Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World

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Overview

What is it like to be a young person in the Arab world today? This lively collection of eight short stories about Arab teenagers living in Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and a Palestinian refugee camp engagingly depicts young people's experiences growing up in the Middle East. The characters, drawn from urban and rural settings and from different classes as well as a mix of countries, confront situations involving friends, family, teachers, and society at large. Along with some ...

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Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World

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Overview

What is it like to be a young person in the Arab world today? This lively collection of eight short stories about Arab teenagers living in Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and a Palestinian refugee camp engagingly depicts young people's experiences growing up in the Middle East. The characters, drawn from urban and rural settings and from different classes as well as a mix of countries, confront situations involving friends, family, teachers, and society at large. Along with some specifically Middle Eastern issues, such as strife in Iraq, the hardships of life in a Palestinian refugee camp, and honor crimes, the young people deal with more familiar concerns such as loyalty to friends, overcoming personal insecurities, dreams of a future career, and coping with divorcing parents. Coming of age in a complicated world, they meet life with courage, determination, and, not least of all, humor. With accompanying notes that provide contextual information, Santa Claus in Baghdad brings a fresh perspective to youth literature about the Arab world.

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Editorial Reviews

ForeWord
"... Marston's stories, while withholding nothing of the brutality of some of the more controversial aspects of Muslim life, present characters that are three dimensional and easy to empathize with. Her stories are filled with characters that are heroic, generous, and eager to improve their world." —ForeWord
Multicultural Review
"A window into often misunderstood and stereotyped Middle Eastern cultures.... Marston's sensitive tales feature compelling characters, interesting dilemmas, and vivid language that evoke a Middle East rich in tradition and filled with a love of poetry and learning." —Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Multicultural Review

— Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Voice of Youth Advocates
"A realistic portrait of the Middle East that mixes possibility and bleakness in equal measure." —Voice of Youth Advocates, August 2008
The Midwest Book Review
"A unique anthology of stories, highly recommended to young adult readers everywhere." —The Midwest Book Review
Middle East Book Review and Announcements
Author Elsa Marston has written a wonderful book about the Middle East...[a] compelling collection...offers real insight into why the conflicts continue, contracts what Americans think they know and how little they really know about the causes of the conflicts from the standpoints of innocense and tragedy and perilous lives of young children clouded only by the desire for peace.

I read it and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I hope you will read it too.

This book needs to be in every library.—Ray Hanania, Middle East Book Review and Announcements, Sunday, Dec 14, 2008

— Ray Hanania

Middle East Book Review and Announcements (ibookreviews.blogspot.com/)
"Author Elsa Marston has written a wonderful book about the Middle East...[a] compelling collection...offers real insight into why the conflicts continue, contracts what Americans think they know and how little they really know about the causes of the conflicts from the standpoints of innocense and tragedy and perilous lives of young children clouded only by the desire for peace.

I read it and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I hope you will read it too.

This book needs to be in every library." —Ray Hanania, Middle East Book Review and Announcements (ibookreviews.blogspot.com/), Sunday, Dec 14, 2008

— Ray Hanania

Multicultural Review - Lyn Miller-Lachmann
"A window into often misunderstood and stereotyped Middle Eastern cultures.... Marston's sensitive tales feature compelling characters, interesting dilemmas, and vivid language that evoke a Middle East rich in tradition and filled with a love of poetry and learning." —Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Multicultural Review
ForeWord - Chantal Walvoord
"Though few examples of popular culture depict Arabs in a positive light, Marston's collection is one of the exceptions. Marston, who worked and traveled extensively to the Middle East, has an uncanny ability to understand the Muslim culture and relay her characters' innermost thoughts to Western audiences." —Chantal Walvoord, ForeWord
Middle East Book Review and Announcements (http://ibookreviews.blogspot.com/) - Ray Hanania
"Author Elsa Marston has written a wonderful book about the Middle East...[a] compelling collection...offers real insight into why the conflicts continue, contracts what Americans think they know and how little they really know about the causes of the conflicts from the standpoints of innocense and tragedy and perilous lives of young children clouded only by the desire for peace.

I read it and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I hope you will read it too.

This book needs to be in every library." —Ray Hanania, Middle East Book Review and Announcements (http://ibookreviews.blogspot.com/), Sunday, Dec 14, 2008

From the Publisher
Author Elsa Marston has written a wonderful book about the Middle East...[a] compelling collection...offers real insight into why the conflicts continue, contracts what Americans think they know and how little they really know about the causes of the conflicts from the standpoints of innocense and tragedy and perilous lives of young children clouded only by the desire for peace.

