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The City and the Writer: In Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, with Ali Al Ameri

By Nathalie Handal

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.

—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


Can you describe the mood of Sharjah as you feel/see it?

I am deeply connected to the tempo and pulse of the city, where the rhythms of the sea, desert, and urbanity create a diversity of life and culture. Residents from all continents can be found here. There is a myriad of cultural and artistic events, namely the Book Fair, the Biennial of Arts, the Children's Reading Festival, Theatre Days, the Festival of Lights, Heritage Days, and the Arab Poetry Festival. The name of the city stems from its location in the far east of the UAE, which is associated with sunrise. Archaeological excavations indicate the existence of an ancient civilization dating back to the fifth century BCE; and studies confirm the spread of writing in the Aramaic language, as well as in the Ancient South Arabian script Musnad, and the practice of sun worship in those eras.


What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

The loss of friends, poets, novelists, and painters who lived in Sharjah. The abandoned trees that have remained steadfast after the demolition of old houses—they remind me of my family’s trees in the Palestinian village of Zabaa in Bisan, which we were forced to flee in 1948.


What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

There are sites that many residents and visitors do not notice, like the ancient wells located on the paths of camel convoys in the desert. Some of these wells go back four hundred years and still retain their old names. To determine where to dig wells, the "water clairvoyant" used to infer the location of groundwater through a traditional method involving a stick.

The Jubail Cemetery is also one of the sites that many people do not notice. It is hidden behind the Birds Souq (shops), as if death waits beyond those birds' tweets.


What writer(s) from here should we read?

Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi’s Tale of a City, Bibi Fatima and the King's Sons, and A Message to the Theater People. Among contemporary writers, I suggest Maysoon Saqr, Sultan Al-Amimi, Khulud Al-Mualla, Ahmed Rashed Thani, Dhabia Khamis, Nasser Jubran, Saliheh Ghabish, Talal Salem, Aisha Musabeh, Ismail Abdullah, and Mohammad Al-Buraiki.


Is there a place here you return to often?

To the Al Qasba, described as the “Venice of Sharjah,” with two wings of buildings and a water channel that passes between them. The water comes from Khalid Lagoon and meets the sea through Al Khan Lagoon.

I also like to go to the sea; to the studio of my friend, the painter Ismail Al Rifai; and to the heart of Sharjah, where houses are built with coral stones. The area hosts popular shops for spices, fabrics, coffee, henna, Arabic gum, and crockery.


Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

The House of Poetry, the Literary Café, the headquarters of the Emirates Writers Union, the General Union of Arab Writers, and the iconic House of Wisdom, a library and cultural center.


Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

The desert is the shoulder of the city, where life takes different paths in an open space and under the sky, away from the city lights. The desert life continues despite modern urban modes of existence.


Where does passion live here?

Everywhere, from the sea to the desert.


What is the title of one of your works about Sharjah and what inspired it exactly?

In my poetry book Enchanted Thread, there is a poem entitled “Stone of Intuition,” inspired by the sea in Sharjah. I was sitting on a stone bench opposite the Arabian Gulf, where the waves were recording the blue rhythms. I’ve also written many poems about Al Qasba.


Inspired by Levi, “Outside Sharjah, does an outside exist?”

Maleha area, located to east of Sharjah City, is a place where eras meet, where the mountain meets the plain and the valley. The hills and mountains look like sculptures rising from the sand dunes, among them the Mountain of Fossils. The region has an archaeology center that records the chronology and stories of seven thousand years of life.


Ali Al Ameri is a Palestinian Jordanian poet and painter born in the village of Waqqas and raised in the neighboring village of Qulaiat in the Jordan Valley. He is the author of four books: These Are My Intuitions, This Is My Vague Hand; White Eclipse; Enchanted Thread; and Ink Inscription . . . Poets Talk about Childhood, Love, and Exile. His work has been translated into numerous languages. Since 1985, he has participated in several group art exhibitions in UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Macedonia, Palestine, Romania, and the USA. He is the founder and art director of the Dubai International Art Symposium (DIAS), one of the founders of the Erzal Culture and Arts Association in Jordan, and a member of the Jordanian Writers’ Association, the Arab Writers’ Union, and the Jordanian Press Association. Al Ameri is currently the editorial manager of Publishers Weekly Arabic magazine, published by Sharjah Book Authority in UAE.


Related Reading:

The City and the Writer: In Amman, Jordan, with Amjad Nasser (1955–2019)

"What Happens When We Sleep?" by Haytham El Wardany

"This Catastrophe That Is Called Lebanon": A Conversation with Mazen Kerbaj

Published Jan 8, 2021   Copyright 2021 Nathalie Handal

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