreign schools. Many of them too grew up to be nationalists and humanists at the same time. Arab nationalism did not push them to be intolerant of other ethnic groups or religions.
In short, colonialism destroys the very fabric of human beings. It makes them hate their oppressor, but at the same time admire him and yearn to ape him in every possible way. Only rare individuals manage to emerge from their terrible ordeal unscathed.
It was the first time I traveled by myself outside of the Arab countries. My previous and only trip to Europe, which included Holland, Sweden, then Russia and China, was part of an official Jordanian delegation to the Peace Conference held in Stockholm in the year 1956. Some members of our delegation took care of our passports at various airports. I had nothing to worry about. I was well taken care of by others. But now at Heathrow airport there was no one waiting for me. My cousin, Faruq, was spending his holidays in Austria. I knew that the landlady with whom I was going to tire in Oxford had an empty room for me. Her address was in my handbag. Everything was going to be fine. (Tuqan 170-171).
In 1962 when Fadwa was probably 45 years old, she left Nablus for England on her own. This was the first time in her life, as she told us in her memoirs, that she was independent and had to take care of herself. Her first impression about England comes from Heathrow airport and its employees:
At Heathrow fantastic order facilitates people's business quietly and awesomely. There is no chaos here, no one pushing or pulling. Hundreds of travelers are coming from around the world, from developed and underdeveloped countries. They are waiting in lines. Each is waiting his turn to present his passport. The order here imposes itself. Quietness prevails the hall as if you are in a Buddhist temple. The employees who are in charge of letting you in the country simply move their eyes between your passport and your face. They ask you a few questions about your reasons for coming to England, how long you intend to stay there and how much money you have on you. Then your passport will be given back to you and you simply enter the country. (Tuqan 171).
The image of England here as a law and order abiding country seems to be very idealistic, even holy. Everything runs smoothly: the immigration, custom, information desk, hotel bookings and taxi stands. Even the driver, who is described as silent as Abu al-Hawl, or the Sphinx, seems to be very professional and formal. He keeps to himself. It is not only the freedom that this foreign visitor is suddenly experiencing that makes her exalted and happy, but it is also this image of 'civilized' England with its "clean, wide streets" (Tuqan 171), its professionalism and its law and order.
Half an hour of a bit more London became apparent to my eyes. Its squares, gardens, fountains, buildings, window shops, cars, motor cycles, red double-decker buses and the crowd. Plenty of people around, lights, colors. Everything tells you how exciting life would be here in the evening. I felt a strange illumination within me. Happiness that I have no words to describe. As if a hidden hand pushed an invisible electric button in my depths, so my soul lit up with a light I have never known before. A mystic light that separates me from the past, rubs away the traces of roughness and cruelty from my heart, and makes me feel at peace with my self. Ah how beautiful the world is. I bless this life, Rambo said. Good-bye years of draught and depression, good-bye years of loss and perplexity" (Tuqan 171-172).
The room in the hotel was comfortable. On the following day and after breakfast, Fadwa walked for a while in the midst of the city in Piccadilly Square. Everything she saw thrilled her: the classical buildings, the young men and women sitting around the fountain. But she was especially fascinated by the young winged Eros, the statue of love, standing on its left leg while the other is hanging in the air. In his hand he has a bow and an arrow ready to fly. The traveler thought that she saw one face of London. Her ambition was, as she tells us, "to get to know London's real soul" (Tuqan 172) in the future.
It is understandable that a naive woman, who was secluded for many years during her childhood and youth and was never allowed to see the world on her own, also a woman whose brothers and male cousins held England in high esteem and attended its prestigious universities, would have a very favorable impression of England at the beginning of the encounter. It must be understood that although her father, brothers and male relatives have either fought against the British, of simply expressed their disapproval of the British policy in Palestine, nevertheless, their views of 'cultural Britain' were quite distinct and separate item that of Britain as a colonizer. In short, her family's views of England and English life in general must have influenced her early perceptions of the Other and prevented her from seeing anything negative about the country, or its people.
The taxi takes her to Paddington Station. From there she takes the train to Oxford and begins to immerse herself in happy daydreams. Her cousin Faruq has already painted for her a very favorable portrait of the city and the university. This portrait might be very false, but at least this is how this young man saw Oxford. In a letter dated October 8, 1961, Faruq told her:
I am writing to you from the oldest university in the world. Today is Sunday.... I hear the churches' bells from early morning to dusk. I see the people of this city going to church carrying their bibles with them ... hoping that peace will prevail ... for they have suffered the calamity of wars two times in this century. No one wants to be rich.... All what they want is peace. The social life here at the university is beginning to swing. The semester will start on 13 October. Yesterday, Saturday, 7 October I was invited to a reception at the residence of the president of my college.... He and his wife ... welcomed me. She is a graduate of Cambridge and very kind. We talked for almost a quarter of an hour. On the 21 of this month they have invited me to have lunch (Tuqan 163).
In a different part of the letter, Faruq tells her that she will live with him for as long as she wishes, then she can move whenever she likes to her landlady's house. He assures her that "life in Oxford is very simple, much simpler than what we imagine in our country and that "life is beautiful and can be void of headaches and annoyance" (Tuqan 164-165).
Faruq's life in Oxford seems to be full of work, but also lots of social parties and traveling in Europe. In a different letter dated 15/11/1961 he tells her proudly how he has been invited to the High Table in his college:
I was the only student who was invited this year and last year to have a meal with my professors. This is a great honour here in Oxford. After we had our meal we moved to the professors' room with its fantastic antique furniture. We drank sweet wine and are walnut, bananas and other fruit under the light of candles. This normally takes place after dinner once a week on Tuesdays. I had discussions with my professors for two hours. Thanks God I was able to answer their questions, which some were rather naughty.... The Christmas holidays will begin on Friday 8 December for six weeks. I'll go to Austria for skiing. Then I'll visit Germany for a few days, then off to Paris. I did not tell anyone yet about this plan. But I'll write soon to my father asking his permission as usual to travel. I will also inform my uncle Qadri and my dear brother Sa'd. About 20 December I'll receive the new Mercedes. I began already fixing its insurance (Tuqan 166).
