Political Voices from the Maghreb.
Curated and introduced by ANDRE NAFFIS-SAHELY
The Funerals (an excerpt)
by Rashid Boudjedra
It was my duty to try and understand the terrorists' mentality. I continued studying the case files. To be obsessed by Sarah and Ali. I needed a lot of time to adapt to that senseless, cruel, and rapacious reality. I often felt out of sync. Above all, I was obsessed by Sarah's death. Maybe because we shared the same name?
Hovering above it all, the racket of countless garrulous swallows. Gossipmongers. Tireless. Blackening the sky during the hour of siesta. Intermittent sleep. The smell of my office clung to my skin and impregnated all my clothes. Tiredness climbed from the depths of my body, which by ten o'clock was virtually exhausted after fifteen hours of work.
As a child, I was forbidden to go out into the street. I already bore the taint of being an Algerian girl whose father had abandoned her! I never left the window. Whenever the green streetcar passed by with its rocking trolley-pole--which my mother had always talked about but which I'd never seen--I felt as though the whole of my body was being jolted by tiny vibrations. That trolley-pole was very funny-looking. It was always running away. Forcing the poor conductor to stay alert. On his toes. On the lookout. Ready to readjust it if need be. Picturing that poor conductor running after that moody trolley-pole always made me giggle. It clung tightly to the overhead wires. Returning via the track and making it run along the rails. Mummy was an excellent storyteller. She knew how to imitate Charlie Chaplin by drawing a moustache on her lips with coffee grounds.
Of all my memories, a particularly notable one stands out, a remembrance triggered by smell, or rather a taste, enough to make anyone drool: ice cream. Now the ice-cream cart man, him I'd met! He wound up being driven out of business by the Italian ice-cream machines that were painted in aggressive but eye-catching colors!
Hearing Mummy talk, one would have thought the neighborhood hadn't changed one bit. Despite the war. Despite the passing of years. Despite the nouveau riche. Despite all the political maneuvering. Despite all the new ugly mosques. Which all looked the same. Or pretty much. But the old domes were still there, one after the other. Stretching out into infinity. The tightly packed and clustered terraces, bulky but frail. Fragile. Crumbling. White. A faded blue. Ochre. The crooning muezzins. Winter? Summer? The shops only half-awake due to the heat waves. Life on the streets below seemed silly to me at the time. Burlesque. Thanks to her vivid stories, Mummy did nothing but overexcite my already febrile imagination.
The news reached our unit's office via Teletype at 11:12am on July 3, 1996. An eleven-year-old boy had just been murdered in his school's courtyard while washing his teacher's blackboard rag. I felt as though I'd lost my mind. I locked myself up in my office. I called Salim. The line was busy. I sent for the victim's school bag. It was made of black plastic and was in a terrible condition. It stank of a deprived upbringing. Inside were a few tattered textbooks, a beat-up pencil case, and a few badly kept exercise books. I was so moved that I started to write in a kind of trancelike state, as though I'd been receiving dictation. I became that eleven-year-old victim. He too was called Ali.
A single bullet had been fired into his back.
T he storm began after the heat wave. It was raining catsand dogs. Everything was soaked. Large pools formed under the trees inthe courtyard. Here and there. Of all shapes and sizes. A darker colorthan the bark of the sycamore or eucalyptus trees. The raindrops fellincredibly hard. They looked like glass marbles, and sometimes they weretransparent. Sometimes they were slightly colored.
A large, slimy snail calmly but obstinately made itsway across the vast, deserted courtyard. Plodding through the water.Plodding along with all its might. Going so close past the sycamore andeucalyptus trees that one would have thought it would have crashed intothem and shattered into a thousand pieces. But it only grazed past them.It was funny. I was late to school today. The teacher didn't evenscold me. I don't know why. Maybe because today isn't hisserious day. Today the lesson was on long division. I found it easybecause there were no commas. I kept one eye on the blackboard and theother on the classroom.
Heavy raindrops slid down the windows, slowlystretching out. From the bottom up. Or maybe the other way around. Therain was drawing stripes along the windows, blurring the reflections oftrees that brightened up the courtyard. I lingered, staring at theshapes the steam was making on the windows. It was hot outside. It wascold in the classroom. I never liked commas. Not those you find inmathematics, nor the ones in composition.