I read it and I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I hope you will read it too.

This book needs to be in every library.—Ray Hanania"Middle East Book Review and Announcements (http: //ibookreviews.blogspot.com/)" (01/01/2008)

ForeWard
Though few examples of popular culture depict Arabs in a positive light, Marston's collection is one of the exceptions." "Marston, who worked and traveled extensively to the Middle East, has an uncanny ability to understand the Muslim culture and relay her characters' innermost thoughts to Western audiences.
—Chantal Walvoord
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Some of these stories have been previously published, especially in the collection Figs and Fate: Stories about Growing Up in the Arab World Today (2005). If your library owns that volume, perhaps you don't need to purchase this collection. The first story, the title story, is set in Baghdad in 2000. The family is struggling to survive with the embargo, forced to sell precious family possessions to buy medicine. As bad as it is, we all know that families have suffered much worse in Baghdad in the years since 2000. Other stories tell of Arab young people in a variety of countries, in various circumstances. Some are peasants, some are from well-educated families; some have fiercely enforced traditions (such as protecting a family's honor when a girl is seen as a flirt); some are caught up in uprisings. Marston provides 14 pages of notes of information giving context for each story. Reading this collection will be invaluable for Arab American YAs and for all in our culture eager to understand the Arab culture, the Middle East conflicts, and current events. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
VOYA - Beth E. Andersen
The tragedy of peaceful citizens caught up in the savagery of occupation, civil strife, class prejudices, and deadly rituals are brought to life in Marston's collection of stories about Middle Eastern teens. The cover tale is a moving remake of O. Henry's classic Gift of the Magi. Iraqi schoolchildren want to honor their departing teacher with a special gift. The value of friendship, the easy ingenuity of children, and the deep longing for learning, which are recurring themes in many of these stories, are strongly evidenced. The brutal treatment of women in Jordan is addressed in Honor as Wafa watches in horror when her family imprisons her cousin who has been seen talking to a boy. The run-up to an honor killing and the efforts by human rights organizations in Jordan to stop the killings takes the reader step-by-step through the capture of the disgraced girl by hooded assailants. The plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanese camps lays out the path from numbing despair to the lure of the terrorist life. The camps are filled with demoralized young men who cannot get work or who have had to drop out of college, with no way to improve their lives. Marston's characters, however, are able to find another way. In these and other stories, Marston, who has lived and visited the countries of which she writes, offers a realistic portrait of the Middle East that mixes possiblity and bleakness in equal measure. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen
Children's Literature - Lesley Moore Vossen
This is a sensitive series of eight short stories chronicling the lives of teens in countries throughout the Arab world. The title story—and one of the loveliest in the book—takes place in Iraq in 2000. It tells how Amal's well-educated family is forced to sell off their books in order to live, tracing how she searches for the perfect book for her class to give their departing teacher and also how her small brother comes to confuse a wealthy visiting uncle with Santa Claus. There are stories from Syria, Palestine (where a young boy whose brother has been killed, finds courage and his own way of jihad in an olive grove), Lebanon (a young girl from Syria gives up, for a time, on her own dreams in order to help educate her brother, as she willingly goes to work as a maid servant for a Lebanese family), Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan (where the real horror of the tradition of "honor killings" almost plays out), and a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. The young people in the stories come from educated and well-to-do families and from poor and peasant families. Some stories take place in urban settings and others in rural areas. While the cultures of these young people may be very different from those of most young people in the United States, their dreams and the problems they must deal with as they come of age will be familiar to American teens. This is a beautifully written book that helps dispel some of the stereotypes held about the Arab world. Reviewer: Lesley Moore Vossen
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10

Eight short stories illuminate the experiences of adolescents in modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan, yet many of their conflicts and concerns are universal in nature. In the title story, 13-year-old Amal learns some lessons about honor, gifts, and the act of giving when her seven-year-old brother confuses their wealthy uncle with Santa Claus. Suhayl cooks a homemade meal to bring joy into the life of his divorced mother in "Faces." Other situations are unique to the Middle East. For example, Mujahhid defends a Palestinian olive grove against the occupying Israeli military in "The Olive Grove." In the stellar "Honor," a beautiful young woman faces a possible "honor killing" at the hands of her disgraced family after she is seen in public with a man. "The Plan," in which a young Palestinian refugee in Lebanon orchestrates a meeting between his older brother and his charismatic art teacher, is utterly charming. Touches of suspense, romance, and humor keep the pages turning in this fine collection. Themes of faith, loyalty, and coming-of-age are sensitively handled and compellingly depicted. Notes explain each story's historical, political, and social context. This collection is an expanded version of Figs and Fate (Braziller, 2005). It will be popular with fans of Deborah Ellis and Suzanne Fisher Staples, and will also be an excellent supplemental reading choice for world-cultures curricula.-Amy Pickett, Ridley High School, Folsom, PA

