Stories from the Center of the World
I’m thrilled to be a contributor to Stories from the Center of the World, edited by Jordan Elgrably and published by City Lights Publishers on 7th May.
Stories from the Center of the World includes short stories from 25 emerging and established writers of Middle Eastern and North African origins, a unique collection of voices and viewpoints that illuminate life in the global Arab/Muslim world.
“Provocative and subtle, nuanced and surprising… these stories demonstrate how this complicated and rich region might best be approached through the power of literature…” —Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Committed.
The anthololgy includes works by Hanif Kureishi, Nektaria Anastasiadou, MK Harb, Salar Abdoh, Karim Kattan and Omar El Akkad, among others.
Available in paperback and e-book. Download factsheet (pdf)
Drinking Tea at Lahore Chai Masters
My short story, Drinking Tea at Lahore Chai Masters, is published on The Markaz Review.
When Mehreen and Asma compare notes, they realize they are still not unfettered lovers.
Mehreen stretched her arms above her head and yawned. Their eyes met for a moment, then Asma looked away. Their relationship was at a stage where they knew what each other was thinking just from their expressions. The sun was already slipping away without having had its chance to shine because of the smog. Some days were like that. Never succumb, Asma said to herself. Never, not to the noise, or this business of life. Better the silence of sorrow. She had had a craving for karak chai, so they’d come to Lahore Chai Masters, a dilapidated kiosk in one of the gullies off Walton Road. Further down the alley, a group of men were seated in a circle on the ground playing rummy. This is what you did on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
A waiter with a pink showering cap on his head placed two cups of tea on the wooden stool. He covered them with saucers to stop the tea from cooling and keep away the flies. They were his only customers.
“What a time of day it is,” Asma said, “as though our whole lives were compressed into this hour.”
Mehreen gave her a sharp look.
“Doesn’t it?” Asma said.
A crow rocked on the dead wires above them and cawed, Mehreen did not reply but kept her gazed fixed on her. Asma lifted the saucer and picked up her cup. Of course Mehreen had heard her, but why didn’t she respond? What was she thinking? It was moments like these when Asma needed reassurance, and Mehreen wasn’t forthcoming, that Asma felt she’d never been understood…
Films From Palestine: A Poem
Silence is Golden
My short story, Silence is Golden, is published in The Markaz Review.
His own greatness misunderstood, Dr. Fazal takes a vow
Monday morning and Dr. Fazal was ready for a productive week. Dr. Fazal, to be clear, did not have a PhD, nor was he a medical doctor, but his colleagues called him “Doctor” because he was full of “timeless philosophical wisdoms,” as he said himself. He’d made the suggestion at an HR meeting in jest when he realized he was always being consulted when there were serious problems to be solved, and the name had stuck. One time, many years ago, he had the feeling that his colleagues were making fun of him, but that was a forgotten memory. When he did remember, he told his wife, “Being wrong is just as powerful as being right. Sometimes even more so.” He’d been at Amber Investments for ten years working as the Deputy Human Resources of HR Manager. He was not in any doubt that a man of his talent and superior intellect was destined for higher places. His favourite saying was, “In six simple words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It starts and stops with me.”
My short story, Poached Eggs, is published by On Eating, a multilingual journal of food and eating.
‘Marry me Nuru,’ Jaffer said in his precise, measured tone. ‘Together we’ll build our future in a new Kenya.’
He was standing opposite her desk at the Chambers where she worked. She’d met him several months earlier and they’d struck up a friendship.
Nuru had a Pitman’s Secretarial Diploma and a driver’s licence from the first Ladies Driving School in Nairobi. With her natural beauty and qualifications she felt she deserved a man who really appreciated her.
Jaffer was a confident, self-made, business man. He was shorter than Nuru, already greying, and had very ordinary features. But he was able to charm her with his big dreams. He spoke excitedly about Kenya’s future, saying he believed everything was possible.
Nuru’s family were not happy with her decision to marry Jaffer; they had received many marriage proposals for her from professionals; a lawyer and a dentist.
But Nuru was adamant about Jaffer. ‘He appreciates my ambitions and intelligence,’ she said…
Men Explain Periods to Me
My essay, Men Explain Periods To Me, published in Los Angeles Review of Books.
My Ugandun friends have an expression, “Joke equals truth,” and it started as a joke. When my edited anthology Period Matters: Menstruation in South Asia was published last year, my sister said to me, “Now every man who’ll ever read your book will know about your first period. Doesn’t that feel weird?” I laughed, but then I realized that, by being open about a subject I felt needed to be discussed more authentically, I’d lost my “privacy” about an intimate bodily experience. I told myself it didn’t really matter since, after all, periods are a normal biological phenomenon. But back then, I had no way of anticipating how men would react to me or my book. And I had yet to realize that, while raising awareness about period poverty may be acceptable, discussing the shame around the female body is still taboo.
My interest in the problems faced by girls during menstruation goes back 20 years, to when I was working in Uganda and first read about how underprivileged girls and women managed their menstrual health. I had not before then heard about girls missing school because of a lack of access to menstrual products, poor sanitation, and inadequate toilet facilities. I was shocked to realize that, while the privileged enjoyed the luxury of choice in menstrual products, the poor had none. After that, it took 10 years for the idea of taking action to ferment and develop into a concrete plan.
Review: Rich and Poor People
Review by Mel Ulm of my short story Rich and Poor People, published in Markaz Review. You can read the story at themarkaz.org/rich-and-poor-people-fiction-by-farah-ahamed.
My main purpose today is to let the followers of my blog know of this wonderful story and to keep my records of her work. I reserve such coverage for writers whose talent and insight I greatly value.
I first began to follow the work of Farah Ahamed on April 3, 2015. Today’s story is the fourteenth of her work to be featured on The Reading Life.
The narrator of the story has been working as a maid for twelve years for Ma’am Farida and Mr. Abdul. Now Mr. Abdul has passed away. Farida has become very concerned with the fact that her neighbours feed KFC chicken to crows. Her maid sees this as a “rich person’s problem”…
Khichdi, Operations and Freedom: A Food Essay
Winner of Bound’s Food Essay Contest
I was twelve years old when I first heard the words ‘coup d’etat’.
One Sunday, my mother came into my bedroom at three in the morning and woke me up saying I should move to her room. In her bed, behind a locked door, we could hear noises coming from outside that sounded like loud fireworks, bangs and shots. The telephone lines were dead and there was no power. My mother did not know what was happening and we had no way of contacting anyone.
That weekend my father was away in Kisumu attending the wedding of a family friend. This was unusual, he hardly ever went anywhere without my mother. My younger sister was at my cousin’s place for a sleepover. This too was rare, because she and I always visited our cousins together. My mother, a peacefully sleeping two year old baby sister and I, lay huddled in bed together.
We stayed in this locked bedroom, my mother only venturing downstairs to get us some breakfast, until noon, when the radio crackled to life…
Mary the Mchawi
My short story, Mary the Mchawi, has been published by The Los Angeles Review. Click the link to read the full story.
We in this house know our place. We never pry, ask unnecessary questions or poke our noses into our boss’s affairs. Occasionally, however, we admit, we gossip. Of course, we keep an eagle eye on anyone new who joins the house. We work here and live in the DSQ, or Domestic Servants Quarters.
We want to tell you about Mary. She was the new cook and came at the beginning of March when the old cook sent Ma’am a message to say he wasn’t coming back. He didn’t offer any explanation and Ma’am said she’d been left in the lurch yet again. She grumbles, but we’ve been with the house for more than ten years and she knows we are faithful.
Before we had a chance to ask our relatives and friends if they wanted the old cook’s job, Mary showed up. She appeared one morning at the gate wearing an orange dress with purple flowers. When the guard asked her what she wanted, she said she had appointment with Ma’am. He let her in and we watched her walking to the kitchen door with slow, steady steps. The rucksack on her back looked heavy, which struck us as strange. What on earth was she carrying in that bag?
No Place for Women
My essay No Place for Women published in World Literature Today.
For the past few years I’ve been living in Lahore. Like they have for many, the brave women-led Iranian protests have made me reflect on the rights of women and the price we pay for freedom and justice. With this in mind, I decided to visit the Lahore High Courts to see what it was like for women living here.
So as to remain inconspicuous, a friend suggested I dress like a lawyer in a white salwar kameez and black coat. As I got ready that morning, I recalled the last time I’d been in a courtroom was over twenty years ago while working as a lawyer in Kenya.
As we drove through the streets of Lahore, the December sky was a cloudless, dull gray, there was heavy smog, and the roads were jammed with traffic. Pigeons sat like guardians on the electricity wires crisscrossing the city. A man with a basket at the roundabout shouted in a raucous voice for passers-by to buy his boiled eggs.
The iconic red-brick High Court building sits in the shadow of Anarkali and the general post office on Mall Road and was built in 1889 by the British in Indo-Saracenic style. The main materials used in its construction were brick masonry, kankar-lime mortar, Nowshera pink marble, and terracotta jaali. It is an imposing building, signaling the weight and might of the law.
I made my way through the tall gates to the main courtyard and found a well-landscaped compound; tall, leafy trees and walkways lined with flowers and low bushes. But despite the greenery, the atmosphere was taut; a mood of expectation tinged with a premonition of disappointment. The place had a strange energy—a feeling of paralysis and listlessness, on one hand, and a preying, animalistic aggression on the other….