Saadallah Wannous

Translators Notes: While readers of Al Jadid have been introduced to Sadallah Wannous, his importance as one of Arab world's most prominent playwrights cannot be overstated. Not much academic work has been done on Wannous in the United States even though he was chosen to deliver the 1996 keynote address celebrating International Theater Day (See Al Jadid, Vol. 2, No 8,June 1996). The only play to be translated in Arabic is “The King is The King” in Roger Allen and Salma Khadra Jayyusi's anthology of Arabic drama. Also unknown to most in the United States and Europe is his cultural criticism found in the short lived Arabic journal Qadayah wa Shuhadat and two books of criticism that he wrote.

From 1965 to 1977 he published seven plays and after a lull of 13 years he published “The Rape” in 1990 which began a whole new stage in his career. In the last seven years he has been extremely prolific publishing six plays including: “Munamnamat Tarikhiah” (1994), “Rituals of Signs and Transformations” (1994), “A Day in Our Times and the Dreams of Shaqiyah” (1995) and “The Epic of the Mirage” (1996).

The play “The Rape” therefore takes on special importance as a new direction in his dramatic writing. Basically, there are two story lines: an Israeli one and a Palestinian one. Both however are self critical and as he says “the two stories intertwine and exchange developments.” A Palestinian and an Israeli woman are raped by the same ‘entity.' The Palestinian husband is taken prisoner while the Israeli husband who is an intelligence agent slowly discovers illusions of his Zionist upbringing. While corrosive and grotesque at times, the play most creative moment is towards the end where Wannous as the playwright becomes a character in the play. This self-reflexive and Brechtian tactic allows Wannous to highlight the positive Israeli character Dr. Abraham Manuhim, a psychiatrist who takes an anti-Zionist stance. The play has only been produced once by the famous Iraqi director Jawad al-Asadi who adapted the play quite liberally. However, Wannous in his introduction to the play calls the play an ‘open text and is open to any additions and modifications dictated by historical developments.' Translated below is the beginning of the play.

The Opening Chant

(With dim lighting, Dr. Abrahim Manuhin moves onto the stage.)

Doctor: This is a kingdom of neurosis and madness. The head is sick and the heart is diseased. From the sole of the foot to the top of the head, there is nothing but injuries, failures, and unbandaged wounds.

(Dr. Manuhin withdraws. There is lightning and echoes of continuous explosions. An Israeli troop destroys some Arab houses. After the first explosion, Sara Benhas appears full of excitement. She is followed and surrounded by Ma'er, Yitzhak, Jad'oun, Moshe, and David... The explosions are continuous.)

Mother: Every place you step belongs to you. Your borders are from the wilderness to Lebanon , from the Euphrates to the Western Sea .

Ma'er: Don't leave anyone alive in the cities of these people. Don't spare them a breath. Destroy them. God has promised you your share.

Jad'oun: Kill them all.

Moshe: Slaughter them.

Mother: And don't show any mercy. Kill their women, their men, their children, their cows, sheep, camels and donkeys.

Maer: Don't show any mercy until you destroy everything that comprises Arab culture. We will build our civilization on its ruins.

(Lightning and an echo of a final and long explosion. The group exits)

The Book of Daily Sorrows

Part 1

(Al-Fari'ah, a Palestinian woman with a strong presence, appears. She holds a bundled up infant and a bag for the child.)

Al-Fari'ah: They slaughter us and we multiply. They destroy us and we rise from the ruins. We no longer cry, and I who used to mourn at funerals, have stopped crying. This selfish world is indifferent to victims and does not recognize justice until it becomes a brave fighter.... No... We no longer wail... And truth won't disappear as long as someone is searching for it.

(She enters Dalal's room and the lights follow her. A poor, yet clean and warm room. Dalal is young and beautiful.)

Dalal: What are you holding?

Al-Fari'ah: I brought a magical guest with me. Look how beautiful he is!

Dalal: Who is he?

Al-Fari'ah: A baby beginning his life without shelter.

Dalal: And what about his family?

Al-Fari'ah:His mother was taken to the hospital. Her heart dropped when she saw her house collapsing. We settled the people whose homes were demolished around the houses in the neighborhood and I took the little one for us to take care of.

Dalal: And his father?

Al-Fari'ah: He is where he should be.

