The International Writers Festival 2019: 1,001 Nights in Damascus



no way to speak in English because our yes my said now I really thrilled to to meet you today I don't know if you already read or met or heard about Danny Othman my father calls me Ahmed and the last time he called me was like 10 years ago so I was I'm sorry [Laughter] everywhere so as you probably all know this is a Danny first visit to Israel and he was born and raised in Syria and then immigrated to Canada on five years ago he had very very very it's like a life story that I think could make a very nice movie film I think Julia Roberts would be 1 million questions for you it's it's it's really interesting to meet you a person first of all because none of us usually meets a Syrian regularity on a daily basis you know and I find it quite brave of you to come to Israel even though you're already Canadian thank you but it's an experience that I'm sure was not was not easy for you because there's a Syrian born and raised like us born and raised to think specific things about the other side let's call it likely I wonder what is your impression you've been here for four days what is your impression space that you only heard of before that's a great question thank you for asking I I didn't I decided intentionally not to have any prejudgment by the way this visit has been in the plans for a year a full year we have been talking about this and I have decided not to think about what I'm going to see here because I didn't want to build any expectations other than the ones that I learned for meeting people like you from coming to this place and getting to know your folks so when I arrived I also honestly I didn't know if the security at the airport are going to let me know well ours yeah but I hear that other people take like twelve or fourteen and there's some times I'm like yeah and they were very nice to me they asked me the same questions three times interview questions please please just allow me we will have time for audience but it's not it's not a dialogue with the audience so we excuse me we will go on with the interview and we will have some 15 to 20 minutes for questions if you don't mind yes so I didn't want to have any expectations and then when I arrived and after I went through this gather the security I ended up at the other side in Tel Aviv Airport and I remember I looked at Matthew Matthew this is my partner my fiancĂ©e is sitting right there [Applause] oh yeah and I I sit there and I was like I suddenly got so excited I got I like got Guinea and I was like oh my god I'm here I've been hearing about this place literally since the first thought that I have the first memories that they have so this is the question what do you hear about Israel if when you grow as a Syrian boy we hear a lot of I think give us a taste sure I I grew up in in Damascus I grew up under the Assad regime and we have a lot of propaganda about what Israel is I believe that the Syrian government needed to stay in power and the way that they needed to stay in power is by creating a boogeyman an enemy so the Syrian people would feel that they have the Syrian regime protecting them from the enemy we grew up with a lot of information misinformation about Israel very specific propaganda there's a lot of rumors for example that when I was 12 or 13 a friend of mine told me that Israelis drink people's blood for example because this is the kind of like it's the enemy we're worse were scared of you you know what I mean and when I was when when I was 24 that's and that story I think I told earlier to a friend of mine here when I was 24 I was I went to Egypt as I told you earlier and I ended up at the Red Sea and it was the first time that I meet an actual is really he didn't have the horns and they didn't have the ones I was very surprised that look for a while and they we started having a conversation and we're sitting around in a bar I was dating this Italian person at the time and it's everybody else around me it's either American European or Israeli and it was like 3 o'clock in the morning and everybody is like kinda tipsy and we ended up talking about the relationship between Syria and Israel and I leaned on the Israeli person and I was like I'm sure however that they were really really sad that you lost the war back in 1973 and like there was silence and like me from my side I was like exactly and like I it was the first time in my life I read that in history books in Syria like this is something that we learned in schools that Syria won the war in 1973 picked over war in 1973 it's it's we celebrate the victory every year on the 16th of October every year it's it's a national holiday that we want the war against Israel so there's one good point you earn a national day off from work because of us so I think that was the day I remember that that incident very important for me because that was the day that I was like I don't know anything about you I don't know anything about you as well everything that I know about Israel is based on the propaganda of the Syrian government and if they're willing to lie about something as big as winning a war and make it sound so glorious from my side then how many other lives there are other that's why I ended up being more open to research and to understand the different narratives that each side is trying to present because I don't think also like I don't think the Israelis side is saying the full truth as well I think there is also the government here would have its own propagandas and the ways that they want the Israeli people to feel about themselves and about the government they never told us that you drink children's so so it was quite an excitement and weren't you even a bit it was it was actually I take that back to the time that I got in touch with me shy Siddiqui everybody is your last name Sadiq yes yes so shy Cindy is my publisher here the publisher liberal here he got in touch with me in 2017 when the book was released and was like would you like to publish the book in Hebrew and how was I I of course thought about the fact that not a lot of Arabs no Arab I know allowed their work to be translated into Hebrew and I thought about the many things that we hear about specifically as a gay man pinkwashing the fact that Israel tried to push for human rights when it comes to gay people as a way to to counter the narrative about violations of human rights that they do so I thought about all of those things but at the end of the day I am an artist and I'm a writer and what I want to do is I want to create a dialogue I want to have bits and pieces of my art be fulfill by the readers themselves I don't think anybody writes a book to the perfection of the book I think the book is written to a point where the reader will be able to insert themselves into the book and I wanted you folks to to to be inserted into my book I wanted you to be part of my word and I don't