Palestinian poet and novelist Abdul Karim Sabawi was invited to participate at Australia’s Multilingual Literary Heritage at Wollongong University. The following is part of his contribution on the importance of translation:
How else but through translating could we unearth our common humanity which lays the foundation of past eras and civilisations? Without translation, we would not have understood the laws of nature nor would we have made new innovations.
During their golden era, Muslims were ethnically diverse and tolerant of new ideas. Translation played a part in their accumulation of knowledge and their ability to exchange scientific discoveries from India, China, Persia, Greece, Rome to the rest of the Western world through the gates of Spain.
Today, here in Australia we are in desperate need for translation to play a part in bringing closer the ethnic communities, uniting them and preventing their polarisation and radicalism.
We are a society of many tongues, diverse cultures, multiple religions. We are equal partners in one free nation that gives us so much more than many other countries are able to give to their citizens.
The world outside our borders is a stage for many wars and conflicts, some older than Australian’s federation. Often times we find ourselves forced to suffer the consequences of these conflicts. We must bond together, understand one another, no matter how different our cultures are. Our salvation rests on raising new generations that are protected from the dangers of intolerance and hate both outside and inside our borders.
We need a revolution in the education system. Our teachers from kindergarten to year 12 must have the persistence of the profits the resilience of revolutionaries and the wisdom of philosophers so they can teach our children the difference between justice and injustice. In Hamlet, the king of Denmark was assassinated with a drop of poison in his ear; our children’s eyes and ears are prey to the poison of hundreds of media channels and thousands of Internet websites. Our children have no time for innocence or spontaneity or for drinking from the fountains of accumulated knowledge of human cultures of the past. Should it be a surprise then that some may become radicalised. We wonder how they leave us to participate in external wars that have nothing to do with their lives.
This challenge cannot be faced by the government but is in need of the work of NGOs, civil liberty groups and civil society. How to accept the other, respect other cultures, and maintain our humanity in order to guarantee justice is the only way to protect our youth from violence and radicalisation and a narrow-minded vision.
We need to build strong bridges between our cultures and translating texts and literature is a large part of that.
Now available online in English. A collection of poetry from Palestinian poet and author Abdul Karim Sabawi.
Also available in .pdf Blood For Freedom
For Abdul Sabawi. Lygon Street, Melbourne 23 December 2013
His heart is in Gaza but he cannot go,
waves wash the shore but he cannot see
lights of the fishing boats, steps in the sands,
pictures for poems in a foreign land.
Dreams come and go in the heat of the bush,
challenge to pen on a paper trail
to create new lives with horizons to teach,
stories to tell and techniques to reach.
He paints with his grief, makes links to his heart
for time when it comes to place on a page
rhyming and rhythms of verses at play
nurtured by soil that is so far away.
Images come in the day and at night,
adrenalin runs and women appear-
a compass to guide his scribbling so much
with translating daughter, sensuous touch
To drink, derive succour from Matilda’s air,
applause from small kids as key source of flair
to conjure from muses’ each artistic outline
to breathe and sustain, Gaza, Palestine.
From a book of poetry by Stuart Rees titled ‘A Will to Live’ published by Ginninderra Press 2014
To my Grandfather Abdul-Kareem. Thank you for reminding me of the power of words and the love which sustains them. For my words and the passion which drives them, I have only you to thank.
Lost in Translation
A robustly concerted gaze is soothed beneath the veil of time but your words endure eternal. Hands worked to the bone are muddied by the soil of your homeland, but the words they have come to scribe endure eternal.
Your words are but a whisper in these untrained ears, who long to immerse themselves in the sheer power of your native tongue. I continue to firmly grasp the remnants, of which, are lost in translation. They whisper to me as my own words come to be. Expending the energy of a chiselling hand to rock, they remind me of how you transcend them. You are more than an elderly man with words. You are heart. You are mind. You are soul. Each embrace and each kiss to hand uniting me with my ancestors. A magic that is unprecedented.
An unshakable frame of stone, now shaken by your own mirrored words, these words endure eternal. A Demeanour of Leadership coerced by the villainous hands of fate, your words reign over you, they remain eternal.
Fear not that these words subdue me from you. As enthralling as they remain, I remain enthralled by you and all you have always been. I look beyond what is lost in translation and I feel the loving presence that is you. Even now as my own words lose themselves to foreign space and time, I know that you will find me. I know that you will always find me, just as I have come find you…lost in translation.
In 1967 when Abdul Karim Sabawi’s home city Gaza fell under Israeli occupation he, like many other Palestinians was uprooted and forced into exile. He wrote this poem on that painful first morning when he woke up in Jordan to realize he may never be allowed to return. The poem was translated from Arabic into English by his daughter Samah Sabawi.
When you were parched
We quenched your thirst
With our blood
We carry your burden
We cry in shame
Where do you come from?
Dishonoured we die
If only the stray bullets
From the occupier’s guns
That they pierced through our legs
It only they tore through our knees
If only we sunk in your sand
Deep to our necks
If only we got stuck
And became the salt of your earth
The nutrients in your fertile soil
If only we didn’t leave
The gates of our hearts
Are wide open to misery
Don’t ask us where this wind is blowing
Don’t ask us about a house
The Bulldozers were here
The Bulldozers were here
And the houses in our village
Fell…Like a row of decayed teeth
They haven’t colonized Mars yet
And the moon is barren
So carry your children
And follow me
We can live in the books of history
They’ll write about us…
“The wicked Bedouins
Landed in Baghdad
They landed in Yafa
They landed in Grenada
Then they moved on
They packed their belongings
And rode on their camels
They didn’t leave their print on the red clay
And all their artifacts
With the passing of the years”
Does anyone in the world care?
Does anyone care?
What is it worth
To be an Arab…
A Native American…
Or a dinosaur