This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Syria Through the Work of Poets

 

Najat Abdul Samad is from Sweida about an hour’s drive from the country’s southern border with Jordan. She worked there (2013) as an obstetrician and gynecologist. On the subjects of her literary work she said:

I write about the insistence of evil men to wage wars and the persistence of women to not surrender to the coming destruction. I write about women’s instinct to survive, to not succumb to an approaching death, but to gouge its eye in order to protect her life and the lives of her children. My writing becomes the instinct of literature to be a voice for life. (Corinne Segal)

Samad writes in a direct, visceral language that has spoken word quality.

About Najat Abdul Samad
Sweida had been spared much of the violence, and had served as a haven for refugees. (Alatrash in Studio 360) As to when and why Samad began writing, Corinne Segal has the story:

I (Samad) was in the third grade when my father’s friend asked that we help in making raisins. We washed withered grapes with water and potassium, among other materials, and spread them on the pages of old newspapers in the vineyard until they became dry, after soaking the color of the sun and preserving its taste. Our father’s friend praised our vigor in moving the trays of grapes from the water basin to the sunny open space that was lined with newspapers. However, he also complained that they had caught us distracted from work and reading the literary columns in the faded yellow pages of the papers. So, like two thieves, my sister and I would stealthily cut out these pages, fold them and hide them in the pockets of our bag so that we could finish reading them after returning home. We justified our theft to ourselves by the fact that these people had many neglected newspapers while we had nothing to read in the evening. (Corinne Segal)

Samad recalls spending her allowance on story books:

During our elementary school years, my mother gave us two cents as a school allowance. The two cents were a very small sum of money only welcomed by poor children like ourselves. Two cents could buy a sweet red sucker, a cookie with cream, or a very delicious freshly baked piece of French bread. But one night, we found that the school library was lending story books to students for one night in exchange for two cents! I recall only spending my allowance on story books despite the temptation of the sucker and cookie. The stories were more delicious. (ibd.)

When writer and translator Ghada Alatrash visited her family in Sweida she met Samad. The two kept in touch and Alatrash, who lived in Calgary, Canada, began translating Samad’s work from Arabic into English. Since then, Alatrash’s translations of Samad’s work have been published in the LA Times and Alatrash discussed them on Public Radio International and Studio 360. Poetic and rich in imagery, Samad’s writing describes the urgency of life in Syria and the struggle of families to maintain stability under the threat of war. Alatrash said their shared pride in being Syrians and their desire to spread this pride in writing brought them together. “Najat writes about the human suffering in Syria, and I see it as my cause and responsibility to amplify her voice and the voices of my Syrian people through translation,” Alatrash said.

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“When I Am Overcome By Weakness“
Full Text
Ghada Alatrash recites „When I Am Overcome …“
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More literary works by Najat Abdul Samad
“Letter from Syria – From the Back Window, Raghad.
Najat Abdul Samad reads “Do not Die“. PBS (Soundcloud)
Najat Abdul Samad reads “If“. PBS (Part One, Part Two)
Najat Abdul Samad on Facebookzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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When I’m Overcome With Weakness“: The Poem (Written by Najat Abdul Samad/Translated by Ghada Alatrash) The poem epitomizes the shrill visceral realism of the new poetic movement. Here are some lines:

When I am overcome with weakness,
I bandage my heart with a woman’s patience in adversity.
I bandage it with the upright posture of a Syrian woman
who is not bent by bereavement, poverty, or displacement

The poem focuses – not only, but in particular – on women:

She does not cut a tree, does not steal,
does not surrender her soul to weariness,
does not ask anyone’s charity,
does not fold with the load,
and does not yield midway.

… and the children, here a boy who, although deadly hit, wouldn’t miss the next demonstration:

I bandage my heart with the determination of that boy
they hit with an electric stick on his only kidney
until he urinated blood.
Yet he returned and walked in the next demonstration.

The situations which emerge with the mandate to “bandage her heart“ are many. There is the child in the snow of a refugee camp wearing a small black shoe on one foot and a large blue sandal on the other, and still singing to butterflies flying in the sunny skies. She bandages her heart with the the outcry: “Death and not humiliation“, the last line.

Writing as the instinct of literature to be a voice for life

Samad notes:

Today, we see that the main source of information in relaying the news of the grinding war in Syria to those concerned around the world is through satellite channels. However, not all channels implore the right of humans to a dignified life, whereas the voice of literature — aligned with the human voice — is more reflective and truthful. (Samad quoted in Segal)

And she continues:  “Language alone is what preserves my internal peace and mental balance. Language becomes a homeland when the homeland is lost.“ (Samat quoted in Segal)

Acknowledgements

Segal, Corinne. “‘Imagine our helpless feeling’ — a Syrian writer’s plea to the world.“ PBS (January 21, 2016).

Studio 360. “Take a peek into Syria through the poetry spurred by its war“. Public Radio International (Oct. 12, 2013)·

 

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