Day ? of the pandemic.
I finished a wonderful book this morning. THE OLD WOMAN AND THE RIVER, by Ismail Fahd Ismali, a brilliant Kuwaiti writer, immensely respected in the Arab world.
I’ll share the back of the book quote with you, and if you read it you’ll see why:
“As the war between Iran and Iraq gathers steam in 1980, military orders arrive at the village of Sabiliyat requesting the immediate evacuation of all civilians. Old Um Qasem and her family pack up their belongings, round up their donkeys, and begin the journey north to find temporary refuge in Najaf. One loss comes at the heels of another as Um Qasem’s husband suddenly passes away overnight. Two years into their new life, the sense of yearning becomes unbearable. Late one night, Um Qasem quietly saddles her trusted donkey Good Omen and together they begin the treacherous journey home. The village, now a military barracks, is a ghost-town bearing all the scars of war. The war has also left its mark on the land, with the rivers throttled and the fields dying from thirst.
The story that follows is a story about the life-giving powers of women; it is also a story about hope and the possibilities of the human spirit even in the bleakest settings. As it unfolds, the boundary between the real and the fantastical never seems stable. What appears impossible may be possible yet. In a language of hypnotic simplicity, the novel puts in touch with the land and sky of Um Qasem’s loving vision and makes us long to know just how far miracles can reach.”
It’s also about a woman who listens to the deepest wisdom of her heart, and lets it lead her. It’s about how that fidelity spirals out and brings life back in the darkest of times, in spite of everything.
The book also got me thinking, as I often do, about how little contact most of us have with cultures so far away, cultures so easily demonised and labeled as ‘other’, and what a loss that is. And yet here we are now, in a global pandemic, being reminded we are all connected, even so.
I turned on the televsion in time to see a certain person start waffling on about how, although he is in a position of great authority, he accepts no responsibility for anything that happens in the country in which I live. And I thought, oh, aren’t I lucky to be able to just turn that off and go for a walk with the dog, in spite of everything.
My Best Beloved and I curled up on the bed for a late afternoon nap, and of course the dog joined us, and it was quiet and peaceful, even so.
And although we are enjoined to remain separate from our fellows, still we were granted an opportunity to lessen the difficulties of a few of the many, many people suffering so much right now… and what a blessing that is, in spite of everything.