A third letter from Oxford gives us an idea about the family where Fadwa will eventually be living. The landlord teaches music in Oxford. He and his wife have three young children. The first two go to school. The youngest one goes to kindergarten in the morning only. The couple have an old house, but quite comfortable, outside of a town called Bambouri, [Banbury?] (13) which is about thirty kilometers from Oxford and not far from Stratford either (Tuqan 167-168). Fadwa is to pay 7 pounds and 7 shillings per week for room and board. But she has to do her washing on her own.
Upon her arrival in Oxford, Fadwa remains with her cousin for ten days, or a little bit more. She visits with him the university and its various colleges and tours the green countryside. Everything seems to impress the new visitor: the architecture of the buildings, the old history of the colleges, Sir Jacob Epstein's sculpture of Lazarus and one particular statue in New College where her cousin is studying. We learn that the statue had been erected in memory of some German students of the college, who were recalled during World War I to Germany in order to fight against the English, and eventually all got killed. For Fadwa that was the best expression of "the very soul of this ancient prestigious university" (Tuqan 176).
Not only Oxford University was idealized in Fadwa's views, but also its students and the inhabitants of the city and its surroundings. At a party that some colleagues of her cousin had organized one evening in their college, she was struck by their civility. They were more than thirty people, yet they whispered when they talked. There was no noise whatsoever. Nietzsche's saying came back to her that "when man's mind reaches a high level, he will have less desire to shout" (Tuqan 176). Her cousin's explanation about the college system in Oxford, in contrast to other English universities, which are centralized, also impresses her a great deal. She concludes that students here have more possibilities to acquire knowledge. On the other hand, the English countryside fascinates her. There are trees everywhere. According to her judgment, people in England are very conscious about the preservation of trees. Whenever they cut one, another would spring up next to it (Tuqan 175).
In contrast to Tuqan, one cannot but remember what another Arab visitor to Oxford and Cambridge had written in the 19th century. Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804-1887), a learned Lebanese scholar and a sophisticated traveler, was hired to help a professor from Cambridge to translate the Bible into Arabic. He lived in Cambridge, but also traveled to Oxford and had immediate relationships with English scholars and common people alike. In his book, Al-Wasita Fi Ma'rifat Ahwal Malta Wa-Kashf Al-Mukhabba 'An Tamaddun Awruppa, al-Shidyaq seemed to be struck by the English concept of class distinction and social hierarchies. He thought that the students, both at Oxford and Cambridge were wealthy and arrogant. They were not interested in learning, but only in getting degrees from these institutions. Al-Shidyaq also criticized their English professors, who were, according to his observations, fond of titles and actively sought to hide behind them. Their knowledge of their subject matter was very limited, but they tried to deceive others to the contrary. A1-Shidyaq, for instance, cited the Orientalists who hardly understood Arabic, but nevertheless they claimed lots of knowledge and boasted of their achievements among their peers. (14)
Fadwa Tuqan was a naive onlooker. She lacked formal education and life experience. For this reason she was in awe of everything English. Oxford University represented the pinnacle of learning for her. She never doubted or questioned the opinion of her male cousin, Faruq. After all, other males from her family were educated here as well. Also the facade of the old buildings had impressed her and made her think that whatever was impressive from the outside must be by necessity impressive from the inside. But gradually she began to discover new things about England, not necessarily its universities, and was forced to change or adjust some of her misconceptions about the English and their life.
Fadwa's stay with a recommended English family in a suburb of Banbury, (which she spelled in Arable as Bodicote) was very positive. The couple treated their boarder very well. She was considered part of the family and taken on sightseeing tours during the weekend. One of the first towns to visit was Stratford on-Avon where Shakespeare was born. The Palestinian poet was very much moved, particularly when she stood in front of Shakespeare's tomb. She thought that the town must change its name from Strafford to Shakespeare on-Avon.
The landlord, whose last name is written only in Arabic and could be read in different ways (Vernich, Verneesh, Firnish, Ferneesh), used to take Fadwa along with him sometimes to Oxford (15). He would go to work, and she would roam the streets to discover the town. At noon she would get herself a sandwich and a cup of coffee, then she would visit one of the libraries and from there she would go to one of the parks if the weather was good. About four o'clock she would visit the Ashmolean Museum to spend one hour there. At five she would meet her landlord outside of the museum in order to be driven back home (Tuqan 181).
But it is not only the English cultural centers that fascinated Fadwa. She was greatly impressed by the English countryside and the English love for walking on Sundays. Her landlord with his two children, John aged 12 and Peter aged 10, would take her along on Sundays for long walks. The English countryside had thrilled her, and the endeavor of people there to preserve their forests and natural environment had impressed her a great deal.
In order to help her lengthen her stay in England, the landlady provided her with information about two summer schools that took place in Oxford, one during July in Christ Church College at the university, and the other during August 1962 at a school. Both comes, however, were run by Saint Clare's School in the city of Oxford. Fadwa decided to more to Oxford to take the summer comes and then join a school for a full year. She was very grateful to her English hosts, who treated her very well. Her landlord even drove her to Oxford to join the summer school there and live temporarily in the college. He did not leave her until he was sure that she found her room and that everything was well (Tuqan 181-182).
Most of the students who attended the course, English as a foreign language, were very young. They came from Europe, Asia and Africa. But a few of them were older. In the dining room at Christ Church that evening, Fadwa was seated opposite to a middle-aged German teacher, who enrolled in the course to improve her English and to have a nice holiday in England. The two women became good friends. Fadwa was overwhelmed with the portraits of "great men who had pursued their education" there in the past (Tuqan 183): Sir Philip Sidney, the poet and politician (1554-86); William Penn (1647-1728), the founder of the colony of Pennsylvania in the United States; the English politician, Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850); the British cleric, John Wesley (1703-91); the founder of Methodism; John Locke (1632-1704), the English philosopher; the British politician and prime minister four times, William Gladstone (1809-98); John Ruskin, the English writer and critic (1819-1900); and Charles Dodgson, the writer and mathematician known as Lewis Carroll (1832-98), who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It never occurred to Fadwa, who was oppressed as a female in her country, to ask a simple question: Where are the great women of England? Were they ever accepted as students in Christ Church? On the contrary, she seemed to have been very impressed with what she actually had seen and heard. The college, she was told, had given England five prime ministers in one century, beside the many other great men, who had graduated from it throughout the years. It was founded by Cardinal Wolsey as Cardinal College in 1525, but was built by Henry VIII in 1546. Everything in it, the men's portraits, the cathedral and Tom Tower, which pealed 101 times at 9:05 p.m every evening had emphasized for Fadwa the significance of history and tradition in English mind.
