- DatumWed. 6 May. 2020
Randa Awad is schrijver en publicist, afkomstig uit Syrië, van Palestijnse komaf, en nu in Utrecht woonachtig met haar twee dochters. Awad schrijft korte verhalen, poëzie, theater en artikelen en in 2018 verscheen haar boek ‘Homeland, Bread and Memory’. Als internationale kunstenaar, levend in Utrecht, deelt ze op verzoek van Residenties met enige regelmaat haar visie op de Utrechtse samenleving. Ze schrijft voor ons verhalen en gedichten, ze werkt samen met internationale kunstenaars die een Residentie zijn aangegaan en organiseert activiteiten. Randa vertolkt zo het perspectief van internationale kunstenaars die in Utrecht leven en werken.
Short story by Randa Awad
“The sun chases me. I do not know why! but I like that.” Said Sylvia, cheerfully.
“The moon follows me! and I love that too.” Added Lyla in a voice of gentle echoed. Why do not you be the sun, and I will be the moon? Thus, your name’s problem will be solved. Added Lyla, decidedly.
– But I rather like the name “Moon”.
– I cannot name you on my own. Let me ask the moon if it allows me to do so.
“What a pleasure!” She said briskly, while spinning around. She tried to carry me, then we fall, laughed, and each of us pointed to the other calling her name. We continued the skipping rope  chanting: “Sun, moon, stars, clouds, planets, soldiers.”
-Why is the word soldiers? It does not belong to this group! She asked.
I pondered as I might, but it was difficult to answer her. I went back to our previous discussion, saying in a decided voice “Soon, the moon will be your name.”
Unfortunately, I did not ask the moon as I like to sleep early. So, I alleged an excuse telling her that it is a critical decision for the moon: what will we call it if we took its name?
– It does not matter, any name, or let him take my ugly name.
But it will not be an easy thing. We must apply for a request to change its name. We may ask NASA  and wait for a response. If NASA agrees, it must inform all countries, and change it in all scientific documents, magazines, and schoolbooks, etc…
However, such behavior may upset other planets. Do not forget that the moon is a member of an integrated solar system.
My mom saw us “aren’t you ready yet? What is the ongoing debate since the morning?” she said, surprisingly
We continued our talk treading the dirt path that led to the school. Sylvia was upset about the consequences of the matter. She dragged her feet like a bulldozer digging dirt.
-Your shoes will become filthy, so the teacher would scold you.
It seemed that she did not care about anything but convert her name, I did not know that I complicated the matter.
She suggested that both of us having the same name “Layla.”
“That is impossible,” I told her sharply, explaining: I am Layla, so it is difficult to be of one mother and one father and having the same name. “Don’t we have the same grandma, grandpa, aunts, wear the same clothes, and live in the same house?” She argued, feebly.
We got to the school door. She hesitated to enter. I grabbed her by the hand-propelled her in the direction of the school gate “You have to be strong. Do not listen to what girls say, they are impolite and jealous of you. “I persisted, raising my voice.
“what’s your name?” the evil schoolgirls used to ask her with a sneer as they had heard about the strangeness of her name. She used to answer them timidly. The girls had made her the laughingstock, pushed her in all directions as if she were a ball in their hands, mocking her name. She covered her face with her hands and run towards me.
“Do you know their names?” I asked angrily.
-I know one, who called Mervat.
So I taught her all she had got to say. But she returned to them forgetting half the talk her voice failed her, her lips twitched fearfully “Merv…, your name is ludicrously, she continued stuttering you are a…
The girls hit her and pulled her hair. This was how my sister spent her elementary school, suffering from bullying, where no one was able to help her.
Once, she came home and proposed to my father to adopt a new name. “I don’t like my name. If it were Layla, the girls would not have made fun of me” She sobbed trembling. I intervened: “You have such a beautiful name; I wish if it was my name.” She wiped her tears and smiled “Swear that it’s a beautiful name!” she said. I swore to her. She shouted let us swape our names: I will be Layla, and you will be Sylvia.
– But our parents will get angry. There is nothing left but the argument about your name.
