Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?

Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?
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Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?
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Updated 18 August 2016

Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?

Fatima Al-Banawi: What’s your story?

Sitting in a crowded café, waiting on a roadside traffic stop, boarding a plane, sitting at the waiting area for a routine medical checkup, carrying your groceries at the line to the cashier at a supermarket, did you ever wonder who this person in front of me is? Who is this person speaking on the phone in the car next to me? Who are those people laughing on the other side of the road? Who is this woman carrying a child as she heads in to the pharmacy? We are inquisitive by nature and want to know of our surroundings. People are an integrated part of these surroundings and we simply want to know more! We sit in these settings and think about the people next to us drinking their coffee, are they drinking the same coffee as I am, we wonder. Wonder if they liked or disliked the bland cheesecake? Wonder how the guy got that scar on his eyebrow or why does this girl wear bright red lipstick in the middle of the day or why this kid has a bandaid on his knee? A million questions roam our minds as a natural reaction to our surroundings and we all want to know each other’s stories and how we came to be.
Arabs have been telling stories for hundreds of years; it’s a trait and tradition being handed down from one generation to the next. As the years passed, and technology surfaced and conquered, the art of storytelling is dying and we (as a society) aren’t doing enough to keep it alive. But there is one young woman with a project that is innovative and inspiring, it’s also a welcoming breath of fresh air taking the participant in the project away from all that is distracting; just you, an empty page of paper and a pen. Fatima Al-Banawi’s “The Other Story” is a project that is breaking some taboos and giving you the participant a chance to zone out and write a story, any story, as long as it’s something.
Arab News interviewed Fatima, an inspirational mindset that is out to hear your story and mine.

Tell us about “The Other Story” project.
The “Other Story” project is literally as it is a handwritten true story using only one page. It’s a simple yet heady combination because what I’m asking strangers to do is tell me something that can be extremely personal, emotional, intimate, their own personal narrative. Time isn’t important and the setting doesn’t matter either, a story is just a story. I started the project in September of last year and I’m still collecting until this day. It’s written by the people of Jeddah, we live and share Jeddah which means we share its story, the making of it and what’s to come up next. That’s the core of the project.
I’m relaying these stories and there’s also a social responsibility from my part to partake in the book by providing knowledge from my years of education, not critique, but more commentary on the different aspects of societal development on a personal level. Knowledge needs to be shared by all.

Let me get this straight, you just go up to people and say “hi, I have a project I’m working on and I want to hear your story,” that’s it?
Technically, yes! I’d sometimes be at a café for example and see a group of people sitting by, I’d approach them, introduce my project, hand them blank sheets of paper if they accept and have them place their stories in a box or envelope. I don’t ask for names or even handle the papers so I don’t have a personal attachment or interest per se.

How did you find the reactions or these participants? Do they understand the concept of the project and volunteer with no questions asked, giving in to it as it should be done?
Absolutely! People from all walks of life had a part in this project; people that you’d think would undermine such an initiative or pass by and think nothing to it, the best part of writing these stories is that it’s all anonymous! You never know who or why they’re taking part but it’s very much appreciated.

That’s interesting and very promising to know. I can’t say that the art of storytelling is dead because we have so many writers trying to make a mark in the world of Arabic literature, but it’s the personal stories that we’re lacking. You’re going deep aren’t you?
It’s part of what I grew up with, loving every art form there is as well as my time at Effat University studying psychology and getting my masters from Harvard which is to study humans from a psycho-social aspect. Every story stands on its own without editing or any filtering, it will be published exactly as it is and what I can do at most is define natural themes to these stories and collect them in that sense.

So your undergrad was in Psychology from Effat University here in Jeddah and then you went to pursue your master’s degree in Theological Studies at Harvard. You’re gathering stories which is a type of art and you’re also a consultant focusing on studying the development of humans at different stages of their life. Two very different yet interconnected approaches you’re taking, how did you find middle ground from your take?
I was connected to the arts from a very young age and at the same time I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in psychology because I loved the human mind, I loved studying every aspect of society, how social issues emerge, its effects on us as humans and how we as individuals or a collective find solutions to these issues. It’s complicated but interesting and I knew I wanted to know more. I found art to be the means of expressing my emotions, for example as a child, I’d grown to want to take in as much art, film and literature classes as I could during my years at university and with that, I started seeing another picture to the educational path I’m pursuing which was psychology, then theological studies combined with a form of art does actually make sense. As you mentioned story telling is art and when it’s in the written form, it’s also a method of expression. As a consultant, I am able to look into these words, catch a glimpse of who this writer is and maybe even go through the same emotions he or she is going through with the stroke of their pen. They’re very complimentary to each other and crucial as well.

Why are you passionate about gathering these stories?
My time at Harvard was very rewarding. We were 18 different denominations, so similar and yet people would try to address things differently and make them seem as if they’re from a different world. It was interesting how people would approach me and talk to me because I was the only Saudi at the time, people were curious and this was an Ivy League school, so you’d think people would know or understand a little bit about the outside world, but that wasn’t really the case, they were honestly curious! I look at it from two angles; one would be the underrepresentation of this place, Jeddah, and its uniqueness. Many of my colleagues were inspired by Jeddah and its significance. Jeddah is organically very inclusive of all sorts of humans, I saw something in the people as I spread my empty pages, I happen to live here and Jeddah is built on multi-cultures, its unity is in its diversity, it’s what makes it special.

