Ghadeer Abdulhakim

- I Became a Creative Writer -

I would like to gather all the words that exist to describe how proud I am of myself. I am proud of myself. I am proud of you, Ghadeer, the creative writer. An entire month has passed and I forgot to congratulate myself for small and big accomplishments. I am now capable of writing smoothly and with love. I have always wanted to be called a writer. I am now a writer, a creative writer! This description is connected in my head with the most brilliant women I lived this experience and accomplishment with. I deserve to congratulate myself.

This August morning feels as if it were my first morning ever. I woke up earlier and felt the morning breeze on my cheeks. I felt the sun heat sneaking through my window from behind Mount Noquom in Sana’a. The sun embraces the peppermint tree whose leaves my father enjoys in his tea. The green light becomes more vivid as I water the tree everyday. Today is different. It is my most beautiful morning ever. I am grateful to God for brining this training my way. I am grateful for myself as well as my trainer and the friends I lived this experience with.

Writing has become my own oxygen. Without my daily writing, I would be suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and shortage in breath that can only be treated through writing. Writing has provided me with much of what I was deprived of for years. In one month, I managed to find out a lot about that unknown within me. I have gained back the freedom I buried when I allowed certain things to control me like a chess piece. Writing protects me. Nobody can silence me or deprive me of expressing myself anymore. Writing allows me to be the person I want to be.

I am proud of what I discovered. I feel like a child who can learn or do anything from scratch. I will do everything. Oh, I will do crazy things. I will face every morning as if I could see it for the first time. I will start my own narrative where I am the writer and the protagonist. Nobody will be able to steal my narrative away from me.

I am happy to be writing. I am happy I am keeping every detail of my days. I am happy with my passion and my ability to continue learning. I cannot wait to live my adventures, my madness, my independence and freedom. Writing makes us love ourselves.

I am a writer. I am not just any writer. I am a creative writer.

- A Matter of Tradition -
Corresponding Thoughts to “He Who Said Yes, He Who Said No” by Bretolt Brecht

How nice is it to agree on doing things and with decisions after we put enough thought into the matter and not because others said yes and we blindly repeated, yes?

I have learned something essential from listening to the radio version of Brecht’s play “He Who Said Yes, He Who Said No.”  Many times in my life, I ended up agreeing to things without having enough knowledge regarding how much harm they could bring me. It is not too late. I am still capable of fixing what will come next.

I was once offered a trip abroad with a group of teachers and two classmates. My classmates and I won a competition for short stories between schools. The prize was a trip to Morocco to attend an international conference. We were a total of ten participants, but my family refused. It was my extended family from my father’s side. My father wanted me to go, but my mother kept changing her mind according to what the neighbors and family thought about the matter. All of that made me hate traveling although it was my dream since I was a child. In the eyes of my father’s family, I was too young. According to them, how can a 16-year-old girl travel alone without her father or brother?

The reasons for saying no also included the news of a plane that fell somewhere, bird flu, swine flu and and and… I cannot recall the entire list of reasons. It was a difficult period. Despite it all, I traveled. My father was the eldest among his brothers. His approval was the end of the story.

It was my first trip ever away from my family. I was very happy despite all the troubles one could face while traveling alone and far from all what one is used to. I enjoyed every moment and I was very responsible against all the expectations that came from those who said no.

Why is it that a girl is not allowed to travel when everyone else would not miss a chance to travel? Is the age of 16 that young? If a girl is not given space for trust and freedom, how will she accomplish what she wants in her life? Every opportunity of trust that I was given, has given me massive space to achieve what I want and sense responsibility in my life.

I have always been up to the trust my family gave me. I have always employed every opportunity to go further in life. Unlike a daughter who deserves trust, a son is granted trust unconditionally and effortlessly. Tradition hinders women despite the many examples of women who did much better than men in life regardless of the more difficult challenges. Tradition, in many cases, forbids a woman’s right to work especially if she is financially OK or if she married a man who can provide for her. Tradition does not see the necessity of women leaving the house. Tradition makes every “No” in this regard a shame as if women are demanding a sin. Families would do all they can to make their daughters change their minds about work. Why is it so?