However, everyone knew about our plan. My father gave a surly grunt to set his mind at ease. Not for long, chaos reigned in the house. Accordingly, we exchanged clothes, beds, lockers, and school results. She took my exam result and showed it to my father. My school achievement was higher than her, so my father’s smiled when he signed the papers to the extent her confidence revived.
Her life was turned upside down. She no longer cared about the bullying girls; as she was not Sylvia, so let them say what they want! Her careless attitude pushed them to retreat, and none of them knew the secret of the sudden change.
On the other hand, I kept mumbling: What if Sylvia was my real name? I would have been beaten and I would hate the school.
After a while, I no longer bear my sister behave in my name as she wanted. One day, my mother called “Layla,” we rushed to her. But she addressed her request to my sister, who joyfully fulfilled it. I quietly pulled her aside, saying in an aggressive tone: Listen! You were not entitled to completely dispose of my name. And if you did not go now and tidy up my room and finish my homework, I would withdraw my name and go back as we were.
She begged me not to carry out my threat. I approached her face until our noses touched. “Give it back now!” I shouted, very fierce.
Her features shrank and her pulse accelerated, and she murmured: “Please, keep it for me until the end of summer vacation!” After hesitating, I said, “Listen! I am going to visit my grandfather’s house; I cannot wait to sit here anymore. Enjoy my name but remember When I return, everything will be going back to normal “
She bit her nails and wished if I could ask the moon again.
the sun? the moon? did you believe it? Brought my stuff now.
She sprang to her feet and returned carrying my bag.
– I love you, Sylvia. Send my regards to everyone. She said in a tone that indicated her joy.
– Goodbye, Layla and remember, when I come back, I will be back Layla and you will be Sylvia.
It was at the end of August of the summer of 2013. I left my name in Damascus’ Ghouta, for my sister to be happy. It had not even been two days before I heard on the news that some children in our neighborhood were killed. I screamed, “I want to go see Layla!”
Everyone thought I was in shock, and that I meant Sylvia. I returned to Damascus Ghouta to find my name suffocated. The attack was much more violent than the schoolgirls’ bullying.
It was said that those children did not fall, but rather ascended to the sky among the stars that illuminate the path of their parents.
Seven years have passed, and I am still looking for my sister among the stars, I wonder: “Did she ask the moon? Did he become Sylvia? Are there names in the sky?”
If I knew that such a thing will happen, I would be hung in your name forever, I would swap it without turning around. If I had known that exchanging names was more dangerous than exchanging prisoners, I would have remained imprisoned with your name … at your presence. Perhaps wishes may be granted at death’s doorstep.
Your name now is floating above my soul, like the floating corpses of those who crossed the Mediterranean towards Europe. While your name swims with the stars, their names swim with oysters, pearls, and corals.
On that day, my father took out Sylvia’s ID card, I begged him to exchange the cards; How else could I do, I borrowed her name, and we agreed when we met that I will be back Layla?
Until then, I will keep my promise.
Sun ,Moon ,Stars ,Clouds ,Planets. Sun Moon …
 skipping rope: it is a game where children chanting: “Sun, moon, stars, clouds, planets, soldiers.” while playing skipping rope.
 NASA: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
14 July 2021
8 april 2021 – The Apricot Jam
(an older story, written 27-8-2017)
I did not know that the apricot jam workshops are exposing the corrupted people and revealing the truth. In late summer, after the apricots are ripe, the women of the neighborhood begin to prepare the winter supplies. Fortunately, our Arabic house was the focus of their attention, and that did increase my love for it. Preparing the winter supplements in our house formed my aptitudes about the thieves who drained the countries.
Do not surprise, the stories were penetrating my small imagination to program and produce them as three-dimensional films, to live with the characters of the film, to punish and put them in the prison, making the right wins over injustice. According to our neighbors’ description, I was a naive and absent- minded girl with chestnut wavy hair, wide hazel eyes, and a mouth that eats and does not talk, as if were created to stare and gaze no more. However, what happens behind the innocent look of filming and making trials are done with the assistance of the apricot jam.
