L'origine(s) du Monde The Origin(s) of the World
Written by Raafat Majzoub Illustrated by Joan Baz Edited by Layal Hasrouni
Published by The Outpost S.A.L. Ground Fl., Bldg., #46, Kabayat Str., St. Michel, Beirut, Lebanon email@example.com This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/.
Printed by 53 Dots
Since the inception of The Outpost, we have been trying to think of alternative modes of observing the world in order to pave more elaborate, more spacious roads facilitating the possibility of moving forward. In our Issue Zero, we had set a blueprint for a borderless Arab World. For this issue, we decided that instead of designing a connected Arabia, we would encourage a generation that, naturally, would make the connection themselves. L’Origine(s) du Monde, referencing Gustav Courbet’s 1866 painting, is a children’s story that aspires to construct the idea of a shared body and a responsibility towards our own actions. This book acts as a hinted overture to The Perfumed Garden, a novella published in Issue Zero of The Outpost. The narrative of the book is accessible to children, but is relevant to readers of any age. The message of the book centers on the fact that we are the origin of the world and tangibly share the universe. The book is written in English, given the scope and readership of this magazine. The Arabic version, however, will be available in 2013 and distributed to schools and public libraries across the Arab world. The book will be licensed under Creative Commons to encourage its dissemination, translation and adaptation in different educational and creative media. Please contact The Outpost to request placement in a library or a school near you. A digital copy will be available free to download on The Outpost website.
To a big army of little people that will remain in love with the sun and the trees, themselves and each other, and could still taste the color purple even when they grow up.
here Gamal lived, everyone had a garden. Gamal does not live very far away from you. If you look out of your window, you will probably see him. He is somewhere behind those trees. If you don’t see any trees, you have to look further. If you can’t see any further, close your eyes and you will see him. He is not too short and not too tall. His hair is not too dark and not too light. His eyes change color every day, and his voice sounds a bit like yours, only a bit lower. He wears things that make him happy. Sometimes when he looks at the blue sky, he feels like wearing white. Sometimes he wants to be a cloud. Other times he looks at the green trees, and he wants to wear purple. Sometimes he wants to be an orange. Sometimes Gamal does not want to be anything with a name, so he stops naming things on those days. There are a lot of things about the world that are mysterious. The sky is blue. The sea is blue. Sometimes when the wind blows, both move, but not their blue. Gamal did not understand why the blue from the waves did not paint the beach blue. You don’t understand either, do you? Most things remain confusing until you try them. Some things remain confusing even after you do. Gamal liked the mysterious things of the world. The sky rains without asking for permission, for example. Gamal did not understand that. The sun shines without asking for permission either, but the sun had a scheduled bedtime. Every evening, Gamal would sit with his mother next to his bedroom window, and every evening, she would ask him about his day. He told her his stories and things he had seen and learned, and as she wrote them down the sun listened and went down to sleep in the sea.
Every night, Gamal’s mother wrote down his day’s journey on a little notebook. They called it a journal, because it had all of Gamal’s journeys in it. Every month, Gamal and his mother would need a new journal. Gamal had a big wall in his room filled with shelves that are filled with journals that are filled with his journeys, and another wall filled with shelves filled with journals filled with other people’s journeys. His mother always told him that even though he learned a lot of things at school, he really learns anything true in a journey. Gamal did not like the word true. “Why would anything be not true?” he always thought to himself. “Why would anyone’s mother waste her time writing things that are not true?” he thought, “And would the sun like to go down to sleep to such stories?” One morning, Gamal’s mother held his hand and took him out to the garden. Where Gamal lived, everyone had a garden. His grandmother even had a forest. His mother told him that it was the beginning of a new month, and showed him his new journal. It was the nicest journal you have ever seen. It was made from pieces of books and journals of people from everywhere. “Even the stars?” He asked. “Yes.” His mother answered, “It means that all the paper that people did not need any more were put in a big bowl, like your Teta’s big bowls, and cooked.” “Cooked paper?” Gamal was excited. “Yes.” She continued, “And then after it becomes a big delicious paper soup, it is put in big plates and left to dry to make new paper for us to use.” Gamal loved his new journal. He took the notebook and started to smell it and touch it, and it felt like nothing you have smelled or touched before. It was the best journal he ever had. His mother told him that this way; we don’t need to kill trees to make journals. Gamal would never want to kill trees. A lot of trees were his friends. They played hide-and-seek together almost every day. The trees were so high, they would always find him. They didn’t play hopscotch because the trees couldn’t hop, and that was okay. Now that his mother had given him his new journal, she told him that
he was now big enough to write down his journeys by himself. Gamal was indeed big enough, almost as big as you, and all he needed now was a new pencil. His mother told him to climb up any tree and ask its permission to pick a dried twig or a twig that had already fallen. Dried twigs make the best pencils. When their life ends, they fall slowly to the ground making music with no sound. If you listen clearly, you might be lucky enough to hear it. A lot of people can’t hear it. A lot of people are scared of dying, but twigs are not. They know that they will become pencils, and write lots and lots of journals. Everyone knows that people only really learn things in journeys. If twigs don’t die, who would write these journeys down? So Gamal picked Thurayya, a big tree that made no fruits. Before Gamal met Thurayya, he thought that all trees make fruits, but not all trees are the same. He climbed from its big roots onto its big trunk over its big branches to reach her small ones. There was a place on Thurayya where Gamal could see the whole world. When you couldn’t find Gamal, it most probably meant that he was sitting there. Today, he chose that place to ask for permission. He looked at the world and starting talking to Thurayya. “Hello Thurayya.” “Oh, hello little man.” Gamal made sure to explain to Thurayya that he is not a little man anymore, and he showed her his new journal. The tree quickly realized what a big mistake she had done and corrected herself. “Oh, hello big boy!” the tree said. Gamal was smiling. He told the tree that he needed a dried twig or a twig that had already fallen to use as his new pencil. Thurayya knew Gamal very well, and enjoyed listening to his journeys every night while his mother wrote them down, and the sun fell to sleep. Trees love to listen to people’s stories, you know, and Gamal had amazing stories to tell. Thurayya was a big and old tree. She told Gamal that his mother once climbed her to ask for her first pencil. She told him that his grandmother did too. Thurayya has given pencils to little boys and girls, little birds, cats, yellow dinosaurs and flying fish. Thurayya was a big old tree with many journeys of her own. Trees have journals too. They don’t write them in notebooks, but every journey is a leaf, and every month is a branch.
