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Image taken by Flickr user Peter Alfred Hess

 

This week in the Guernica/PEN Flash series, we feature an original piece by Moroccan poet and autobiographical writer Abdellah Taïa, juxtaposed by two different translations by Chris Clarke and Emma Ramadan. We encourage readers to pay close attention to all the subtle yet important decisions each translator made to bring Taïa’s piece to life for English-language readers.

A park, while we wait…

Morocco. Beginning of the 80s.

There’s a river. The Bou Regreg. And the sea. The Atlantic Ocean.

There are two cities. Rabat, the capital. Over there.

Far away. White. Rich. Inaccessible.
Salé: our side, my side. City of pirates, of
corsairs. Of the poor.

There’s the world. The idea of the world, and its fully visible borders, well accepted by all.

Where to go when you have nothing? Where to wander, to roam, when you are nothing?

It takes time for us to understand that the earth and the sky
belong to us all. To me as well. To my mother who is shouting. To my father who
smokes too much. As we wait for this revelation, we do what we can. We return
to the forest. We lose ourselves. We seek to exist exclusively through
our bodies.

And one day, the miracle transpires. Over on our side, without asking
our opinion, a park is built. For everyone. With benches, green grass,
a few trees, and even a court where we can play
basketball.

It’s bewildering. Is it for us, this space? Really? They
haven’t made a mistake? It isn’t for the people of Rabat?

At first, we snub the park. We’re not accustomed to it. We don’t know
how to occupy this new territory, what to dream up to make
ourselves feel at home with its architecture. Its geography is not our own.
Its organized empty space is destabilizing. Separating. Its benches demand a decorum
that we don’t possess.

We don’t like it, this park. We refuse it. We ignore it. We forget it.
For several months.

With my childhood friends, I go on playing barefoot in the
dirt, in the dust. That’s us, that contact with the primordial
elements, “savage.” We have to stay that way. We have to resist
the ideas of the others, those above us who don’t know us and
who will never, ever, come to see us.

We decide to keep to our own territory. Let it rot, this
ostentatious park of theirs. Let it be burnt by the sun and by
boredom. Let it vanish! We want nothing to do with it! Did you hear me?
Yes? No?

The poor must remain poor. It isn’t a so-called
“modern” park that is going to get them out of this poverty,
a poverty imposed and endlessly painted over by those in power.

We understand. We’re not going to let this be done to us.
Our resistance has been set in motion. It will continue on. Forever. Forever.
Do you understand?

The poor must remain poor. It isn’t a so-called
“modern” park that is going to get them out of this poverty,
a poverty imposed and endlessly painted over by those in power.

Time goes by. A year. Two years.

The children have grown up. I’m 13 years old. I am becoming a man. Another
border to cross. But I don’t want to become the man the others demand,
that they command I be. I’m different. Homosexual. But deep down,
I don’t feel that I’m different at all. I am a poor man among the poor.
There’s no difference. I don’t want to leave that group. That
world. I don’t go to the park either. So where does the difference
lie? I can’t see it at all. But the others, family, friends,
certain adults, they see it all too well. They tell me so.
They shout it.

What can I do? Get in fights? Cause a scandal? Hang my head?

I choose the third option. I am pushed a little at a time towards
solitude. Emptiness. The park.

I stop speaking. And I begin to roam. I go to the park. I still
don’t like it. But I go all the same.

I discover that I’m not the only one to go there. The elderly also
frequent it in the afternoon, after the third prayer. Men in
their sixties worn out by a violent society, worn right down.
Cast off. Without love. They are waiting for death. They play cards,
over and over again. They dream up new ways.

I approach them. I watch. I grow attached. I come more and
more often to their meeting place.

I’m young. So old. With these fathers, fathers of families, sometimes there is
joy. Peals of laughter. Gestures of tenderness. They give me
advice I will never follow. But I listen to them. I can guess
their fears. Their frustrations. Their solitude. They no longer have
the strength to resist. They are waiting. Like all of Morocco. I feel a
sense of solidarity. And my deepest feelings are confirmed. I am homosexual
but I am no different from these men.

The old men made a place for me among them. They could see who I was. They said nothing.

One evening, I am alone in the garden, I have lingered. Night. It’s dark. Some people arrive. They have bottles of cheap wine in hand. I follow them with my gaze. They are far away. On the farthest fringes. Drunkards. Vagrants. Prostitutes. I’m not afraid. I go over toward them.

I resist, next to them. Plainly. Naively. Lovingly.

A Garden, While Waiting
Translated by Emma Ramadan

Morocco. Beginning of the 80s.

There is a river. The Bou Regreg. And the sea. The Atlantic Ocean.