The Palestinian poet began to interpret for herself and later to her Arab readers the English patterns of thinking and behavior. The result at times was questionable. The teacher in charge of the course, for instance, discovery on the first day that Fadwa had let the bacon on her plate at breakfast, and are only the fried egg. While she was sipping her morning coffee the following day in the company of other students he came to her and said that he wanted to see her after breakfast. Not suspecting anything, Fadwa was very alarmed and thought that something very serious must have happened back home. When she went to see the teacher he told bar that he had noticed that she had not eat on the piece of bacon yesterday morning, and wanted to know whether she was a Muslim. Her interpretation of this incident is explained in the following passage:
Since that day the piece of bacon disappeared from my plate at breakfast. The English have a strange sense of consumption. All the English. This is something we, Arabs, are hardly aware of. This is what I have noticed during my stay in England. Every thing is considered and accounted for, no matter how trivial it is from the financial point of view. The word 'waste' is only found in the English dictionary. Practically it does not exist in their lives. The English woman would stand in the grocery store to ask for half a cucumber, one peach, one tomato, a quarter of a chicken. She does not buy more than what she needs (Tuqan 186).
Fadwa never thought that the teacher in charge of her course might have been behaving courteously towards her as a Muslim. He ordered the cook not to place a piece of bacon on her plate, not in order to save very little on the expenses, but in order to avoid offending a woman who may have considered bacon to be disgusting and forbidden to eat in her religion. Linking this particular incident to the concept of 'thrift' among the English in general and using it as a frame of reference in order to contrast the Arabs and English in terms of spending habits is rather questionable and unconvincing.
It is noteworthy to mention, however, that the concept of thrift vis-a-vis waste, or rather generosity is one of the cliches that fill modern Arabic literature. Europeans, in general, ale thought to be thrifty and stingy, in contrast to Arabs who are wasteful, and generous to others. The English woman, who buys 'one peach,' or 'a quarter of a chicken' according to Fadwa is obviously not expecting others to share her meals. In England, these social occasions are fixed in advance and limited in nature. But in the Arab world visitors are welcomed at any time. One has to be prepared to feed them as well.
At any rate, Fadwa never emphasizes this negative aspect of English life. She mentions thrift in passing. The bacon incident, for instance, is touched upon briefly, then forgotten. Everything that follows shows the English in very positive light. Characters such as the invalid principal of the school, who lost her legs during an air raid in 1941, is portrayed as a humanist whose goal in life is to bring nations together and work for peace. John Osborne (1929-94), the English playwright along with other angry men of his generation, are enthusiastically described by Fadwa. In the following passage the Palestinian poet begin to be aware of the diversity of views in her host country:
For someone who grew up under the hateful shadow of British colonialism I was so surprised and so happy to discover that there were contemporary writers, poets, and artists who did not believe in imperialism and who made fun of the monarchy as a system. Dylan Thomas [1914-53], for instance, George Orwell [1903-50].... All of those and others had hated the monarchy and imperialism and had entertained socialist views like the test of their contemporaries (Tuqan 187).
The third stage of Fadwa's life in Oxford was to take place in Swan's school. Now Fadwa is a boarder again, but this time with a 70 year-old English woman (Mrs. Vitham, Fitham?) who lives in Oxford. (16) Fadwa is to pay her two and a half pounds at the ond of each week for the room. She will be responsible for her meals and heating bill.
The relationship between the old landlady and the middle-aged boarder seems to be very harmonious. The landlady asks Fadwa to fix her breakfast in the morning, cook her bacon and prepare her tea. Fadwa is very happy to do that. She even shops for the old woman, accompanies her on Sundays to church and attends concerts with her in the cathedral. Through her visits to church on Sunday she realizes that only old people in Oxford visit the place. When Fadwa remarks once to the old lady that the church is almost empty except for a few old people, the landlady answers: "This is the curse of materialistic civilization. Religion these days exists only in the church" (Tuqan 189). Fadwa's observation is quite contrary to her cousin Faruq who wrote in an old letter to her that people in Oxford go to church on Sundays holding their Bibles with them. The two different foreign perceptions show that even people from the same culture can see facts in opposing fashion: the educated male presenting the inhabitants of Oxford as pious and religious, rushing to church on Sundays, while the less educated female portraying the inhabitants of the city as indifferent to religion and the church. Their judgment is made within months of each other where attitude to religion could not have possibly altered so drastically and quickly.
Fadwa's long-term friendship with the Swan family made England a very desirable country in the mind of the poet. She tells us in such a force about her love for England: "If England has become the center of my affection since that time it is only because of the people I have met and loved there" (Tuqan 191). After her return to Nablus, Mrs. Swan wrote and reminded her that she had a home in Oxford if she ever wanted to come back to England. During 1967 war when Israel occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River and Nablus, the city of Fadwa, Mrs. Swan wrote a long letter expressing her worries and sorrows. There is also Miss Morgan, one of her teachers at the school. She wrote her a letter in 1973 after she read some translations of Fadwa's poems into English. For the Palestinian poet this English woman represented humanity in its best. Miss Morgan seemed to understand the pain that Fadwa and her people were going through. She was hopeful that better days would come soon.
The point that Fadwa tries to make about the English people is that it is possible to become friends with them although it might take such a long time. But on the whole, the English to her mind, do not socialize with others, not even their neighbors. "They don't like to talk about themselves and thus one can not feel close to them. The proverb which says 'The house of the Englishman is his castle' (Tuqan 192) is very true, for no one is allowed to enter." Their love centers on their homes, gardens and dogs. When a person meets his neighbor he comments on the weather from behind the fence. Yet people in the countryside are friendlier. It is not true, she says, that the English are not emotional or excitable. The whole matter is that they hide their feelings behind a mask. They are very disciplined in this regard. Perhaps, this goes back to historical and social reasons. However, Fadwa does not elaborate on these reasons.