When Gamal heard that, he looked at all the leaves and all the branches and felt very small. Thurayya told him that he can pick any dry twig or a twig that had already fallen and use it as his pencil. She also told him that it is okay for him to feel small. She told him that she also feels small when she thinks of how big the sky is. The skies have journals too. They don’t write them in notebooks, but every journey is a star or a planet, and every month is a galaxy. “But don’t worry, my dear Gamal,” Thurayya said, “We are all made of the same cookie dough,” and as the wind blew in Thurayya’s hair, she continued, “So it doesn’t matter what shape or size or color we are.” As Gamal was climbing down from the small branches to the big ones to Thurayya’s big trunk to her big roots, he thought of what she had said. He picked a twig that had already fallen beside Thurayya’s feet and went back to his mother with his new pencil. The sun was shining and the weather was sweet, so Gamal and his mother decided that they will have breakfast outside. The cows brought the milk. Strawberries jumped into their plates. The chicken brought some eggs, and the sun cooked them. It was a good breakfast. The cows ate some grass. The chicken ate some seeds. The sun shone more brightly, and the strawberries became even redder. During breakfast, Gamal’s mom told him that it was time for her to go to work. Gamal’s mother was a World-Maker. She made worlds. She made gardens, houses, seas and stars. She called all of the worlds she made her babies, so Gamal had brothers and sisters that were gardens, houses, seas and stars. And as Thurayya said, they were all made of the same cookie dough. This time, Gamal’s mother was going to build a blue moon. Blue moons are very rare, but the earth wanted to give the moon a new friend for his birthday, and the moon liked the color blue. You know you can’t say no to the Earth, and the Earth can’t say no to the moon. Since it was very hard to find ingredients for a blue moon, Gamal’s mother had to go away for three days. This meant that Gamal was going to spend three days at his grandmother’s house in the forest. Gamal loved his grandmother, and his grandmother loved him. After breakfast, Gamal walked left and his mother walked up. He walked to the edge of the garden where Hekmat was waiting to pick him up in his old Mercedes car.
“Your grandmother talks about you every day,” he said opening the door to his car, “Hop in.” His car smelled of lily, leather and Gamal’s grandmother. “The lilies in the backseat are for your grandmother,” Hekmat continued as he drove towards the forest. Gamal’s grandmother did not like cars inside her forest, so Hekmat parked outside, and Gamal continued by foot. Gamal walked and walked. Gamal walked a lot before he got to his grandmother’s house. She lived in the middle of a very big forest with many animals, gardens, seas and stars. He reached the orange trees in front of her door and went inside directly to the kitchen. Gamal put the lilies on the floor and ran to his grandmother’s leg and hugged it, and then he climbed up to her waist and hugged it, then climbed to her hair and kissed it, then reached her shoulders and then jumped into a bowl filled with flowers that was on kitchen counter. Gamal’s grandmother loved cooking with him. She was preparing their first meal, his favorite cookies in the whole wide world, and the best cookies you have ever tasted. She called them Sikah Barazek. She poured water and sugar in a sauce pan, boiled them, then added water made from orange flowers and lemon juice. She later made circles and triangles out of the Barazek cookie dough and put sesame on one side and pistachio on the other using a sauce made from flowers to help them stick. She opened the cupboard above her head and grabbed a Oud. Gamal loved this part of the recipe. She gave the Oud to Gamal and told him to play Maqam Sikah. Maqams are types of sounds in Arabic music. Each Maqam has its own world. Some are happy, some are sad, some are proud, some are in pain. Maqam Sikah is a very important in making Sikah Barazek, without it the cookies would just be normal Barazek. Gamal’s grandmother learned how to play the Oud from her grandmother, and her grandmother learned it from her grandmother. She taught it to Gamal. Sikah was the Maqam with the fresh, lively sound, and it made the Barazek crispier. Gamal held the Oud and starting playing as his grandmother put the cookies in the oven. You should play for exactly six minutes, or else you would have the wrong amount of Sikah, so Gamal played for exactly six minutes. He was a good cook, just like his grandmother.
The smell of baked Sikah Barazek started to dance in the room, and it reminded Gamal of what Thurayya had told him about everyone and everything being made of the same cookie dough. He wondered if he would smell as good if he was in the oven. “Teta?” he asked his grandmother, “Did the kitchen smell like this when I was born?” His grandmother was confused. “What do you mean, habibi?” “Did the kitchen smell like this when you and mommy made me?” he asked again. His grandmother laughed and remembered when she asked her grandmother this story after she got her first pencil from Thurayya when she was little. She asked Gamal if he got his first pencil today. His cheeks became red and his eyes a bit bigger. He ran to show her his journal made of paper soup and his pencil made of a twig that had fallen. “Habibi, Gamal,” she said, “Thurayya’s cookie dough is not made of butter, sugar and eggs.” Gamal did not understand, “What is it made of?” he asked. His grandmother did not answer him. “Habibi, Gamal,” she said, “Even though you learn a lot of things at school, you really learn everything true in a journey.” Gamal smiled. Gamal knew that his grandmother will not give him the answer. He will have to go find it. His grandmother also said that sometimes there is no answer. Sometimes the journey is enough. Gamal loved journeys. “Gamal!” screamed the oven, “Gamal! The cookies are done!” Gamal ran to the oven. It had its mouth open and the Sikah Barazek were golden and ready to eat. He took them out of the oven, except two pieces. He gave those to the oven to say thank you. Gamal put the rest of the cookies in a big plate and took it to his grandmother. She was drinking tea in her floral mug and he was drinking milk from a glass. She gave him a brown leather bag that would fit his journal, his pencil and some Sikah Barazek then told him to go back to the kitchen and open the purple cupboard. Gamal went to the kitchen and opened the purple cupboard.