think that's that's that's a bad thing to do and and the same goes for my visit here when when I was told by the festival that they're interested in inviting me here I said yes because because I want to know more and I want you to know more I want you to know more about me I don't represent all Syrians or all Arabs or all refugees or all Muslims or all gays or all anything I represent only myself but at the end of the day having a conversation between you as an Israeli as a person who you are and me as an as an Arab as a person who I am is literally the smallest step we take into understanding one another and I hope it will be only the first step thank you for the initiative so so you're here for four days have you've been visiting Jerusalem the old city all the sacred places did you go to the Temple Mount yeah are you religious or secular or well I'm spiritual I believe that there is a higher power of some sort up there in the universe I believe that the universe is meaningful in the way that it's created and I believe that that's higher power well judges on our good or bad and that comes from treating other people if we are treating ourselves and other people in a good way we are going to be rewarded somehow I don't understand how I think it's bigger than me but it's it's a drive for me to to try my very best and fail sometimes to do the good I can in the world going back to your life story yeah just a bit I heard you speaking Ted you have a Ted performance so from what I've heard from you it was you spoke very briefly because Ted is short of course now we have we have an all the whole night if you want we have an hour but how was it to grow up as a homosexual in Syria when did you find out about it when did you tell anybody about it and how did you keep with it it's never easy even in Israel is never easy but never easy yeah yeah I completely agree it's never easy to anybody I think that people learn about their sexuality at a certain age be it straight or gay or anything else that is on that spectrum and it was the same for me I learned about my sexuality at the age of 12 or 13 and I find it funny when like somebody asked me so when did you learn that you're gay and I'm like that's a great question when did you learn that you're straight so there's there's that but growing up in Syria specifically we're talking about a place where homosexuality is is criminalized by the by the regime by the law a gay man getting caught in Syria is criminalized under an act called committing again an act against God and against God yes and it's it's punishable by three years in prison and public shaming where they put your picture in newspapers to tell people to stay away from you like a pedophile or some like a mattifying else they do the same for pedophiles as well it's it's the law that covers all of anything that they consider outside of the heterosexual norm normative relationship let alone that of course my family is very conservative my father is very conservative my father is extremely like is the idea of what a Muslim man is you know like I think he knew that I was gay like just to quote my own TED talk I think he knew that I was gay since I was like four or five and he tried to like get it out of me by by presenting me all of those like macho activities like what he enrolled me in boxing mm-hmm he really did he enrolled me in boxing at the age of six he enrolled me in an Islamic school he got me a job as at the construction sites he tried to like do all the manly things that you can think of like any manly thing you can think of he tried to do so now I have a very very strong right hook so I I still know boxing you don't need to f with me I know the Quran by heart despite the fact that I don't identify as a Muslim I know how to wire a whole house but I'm still gay sorry dad so that's that's my childhood really that's the way that I navigated my childhood I I remember I I was always conflicted between the age I would say 12 and 15 about my sexuality because I felt that there's nothing I can do to change it and I kept talking like at the time I was very I was trying to understand religion so I kept talking to God being like just give me an answer just like tell me what should I do because I don't know what to do here this is probably felt very guilty I felt very guilty I felt very ashamed I felt very lonely it was I remember like I would be in school and I would see all the other boys around me and they're all like playing together being like themselves and I felt that that I'm the loneliest person in all of the maskers and and then when I was 15 I kissed a boy for the very first time and it felt so connective it it wasn't about the sexuality of it it wasn't about that it just I felt seen by that person I felt that I'm cared for and I felt that I care for that person it was the most beautiful feeling that honest to god that fifteen-year-old Danny ever experienced in his life and then I had a choice I'm either going to believe that the society is right that that religion is right that the government is right that homosexuality is a sin or I have to believe in that beautiful beautiful feeling that I had and that that I'm just following love with somebody else and they just happened to be a boy and did he he was falling in love with you too we were boyfriends for three years for three years he is so you kept it secret I presume I came out when I was 17 he didn't he ended up being married he's actually married to to a woman and have three children Wow yeah yeah I have him on Facebook is my friend on Facebook it's yeah I have a lot of friends on Facebook but I don't talk to any of them so when you get the father when did you tell your parents at 17 at 17 I told my father when I was 17 Wow my family's rate is functional I think they should have never had me to begin with I think my father was 18 when he had me and my mother was 17 and I think they I think they are default the product of their society when you tell an eighteen year old and a 17 year old that they can't fall in love they are going to try their very best to fall in love so I think they try too hard and they weren't meant for one another but then they ended up pregnant and then they ended up having to get married and then they stayed together for 17 18 years despite the fact that they would never meant for one another just because I was there I was the product of their hope for a love what was their reaction when you told them I mean your father's me out I actually we had a very violent interaction violent very violent physically also physically also and then he kicked me out of the house I lived on the streets for six month and then I was taking in by a trans sex worker who raised me up for a year and a half and put me through college Wow yeah she is she's a lovely person actually she is she's the closest thing that I have to a mother figure VD she she is this trans person in Syria she