Lur Alghurabi is an Iraqi writer whose work focuses on refugee memoir and transcultural storytelling. She achieved First Class Honours in Creative Writing, won the Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers (2017) and was shortlisted for the Deborah Cass Prize for Migrant Writers (2017). At this year’s festival, Lur spoke at #Winning and Masterclass: Non-Fiction.
I keep two Facebook accounts.
One has all my relatives, friends from my schools, friends from my hometowns. Photos don’t show where I am. Selfies in front of cupboards, white walls, a plain blue sky with no clouds. Last upload 2013.
The last post by a friend is on my birthday: HBD.
The next one is from two years ago: ‘Where have you disappeared!’
I reply a year later: ‘I’m here now’, but I am not here.
The other has all the people I know and love and meet with and talk to. My coven, my love, my book club, my mentors, my editors, my idols. People from work, from campus, one man I met on the train who lent me his vintage Narayan. I share my writing and people tell me it’s good, even when it gets a bit lame or sad they don’t mind. When I’m depressed it’s okay. When I take a good photo I post it. When something good happens, when something bad happens, I share it. The photos say where I am and that’s not dangerous. I am here.
On my old Facebook a friend shares a petition to stop the persecution of my favourite Lebanese singer; he’s bisexual. She says when something goes against our Arab traditions that is good, because our Arab traditions are not very good. Someone comments on her post and says homosexuality, like Nazism, is wrong and must be censored. She says they’re two different things. He calls ‘double standards’. I watch their arguments, I read, I re-read, and I develop so many counter arguments in my mind and I type them and delete them and I don’t hit ‘post’. I watch them as long as they can’t notice that I do.
When I first started writing I used to share it with my family, back when I wrote fiction. When I wrote about a dog that ran for president, or a pack of wolves that put sheep into a refugee crisis, or the con artist that convinced a village he was a prophet. They read them. They liked them. On dinner tables we talked about story lines and character depth. When they were stories about the people who hurt us, my family listened and we spoke to one another. They told me I am intelligent in writing them. They said it was necessary work and I should look into translating it into languages. They smiled wide when my work was praised. My mother said ‘my daughter is the greatest writer.’ I liked the conversation, when my sister told me a funny joke to put in and I did, and the stories did well. We almost wrote them together.
When I went into a year-long depressive episode, I took my fiction with me. I went from writing about the dogs to the gods that behaved like devils once no one was watching. Gods that laughed at me, that killed me, that took away the people I loved, but pretended to love me during Friday prayers. I wrote until it was no longer fiction. Stories about the corrupt gods became stories about my family, the ones who were murdered, the ones we still dream of, over and over.
At the dinner table I told my parents about one new story. A ghost in my grandmother’s palm tree grove, drinking tea with our ancestors, washing the blood off his shirt in the Tigris river where the bombs don’t reach him anymore.
My father’s eyes turned red. His hand clutched to his spoon carrying rice that never made it to his mouth. He let the spoon go and he put his hand on his head, his fist on his temple. He didn’t finish his food and neither did my mother. She went to bed early, closed her bedroom door.
One time I logged into both accounts on my phone. My phone picked up the contacts. Facebook started suggesting my relatives to my actual Facebook account.
I got a friend request from one cousin. When I was four, he taught me to play marble games on a Friday night by the fence of my grandmother’s home. When the neighbours’ kids wanted to take my marbles he told them they were not theirs to take. ‘Back off’, and they did.
I got the friend request so I blocked him.
I started thinking if his eyes would turn red like my father, mid-dinner, or go to bed early like my mother if he read what I wrote. Not about what has hurt us, but how the hurt’s been deep and how we grip the embers of our wounds so tight so no one sees them, so tight our skin melts into the heat and we cannot let go anymore. So I hide my work, I tell my family I don’t like to share, I tell them most of the time that it’s fiction. I hide every trace of a publication that could cross my mother’s path. As I write right now she walks into my room to say a prayer, for god to protect me in every step, keep pain away and only show me joy. I switch tabs as soon as she can see my screen.I say the same prayer for her. I keep the pain away.