There are two cities. Rabat, the capital. Over there. Far. White. Rich. Inaccessible. Salé: our side, my side. City of pirates, of privateers. Of the poor.

There is the world. The idea of the world and its boundaries, so visible, so internalized by everyone.
Where can we go when we have nothing? Where can we walk, wander, when we are nothing?

It takes some time to understand that the earth and the sky belong to everyone. To me, too. To my mother, crying. To my father, who smokes too much. While waiting for this revelation, we do what we can. We go back to the forest. We get lost. We try not to exist anymore except as bodies.

And one day: the miracle happens. On our side, without consulting us, they build a garden. For everyone. With benches, a lawn, some trees, and even a basketball court.

Bewilderment. This is for us, this space? Really? They haven’t made a mistake? It’s not for the people of Rabat?

At the beginning, we snub the garden. We’re not used to such things. We don’t know how to inhabit this new territory or what to invent to familiarize ourselves with its architecture. Its geography is not our own. Its organized void is destabilizing. Distancing. Its benches exude a bearing that we lack.

We don’t like it, this garden. We refuse it. We exclude it. We forget it. Several months.

My childhood friends and I continue to play barefoot on the ground, in the dust. That’s us, this contact with the elemental, the “savage.” We have to stay like that. We have to resist the ideas of others, those on high who don’t know us and don’t come to see us, ever.

I choose the third option. I am pushed little by little toward solitude. The void. The garden.

We decide to stay in our territory. Let it die, their sophisticated garden! Let it be burned by the sun, by boredom! Let it disappear! We don’t want it! Do you understand? Yes? No?

The poor must remain poor. It won’t be a so-called modern garden that releases them from the poverty imposed upon them and constantly covered up by those in power.

We have understood. We will not let ourselves be had. Resistance is underway. It will continue. Always. Always. Have you understood?

Time passes. A year. Two years.

The children grow up. I’m thirteen. I become a man. Another boundary to cross. But I don’t want to become a man like the others order, demand. I am different. Homosexual. But, in the end, I don’t feel different at all. I am poor among the poor. No differences. I don’t want to leave this group. This world. I don’t go to the garden either. So where is the difference? I don’t see it at all. But the others, my family, my friends, some adults, see it quite well. They say it. They shout it.

What to do? Fight? Cause a scandal? Hang my head?

I choose the third option. I am pushed little by little toward solitude. The void. The garden.

I stop talking. And I start to wander. I go to the garden. I still don’t like it. But I go there anyway.

I discover that I’m not the only one who goes there. The elderly also go in the afternoon, after the third prayer. Men in their sixties worn down by our violent society, done in. Rejected. Loveless. Awaiting death. They play cards, again and again. They invent something else.

I approach them. I watch. I become attached. I go to these meetings more and more often.

I am young. So old. With these patriarchs, sometimes, there is happiness. Bursts of laughter. Tender gestures. They give me advice that I never follow. But I listen to them. I sense their fears. Their frustrations. Their solitude. They no longer have the force to resist. They wait. Like all of Morocco. I feel…solidarity. And my underlying feeling is confirmed. I am homosexual but I am not different from these men.

The old men gave me a place among them. They saw who I was. They said nothing.

One night, I’m alone in the garden, I linger. Night. Darkness. People come. They’re holding cheap bottles of wine. I watch them. They’re far. Transgressive. Drunks. Bums. Prostitutes. I’m not afraid. I go toward them.

I resist at their sides. Simply. Naively. Lovingly.

The old men gave me a place among them. They saw who I was. They said nothing.

Un jardin, en attendant…
Par Abdellah Taïa

Le Maroc. Début des années 80.

Il y a un fleuve. Le Bou Regreg. Et la mer. L’Océan Atlantique.

Il y a deux villes. Rabat la capitale. Là-bas. Loin. Blanche. Riche.
Inaccessible. Salé : notre côté à nous, à moi. Ville de pirates, de
corsaires. De pauvres.

Il y a le monde. L’idée du monde et ses frontières bien visibles, bien
intégrés par tous.

Où aller quand on n’a rien? Où se promener, errer, quand on est rien?

Il faut un certain temps pour comprendre que la terre et le ciel
appartiennent à tous. A moi aussi. A ma mère qui crie. A mon père qui
fume trop. En attendant cette révélation, on fait comme on peut. On
revient à la forêt. On se perd. On cherche à ne plus exister que par
son corps.

Et un jour : le miracle arrive. De notre côté, sans nous demander
notre avis, on construit un jardin. Pour tout le monde. Avec des
bancs, du gazon, quelques arbres et même un terrain pour jouer au
basket ball.