Um-Ghassan, who is the organizer and supervisor of the work, her voice like an erupted volcano. One word from her is enough to make us wrapped around the apricot pile like bumblebees starting the only task that children can do. So, our hands turning into machines separating the seed from the fruit, but as I was outlaw, I threw half of the fruit in the pot and the other half in my mouth. so, the next day I got diarrhea. My eyes were open wildly to pick up the conversations as if my pupils took the task of my ears.
Madam “Fahima” was the official speaker of our quarter. No one doubts the validity of her news, and no one knows about her sources. The neighbors gave her diplomatic immunity for the credibility of her information. That was done after the experience.
-Madam Fahima said: I heard that the wife of (the Greedy) gave birth to a child. He named him after his father.
-Um Ghassan commented: Such people are born with a golden spoon in their mouths, and their wealth grows by the growth of their bodies. When they grow up, they become the owners of the market with its gold and scraps. Fattom commented: luck is not for all.
-Rashida: If the situation remains like that, they will swallow the country, and we will not find the apricots to make jam. God protect us, such people are unsatisfied. Another one whispered with a muffled voice that no one heard but me: “If I were born with a silver spoon, I would be the owners of the silver market”. My imagination began to produce the film. I saw a baby with a golden spoon in his mouth. When he started his first step, he had a dozen of golden spoons. He joined the school with golden cutlery carrying it on his back instead of his school backpack. In his youth, he drowned in a sea of golden waves.
The voice of Fahima interrupted my imagination: “Where are you? You idiot!” I look at my little brother staring at his white swaddle, while he is breathing and sucking on pacifiers, his forehead was sweaty. It seemed to me like a fool framer plowing the ground to earn a living while others using the new technology to do so.
I said loudly: Who is the Greedy? I want to punish him.
The women looked at me. One of them said: we did not account for the fact that the little girl is here. While Fahima’s right eye was contracted a little bit and her face become bigger when she approached me. Her neck tilted sharply at her shoulder. She whispered with a husky voice be quiet!
I shrank to the size of an apricot while I was thinking in her words. Oh my God, how all these women can resolve Fahima’s mysteries? Why don’t I have their capacity to understand them? I feel as if I heard mysteries. One of them muttered friendly: When you grow up, you will understand the story. Years later, I remembered those conversations about (the Greedy) when the huge plastic factory was shut down because of the illegal use of carcinogens.
The women moved to the measuring stage. Rashida, the quality expert, was known for her accuracy to measure the amount of sugar for the apricot jam. After that I accompanied Fattom to prepare the rooftop, she is the most tender woman. She did not give birth. She treated me kindly while she was preparing the stainless-steel trays and the white voile to cover the jam trays. I handled the washing tweezers to fix the edges of the voile on the trays. I was jumping joyfully among the plant vessels, picking a carnation flower to tie it with her hair. She kissed and hugged me with kindness.
The neighbors suggested to my mother to build a second story like Salah’s house, but my mother reminded them that Salah’s son-in-law works in the municipality and that my father does not like to play with his tail*. Again, the puzzles came back. I did not know that my father had a tail. I must watch him while wearing his clothes. The preparation of the jam was completed in the line with exposing the reality.
It is time for Arabic coffee, the smell of the coffee and the Jasmine are in the air, while *Fairuz’s voice is warbling: “The cute girl, her eyes are hazel”. The Singing, laughing, silence, and waiting for the coffee fortuneteller, who predicted for them to have a life of travel. Traveling to Europe and each member of the one family will live in a different country. Also, her foresight that a storm cloud hovered on the cups of coffee, sparking off irony one of them whispered: “God bless you, Europe”.
I got a mental block as I could not cope with their conversations. I stuck to my mother while my hand was on her sash. I leaned on her and slept. When I woke up, I did not find her. I panicked, how a lifetime passed yet I was heedless! as if we were born and grew up over the jam tray.
Where are the women of our alley? when will we meet to make the apricot jam? I hear Fairuz’s voice from far off (With whom do you want to return in the darkness of the road?) sure her voice will save me from what I am already in.