The teacher was in good form. He was letting us dolong division without commas. He didn't scold the children whoarrived late. I liked how calm the teacher was. How easy long divisionwas. The rain that fell thick and fast. The heat that was warming up theclassroom. The steam was like a delicate froth that reflected the imageof the acacia tree in the courtyard. The teacher said the rain wasnothing to worry about, it was only a gentle summer storm.
All of a sudden, the teacher ordered me to go washthe blackboard rag under one of the taps outside, which were lined uplike little lead soldiers, bleached by the elements. "Stay underthe eaves," he'd added. I was happy. He always chose me.Even when I was late. I couldn't believe my ears. I stood up frommy desk. I snatched the rag from the teacher's hand and ran outof the classroom, followed by the laughter of my classmates, whocouldn't understand why I was in such a hurry. Theteacher's voice ran after me, even though I'd alreadyleft: "So you won't show up late again! It's alittle punishment.... But try not to get too wet!"
Outside, the rainstorm had reached its peak. The bigraindrops were beating down on the old, worn-out cobblestones. A lightmist hovered under the overhanging roof. I was happy. The snailI'd seen through the window wasn't thereanymore.
I approached the taps lined up under the roof. Ithought it was ridiculous to waste water when there was so much rain.But the teacher had given me strict orders. I was an obedient boy. Iwould wash the rag under the taps, and not with rainwater.
I had my back turned to the classroom, which gleamedbrightly in the distance. I stood in front of the concrete sink'staps, some of which had been broken for a while.
At that moment, a sharp roar rang out and torethrough the air, the silence and the rain. I felt something warm andsticky cover the whole of my back. I fell backward, my clenched fingersstill gripping the rag. It was soaked in blood. "It'snothing ... it's nothing," I told myself. I felt as thoughI was drowning in the deep waters of the sea while trying to grab therag as it clung to the reefs. Like I'd seen them do ontelevision.
There, where commas don't exist.
I faxed the rest of the text to Salim, terrified by the idea that hewould laugh at me. Mock my way of identifying with the little victim. Henever spoke to me about it. Out of shyness? Anxiety? I'll neverknow. Maybe he found my text too well written for an eleven-year-oldboy; or too badly written for a twenty-five-year-old woman.
The next day was a Friday, the day of rest. July gave the citya sluggish feel and turned into an inferno under a deluge of fire. Theprevious night's rainstorm had cooled the air a little. Just atouch. Shadows spread rapidly on the terrace, quickly taking over thespace that had been colonized all morning by the implacable sun. Fromtime to time, the sun was blocked by a few clouds, but it still managedto sneak through. Sterile clouds that came from elsewhere. Dusty.Ridiculous. Thin, whitish slivers. A humid heat. Stultifying.
Up ahead lay the port and the bay of Algiers. A little furtheralong, the fierce, blue vastness of the sea. To my left was MartyrsSquare with its three ancient and magnificent mosques. I lingered on theterrace in a patch of shade, watching the ships and cargo vesselsputting into port, or getting ready to leave, towed by tiny, nearlyinvisible tugboats. A mesmerizing spectacle of which I never tired,fascinated as I was by those little contraptions that towed gigantic redoil tankers or gleaming white cruise ships.
The shade was enveloping everything, engulfing all thebalustrades, terraces, houses, monuments, and buildings in its path: thecentral post office, the great mosque, the cathedral, the train station.The interminably long iron grating that fenced in the bay. The monumentto the martyrs of the War of Liberation, which had been erected on ahill and could be seen from everywhere in the city. Three standing palmleaves made of concrete. Then the sun completely vanished, allowing acoolness to slowly seep through the city, passers-by and shops, plungingeverything into a deep silence. As though Algiers had gone intohibernation after a chaotic, restless, and rainy week.
I would often linger on the terrace to watch the onset ofnight, the swallows that took over the sky and turned it pitch-black,while the city began to gradually light up. I would then switch on thelamp on the table and go back to the dossiers I'd been working onuntil the breeze and humidity forced me to rush back into my warmapartment. More of Sarah! More of Ali! More of Ali II!
Salim would occasionally drop by, and we would take his car anddrive to the beaches around Algiers, when they would be devoid of thebathers who swarmed its sands from the early hours of the morning tosunset, in defiance of the risk of terrorist attacks. Once we wouldarrive on the deserted beach (we never went to the same one twice, andtook several precautions to avoid falling into an ambush), we wouldundress in silence and run into the water. We would swim alongside oneanother without exchanging a single word. After the first few strokes, Iwould immediately relax. Salim, on the other hand, didn't need torelax. He was always calm. We would make love right there on the cool,wet sand, with our guns beside us. Later, we would return to Algiers,exhausted, satisfied, happy, and silent.
Translation from the French
By Andre Naffis-Sahely
Andre Naffis-Sahely's translation of Abdellatif Laabi'sSelected Poems (Carcanet, 2015) was awarded a "Writers in Translation"award from English PEN.
Born in 1941, Rashid Boudjedra is the greatest Algeriannovelist of his generation. He fought in the Algerian War ofIndependence while still only a teenager and stormed the literary scenein both France and Algeria with his first novel, TheRepudiation (1969; Eng. 1995), which was immediately banned in his native countrydue to its portrayal of a woman kept in purdah by her tyrannicalhusband. Boudjedra's oeuvre includes twenty novels, the latest ofwhich is Printemps (Spring, 2014); four works of nonfiction; a play; two collections ofpoetry; and the screenplay to Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina'sChronicle of the Years of Fire, which won the Palme dor at the Cannes Festival in 1975. This excerptfrom The Funerals--originally published in 2003--is narrated by Sarah, the novel'sdetective protagonist, and is set in July 1996, in the midst of theAlgerian Civil War (1991-2001). Sarah pursues the Islamist terrorists asthey wage their struggle against the country's militarydictatorship.
Compiled by Andre Naffis-Sahely
The Barbary Figs
Andre Naffis-Sahely, tr.
Journal, 1955-1962: Reflections on the French-AlgerianWar
James D. Le Sueur, ed.
Mary Ellen Wolf & Claude Fouillade, tr. University ofNebraska Press
The French Intifada: The Long War Between France andIts Arabs
Faber & Faber
Tahar Ben Jelloun
This Blinding Absence of Light
Linda Coverdale, tr. New Press
The Bottom of the Jar
Andre Naffis-Sahely, tr.
In the Country of Men
The Colonizer and the Colonized
Howard Greenfeld, tr. Souvenir Press
Who Killed Matoub Lounes?
by Christopher Schaefer
Matoub Lounes (1956-1998) was a singer, poet,mandole player, and militant activist for secularism and theBerber cause in Algeria; Lounes courted controversy wherever hewent, so when he was gunned down in broad daylight on a mountain roadleading to his home in 1998, more than one offended party was fingeredas the culprit.
On the day Matoub Lounes was assassinated, he drove his wife andher two sisters down from their mountain village home into the regionalcapital of Tizi Ouzou to have lunch at the well-known restaurant LeConcorde. Although Matoub felt slightly ill, the women enjoyedthemselves immensely, even attracting stares from other patrons. Beforethey left the restaurant, one of the waiters caught the extremelypopular singer and asked him for a photo. It was the last photo evertaken of Matoub Lounes alive.
As they began the trek up the windy mountain road in hisMercedes Benz W124, he put on a cassette tape of his newest album. Theyall began to sing along. The entire car was so absorbed that theyscarcely noticed they were alone on the road. They had unwittinglydriven into that eerie, quiet stretch of road that lies between twofalse checkpoints. As they sang along to one of Matoub's mostcontroversial tracks, a provocative rendition of the Algerian nationalanthem, they were hit by the first volley of machine gunfire. Near asharp bend in the mountain road, the car sputtered to a stop.
Matoub madly tried to restart the car. To no avail. Matoub wasprepared for just such an attack; for some time now he kept grenades andan AK-47 accessible in his car. He grabbed the AK-47 and haphazardlybegan returning fire. But he was outmatched. All four in the car werewounded badly. The moment before Nadia lost consciousness, she glancedto her left. Matoub was removing an empty magazine from the automaticrifle: the last time she ever saw her husband alive, the singer wasrecharging his AK-47. When she briefly awoke a while later, his bloodybody lay on the asphalt next to the car, riddled with bullet holes.Matoub Lounes, the great Kabyle singer, was dead.
It was June 25, 1998, toward the end of what is calledAlgeria's "black decade." After a 1991 coupd'etat against the democratically elected IslamicSalvation Front (FIS in French), the Islamist party took up arms againstthe military and renamed themselves the Armed Islamic Group or GIA(Groupe islamique arme). Years of kidnappings, targetedassassinations, and savage massacres followed. The Djurdjura Mountainsin Kabylia, Matoub's region, provided refuge forinsurgents.
