The City of Ramallah, located in the West Bank area of Palestine, has become a focal point of world wide media attention. This Anthology was published prior to the initiation of the current conflict. In the very informative elegant introduction Maya Abu Al-Hayat tells us the literary history of the city going back to the 16th century up to 2021. She has selected a quite diverse range of stories but each one is informed by the occupation of the city.
Today's story, "A Garden that Drinks Only from the Sky" by Liana Badr centers on a woman whose family has always lived in Ramallah. She is unmarried and takes care of her widowed mother. Both live from the produce and income generated from a small garden. Now she has two fears, the long drought and encroaching Isreali bulldozers with machine gun torrents. She has no prospect of finding a husband because she is extremely short.
"Prophets, and beseech him for rainfall to water her patch of land at the edge of town. This allotment of hers had been parched by a merciless dry season. On her last visit, it was a complete mess. She found rocks strewn about, as if an earthquake had struck in the middle of the night, and saw how shrivelled and dry the leaves and branches of all the fruit trees were. If the skies didn’t open their floodgates soon, there would be no red prune jam to make for the seasons ahead. Breakfasts would be devoid of this lustrous preserve, whose sweetness would counterpoint the tartness of the Nablusi cheese and homemade bread, in that daily awakening of the taste buds. Without rain, there would also be no guarantee of figs, fuzzy green almonds, or the plump olives she packed so tightly in brine. None of this would be ready to help her face the long winter and absurdly high living costs ahead..."
She herself is seen as having powers of prophecy:
"She would go and beseech God, just as dozens of the women in her neighbourhood did every time they visited her, complaining and grumbling until she agreed to divine their fortunes from her coffee cups. Griping about men, children, or mother-in-laws, these women envied her foresight, her ability to pierce the veil between this world and the other. And yet to them, she also was just a ‘little girl’ whom no one would ever marry. ..She was raised by her mother and stayed on in the same house with her after her brothers had left. But her first priority was taking care of that piece of land on the western edge of Ramallah. Staying with her mother brought no benefits beyond the pleasure of reading fortunes in the fine lines of granules left at the bottom of people’s cups. The women would visit in the morning to drink cardamom coffee, showering her with compliments about her unusual skills. To her, though, it was no more than a question of interpreting sinuous brown marks. She knew why they believed so strongly in her supposed God-given abilities. Behind her back, the women would call her a midget, and assume she had dwarfism."
On her visit to the shrine of the prophet she becomes involved with another family, who give her the love her birth family did not.
When an Isreali soldier mistakes a man she has come to love for a terrorist he shoots him in the head.
I found this a very moving story.
There are nine other stories in the collection, I intend to post on them all.
Liana Badr is a novelist, story writer, journalist, and poet. Raised in Jericho, she obtained a BA in philosophy and psychology from the Beirut Arab University, but was not able to complete her MA due to the Lebanese Civil War. She has worked as a volunteer in various Palestinian women’s organisations, and as an editor in the Al Hurriyya review cultural section. After 1982, she moved to Damascus, then Tunis, and Amman. She returned to Palestine in 1994. Since her first novel A Compass for the Sunflower (Women’s Press), in 1979, she has since published three collection so of short stories (Stories of Love and Pursuit, Golden Hell, I Want the Day), a collection of novellas (Balcony Over the Fakahani), two further novels, a biography of the poet Fadwa Touqan and five children’s bo8oks.