Were we not just a moment ago in the apricot season? What brought us to the migration season? The puzzles returned. My imagination recovers fragments of destruction, war, and blood. Our little neighborhood vanished as if an earthquake wiped out the features of the place. The sound of crying, screaming, and dismembered bodies were everywhere. Sure, it is the nightmare of the coffee and the dark predictions. Am I so little? Is there a mirror? what madness is this? Am I in a hostel or a hospital? I hear a strange language coming outside the room, it is neither English nor French.
I remembered the inflatable boats that were brought to Greece.
Should I have grown up so I can understand that corruption grows exactly like the golden spoon that was in their mouths of those who are deemed to be human? The young man whom I imagined in my childhood drowning in a sea of golden waves, I did not see him yesterday on the rubber boat! I began to regain consciousness and concentration. It is the war that flung us all over the world, like a grain of sand scattered randomly to the wind. Again, Fairuz’s voice “Don’t call out, there is no one”
* to play with his tail: it is an idiom that means to do illegal issue.
*Fairuz is an Arabic famous singer.
Voorjaar 2021: Residentie cafe
Randa Awad werkt ook aan een avond in Het Wilde Westen, waarbij ze met oud-Resident Rebekah Ahrendt samenwerkt en het thema ‘migratie’ aan de orde stelt vanuit hun beider artistieke perspectieven. Deze publieksavond vindt naar verwachting dit najaar nog plaats. Meer informatie volgt.
3 februari 2021: Transformations
since the grandfather recognized the blue emblem of the UN
after the UNRWA building surrounded the camps,
the homeland transformed into a tent,
the tent transformed into a house,
the grandfather transformed into a refugee.
it is the blue anxiety,
the blue dumping everything
the UNRWA flag flutters beside hurt and hope
the UNRWA building was painted blue
the refugee supplies card is blue
the logo above the students’ notebooks,
the walls of the houses
and the water barrels are blue too,
and a blue heart for disappointments.
We shrink while blue expands
reaching other lands
the Syrian war destroyed the primary schools,
and dreams in the form of scars.
you tasted loss in Europe too
it was a terrible blow having no shadow
a drained smile and a constrained file
a woman who was shattered but does not scatter.
in the darkest nights
like the gravedigger burying the seeds of a strain
twigs escape the crack in your brain.
you endured a lot of pain.
rising ahead like a tree
chasing the flow to grow
On the next day in the AZC
not only a tree walking away
men transformed into flowers, power, and towers
others savage, damaged but yet can challenge
women transformed into
sun, moon, and stars
as well as scars
one child is wild and the other is mild
people cried, died and a lot committed suicide,
others not yet decided
forget not to look to the bright side
remember that after the rain
the sun rises again.
7 oktober 2021: “Sounds”
Plenty of doors
Like uncontrolled growth of
in a neglected wood
A building with a tragic memory
The best way to cease such
Sorrow is to switch it into
For those who escape
I got a slice of this madness
I grabbed it with
a naive smile like a kid
catching and kicking a ball
I kicked the door of my room
I kicked the wall, the window
and the bag
I kicked my head, my heart
my shivering fingers, my legs
my memories and my miseries
Until they rolled down far from my sight
Every day after midnight
The noise from the security’s keys
Seems like an earthquake that splits the place
into two different worlds
Every Thursday after eight at night
The sounds of musical notes
Reunion the world
In the dim cellar
Behind the piano
Sits a Spanish man
Distills the sounds
Like the rose water
Drops them into a bottle
Hitting the bottle will save you
From being insane
6 Mei 2020: A visit in the corona time
My mobile phone rang and my mother’s name fluttered like an angel on the screen, I imagined the conversation before I picked up the phone and as usual an electronic shower of blessings and prayers will keep the evil eyes away. But this time I am disappointed.
-Do you remember Intesar* ?
– No really, I don’t, why?
– How not! The daughter of Am Hossam, she was our neighborhood in Damascus alley, she was working in a sewing factory, and used to take some girls to work there, but not you. The important thing that she is now in the Netherlands.
– Hollanda* welcoming here.
-Oh, Randa, you are like your mother, welcomes people and relatives.