A very nice breeze came in from the cupboard and played with Gamal’s hair. Inside the cupboard, he saw mountains and clouds. He saw a very big forest with many animals, gardens, seas and stars. His grandmother told him to go out and explore the forest. She told him to enjoy his journey, and not to forget the sun’s bedtime story if he was going to stay out late. Gamal said goodbye and jumped into the cupboard. The cupboard was one of the doors to his grandmother’s forest. Gamal’s grandmother was a World-Maker before Gamal’s mother became one. His mother learned by watching her mother. They went together on journeys to the heart of the Earth and back. They went together on journeys to the heart of the sky and back. Each of them had her own journal. Each of them wrote her own stories with twigs that had already fallen from Thurayya. Gamal’s grandmother made the world she lived in exactly the way she wanted it to be. Gamal loved that world. He closed the cupboard door behind him and walked into the forest. Gamal walked and walked. Gamal walked a lot. His grandmother’s forest was very big with many animals, gardens, seas and stars. Gamal felt like he had been walking for hours before he thought he heard someone reciting the alphabet. He looked around, but he saw no one. The voice came from the ground. Gamal bent down, put his knees on the grass and moved his head closer to where the sound was coming from. It was a blue caterpillar, sitting on a big mushroom, smoking a hookah. A small blue caterpillar that thought he was bigger than he really was. The caterpillar thought he was even bigger than Gamal. The caterpillar removed the hookah from his mouth and asked, “Who...are...you?” “I am Gamal.” He answered. He knew the caterpillar somehow. He had seen him, or a brother of his, before in one of the journals in his room. Gamal had a big wall in his room filled with shelves that are filled with journals that are filled with his journeys, and another wall filled with shelves filled with journals filled with other people’s journeys. This caterpillar lived in the journal of Alice. “Is that all?” Gamal asked. The caterpillar did not seem very entertained. He did not answer Gamal. He looked away, took a puff of his hookah and his manicured fingers pointed west. Gamal stood back up and looked west. He saw a big field
of apple trees. He did not know if the caterpillar wanted to come along with him, so he asked him again, “Is that all?” The caterpillar said nothing. He took two more puffs of his hookah, crawled off the mushroom and disappeared between a forest of green grass that made him look even smaller than he really was. Seven dwarfs appeared from the grass where the caterpillar had disappeared. They were too busy happily running around the mushrooms. Number one took a bite. Number two took a bit. Number three took a bite. Number four took a bit. Number five took a bite. Number six took a bit. Number seven took a bite. Then in turn again, they each took a bit and a bite until they became Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey, Bashful and Doc. “Who are you?” they asked Gamal all at once. “I am Gamal.” He said. They looked at each other, then looked at Gamal. Number three took a bite. Number two took a bit. Number seven took a bite. Number five took a bit. Number six took a bite. Number one took a bit. Number four took a bite. Then in turn again, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey, Bashful and Doc each took a bite and a bit. Gamal asked them if they wanted to go west with him, but they were scared of apples. Gamal decided to walk west alone. Gamal walked and walked, and the apple field seemed to be endless. He walked left, more apple trees. He walked right, more apple trees. He climbed on one of the trees and looked around, more apple trees. As he climbed down, he tumbled over a serpent and fell. “Sssssorry,” said the serpent, “I am very hungry and I am very sssssslow when I am hungry.” Gamal heard giggles from behind. He looked back and saw a man and a woman sitting under one of the apple trees. They were not wearing any clothes. “Who are you?” the man said. “Who are you?” the woman said. The serpent was now dangling from a branch on that tree.
“Gamal,” he replied. “Hello, Gamal,” the man said. “Hello, Gamal,” the woman said. The serpent was still dangling from a branch on the tree. These people seem to be more fun than the caterpillar and the dwarfs. Sometimes Gamal was polite, and did not ask a lot of questions, but Gamal loved to ask a lot of questions, especially when he was on a journey. “Where are your clothes?” he asked them. “We don’t have any clothes,” they said. Gamal did not understand. His eyes opened wide, and his ears waited for a better explanation. “Do lions have clothes?” said the man. “Do birds have clothes?” said the woman. “I am a serpent,” said the serpent. Now, Gamal did not understand why he was wearing any clothes. Thurayya did not wear any clothes, but his mother and grandmother did. There are a lot of confusing things in the world, Gamal thought. “We are all made of the same cookie dough,” said the woman as the wind blew in between the leaves of the apple tree they were sitting on. She continued, “So it doesn’t matter what shape or size or color we are.” “You can choose to wear clothes,” he said, “And we can choose not to.” This did not make things much clearer for Gamal. The serpent repeated that she was hungry. Gamal did not understand how one can be hungry in a field of apple trees. The serpent told him to pick her an apple from the tree they were laying on. Gamal did. The serpent thanked him and cut the apple into four parts, one for Gamal, one for her, one for the woman and one for the man. They all ate their parts. It was a very good apple. Gamal wanted another one. It was the best apple you could ever taste. The serpent told him that he should not be greedy and enjoy his piece.
“This is a very special tree,” said the serpent, “and we are not allowed to pick any apples alone.” “So we wait,” said the man. “For a visitor, like you, to pass by,” said the woman. “And pick us an apple,” continued the serpent, “and to say thank you, we give them a piece of it.” Gamal liked their story. The sun would like it tonight. “But,” said Gamal, “Have you ever tried picking an apple?” “No,” said the man. “No,” said the woman. “I am a serpent,” said the serpent. Gamal remembered his mother’s words and his grandmother’s words, then told the tree, “You cannot say that you can’t if you have never tried.” The man, the woman and the serpent did not say anything. Gamal loved to ask many questions, but he knew when had to stop. He thanked them for the apple, and they thanked him in return. He asked them if they knew where his grandmother’s house is. Everyone knew his grandmother. The man, the woman and the serpent pointed west. Gamal walked and walked, and the apple field seemed to be endless. He walked left, more apple trees. He walked right, more apple trees. He climbed on one of the trees and looked around, more apple trees. He was scared that he would not find his way home, so he decided to eat some of the Sikah Barazek in his brown leather bag. Sikah Barazek always made him happy. When he opened his bag, a wonderful smell came out of it. The cookies smelled great. Gamal was happier already. He ate his first cookie. The smell became even stronger. All the animals, gardens, seas and stars could smell it. Gamal was eating a second cookie when a big white stork landed in front of him. His wings were so big, he could hug the apple tree. The big white bird must have smelled the cookies and wanted one. Gamal had only one cookie left, but the big white bird told him that in return for one cookie, he will grant him three wishes. Gamal did not need three wishes. He only needed one. “Take me to my grandmother,” Gamal said, and gave the big white bird his last cookie.