escapes her family she was much older than me she was in her 30s when I was in my seventeen and she she just saw me saw me multiple times on the streets and then she was like you know what I live on my own I have a lot of my clients who come over and I need somebody to be at the house would you like to stay me and I'm like sure so I ended up living with her for a year and a half and she paid for my college she put me through college and then when I ended up publishing my first book in Egypt I he left that house and she helped me actually buy the ticket to go to Egypt well she still lives in Syria no she lives in Turkey I told her like two years ago three years ago I I do a lot of work in Canada on supporting LGBTQ lesbian gay bisexual and trans I didn't find refugees specifically from Syria to come to Canada so I went to her like couple years ago and was talking to her on Facebook being like hey so I'm doing this work would you like to come with – to Canada would you like me to help you come to Canada it's like no no business is perfect here in Turkey why would I ever leave yeah so living on the streets yeah must be a nightmare how do you live on the streets what do you do to survive okay I think that this is the limit of where we're going to push how about that I guess if that's okay with you sure of course that was the agreement beforehand thank you very much there are questions that are not answered it's okay that's totally so your mother you you ever are you in touch with your parents – no I'm not in touch with my parents or my my sisters I have four sisters and one much younger brother we haven't been in touch for for ages we try to mend things when I was around 28 but it didn't work out so Sylvie I guess I have a very beautiful spiritual family though so my wedding as we said earlier as in October and I happened to have my best people my best man and my best woman in the wedding are my spiritual family my friends for the last 10 15 years up and with me in the ups and downs I think family is about the connections that we create about people that you trust with everything about people that you never let go of regardless of anything and all of the above fits those those people so I'm quite comfortable with the spiritual family that I have I'm so happy you are thank you so when and how did you leave Syria howhow did it end that you had to leave Syria because I presume you didn't choose to leave Syria I did not I didn't I there's this concept that a lot of refugees leave the country because they want to leave the country specifically my story I didn't want to leave Syria even though of the war that was going on for years and I was actually having like I was I was having a very fulfilling life when I was in Syria so I went back to say I lived across the Middle East for a while I lived in Egypt for a while and I went back to Syria in 2010 late 2010 early 2011 I started moving back to Syria and when I arrived I could tell that there was a movement that is happening a political movement that was happening at the time it was a revolution it turned later on into a civil war for so many different reasons including the fault of the regime and the fault of the the the people themselves but it started at the time as a civil rights movement really and I felt that I can have a part in that movement I really did like I met a lot of people in Syria and in those first six months of me arriving between 2000 and 2011 that I felt so inspired by folks who wants democracy folks who are learning about what it means to demand human rights folks who are welcoming to me as a whole as as the person who is gay as well and and that felt so fulfilling for me and then I decided to do my part so me and my best friend she is a lesbian woman we started we turned my apartment in Damascus into an algebra teacher underground center so we started doing events like card games tournaments and sharing circles and I would download game movies not that kind of game movies out download gay themed movies to to share with the people to who never had access to this material so the gays really loved The Birdcage by Robin Williams if you ever seen it good movie and the lesbians really like like the Vagina Monologues which is also an HBO show you should watch it if you haven't seen it it's such a good show and then we started inviting people to come to this house it started just the two of us in a year and a half it ended up around 150 people who know about the house so you were operating a year and a half without the the the regime without the government trying to stop you or I don't think I think I think the minute that they found out about her state I got arrested so you managed to stay underground for a year and a half we managed to stay underground for a year and a half until somebody told the wrong person who told the wrong person who told the government on us basically I got the nernst arrested in an airport I was arrested for six weeks which you're going to ask about and I'm going to tell you that I actually don't remember much about it really I really don't you know it's one of the greatest nightmares of every Israeli soldier the the reason the Damascus prison so I was wondering I honestly don't remember anything about it I have the I have scars but I you were tortured I don't know much about it probably my therapist tells me that I I go to therapy by the way it's such a good thing you should try it sometimes I really highly recommend that my therapist tells me that my body my mind decided that you really don't need to remember this so why would you bother and I agree with her why would I bother and then I was released after six months six years six weeks six weeks thanks God and I was I was I was released actually not officially released I'm I my best friend gathered funds from all around and she bribed an officer who like literally got me out of prison like overnight this woman that took you out of the street your angel no no another one my best friend my lesbian best friend she she did that fatiah the trans woman she is she wasn't turkey by them yeah and and I was told that you have to leave the country like right now like there was no they told me that if I stayed in the country I'll be arrested again so I ended up leaving I ended up masa through the lesbian woman who drove me across the borders to Lebanon my friend in Lebanon who's down my best man received me took care of me he bought me a laptop and a mobile and and helped me rent an apartment where did you live in in Beirut or in hammerin Beirut Hama yeah which is funny because both of them and I ended up sponsoring them to come to Canada so when when he came to Canada I also welcomed him he crashed at my place and I bought him a laptop what I bought can I be a friend I'm out of laptops yeah and and I ended up living in Lebanon for two years okay so so you you are escaped from one war zone too in our eyes another war