Kirkus Reviews
Marston's timely and engaging collection of eight short stories offers provocative snapshots of Arab teenagers growing up in environments riddled with religious, historical and cultural dilemmas. These teens confront common coming-of-age issues as well as their unique indigenous challenges. In war-weary Baghdad, Amal discovers that a gift for her teacher comes at a high price. In ancient Damascus, Suhayl copes with his parents' divorce by making a special meal for the mother he must leave. In Lebanon, Aneesi chooses between an arranged marriage and her own dreams. In occupied Palestine, Mujahhid wages his own jihad against Israeli soldiers. Uprooted from modern Cairo, Rania defies her urbane mother by consorting with a village girl. In historic Tunisia, Hedi discovers he may have a future beyond selling hats to tourists. In Jordan, Yasmine wonders what is honorable about a family who would murder a daughter to save face. In a bleak Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Rami finds the perfect wife for his brother. Amid unrest, resilient Arab teens find courage and hope and offer inspiration. (notes) (Fiction. 10-15)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253220042
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 662,405
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Elsa Marston is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, mostly for young adults. Her books include Women in the Middle East: Tradition and Change, The Cliffs of Cairo, and Muhammad of Mecca, Prophet of Islam. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Read an Excerpt

Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World


By Elsa Marston

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2008 Elsa Marston
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22004-2



CHAPTER 1

Santa Claus in Baghdad

A STORY FROM IRAQ (2000)


Amal listened gloomily to the little speech that Mr. Kareem had prepared. He spoke in a halting fashion, almost as though he were making an apology, but clearly he was as happy as a bird.

"And I know," he concluded, "that my students will greet their new teacher with respect and helpfulness, and will show how well Mr. Kareem has taught them about our glorious literary heritage." He laughed awkwardly at his little joke, and some of the girls responded with polite smiles.

A shy bachelor, Mr. Kareem inspired more respect than affection among his students. Many complained of his tough assignments and rigorous grading, although Amal thought he was quite fair. In any case, no one could deny that Mr. Kareem taught with competence and, in his stammering way, enthusiasm. He loved the works of the old poets and tried valiantly to convey to his students the richness of Arabic literature.

Another teacher leaving us, thought Amal. How many—four this fall?

But who could blame them? Anyone who had a chance at even a mediocre job somewhere else—anywhere that wasn't Iraq—would be crazy not to grab it. At last something good had come Mr. Kareem's way, a job in one of the Gulf states, and he would be leaving as soon as the term ended in January.

Still, Amal couldn't help feeling let down. So few teachers these days taught with any commitment, she thought, or any love of learning. Whoever replaced Mr. Kareem would most likely be from the bottom of the jar. No one but a cockroach could live on what a teacher was paid. Good people always went away.

Then a brighter thought popped into Amal's head. For a change, someone good was coming! Uncle Omar, the famous relative from America, was due any day now, bringing things the family sorely needed and couldn't buy in Baghdad. Amal's mother kept talking about vitamins and nutritional supplements, while Bilaal, who had only the haziest idea who Uncle Omar was, chattered about the wonderful toys—cars and trucks and balloons. Amal, too, hoped there would be something more interesting than just vitamins. Yes, Uncle Omar was coming, and she could look forward to that.

But then he, too, would leave.

At the recess, the girls traipsed out to the school yard, gathered in little knots, and grumbled. Ordinarily Amal would have joined one of the quieter groups, but this time she drifted toward the girls who always clustered around Hala. Amal was curious as to what Hala might have to say about Mr. Kareem. Beautiful and confident at thirteen, Hala had something to say on any matter that came up.

"Mr. Kareem," she was declaring, her voice high and assertive, "has been teaching all the Arabic literature courses at this school for centuries. It's time for a change—like somebody young and handsome, right from the university. We could do with a little life in our classroom!"

"Is anybody studying Arabic literature at the university?" Rafeeka asked. "Is anybody studying anything?"