Women take care of their families and still work outside the household. They are capable of it all. Then why is it this complicated? What is this denial of rights for? Education and work are self-fulfilling. Deprivation is unfair. Women are also deprived of expressing opinions. They are all given what is considered basics. Yet, there is what is more important than food and water. There are essentials.

Women are asked to take care of children, to clean and raise a family. All housework is on women’s shoulders including helping children with their schoolwork. Men go back to the house everyday from work demanding absolute silence. Why can’t men and women share housework and childrearing? Why do women have to handle all these burdens by themselves? They have to do everything and anything except for things that would help them fulfill themselves.

Even when it comes to technology, many families ban their daughters from using phones and laptops. What is this deprivation and mistrust for? The world has become a small village. Sciences have gotten closer and available in small devices that are in many cases exclusively accessible to men.

If a girl makes a mistake, she is shamed. Men make hundreds of mistakes with no blame at all.

Tradition in rural areas puts the responsibility of entire families on women once they are married. It adds to their duties hard labor like farming, harvesting, cultivating cattle, processing dairy produce, bringing fuel and water. And men? Men go to the city for work leaving all of this behind. Why cannot men and women share the burden and together find ways to create a decent life side by side in villages?

When it is time to marry, it becomes shameful for a woman to say whom she wants to marry, for they know whom and what is suitable for you. You are never qualified for making life-altering decisions. Who is to live with this man? Who will pay the price for an unhappy marriage, the family or the woman?

Who pays the price for saying no?

- Al-Afandema1 “The Policewoman” -
A Short Story from An Interview

What a tiring day! It passed very slowly. When I reached that beautiful land called the Land of Cubes, I forgot all my troubles!

I reached the hotel and fell sound asleep. I woke up later to go to the agreed place where I had to get my mission to the Land of Cubes accomplished. When I walked into the building, a policewoman, afandema, searched me. She allowed me in after welcoming me with a charming smile that attracted me and made me feel warm.

I finished my paperwork and right before leaving the gate, I looked up to the afandema’s office. She seemed swamped in work. I wanted to say goodbye, but I also did not want to interrupt her. I kept thinking the whole way back: “What is she like? What are the details of her life?”

Three days later, I left the hotel to the Wide Leaves Road. I was staying with one of my work colleagues. When I arrived to the house, I saw afandema walking down the same road, Wide Leaves Road. Her chestnut purse with a dangling small owl key chain caught my attention.

I approached her and said: “Hello, how are you? Do you remember me?”

My sentences flowed with no sense of order. She, however, responded with the same charming smile from a few days ago. I gathered my courage and asked if I can get to know her better.

She answered:  “I have to go home now. I take care of a big family and I have too many responsibilities.”

I sneaked my business card in her purse, as I got lost in her glowing eyes. She had determination that I have never seen anything like before. I asked her to allow me the chance to meet her again when she can. Two days later, She called me and we agreed to meet at the Blue Rose garden. This was the biggest public park on Wide Leaves Road. I wrapped my shawl around my head and decorated the corner of my hair with basil leaves and flowers the way men do in my village back in Saber, Taiz. She came to the park in a bright red sweater. While she was walking towards me, a child fell off the swing. She ran to pick up the child and we only left him when we made sure his wound was stitched at the nearest hospital. My heart was racing as I saw her do the most mundane as well as the most complicated things of all.

Later that night, she told me about her dreams, about how she wanted to have a capital that allows her to build and manage her own park. Her passion made me visualize the colors and butterflies in that dream park of hers. I offered her money to fund her project, but then her face changed and she said: “It seems that you are rich and so foreign from the Land of Cubes.” I lost words and became very nervous until the sight of the little owl keychain saved me. I said: “It seems this owl is so precious to you. “

Two weeks, later, I left the Land of Cubes with tears in my eyes for the first time in years. I was not able to understand myself. Was it the exhaustion? Or was it the afandema with the purse whose zipper had a dangling little owl?