Other Arab writers have also dwelt on this issue, i.e., the possibility of impossibility of communication and friendship between Arabs and Europeans. But many of them reached the conclusion that it was not always possible to achieve friendship. The terms are defined and understood in different ways. Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, for instance, the Lebanese Christian Maronite scholar who lived in Malta, England and France during the 19th century, and was accompanied by his Christian Syrian wife, assures us in his books al-Wasita fi Ma'rifat Ahwal Malta wa Kashf al-Mukhabba 'an Funun Awruba (Getting to Know Malta and The Unveiling of the Hidden in European Life), that Europeans in general, do not care about strangers. Indeed they avoid them. But they also do not care about their own neighbors. Each person is concerned with himself.
Although Fadwa expresses her admiration for many things English, the whispering low voice, waiting in lines, not using car horns in the city, she seems to be embarrassed when lovers kiss in public. For her, love is something sacred. It takes place between two people behind doors. When she once expressed her objection to lovers' behavior in England, her first landlord told her that it was much better to make love than war (Tuqan 194). His answer made her think for sometime. She was not sure whether it was better to suppress one's sexuality and as a result to suffer from deviation, of to express one's freedom in a sense that sex was no more a problem for either a person, of society. There was no easy answer. But her conclusion was similar to that of Kipling. The 'Oriental mind' [whatever that may mean] is not like the 'Western mind'. The Orient has its different traditions, principles and values from those of the West. In short, East is East and West is West, and the two can never meet (Tuqan 194).
Fadwa's emphasis on differences between East and West, I and the Other, is restricted to this area of human behavior, i.e., enjoying sexual freedom and exhibiting one's emotions in public places in contrast to controlling one's sexual desires and enjoying love (presumably legal and permitted) in one's home. Other concerns expressed by the poet, however, center on either the ignorance, or the indifference of the English, on the whole, to the outside world. To illustrate her point, Fadwa gives us the example of the English children she has met through her two host families. In a description of the new year 1963 spent at Mrs. Vitham's niece in a suburb of Oxford, Fadwa relates the following: "After we had the turkey and the puddings, the children came to talk to me. The girl was 12 years old. The boy was 9. They asked me very strange questions: Do you have chairs in Arab countries? Do you sleep on mattresses? Do you drink water with glasses? I said to them: What do you think? And I remembered the similar questions posed by the Vernish's family" (Tuqan 195). From this seemingly innocent conversation, Fadwa comes to a general conclusion not only about the English, but about Westerners in general.
The word Arab reflects nothing in the mind of Westerners but the images of the tent, the desert and the camel ... The girl asked me to draw something for her in her notebook ... I drew the picture of a house with a stairs and a garden. The mother saw the stairs and asked me if we actually knew what a stairs was. Isn't it amazing that our image in the mind of the British is identical with tent and desert as if they had not colonized our country for many years. The only thing they know about us is polygamy. This is something I cannot justify (Tuqan 195).
Fadwa then concludes her remarks about the English when she says: "The English, on the whole, are not interested in anything but British. There are very few specialists, but those average readers read only about England in their newspapers. This is a fact, which one of the teachers at Swan's school has acknowledged when questioned by some European students in the classroom"(Tuqan 195).
Other Arab writers have also written about the ignorance of indifference of English and Europeans to the Other. But they are not all as naive as Fadwa. Al-Shidyaq, for instance, did not go to England seeking knowledge. He was imparting knowledge on the English professor who hired him from Cambridge University in order to translate the Bible into Arabic. He observed, for instance, that in spite of the fact that the English go to church every Sunday and hear the names of countries and cities mentioned in the Bible they have no clue about geography. Once he was asked by an Englishman about his country of origin. When he answered that it was Syria, the Englishman was perplexed and did not know whether Syria was a big city (17). Had anyone asked Al-Shidyaq then whether the Arabs drank from glasses, or whether they slept on mattresses, he would have told them about the original source of these material goods that traveled to England and the rest of uncivilized Europe from the Middle East and Muslim Spain (18). But Fadwa was uneducated and found herself in the position of defending herself and country even in front of children and their uneducated English mothers.
Fadwa's image of highly civilized England began to crack, however, when she heard one of her teachers lecture on English poets of the First World War and chuckle on some poets' excessive patriotism. She was very surprised. But then her confused interpretation was that England now was a much better place, because of this teacher and the new English generation. She tells us: "Perhaps the loss of Empire had changed the English people. The new generation mocks the term 'Great Britain', and is not arrogant like the generation between the wars which was educated in private schools and endeavored to produce politicians with no emotions" (Tuqan 194).
The other crack in Fadwa's idealistic perception of England came from reading English newspapers and listening to radio stations of watching televisions. This time it was the image of the English woman. Fadwa, who was imprisoned most of her life, thought that English women were equal to men in everything. After all, women in England were allowed to vote a long time ago and were considered equal citizens to men. But to her surprise, she discovered that women were still fighting for equal pay. Many parents preferred to spend their money on their boys by sending them to private schools, while girls were advised to look for husbands. There were also those who encouraged woman to stay at home and be obedient to their husbands. These facts shocked the naive Palestinian poet. But the image of the submissive English woman was quickly balanced by that of the angry woman, who participated in demonstrations against nuclear weapons in Trafalgar Square. Fadwa expresses her deep admiration for the actress Vanessa Redgrave who participated in the demonstration in spite of the fact that she had to play on stage in Stratford that evening, and that she risked arrest, of imprisonment. The Palestinian poet happened to go to the theater that evening. She was fascinated by Redgrave and her looks and commented that after 1967 Redgrave became a real friend of the Palestinian people (Tuqan 197).
One of Fadwa's misconceptions about England was that the country had solved the problem of aging by providing nursing homes. But once she lived with Mrs. Vitham, the 70 year-old woman and got to visit with her a friend in one of these homes, she realized that loneliness was a terrible thing facing old people. Newspaper reports about the topic also opened her eyes to the bleak situation of the elderly. Here in England as in other developed countries family ties are not strong enough. Old people are left alone. This is the exact opposite in underdeveloped countries, where the elderly are taken care of by their families. (Tuqan 199).
