“Ghalia! Hurry up we need to go, or else Dad would be really mad at us like last time!” shouted Saleema.
It was Sunday morning; we were all gathered with our female cousins in a room at my uncle’s house to take Arabic lessons and teachings of Quran recital, since of course girls are not allowed to go to schools. Saleema is the eldest among me and my brother, our family consists of only five members, my father, my mother, Saleema , Mahmoud and me. We lived in a small village that was about 100 kilometers away from Damascus. I am the youngest and my father’s favourite. He called me Ghalia which means “precious” in Arabic, for I was considered a miracle, since my mother had an unknown disease and the doctor of our village told her it is impossible to have any more children. However, one and a half year later I came along. My parents couldn’t believe it and since then I am treated differently and uniquely, because they both knew I was a once in a lifetime miracle that won’t happen again.
My father is a successful merchant who was known for his wit, decency, honesty and most importantly wisdom. He was different than all other men in our village. I was always proud of him and the fact that we were considered really lucky to have a father like him, who actually gave us a chance to learn how to write and read. I considered it a blessing! We were one of the very few girls who were allowed to be educated.
I loved learning new things and my favourite day of the week was Thursday, for we all met with my relatives and I would sit beside my grandfather who would recite many poems by famous poets. My favourite poet of all is Ahmad Shawqy. His poems made me swoop into another world of beauty, I loved the way he chooses words that can easily lift you up and make you forget everything around you.
My grandfather and I grew much closer in the past 2 years since we started discussing all kinds of poetry by amazing poets from previous ages like the 1800s such as Antarah Ibn Shaddad al-‘Absi , my grandfather’s favourite, to ones in our current year of 1932, like Ahmad shawqy. I was simply a happy 19 year old girl who was content with her life until ambitions and dreams invaded me and unfortunately almost destructed my life plus relationships with everyone I love. I will be telling you my story, the pain I went through and the challenges that I confronted all for one thing, one passion, one dream I wanted to pursue…..
It all started when the local sheikh of our village had a huge party for his son’s wedding, he invited the best poets and musicians from Damascus to entertain his guests. Everyone in the village was talking about how fabulous it is going to be. All men were invited including my father and my brother Mahmoud.
“Ghalia, go get your brother his tarboush-which was like a hat that all men wore- we need to get going, the party is about to start!” said my father
“Sure father, right away!” I said hastily and ran to Mahmoud’s room.
“ How about I go with you father!” I added with a nervous smile.
I really wanted him to say yes I can, but I knew better that it was impossible and extremely shameful for a girl to attend such events.
“What are you crazy!! Do you want to ruin our reputation?! Dad say something!!” snapped Mahmoud
“Mahmoud stop it, you know your sister isn’t serious about that” said my father with a playful voice but with serious eyes.
I knew he wanted to say exactly what Mahmoud said but he just didn’t…
I never was close with my brother he was over protective of our reputation. He even tried everything to stop me and my sister from taking the Arabic lessons, however, fortunately dad never listened to him.
Their refusal grew a strong urge in me to go to that party, I wanted to see why women are never allowed to attend such events, I wanted to feel how it is like to sit in front of the best poets and enjoy their piece of art. I ran to my room, wore my abaya and covered my face so no one would recognize me, after I told my mother that my uncle asked me to help his daughter in Quran recital. I followed dad and Mahmoud until they reached the place. It was an enormous tent filled with kerosene lamps on every side and angle. It looked like a place where you see only in dreams. It was so beautiful. I hid in a corner and peeked quietly. All men were seated according to their professional importance. Close friends of the sheikh were of course in the first rows. The party at the beginning was like any other party, until when everyone went quiet when the first poet entered to recite his poem. He seemed like an extremely prominent poet, for everyone stood up and started applauding enthusiastically. When he started reciting his poem, his voice seemed to cut all conversations and turned all heads towards him.
Tears filled my eyes, my heart starting pounding, I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was Ahmad Shawqy the one and only Ahmad Shawqy! I never felt happier in my life. I continued listening and enjoying every word. To read his poems on paper is one thing but to hear him recite them himself is just way different, much more alive and definitely amazingly inspiring and sensational.
At that instant I realized I had to become a poet, I knew I have the talent and the ambition. I never felt more alive and motivated. I stayed and watched each and every poet and musician presenting their piece of art. It was simply a magical night.
The party ended and everyone greeted the groom and expressed their admiration of the party. I had to run back home, since I completely lost track of time, however, I didn’t care about a single thing except what I have witnessed of beauty at that night.
The next morning, my father and Mahmoud couldn’t stop talking about the previous night; they were so fascinated with it too. My heart ached on the fact that I can never share those unforgettable moments with anyone, especially my family…
1 week passed and I couldn’t stop thinking about that night.i even started writing poems, I felt it was something I could continue doing for the rest of my life, I loved it I found my heart in words. Then while we were helping my mother in milking the cow, I overheard our neighbor’s son telling my father about a competition for future male poets, taking place in our village, the prize the winner gets would be 100,000 liras. He gave him the details of the place and time for registration, in case Mahmoud was interested.
“Mahmoud, a poet! That’s just ridiculous. My son is going to be the most successful merchant in this village!” my father replied derisively.
An hour later when my father and Mahmoud had gone to work and Saleema and my mother were in the kitchen preparing for supper, I got dressed as quick so I wouldn’t miss the registration, since I got stuck in cleaning the house! I told my mother I had to go to grandpa’s to help him, my mum just agreed without thinking, if only she knew what I was doing. When I reached the place, it was filled with young men. When I entered the room all eyes were on me, everyone was astonished thinking what was a girl doing in such a place!! When I reached at the registration table, the guy sitting there asked me a question in which he hadn’t asked any of the guys before me.
