“Ode to Sadness” by Ghayath Almadhoun
Translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham.
This is part of our special feature, New Nordic Voices.
We love you, Europe, you old continent. I don’t know why they call you old when you’re young compared to Egypt and Mesopotamia.
We love you, Europe, and pay you taxes as white men do, and put up with your changeable mood that resembles your weather, and the serious lack of vitamin D caused by your dark winters. We love you and are saddened by the fact that we will never get used to this gloomy darkness in your long winters, for here are our European friends, I mean your original inhabitants who were born in your cold North to Aryan mothers and fathers, suffering like us from depression and a lack of vitamin D because, according to the theory of evolution, they too are homo sapiens, coming from Africa. Your real original inhabitants, I mean the Neanderthals who evolved during the ice age so they could bear your cold, are now extinct.
We love you, Europe, and we don’t deny that we came to you from backward third world countries, as you call them. I myself came from Damascus and endured a lot of clichés, stereotypes and preconceptions from your writers and poets. Despite the fact that I consider myself a feminist, I’ve become bored and fed up with the constant superficial questions about the situation of women in the Middle East. I acknowledge completely that women in Syria only got the right to vote in 1949, but in Switzerland, capital of your money and the money of our dictatorships and their secret bank accounts, women only got the right to vote in 1971, and of course that wasn’t in all the Swiss cantons: the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden only granted full voting rights to women in 1991 for God’s sake!
We love you, Europe. We love the freedom you gave us when we fled into your arms, and we pretend not to notice the racism that you try to brush under the carpet when you clean the living room.
We love you, Europe, mistress of the colonial past, killer of original inhabitants, bloodsucker of peoples from India to the Congo, from Brazil to New Zealand.
Mistress of the Inquisition, burner of women on the grounds that they were witches, lady of the slave trade that transported blacks to the new world, creator of apartheid in South Africa, founder of fascism and Nazism, inventor of the final solution to exterminate Jews, the final solution that caused me to be born a refugee in Yarmouk camp in Damascus because you had the audacity to hand over my country Palestine as a payment, a compensation, and a solution for the Holocaust that was perpetrated by those of your white inhabitants who believe in the purity of the Aryan race.
We love you, Europe, and carry your passports that open doors for us as easily as your bullets ripped open the flesh of millions of Algerians who wanted to enjoy the freedom called for by your French Revolution.
We love you, Europe. We love your art and hate your colonialist history, love your theatre and hate your concentration camps, love your music and hate the sound of your bombs, love your philosophy and hate Martin Heidegger, love your literature and hate orientalism, love your poetry and hate Ezra Pound, love the freedom of expression within your own boundaries and hate the Islamophobia, love your advanced civilization, your secularism, your just laws and the human rights on your own territory, and hate your racism, double standards, your arrogant outlook and your bloody history.
Take Nazism and give us Immanuel Kant
Take the Blackshirts and give us Italian wine
Take the genocide in Algeria and give us Baudelaire
Take Leopold the Second and give us René Magritte
Take Adolf Hitler and give us Hannah Arendt
Take Franco and give us Cervantes
Take your things and let us take ours.
Ghayath Almadhoun (b. 1979) is a Palestinian-Syrian-Swedish poet who was born and raised in a refugee camp in Damascus. In 2006 he co-founded Bayt al-Qasid, “The House of Poetry,” together with Syrian poet Lukman Derky in Damascus. He has published four books in Arabic, and has been translated into many other languages. In 2014, his collaboration with Marie Silkeberg, Till Damaskus, was published in Sweden. In 2017, a selection of his work, Adrenalin, was published in the U.S. by Action Books in Catherine Cobham’s translation.
Catherine Cobham is head of Department of Arabic and Persian at the University of St. Andrews and has translated the works of many Arab writers, inluding Naguib Mahfouz, Mahmoud Darwish, Fuad al-Takarli, Yusuf Idris, and Hanan al-Shaykh.
“Ode to Sadness” was originally commissioned by Winternachten International Literature Festival 2018 in The Hague, Netherlands. The festival asked Ghayath Almadhoun to rewrite the European Anthem “Ode to Joy” by Schiller and Beethoven.
Published on April 17, 2018.
Photo: World globe grunge interior