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Land and love

March 20, 2019

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A SCENE from Oh My Sweet Land.
A SCENE from Oh My Sweet Land.

KARACHI: The timing of the play Oh My Sweet Land on Sunday, performed by German-Syrian actress Corinne Jaber, could not have been more apt for the rather thin audience (the PSL final was taking place the same evening, therefore, not many turned up). The world is in turmoil –– India and Pakistan have had a dangerous border skirmish, the massacre in two mosques in New Zealand and the failed US-North Korea talks are distressing examples. We also know what’s been happening in Syria for a long time now. It is in this context that Jaber’s monologue (or was it a soliloquy?) was able to put its message across.

Mind you, the story that the artist narrated was ostensibly of a personal nature, but, of course, no story can remain detached from the society it germinates in.

As the play begins, there are, in a manner of speaking, two characters on stage: one of Jaber, and the other of a stove next to her. She tells the audience she’s about to cook kibbeh, a Syrian meat dish that her grandmother used to cook for her family. “Wheat, meat and fire” is what she initially talks about — potent symbolism for many things, including war-torn zones. She chops onions, minces meat and throws some oil into the pan. You can smell something’s cooking, and it’s not merely food.

German-Syrian artist’s performance reflects on societies terribly affected by civil war and political strife

The woman then, after underlining the importance of kibbeh, reminisces about a man, Ashraf, that she once met in Paris. He is married and has a child. But they have an affair, and she develops fondness for him. She constantly thinks about him. She feels restless once he’s gone. So the woman goes to Syria, the country that her family too has roots in, looking for Ashraf. The atmosphere there is not conducive to leading a normal life. She can’t find him. Then she discovers that Ashraf is in Lebanon with his family. He was having a torrid time with the secret police in Syria. She does find him and it dawns on her that there’s so much to life than mutual affection between two individuals.

Oh My Sweet Land, written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi, is a fine and disturbing exploration of how the personal impinges upon the societal and vice versa; and at the same time enables you to dig deep into the cultural ethos that you’re always a part of but were not conscious of it. Although Jaber’s performance on Sunday wasn’t perfect, it was inspiring enough to move the audience to mull over societies terribly affected by civil war and political strife. This is best summed up when Jaber quotes a person she meets during the course of her journey, “What happens to all will happen to us.”

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2019