C’est l’incompréhension. C’est pour nous, cet espace? Vraiment? Ils
ne se sont pas trompés? Ce n’est pas pour les gens de Rabat?
Au début, on snobe le jardin. On n’a pas l‘habitude. On ne sait pas
comment occuper ce nouveau territoire ni quoi inventer pour se
familiariser avec son architecture. Sa géographie n’est pas la nôtre.
Son vide organisé déstabilise. Eloigne. Ses bancs exigent un maintien
qu’on n’a pas.

On ne l’aime pas, ce jardin. On le refuse. On l’exclue. On l’oublie.
Plusieurs mois.

Avec mes copains d’enfance, on continue de jouer pieds nus dans la
terre, dans la poussière. C’est nous ça, ce contact avec l’élément
premier, « sauvage ». Il faut rester comme ça. Nous devons résister
aux idées des autres, ceux d’en haut qui ne nous connaissent pas et
qui, jamais, ne viennent nous voir.

Nous décidons de rester dans notre territoire. Qu’il crève, leur
jardin trop sophistiqué! Qu’il soit brûlé par le soleil et par
l’ennui! Qu’il disparaisse! On n’en veut pas! Vous avez entendu? Oui? Non?
Les pauvres doivent rester pauvres. Ce n’est pas un jardin soi-disant
moderne qui va les sortir de cette pauvreté imposée et sans cesse
maquillée par le pouvoir.

Nous avons compris. Nous ne nous laisserons pas faire. La résistance
est enclenchée. Elle continuera. Toujours. Toujours. Vous avez compris?

Le temps passe. Un an. Deux ans.

Les enfants ont grandi. J’ai 13 ans. Je deviens un homme. Une autre
frontière à franchir. Mais je ne veux pas devenir un homme comme les
autres le demandent, l’ordonnent. Je suis différent. Homosexuel. Mais,
au fond, je ne me sens pas du tout différent. Je suis pauvre parmi les
pauvres. Pas de différences. Je ne veux pas sortir de ce groupe. De ce
monde. Moi non plus, je ne vais pas au jardin. Où est donc la
différence? Je ne la vois pas du tout. Mais les autres, la famille,
les copains, certains adultes, la voient très bien. Ils me le disent.
Ils le crient.

Que faire? Se battre? Faire le scandale? Baisser la tête?

Je choisis la troisième possibilité. Je suis poussé petit à petit vers
la solitude. Le vide. Le jardin.

Je cesse de parler. Et je commence à errer. Je vais au jardin. Je ne
l’aime toujours pas. Mais j’y vais quand même.

Je découvre que je ne suis pas seul à y aller. Les vieux aussi le
fréquentent dans l’après-midi, après la troisième prière. Des hommes
d’une soixantaine d’années usés par la société violente, à bout.
Rejetés. Sans amour. Ils attendent la mort. Ils jouent, encore et
encore, aux cartes. Ils inventent autre chose.

Je me rapproche d’eux. Je regarde. Je m’attache. Je viens de plus en
plus au rendez-vous.

Je suis jeune. Si vieux. Avec ces pères de famille, parfois, il y a du
bonheur. Des éclats de rire. Des gestes de tendresse. Ils me donnent
des conseils que je ne suivrai jamais. Mais je les écoute. Je devine
leurs peurs. Leurs frustrations. Leur solitude. Ils n’ont plus la
force de résister. Ils attendent. Comme tout le Maroc. Je me sens
solidaire. Et mon sentiment profond est confirmé. Je suis homosexuel
mais je ne suis pas différent de ces hommes.

Les vieux m’ont mis une place parmi eux. Ils voyaient qui j’étais. Ils
ne disaient rien.

Un soir, je suis seul dans le jardin, je m’attarde. La nuit. Le noir.
Des gens arrivent. Ils ont des bouteilles de vin bon marché entre les
mains. Je les suis du regard. Ils sont loin. Dans la radicalité. Des
ivrognes. Des clochards. Des prostituées. Je n’ai pas peur. Je vais
vers eux.

Je résiste à côté d’eux. Simplement. Naïvement. Amoureusement.

These pieces were originally read at the 2016 PEN World Voices Translation Slam.

Abdellah Taïa

Abdellah Taïa is one of the first openly gay autobiographical writers published in Morocco. He is the author of many books, such as Mon Maroc (My Morocco), Le rouge du tarbouche (The Red of the Fez), L’Armée du salut (Salvation Army), Une mélancolie árabe (An Arab Melancholia), and Le jour du Roi (The King’s Day), which was awarded the prestigious Prix de Flore in 2010. The English translation of his novel Infidéles (Infidels) by Alison L. Strayer has been published this year from Seven Stories Press.

One Comment on “Un Jardin, en attendent

  1. ‘ But, in the end, I don’t feel different at all. I am poor among the poor. No differences. I don’t want to leave this group.’- These lines are amazing. It’s a seasonably ‍artical.

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