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Sunday, 12 July 2020

Book review: Hanan Kamal’s posthumous messages show a modern kind of hero

Journalist and activist Hanan Kamal wrote a non-fiction book that captures her experience of breast cancer

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Tuesday 7 Jan 2020
Hanan Kamal’s posthumous messages
Hanan Kamal’s posthumous messages
Views: 3589
Views: 3589

What makes a hero in our modern times? It is no longer physical strength or military conquest; it is not what you actually do in life, because without the media, your actions will not be known enough, and the effect will be felt only by those who witness it. Even in today’s media, people will get their five minutes of fame, then they become old news.

Today’s heroes are the average people, those who survive our harsh modern life, struggling to make ends meet, to raise their children, and to achieve ambitions that might be useful to more than just themselves. Certainly among today’s heroes are those who fight the vicious enemy called cancer. 

What to do when you get such news? Hanan Kamal, a journalist, an activist, a small brown woman who looks like most Egyptian girls, funny, inspiring, professional, mother of three; she fought that fight against breast cancer and eventually lost. Towards the end, when she realised that her death became imminent, she found her peace of mind in what she knew best -- she wrote. Her book Korasa Khadraa wa Rasael, or Green Notebook and Messages, was published posthumously to remind us that she is no longer with us, but was part of this life. 

We will all die; that’s the only sure truth in life. When someone realises that the end is coming soon, with no escape, and all you can do is wait for the inevitable, what would be their reaction? 

Her messages started with a monologue to God. Between accepting her fate, to explaining that she surrenders to his will, to consenting to the concept that the true believers are afflicted by bad things, to eventually questioning the will of the Almighty, who can do anything, yet left her in the pain for nearly six years. A logical reaction in facing this un-understood decease with illogical reasoning; the bottom line is that we don’t know why people get sick, how they get cured or why they die when they do. The choices and the destinies are always the unknown coefficient in every human life and Hanan Kamal implied this in her short messages to her readers. 

The harsh part about the messages is the treatment that she had to go through -- the pain, the chemotherapy, the short hair and having to cope with the new person that she became, the new look with the short hair. Her real medicine came from love; the doctor prescribed that her youngest daughter Sarah had to give her mother three hugs a day “because that might cure mum.” Such a phrase, when you read it, makes you realise the amount of responsibility that fell on the young girl’s shoulders.

Her mother saw it and the girl matured before her time. The author had a problem with an agonising question from Sarah: “Mom, if you die what will we do without you?” A worry that has no answer; Kamal has no means to take care of her children alive and dead. Once, one of her friends spoke these words out loud, they both laughed, and she found inner peace: “Que sera sera.” She realised that she will be the one missing them when she dies and appreciated that they actually helped her survive more than they know.

Her love for her husband is one of the romantic, happy chapters in Hanan’s life, and a dramatic one as well. She saw her husband, Ahmed Nasr, as a magician, or a prince, as he was called by his friends. At their first meeting he told her that he was a painter, a writer, theatre director and actor. She considered him out of his mind to have so many dreams, given that it would take several lifetimes to excel in any of them. She noticed his elegance after coming out of prison after being held for 15 days for political reasons. She noticed her feelings growing for him slowly, getting into her soul with ease after a long, pure friendship; then all of a sudden, she realised that he brought happiness into her life.

And since he told her that he loved her, and accepting the fact that they might have little together, but it would be enough, they became nearly one. They discussed everything from what to wear to how to read to having near identical views on the world and life. In their first kiss she saw two birds in the sky kissing as well. They even began to look alike, and people thought they were brother and sister. It was that magic that Ahmed inspired in her soul. With courage she stated that she was short and dark-skinned in a society that does not see that as beauty, yet he kept loving her until she felt beautiful and actually became beautiful. She saw him simply as a source of joy in a land that did not have much happiness. Then, drama: a horrible car accident that left him a weak man not in total control of his mental faculties. She accepted her fate, took care of their children, and him, and remained loving and loyal until she died.     

Among her reflections on her short life was that the most precious gift she acquired was learning and knowledge. If she knew some of the things that she learned during her journey earlier in life, her life might have changed for the better. We all get this idea and Hanan dared to dream of transferring her learning experiences and knowledge to her next life. She asked God that in her next life she be created a woman in a more peaceful place, where love and compassion reign. She wanted to be born with the purity of a water drop, yet deep like an ocean. Who knows; maybe she got her wish.  

Like her life, her messages were cut short. The book shows a talented writer with an experience that refined her vision on life and its meaning.


Hanan Kamal’s posthumous messages
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