A Thousand Farewells

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A Thousand Farewells by Nahlah Ayed is an interesting book that depicts her time spent growing up in a refugee camp, and later years as a reporter in the Middle East.

Ayed was born in Winnipeg, and moved to Amman, Jordan when she was six as her parents feared their children were losing touch with their culture.

Nahlah vividly describes the culture shock and unfamiliar social customs that she was forced into while in Jordan. I found the book to be absorbing, and with subject matter that is quite complex (don’t ask me the difference between Sunni and Shias), Ayed wrote clearly and made difficult concepts easy to understand.

I appreciated her insights, and thought her voice was honest and credible. She does not appear to have any intentions to glamourize the Middle East or make it seem “scary” or inferior to Canada. It is a unique place, and you feel as if you are in her shoes while you read the book.

I enjoyed reading about her life, and liked how she used a lot of Arabic words in italics. I’m curious about languages and thought it was a nice touch. I also was shocked at some of the hardships she endured like living in a bug infested home and being brutally beaten by a policeman while in Iraq.

As far as criticisms go, I think that Ayed could have been a bit more brief in certain chapters. Specifically when she was talking about her time in Lebanon, some parts seem to drag on and felt unnecessary.

She narrates the book, but the majority of it is just her take on everything – it would be nice to include more quotes from other people so you could get out of her head a little bit. Although, this is a personal preference.

I think Ayed is missing context about what is happening in her personal life. I would like to know how her intense career affects her personally. For example, does she have plans to marry and have kids one day? It is clear that her career is very important to her, but I would like to know specifically who she is as an individual and what she does in her life outside of work.

Journalists should admire her bravery as she put herself in a lot of difficult situations that many would not feel comfortable being in. She was not afraid to be in the midst of terror, and looked at what she did as an opportunity to bear witness and share peoples stories. As she states, “people are the story, always.” Journalists need to remember that and always remain compassionate when they are reporting.

I recently saw the film Argo, and although it is debatable how close to the truth it really is – I think it captures the often tense atmosphere of the Middle East, in this case being Iran. That movie showed how strong willed the people are, and how closely monitored everything is. It definitely has a very different vibe from the west, and although I appreciate all cultures some scenes really scared me and I don’t think I want to go there anytime soon.

I happen to be particularly curious about the Middle East, specifically Lebanon as I met a lot of nice people from there while I was in Montreal. I would go to sheesha bars with them, they taught me basic Arabic phrases and they gushed about their country – wishing they were back home. It sounded like a fairly modern place the way they described it (more free and women were treated well) the main drawback was the lack of rules and social order, in their opinion. Maybe one day I’ll go to Beirut..

Reading this book was an interesting experience, being from Winnipeg I could relate to everything she experienced before moving to Amman, and then the sudden shock of leaving was pretty devastating to read. Although they don’t live as “luxuriously” as we do, they hold family and honour dear – which in theory, is a good thing. Although honour killings take that concept to a horrendous level.

The main effect this book had on me, is to not be ignorant and remember that everyone over there is a person with a mind and life as well. That sounds silly, but it is easy for people not to take the time to relate to what they’re going through and truly think about how awful certain things they experience are.

I feel more knowledgable about the crises and lifestyle in the Middle East after reading this book, and also appreciate journalists more and what they go through.

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