zone I mean you you live most of your life in war zones and and I wonder how does it feel I mean in the book you describe in in one of the in one of the scenes actually quite at the beginning the bombardment that crushed into your lovemaking with with your fiancee and I was wondering is that happening on a daily basis over there it's it happens on a daily basis but as as humans do we live with it it's it's it becomes so normal to to have that and you start to navigate it there's another scene in the book where they go to a nightclub but they arrive at the nightclub at four o'clock in the afternoon and they start partying at four o'clock in the afternoon because they know that there is a curve you at 11:00 and so they put black curtains all over the place and they start drinking and partying as if it's midnight but it's it's and that's what happened in Damascus people just try to live with it because if you're going to sit there thinking all the time there's a war outside I might die every minute that's not alive and that's not a way that the brain is going to function to begin with so you you you live with it you navigate so people are going on living their lives over them in from what I saw on TV which is quite suspicious always of course it's like ruins all over in a maskers that is suspicious City the city looks like if that it was bombardment for four years and there's nothing left over there oh there are neighborhoods in Damascus that happen bombarded for years and those neighborhoods are destroyed and the neighborhood right thinks – it has a nightclub where people are going partying because this is how war functions there are people and there are civilians who just are living their lives you know what I mean and there's no way around it like there's if you're going to live all of your life in the stress of war that's that's it's going to kill you're going to have a heart attack and die so I'm so familiar doesn't it it's the same yeah I know right just last week we suffered like 700 bombings coming from Gaza to the to the areas and the villages cities nearby and our daughter Nash along and it happens a lot and I'm sure that some of the Israeli folks when they hear there are 700 bombard ins that happened over the weekend they're like okay yeah they zip their espresso also in Jerusalem not only in Tel Aviv yeah so yeah I think so and I think that it has an impact though I think that like to go back to therapy we as humans have our ability to handle stress and that ability of handling stress grows with the stresses that are around us and a war is the biggest of all stresses because you're not sure about your safety about your home about your food about any of the important basic needs of a human life but you you live with the stress you learn to live with the stress so when I arrived to Canada my stress levels are right here and they don't drop at the airport like people think that like now that you're in they are safe my body doesn't understand that yet my mind like my logic understands that but my body still wants to produce this level of stress while everybody around me all the other Canadians Canadians around me who have been like eating quinoa and doing yoga their level of stress is right here you know so so just I my first year in Canada was so dramatic because I was so dramatic I was so stressed all the time and everybody around me is just like oh relax just relax everything is fine here I'm like it I'll look for the button just give me a second I like press a button here and I relax right away right right now I ate could wine I do yoga so um how was it this was the beginning but your five years Canadian and you refer yourself as a Syrian Canadian what is the Canadian part in your personality nowadays if you can separate the Syrian part and the Canadian part I don't think I can though I don't think I can separate those two it's the same idea of like when I'm in one place I'm gay or not I'm always gay I'm gay when I'm eating breakfast and I'm gay when I'm hanging out with you right now and I'm gay when I'm sleeping I'm always gay and I'm always Syrian and I'm always Canadian there's no way to like turn that off you don't know but you know what I mean before we spoke about it Canadians are more polite than us the Mediterraneans they're different in some way so we're very very interesting kind of people we are we're very we're challenged by speaking of our minds and we would rather let you navigate that conversation with us rather than have a conflict with you I would say okay so it's do to be more serious I think that over the past five years I have learned so much about Canadians I have fallen in love with Canada a full-on love and think uber I've fallen in love with a Canadian boy is from the prairies he's a cowboy deep down in the heart don't be don't be fooled by his Bing sucks he's actually a cowboy right there.i and I fell in love with the city with the people with the way of living with the way of communicating I think that it's it's beautiful and it's it's it's meaningful and they are you ask a Canadian what are you as a Canadian and they're like North American so I I think that this is this is beautiful and I call Canada home I really do but I also call Syria home and I call Cairo home it's because I don't think of home as one place I think I'm monogamous when it comes to relationships I'm not monogamous wouldn't comes to homes I think I can have multiple homes at the same time and there's nothing wrong with that I'm I highly doubt I'll ever go back to Syria I highly doubt I'll ever visit the mosque you know you never visited since you left I don't think you can't I can't because I'm I'm wanted there and I don't think after this visit oh they they also one of the chapters of the book is basically like a court order against house unless it like there's a whole chapter in the book where house that I said is like being judged for all of his actions so also I don't think the Syrian regime will look very kindly on that yeah so but but seriously would you like to go back to Syria one day if ever the regime will change I think in a perfect word in a word that is made completely up by my imagination and I highly doubt that will actually happen there's going to be a pride parade in Damascus every year I the the regime is going to be democratic and very similar to how Canada is run and in that word I think I would like to retire in which I spend half of the year the summer in Canada not the winter no not the winter and spend the other half of the in Damascus in that perfect word I would love to go back but I don't want to be back in the closet I don't want to hide Who I am anymore I have worked so hard to be the Syrian Canadian gay man with a refugee experience who's an author I worked so hard to be all of those things together and to get this like all of those identities they're like little Denny's or sitting around the table and