Monday, 6 June 2016


My mother forgets to feed her animals
because it's only fair.
She rushes to them when
she hears hoarse roosters crowing
and billy goats butting
over a last straw.

This month the moon becomes a princess.
The stars fan her,
Jupiter pours cups of wine,
Mars sings melancholy mawals.
Bearded men holding prayer beads
and yellow booklets stare at her
and point aching fingers at her waist.

In our house we break a fast
with dates from Huun
and glasses of buttermilk.
Then on to bowls of lamb soup
flavored with mint, trays
of stuffed grape leaves,
spiced fava beans drenched
in olive oil and lemon juice.
And that is only the beginning.

The spirits of Johnny Walker and gin
hide in the trunks of white Peugeots.
In the nightclubs of my city, waiters
serve only non-alcoholic beer
and belly dancers cover themselves.

Father of sixteen children, our neighbor
visits bringing two kilos of baklava.
He washes them down with a dozen
demitasses of sweet sage tea.
Before dawn he runs to one
of his two wives, both named Salma,
and loves her hurriedly,
his hands barely touching a breast.

Khaled Mattawa

Sunday, 5 June 2016

My only weapon was the word

The beautiful short film Good Night Sarajevo explores the slices of an individual’s humanity that are jeopardised, but also that which is retained and preserved, in times of war and conflict. Woven through the story of one man’s life and wartime experience are both explicit and oblique questions of what it means to tell stories, as an affirmation of what is meaningful in life, rendering the whole film a paean to verbal communication.

Indeed, in one of the most memorable lines of the film, its protagonist, Boban Minic, reveals his creed with the solemnity of an incantation: mi única arma era la palabra.

My only weapon was the word.

Such weapons, it is clear in this context, seek not to wound but to heal. Minic’s relationship with the city he loved and eventually had to leave is threaded with stories of personal loss along with recollections of the social and cultural ties that bound together a place that he describes as having once been a bastion of diversity, replete with art and beauty. He risked his own health and safety to preserve a little of that through his radio program, where talk of the arts, an imagined future and news of estranged families floated on the air, throughout and beyond the city, even as snipers lurked high above its streets.

Director Edu Marín takes pains to emphasise that the story he wanted to tell was not the story of the Balkan wars in any definitive sense, repeating that such a story was not his to tell. Rather, this is the tale of the storyteller himself, of a man who has lived his life according to the maxim that giving a voice to humanity’s highest aspirations helps to free humans from the prisons of our own minds, especially in times of great cruelty and suffering.

Watching this film for the second time with a Serbian friend who lived through the wars, I was struck by her immediate response after it had finished. While Sarajevo as a physical space was completely unknown to her, so much in terms of the common language, songs playing in the background as people talked, short film clips, exerted a nostalgic pull over her senses.

And there is the essence of storytelling if it is done well. In hearing another’s story, we feel a tug at our own memories and perhaps, if we can allow ourselves, our own hopes. To imagine that we humans will ever forget all of the differences that proliferate to create such bitter disputes among us seems naïve, in this era more than ever.

But it is so good to be reminded that everyone has their story to tell.  


The trailer for Good Night Sarajevo: