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Who Are We Now? Theatre Alberta Essay Series – Amena Shehab

Who Are We Now? Theatre Alberta Essay Series – Amena Shehab

Who Are We Now? Theatre Alberta Essay Series

THE TENT WITH A THOUSAND DOORS

Amena Shehab

What can we tell you? 
I am we, and we are who I am.
We are the story, and I am the storyteller. 

We are children of the wind, we are children of the water, the fire, and the light. These are the things that make us who we are. Our voices sing the memories. The sound of mahbash – coffee ground by a father’s hand and the smell of khubz – bread kneaded with a mother’s heart.

We are from here. We are from far away, from everywhere. We were born like all human beings, with a story to tell. We left a mother who misses us and cries for us. We care for our children and cry when they leave. Up against the wall, we shout out; from the ashes, we rise.
 
We go to sleep with disappointment; we wake up with hope. We borrow the stars to sleep beneath their light. We take shelter beneath our shadow. Our love is constellated across the earth, our sorrow shoots through the sky. We are not just refugees today. We were born as refugees. 
 
Our tent has a thousand doors. We open the tent doors to spread a sea of jasmine over the roads. We make perfume from the jasmine, soap from the oranges and the olives. We bring you our myths, our methods, our understanding of the world. We tell you our stories to show you our world.
 
We drive the clouds to slake our thirst and we ride the wind to carry our voice. We are today and tomorrow. We are more than a person in a tent, and we are not the broken victim that you see on the news. We are the victim, but we are also the warrior. 

The pandemic changed everything. But not for us.
 
Everywhere we go, we make our home from what we have. We are stateless, but we are never homeless. We love life when we survive. We are kind to those who are cruel to us, to those who steal our history. We know about fighting for safety. We know fear and worry. We know living…
 
Disease, contagion, and epidemic started a long time ago. We have been in isolation since we left our birthplace. We have learned new ways, and we have learned to be without. We already took to screens to share happiness and pain; we shared sorrows and love and memories online.

This is who we all are now. Today, you are here in the past with us. We celebrate weddings and grieve at funerals through a webcam. We – I, six sisters and I, were walked down the aisle by our father but he was carried to his grave alone. Seven daughters, three sons, thirty-seven grandchildren. No funeral.

When we moved here, people tried to teach us who we are. We were taught to keep our distance and to respect personal space. Today, we are afraid to touch, afraid to share, and afraid to get close. Now, everyone keeps their distance, further than ever from each other, no matter how long they have been here.

Tomorrow, we will still be here. English is not our first language, and it will not be our last. The future will be different from the present, but it might be like the past. Today, we tell these stories in many languages and our stories move from right to left, and back again. Tomorrow belongs to us.

Who are we now? I am Amena.
We are bedouin, bidoon, between.
In my heart, we hold the stories from behind a thousand doors.

Amena Shehab_headshot

Amena Shehab is an Arabic, Palestinian, Syrian-Canadian woman. She is a playwright, actor, and worked as a T.V. and theatre producer in Qatar.  She was born a refugee, and wherever she goes she makes her home.