they used to like five years ago they used to be throwing chairs at each other and around that table and now they sit so politely and talk to each other on that DS yeah after therapy yes therapy is really good again yes that's really work so yeah and I think like I worked really hard for all those identities to come together and to and for me to be all of those people at the same time and I don't want to be in a place where I hide any of any part of who I am so unless Syria can welcome all of me I'm going to sit on the other side of the world and be loving but critical what is your perspective what what do you think will happen in Syria in in the next couple of years I mean nobody knows the future of course but as a Syrian who looks and I'm sure that you follow the news you don't you don't I don't because my therapist told me not to she's a very smart woman on estoy the generalities so I have I have a like a report that I get from like different websites once a week that lets me know what's going on but I don't like follow every single detail and every explosion every conflict because it's just to to go back to the law yeah it's really really too hard so I I protect myself and when I'm not ready if in one week I'm not ready to read that report I click delete and I'm not going to read it now but I do understand the generalities of what's going on in Syria and I think that the logical me is not very optimistic because the war can end tomorrow morning like literally and I don't think it's gonna happen but let's imagine that all the sides in the war and all of those other powers that are supporting all the different sides in the war decided you know what we're going to end this war again never gonna happen but let's say that's going to happen we're talking about a country where it's people for eight years different sects or fighting each other and those people are not just going to go back and start shaking hands and be friends again those people are not going to go back and build from the start those people don't have the resources to go from the start it takes 26 billion dollars to rebuild Aleppo and that's one city in Syria I'm not talking about the small villages here and there you know what I mean so I think it is I hope that I'm wrong I hope that Syria because I love Syria so much I love my home my heritage there I hope that it will one day be one of the most beautiful countries again in the world but it will require so much work and it will require a different mentality to how to run it I mean tality that is excuse me that is more Canadian actually then Syrian a mentality about having dialogues about opening bridges about about seeing the beauty of Syria and not just build another building but actually build people together how many people flee it Syria do you have any idea incentive people 7 million Syrians out of how many 22 23 million in 2015 so it's almost third left and there is 6 million who are internally displaced so those are people who used to live all of their lives and say Aleppo but they were forced to leave and to say Damascus because it's safer so there is almost half of the country more than half of the country is affected by the war in drastic ways everybody is affected by the war one way or another you mean about the humanitarian crisis also there are 7 million refugees out there Canada taps itself and the shoulder see I can criticize Canada and the taps itself on the shoulder for taking 40 million forty thousand refugees and from Syria in two years and that's great but that's a drop in the pocket that is literally nothing when we're talking about 7 million refugees 3 million of them are in Lebanon and the Lebanese people are 3 million so there is a Lebanese for every Syrian independent Wow so and and Lebanon is a tiny little country that has its own problems Hezbollah anyone so so there's that you know what I mean so adding all of that pressure on Lebanon of course you end up with xenophobia in durban and of course the Lebanese are going to hit the Syrians so there's that other aspect to the war between Syria and between within Syria it's going to cause a lot of the Lebanese people to hate the Syrian people for something that is neither the fault of Syrians or Lebanese yeah you helped gay people from Syria escape yeah I tell us about it please sure did you do it ah so I was way more active in the first three years that I was in Canada and I'll tell you why that I'm not as active right now when I arrived in Canada I was driven by my survivals guilt I felt that I am I I got so much privilege just by being there and that safety while everybody else that I know were in Lebanon having the same difficulties that I was having so I ended up doing something we have in Canada something called private sponsorship program where the Canadian government allows its citizens Canadian citizens to come together and volunteer together and privately sponsor a refugee to come to Canada so the government all the government has to do is sign up on the papers and the the citizens will volunteer to raise money so they will cover the first year of that person's arrival to teach the person how to open a bank account or how to navigate a city and how to get unlike transit and stuff like that you know what I mean help them get a job and stuff like that and that's how I arrived kind of that this is how this is the program that I was sponsored through so I ended up using that system in getting so many Canadians to actually bring Syrians Syrian gay people to Canada I ended up in total getting 28 people out of out of the Middle East to Canada I also started running it was funny because I started it as this like tiny little fundraiser that I did where I like guts like my friends to cook Syrian food and like I played some Syrian music in the background and got people a lot of like a lot a lot a lot of alcohol and then I asked them for money and I started and it always works get people drunk and ask them for money works like charm and then and then I ask them for money and then they donate the money to an organization called rainbow refugee that specifies and sponsoring refugees who are gay from all across the world now this event has raised over $100,000 in the past five years it's now one of the biggest events that happens in being Coover across the year I have a bank sponsoring it this year which is amazing they paid me money to run it which is wonderful thank you I paid the money back to the organization so this is what I do so you do it in Vancouver you raise money raise money and I used to build sponsorship groups until I would say two years ago when we had one person Syrian he had a heart disease he's gay as well and we wanted to get him to Canada and we worked the whole application and we did everything right and he went to the Canadian embassy he did his interview he aced his interview they told him you're coming to Canada we booked him the flight