A contribution by the actress Kenda Hmeidan about the constant movement, in literature as well as in life.
As for many others, Corona gave me the time to reflect and think about my past, my memories, and my fears of the future. When the outside stopped moving, I turned my focus to the inside. I was thinking about the beginnings in my live. My two beginnings in Syria and Germany. My homeland. Isn’t it the beginning? Since I could not work as an actress during the pandemic, I had more time to connect with my Syrian friends all over Europe, inside Syria and Lebanon. I looked on my hard-drive full of videos and pictures from my school and university days, from the last years before my departure. I saw all the faces that are now spread around the whole planet. We all left the same place and every one of us had a different way and story about how we ended up in the countries where we are now. Everyone had his own tools for how to settle, how to start to integrate or refuse to integrate within society. The transition that everyone of us went through is the transition from being a refugee to being a citizen. But how does the revolution and the war in Syria shap our way of representing our stories and our identities as artists? And how does it affect the art we produce in Europe and all over the world? Will forgetting help us to move on? Or is it the other way around? By remembering our homeland constantly, will we save it? When will we stop digging inside us and will have the opportunity to look around us? Is this even possible, while things in Syria are still repeating or even becoming worse? I felt a need to understand the past, the ground where I came from, where I was rooted, if I was ever rooted before.
When I first read the book A Summary of What Happened (published in English as The Gist of It) by Rasha Abbas I was surprised to read such a text in the Arabic language, especially in the Classical Arabic Al Fusha. For us as Arabs, Fusha has an official and decent sound, sometimes even holy. How Rasha used the Fusha and how she tried to invent new techniques to describe a complex form of stories in terms of structure and narrative style was strong and sometimes shocking for me. As a reader, she is forcing me to see things in close-ups, her language is invading my personal space without a chance to escape.
In what form can Syrians express their stories, ideas, trauma, and their transition from the homeland to Europe? Topics like exile, detention, isolation, loneliness, torture, physical and mental violence, belonging, loss of identity, alienation that separates Syrians abroad from Syrians still stuck inside, transformation, and new forms of relationships inside families.
How did family relationships transform and take on a new form? All these questions and topics are urgent even after 11 years of war and post-war, especially for us as artists. How can we talk about all this without always being in the position of the victim, »the poor Syrian refugee«? How can we talk about the past, not by showing only the drama and the destruction where we came from (and the constant nostalgia of leaving it) but about a past which can enrich the present, and the future?
In my view A summary of what happened by Rasha Abbas, a female Syrian writer who lives in exile, is an attempt to describe the indescribable. To talk about memories and what happened (not only in Syria, because rarely she maintains the name of places) anywhere where humans are surrounded by destruction and death. Whether in the devastation of war around them, or in their mental health that is dominated by destruction. She chooses not to document it or to talk about it from a personal perspective – but through fictional and abstract images, by inventing surreal events and scenarios, using sarcasm and contempt, through a gaming reality, where the overlapping of places and times, suggests the possibility of escaping. The constant movement of the characters from one place to another and the inability to stand still in a world, where chaos rules. By refusing to take reality as it is, it gives us as readers a feeling of resistance and the capability to survive what is happening, either through physical movement or by mental moving, our strong ability to imagine and jump in our heads in times and places. This gives the characters an ability to choose. Even when they are bound in chains, they are still ready to fight. Even when they are scared to death, they still smile – and when they are tortured, they can hold their breath forever. For me that is indeed a different message from all that I had read or seen in Syrian art in exile, because it presents independent characters, who had choices. A summary of what happened is a long dream that is repeated in different images, and a story about characters who are dreaming the same dream in different places. Your task as a reader is to decode these dreams, try to interpret them and connect them with the fact of what happened.
I end this attempt to talk about my journey with this book, with the first line Rasha Abbas wrote in the German version of the book: »Was uns zerbricht, das rettet uns« (That which breaks us, saves us). This message gave me strength, that even if being unrooted or not belonging somewhere, there is a different perspective. These unrooted characters have nothing to lose, so nothing will break them, nothing will hurt them, and they will keep moving ‘till they reach whatever they want. Or maybe just moving is the motive, without reaching nowhere and nothing.
(from the season brochure #24)