The same concern is raised by many other Arab writers who visit England, or other European countries. It is not necessarily the elderly who are neglected in the West, but anyone who is weak, or sick. Isma'il, the protagonist of Yahya Haqi's Qindil Um Hashim, for instance, is rebuked by his English girlfriend for wasting too much of his time with sick people. (19)
In spite of these minor negative observations on the English and their lives, England remains in Fadwa's mind a shining example of the freedom of speech. Here the newspapers can criticize even the Royal family. Writers can express their opinions freely on subjects, such as religion. Fadwa cites the example of an article by a certain bishop which states that God has become something of a hindrance in one's life (Tuqan 198). She gives some details about the view of another participant in this debate. But she, herself is clearly embarrassed about the whole thing. What surprises her is that no one has arrested the bishop, or imprisoned him. No one has shut down the Observer newspaper for publishing such radical views on religion.
Her brief encounter with a painter in an exhibition in Oxford has also made her aware of an England that loves nature and birds. The man is identified as A.G. One is not sure whether she has an affair with him. She tells us that she has met him in an exhibition where he has two paintings. During the summer of 1962 she went on walks with him through the forest. He was knowledgeable about birds and English painters who painted them (Tuqan 202). He took her on certain occasions to London to visit Hyde Park, the Tate Museum and other artistic monuments elsewhere (Tuqan 204-206). A.G., too, was her mentor, just like her other English teachers in Oxford.
But in a poem entitled "A Jordanian Palestinian Woman in England" published in her anthology Amam al-bab al-mughlaq, or In Front of the Closed Door, and dedicated to A. Gascoigne, Fadwa reveals new things about her friend, the painter. (20) His image here is not that of the mentor, but of the ignorant English person, who has no idea about geography, history, or contemporary political events. Fadwa, too, appears as a person who lacks confidence and is not sure whether she should tell an Englishman that she is Palestinian. The encounter begins with a statement about the weather, followed by an innocent question:
'A gloomy weather. Isn't it? Our sky is always cloudy. Where are you from? Spain?' 'No. I am from ... from Jordan' 'Excuse me. Jordan you said? I don't understand.' 'I am from Jerusalem....' 'Ah, I know then. You are Jewish.' 'As if he stabbed me with a knife ...'. My wounds were opened anew. And you, my friend, reminded me That I was from the land that was ripped apart That I belonged to people who were plugged from their roots And thrown away in the winds here and there They don't belong anywhere They have no country. How would you ever know? Here the fog and the smog in your country envelop everything, hide the light Eyes see only what is meant for them to see (Tuqan, Diwan 411-413).
It is very strange that Fadwa never mentioned this incident in her memoirs. She seemed to want to remember only happy moments with A.G. in England. The sudden death of one of her brothers in a plane accident in Beirut forced the poet to withdraw into herself and stop seeing her English friend. Previously, Fadwa had wanted to spend a few weeks in London before returning home. One of her nephews who worked for Jordan in the United Nations had sent her some money towards her expenses in England. But she was very depressed and decided at the end of her school year in Oxford to return back to the Middle East.
More than thirty years later and in an interview with the Palestinian writer, and film director, Liyana Badr, Tuqan referred again to this English friend/lover who came to see her often when she was in an Oxford hospital in 1970 suffering from a dislocated disk. (21) Elsewhere in the interview that was published in Cairo in 1996, Tuqan mentioned that the Englishman was married and had children, and that she was his second love. She also talked about his generous human nature and emphasized to her interviewer that the Englishman loved her for herself, and not because she was a poet. She was sure of that, because she hid the fact from him once they met (Tuqan, Zilala al-Kalimat, 49).
In his book, The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon argues that: Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to oversimplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. Every effort is made to bring the colonized person to admit the inferiority of his culture which has been transformed into instinctive patterns of behavior.... Vis-a-vis this state of affairs, the native's reactions are not unanimous, while the mass of the people maintain intact traditions which are completely different from those of the colonial situation ..., the intellectual throws himself in frenzied fashion into the frantic acquisition of the culture of the occupying power and takes every opportunity of unfavorably criticizing his own national culture.... (22)
Fanon's statement is true to a certain extent when it is applied to the British occupation of Palestine from 1922 to 1948, the consequent Jewish colonization, the creation of the State of Israel on Palestinan soil, and the establishment of a new country, Jordan. During their mandate, the British not only created new political entities and bloody conflicts in the region, but also stirred havoc in the psyche of the conquered people. With their departure cultural colonialism lingered on for sometime, and the colonized intellectuals continued to look up to Britain as the main source of cultural nourishment. The masses might not have been affected to the extent that the elite were affected. Fadwa Tuqan's family is a case in point. Her brothers, nephews and other relatives were nationalists, but were eager to acquire the language and culture of the colonizer. We do not have enough information about each one of them to ascertain to what extent their own psyche and their own selves were sheltered behind British culture.
The only glaring example of the colonized intellectual in Fadwa's memoirs is her cousin Faruq who is totally enchanted by his British education, and who seems to be, at least in his own views, quite integrated in the Oxford scene. But the contradictions in his behavior, i.e., what he likes to be, and what he is, are insurmountable. The Oxford educated Palestinian seems to cling to some strict family traditions. Although he is now free in Oxford and on his own away from any family supervision, he still intends to write to the elders of his immediate and extended family to get their permission to spend his Christmas holidays in Austria, France and Germany! Asking for such a permission may be a lip service to the tradition he left behind, but it could also be interpreted as a desire to cling to old customs and remember the values of his native country.
In his 'Preface' to The Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre observes that "The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed." (23)
In their turn, Sartre's manufactured native elite undertook to create a new native elite, who gradually also became quite sympathetic to the former colonizing power. Fadwa Tuqan had come to England in 1962 with already preconceived ideas about the country and its people. She had adopted the views of some of the elite males in her family and admired England, its institutions and cultural traits even from a distance. Her early discovery of the British officer, who accepted bribe in the case of her imprisoned father in British Palestine, did not mar her perception of the English, or of Oxford University where the officer was educated. (Tuqan 112-113). This was an isolated incident of a British citizen who was corrupt. Similarly, the English soldiers, who raided her home, as well as other Palestinian homes, at the end of September 1937 after the assassination of the British governor of al-Nasira and stole Fadwa's special pen among other things, remained isolated wild figures in her imagination. (Tuqan 105-107). Their violation of the sanctity of her home and their theft did not seem to destroy the image of that glittering England that kept beckoning her to come to its shores.
Neither did the Suez War in 1956 seem to have played any role in shaping another perception of this England and its people. There is no mention of the British, French and Israeli attack on Egypt in Fadwa's memoirs. President Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal and the subsequent British and French attack on Port Said was and still is a pivotal event in modern Arab history. But the secluded female poet seemed to have been oblivious to what was happening around her in the region.
Although Fadwa referred fleetingly in her memoirs to the British occupation of Palestine and discussed openly, or discreetly the role played by Britain in creating a Jewish state on Palestinian soil, nevertheless England remained for her an old persistent dream and the peak of a civilization that she was desperately hoping to explore.
But once Fadwa lived in England, though for a short time, and got to know a few people, read the newspapers, listened to radio and watched television, her judgment on England had to go through some adjustment. Old perceived ideas had to be re-examined. Some were retained. Others were discarded. The process was not one sided. Not only England and the English had to be re-viewed with new eyes, but also the poet's torn tormented self needed to be re-defined, re-identified and re-discovered.
But no matter what she saw, read, or experienced England remained in Fadwa's eyes a highly civilized country, where people whisper if they talk, wait in line and show respect for law and order. Cars never blow their horns. Forests are taken care of and preserved. Democracy is firmly established. People can write, of speak about the most controversial issues, such as religion, God and the Royal Family. There are no taboos. English educational institutions, represented by Oxford, are the ultimate places of learning and progress. Oxford graduates prominent people who eventually become prime ministers of England, or founders of colonies in America, of philosophers, poets and writers. The university has even built a monument to commemorate the names of its German students who died fighting against England. Teachers in English schools date to criticize their own history and politicians. Emancipated women, represented by Vanessa Redgrave, take the meaning of 'citizen' quite seriously and demonstrate against the threat of nuclear war, expressing their opinion openly not fearing the police, or any authority. Writers, too, vent their anger against everything oppressive. Their plays are staged in London. People go to see these controversial productions. Writers even make fun of the monarchy and imperialism. Freedom is everywhere in England. Lovers kiss in the streets and parks. Something that Fadwa finds fascinating although embarrassing.
The few blemishes that the Palestinian poet finds with England are negligible, nevertheless significant. English women, in particular, seemed to her at first quite liberated and equal to men, but then she discovered that they had a long way to go in their struggle for equality. Thrift, indifference to what goes on outside of England, ignorance of other nations, sending old people away to be taken care of by strangers in public, or private institutions, and the difficulty of having long and lasting relationships between people, all seemed to Fadwa to be common traits among the English. Yet these deficiencies are never highlighted in her memoirs. The Palestinian poet remains passionately in love with England and an admirer of many things English.
Even at the height of her political awareness many years later when her town, Nablus, came under Israeli occupation, Fadwa Tuqan continued to be only mildly critical of anything English. In her sequel memoirs, The More Difficult Journey (al-Rihla al-As'ab), published in 1993, in which she recounts the brutal Israeli occupation of her people, she mentions her meeting with David Pryce-Jones, an English journalist and expresses her inability to understand what he has written about her in his book, The Face of Defeat. The journalist who has very little understanding of the crucial and shameful role of his country in creating Israel and the Palestinian-Jewish conflict and hardly any sympathy for the Palestinians as victims of aggression wrote of Fadwa:
A poet, she is among the best-known of Arab intellectuals, a petite woman with a precise soft voice and expressive eyes. She has been to Russia and China. She calls herself a nationalist and a socialist.... She gave readings on the West Bank, including the publicized passage about her desire to eat the livers of Jews.... [Fadwa had borrowed this notion from Bialik, a Jewish Zionist poet, who wrote about his desire to drink the blood of his enemies].... Primitive as hatred is, it must have an outlet, it must be able to cope with the voice asking, 'what's the use?' With no outlet, hatred is impotent, it dribbles away into self-hatred or else grows into a form of curiosity about the enemy who can arouse such feelings in us. And that in turn engenders self-pity and admiration, even love, for that enemy. (24)
Fadwa Tuqan translated what the biased British journalist said about her and her people into Arabic, incorporated the above-passage in her memoirs, Al-Rihla al-As'ab and commented briefly: "I am unable to understand this analysis of my hatred towards an occupier who invaded my country and made me a slave" (25) (Tuqan, Al-Rihla al-As'ab, 102).
Yet in spite of her naive attitude to polities in general, and her soft standing vis-a-vis England and whatever English, Fadwa Tuqan remains a considerable power to be reckoned with. Unlike many colonized writers and intellectuals in Asia and Africa, she has escaped marginalization and servitude, for she, at least, possesses her own language. Speaking about the black predicament, Frantz Fanon observes that "A man who has a language consequently possesses the world expressed and implied by that language.... Mastery of language affords remarkable power." (26) For this reason Fadwa Tuqan is able to speak to the Palestinian and Arab masses. She has no need to be translated into Arabic as in the case of Fatima Mernissi, the Moroccan sociologist, or Leila Ahmed, the newly born Muslim Egyptian. Arabic has empowered Fadwa Tuqan with a mode of resistance. It has also helped her in her perilous journey to discover Self and Other.
In ancient times, heroes traveled to the underworld before they dreamt of seeing heaven. Their journeys always led to some kind of discovery of Self and Other. Odysseus had to endure harrowing experiences before he was able to return to his home and be re-united with his wife, Penelope and his son, Telemakhos in Ithaka after twenty years of exile. Aneas, too, made his traditional voyage into Hades in the sixth book of Virgil's Aneid. The result was a partial understanding of his mission in the world.
Muhammad's journey to hell and heaven in the seventh century, which originated in a brief verse in the Quran, had ignited the imagination of Muslims throughout history. Fantastic legends were created and embellished with rich details, many of which had been borrowed much later by Dante in his Divine Comedy in the fourteenth century. Abu al-'Ala'al-Ma'arri's Risalat al-Ghufran, a narrative poem written by a blind Syrian poet in the eleventh century also dealt with a journey to hell and heaven where poets and writers reveled all night long, or withered in their agony. Muhyi-al-Din Ibn 'Arabi, the Arab Spanish mystic of the twelfth century, had also written a mystical allegory on the ascension of man to heaven in his work al-Futuhat al-Makkiya. Two travelers, one a theologian, the other is a rationalist philosopher set out on the path that will lead them towards God. Farid al-Din al-Attar's Mantiq al-Tayr, translated into English as The Conference of the Birds, a long narrative poem composed by a Persian mystical poet in the twelfth century described the arduous journey of the hundred of birds to the abode of the divine King. In short, all these journeys, whether actual or imaginary, had helped the travelers understand something about themselves and others and eventually led to some discoveries.