he was flying in September 2017 and he passed away in August 2017 oh and that really broke my heart that really like I was like I I can't be I can't be opening up to that creep anymore I I just can't so now I just focus on the fundraising I get other people like the lesbian woman that is now living with nearby in Vancouver she does a lot of that work that uh the face to face work while I just organized the fundraising to to help them so your friend left with you on Oh a year ago yeah I sponsored her to come like this yeah she's one of the 28 people responsible to come to Canada yeah so this book how long did it take you to write it it's your first book in English it's my first book and you wrote it in English oh did you write it in Arabic and then translate I wrote it in English and when I finished writing it in English I read it once I'm like nobody is going to read this nobody and now I'm in Israel what people are reading it in Hebrew apparently so yeah I I wrote it in English it was my first project in English ever by the way what word does your English come from because I fell in love with one of the Backstreet Boys when I was 12 and I wanted to know what the hell is singing about so here we go it's cool he's very handsome Bryan I'm sorry baby I love you that was a long time ago so I wrote it in English it took around two and a half years I served writing it in 2012 I finished six months after I arrived to Canada you finished it the first draft was ready ready so you were writing your trauma basically yes I was my server says that if it didn't write that book most probably I've committed suicide so I'm very happy that I wrote that book I yeah I wrote it dealing with my trauma not knowing that I was dealing with trauma I was just trying to book and it it finished and I read it and I hated it and I put it in a drawer and I never looked at it for a year and then I was doing something exactly like this I was invited to speak in a conference in a place called Harrison Springs which is a beautiful Hot Springs area in in in British Columbia the province I live in and I finished doing my speech and I did this feel I did the thing that I do I make jokes and I laugh and I'd say meaningful things and people laugh some more and people connect and I did the host feel and I ended up with the yeah I'm really authentic I promise you I really do oh my god I and then after I finished this person came to me and was like hey how about you write a memoir did you think of writing a memoir I'm like I'm 30 I was at the time 32 or 33 I was like I'm like really young to write a memoir like what the hell that's that's the the worst idea ever but I have this novel if you like when he turns out to be a small publishing house and within three months later the book was was on the shelves so you didn't really edit it I mean usually we had you write you know but you edit my books for a year I didn't at it I honestly didn't think that he was going to say yes i honest to god the not thing that he's going to say yes I'll publish this book I sent him a book and a month later he emailed me being like alright here's the contract and here's your editor and this is what we're going to do I'm like oh and like working with the editor the book weather was a hundred and twenty thousand words by the way the version that you've read is 80,000 words there's 40,000 words that are that ended up disappearing also I would say that from the original hundred and twenty thousand words there's around like 5060 thousand words that are in the book and the rest are new things that I had to add like my my editor and I we worked day and night for three months she is this really tentative reader she is very attentive to details she she sees a beautiful story and she's like you know how about you like you see this one sentence how about you make it like three pages and yeah yeah and and she she was fantastic really she really helped shape the book I honestly I'm like honest to god like I I would be nothing without my editor and my translator where's Lee Lee Lee Lee everybody she's my translator yes I would be nothing without those folks because to be honest like they they push me forward and like I think that the thing that gets my talent writing is when I'm challenged I'm actually doing my masters at the moment doing my masters at UBC University of British Columbia and in literature in creative writing I'm doing in creative writing specifically so I'm doing my thesis in which is going to be my next novel and there I'm I'm not competitive at all but I'm the top of my class and when when that happens you get to choose whichever professor you want to be you're your mentor you're your supervisor your thesis supervisor and everybody is like pick Annabelle she's really easy on you pick such and such they are really easy on you and I'm like who's going to be the hardest on me and I picked really the teacher the professor is going to be the most challenging because I really believed that I need to be better and if you didn't challenge me if you told me that everything I do is perfect then how am I going to be better are you sure you're not Jewish but I think I actually it's a compliment or not that this is the the this is the point I actually got got the DNA test and apparently like 12 generations back I had some Eric blood in me like Jewish blood in me the same in the same way we are cousins so it took you it was a big success in Canada I am as surprised as you are I first novel it's a WoW weren't you working on on-air aren't you still I am so ready for the next one that's the thing like I think that this book I'm so happy with it it continues to be successful it's it's going to be don't tell anybody I didn't tell you this it's released in French in August but I'm not supposed to say that yet it's a secret between me and all hundred of you and the camera over there by the camera to Hebrew and French oh we don't say it yes so it's translated to Hebrew French Spanish and German so nice which is amazing I'm so happy with all of that yeah thank you thank you thank you yes keep giving me appreciation thank you it makes me feel so bad now what we say here is no stop go on go on so so it's it's I'm ready for the next book because I feel like over the last three years as a writer I have evolved quite a lot and my next book I'm really really i'm midway through variety and like midway through it's going to be my thesis I'm supposed to start writing in September but I kinda started writing so I'm like 30,000 40,000 words in Wow which is awesome it's called the foghorn echoes and the fog horn echoes who invites the names for you you actually him we also this book has a beautiful name and this is the one so would you tell us the the general theme or yes yeah yeah I think it's about the lies that we tell ourselves so we can continue being at war with one another at war with one another yes it's it's a story it's