The big white bird told Gamal to hold on tightly to his brown leather bag, then held the bag strap with his big yellow beak and flew away. The bird flew and flew. Gamal held his bag tight as they flew and flew. The forest was very big, and he had never seen the animals, gardens and seas so small. Flying was much faster than walking, and Gamal landed on his grandmother’s roof just in time for the sun’s bedtime story. Gamal took out his journal and his twig, thanked the big white bird and started writing his first story in this journal. He said the story out loud as he wrote it down so the sun could hear. When he finished, the sun was already asleep. Gamal’s grandmother had many chimneys on her roof. He jumped in one of them and fell right into his bed. His grandmother left him a glass of milk on his nightstand. Gamal drank it and went to sleep. That night, Gamal dreamt of many things. When he woke up, he didn’t remember any of them. He walked down the stairs and saw the lilies in a beautiful vase in the kitchen. He ran to his grandmother’s leg and hugged it, and then he climbed up to her waist and hugged it, then climbed to her hair and kissed it, then reached her shoulders and jumped onto the sink before he realized that they had a guest. On the kitchen table, across Gamal’s grandmother, sat a man dressed as a pilot. He looked both happy and sad. “Habibi, this is Antoine. He is a pilot.” she said to Gamal. “And this is my Gamal,” she said to the pilot. The pilot and Gamal’s grandmother were having tea in floral mugs and eating yesterday’s Sikah Barazek. Gamal’s grandmother had a glass of orange juice on the kitchen counter waiting for him. She knew that Gamal liked to jump there. She told him that she made this juice from the trees in front of her house. She liked eating and drinking from things she had planted. She never went to the supermarket. She believed fruits and vegetables in supermarkets are sad, and she didn’t want to eat or drink sad fruits and vegetables. “Who wants to eat sad things?” she said, like she always did. “No one,” said the pilot. “No one,” said Gamal. Antoine, the pilot, has been flying around the world for six years. He wrote stories of every city in his journals, and when he flew over other cities, he threw the old journals out of his window. People loved it when he did that. People loved reading about close places that were far away.
Antoine, the pilot, had his journal in his hand. He opened it to a sketch of a landscape with one star. Gamal’s grandmother had told the pilot that her grandson is on a three-day journey to discover the origin of the world. Gamal did not know what the origin of the world meant. Sometimes grown-ups say things that mean nothing, and all Gamal knew was that being outside was the only way he could see new things and ask questions about old things. “This is, to me, the loveliest and saddest landscape in the world.” He said, “It is here that the little prince appeared on Earth, and disappeared. Look at it carefully so that you will be sure to recognize it. If you should come upon this spot, please do not hurry on. Wait for a time, exactly under the star. Then, if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is. If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back.” Now Gamal knew why the pilot was sad, “but why are you half-happy?” he asked. The pilot smiled. He said that he was happy that he had met the little prince. He said that he was sad that he had lost him. Gamal thought of Thurayya. If he lost Thurayya, would he be happy and sad at the same time? Gamal drank a sip of his orange juice. His grandmother asked him about yesterday’s journey. Gamal had another sip of his juice and said, “Who are you?” “They all wanted to know who I am,” he continued. “And what did you tell them, Habibi?” his grandmother asked. “I am Gamal,” he said. “You can be whoever you want to be,” explained his grandmother, “Who do you want to be?” Gamal took another sip of his orange juice. He thought long and clear. His thoughts took him nowhere, so he took yet another sip of his orange juice. His grandmother noticed how confused he was, so she told him to open the purple cupboard. Gamal went off the sink and opened the purple cupboard. A very nice breeze did not come out of the cupboard. There was no ‘outside’ inside the cupboard. He did not see mountains and clouds. Gamal looked at his grandmother even more confused. She told him that he can’t be confused when things change, because things change all the
time. He needs to be ready. When a door closed, he needed to know why and look for another one that is open. She told him to grab the big box inside the purple cupboard and put it on the table in front of Antoine. Gamal did as his grandmother told him, and then jumped up on the table to open the box. Antoine was neither happy nor sad now. He was as excited as Gamal was. They both started opening the box. Gamal’s grandmother was watching, drinking tea in a floral mug. Inside the box were a lot of costumes and masks. They were both happy and excited, and Gamal’s grandmother was happy that they were happy. Gamal tried on a lion mask. The pilot tried an engineer mask. Gamal tried a rabbit mask. The pilot tried a doctor mask. Gamal tried a pigeon mask. The pilot tried a lawyer mask. Gamal tried on all the animal masks. The pilot tried on all the people masks. Of all the masks, Gamal chose to be a cub, a baby bear. Cubs had nice ears and nice fur, and he looked good in the cub mask. The mirror told him. His grandmother said nothing. She wanted him to choose what he wanted to be on his own. Gamal, the cub, had the last sip of his orange juice and said goodbye to the pilot and his grandmother. Gamal went up to his room, got his brown leather bag and ran back to the kitchen. Gamal opened all the cupboards to see which one is open to the outside today, but all of them were closed. He looked left and right, and snuck some Sikah Barazek in his bag and smiled. His grandmother smiled. Gamal ran to the front door, but it was closed. Gamal ran to the windows, but all the windows were closed. Gamal thought long and clear. He remembered that he had his twig in his bag. He grabbed it and drew a door on the wall. He put the twig back in the back, opened the door, and went outside. In the background, Gamal’s grandmother was happy and proud of her little bear. Gamal did not feel very different in his mask, but he was excited anyway. Gamal walked and walked. Gamal walked a lot. His grandmother’s forest was very big with many animals, gardens, seas and stars. Among the animals in the forest was a little black duck trying to fly. She would go up a pile of rocks, open her wings and jump then fell down. She would go up a bit higher to a branch of a little tree, open her wings and jump, but still, she fell down. Gamal came closer to the duck and said hello. The little black duck did not know if she should be scared or not. She wanted to run away, but she couldn’t fly. Even though she couldn’t fly, her mothers taught her how to defend herself. They told her that the only way to win a fight is to be smart. If you hit, you will always get hit, and if you get hit, you will get hurt. The little duckling did not want to get hurt, so she said hello back to Gamal.
“Who are you?” said the little black duck. Gamal got a little bit angry. He thought that the mask would make it clear that he was a little bear. He did not answer the question. He asked the duckling why she couldn’t fly. She said they didn’t teach flying at school. Gamal noticed that she was right, they don’t. Gamal told her that his mother always told him that even though he learned a lot of things at school, that one really learns anything true in a journey. The duckling smiled, and said that this was what her mothers said too. They both laughed. Gamal wanted to help the little duckling. He told her that he will help her learn how to fly. “But how will a bear teach a duck how to fly?” said the little black duck. Gamal was happy that she saw him as a bear. The duckling was already confused to see a bear with a journal in a brown leather bag. Bears don’t write. Bears don’t read. Bears don’t have brown leather bags, and bears can’t fly. That’s for sure. Gamal went up a pile of rocks, opened his arms and jumped, but he fell down. He went up a bit higher to a branch of a little tree, opened his wings and jumped, but still, he fell down. The both laughed. Gamal thought long and clear, and had an idea. He went back to the pile of rocks, opened his brown leather bag and took out a cookie. When he opened his bag, a wonderful smell came out of it. The cookies smelled great. Gamal knew what he was doing. He ate his first cookie. The smell became even stronger. All the animals, gardens, seas and stars could smell it. The duckling did not understand how Gamal could help her fly by eating cookies, but she waited. Gamal was eating a second cookie when a big white stork landed in front of him. Gamal had one cookie left, and he knew that in return for a cookie, the stork will grant him three wishes. Gamal did not need three wishes. He only needed one. “Teach my little friend how to fly,” Gamal said, and gave the big white bird his last cookie. Gamal had never seen a bird fly as beautifully as the stork, and if anyone can teach his new friend how to fly, it was that big white bird. The little black bird smiled. The stork told the duckling that it was okay that she couldn’t fly. When he was young, he couldn’t fly either. He told
her that she cannot learn flying in five minutes. She should practice every day, until she becomes a great flyer. “But I will teach you how to land,” the stork told the duckling, “This way, you can practice flying and jumping from anything and not be afraid of hurting yourself when you fall.” The stork told the duckling that even if she couldn’t fly the first, second, third and hundredth time, that she should dust herself off and try again. He climbed up the pile of stones and jumped to show her how to land. The first time, she failed. The second time, she failed. She failed several times until she got it right. When she landed correctly the first time, it felt like all the animals, gardens, seas and stars were clapping for her. She tried jumping from the branch of that little tree. She couldn’t fly, but she landed. The stork told her to never stop trying, and flew away with his big wings. The little black duck couldn’t wait until she showed her mothers what she could do. She invited Gamal to her nest and told him he should meet her moms, and that there was something she wanted to show him. The duckling’s nest was not far away. It was up on a big tree that looked like Thurayya, but Thurayya was bigger. They climbed from its big roots onto its big trunk over its big branches to reach its small ones. The duckling’s mothers were sitting in the nest on a book. They were happy to see their daughter but did not know why she had a little bear with her. “Mommy! Mommy! Look!” the duckling said. She climbed up to a branch right above the one with the nest and jumped back down. The duckling landed on her feet. Both her mothers had their eyes open wide, smiling. “His friend taught me how to land,” she told them. She was referring to Gamal, but she didn’t know his name. “Who are you?” asked the mothers. The duckling noticed that Gamal got angry the first time, so she went and told her mothers to stop. She told them that the bag he was carrying had a book, so maybe he could read. “Do you read?” asked the mothers. Gamal said yes and asked why this sudden question. “Yesterday, a book fell from the sky,” said the mothers, “But we are ducks, and we don’t know how to read.”
Gamal was happy to be known for something other than his name. He was now the reading bear, and he liked it. He asked them to show him the book. One of the mothers stood up and removed the book from under them. Gamal took a look at the book. It was familiar. He opened the first page, and read “Antoine” written in gold. It was Antoine, his grandmother’s friend. He must have thrown this book before he landed this morning. “Can you read the book for us?” said the mothers. “Please?” said the duckling. Sometimes Gamal was polite, and did not ask a lot of questions, but Gamal loved to ask a lot of questions, especially when he was on a journey. “Can I ask you a question first?” he said. “Of course, anything,” the duck family said. “How can someone have two mothers?” asked Gamal. “Why not?” asked the duckling. The little black duck thought it was normal. “We love each other and decided to make a family,” said the mothers. “And love is enough to make a family?” asked curious Gamal. “Yes. What else do you need?” said the mothers. Gamal thought about it. He thought about it again. His mother loved his father. His grandmother loved his grandfather. He thought about it again and again, and thought they made sense. At least much more sense than the sky raining without permission, don’t you think? Gamal told them that he would read them the book if they find somewhere closed where the sun wouldn’t hear them and think it’s time for bed. They opened a door in the tree trunk and went inside. They had a living room with couches of all colors. Gamal said, “Once upon a time,” and looked outside. The sun was still up. They were safe. He went back in, opened Antoine’s journal and said “Once upon a time” again. Inside this room in the trunk of the big tree, he could hear himself again and again after he stopped talking. It was both scary and fun. He said things that didn’t make sense, like ‘poopa’, ‘latawanda’ and ‘evil’. They all laughed, as they heard ‘POOPA…LATAWANDA…EVIL’ over and over. Gamal started reading,