-You get me wrong…
Two hours later, Intesar sits in my place at the round table, I am hearing her roar, seeing her foam. She is stretching her neck like geometric shapes, telling stories using all her senses benefitting from her body language as if she was displaying mime scenes.
So Madam Corona is the one who makes you come from Italy, and your relative in Germany refuses to receive you, the reason is that your brother, you sit with him, is suspected to be infected by the coronavirus. I wish the situation will be good, don’t worry, you are welcome until the issue will improve.
Mrs. Intisar does not shut up for a moment, she speaks like a radio broadcast throughout the day, the disturbing thing that I have been living here with my daughter for three years and she is relatively quiet and I do not speak as much as I listen and read. So, the sudden presence of Intesar in my house spreads chaos.
I imagined her as a large tongue hits the teeth like the raging sea waves hit the rocks. What made me more tired is that I had to focus with her as she was stopping suddenly and asked me my opinion of what she said.
The first thing that took my attention was her ability to create conversation from any trivial subject, the talk was branching out, for example, we started talking about chocolate and we ended up that America is one of the major causes of the world destruction. Our guest does not make an effort to start with an idea and develop it, she is a master in carving pain in her heart like the craftsmen of Al Ghouta turning the wood board to a piece of mosaic art.
As we sat down, she jumped like a spring that escaped from a pen pipe and opened the curtain saying “Open the curtain”.
– who close it?
Randa, are you the one… ? Then she asked my daughter the same.
I tried to use the body language. Maybe she could understands my discomfort, so I closed one eye and put the palm of my hand over my forehead, but she pointed me to move to the nearby sofa, crumping: move to the other side.
After that she started a long discussion about vitamin D, the sun and her story that she went to the doctor who prescribed her vitamin D and recommended her to expose to the sunlight but no positive improvement happened. Then she asked my daughter to bring her bag, she took out the medicine, we read the patient information leaflet, the formula, and the use till the last word.
Not only did we compare the two medical insurances between the two countries, she went too far suggesting that I have to send tips to the medical insurance company in the Netherlands to improve their treatment, especially with refugees, adding such proposals in those countries are taken seriously.Believe me for a second I thought we were preparing a program to save the world.
In reality, my energy was consumed by this kind of dialogue which is similar to those skills that are nothing but a waste of time, even it has no benefit, like the one that broadcasts on the entertainment programs on television, a man eats glass and another places a nail in his nose… And our visitor topics are like nails and glass pieces.
Our visitor used to sit for hours next to the window looking outside. Her eyes catch something we do not see, her pupils like a magnet, attracted to it until it becomes out of her sight and when it is swallowed up by the horizon her mind builds stories out of it. She often gets terrified that she comes out what is in her coat pockets of dried paper napkins so the white dust flys out of them, bills and hair tweezers she puts them in her lap and anxiety is clear on her, at the end we find out that she is looking for her mobile that she puts somewhere else so we all calm down with an exaggerated dramatic scene.
A few days later, I felt that all my muscles were in spasm and I was nervous, I surprised of myself how many books I read about controlling stress, adapting to change and others. I thought it is necessary to have a meditation session, I previously had recorded one of these sessions on my mobile so it came to my mind to put the headphones and start relaxing. Since my visitor was to take a bath, I felt that I had to seize the opportunity, my behavior seemed unfamiliar to me and as two runners we split up, quickly I wore my pajamas, I got rid of my hair tie and dimmed the lights in the living room. I started thinking about my future goal, which is publishing a book, but with Intesar either that will not be accomplished or will be a kind of Kafkaism books. Then I started deep nose breathing, exhaled it slowly out of my mouth tapping my finger between the eyebrows to reach the focus, thinking of nothing, to inter the alpha phase of brain vibrations then relaxing the muscles of my eyes to the point that I couldn’t rest them anymore so they became closed. After that, I steeled the rest muscles and at that point, I had to cancel any external sound I heard and focus on the sound of recording to deepen the meditation. Unfortunately, the sound of Intesar asking for something that I tried to ignore, but she woke up my muscles and leached them like the runaway horse.
She was repeating over my head: Who poured the coffee and wiped it with the white towel?… Randa, is it you?
My muscles no longer knew what to do to paralyze or to become stiffening.
– Aunt Nasoura, my love, did’t you see that I am relaxed and listen to the instructions I am about to….
– Did you still believe in such talk there was nothing better than washing with laurel soap and rubbing your body with the oriental bath bag!
Oh, those days when my father was welding the water heater, which dripping hot water, the calcareous water causing holes over the time… The war came and the fuel was cut off and we are no longer …..
Two days after the arrival of the visitor of the corona time, the house turned upside down, I was searching for the calm in the folds of my shirts, under the mattresses and above the shelves but in vain … her questions were coming from all directions, like sniper bullets, as I climbed the stairs, I heard her voice coming deep from the kitchen: Who did this?
While I’m in the bathroom her sound startled me: where did you put the pan?
Entering my room to sleep, questions and inquiries poked me. I became like a freak turned around while Intesar roaming the house up and down, I did not know where she was, but her voice made me predicting her place to avoid it.
In fact, Intesar was evoking all the time what was lost in the war, and during the asylum procedures, she looked like a lost child full of nostalgia and suffering of the homesick. She brought her inherited fear to Europe: “That all people who live in Europe are tracked by the government where they stay.”
All she cares about is to talk to someone, to empty her speech charge like a thunderbolt cutting a tree in half, she wants to recall the spirit of the family that was scattered, she is not able to store her sadness somewhere, but keeps remembering and repeating them, which constrains her ability to concentrate on her present and puts her off her stroke.
A few months passed, the visitor of the corona time stays with us, the news about her brother cuts off. It is said that theyputs him in quarantine and no other information about him.
Accordingly Intesar no longer belongs to any place, I really envy her being non-belonging person, I feel that if I had been in her place, I would have been free from the restrictions of possession, space and time, free from all negative external powers, not being captive to the threads of the past that tighten my body as the surgeon pulls the skin to close the surgicalexcision .
Intesar is one victim of the dictatorship regim systems, that she does not choose. Perhaps she is now in the stage of molting, and what comes next will not be known, as no human being has ever emerged to a fully grown adult and return back to be a nymphs thrown by the uterus in the open.
The surprising thing that she is pretty certain that what happened to her brother is not true. She is sure that the coronavirus does not exist and it is created to exterminate some politically wanted persons, so I engaged myself with non-winner discussion for days, I got out of it like someone entering a Milky Way, or crashing into an orb and returning to the Earth with a memory gap.
The coronavirus disappeared and we entered the post-crisis phase, and the strategies of rationing . The visitor of corona time still with us, on the contrary to her name she had a setback that was no way out, she became less talkative. I became more aware of her questions, her place, controlling my tension, and more worried about the victims of the wars.
I came to a conclusion that if you want to cool down the crimes of the wars in the eyes of the world, then you provide oppressed people places outside their homelands or create a bigger case.
Sadly, we have become excess goods in the second hand shope escaping from the Middle East.
I looked at Intesar’s face, she was sleeping on the sofa while I read Louis Argonne
“We have prepared everything for those who are suffocating.
Everything they need to breathe.
We curtain the darkness of the night.
We have opened shelters everywhere.
Saving ourselves the provision for complaining”
I have to admit we are not desirable antique, we are like relics that are cheaply smuggled in the days of the wars, to include them in the western museums, where tourists take photos in front of them.
If you think coronavirus is the most dangerous thing that happened at that time, you are wrong, the wars with their consequences are most deadly and dangerous. If you don’t believe it, then you must go to the museums, we had been immortalized there in many forms and colors. Some of us are carved from stone, some of us are old wood, some of us are trapped in oil paintings, some of us are prevented destruction weapons and the rest had been recorded as victims of a pandemic which was called coronavirus that killed thousands of human beings that was since hundred years ago.
This is what my mother read to me from a manuscript that is placed on a table at the entrance of the Oriental Museum in Utrecht city.
* Intesar: is an Arabic female name,it means victory .
*Hollanda: The pronunciation of the Netherlands in Arabic language.