"Mystics of every race and creed have described the progress of the spiritual life a journey or a pilgrimage.... The Sufi, who sets out to seek God calls himself a 'traveller' (salik); he advances by slow 'stages' (maqamat) along a 'path' (tariqat) the goal of union with Reality (fana fi'l-Haqq)." (27) The Sufi passes seven stages before he journeys in the Real, by the Real to the Real and becomes himself a Reality. He should experience whatever states it pleases God to bestow upon him, otherwise he will never become a 'knower' and will never realize that knowledge, knower and known are One. (28)
In the nineteenth century, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is interpreted as a descent into hell, an exploration of the unconscious hidden self and a painful discovery of the Other. But above all, it is the discovery of colonialism and the political and social injustices committed by Europeans in the Congo.
No matter what the motives of the traveler are, or how long the journey is, the consequences are significant, at least to the person who undertakes the voyage. W.H.Auden wrote: "For us the voyage signifies the exploration of the self and the world, of potential essences. Nothing happens to us, we survive, and we are the same people at the end as at the beginning except that we know ourselves and others better." (29)
Tuqan's Mountainous Journey Difficult Journey represents the spiritual and intellectual progress of a poet. It is not a descent into hell, but an ascent to heaven. Her initial guide was her cousin, Faruq, an Anglophile. But later on, English landlords, teachers and finally a painter were her real mentors. She had to torn to them as a child would turn to its father. Must of them were men. Nablus, of most specifically her big traditional house was the lower depth of hell. The young woman found herself lost in the midst of an extended family. Al-Shaykha, the old woman who controlled both men and women in the household, was akin to the guard of the gates of hell. Some of the men were not unlike the living Lucifer. Here women were damned and condemned to death in life. They were notable to choose between good and evil. An atmosphere of pervading gloom hung in the air. Fadwa did not need to descend into the underworld in order to discover herself. She was already living there, a shadow among other shadows.
The ascent to England was a necessary journey. The poet had to find a temporary relief from trouble, to be free and independent, but also to learn more about England and its culture. A change of country, even for a short time, opens new horizons and offers fresh perspectives on life.
In England Fadwa discovered happiness and freedom. Being alone with no guards watching her slightest movements had helped her make the journey to the depths of her soul. Now, for the first time in her life, she was able to choose for herself. The shadow that lived once in Nablus among other shadows was transformed into a human being, who was very much alive.
In her introduction to Dante's Paradise, Barbara Reynolds argues that:
The Dante who has been down to the uttermost depths of Hell and has climbed the Mount of Purgatory, to behold on its summit the wonder and enchantment of the Earthly Paradise, is no more prepared, after all these tremendous and unique experiences, than we should be ourselves for what he finds in Heaven. He is bewildered by his ascent from earth and totally at a loss to describe how he enters the Moon.... He momentarily loses his wits and has to turn for reassurance, as a child runs to its mother;.. wonder, fear, amazement, and, at one point, even reprehensible curiosity characterize his state of mind.... As he mounts ever higher through the circling spheres and beyond them to the still centre of infinity which is the abode of God, his vision strengthens and he grows in understanding and love.... He is ... most personally and intimately himself.... Dante's progress through Heaven [is] one of the most fascinating and enigmatic autobiographies ever written. (30)
Ironically, England, which served as Dante's Heaven to a naive poet like Fadwa Tuqan, had played in the past an important role in helping create Israel in 1948 and consequently was responsible, though indirectly, for the dispersion of her people, the Palestinians, around the globe. Fadwa might not have read Dante, but she would have certainly come across Muslim mystics who wrote extensively on the progress of their spiritual life as a journey, or a pilgrimage. But her ultimate goal differed from theirs. In her case, there is no doubt that the 'mother country,' imperial England, had restored her youth and vigor. The journey from Nablus, the and wasteland, where no tree grows, to London, then Oxford, where vegetation is abundant and forests are preserved, represents the progress from death to life. But now the traveler has been strengthened, and the journey back home is no more the journey to the wasteland. There is incredible zeal to be born. Armed with her language, Arabic, which no colonial power was able to take from her, Fadwa Tuqan returned to Nablus, moved out of the family home, had her own place by the year 1965 and planted trees in its garden.
(1.) Edward W. Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 1978; 1991), p. 21.
(2.) See, for example, Johannes Fabian, "Presence and Representation: The Other and Anthropological Writing," Critical Inquiry, 16: 4 (1990), 753-772. Fabian argues that "the Other is never simply given, never just found or encountered, but made." For him, "investigations into othering are investigations into the production of anthropology's object." p. 755. Cf. Samar Attar, "Learning from Gulliver: The Teaching of 'Culture' in an Advanced Arabic Language Course," in The Teaching of Arabic as a Foreign Language: Issues and Ideas, Mahmoud al-Batal (ed.), (Provo, Utah: The American Association of Teachers of Arabic, 1995), pp. 185-222.
(3.) See R.S. Khare, "The Other's Double. The Anthropologist's Bracketed Self: Notes on Cultural Representation and Privileged Discourse," New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation (1999), 23:1. All subsequent page numbers will be cited in the text in parentheses. Note that Khare relies heavily on Levi-Strauss who suggests that "in ethnographic experience the observer apprehends himself as his own instrument of observation. Clearly, he must learn to know himself, to obtain, from a self who reveals himself as another to the I who uses him, an evaluation which will become an integral part of the observation of other salves" (Levi-Strauss 1977:36). Quoted by Khare in his article, p. 17.
(4.) Fadwa Tuqan, Rihla Jabaliyya, Rihla Sa'ba: Sira Dhatiyya, 3rd ed. (Amman: Dar al-Shuruq, 1988). All subsequent references are from this Arabic edition. Translation into English is mine. Page numbers will be cited in the text in parentheses. Readers who do not understand Arabic and would like to read Tuqan's autobiography could consult the English translation done by Olive Kenny. The title is: A Mountainous Journey: An Autobiography, trans. Olive Kenny; poetry, trans. Naomi Shihab Nye, Salina Khadra Jayyusi (ed.), (London: Women's Press, 1990).
