Yesterday I posted the answers to some questions a very gracious book reviewer posed to me about my novel Dreams in the Medina, a coming-of-age tale about university women in Syria. Yesterday’s questions were about the education and worldview of the characters of the book.
The other three questions that the reviewer asked me were perfectly valid, and deserve to be answered. In essence: Who am I to write a novel about Syria?! Here are the three questions she posed to me:
Question 3. How long did you live in Syria? When was the last time you were there?
Initially, I lived in Syria for a year and a half. Then I moved to Lebanon to do my MA at the American University of Beirut, but soon returned to Syria to do field research on identity and community among Syrian women. During the next several years, I returned to Syria for 2-4 months each year to host cross-cultural exchange programmes and to work on humanitarian and social development projects, a good bit of which was focused on supporting the needs specific to women.
So when people ask me how long I lived in Syria, the short answer is ‘off and on for a total of about 4 years’. Syria really does feel like home, and I think what has contributed to that sense of ‘home’ is continuity of relationships – many of my closest friends are people I met 10 years ago and have kept in touch with through thick and thin (sadly, there has been a lot of ‘thin’ lately). My last trip to Syria was in the summer of 2009. Once I started working for a large international humanitarian agency, the Syrian government would no longer give me a visa. Now I’m freelance again, but it obviously would not be wise to plan a visit to Syria at the moment. That being said, I actually am trying to find a way to go!
Question 4. Did you yourself live in such a dormitory like the Medina, with other women, during your time in Syria?
I did, and it was the best time of my life! I lived in the Medina for one year. My roommates were all foreigners (non-Syrians), but our neighbours and friends were all Syrian and we had the opportunity to get to know them very intimately. I might add that none of the characters in Dreams in the Medina are specifically based on people I knew, but they all draw characteristics from people I knew. Most of the scenes and events in the story are things that actually happened that I either witnessed, experienced, or heard stories about in detail.
Question 5. What is your terminal degree, and from what institution? What was your dissertation topic?
PhD in Sociology from University of Bristol (England). My topic was identity and community in the Middle East: Sticky stuff indeed!!
p.s. The book’s facebook page has regular updates with news and tidbits about Syrian women – ‘like’ it to follow along!