“What are you doing here?? Can’t you see what’s written on the door?” he said mockingly.
“I know it’s for male only, but I want to apply, you can read one of my poems if you want to and then you can decide” I replied with a sharp tone.
I admit I haven’t really thought it through before just going there and applying as a girl. I mean what made me even consider that he or anyone else would accept that. So to preserve my dignity, I just turned and walked away. At that second, I felt as if someone ripped my heart off my chest. I knew that I am never going to be able to apply unless I was a guy or let a guy do it for me. I didn’t know what to do. I never can forget how I felt the whole day, I was helpless and extremely depressed, however, I still wanted to try one more thing. It was extremely risky but I had to try one last time.
I went to my father and told him.
“Father, I really want to be a poet, I know it’s shameful and not allowed but I’ ll just use Mahmoud’s name at the beginning and then when I apply to the competition I can reveal who I am and then it will be too late to get me out of the competition. And not only that, the winning prize is 100,000 liras dad!” I said nervously.
My voice was shaking and I was praying God that my father would accept, but deep down I couldn’t believe I actually thought that there is the slightest chance of him agreeing to that.
“Ghalia, what are you talking about?! Don’t you realize you have more important responsibilities to take care of? And soon you will be a house wife with kids to take care of? So stop the craziness and don’t make me regret giving you the chance to get educated!” Shouted my father and walked away.
I went to my room and started sobbing, even though my mother and Saleema knew what was going on but no one even dared to come and console me. They all thought I was crazy, honestly I did too to ask dad such a question.
1 year passed and since that incident my father had completely changed with me. He didn’t treat me like he did before. It’s like his heart has been broken and he was so disappointed in me. My life was nothing but hell then, especially when I loved my father so much and couldn’t stand the look of sadness and disappointment in his eyes every time he looked at me. What made me mostly appreciate my father even more is that he never did tell Mahmoud of what has happened he knew Mahmoud’s reaction would just be hysterical and might have just ended up physically hurting me.
At that time my mother became ill. And the doctor diagnosed her with the same unknown disease, but this time her condition was rapidly growing worse and worse. My father would spend hours getting all kinds of medicines. But nothing really seemed to work. The doctor suggested that she needed an operation as soon as possible. Unfortunately, our financial state kept deteriorating, so we didn’t have enough money for such an operation. Then suddenly, an idea just popped in my head. I thought of the poetry competition and if I win I could easily have the surgery done for my mother. I was certain that the same competition is taking place also this year at this time of month, since it’s an annual event in our village.
I suggested the idea to my father and for the first time in my life, I could see how helpless and vulnerable he was. It was too painful. Therefore, he agreed.
Without further ado, my father took all my poems that were piled under my bed and went to register under Mahmoud’s name. Although Mahmoud hated the fact that he was forced to do so, but he knew very well he had no other choice. When the day I barely was able to wait for, had come, I, my father, and Mahmoud went to the studio where the prize distribution was taking place. I never felt more anxious and nervous. Then the moment of truth was finally here.
“And the winner of the 100,000 liras of the best poems would be…….. Mahmoud Ahmad Al-Haddad” announced the man on stage.
When I heard the name, I literally felt dizzy, noxious, overjoyed I guess simply overwhelmed. I spontaneously hugged my brother. He stood up to receive his prize. I could see tears of joy in my father’s eyes and most importantly I could feel how greatly proud he was of me.
After that we all rushed to the hospital to deliver the great news to my mother and Saleema. The operation afterwards, went great. My mother’s condition was getting better and better until she was entirely healed. I thanked God for his help and for healing my mother. I couldn’t believe we overcame those last horrific months.
“Ghalia, I would like to apologize for everything, sweetheart. I cannot be more grateful to God firstly of course and secondly…. To you. Your talent saved your mother’s life. I am so proud of you and will be much more supportive from now on.” My father said with tearful eyes.
This moment was just priceless, I still can’t believe that my own father was actually proud of me and of my talent; I can’t believe he actually is willing to support me through all the way.
I hugged him tightly and assured him that I would do anything in this world to make him proud of me and keep this family together and happy.
Since then, I declared that I was the writer of the poems. Everything in the village changed, instead of people looking at me disgustingly, they actually admire me. They admired my courage, my selflessness and my determination. I am the topic of the village! I am the girl who made it possible for young women to go after their dreams instead of just being what their parents have decided them to be, to choose their own life path….
I am now a 23 year old poet and a Damascus University student majoring in Arabic studies, after graduating from school. My family has decided to move to Damascus, 3 years ago so I and Saleema would be able to continue our studies.
As for my brother Mahmoud, we are much closer now! He has changed and knew that there is much more to life than caring what people might or might not say about you. He still works with my father and as father has always wanted, Mahmoud is definitely on his way to become an amazingly successful merchant!
I still dream of having my poems published in other countries, and my other dream would be meeting Ahmad Shawqy in person to tell him how he influenced every bit of my life and helped me overcome all kinds of obstacles and hardships in life. However those obstacles empowered me with strength and taught me a valuable lesson and that is if you want something in life, you need to put all your effort and passion in it, with God’s help, nothing can stop you from having it. So seize every opportunity that encounters you, for life is too short to think twice before going after your dream.