(5.) Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, trans. from the French, Haakon Chevalier (New York: Grove Press, 1965), p. 65.
(6.) See Jacques Maquet, "Objectivity in Anthropology," in Applied Anthropology, James A. Clifton (ed.), (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970), pp. 254-272.
(7.) Note that since June 1967 Fadwa Tuqan's city, Nablus, has been under Israeli occupation.
(8.) For more historical information on the Arabs in the First World War, the aftermath of the war and the intrigues of the allies consult George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (Beirut: Khayat's, 1938). Reprinted: (Norwich, Britain: Jarrold and Sons, Ltd., 1955).
(9.) Cf. Salman Rushdie, "Imaginary Homelands," in Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 (London: Granta Books in association with Penguin Books, 1992), pp. 18-19. Rushdie shares with Tuqan an intense desire to travel to England. He writes: "In common with many Bombay-raised middle-class children of my generation, I grew up with an intimate knowledge of, and even sense of friendship with, a certain kind of England.... I wanted to come to England. I couldn't wait. And to be fair, England has done all right by me; but I find it a little difficult to be properly grateful. I can't escape the view that my relatively easy ride is not the result of the dream-England's famous sense of tolerance and fair play, but of my social class, my freak fair skin and my 'English' English accent. Take away any of these, and the story would have been very different. Because of course the dream-England is no more than a dream." p. 18.
(10.) Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), p. x.
(11.) See Fatima Mernissi, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of Harem Girlhood (Reading: Addison Wesley, 1994). All subsequent references are from this edition; page numbers will be cited in the text in parenthesis.
(12.) See Leila Ahmed. A Boarder Passage from Cairo to America- A Woman's Journey (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999). All subsequent reference are from this edition; page numbers will be cited in the text in parenthesis.
(13.) This town is spelled in Arabic differently later on by Fadwa as Bambery. I am not sure whether she means Banbury, a town that is not far from both Oxford and Stratford on-Avon.
(14.) See Ahmad Faris Al-Shidyaq, Al-Wasita Fi Ma'rifat Ahwal Malta Wa Kashf Al-Mukhabba 'An Tamaddun Awruppa, 2nd ed. (Constantinople: Matba'at Al-Jawa'ib, 1883), p.127, pp. 120-121. Cf. the section on al-Shidyaq in Chapter 7 "The Arab Travelers and Europeans" in my book, Modern Arabic: The Arab-European Encounter: An Advanced Course For Foreign Students (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1995), pp. 360-368.
(15.) Note that the translator Olive Kenny has rendered this name as French in her English translation of Fadwa's autobiography. See A Mountainous Journey, p. 136 and 143.
(16.) Note that the translator Olive Kenny has rendered the name as 'Veetham.' See A Mountainous Journey, p. 152.
(17.) Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, Kashf al-mukhabba 'an tamaddun awrupa, p. 116. Cf. Samar Attar, Modern Arable: The Arab-European Encounter, p. 365.
(18.) For more information on the European borrowings of material goods from the Arabs consult for instance Karl Lokotsch, Etymologisches Worterbuch der europaischen Worter orientalischen Ursprungs (Heidelberg, 1927); Sigrid Hunke, Allahs Sonne uber dem Abendland unser Arabisches Erbe, trans, into Arabic by Faruq Baydun and Kamal Dusuqi, 8th ed. (Beirut: Dar al-Jil & Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida, 1993); Juan Goytisolo, Count Julian, trans into English by Helen Lane (London: Serpent's Tail, 1989); Montgomery Watt, Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe (Edinburgh: University Press, 1972) and many others. Note that the word mattress, for instance, is originally an Arabic word, matrah.
(19.) See Yahya Haqqi, Qindil Um Hashim (Cairo: Al-Hay'a Al-Misriyya Al-'Amma Lilkitab, 1975), pp. 87-88.
(20.) See Fadwa Tuqan, "Urduniyya Filistiniyya fi Inkiltra," in Amam al-Bab al-Mughlaq, pp. 411-413. Diwan Fadwa Tuqan (Beirut: Dar al-'awda, 1988). All subsequent page numbers will be cited in the text in parentheses. The English translation of Fadwa's Arabic poem is mine.
(21.) Fadwa Tuqan, Zilal al-Kalimat al-Mahkiyya: An Interview with Liyana Badr (Cairo: Dar al-Fata al-'Arabi, 1996), pp. 55-56. Note that Tuqan also refers in this interview to the humanity of an English doctor who accepted to operate on her knowing fully that she did not have enough money at the time to cover the operation and other expenses. He decided to go ahead with the operation and asked her to pay later on. See p. 56.
(22.) See Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Preface by Jean-Paul Sartre and translated by Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1968), p. 236-237.
(23.) See Sartre's 'Preface,' p. 7.
(24.) David Pryce-Jones, The Face of Defeat: Palestinian Refugees and Guerrillas (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972), pp. 111-112.
(25.) See Fadwa Tuqan, Al-Rihla al-As'ab (Amman: Dar al-Shuruq, 1993), p. 102. The English translation is mine. Also consult the following pages in the Arabic text: 97- 102; 79-83.
(26.) Consult Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks, trans. Charles Markmann (New York: Grove Press, Inc, 1967), p. 18. The book was originally published in Paris as Peau Noire, Masques Blancs (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1952).
(27.) For more information on Muslim mystics consult Reynold A. Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1966), p. 28.
(28.) See The Mystics of Islam, p. 29. Also consult Reynold A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge, 1921). Cf. Samar Attar, The Influence of T.S. Eliot upon Salah Abd al-Sabour. MA Thesis (Dalhousie, Halifax, Canada, 1965), p. 126.
(29.) See Auden, The Enchafed Flood, or The Romantic Iconography of the Sea (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1951), p. 103.
(30.) See Barbara Reynolds' Introduction to Dante's The Divine Comedy. Vol. 3. Paradise (1962; Baltimore, Maryland; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd, 1967), pp. 13-14.
Samar Attar is an independent scholar living in Sydney, Australia.