Stories from Gaza: The suitcase story

Amira el-Noshokaty , Saturday 27 Nov 2010

Ahmed Sarhan, a young story teller from Gaza, performed for the first time at El-Warsha independent theatre troupe's premises as part of their "Wisdom of Reversals" program.

Ahmed Sarhan, story teller from Gaza
Ahmed Sarhan, young story teller from Gaza for the first time in Cairo photo: Marwa Seoudi

As part of their ongoing “Wisdom of Reversals" program,  El-Warsha independent theatre troupe hosted a night of story-telling where Ahmed Sarhan, a young artist from Gaza, recited a folk-tale from Gaza, intertwined with his own life story.


“Wisdom of Reversals” is a verse from renowned Palestinian poetry icon Mahmoud Darwish, in which "he highlights the strength and the wisdom of the conquered,” explains Hassan El-Geretly, founder and director of the El-Warsha troupe.


El-Warsha drew on this theme through a series of performances that began with “Women of Troy,” a play that ran a few months ago, and along the same line of thought comes the inspirational story-telling from Gaza.


The performance, which alternated between narratives and testimonies from Gaza, was preceded by a documentary film of a theatre troupe of which Sarhan is a member.


The docudrama revolved around the making of the play titled “The Game” produced by Theatre Day Productions (TDP) in 2008 in Gaza, about the hassle of being denied exit permits to perform in the West Bank, Holland and Belgium.


Sarhan, the leading star of the 20-minute documentary, subtly represented the daily constraints of the people of Gaza. The camera strolls between the modest residences and quarters, in contrast with the lavish lifestyle and beach sports of Israel. The idle life of an artist in his early twenties under occupation reflects the daily rituals of the town's inhabitants. From the hand-made fan to the people's frustration, Sarhan’s weapon of resistance, like the people he represents, is his sense of humour.


“It's about the life of the Palestinians more than the art. Despite everything these people find a way to live, laugh, have relationships and survive difficult conditions through mockery,” said Sarhan.


Born and raised in Gaza, Sarhan studied theatre, drama, and directing at TDP, a non-profit theatre company in Palestine, since he was 13 years old. 


“Folk-tales were always in the background of my drama training courses," Sarhan explains. However, it was not until he met El-Geretly that he learnt the art of story-telling.


“With Hassan I discovered the beauty of story-telling and how it is a unique chance to remember and pass on forgotten stories from one’s childhood, tales that my father used to tell me. It is a chance to revive memories, heritage and history,” he explains.


Drawing upon the film and the suitcase that accompanied him on his travels, Sarhan slowly unfolds the tale of his travels, a story that took place over two years.


He describes how the bombing of Gaza broke out while he was on his way home and he witnessed people being shredded into pieces. His scholarship was at stake when he was denied a visa to enter Egypt.  His prayers were finally answered a few months ago, and it is indeed a tale to remember.


“It is about creativity, survival and waking up to do the things you love, despite everything,” he declares.


Sarhan is a natural story-teller, who manages to captivate his audience with his authentic reciting techniques, body language and tone shifts as he impersonates various characters in his story.


His closing tale was equally enchanting. A  Palestinian version of an old Egyptian folktale titled Bent al fawal (daughter of the fuul seller), it opens with the infatuation of the sultan's son with the daughter of the fuul seller who resents his arrogance and does not appreciate his affection. By playing several tricks, she manages to show off her wit and defy his vanity--another tale of Palestinian wit and survival techniques.


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