Hala hesitated, then rallied, a sparkle coming back to her pretty dark eyes. "Well, of course! The world has to go on, doesn't it? So we'll just go to the principal and tell her that we insist on a young, handsome teacher to take Mr. Kareem's place."

The girls laughed, and someone said, "Right. We don't care whether he knows anything about Arabic literature."

Poor Mr. Kareem, thought Amal. He looks dopey, with his skinny shape and bony face, but he's a good teacher. I'd rather have a dopey-looking good teacher than somebody who looks good but doesn't know how to teach. And it's not Mr. Kareem's fault that he's so skinny.

She wondered whether she'd have felt that way a year earlier, so ready to forgive a teacher for not being perfect. No, she'd been just as critical and gossipy as anyone else, before she got sick. Thinking of Mr. Kareem's skinniness reminded Amal of the way her own clothes had hung on her last spring. With no medicine available that her parents could afford, her bout with pneumonia had lasted nearly forever. She still recalled the shock when, starting to get better at last, she looked in the mirror for the first time. No color in her skin, hollow cheeks, eyes almost too big for her face ... and her arms, which had formerly been so good at shooting baskets, hung like withered branches. How much weight had she lost—almost twenty pounds?

Now Amal was almost healthy again. But she'd had to repeat the year at school, and her place in the new group of girls had proved as awkward a fit as her dowdy, too-big clothes. Although a year older than most of her classmates, she had become a tagalong.

Just then, she caught sight of Mr. Kareem making his diffident way across the school yard. There was a short break in the chatter as others also noticed him. Suddenly Amal spoke, surprising herself as much as the others.

"I think we should give Mr. Kareem a gift." Seven or eight faces turned to her, as though she had broken some sort of rule.

"Why?" asked Hala. "To reward him for giving us such low grades?"

"He—he gives us the grades we earn," said Amal. "He's fair, you know."

A surge of energy went through her as she spoke. Maybe she sounded goody-goody, sticking up for the teacher like that, but she hadn't felt this sort of excitement for a long time. It was almost like the days before her illness, when she was the center of a circle and other girls looked up to her. In those days she had felt full of purpose and fun; she'd looked forward to whatever each new day could bring. That wasn't how she felt now.

But here she was, surprisingly, speaking out again—and others were listening to her! She went on, before she could lose her nerve.

"Mr. Kareem always tries hard—don't you think so? And he cares. He wants us to really like the stuff he's teaching."

Two or three girls muttered in agreement. "That's true. He's not so bad."

Encouraged, Amal spoke more firmly, though her heart seemed to be pounding. "And now he's leaving, and we probably won't get someone as good. We should honor him. It's an honor to honor a good teacher."

"Yes," said someone behind her. "That's what my father says. Amal's right."

At that, Hala resumed command. "Why, of course! I never said we shouldn't, did I? Naturally we'll give him a present. You always do that, for a good teacher."

Looking around, Amal saw that the others were nodding. Now that Hala had endorsed it, they would go along with the idea. Many students would be uneasy at the thought of having to chip in for a gift, as Amal was well aware, but Hala's friends came from well-off families, people with mysterious connections that brought them a comfortable income. These girls, Amal knew, had a few coins in their pockets.

"So," Hala continued, "let's decide what we're going to give our honored teacher. Well, somebody suggest something."

What, indeed, would be a good gift for a man? A few suggestions came forth, each to be shot down by one girl or another.

"A sweater, a shirt?" Too personal. Too expensive.

"A scarf?" Don't be dumb. In the Gulf he's going to need a scarf?

"Then a necktie? That old brown one he wears has got to go. Or maybe cologne?"

"A desk set—you know, with places for pens and paper clips."

Hala frowned at every suggestion but offered no ideas of her own. Then Amal heard herself speaking again.

"A book. I think we should give him a book. After all, he teaches literature."

"Books are so dull," objected Hala. "And I doubt that he'll want to lug a whole library around with him."

Rafeeka spoke up. "We don't have to give him a whole library, just one book. A nice one."

"A book is personal," said Amal, "but not too personal."

"Right. I vote for a book," said Rafeeka, with a theatrical toss of her curly hair. Several others echoed her.

Hala folded her arms and looked aside, as though giving the matter careful thought. Then she declared, "Okay, we'll give him a book. That's just what I was thinking of anyway. So we need a committee. Rafeeka, you and me and ..."

As Hala hesitated again, Amal saw the door opening wider for her. This was her chance. She didn't have to stumble along forever behind these younger girls, who didn't even know as much as she did.