[1]Afandem is a colloquial title to address policemen in Yemen. The writer here is adding an “a” to make it an equivalent to “policewomen.”

Corresponding Thoughts to the Story Collection Titled “Blouza: The Blouse” by Reem Mohajed

I felt a lot as I was reading “The Blouse” series. I had mixed feelings.

I thought about that road through which we used to pass everyday. It used to be an ordinary road, but after the war, it changed drastically. While reading the stories, I felt as if I were one of the characters. I have suffered so much from this war. Even when we used to resist the horrifying sounds of war, I used to despise those looks of pity. They were all waiting for me to look weak and broken. Those moments made me want to write my own story, to begin my own story. Once one goes through such moments and survives, she can live real lasting happiness later on.

We left our house in Taiz right after snipers occupied the neighboring houses. The building next to ours was bombed. When my father said we were leaving to my aunt’s house in Hawban, I thought we would be gone for a week or so. We only took the lightest of our belongings. I took my important documents, my laptop, and college books from classes I hadn’t finished yet as well as two outfits.

I left everything behind. I never thought of the possibility of never going back.

In the past 3 years and a half, I went back a few times as a visitor, to pick one item or two and very quickly.

We left so much behind when we left. We started from scratch. I never knew that I would have to leave my house like this without further notice. Now, I feel that I always have to be ready to leave everything and anything behind and start over. Nothing is ever safe. The war has dragged us from the safe zone. We have been dispersed and displaced.

Smells matter, too. While I was reading “The Blouse”, I felt that I had clothes that I took for granted. I never paid enough attention to their details and colors. I never paid attention to the details that have become so important to me now. I used to buy clothes only so others can see me beautiful. I never cared for their emotional value. When I went back to my house to bring as many items as I could, I began to recall every piece of clothing I had, piece by piece. Clothes must have a story, when I bought each piece and why.

When I lost a lot, I began to search for anything similar to compensate me for the loss. Everything was too complicated back then. I did not know what was important or what was the most important. I lost my dreams.

I always thank God that I am a girl. That helped me avoid the bitterness of checkpoints interrogations. When I came back to Taiz for the first time, I was alone. I was scared and felt that I was about to enter hell.

That day, I hated other people’s houses and wanted nothing but to leave and be with my family wherever they are.

- On 19 Days of Creative Writing -
Thoughts on the 19th Day of Creative Writing

19 days ago, I was a bit different. I did not write down any of my thoughts. I left writing behind for more than four years. I almost always used to write. One day, I stopped and I did not know why. This training brought me back and pushed me forward. I feel much better and more stable. I found a way to deal with anything that may possibly ruin my mood. I write.

Writing is a conversation between me and myself, my mind, my pen and my papers. I write with no fear or regret. I feel deep relief every time I write. I feel that I am actually having a conversation with the people I write about. Maybe if they read what I write about them, some would be upset while others would be happy. I write with no boundaries and without pushing back any thoughts the visit me. Ink flows so easily on paper since I began this training. I do not put so much effort to write anymore. I only hold the pen and paper and write. I do not look for rhyming phrases. I just write. I, now, find the space I need to deposit my heavy secrets. I am the speaker and the listener. Nobody can reject what I put in there. I am the mistress of the situation and the game.

Writing creates a different world. Once you enter that world, it is hard to leave. Writing is my kingdom and I am the queen. When I write, I get rid of the fear of being called bitter, hot tempered or sensitive. I have grown more patient regarding everything except for my passion to meet my pen to write down every emotion, every detail I love or hate about any person. I write my feelings down, my heart pulse and the laughter in my eyes. I phrase everything with freedom and calmness, with the luxury of no interruptions by anyone.