In the hours following Matoub's death, radio newsbulletins reported that the GIA were responsible for the singer'sdeath. It was the obvious conclusion. Matoub had taken the radicalposition of advocating for secularism in Algeria. His songs were full ofcritiques of Islamists and their religious views, which he considered atodds with the form of Islam traditionally practiced in the mountains ofKabylia. In addition, the GIA had a policy of targeting writers,thinkers, and singers. And in the face of such intimidation, Matoub hadvery unambiguously taken sides. After their first assassination of anintellectual, Matoub wrote a song entitled "Kenza" inhomage to the fallen writer Tahar Djaout. In the 1993 song, he consolesDjaout's daughter, Kenza, urging her not to weep. Reclaiming thelanguage of martyrdom from the Islamists, he tells Kenza that her fatherwas the true martyr, and that his blood was spilled for the Algeria oftomorrow.
Matoub began his career playing party music for the Kabyleexpatriate community in France. On his guitar or mandole, hewould often play melody, accompanied, in typical instrumentation, by abanjo, a viola, and two different types of drums, a darbuka and anothercalled a bendir. His coarse voice, which accentuated the already harshKabyle phonology, gave tragic and sometimes strident voice to thestories and struggles of the embattled Kabyle minority. In his trenchantlyrics as well as in his political interventions, Matoub developed areputation for saying what Kabyles thought in secret but felt unable tosay. Although some of Matoub's best-known songs are love songs orsongs praising the successful Kabyle soccer team, the JSK, his songstouching on religion, language, and politics provoked the strongestreaction. In a mordant song from 1983 entitled "AllahWakbar" (Allah Akbar in Arabic, or "God Is Great" in English), Matoub brutallysatirizes a certain kind of Muslim believer. The second versereads:
Taeravt d awal n rebbi, dges tamusni Maci am tigad nniden Fell-as ma tebded s ifri xas grirev yli D Muhemd a k-id-iselken; Hader ad ak-d-ildi yizri qqar kan : "Sidi" I widan k-izuzunan! Allahwakbar allah! ... Arabic is the word of the Lord, the language of knowledge No other language compares. You can throw yourself into the abyss for the sake of it. Go ahead and try. The prophet Mohammad will rescue you. Be careful. Don't open your eyes again. Just surrender and keep saying "yes, sir" To those who bewitch you in torpor O God. God is great!
Well before Salman Rushdie's The SatanicVerses or the cartoons of Jyllands-Posten and Charlie Hebdo, Matoub Lounes was lampooning Islamists in an Islamic country andfacing violence for it. It thus came as no surprise when, in 1994, fouryears before his death, Matoub was kidnapped by members of the IslamistGIA while drinking a beer in a bar. He was forced to repent of hisimpious songs, give up singing altogether, and memorize parts of theKoran. As a model for what he could and should become, he was repeatedlyreminded of the example of Cat Stevens, who left behind his old ways andold songs to become Yusuf Islam.
To save his skin, Matoub repented, learned two suras from theKoran, and prayed with his kidnappers. All the same, when a makeshiftIslamic court convened in their mountain camp to judge him, Matoub wascondemned to death. Unbeknownst to him, his kidnapping had alreadytriggered massive protests in Kabylia and abroad. Because of theresulting pressure, or perhaps for some other unknown reason, theIslamists miraculously freed Matoub before his sentence could beexecuted. Although a recording of Matoub's forced confession waslater released, he quickly took his mandole up and began singingagain, no less a critic of the Islamists than before. Now four yearslater, in June 1998, perhaps this roadside attack was the delayedexecution of that interrupted death sentence.
There was another theory about Matoub's death, however.Following his assassination, the news spread like wildfire through theKabyle community: "Nghan Ma3toub! Nghan Ma3toub!" (Theykilled Matoub! They killed Matoub!) Shops closed and order broke down.Tens of thousands of Kabyles from throughout the region thronged intothe streets and angrily chanted slogans. The target of their chants,however, was not the Islamists but the government: "Pouvoirassassin! Pouvoir assassin!" (The authorities are the assassins!The authorities are the assassins!) they cried, and "Ulac smahulac!" (No mercy for his killers! No mercy!).
His sister, Malika Matoub, originally believed the officialreports that the Islamists were responsible for her brother'sdeath. The chants, however, gave her pause. Other information begantrickling in. Friends came to Malika, telling her that they had seen orheard suspicious activity in the neighborhood of the attack, which theyreported to the police. They were never summoned to testify. Much later,Malika went to the prefecture to inquire about the state of theinvestigation only to discover that all the original members of thepolice department investigating her brother's murder had beenfired. Their replacements told her that the case had been closed andthere was nothing more to say.