"I can choose a book," she said. "Anybody who wants to go with me, okay. But anyway, I can do it."

"You?" said Hala. "How do you know what kind of book Mr. Kareem would like?"

At this challenge, Amal felt another spark of her old fire. "Something to do with literature, of course. Shakespeare, or—or Tolstoy, one of those people. My family can help me. Actually, my grandfather taught literature at Baghdad University."

For a moment there was silence, as though everyone were waiting for someone else to speak. When no one did, and the other girls were looking expectantly at Amal, Hala spoke up with her usual authority. "All right, then, you do it. After all, what's so hard about buying a book? Does anybody want to go with Amal? Well, whoever wants to, can. Everybody bring some money tomorrow, or soon. Let's say a hundred dinars. We can all chip in that much, can't we?"

All right, thought Amal, you run the show, Hala, until I get the money in my hands. Then I'll choose the book—and I'll make the presentation to Mr. Kareem.

"Good," Amal said. "When we have enough money, I'll—and whoever else wants to— we'll go get a beautiful book. Something Mr. Kareem will like. We want him to leave with nice thoughts about us, don't we?"

"We want him to leave behind good grades for us!" said Hala, and all the girls laughed.

Timing would be important, Amal realized. Naturally Mr. Kareem would see through a bribe, so they would have to wait till the very last day of the term, after exams.

But something else worried her. A hundred dinars—that was a lot of money. Maybe not for Hala and her friends, but for Amal's parents—a bank clerk and an elementary-school teacher—it would be difficult. What had she gotten herself into?

Later that afternoon, Amal went off to pick up her little brother at his school. It was a long walk, and as usual she worried about being late. Almost seven, small and thin, Bilaal was a bright but anxious child. The slightest thing might throw him into a tizzy, and once he fixed on an idea, he would fret it to death. If he decided that his sister was not coming for him, he would probably refuse to believe she was there, even when she took him by the hand. Amal had to smile at the thought.

She reached the drab, decaying building with its small school yard, in which a single potted plant, puny and limp, provided the only beauty. Just as Amal feared, most of the children had already left and Bilaal was jumping up and down in a frenzy. Soon, though, she saw that the frenzy had nothing to do with her being late.

"He is coming, he is coming!" Bilaal squealed as he rushed up to Amal. "Isn't he, Amal? Dumb old Sami doesn't believe me, and I told everybody over and over. He is coming—tell them, Amal!"

Dumb old Sami, just leaving, tugged at his mother's hand and turned back. "It's not true," he insisted, making a face. "Bilaal is just telling stories."

A screech rose from Bilaal, and Sami's mother yanked her son away. At that moment one of the teachers came out to the playground. Amal, alarmed to see her brother working himself into a tantrum, turned to her for some explanation.

"I'm afraid we've had quite a time with Bilaal," the teacher said wearily, her shoulder-length reddish hair so tousled it looked as though she'd been through a battle. "I'd better tell you, so your mother can deal with it."

As Amal waited, half dreading what would happen next, the teacher took a deep breath and went on. "Somebody gave me a book for the children a few days ago. We have so few books, you know, and have had no new ones for years, so I was glad to get it. Maybe some relief organization sent it. Anyway, it's about Christmas, but it's not religious. It's about Santa Claus—Baba Noel. They call him Santa Claus in America—Santa Claus and his deer who pull a wagon through the sky and bring gifts for children. So I read it to the children, and they liked it and wanted to hear it again. And again, and again, and again. Maybe it was a mistake." She sighed.

"No, it's not a mistake, it's true!" Bilaal piped up, pulling at his sister's hand. "Tell her, Amal!"

The teacher smiled at him, a tired, hopeless smile, and paused as though uncertain how to continue with the story. Beginning to see connections, Amal tried to help.

"We have an uncle coming from America," she said. "Maybe that's what Bilaal is thinking of. He should be here tomorrow or the next day."

As the teacher's face cleared, Bilaal's grew redder. "Santa Claus is coming! He's bringing toys and presents for us—Mama told me. A red car! It's Santa Claus, Amal. Or just like him!"

Had Mama really promised Bilaal that Uncle Omar would have toys? Oh dear. But Amal could understand how Bilaal might have turned the eagerly awaited Uncle Omar into Santa Claus with a wagon full of toys. And when Bilaal got obsessed with something, he would pester relentlessly until Mama had to agree, just to save her sanity.

