My article reblogged from the Office of Letters and Light site:
Untold Stories from Elsewhere :: Middle East
During the month of November, we’ve discovered new friends and neighbors at write-ins in local coffee shops and libraries. We’ve memorized every valley, dive bar, and street sign in our fictional worlds. We’ve even sketched a map of the Tupazel World from Bearded Troll Mountain to Red Dragon Lair. But, we may have forgotten that there are Wrimos writing all over the world.
In the region of “Elsewhere :: Middle East,” 934 Wrimos join together from the 24 countries in the Middle East. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Lone Bendixen Goulani, an academic writing teacher at the University of Kurdistan-Hewler in Erbil, Iraq, who teaches 125 students. Eight have signed up with NaNoWriMo to tell their untold stories.
If Erbil, Iraq was the setting of a novel, how would you describe the area?
Kurdistan is a beautiful mountainous area in the Middle East that covers regions both in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. Kurdistan is a safe haven in Iraq. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the region has developed a lot. Erbil is the capital in Kurdistan region in Iraq, and the majority of people in Erbil are Kurds, but our pluralistic society also contains Arabs, Assyrians, Jezidis, Turkomans etc. The history of the Kurds is very bloody and sad, but there are so many untold stories waiting to be told.
One of my students is using a lot of his mother’s stories in his novel. One of my characters has a father that was killed during Saddam Hussein’s ethnic cleansing of the Kurds. Another character is watching a DVD where Baathists are executing people in different ways because this is what my taxi driver was doing on November 4th, and I put it in my story. There are green parks and modern shopping malls, and the killings have stopped, but people still watch the killings. They still cry over their lost ones.
How did your students react to the idea of writing a novel in one month?
To be honest, most of them looked blankly at me when I announced the event in the classroom, and since they quite often whine about the amount of words they have to write for my assignments (max 800 words this semester), most of them think they would never have the time to write this much. A few asked for more information and got hooked. We are only 8 Wrimos in Erbil as far as I know, and 6 of us are from the University of Kurdistan, but it’s a start. Pictured at the top is Kameran, a UKH student and one of the new Erbil WriMos in front of our NaNoWriMo bulletin board.
Have there been any cultural barriers for fiction writing?
Not really, not so far at least, but I suppose I’m taking the risk of getting into trouble if they write and upload something which is considered inappropriate around here (which is just about everything if you include the stories after they have been retold a few times).
What is the reading culture like in Erbil?
Poetry is quite popular, but there is not really a reading culture. I hardly ever see anybody reading a novel for pleasure, and it’s difficult to find any kind of literature. I go to a book fair once a year, exchange books with my expat colleagues and buy books whenever I’m abroad.
Had anyone heard of NaNoWriMo in your area? How did you first hear about NaNoWriMo?
No, I had never heard about it until my American colleague told me about it a few months ago. She is taking a course in creative writing as part of her master’s program. She finished her first novel recently (she spent 60 days on it which is clearly cheating, but I’ve bullied her into writing a new one in November).
I’ve always written a lot, but never fiction, so I’m looking forward to taking writing less seriously and share a creative writing experience with my students, friends and colleagues.
How have you kept motivated throughout November?
I enjoyed bragging a lot about what I’m doing in November, so there wasn’t any turning back. How can I call myself a writing instructor if I haven’t written a novel in 30 days?
Also, there’s barely anything to do around here apart from breathing fresh mountain air, so writing a novel is really a perfect activity apart from the power short cuts (and my laptop battery is broken, so it is a serious matter really).
Lone, thanks for sharing your world with us. Wrimos, on this last day of November, let’s do a roll call! Where did you write from this month? How would you describe your home in one sentence?
Student Photo by Lone Bendixen Goulani
That’s cool! Which is the Office of Letters and Light?
It’s the amazing nonprofit that puts on National Novel Writing Month and the Young Writers Program!