As much as I love watching nature and wildlife documentaries I’ve recently developed a tendency to get drifted in thought while watching them and consoling myself by thinking “at least I’m enjoying the beautiful, relaxing scenes”. But you know, the real consolation is that sometimes these ideas turn out productive, at least on a personal level, just like the thought that led to writing this post.
It goes like this; I was watching the 1984 series The Living Planet by the legend that is David Attenborough. As he went on with his soothing voice and his British accent, talking about distant islands and curious creatures as if it was something he did everyday (which indeed he did), my distraction of choice was a pipe dream I’d like so much to happen that I almost believed it would in someway. I though, “If I’m to win a date with a celebrity, I want it to be with David Attenborough.” I imagined We’d watch some of his documentaries together while he tells me inside stories about them. Or maybe we’d just go for a walk and he would keep talking and talking while I’m listening intently unable to stop smiling, which is usually the case when anyone is telling me a fun story about something as ridiculous as swallowing a fly by mistake so imagine how much more I would look like a complete goof if David Attenborough was telling me about how he felt standing by a herd of hungry komodo dragons devouring a carcass.
Anyway, not to drag you into that fantasy world, one thought led to another and now I was thinking how much I love to hear stories. In fact one of my regrets in life is not having listened to more stories from my grandfather before he passed away. Some of my fondest memories too are those where my father used to tell us stories about his childhood in Palestine or my mother’s stories about her mischievous childhood in Jabal Et-Taj. I tried to write down some of these stories because I believe this is where stories should go, they have to be written so that they hopefully won’t vanish into thin air with time.
Another reason I have this passion for documenting those stories is that I’m better at writing a story than telling it. Sometimes I’d get so excited while telling a story that I’ll be at loss for words and people would give me the look that of “it’s okay, relax, take a breath” not to mention that I’m a fast talker. Thankfully though, a couple of months ago I had the great and genuine pleasure of meeting Nesma, the Egyptian young woman who made me understand perhaps for the first time what it means to be a natural story teller. In fact it wasn’t very surprising –in retrospect- to learn that the nature of her job was to tell stories, as she works with less fortunate children in refugee camps and in the slums to help them tell their own stories. And it wasn’t only for the amazing stories she told about these children or the stories from Tahrir Square as she was there day in day out, bearing witness to history in the making. No, the stories were breath-taking but it wasn’t only that. Nesma has this air of tranquility about her, and a face so peaceful that you can’t get tired of smiling at. She told her stories in vivid details, with a calm yet clear voice that is sure to captivate anyone. Nesma made me realize that telling stories is an art in itself.
And that makes me think again of the need to master that art. In fact I’ve always thought of bed time stories I would tell my children. I remember when we were kids a certain story that my father used to tell us at bedtime. Only when I grew up I realized he was making it up as he goes. It was a series, each night he would tell us a part of it but it was never completed for some reason. He called it مدينة الأحلام “The city of dreams” and I remember the last part he told us, which ended with the boy and the girl walking through the city of dreams and the dolphins jumping in and out of water. Believe it or not, I’m approaching 28 and I still would like to hear the end of this story, which I don’t think my father even remembers now. Actually as I write this I’m tempted to write it all over again myself! Anyway, back to my hypothetical children I think I might be telling them real stories they probably won’t hear at school or anywhere else, mostly real stories like that of the Dodo: “The Dodo was an extremely tame bird that European sailors were able to kill it with bats and it was exterminated 200 thousand years after it had been discovered. Moral of the story: Don’t be naïve.” I know what you might be thinking; maybe it’s not such a bad thing if I never have children as to spare them this agony!
I wish bedtime stories were a tradition for adults too, that’s a thought to entertain, but for now I have enough David Attenborough documentaries stacked on my nightstand, and he has many stories to tell…