Besides, the kid had never had a new toy of his own ... never, not for any holiday, not for his birthday. Toys were too expensive. One could live without toys. Any gift would have to be something practical: clothes or shoes, pencils, a school bag.

"I see," said the teacher, pulling her skimpy cardigan tighter in the chilly breeze. "Well, he insisted, and the other children didn't believe him. Of course they wanted to, but they didn't. So we've had a lot of arguing these last few days."

Amal tried to nod reassuringly. "It's all right. Yes, somebody's coming to us—Santa Claus or Baba Noel, or somebody just as good. Bilaal is right. He's bringing ... good things." She couldn't quite say toys.

"Lucky you," muttered the teacher. As she started to go back inside the building, she paused. "So we won't talk about it anymore, all right, Bilaal? We understand now. Someone good is coming to you. But we mustn't talk about it, because then the other children will feel bad. Isn't that right?"

"Yes," said Bilaal, pacified. "Santa Claus," he added in a lower voice. "It's Santa Claus."

"Yes. And now we must hurry home, Bilaal," said Amal. "Mama will be waiting for us." They left the school yard and walked through the bleak streets, skirting puddles and trash. While relieved to have her brother calm once more, Amal was uneasy. Should she have let him go on thinking Santa Claus was coming, or correct him at the start? But then Bilaal would have gotten frantic again and driven his poor teacher out of her mind. What should she have done?

Anyway, he would get over this. He'd forget. Amal could only hope that Uncle Omar would have something nice for Bilaal ... and some kind of medicine that would help him calm down.

Uncle Omar arrived in Baghdad and began to make the rounds among all the relatives. When it was her family's turn, Amal came home from school to find her mother in such a flurry of cooking as she hadn't seen in years.

"Mama," she said, "you have enough to do. Let me fry that eggplant."

Her mother half turned from the kerosene burner. "No, I'll do it. But you can tend the lahm mishwi. Don't let the meat get overdone—it'll be tough enough as it is."

With a handful of metal skewers and a plate of cutup meat and onions, Amal went out onto the small balcony, where a brazier stood. There was only scrap wood to burn—no charcoal—and it flared up and died down quickly. Tending both the erratic fire and the easily scorched kebabs would keep Amal busy.

She had tried to discourage her mother from making too many dishes. Surely the other family who was coming would bring something, wouldn't they? But Mama was determined. Whatever she could do for Omar, her own first cousin, was not half good enough! It would be a disgrace not to have a fine meal for him. After all, he had been going to a different family's home each night since his arrival four days earlier, and every family had done their best. She wasn't going to be outdone by her sisters, certainly not! Never mind that tonight's feast would mean lentils for the next month.

The challenge of making so little go so far, however, was taking a toll on Amal's mother. She was nervous and fatigued. Small wonder, Amal thought, what with teaching all afternoon, then standing in line at the butcher's, then rushing home to prepare one dish after another. And all on that wretched kerosene burner—the gas stove having died years ago. Mama worried constantly about the danger of fire. That was why, as Amal knew, she had wanted her daughter out of the kitchen while the eggplant was sputtering away in hot oil.

When the meat was broiled and giving off a fragrance that belied its toughness, Amal brought it inside. "What now, Mama? Prepare the place for eating?"

Her mother looked pained for a moment. The heavy dining table had been sold, so now the family ate around a plastic cloth spread on the living room floor. At first Amal and Bilaal had pretended it was a picnic, but the idea soon lost its charm.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Santa Claus in Baghdad and Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World by Elsa Marston. Copyright © 2008 Elsa Marston. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents
Preface
Acknowledgments

1. Santa Claus in Baghdad
A story from Iraq (2000)
Do the best gifts always have to come at a high price?
2. Faces
A story from Syria
How can you try to make someone else happy when your own world is coming apart?
3. The Hand of Fatima
A story from Lebanon
Which comes first—loyalty to others or faith in your own dreams?
4. The Olive Grove
A story from Palestine
Just how do you choose your battles?
5. In Line
A story from Egypt
Will a city girl ever feel quite at home in a farming village?
6. Scenes in a Roman Theater
A story from Tunisia
Do you have to wait for the story of your life to change—or can you help to tell it yourself?
7. Honor
A story from Jordan
Whose honor is at stake when a girl breaks the rules?
8. The Plan
A story from a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon
Can the spring flowers bloom—and love blossom—where hope is so scarce?

Notes

Indiana University Press

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    Posted December 16, 2011

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