Matoub had, it is true, firmly contested the officialdefinition of Algerian identity as Arab and Muslim. In the wake ofindependence from France, Islam and classical Arabic had been chosen asthe rallying points of Algerian identity, much to the dismay of thedifferent Berber groups in Algeria, who had been Islamicized but nevercompletely Arabized. The societal tensions came to a head in 1980 when afamous Kabyle academic was forbidden from giving a talk on ancientKabyle poetry. The subsequent political protest was violently put down,and hundreds of Kabyle activists were arrested in what is now called theBerber Spring. As the protests began, Matoub was performing in France.To show support for his fellow Kabyles from afar, he surprised everyoneby appearing on stage in military fatigues. In his mind, Kabylia was atwar.
In songs like "Allah Wakbar" and in politicalinterventions, Matoub would fiercely contend that the imposition ofArabic on the Kabyles was artificial. The Kabyles had been inpresent-day Algeria for millennia before the Arabs arrived with theirlanguage and religion. In 1998 Matoub took this polemic to anextreme--even for himself--by rewriting the Algerian national anthem,the "Qassamen," in Kabyle as a denunciation of Algerianleaders and their treatment of the Kabyles. He argued that Arabic andIslam were both grafted on to the Kabyle culture, which predated theArabic conquests and was now under threat:
Jeggren-ts s ddin s taarabt tamurt n Lezzayer D ughuru, d ughuru, d ughuru ... They grafted their religion and the Arabic language onto the land of Algeria. Which is treason, treason, treason!
National anthems, steeped as they are in the independencestruggle of a country's foundation, are about as close to sacredas national symbols get. For most citizens, to rework a national anthemis sacrilegious. So when Jimi Hendrix used amplifier feedback anddistortion to replicate the sounds of bombs in his rendition of theAmerican national anthem as part of a long medley at Woodstock in 1969,it was widely interpreted as a disrespectful protest of American actionsin Vietnam. Like Hendrix's "Star-spangled Banner,"Matoub's rendition of the "Qassamen" is only onepart of a twenty-one-minute track that intersperses music with defiantand critical monologue. And like Hendrix's protest,Matoub's defacement of a sacred symbol of the republic provokedire. Like many of his songs, it was censured in Algeria. Ironically, itwas this very song that was playing when Matoub Lounes'scar was attacked on that winding mountain road in 1998. Perhaps this wasthe song that broke the camel's back?
Yet the Islamists did claim responsibility for Matoub'sdeath. In 1999 Hassan Hattab, who headed the Islamist splinter group,the GSPC, took responsibility. Hattab soon thereafter surrendered andlater could not be called as a witness because he was "safely inhiding." The government used Hattab's claim as evidence toprosecute ten men for Matoub's death. Eight of the ten"fled or had been killed," leaving only two to standtrial: Malik Madjnoun and Abdelhakim Chenoui. The two men were arrestedin the year following the assassination. Both had alibis, butindividuals who could have confirmed them were not summoned aswitnesses. Dozens of other witnesses that Matoub's family hadrequested, including Hassan Hattab, were not summoned either. The twomen were declared guilty and sentenced to twelve years in jail. Becauseof the long delays in the investigation and trial, only eight months oftheir prison terms remained for them to serve. At their sentencing,Malika Matoub broke into the courtroom with several other activists andprotested the innocence of the two men, calling for another trial tojudge the ones who truly orchestrated Matoub's death.
Most Kabyles agree with the Matoub family--the authorities areresponsible for Matoub's death: Pouvoirassassin! A claim taken up in several documentaries following Matoub'sdeath implicates Noureddine Ait Hamouda, the regional governor, who hadkept Nadia Matoub's passport for months, baiting her husband tocome back from France. He was also the first to announce that it was theIslamists who had killed Matoub, a claim that was conveniently repeatedby all national and international news organizations, before anyevidence emerged. It is known that at some point during the 1990s, theAlgerian army committed atrocities and passed it off as the work of theIslamists in order to rally support domestically and internationally.Could this have been yet another case of shady governmentdealings?
