Still in Books and Arts; Book Review;Memoir of the Middle East；Scent of dreams；
I Was Born There, I Was Born Here. By Mourid Barghouti.
Certain images reappear in all recent Palestinian literature. Mangled olive groves, the trees, like their owners, uprooted; cardamom-scented coffee, its fragrance percolating through the Palestinian exile; endless waiting, daily to cross checkpoints, every year to return home.
Mourid Barghouti evokes them all in his memoir, “I Was Born There, I Was Born Here”, which continues the story begun in his 2003 work, “I Saw Ramallah”. Driving to Jericho, he passes fields of olive trees, “uprooted and thrown over under the open sky like dishonoured corpses”, the fields around them an “open collective grave”. Crossing the border from Jordan, “at the threshold of Palestine”, he must wait for hours at checkpoints where “sweat oozes with sticky insistence” and the air is fried. These images lose none of their poignancy or power in this familiarity. Instead they distil the Palestinian experience of exile into something real.
Much of the book concentrates on Mr Barghouti’s efforts to take his Egyptian-born son to Deir Ghassanah, the village of his birth. That homecoming culminates in the moment he stands in the room where he was born; when he can say, “I was born here,” not there. He and his son wander through the Old City of Jerusalem, snapping photos as they go. Their actions unsettle Mr Barghouti. Who takes photographs of their own home? Growing up, “the Via Dolorosa was just a street we used.” Cameras normally belong to tourists, who are anxious to hold onto places they may never see again. Fearful that the very act of recording what they see will ensure its loss, he and his son toss their cameras aside, desperate to re-establish their right to belong and to call this city home.
More than anything, Mr Barghouti captures the Palestinians’ frustration at the lack of control over their lives. An endless journey to Jericho is punctuated by checkpoints and crossing a mud-filled chasm in the road with the help of a crane, which picks up the car like a mechanical claw at a fair and swings it across. After this, there is relief in returning to the certainties of Jordan, where “you know how many minutes you will need to get from one place to another”. He can offer no reassurance to his mother as she tells him to take care of himself. “If an Arab ruler wishes to arrest me, he will without doubt arrest me. If a policeman wants to kick me in the stomach and liver, he will without doubt kick me.” In this impotence lies the point of the Palestinian occupation.
Mr Barghouti’s frustration boils over at the well-meaning curiosity of friends who wonder at his fixation with his village and who point to the beautiful vastness of the world beyond Palestine. The author reminds them, and the reader, that he, unlike them, had no choice in his wanderings and has little hope of returning home. A salutary lesson.