In what way do you see this project as one that can be productive?
My grandparents always told us stories, so did my friends’ grandparents. I noticed that it’s never about the next generation, it was always about them. It’s as if our stories are at a loss because of an internal buzz that just wouldn’t stop. Taking some time off to jot down some sentences that go on to become a story, it’s therapeutic in some ways and a form of meditation in others. What I’m hoping and striving for with the “Other Story” project is to provide a chance to a means of self-expression without any boundaries or critiques, it’s just you, your paper and the reader wondering who this writer is and relating on some level to the written words.

Do you think it runs deep with some? Having to write stories about topic (x) for example, do you see emotion at times as they’re holding on to that paper writing along its invisible lines?
I do, I see emotions in the stories, I see their facial expressions as they place their paper in the box, I see it reflected in their handwriting and I would get a lot of mixed responses. While some felt shy or apprehensive from their own stories, it’s at these times that I reassure them that it’s all anonymous. Having worked as a case worker at the Family Protection Society, it’s important that you have them understand these technicalities don’t count, no one will know who they are and it’s safe to express emotions in every stroke of their pen.

What have your life experiences taught you in connection to this project?
I’ve learned that families and people evolve, they continue to change. Whether it’s by reflection or by experience or by therapy, whatever the medium is for change, it happens. Empathy and forgiveness are important things to consider in your own personal change and that can happen by writing your own story or by reading someone else’s, growth will happen eventually.
People are getting to know each other and are connected one way or another and I think this project turned book can be a platform for it.
After sitting down and talking to Fatima for an hour, there’s a certain positive aura surrounding her and in some way a very interesting positive take to a society’s contribution to a taboo act, the act of writing one’s personal emotions and speaking about them in written form. The “Other Story” project is still undergoing and you can add your story by visiting the project’s station at The Humming Tree Community Center and do follow the Instagram page to know more about what’s coming up next.

[email protected]


Jill Biden, Duchess of Cambridge learn bunny care on tour

Jill Biden, Duchess of Cambridge learn bunny care on tour
Updated 11 June 2021

Jill Biden, Duchess of Cambridge learn bunny care on tour

Jill Biden, Duchess of Cambridge learn bunny care on tour
  • Biden and the former Kate Middleton visited with 4- and 5-year-olds who attend Connor Downs Academy in Hayle
  • “It’s a huge honor to have you in the United Kingdom,” the duchess said just before the discussion

HAYLE, England: US first lady Jill Biden and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, learned about bunny care Friday as they toured a preschool during a joint outing in southwest England.
They also took part in a talk about early childhood education with experts from the UK and some from the United States who joined the discussion via Zoom.
“It’s a huge honor to have you in the United Kingdom,” the duchess said just before the discussion. She thanked Biden — a longtime English teacher — for her interest in early education, also a topic of interest for the duchess, who has three young children with husband Prince William.


Biden, 70, and the former Kate Middleton, 39, visited with 4- and 5-year-olds who attend Connor Downs Academy in Hayle. The school works with children who have experienced trauma. It also has outdoor classrooms where children plant vegetables and flowers and tend to rabbits.
Biden carried a bowl of carrots when the women went outside to see Storm, one of several bunnies housed in pens, and handed the bowl to a group of kids so they could feed him.
Before the indoor roundtable, Biden said she was glad to visit the school.
“I met some wonderful teachers and principals and most of all the children, who were so inspiring and well behaved,” the first lady said. “I couldn’t get over it.”
She is traveling with her husband, President Joe Biden, who is attending a Group of Seven summit of leaders from the world’s largest economies that opened Friday in Carbis Bay.
She thanked the news media for covering the appearance “because early childhood education is so important to lay the foundation for all of our students.”


Both women took notes during the discussion, which centered on child mental health and the importance of early education in childhood development.
As they departed, reporters asked Biden if she had sought advice from the duchess on meeting Queen Elizabeth II, which the Bidens are set to do at a summit reception later Friday, followed by tea with the monarch on Sunday at Windsor Castle.
“No, I didn’t,” the first lady replied. “We’ve been busy. Were you not in that room. We were talking education.”
Jill Biden is scheduled to head back to Washington after meeting the queen, while the president continues on to Brussels for a NATO summit and to Switzerland for a highly anticipated one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Top Swiss court rejects climate activists’ appeal over tennis stunt

Top Swiss court rejects climate activists’ appeal over tennis stunt
Updated 11 June 2021

Top Swiss court rejects climate activists’ appeal over tennis stunt

Top Swiss court rejects climate activists’ appeal over tennis stunt
  • ‘At the time of their action, there was no current and immediate danger’ under Swiss law, the court said
  • In September appeals court found them guilty of "trespassing", a ruling upheld by Federal Court on Friday

