Wednesday, April 27, 2011

PalFest This Year

PalFest generally is something we all look forward to, but a number of things made the event when it came to Birzeit University this year anti-climatic. At least for us. First of all, there was barely anything done to herald the coming of PalFest on campus. Last year we were involved within a large group of volunteers who acted as each writer's personal guide/barnacle as we lead them here and there. We spent the week leading up stapling PalFest posters in every building all around campus, breaking nails as we battled with rusty tacks and stiff boards. On the actual day classes were suspended for the students majoring in English as it was mandatory to sign up for and participate in a workshop. This year, not many students were aware of when PalFest was actually going to take place, and when Monday the 18th rolled around everyone went to their classes/loitered in the cafeterias as usual, thus missing out on the plenary held in the Kamal Nassar building. For those who had classes at 11 am, they were surprised to see a foreigner sitting at the teacher's desk. So in a way, students were forced to attend workshops they didn't sign up for because a) they knew nothing about the whole thing, and b) lack of organizational and advertising skills, which is what point (a) is about but we felt we had to compensate for our blunder by sounding insipidly smart.

Initially we had signed up for two separate workshops with Bidisha, because her name is cool and her lack of a surname appeals to us, in a way that Madonna did for damaged hair broken housewives back in the 1930's. Also, in Arabic "bideesh" means "I don't want to", and we are a couple of very easily amused nut cases. Sadly, as it transpired, we didn't actually have a choice in attending the workshop.

Our Shakespeare class was occupied by the kindly Anne Chisholm, a journalist and critic who wrote four biographies about surely fascinating people. The class/workshop was spent by students asking her questions about biography-writing, how does a person feel when they know that someone else is writing a book about their life, and simply, "Is it fun?" Anne enjoys the experience and said that the best part for her was doing all the research prior to the actual writing. Yes, we'd like to research every tidbit of Johnny Depp's life and entitle the book as Johnny Depp, the Freedom Fighter That Never Was. That is such a best-seller title right there. Then we all did a little exercise, where everyone had to pick a person to write about and mention four reasons  for doing so. Heba chose her dad, Linah picked Vittorio Arrigoni.

And that, for us, was that. Compared to what happened last year (appealing to God to stop making Remi Kanazi such a douchebag, which turned out to be everyone's first impression of  him ["Hi, I'm famous, google me and you'll see"] but who is actually such a down to earth humorous guy, to expanding with love in the presence of Adam Foulds and Nathalie Handal's sweet, sweet natures) this year we have no memorable anecdotes. So we enlisted  the help of two fellow students, who shared with us their account of what went down from their perspective.

Fawziah AbuAllan didn't know what to expect in a workshop with John McCarthy:
For the fourth consecutive year, BZU took a day to host the Palestaine Festival for literature. Many poets, authors, and other literary figures from abroad were invited so that they could share with us their experience through the workshops that were held.

I was lucky for having this chance to meet one of the authors in person, John McCarthy, who wrote about his trauma after being captured in Lebanon and held as a hostage for five years in Beirut, a prisoner in Lebanon.
 After John introduced himself, he asked us to write about our own traumas, and how we felt about them. I wrote about my brother's death. I couldn't finish reading it because I couldn't help myself but to cry. It was really emotional for all of us because we shared personal information we didn't know about each other. We had something in common; all of us have this kind of memory which makes us fall apart whenever we remembered or talked about it. After he heard our stories, he was impressed or in his own words, " amazed". I remember him saying, "I'm sorry, I'm just a journalist and you are the real poets!" We were happy to hear this, because his words were just sublime, exactly what we needed to hear whenever we felt tired and frustrated by life under occupation. He gave us the motive to write and to continue writing what we began because Palestinians are the only ones who can write about what is considered as "The Real Story", away from the banal media coverage.
This unforgettable experience will be always in my heart and mind because I took something precious from it: his words, advice, and motivation.

Alice Yousef accomplished one of her dreams by meeting her role model:
Palfest, the Palestine Festival of Literature is one event that I wait for every year as it graces Palestine with its presence in April. I have been passionately waiting for Palfest this year, as I had an amazing experience with Palfest last year. It happened that this year Palfest turned out to be more than rewarding, starting from my experience with two workshops at Birzeit University and ending on the ground at Al-Sakakini Cultural Center. On Monday, Palfest gave amazing workshops for the BZU English majors.. it was very much a gratifying experience as we got to share our writings with famous authors who in turn shared their experience, writings and books with us. This year attending the workshops at university was different, because sadly there was no reading. The workshops however were a natural flow or creativity. Yet with no reading at university I craved for good literature. Having heard of a reading at Al-Sakakini Cultural Center, I decided not to miss it and was glad I didn’t. The reading opened in a small room, crowded with faces, some familiar..others not so much. Hearing the writers and intellectuals speak was an experience by itself, empowering and inspiring for an emerging writer/poet as . It was much later that I could take it all in, as I am still over the clouds for the chance that was handed to me: talking to one of my role-models in writing Alice Walker, who was very down to earth and executes passion for life and writing . Being there at Palfest still leaves a mark on my life, that’s why I’ll still wait for Palfest next year.

1 comment:

  1. I just spent the past 2 hours reading your posts. I am so happy to have found a blog from students in Palestine. I am a student in Texas who was born in Palestine but left for the United States at 6 years old. I will be in Palestine this summer from June to July. I would love to meet with you! Please email me at

    I actually have a cousin at Beir-Zeit currently and my uncle graduated from there (a long time ago).