Dalal: And this innocent child bears the burden.

Al-Fari'ah: The burden was decided before he was born. As they say: Without a homeland, without a place on this earth.

Dalal: The homeland is lost and I am afraid that we are wasting the little time that we have.

Al-Fari'ah: If something valuable is lost, don't feel sorry about what is cheap.

Dalal: How many houses did they demolish?

Al-Fari'ah: Six

Dalal: And two days ago it was five. When will my turn come?

Al-Fari'ah: Homelessness is better than living in these houses of humiliation.

Dalal: But, when is this all going to end?

Al-Fari'ah: When this prince here will have his homeland and a little justice.

Dalal: You're dreaming, auntie.

Al-Fari'ah: In our case, both giving in or despair means the end of us, and we don't want to die... In our veins, we have a life force that they cannot subdue.

Dalal: I wish I had your faith and strength. What shall we do? Should we feed him?

Al-Fari'ah: Let the prince sleep. When he wakes up, we will change his diapers and feed him. There is milk, diapers, and everything he needs in the bag.

Dalal: Every morning, I had been feeling like a mature woman. Two days ago before they had arrested him, we talked about the first baby. I named him Zaher and he named him Jihad. I was sure there was a seed being formed in my belly, but now we remain apart.

Al-Fari'ah: Don't talk about being apart. He'll come back and you'll get tired of having babies. Dalal: Did you ask about him today?

Al-Fari'ah:I swear on your life, I did. They are still at the interrogation branch, we would have heard immediately if they transferred them to prison.

Dalal: I feel weight on my chest. My heart tells me that Ismael is not well.

Al-Fari'ah: Put your fears aside. I know your husband as well as I know my sons. He is a rock and the Israelis won't gain anything from hitting their heads against rocks.

Dalal: This is what makes me more afraid. They won't tolerate his pride and stubbornness.

Al-Fari'ah: Would you prefer a husband who pees in his pants?

Dalal: I don't know what I prefer. All I want is for him to come back. If only you knew the loneliness and fear I feel in his absence... We've only been married for three months. When this room greeted us on our first night together I felt too weak to handle my happiness. I didn't care about my family's opposition or about people's gossiping. I was only thinking about the beautiful days we were going to spend together in our nest. He didn't tell me anything, and I didn't know he had a secret life more important than anything else.

Al-Fari'ah: He didn't want to scare you or ruin your happiness. He hesitated for awhile before he decided to get married.

Dalal: Yes, he did hesitate for a long time and I was about to become desperate. I had to confront my family, gossip, and above all of this his reluctance. Sometimes, I doubted his love and felt that my family was right and that I was worthless.

Al-Fari'ah: He would sigh while talking about his love. He would tell me about a girl from a notable family in the West Bank whose family refused to have a son-in-law because he was a teacher who came from a common family and because he wasn't rich. While he talked, he would associate her name with the land, the rain and the olive trees, then he would mutter.....She is precious to me and I won't allow her close to my miserable and dangerous life.

Dalal: I opposed my family and accepted their hostility. When this nest held us together, I thought I possessed the future. I began to see colorful days, endless happiness and he didn't tell me a thing.

Al-Fari'ah: He couldn't say anything.

Dalal: Or he didn't' care. He acted as if our marriage was a fleeting moment in his life. What was important to him was his secret work which he continued far away from me. He never thought about our love and didn't care about it.

Al-Fari'ah: Don't be unfair. His determination became weak because of his love for you. You were the light and pulse in his life and his voice trembled every time he told me to take care of you.

Dalal: And in spite of this our happiness wasn't enough for him.

Al-Fari'ah:No one can take refuge in happiness in these circumstances.

Dalal: Auntie, all of us were happy. Nights were wedding parties and the mornings were dreams and games. He risked real happiness for the sake of a dream vague as a mirage.

Al-Fari'ah: Perhaps your innocence prevented you from seeing what was around you, but did you notice Ismael's pale face after nights of holding him? Didn't you notice his fierce heartbeat when maybe he would release himself from your embrace and whisper to you he needed to rest?

Dalal: Did he tell you any of these details?