Circumstantial evidence and the shoddy nature of theinvestigation and trial point in the direction of at least collusion bysome in the government, but the truth about who really killed MatoubLounes on June 25, 1998, may never emerge. His legacy, however,goes without question. Matoub advocated for secularism, freedom ofspeech, and for Kabyle linguistic and cultural rights. He did sounreservedly and with great courage in some of the most innovative musicand beautiful poetry to have ever emerged from the Djurd-jura Mountains.In the defense of his beliefs and his community, he fearlessly tread onsacred nationalist ideology and sacred religious beliefs. Those attackson sacred beliefs, be they religious or national and linguistic,ultimately cost him his life. In either case, Matoub Lounes is amartyr. A martyr for something. We just don't know what.
After several years in North Africa, ChristopherSchaefer is now based in Paris, France. He is writing a biography of MatoubLounes.
The Illiterate Man
by Ahmed Bouanani
If you want ...
I tell myself each day: if you want to see the black dogs ofyour childhood again, give yourself a reason. Throw your hair into theriver of lies, plunge, plunge further still into the blood of insanity.The masks don't matter to you, but give yourself a reason and dieif necessary among the bald heads, the shanty-town kids who eatgrasshoppers and hot moons, and the black dogs that play in the garbagedumps of the suburbs.
In that time, the seasons rained colors, the moon rained legendary dragons. The beneficent sky opened onto white cavaliers. Just as the coquettish old women sang over the terraces of Casablanca. One night, a child lured the moon into a trap. Ten years later, he found it again old and all pale, even older than the old women without mirrors, the mustachioed grandmothers arguing endlessly like rank rain. So, he understood that the seasons of colors were an invention of the ancestors. This was the death of trees, the death of giants. Ghalia bent el Mansour didn't live beyond the seven seas in an emerald castle on the backs of eagles. He met her in the neighborhood of Ben M'Sik if not at the Carrieres Centrales, near the fairground kiosks. She wore plastic shoes and prostituted herself with the bicycle repair- man. There was nothing left to do but slam the doors to the sky. So, hands ablaze, I restarted the suns. My illness is a barbaric world that claims to be without arithmetic or calculations. I cover the sewers and the garbage dumps, I call friend all the black dogs, all the cockroaches that crawl through my deranged dreams. Forgive me and to the devil with you! Love, admire, detest as you see fit. My factory has no robots, my machines are on strike, the waves of my ocean speak a language that is not yours. Forgive me and to the devil with you. I am dead and you accuse me of living, I smoke second-rate ciga- rettes and you accuse me of burning feudal farms. Listen, listen to me. Under what law is it permissible for the chicken to fly higher than the eagle? In its dreams the fish would like to jump to seventh heaven. I built terraces and entire cities. Casablanca lived under the American bomb. My aunt trembled on the stairs and thought she saw the sky's stomach split open. My brother M'hammed made Chariot and Dick Tracy dance with the flame of a candle. My mother ... Must I really go back to the house of the louvered shutters? The stairs infested with an army of rats, the nude woman with sorcery hands, Allai raping Milouda in a pool of blood, and the Senegalese cutting off his penis at a butcher's on Derb A1 Kabir ... Must I really go back to the house of the louvered shutters? The sentinel washes his feet with your tears. Your most beloved dream topples over in the barbaric world of daylight and the moon. You do not stand up. Your equations in your pockets, the world on the horns of the ox, the fish in the cloud, the cloud in the drop of water, and the drop of water containing infinity. The walls of the sky bleed from every pore. The dogs burst into a barbaric song. A Kabylian song or a Targuie legend, perhaps it's simply a tale, and this tale ends by falling into the stream. He puts on paper sandals, goes out into the street, looks at his feet and finds that he's walking barefoot. The walls of the sky bleed from every pore. The wind, the clouds, the land and the forest, the men turned into traditional songs ... Behind the sun, the officers dig the tombs. A man is dead, a 7.65mm bullet in the neck. And then, here is an old woman lamenting, here is another recounting stories of milk and honey about the son of a nasty lumberjack who wins half a kingdom by decapitating a ghoul's seven heads ... The thrilled wind suddenly rises to its knees, extinguishes the fire under the cooking pot, tumbles down the stairs and goes to play on the cobblestones of the rue de Monastir telling the same lewd stories to the surrounding windows. And with chest full, and eyes on fire, the houses and the terraces, and even the sun, emerged from an empty silo, break through the ceiling straight to my bed. My hair or my hands rediscover the use of speech. Of the