Isabelle Lind have I'm sure you've read Isabelle in the house of ghosts she's a Latin American author award-winning amazing person yes she she was visiting UBC the University where I'm studying I ended up talking to her and she told me that the best kind of books are the ones that focus on the smallest stories while the background is the biggest of stories so something like the book is about two men who had an accident that it wasn't it wasn't the fault of either of them really when there were 15 or 16 but they kept hitting each other and reimagining that their lives and like telling the same stories over and over but keep adding details to make sure that they keep hating each other rather the fact than looking inwards and deciding to be like you know what it was an accident and I want to see how far those two characters are going to take this attitude and how far they're going to to go and how how and how much they're going to harm themselves rather than harm each other so that's that's the whole idea the title comes from Matthew because we live in Vancouver in in Canada and it's on the ocean it's on the Pacific Ocean and it gets really foggy in there in the winter so one day at 3 o'clock in the morning me and my PTSD self were asleep and then the foghorn came around that I jumped outta bed like a crazy person be like is this the war is this the apocalypse and he's like it's a down go back to sleep so and then I just couldn't go back to sleep and four hours later the first chapter was written written so you're you're speaking with yourself basically I I think I thin a way I think that I'm not speaking with myself anymore I'm looking back at the way that I was speaking with myself back in the day I'm I look at the way that I was conflicting with myself so much before the therapy and before trying to understand myself and before trying to instead of being so negative to myself actually trying to be forgiving to myself because they say like the thing about war is that you get overwhelmed and then you hate yourself because you are overwhelmed despite the fact that it's war it's totally normal that you're overwhelmed if you're not overwhelmed you're you're a psychopath right you know what I mean so and it's such an easy thing to say right now but it took so much work to stop blaming myself for being overwhelmed or scared or feared or or being conflicted or being in in or having a trauma because of war instead of looking back at at that with with shame I look back at that with kindness now and I'm I'm as I'm writing this book I'm looking at that that Danny and the way that I handled myself back then and I'm I want to write about that because I feel like that's a story that needs to be written I thank you so much all your braveness and speaking about it giving all the best you're a very courageous guy it's not easy to write like this so at this point we will open the the discussion for questions yes please then we'll go for the second one ah I wrote in Syria about broken hearts and poems and and boys falling in love and stuff like that and there were all heterosexual relationships and I never mentioned politics and I've never mentioned like I I wouldn't have a father figure that is a bit difficult for example fathers are always lovely any authority figure in any novel is such a good thing to have so my first two collections of collections of short stories or fairy tales they were mermaids and cats speaking to each other and stuff like that like I wanted to write things and I wanted it to be so so substantial so like under the line and I didn't know how to write that while still being safe except if I talked about it as if it's a fairy tale so that's the answer for your question yes yes good question great question oh my god I think that Canada over the past since the time that you were there up until now has evolved quite a lot there is a lot of new immigrants that are within Canada there's a lot of new cultures this folks from Asia from Africa from Israel who are coming to Canada and I think the beauty of Canada as well as there's a lot of recognition for the we call them the First Nations people the original people who lived on North America on the the continents before the Europeans came to the continent Christopher Columbus and all of that like 400 years ago so there is the community has changed quite a lot and became way more diverse and I think the thing that attracts me the most about that is just sitting with somebody from therapy John I've never been to and just sitting there and like be like can you tell me about like your favorite memory about ice cream in your childhood you know what I mean like getting those beautiful stories because you start talking about ice cream and then suddenly ten minutes later is talking about the religious system of Ezra B John you know what I mean and I think that's that's very stimulating having that kind of conversations over there now having that place of so many impossible cultures coming together and being friends one of my best friends in and one of the people actually who sponsored me to come to Canada is an Israeli person so having these kind of impossible relationships having on the ground right now in Canada is so meaningful to me it's so moving to me I think thank you for the question that was lovely yes please here I wrote in Arabic up until the day that I started writing the clothesline swing which was in 2012 while I was in Lebanon so I wrote in Arabic mainly and then I started actually I said like English writing was because I was a journalist at the time I worked for The Washington Post for a couple of years so I was writing in English but reporting I I call myself a recovering Jordan is like a recovering alcoholic I will never do that again I'm sorry I'm really sorry for you I'm sorry can you repeat that both both and I I wrote some poems in English and apparently I'm not a great poem poets the girl in red over there yes I think I'm still writing in Arabic it just happened to come across as English I'm seriously would be able to tell you my language is very flowery very Arabic structured long sentences descriptions that are very like Arabian in a way and I also find that using two languages to describe the same thing is such an interesting dilemma like for example in Arabic in very original like the deep in study the Arabic Gulf Arabic if somebody is happy they say atheleisure Sadri which means my heart iced while in in canada when somebody is happy they say my heart is warmed up my heart is warm now and like just thinking about like how languages navigate those differences because somebody in this in Saudi Arabia and the desert they want to be happy they wound their heart to be eyes it's so hot it's so damn hot in there while the opposite goes for the Canadian that's a great example yes yes please here there is no laser guns I it was it was I really did I inserted laser guns I know I