A THOUSAND FAREWELLS
A REPORTER'S JOURNEY FROM REFUGEE CAMP TO THE ARAB SPRING
A uniquely personal insight into the Middle East from one of Canada’s most respected foreign correspondents
In 1976, Nahlah Ayed’s family gave up their comfortable life in Winnipeg for the squalor of a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. The transition was jarring, but it was from this uncomfortable situation that Ayed first observed the people whose heritage she shared. The family returned to Canada when she was thirteen, and Ayed ignored the Middle East for many years. But the First Gulf War and the events of 9/11 reignited her interest. Soon she was reporting from the region full-time, trying to make sense of the wars and upheavals that have affected its people and sent so many of them seeking a better life elsewhere.
In A Thousand Farewells, Ayed describes with sympathy and insight the myriad ways in which the Arab people have fought against oppression and loss as seen from her own early days witnessing protests in Amman, and the wars, crackdowns, and uprisings she has reported on in countries across the region.
This is the heartfelt and personal chronicle of a journalist who has devoted much of her career to covering one of the world’s most vexing regions.
The beautiful swore he wouldn’t be perfect.
As a child, I knew nothing of refugeehood and displacement; of grimy UN tents, kerosene lamps, and powdered milk; of children who for years refused to go to sleep without a loaf of bread in their clutches. Instead, I knew swaths of wide boulevards, blankets of green grass, and the warmth of central heating. I knew twentyfour-hour electricity and drinkable water that fl owed from a tap. I knew bread could be had at Safeway.
I was born in Canada, in a modern hospital, into the hands of a qualified doctor. I lived in a modest but comfortable duplex on the corner of a quiet street in St-Boniface, then a suburb of Winnipeg. My earliest memories include a swing in front of the house on Archibald Street, a sandbox on the side, and a brand new bicycle to ride on the sidewalk around it. We went to a French school, regularly ate WigWags and Popsicles, sang Christmas carols, and did the Irish jig at school concerts.
That’s what life looked like in 1975, when I was about five; that’s how life was supposed to continue, eternally. In the snapshots of that life, captured by my dad’s Kodak camera, my mother—a curvy woman who took care with her looks—figures prominently, flaunting her hair and full lips. She was a brilliant mother and homemaker. Forever she was supposed to pose flawlessly in fashionable outfits, hair and face perfectly made up, along with one or a few of the four of us kids, and often with pride of place given to a tremendous birthday cake she had made and decorated herself. Dad, dashing too, makes cameo appearances in our festive pictures. The hard-working provider is nearly always in a short-sleeved dress shirt, often with pens in his shirt pocket, just in case. In that world of mine at five years old, Dad was always going to be the busy, smiling assistant manager of a Chicken Delight restaurant.
In those years, life for us kids was about being well behaved. It was about sitting up straight, legs together, hands on laps. It was about keeping clothes clean, about speaking only when spoken to and playing only when given permission. That life was methodically chronicled by Dad’s Kodak camera—always tucked in its hard brown leather case, but always at the ready for those spontaneous shots of grinning kids. Say cheese! Click.
At first it was just me and my sister, Ayeda, only a year apart, who smiled into its lens. Though Ayeda was older, she and I were often mistaken for twins, undoubtedly because Mom insisted on dressing us in matching outfits that she created out of her imagination, designing and sewing them herself. But we looked nothing alike if you inspected us closely: my sister was born nearly bald, while I was born with a substantial ...
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“Ayed's voice is fresh ... intellectually honest.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Powerful ... passionately, a defence of good old-fashioned journalism.”
—The Gazette (Montreal)