Dear Neighbors Northers,
On Saturday, I finished reading Ibtisam Barakat’s first memoir, Tasting the Sky. A week plus earlier I read Ibtisam’s second memoir, Balcony on the Moon. Ibtisam hails from the Ramallah area of the West Bank, but these days makes her home in the U.S. Ibtisam’s memoirs have been stamped with the YA sticker, but they really should carry the ALL AGES sticker.
On the evening of June 5, 1967, after an Israeli bullet nearly took Ibtisam’s mother’s life steps from the family home, Ibtisam’s family fled. It was Day 1 of the Six Day War. Ibtisam was three. Ibtisam’s mother commanded her three children, ages three, six, and seven, to find their shoes and put them on. Ibtisam’s mom carried Ibtisam’s infant sister. Her father’s arms were full as well, with bedding and food. In the chaos and darkness, Ibtisam couldn’t find her shoes. (It wasn’t a simple matter of flipping a light switch and behold, there was light! The Barakats had no electricity. They relied on a kerosene lamp.)
Ibtisam’s family charged off without her. Ibtisam set off after them, one shoe on and one shoe lost. She had no idea if she would ever set eyes on her family again.
She wandered through the night and didn’t find her family until the next morning.
Over the next several months, the Barakats sheltered in various places. While housed temporarily in an elementary school, Ibtisam made Alef’s acquaintance. Alef was the stick figure-like first letter of the Arabic alphabet. With a simple scratch of chalk nubbin to blackboard, Ibtisam brought Alef to life. On occasions when chalk wasn’t available, a stroke of stick point to patch of dirt would do. With Alef, and eventually, Alef’s 27 friends (the other letters of the Arabic alphabet) Ibtisam could venture anywhere. She could connect to the world.
You can sample Ibtisam’s poems and short stories at http://www.ibtisambarakat.com/
I recommend Poem 10: A Poem Made of Bread. Click the button and listen to Ibtisam read her Bread poem aloud.
I hope you love the cadence of her voice as much as I. Listen closely and you’ll hear the tiniest hint of an accent. It adds a fragrance bottle’s atomizer’s worth of “other countryness” to Ibtisam’s poem.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. Ibtisam has a thought-provoking article about that as well as her experience of growing up under Israeli military occupation in today’s Nation magazine. www.thenation.com.
Below are links to Ibtisam’s website
and Ibtisam’s memoirs: