On Monday, 9/19, at 12 AM Cairo time, the Understanding Campaign new website and Kickstarter fundraiser was launched. These crazy kids trying to change the world with a grassroots, DIY campaign. The audacity of the thing. Courage and boldness in a world delirious with fear. The audacity of the thing. To see some human beings on their feet.
Earlier on this blog I posted some cryptic pictures of my “Arabic lessons.” The pictures were of paper bags and other scraps scrawled with an alien-looking writing that may or may not have been Arabic. All of that writing was from genuine, if informal, Arabic lessons, from my friend Kamal.
Kamal ran the deli/café down the street from Hello!Lucky, and it was convenient for me to stop there for coffee and breakfast in the morning (after my first place, which was, coincidentally, run by Kamal’s brother, closed). I am a creature of habit. I started going in there every day. I started going for lunch sometimes too. After awhile Kamal started to talk to me and give me things: donuts, fruit, pastries. At some point he decided that he was going to start teaching me a little bit of Arabic, and that was when our friendship really began. I went there twice a day, every day, mainly to see Kamal.
Kamal is a polyglot. He is from Jerusalem. He is fluent in (at least) Arabic, English, and Spanish. Most likely Hebrew too. And I also heard him speak, at various times, French, German, and Chinese. He loved to address his customers and friends in their native languages. And it made people happy, made them feel more comfortable in a strange, stressful city.
I learned a few words of Arabic, which I will not attempt to transliterate here. I learned about Arabic culture, about growing up in Jerusalem. I learned about Islam, I learned about San Francisco. & of course everything in the world always coalesces into a print project. When I became involved with the Al-Mutanabbi project (to which I was particularly attuned to because of my friendship with both Kamal and Justin Sirois, because of a family member serving in Iraq) it became very clear very quickly that we had to include some Arabic text, both on the broadside itself and in the colophon on the back. If these things were going to Baghdad (which they are) we had to be sure that the people there could read them. And so Kamal helped to make sure that our translation was good and didn’t have any typos. And believe me, when one is setting type, letter by letter with the glyphs palette, in an alphabet where the letters change forms depending on where they are in the word, in an alphabet where the meaning of words is subtly changed by the addition of marks around the letters, in an alphabet where I kept getting lost in the beauty of the shapes of the letters, there were typos. Plenty of them. I think that we went through 4 versions. But we got it. And for the first time, after 10 years of printing, I printed something in another language.
The Arabic language, Arabic culture, is not an abstract thing to read about, to see on TV. It is lived, every day, beautifully, generously. I understand that now, thanks to my friends, thanks to the audacity of kindness. & I am changed, & the world is changed. The boldness of the thing, to see human beings on their feet. Join the campaign here.