“In a place, very far away, in a place still very close, lived a lot of shapes and one color. Everyone passed by it, but no one ever saw how much fun everyone could have inside. From that place, very far away and very close by, no one heard any noise. No one heard any music. The people forgot it. The city forgot it.” The mothers and their little black duck were very excited. Gamal was happy. He loved reading stories. Gamal continued reading, “The place had many friends. When the place was alone, the wind would fly between its shapes, and would make music between its rectangles and squares. With the wind, came birds of all colors, from places with no names. They came from here and there, and all of them came to sing and color. The blue birds would sit next to the purple ones, and the green birds would sit next to the yellow ones. But then the wind would come, and whistle its tunes, and the birds would all dance together. The blue birds forget that they are blue, the purple ones forget that they are purple, the green birds forget that they are green and the yellow ones that they are yellow. The place sings with the wind. The circles make echoes to how the wind blows, to how it turns around itself to make the birds jump. The place is happy. In winter, the wind would bring the clouds. The sky loves the clouds. When they come, it makes new lights just for them. This is how the sky says hello to the place. The place loves the sky, and when it rains, it hides all the sky’s children in its stomach. The birds, all of them, the blue, purple, green and yellow hide in the place’s shapes. And when the rain stops, they all paint rainbows. This is how Zeina saw the place that no one saw. She followed the rainbow. Not many people follow the rainbow, but if you do, the place will find you, and say hello. One day, after the rain, Zeina put her new shoes on and went out for a walk. She loved her city after the rain. She loved to talk to rainbows. This time, there was a special rainbow. It had eight colors, not seven; it had the most wonderful grey she had ever seen – and it made all the other colors more colorful.” A rainbow with grey? The mothers and their little black duck had never seen one before, neither had Gamal. Gamal continued, “Zeina loved everything new. She loved that this was a special rainbow. She loved the grey, so she decided to say hello, and when she did, the rainbow grew longer and longer. She followed and followed, until she
reached a long wall that had no beginning and no end. She looked to the left, then to the right, but she had to look again – because she saw nothing new. The wall did not start and did not end. Zeina turned her head to the rainbow – and smiled, the rainbow smiled back, and decided to show her what was behind that big wall. Slowly, the rainbow became a stairway, made of eight steps of every color. Zeina did not wait. She ran up the rainbow, eight steps of Grey, eight of Violet, Navy, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange then Red until she was high, very high, above everything. From the top of the rainbow, Zeina could see everything. She saw Tripoli like she had never seen before. She saw the ice cream shop where her Mama used to take her after school, and the bakery that her Baba used to get bread from. She saw her school, and the trees around her school, and everything looked very small. There was one thing that Zeina did not know, something that she could not recognize. It looked like a very big egg in the middle of the city surrounding by the long wall she was wondering about.” Gamal remembered ice-cream with his mother after school and bread with his father. The duckling had never tasted ice-cream, but she loved bread. The mothers were wondering how much time they need to sit on such a big egg for it to hatch. “Zeina is very curious. She wants to know everything and likes to get lost in places she doesn’t know, so she pointed at the egg, and asked the rainbow to color steps so she could go down. She jumped off the Red steps, then the Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Navy, Violet and Grey until she reached the place. When she got inside, it did not look like an egg, but she noticed that this time, she was on the other side of that long long wall. She was inside, and everything was grey. The grey reminded her of the rainbow, and as she looked around to thank it, the rainbow had disappeared. This is what is funny about rainbows, they come all of a sudden – and they go without saying goodbye. Zeina thought that she was all alone. In fact, she wasn’t, and she was going to know that soon. Being the curious Zeina that she is, Zeina decided to walk around, to discover this new place inside the walls. She walked and walked, and all she could see were strange shapes in the middle of fields of grass that grew taller than her. Between the strips of grass, Zeina noticed some grey objects in a distance. The objects had the same grey as the rainbow did, and it was wonderful. She ran towards those things because she had never seen anything like them before. She ran and ran until she
reached a grey mountain. The mountain was smooth and curved so evenly, that she couldn’t help but run up to its top and slide down. As she was climbing and sliding, Zeina noticed that this mountain had a door. She had never seen a mountain with a door before, so she walked into that door very slowly, to see what the inside of a mountain would look like. As she walked into the darkness, her steps sounded quite strange. With each step, she would hear more than one sound. She was scared, “Anyone there?”, she shouted.. and the inside of the mounted shouted back “Anyone there?” Zeina ran outside. She did not like the inside of the mountain, she did not understand it. She still wanted to know who was inside with her, so she sat in front of the door waiting for anyone to come out. She waited and waited, but no one came out. As the sun was changing its place in the sky, a purple bird started flying around the grey mountain. Zeina loved the color purple, so she sat and watched it fly. The bird was the prettiest she had ever seen, and she wanted to talk to it. She stood up and started waving at the bird, but the bird kept dancing in the sky, and then flew lower, until it went into the mountain through the little door. Zeina was scared that the voices in the mountain would harm the bird, so she started crying, but right after the bird entered the mountain, the most wonderful music came out. Zeina’s feet started dancing, and she immediately stopped crying. She looked around, and all the grey objects were smiling, she could see all the rainbow colors in everything around her. She ran into the mountain to see where the music was coming from, and in the dark, she saw this purple bird, flying around, alone, with the music of a hundred birds. The purple bird saw Zeina, and he liked how she danced, so he flew towards her and sat on her shoulder. The music stopped. “Hello”, said the purple bird. “Hi”, said Zeina. “You are a good dancer”, the bird told Zeina. “Thank you”, Zeina replied, “but where is all this music coming from, with only you in this mountain??” The purple bird told Zeina about how everything is made for a reason, and how his father, Oscar, made this big playground for everyone to enjoy. He told her about the story of this mountain and how its stomach is made to produce wonderful music with echo. “Echo?” Zeina asked. “What is echo?”