didn't it's not Star Trek I I have to say that what I wanted to write with the clothesline swing I wanted to write with wisdom and that came from looking at those two characters as they are much much older and I also I've read I read a lot of gay fiction a lot of gay fiction the main character in literally 95% of every gay fiction is a 18 year old white boy who is just coming to his sexuality all right like I'm thinking of writing like a like a book called your average Joe or something but under website like under a fake name not under a maternal Don where it's about like Joe the 18 year old boy who meets another person white person with a white person name another Joe so the two Joe's one of them is you know and like write a whole story about that and I'm sure I'll end up being a best-seller I'll get a lot of money out of it now I like to go back to being serious I'm sorry I keep turning into into this clown thing that I am I I just wanted to write from the perspective of a gay elder Syrian person and I wanted to write it hecka Watty is the name of the character is an actual job in Syria in Damascus there are people who sit in cafes and their job is to tell stories and they're usually very very old and I really connected with all of this the only problem is I wanted my characters to arrive to Canada after the civil the civil war in Syria so they needed to be a certain age so I had to be to be in the future but at the same time I didn't want laser guns I didn't want to take it in to speculate it's black to speculative fiction I didn't want that what I didn't want like I don't know holographic screens and and and and stuff like that not to mention that I think we are stuck technologically speaking we're stuck we we get the same iPhone every single year it's just a bit thinner you know so another question whoa so many questions we have five minutes so we'll have four questions go ahead yeah sure hina vet hey she's apparently they have a fanger Club for me here which is yeah there's no I'm surprised this we're already when was the book published here last year yeah I'm very like and apparently they talk about how handsome I am and I'm like okay thank you thank you appreciate I'm taken it's right there I'm so sorry I think it is autobiographer I have to say I I grew up with comics in my life I Grey's Anatomy is my favorite TV show I still watch it I think honestly my the longest meaningful relationship I have in my life is with Meredith Grey from Grey's Anatomy we have been friends for 15 years so she doesn't know it yeah she doesn't know it yet she'll meet you one day LMP pepino and she's going to meet me one day and be like Oh Danny she'll know me right away oh sure with it so yes it is autobiographer and i think i think what makes the book with people is that I try to be as authentic to an experience as possible and part of that every writer in the room would tell you part of that is taking some of your own peculiar little things and adding them into the book neither of those characters are mean like the echo at sea or the listener neither of them are Danny I think both of them are you see what I mean so I and and that's why I included that in the in the book next question yes please here oh that's a good question so I'm a Syrian I'm Shirley which means that I belong to this beautiful heritage of seven eight thousand years now they they were the very first Empire in a way back in the day seven thousand years over seven thousand years ago also they have a beautiful mythology that I truly identify with they used to they used to have Queens rather than Kings which was very I agree I completely agree I would rather have a queen than ain't then a king to be honest or a drag queen either or either or and they used when the Queen pass away they say that as a sign of respect they used to bury the Queen sitting rather than laying down like they were buried the queen with the throne that she she should rule down and I've gone and I find that really beautiful but you speak about heritage of 7,000 years ago what about modern Syria as a Syrian as a Syrian or our heritage is we have such a vast fighters like beautiful writers that brings so much beauty into the word Mizell kobani comes to mind I'm sure people here have heard about nazar kobani he is a Syrian demacian poet who was kicked out of Syria very similar to me but less violent interactions I guess and lived in London most of his life because he would write poetry against the regime we we have a lot of we have beautiful theater we're very involved in theater also our traditions they call them Islamic but they're not like we have a traditions in Syria like themes ahead which I talked about in the book which is the person who runs around and like knocks on doors at 4 o'clock in the morning in Ramadan to wake people up for their suhoor and that's something that goes back actually in today's Shirley times because there was somebody his job was to wake up all the workers to go to work out in forms at 3 o'clock in the morning when it's when when a certain weather comes along along so so we have traditions that we moved into a more thing because we we became an Islamic community but still they they have a place in any culture and culture itself do you fast by I'm the worst however they allowed me into the the Aqsa Mosque they allowed me in because I have the last name that are modern last name yeah that's a name yeah not Matthew they didn't know Matthew they didn't allow my earring they're like you can go in but not your earring okay took it off Winton took videos came out okay and last question over there that yes all Jerusalem looks like Damascus looks like all Damascus I felt like I'm in Ultima scurs it it felt so realistically representative of the same culture at the same time this place is equally tense as Damascus I have to say like I don't mean that in a negative way please don't take it in a negative way but this place is I think we understand what you mean everybody like I'm having such intense conversations all the time and I don't think those conversations are about me like I think that as as a Syrian man as somebody who you would never meet otherwise you come to me and you ask me questions that has nothing to do with me it has something to do with you of who you are and you're reflecting those questions back to me so we end up having this intense conversation because it is about Who I am my identity itself that it's something that is within the core of Who I am as well as something within the core of who you are so I end up having this really intense intense conversation yeah and that feels very serious so I wish for you and me to have a homeless one day in Damascus I think this is a great way to end this conversation all the best thank you very much for coming thank you so much it was lovely thank you so much for our bella femme [Applause]

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