Al-Fari'ah: No. He was too modest to talk about such things. But, I know Ismael, and I know that reality was chasing him even in his bed. His face became pale when he heard of the raids and his heart would beat when he heard the footsteps of the patrols and he felt tired when he heard of the air raids destroying camps and cities. He was seeing what you didn't see and he knew that your love was besieged.

Dalal: All this anxiety was sharing our bed?

Al-Fari'ah: This is the truth, Dalal.

Dalal: Around us, though, there are thousands who continue with their lives and live safely.

Al-Fariah: It's a false security. They didn't rape our country to provide us with security. They want the land and servants who give up their identity and work for a bite to eat. No... To just survive is not safe. Safety is to live free in a free country. Do you know who taught me these words? Your husband and his friends, and maybe it's time for you to learn like I did.

Dalal: He didn't discuss anything with me. We hardly talked about these things.

Al-Fari'ah: He exaggerated his pity for you. He saw your emotions and innocence creating a cage to live in. He didn't want to shock you. Now, it's time to get out of this cage. Nothing will lessen your unhappiness except struggle.

Dalal: Are you asking me to join you?

Al-Fari'ah: There is no other way out.

Dalal: I don't think I have your strength or faith. I imagined my life in a different way.

Al-Fari'ah: You don't lack faith or strength, but the illusion which you have woven into your life is stifling you and confusing your ideas (the baby begins to scream). The prince has awakened.... Let's heat some water. You stay beside him.

(Al-Fari'ah takes the bag and goes to the kitchen. Dalal approaches the infant, holds him carefully and begins to talk tenderly to him.)

Dalal: What's his name auntie?

Al-Fari'ah:(from inside) His name is Wa'ad.

(Dalal talks tenderly to the infant. Suddenly the door is knocked on violently)

Dalal: Come auntie, someone's knocking on the door.

(Al-Fari'ah runs to the door holding a nursing bottle)

Al-Fari'ah: Who is it?

Jad'oun:(From outside) Open up... Israeli security!

Al-Fari'ah: Stay calm and don't say anything.

Jad'oun: Open up!

(Al-Fari'ah opens the door calmly. Jad'oun, Moshe, and David storm in the room with their weapons)

Al-Fari'ah: Slowly, you'll scare the baby.

Jad'oun: Is this Ismael As-Safadi's house?

Al-Fari'ah: Yes

Jad'oun: (To Dalal) Are you his wife.

Dalal: Yes.

Jad'oun: (To Moshe) Take her.

Al-Fari'ah: Where?

Jad'oun: None of your business.

Al-Fari'ah: Take me instead of her.

Moshe:(Pushes Al-Fari'ah away violently and holds Dalal) Go away... We want his wife.

Al-Fari'ah: Don't push me. I hope God breaks your hands.

Jad'oun: Shut up! Who are you?

Al-Fari'ah: I am Palestinian. People call me al-Fari'ah.... My first husband died of tuberculosis.

Jad'oun: Enough... Enough of this you dirty Arabs. Who is the baby?

Al-Fari'ah: Do you want to arrest him?

Jad'oun: Be polite and answer... Is he her son?

Al-Fari'ah: No. He is my son. Do you want to arrest him too?

Jad'oun: His time will come...

(Moshe and David drag Dalal towards the door.)

Dalal: I am afraid, auntie.

Al-Fari'ah: Don't be afraid. You are stronger than them.

Dalal: Tell my family.

Al-Fari'ah: I'll tell them. Raise your head, and if they bother you, spit on their faces. I am waiting for you here. All of us are waiting for you. He worried so much about you and he tried carefully not to wake you, but now you have waken up to harshness and fear. God give you power and wisdom. And you my prince. No I didn't forget you. For the sake of your eyes we suffer. Oh God... Here is your milk. Can you understand your fate now? Listen up. This is your story. The hen has a house. The hen's house is the coop. The rabbit has a house. The rabbit's house is a burrow. The bird has house. The bird's house is called a nest. (The lights dim and the sound begins to fade). The Palestinian has no home and the tents and houses they live in are not the homes of the Palestinians. The enemy of the Palestinian lives in the home of the Palestinian. Who is the enemy of the Palestinian?*

Translated from the Arabic by Nezar Andary and Osama Isber.

*Excerpt from Syrian short-story writer Zakeriyya Tamer. 

This text appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 3, no. 15 (February 1997)

Copyright © by Al Jadid (1997)

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