The bird smiled and told Zeina to look at the mountain’s shape. She looked. The mountain is a perfect dome, and on the inside, this shape makes any sound bounce at different speeds, so you can hear it more than once, over and over. Zeina was puzzled, “so you can have as many friends as you like?” she asked. The bird told her that she can never be alone if she’s happy, and this mountain only reminds her of that. Zeina was happier than ever, she started to like this place again, and wanted to learn about all the other things. She asked the bird about the grey rainbow, the floating ground, the cone, the tower and the flying carpet, but the bird said that the only way to know things is to go and try them, he kissed her goodbye, and flew away, and Zeina knew what she had to do.” They all thought it was a beautiful story. Gamal did not understand why Antoine tried the mask of an engineer, a doctor, and a lawyer. He was a great pilot, why would he want to be something else? The duckling said, ‘poopa…latawanda…evil’. They all laughed to hear the words come back. Echo, Gamal thought. Interesting. He felt that a lot of time had passed, and he couldn’t get there in time for the sun’s bedtime if he had to walk and walk to get back home. The mothers told him that this tree is one of a few special ones in this forest. They said that he needs to climb up to a branch where he could spot where he wanted to go. He should then politely ask the tree to take him there, and eat three leaves as quickly as he can. Gamal said goodbye, and wished the duckling good luck, and the mothers more love and then climbed to the smallest, highest branch he could find. He saw his grandmother’s house. He asked the tree, as politely as possible, to take him there and ate three leaves as fast as he can. Gamal was still chewing his third leaf when he arrived at his grandmother’s balcony. He couldn’t believe it. Gamal took out his journal and his twig, thanked the big tree that looked like Thurayya and started writing his second story on this journal. He said the story out loud as he wrote it down so the sun could hear. When he finished, the sun was already asleep. Before he went inside, he looked at the dark sky and saw half a blue moon. He thought of his mother, and went to bed. The next day, Gamal woke up listening to his grandmother playing the Oud and listening to her favorite Arabic singer, Oum Kolthoum. Gamal always thought that Kolthoum was a lucky boy to have such a mother, but Gamal had a mother and a grandmother that built worlds too. Gamal was a lucky boy too.
Gamal ran danced down to the kitchen. His grandmother was singing “A thousand and one nights”, one of his favorite songs. “How many journeys can one have in one thousand and one nights?” Gamal thought to himself, “and how many journals would he need?” He was still wearing his bear mask. He waiting for his grandmother to finish the long song and then he ran to her leg and hugged it, and then he climbed up to her waist and hugged it, then climbed to her hair and kissed it, then reached her shoulders and jumped onto the table. There was a glass of purple juice waiting for him. He had a sip. He had never tasted purple before. It was good. Gamal drank a sip of his purple juice. His grandmother asked him about yesterday’s journey. Gamal had another sip of his juice and said, “Who are you?” “They still wanted to know who I am,” he continued. “And what did you tell them, Habibi?” his grandmother asked. “Nothing,” he said, “but I taught a duckling how to start flying.” “Really?” the grandmother said, smiling. Gamal told his grandmother the story and she was very proud of her little bear. Then after he told her about Antoine’s journal, he said, “Why did he want to be someone else?” “Everyone could be whoever they want to be,” his grandmother said. “But he’s a great pilot with great stories,” Gamal was confused. His grandmother reminded him that he wanted to be someone else too. She told him that he was a great boy that wanted to change himself. Gamal looked at his grandmother. He was still wearing the bear mask, now even more confused. His grandmother took the bear mask off of Gamal’s head and started playing with his hair. She told him that he can wear the mask for fun, but not to become someone else. Only sad people wear masks to become other people. “You are my Gamal,” she said, “and, habibi, you can be anything you want,” she continued. Gamal drank a sip of his purple juice. “You can be Gamal the bear. You can be Gamal the pilot. You can be Gamal the grandfather. You can be Gamal the mother.
You can be whoever you want, and you can be anything,” she paused for a little bit, and then said, “You are Gamal the great.” She held his hand and took him to the balcony. The sky was blue and filled with red hot-air balloons. The sky was big and filled with stars. The seas were blue and filled with islands and fish. The seas were big and filled with waves. Gamal and his grandmother looked at the mountains, and the mountains looked back. “See all of this?” the grandmother said, “even all of this is made of the same cookie dough as you and me.” Gamal had another sip of his purple juice, and it was obvious that he still did not understand how the world is made of the same thing. Gamal’s grandmother put her left hand closer to his mouth and told him to bite her. Gamal loved his grandmother, and he would never ever bite her. “Bite me,” she said. She looked very serious, so Gamal bit his grandmother’s left hand. “Ouch!” said Gamal, “That hurt!” “It hurt me too,” she said. When Gamal bit his grandmother, he felt pain in the same place he had bit her. He bit her left hand, and his left hand hurt. “We are all made of the same cookie dough,” she said, “the same thing.” Gamal’s grandmother explained to him that when he does something to hurt someone or something, an animal, garden, sea or star, he is only hurting himself. Gamal’s hand was still hurting. She went to the kitchen and got a cube of ice. She put it on her hand and waited. Suddenly, Gamal felt better. “We are all made of the same cookie dough,” she said, “so when I feel better, you feel better.” There was a saying that Gamal’s grandmother always said, that Gamal did not understand before.
