At the premises of El-Warsha theatre troupe, downtown Cairo, another workshop was concluding. The workshop dedicated to training young women storytellers from all over Egypt was quite an inspiration. Part of Hakayethonna project, implemented by Gouthe Institute, the project aimed to found a women storytelling troupe from all over the governorates of Egypt.
“The project is one of the components of a bigger ongoing project titled ‘Outside the Borders of the Capital,’ and we started phase one of storytelling with director Salam Yousry in an online workshop last year that resulted in video art from upper Egypt and a series of podcasts from the delta and Suez Canal towns,” explained DoaaAhmed, coordinator of cultural projects at Gouthe Institute, to Ahram Online.
The ancient art of storytelling
Storytelling is one of the ancient techniques that humans used to pass down social history, wisdom, knowledge and learnings from one generation to the other. One of the main elements of intangible heritage, as described by UNESCO, this remains one of the simplest yet profoundest form of art ever. In the Arab world, and especially in Egypt, the profession of a storyteller was quite popular before the invention of radio and television. Despite being dominated by technology, storytelling has started to make its way back into the consciousness as humanity attempts to retrieve their right to imagination. This trend flourished over the past decade, but became even more visible during the global confinement when lots of storytellers held online events and the whole world was ready to listen.
People are trapped in their own beliefs
Due to the demand on this workshop from all governorates, the project decided to take it a step further and form a troupe of women storytellers from all over Egypt. They reached out to director Hassan El-Geretly , the founder and director of El-Warsha troupe, Egypt’s first independent theatrical troupe that has taken the lead in reviving and mastering the ancient art of storytelling.
“They asked me to organise a workshop for the second or third phase of their work outside the capital. The workshop I have organised was one about transforming the stories to tales to be told. So it was about how to tell such tales. I worked on opening up the door of imagination, for what really captivates people is their own belief that they are limited, therefore the only solution is to explain that the sky is the limit,” explained Hassan El-Geretly.
“Because I have something to say”
The storytellers told their stories to Ahram Online and shared their passions and lessons learned from the whole experience.
To 34-year-old Shaimaa Ahmed, from Sohag, storytelling was a tool of liberation and self-expression. After being forced to give up on her hobbies as a child once she hit puberty, she has been focused on her college degree since then. After college, she focused on her initiative titled KonieRaeda that empowered girls in vocational education. She then became a facilitator in several AUC educational development projects. “Coronavirus led me to storytelling, for during the confinement I was working from home and this gave me excess time to do the things I want to do besides work. So I applied for online courses, among which was the storytelling workshop that turned out to be more of a cultural exchange with director Salam Yousry,” explained Ahmed. She added that she remembered her first online session, which she had to take in the barn of her brother’s house in the mountains so she would be away from all family members.
“The best thing about storytelling is that it taught me that I do not have to think what the person watching me would say about me. Before that I was always told to go home early, or make the scarf longer, fearing what people would say or think of me, but now I have the courage to tell them they do not have the right to comment. I am a trainer and connecting with people is very important and storytelling is among the techniques that enabled me to speak up. I want to talk because I have something to say, I want to say it out loud and hear it.”
The folk tales of Aswan Tribes
To Randa Diaa El-Dien from Aswan, a founder and project manager of A Theatre of Stories and Songs in Aswan, founded by Goethe Institute, learning to be a storyteller greatly enhances her skills. She focused on intangible heritage of several tribes in Aswan, like Basharia, which she elaborated in a children’s play that included 45 children from all tribes, teaching them about each other’s tribes. Story telling allowed her to tell, document and pass on to the new generations, the folk stories of such tribes.
Starting to say “No”
To 38-year-old HalaBadry, social work comes easy as she studied and worked in the same field of development. Now the head of an NGO in Aswan that is focused on improving the status of mothers and children, she became a facilitator with El-Warsha and together they managed to train the house wives of Nasseria village to tell their own stories in front of an audience.
“This was a great breakthrough because those women were always reluctant to attend our seminars let alone join in a story telling performance,” Badry laughs. “Story telling had a huge impact on me, like Hassan El-Geretly says, on telling your story on stage when you come down you would break a barrier and set yourself free. It made me question everything and I started to say ‘no’ more often and set my boundaries. Now I will use storytelling technique in family counselling,” she concluded.
Storytelling and Visualisation
The storytelling workshop enabled fresh grad Youmna Merghany, from Aswan, to know how best to narrate her story. Interested in creative writing and script writing, she said “storytelling is very important to script writing because it helps a lot in narrating the sequence in the right order and in visualising things.”
Telling grandma’s war tales of Port Said
“I joined this workshop because there is a chance that I would tell my tale and other people’s stories and how such stories have an impact on us,” explained Ahlam Al-Mansy, young journalist from Port said
“We have a huge heritage of stories and we must keep remembering it. I want to tell the stories I heard from my grandmother about Port Said during the war and how people survived. When I walk the street and find an old French style building and how important is, like the Italian house, that was built during the era of Mussolini in Port Said, I want to tell the story of such building and several others.”
“Story telling is magic”
For Riham Ghattas, storytelling is a tool for self-development. Based in Minya and working in an NGO, Ghattas came to believe that story telling is an intrinsic human element that ought to be activated.
“I discovered that storytelling is authentic and magical to all of us. Everybody can tell a story,” she explained.
To Riham Ali, a broadcast presenter and voiceover actor from Ismailia, storytelling was a technique that she needed to enhance her work skills. “Story telling is an adventure and I am enjoying it,” she concluded.