Short stories from Gaza describe life in the ‘world’s largest prison’

Author Nayrouz Qarmout’s stories are embedded in real events. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 October 2019

Short stories from Gaza describe life in the ‘world’s largest prison’

CHICAGO: From the Gaza Strip comes a collection of short stories about growing up and coming of age in the “world’s largest prison.”

“The Sea Cloak and Other Stories” by Nayrouz Qarmout tells about a land where life is lived in bits and pieces, its joys cherished and sorrows familiar.

Each story is filled with vivid memories of places, events, scents, houses and people that if not recorded could so easily have been lost in time.

Qarmout begins her collection with a young woman watching the Mediterranean Sea, Gaza’s coastline brimming with families, tents and the smell of roasting sweetcorn.

The narrator’s family spends a rare day at the beach. She describes her sisters gossiping, her brothers grilling fish and talking politics and war, her mother tidying their tent, while her father gazes out to sea. The young girl wants to be free like the waves, and so in her black dress and veil sets out.

“The Sea Cloak and Other Stories” by Nayrouz Qarmout tells about a land where life is lived in bits and pieces. (Supplied)

Between a young woman attempting to discover herself in a place where her life is bound by politics and societal pressures, an older woman walks her donkey cart along a mountain path between the village of Al-Khader and the Efrat settlement to her grape vines, all she has left after the death of husband.

Life is tough near the settlements, relationships strained, and friendships cautious. Security forces shoot first and ask questions later.

In more than one story, Qarmout’s path to freedom is the one that leads to school and education. For everyone, life is lived amid rubble and painful memories but also with an innate resilience, to take care of their families, communities and themselves.

Qarmout’s stories are embedded in real events, her characters live through bombardment, gun battles, mortar attacks, disappointment, fear and lost love with heartbreaking determination.

One frustrated character, Ziad, said: “I stood up for my principles and for my liberty. So, tell me: Where is the land my father promised would be mine again? It’s getting further and further away. Peace has escaped. Hope has fled.”

Between the family who has spent a week in hiding and a young girl practicing patriotic songs, life is lived, even if it is difficult.

Qarmout is an author and women’s rights activist. She was born in Damascus but returned to Gaza in 1994.

Sustainable shoes that empower artisans and students

Updated 14 August 2020

Sustainable shoes that empower artisans and students

  • Ammar Belal’s ONE432 is revitalizing traditional jutti footwear

DUBAI: Equality and symmetry find a firm footing in the design ethos of ONE432, a sustainable shoe brand based in the US, Pakistan and the UAE. The brand sells hand-sewn juttis — a traditional footwear style from Pakistan and India that dates back more than 400 years — and empowers its artisans by giving them a share of profits from each product sold on top of their wages.

Founded by Ammar Belal, a professor at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York, ONE432 follows an ‘equal share design’ philosophy that makes local craftsmen shareholders in the product’s success. A part of the brand’s earnings also contribute to sponsoring children's education in Pakistan.

Ammar Belal with schoolchildren in Pakistan. (Supplied)

“Most craftspeople in Pakistan have little or no formal education, which is a barrier to their social and financial mobility. They have valuable skills but very little influence in the global fashion industry,” Belal tells Arab News. “This is exactly what we are trying to dismantle by choosing a different business model that ensures that the makers are uplifted in a meaningful way along with the success of the company they work with. We keep only 50 percent of our profit and share the remaining with our artisans and the schools that we support.”

ONE432 was born out of Belal’s graduate thesis collection at Parsons’ MFA Fashion programme. The brand’s debut collection was presented at New York Fashion Week in 2014, after which Belal was immediately recruited to teach at the school. 

The designer spent three years refashioning the jutti — ornate footwear once popular among royals during the Mughal Empire — to give it a contemporary, comfortable and sustainable look. Each pair of shoes is hand-crafted and takes at least eight hours to make. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as shoe sales dipped, the company has diversified and trained its artisans to stitch hoodies and T-shirts.

ONE432 was born out of Belal’s graduate thesis collection at Parsons’ MFA Fashion programme. (Supplied)

Besides its online store, the brand has a presence in several US retail outlets, and Belal says he is in discussions with a number of other American stores and “a few” in Dubai.

The brand is currently supporting three schools in rural areas in Pakistan, enrolling underprivileged children. “Each product is linked to a specific education-related goal, from sponsoring tuition fees to building new classrooms. We try to meet the most pressing needs of the school,” says Belal. “To date we have shared over $16,000 from our profits with our schools and artisans.”

Belal hopes ONE432 might prove a blueprint for more equality and sustainability in the fashion industry. “The brand was born from a place of empathy,” he says. “My graduate programme gave me an opportunity to pause and reflect on what it meant for me to be an artist and what my contribution would be. I did not want to make another set of really pretty clothes just for the sake of it. I wanted to explore and confront this behemoth of a machine that is the fashion industry and how it incorporates or disenfranchises different stakeholders based on who they are.”

Ammar Belal with artisan Arshad. (Supplied)

In keeping with the brand’s goals, it sources its material responsibly. “Our denim is upcycled from panels that are thrown away after the colour testing process from factories. The cotton is recycled and woven on a handloom, then coloured with vegetable dyes. The embroidery is all done by hand,” says Belal.

The juttis are crafted by a team of seven artisans based in Pakistan. The fourth-generation master craftsmen also mentor young apprentices, including women, to keep the traditional shoemaking method alive.

“Traditionally, women were excluded from cobbling, but we are changing that paradigm by employing women in managerial positions who help create a working environment in which other women also feel comfortable and safe,” says Belal.