Dream of Writing
My name is Hala Bint Fatima. In the Arabic language, Bint means daughter. As for Fatima, it is the name of my beloved mother. My mother’s family were all unconventional characters. I always had the feeling they walked out of a novel by Gabriel García Márquez. Most of them were wonderful storytellers as well.
Storytime began in our house at five in the evening when my grandmother started her traditional coffee-making session in the backyard. As for my father’s stories, they were shared before bed and had a special flavour due to his upbringing in a Bedouin tribe, moving between the north of Sudan and the south of Egypt. These adventure tales expanded my imagination as much as they helped me go to sleep.
I was in the first grade when my teacher asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I raised my voice excitedly and said, “I want to be a story writer like my father!” My classmates burst into laughter and my teacher said, “Story-writing is not a profession.” I was afraid she was right.
A career in writing was very difficult for women at that time, so I went to university to study law. My entry to school each day depended on a guard’s satisfaction with the length of my skirt and whether my head was covered well enough. What I learned about the laws governing women’s issues was also insulting, in my opinion. I asked myself, “How can I defend the rights of others while I’m deprived of so many rights myself?”
I quit university, got married and gave birth to my first son. My grandmother passed away, and my father no longer told me stories, but I started telling my son Ahmed bedtime stories. All of them had happy endings. As for the stories that ended unhappily, like my marriage, I just wrote them in my diary. Finally the day came when I met another man who loved my son and my stories enough to start a new life with me.
In 2014, the ruling regime in our country became fiercer in confronting people with different intellectual, religious and political opinions. This development forced us to go to Cairo and live there as refugees for four years. Using my social work degree, I got a full-time job with a non-profit refugee organization and wrote a lot about the refugee families as a part of my job. I also wrote over 50 episodes of a women’s radio program. But I longed to tell my own stories.
One day I received a call from the Canadian embassy to say we had an opportunity to immigrate to Canada. I bought high heels for the journey, but the day before our departure, I changed my mind and bought runners. I thought I needed to rest my tired feet more than I needed to look elegant. (My feet were very grateful for these shoes, although I did not like their colour at first.)
Once we arrived, I was so busy with going to school, with raising five children without the support of my big family or close friends, with too little English and with too much cold that I had to set aside my dream of writing. Then in the fall of 2020, I heard about a writing course for immigrant women. I contacted the group, and the next day I received a call about the project. She politely asked me about my language. When I told her I spoke Arabic, she said “Marhaba, Kafik”. At that moment, everything began, and here I am in front of you today, dreaming again of becoming a writer.