“Every man is a universe within a universe where every other man and thing lives. He is free to communicate his knowledge, in whole or in part, aligning and contradicting himself for the betterness of his being. Every man is a better universe within a universe where every other man and thing will live better.” He still did not quite understand it, but Gamal felt something new. He felt that the world was his friend. He might have understood the word ‘true’ now, and he may have not. He just has nothing against it anymore. He understood that some people wear masks and some people don’t. He started to understand why he could be anything he wanted to be. Gamal hugged his grandmother, and it felt good. She told him that she had a surprise for him on his last day at her house. “Open the yellow cupboard,” she said. Gamal ran to the kitchen as fast as he can, and opened the yellow cupboard. He found a box bigger than yesterday’s box of masks. He opened it. A parachute. His grandmother told him that Antoine, the pilot, left him this as a present. Every little man on a journey should have a parachute. Gamal was very excited to use it. He put the parachute bag on, and kissed his grandmother. He took three pieces of Sikah Barazek and put them in his brown leather bag. He walked out the front door, through the orange tree field, and turned south towards where the purple trees lived. The wind blew south, so Gamal walked south. He walked and walked. Gamal walked a lot. He walked across a very big forest filled with many animals, gardens, seas and stars. The wind blew south to a river. Gamal sat down on a rock and played with the water. On the other side of the river, Gamal saw an alligator. The alligator didn’t seem to like Gamal. He did not seem to care who Gamal was. The alligator was king of the river, and no one dared to sit down on rocks and play. “Hello,” said Gamal, “I am Gamal.” The alligator said nothing. He slowly walked into the river towards Gamal. Gamal was a little scared that the alligator would eat him, but he thought that the alligator was too smart to do that. Kings know about the cookie dough. If the alligator ate Gamal, he would eat himself. The
alligator may or may not have known about the cookie dough, but when he got to Gamal, he didn’t eat him. “Hello,” said Gamal again, “I am Gamal.” “My name is Danger,” said the alligator. Gamal thought about running away, but he didn’t. Gamal didn’t run away because he could be Gamal the bear. He could be Gamal the pilot. He could be Gamal the grandfather. He could be Gamal the mother. He could be whoever he wanted, and you can be anything too. He was Gamal, the great. He did not like the alligator’s name. Danger? What kind of a name is Danger. The alligator did not look dangerous. He looked like he needed a friend. Kings don’t have a lot of friends. Gamal reached for his journal and decided to read the king some stories of the past two days. Gamal told him of the caterpillar, the dwarfs, the serpent, the pilot, his grandmother, the ducks and his parachute. The alligator remained silent. Gamal looked him in the eye, and the alligator looked back. Gamal did not like staring competitions. He always lost, so he splashed the alligator with water from the river so Danger loses. The alligator got very confused at this little boy who dared to splash the king, and he burst into laughter. The alligator laughed and laughed and laughed, and then tapped on Gamal’s shoulder with his big tail. Gamal was happy. Gamal was always happy when people smiled. He was also happy when he made new friends. He was not going to be friends with anyone named Danger, especially if he was not so dangerous, so he decided to call him ‘Danny’, short for ‘Danger.’ Danger liked his new name. Gamal asked Danger if he would like to be his pet. “What’s a pet?” asked Danny. “A pet is a friend from a different species,” Gamal answered. “So can you be my pet too?” asked the alligator. Gamal didn’t think of it this way, “Yes!” he said. Gamal had never been a pet before. Gamal told Danny that he had a new parachute he wanted to try, and Danny had an idea. Danny walked, and Gamal followed. They crossed the river into a place with many holes in the ground. Danny told Gamal that each hole took to somewhere different.
Some holes took you to Beirut, some to Jerusalem, some to Abu Dhabi, some to Alexandria, some to Amman, some to Aleppo, some to Tripoli, some to Dubai and some to Cairo. “How will we choose?” asked Gamal, and Danny had an idea. Danny went back to the other side of the river and collected some rope and wood. He went back and built a swing. He told Gamal that the swing will decide where they will land. Gamal climbed the swing and Danny started swinging. “On the count of four, jump,” said Danny, and that’s what Gamal did. They fell into one of the holes. They fell and fell. As they fell, Gamal opened the parachute, and Danny held Gamal’s leg. The animals, gardens and seas were very small. The stars were very big. They fell slowly to the ground, and it was beautiful. Gamal didn’t know where they were, neither did Danny. A lot of people were doing a lot of things in a lot of places. Were they in Beirut, in Jerusalem, in Abu Dhabi, in Alexandria, in Amman, in Aleppo, in Tripoli, in Dubai or in Cairo? Both Gamal and Danny have never been to any of these places. Gamal had read about them in journals in his bedroom, and Danny had heard their sounds from the holes across the river. “This place sounds like a mix of all the sounds from all the holes,” said Danny. “This place looks like all of them too,” said Gamal. They both looked at each other, confused, and laughed. They walked around. They walked and walked. It was a very nice place. They walked around and saw people doing a lot of things in a lot of places. Some were studying. Some were eating. Some were drinking. Some were sleeping. Some were making shoes. Some were making toys. Some looked like they were on their own journeys, and Gamal loved journeys. When it started getting late, Gamal opened his bag to call the stork, but before he could take out the Sikah Barazek, the smell was so strong, that a flock of seagulls stole them. The seagulls were very happy. Gamal was not. Danny did not know what was going on. The only way back to his grandmother’s was the stork, especially when he didn’t know where they were.
They both looked at each other, more confused now, and laughed. They walked around. They walked and walked. It was still a very nice place. They saw a lot of people drawing grids with numbers on the floor. “Hopscotch!” screamed Gamal. He loved this game, even though Thurayya couldn’t play it with him. A lot of people were drawing grids so that all the little grids became one big monster grid. It was like a dream come true for Gamal, a never-ending Hopscotch round. Poor Danny had to play too. He just followed at first, but then he actually enjoyed it. Gamal hopped, and Danny hopped. They hopped and hopped, threw stones and hopped some more. They hopped for a very long time, in a very big city with a lot of people doing a lot of things in a lot of places. They hopped and hopped until Gamal hit his head and fell down. Danny was still hopping, but had a headache. When he realized Gamal was not following, he looked back and saw him on the ground. Gamal had hit his head on a branch of a purple tree. Gamal looked around. This place was very familiar. They walked into the field of purple trees, then turned north into the field of orange trees. Gamal couldn’t believe it. Somehow, they had gotten home. Danny and Gamal looked at each other, now more confused than before, and laughed. Laughter makes everything right. Gamal opened the door and entered his grandmother’s house with Danny behind him. They went right out to the balcony. They were five minutes late, but the sun would forgive Gamal. He took out his journal and his twig, and started writing his first story on this journal. He said the story out loud as he wrote it down so the sun could hear. When he finished, the sun was asleep. “Look!” Danny said as he looked at the dark sky and saw a full blue moon. Gamal was proud of his mother. He missed her. He missed home too. Danny missed home. Gamal prepared a bed for him, but Danny was an alligator. Alligators, especially the alligator kings, love to live in the forest. Gamal thought that if Danny was happier in the forest then he should go. Gamal did not cry. He knew that if Danny was happier, that he would be happier too. They said goodbye, and Danny started his way back home. Gamal went to his grandmother’s room. It was his last night there, so
he decided to crawl into her bed and sleep next to her. The blue moon made the world blue at night. His grandmother’s breathing made him feel safe. He could not wait to go back home tomorrow, to kiss his mother and climb Thurayya, a big tree that made no fruits, up from her big roots onto her big trunk over her big branches to reach her small ones. Now that he knew what cookie dough meant, he might understand the word ‘true’, and he might not. There was a place on Thurayya that was waiting for him, a place where Gamal could see the whole world, a place where Gamal could see himself.