things I loved the most I want to keep my memory intact. the places-the names-the actions-our voices A song is born. Was it a song? Of the things I loved the most I want to keep my memory intact. But, suddenly, voila: places get confused with other places, names slip one by one to their deaths. A blue hill spoke. Where was it? A song is born. My memory wakes up, my steps no longer know the paths, my eyes no longer know the house or the terraces, the house in former days popu- lated by flowers and a rosary of the Kaaba. The world, no bigger than a newspaper. In this world, there is no delirious wind or dancing houses, there are behind the sun officers digging the tombs, and in the silence the roar of shovels replaces the song. Victor Hugo drank from a skull to the health of the barricades. Mayakovsky unseated the clouds in the radio cities. We had to search for the flute of vertebra in the cemeteries of the future. Today, I must defuse the love songs, the butterflies smoking the pipe, the flowers have the wolf's skin, the innocent birds get drunk off of beer, there are even some hiding a revolver or a knife. My heart rented a bachelor pad at the bottom of my legs ... Let's go, wake up, men. The children of the sun, will they still end up as sweepers and beggars? Where did he go, the one who made the dead in the countryside tremble? and that one who, bending his arm, shattered a sugarloaf? and that one who disappeared by the entrances of the sewers after overturning on his own a battalion of trucks and jeeps? All the memories are open, but the wind has carried away the words, but the streams have carried away the words. We are left with strange words a strange alphabet that would be astonished to behold a camel. The bard went quiet. To take shelter from the rain, Mririda threw herself into the stream. At school we eat oats. The secret phrase no longer delivers. Will that child never recover? My sister, prepare him the recipe I indicated, and don't forget to crush the bird in the mortar, it's good for the health! But really, what is he suffering from? You see, my father wasn't in the war. He inherited from his ancestors a chest full of books and manu- scripts. He spent entire nights reading them. Once, he fell asleep, and when he woke up, he went crazy. For fifteen days, he believed he was living in a very very deep well. He dug, dug furiously, but he never managed to reach the groundwater. He was extremely thirsty. On the sixteenth day, my mother made him a precious talisman that restored his reason. Except, that day, he became illiterate. He did not even know how to write his name. When he rediscovered the chest, he took an axe and smashed it to pieces. My mother seized the opportunity to cook the head of the sheep of Aid El Kabir. Still today, when I ask my father where the books and manuscripts went, he looks at me for a long time and replies: I believe, I do believe that I left them at the bottom of the well.
Translator's note: Ahmed Bouanani (1938-2011) was a Moroccan writer, poet, filmmaker, andillustrator, a leading figure of the Moroccan intelligentsia of histime.
He wrote a novel, L'Hopital, and three collections of poetry, though much of his writing remainsunpublished. Bouanani also contributed poetry and essays to the literaryjournal Souffles, run by a group of artists and intellectuals headed by AbdellatifLaabi, who created a new literary aesthetic for their generationof writers. Bouanani was deeply haunted by the idea of memory,particularly the idea of preserving Moroccan cultural memory and itsoral tradition. To fight against its near-erasure following Frenchcolonization, Bouanani embeds references and re-imaginings of the themesof mythical Moroccan tales throughout his writing. On his death in 2011,Bouanani left behind chests of unpublished manuscripts, drawings, andscreenplays. His daughter, Touda Bouanani, has been making great effortsto bring his unpublished texts to the public after saving most of themfrom a devastating fire. Even with Touda's progress, much ofBouanani's written work still awaits publication, thoughfortunately we will soon be able to read Lara Vergnaud's Englishtranslation of The Hospital, forthcoming from New Directions. Hopefully the years to come will seethe publication of a large part of this oeuvre.--EmmaRamadan
from Les Persiennes
Translation from the French By Emma Ramadan
* Mririda n'Ait Attik: the pen name of aTamazight-language poetess from Morocco's rural Tassaout Valleyregion, who fled her life of hardship in the early 1900s to travel andperform her poetry, expressing ideas that women of the time and regionrarely dared voice. Mririda is the Tamazight word for "little frog."
Emma Ramadan spent the past year in Marrakech, Morocco, on a Fulbright grant at theDar al-Ma'mun artist residency to translate and catalogthe archives of Ahmed Bouanani.
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|Title Annotation:||SPECIAL SECTION|
|Author:||Boudjedra, Rashid; Lounes, Matoub; Bouanani, Ahmed; Naffis-Sahely, Andre|
|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2015|
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