Writing does not ask for anything in return. It does not cheat or tell secrets. It does not drain the writer with waiting for any feelings in return. We do not need anything to write. Everyone can write, children, young people and older people. You only need to learn the letters and words then start forming sentences.

I learned a lot from our trainer, Sarah. I learned that a writer is born an ordinary person who polishes her talent by practice. Everything is possible and so is writing. I also learned that venting with those we can trust has a magical effect. Silence leads to collapsing. We need to treat even the most insignificant of issues with writing before everything piles.

I learned to cry. There are those who wish they could cry and are incapable of crying. I used to resist crying out of fear that it would make me seem weak. In this safe space, I learned that crying is a blessing that renews so much in us and releases what time has piled. Days pass, thoughts change and so do people around us. We are only left with our memories and hearts.

I learned that a girl’s education and career would never let her down. As a result, I became more independent and my ambitions grew bigger. I learned that I am not less of a person without a man in my life and that my kindness and independence make me an invincible woman. I love this description a lot, invincible! Yes, I am an invincible woman! I will achieve all what I want, our dreams are not tied to a particular timing. Our dreams are with us since birth. Even if we marry, travel or move, we still have our own individuality. I used to think that if I got married, it would be necessary for me to change my dreams and personality. Now, I think of marriage as a potential addition rather than an obstacle. A woman is just like a man in her value and power of achievement.

The character building exercises that we used in the creation of “Folanyia and Alanyia” characters provoked my curiosity and made me dig deeper into my own character and life. The “Sensitivity” exercise made me think of who I am further. The “Deep Character” exercises, however, made me rethink of how I perceive and analyze other people’s characters. All of that made me preoccupied with reaching the depth of my own character rather than judging others. If I am able to understand myself, I will be able to manage things around me in a better way.

I know, now, that strength comes from within. It is a matter of hard labor. I learned how beautiful it is to listen to others regardless of age, character, education and knowledge differences. Every human has creative thoughts, experiences and battles that we need to hear and value. This creative writing group has become a brigade of women who help and support each other.  I cannot begin to describe how attached I have become to my peers and our trainer. We, impatiently, wait till four o’clock every afternoon to talk and write. I am overwhelmed by the fact that somebody has given me a piece of their soul and energy.

I learned how difficult it is to listen. Everyone wants to be heard without paying attention to the importance of listening to others as well. I learned to do my best to listen especially while being part of a team working collectively on a comic story. The flow of collective ideas creates a different level of creativity in comparison with that created by a sole voice. I learned to object to an idea without taking things personal. We are a group of women where each one of us is completely different from the other. This is the first time I get together with women with this degree of differences in experiences and characters. Although there were only nine of us, every one of us still had her own world and rules. I have come to laugh a lot when we disagree. I know that an extraordinary idea will come out of the disagreements and arguments.

A safe space. No barriers or class, we are all equal. We come everyday and remove every cover or barrier before walking to class. Many around me, who knew me, previously, tell me that lately my smile has become more beautiful. The smile I lost for too long. This experience has brought my smile back. I love my smile and I will protect it no matter what from now on. I love myself, the self that I found by existing with all of you. I love everything in me, my features and how I look. I am content and I accept myself the way I am.

I learned that levels of relaxing and agony are not in competition with each other. Everything needs to take its own course. Even that comic with 5 episodes needs a lot of effort and processes. We gave that comic story so much and it gave us a lot in return. Whenever the plot got too complex and hard to untangle, we would stop for a little bit and come back to it from a different angle. This has become my strategy in dealing with life.

I learned how to stay calm, meditate gently and lead with grace. I also started drawing again!  I learned to put my scattered pieces together and return to the different things I used to do in the past and deserted for a while now. I learned not to say yes to what is offered to me until I take my time to think and gather the knowledge I need.

I learned to be like the little prince.

Thank you.

