Mourid Barghouti. I Was Born There, I Was Born Here. 2011. Bloomsbury Publishing. London, UK

Review by Theresa Wolfwood. Director of the Barnard-Boecker Center Foundation, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Mourid Barghouti, ISBN 978-1408815588

Photo by Theresa Wolfwood

Silence said:/truth needs no eloquence./After the death of the horseman,/ the homeward-bound horse/says everything/ without saying anything.

The exile longs for home, longs to say, “I was born here.” Twice the exiled Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti has been able to return to his homeland and say that instead of “I was born there”. Exiles live constantly between these realities; and for Barghouti in his second volume of memoirs he is able to put ´emotions into history´; a true sense of identity is all about emotions. He can stand in a room in a house in Deir Ghassanah, a village near Ramallah, and say to his son, Tamim, “I was born here.”

This journey, recounted years later by the senior Barghouti, was the chance to show his son, also a poet, the land of his ancestors. The author recounts the story of his family´s exile, his own exile from exile in Egypt where he had to leave his wife, the Egyptian novelist, Radwa Ashour, and their baby son in Cairo. That exile ended but his exile from Palestine like that of millions today is still the geography of his life and creativity. At one point Mourid Barghouti is jailed by Egyptian authorities, years later his son is thrown in the same prison for demonstrating against the USA war on Iraq; even though his son was born in Cairo, he is not considered an Egyptian and he also is faced with exile from exile.

Barghouti reflects on his life under many regimes, seeing and witnessing in them all the corruption of power and at the same time the indomitable courage and resilience of the Palestinian people he meets on his journey, their daily acts of resistance to occupation and collaboration with occupation: people whom I remember as saying that just trying to live a normal life is an act of resistance.

Just as I was writing this review another Palestinian in exile sent me a film clip to view. It was a short and simple vignette of a Palestinian man in Silwan, East Jerusalem, telling his truth simply, about his land and trees; his truth that the land was his mother.

For Barghouti the truth is also simple and although this is a memoir, the book is infused with poetic prose about everything from taxi–drivers to gardens and sprinkled throughout are some of his poems from his eight books of poetry in Arabic and one in English, Midnight and Other Poems (Arc, 2008)

He reflects on the cruelty of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, in particular the siege of Jenin in 2002 and writes, “We have been subjected to massacres at intervals throughout our lives. Thus we find ourselves competing in a race between quickly realized mass death and the ordinary life that we dream of every day. One day, I will write a poem called “It´s Also Fine.”

It’s also fine to die in our beds
on a clean pillow
and among our friends.
It’s fine to die, once,
our hands crossed on our chests
empty and pale
with no scratches, no chains, no banners,
and no petitions.
It’s fine to have an undusty death,
no holes in our shirts,
and no evidence in our ribs.
It’s fine to die
with a white pillow, not the pavement, under our cheeks,
our hands resting in those of our loved ones,
surrounded by desperate doctors and nurses,
with nothing left but a graceful farewell,
paying no attention to history,
leaving this world as it is,
hoping that, someday, someone else
will change it.

This is the poem that helped me face down the early possibility of permanent exile from life itself; a poem that gives me inspiration to be one of the many ´someone else´ that are trying to change the world. It helps me and many I know to speak and live our truth as simply as a Palestinian farmer or a riderless horse.

Barghouti´s story is intensely personal, his emotions dominate every page. It is a story written for his son; it is also a story that like trees has its roots entwined with the roots of all humanity, a story of the universal search for meaning of all people. He is not alone; he knows (as he said in London at his book launch) he is part of a collective voice of humanity, that literature is part of resistance.

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Theresa Wolfwood

Theresa Wolfwood is a writer and activist in Victoria, BC, Canada. Her poetry collection: Love and Resistance was published by Smallberry Press, UK. She serves as the director of the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation (BBCF), Canada.

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