- Six Images from Memory -
Thoughts that Followed a Walk in the Neighborhood

It was a beautiful day. Our trainer asked us to go for a one-hour walk and save 6 images from the walk in our memories. Fadia and I walked without talking. It was the first time I walked in that opposite direction. I wanted to get lost for real, I do not know why. I wanted to walk and stare at the faces of those passing by. I wanted to look at the buildings, the trees, the animals and all that can be noticed in my surroundings. As I walked without thinking of what I saw, I felt something different.

It was the first time I was asked to walk without thinking of anything, without any responsibilities or a destinations. It might be a simple thing to do, but the meaning and details into this are quite big. While I was walking and looking at the details around me, a beautiful child, I think he was 8 years old, caught my attention. He had brown hair and a wide smile. He was walking backwards and looking at the right side of the road. I did not know what he was looking at. He was charming and I was only focused on those glowing eyes with hope that some of that glow would take my sorrow away.

Something on the right side of the road must have made him smile like that. How lucky he must be to be able to smile like that! I really wanted to be like him, I was overwhelmed by the glow. Childhood and innocence are so beautiful. They make me want to strip from youth and go back to childhood. One day, I will do that.

Not very far from all of that, I noticed a woman in a small shop. Right beside her, there was a small sign that said: “Due to the current circumstances, debt is not allowed.” Her veil covered her face, yet I was able to estimate her age by looking at her eyes. I think she must be in her 30s. I also think she must be a brave woman who has gone through much in life, but still found away to work. When I first looked to see what the shop had, I saw a woman. I felt a mild surprise; the kind of surprise one feels when she sees something unexpected. I felt happy afterwards, I smiled at her and went on my walk. On the street ahead, I saw a teenage boy whose look reminded me of Japanese animated characters. He was wearing a blackish jacket with a hoodie that covered his hair. The jacket had a yellow X from behind and underneath he was wearing a white shirt on top of a pair of jeans and dark blue rubber sneakers. He had big headphones on as he walked in zigzags. I felt his nervousness and his desire to isolate himself in a way that takes him, with the help of his headphones, away from this world for a bit. He tossed his hands in his pockets so gracefully and walked alone as if he owned the entire street. I felt the same. I owned the street at that moment.

I started heading back and on my way, I saw a group of friends playing with a bottle of iced water. One of them was annoyed by the splashing water and was pushing the bottle away in discomfort. It reminded me of my friends. I wish I could do that with them again. Friendship is precious. I lost a lot of friends when we had to leave our city and come here after being displaced. I miss my friends who are still there. It feels as if I had a rich balance of a past life. This balance lends me happiness when I need it here.

Fadia and I saw a shop that sold flowers, stuffed animals and decorations. I was not able to keep my eyes off the stuffed bears and the red hearts, I felt the love and beauty that filled the place. The salesperson was nice and kind with the process. Fadia wanted to buy a flower for our trainer. I loved the white one but she decided to buy the red. The salesperson agreed with the red flower choice, too. He said red is the master of colors especially when a flower is wrapped. I watched the wrapping process out of desire to learn. I ran my fingers through other flowers, which I thought were natural before touching them. I wished if someone would gift me a rose. Would my fiancé ever get me real roses one day? Or a brown stuffed bear like the one on the shelf? I brought myself back from all these thoughts so I can enjoy the moment.

Fadia gave me the flower so I can hold it on the way. I let it slide to the side while I was holding it. Flowers always look prettier when they are held on one side. I imagined that I was a princess holding a flower from her lover. I was both shy and happy. It was the first time I walked with a flower in my hand since my college graduation. I was walking then with a bouquet of yellow, white and pink carnations. I was very happy. But that day, I bought my own flowers. It was the first bouquet I ever bought for myself. This red flower is not mine and it is not natural. I love nature and all what it has to offer, especially flowers. In the coming days, I will buy myself a flower.

I kept insisting on Fadia about a particular road I wanted to take back. When I felt anxious about the road of my choice, I asked a worker, who was cleaning a car, about the way. Fadia was right. We went back to our safe circle. I went back to being happy again.