GENEVA: Switzerland’s highest court on Friday rejected an appeal by environmental activists who were sentenced for trespassing after invading a bank to play tennis dressed as Roger Federer.
The Federal Court dismissed the activists’ argument that their playful demonstration two and a half years ago was an emergency action justified by the climate crisis.
“At the time of their action, there was no current and immediate danger,” according to the definition under Swiss law, the court said in a statement.
In November 2018, the 12 activists entered a Credit Suisse branch in Lausanne to denounce Swiss tennis star Federer over his sponsorship deals with Switzerland’s second-biggest bank and its financing of fossil fuels.
In January last year, a lower court acquitted the 12 defendants, accepting their “state of necessity” legal argument, finding that they had acted legitimately in the face of the climate emergency.
But an appeals court reversed that verdict last September, heeding the view of the public prosecutor who urged judges to “practice law, not emotion,” according to Swiss news agency Keystone-ATS.
It found them guilty of “trespassing” — a ruling upheld by the Federal Court on Friday.
The activists immediately announced that they intended to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights, in defense of their “fundamental rights,” including the right to free expression and to demonstrate peacefully.
Laila Batou, a defense lawyer for one of the activists, slammed the decision and the court’s “lack of ambition,” according to Keystone-ATS.
“The Federal Court could have given a clear signal recognizing that global warming constitutes an imminent danger, but also that, in some situations, civil disobedience is necessary,” she told the news agency.
Instead, she said, the court “has ruled in favor of the powerful, the big corporations who can continue business as usual to the detriment of young people.”


Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism

Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism
Updated 10 June 2021

Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism

Work dries up for Jordan’s donkeys as coronavirus cripples tourism
  • In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time
  • Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound

PETRA, Jordan: Herds of hard-working donkeys once carried hordes of tourists on the rocky paths of Jordan’s Petra, but visitor numbers crashed amid the pandemic and the loyal animals are left without a job.
“Before coronavirus, we all had work,” said Abdulrahman Ali, a 15-year-old donkey owner at the ancient rock-carved desert city, where the sure-footed animals carry tourists up steep paths in the blazing sun.
“The Bedouins of Petra made a living and fed their animals,” he said, sitting waiting for a handout of fodder from a charity, explaining that many owners today are struggling to meet the cost of feeding them.
In 2019, the number of visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage site topped a million for the first time.
But in March 2020, the famous tourist destination was closed, and the crucial income from the tourists dried up.
“When tourism stopped, nobody could buy fodder or medicine anymore,” said Ali, who could earn as much as $280 on a good day, supporting his mother and two brothers.
“Anyone who has a little amount of money now spends it on his own food, not his animal.”
Before the pandemic, tourism made up more than a tenth of Jordan’s GDP, but revenues slumped from $5.8 billion in 2019 to $1 billion last year, according to government figures.
Since Petra reopened in May, tourist numbers have been slow to rebound.
Only some 200 visitors a day come to Petra, compared to more than 3,000 before the pandemic hit, said Suleiman Farajat, heading the Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority.
Farajat said some 200 guides used as many as 800 animals — including horses, camels and mules as well as donkeys — for tourist rides across the desert site.
The economic ripple effect of tourism was widespread.
“Before the crisis, 80 percent of the inhabitants of the region depended directly or indirectly on tourism,” Farajat said.
“With the pandemic, not only working animal owners were affected, but also hotels, restaurants, those with souvenir shops or stores, and hundreds of employees have lost their jobs.”
Many donkey owners are turning to a clinic supported by the animal rights group PETA, where vets treat maltreated and malnourished donkeys for free.
“Before coronavirus, my family and I owned seven donkeys working in Petra,” said Mohammad Al-Badoul, 23, waiting with four other donkey owners to fill a sack with animal feed.
“We had to sell them for lack of income. Now we only have one, and I can barely feed it.”
Egyptian vet Hassan Shatta, an equine surgery specialist who runs the PETA clinic, said he launched a donkey-feeding program late last year.
“During the Covid-19 lockdown, and with the lack of tourism, people could not afford to feed their animals anymore,” Shatta said.
“Some of them ended up starving and we picked them up brought them here,” he added, noting some 250 animals had been treated, with some 10-15 cases arriving a day.
In the past, PETA had treated animals with deep cuts from being beaten or abused, but Farajat, from Petra’s tourism authority, says the working conditions of the donkeys is now “not that bad.”
But there are plans to replace some of the traditional donkeys with a new system of 20 electric cars introduced by the tourism board next month.
The cars will be “driven by the animal owners,” Farajat said.
Switching to electric cars will, Farajat hopes, put an end to the criticisms against the mistreatment inflicted on animals.


McDonald’s BTS-meal frenzy sparks virus closures in Indonesia

McDonald’s BTS-meal frenzy sparks virus closures in Indonesia
Updated 09 June 2021

McDonald’s BTS-meal frenzy sparks virus closures in Indonesia

McDonald’s BTS-meal frenzy sparks virus closures in Indonesia
  • At least 13 outlets that were deluged with online food-delivery drivers picking up the meal set were closed
  • The meal set of chicken nuggets, fries and a drink, first made available in Indonesia Wednesday

JAKARTA: More than a dozen Indonesian McDonald’s outlets were temporarily shuttered Wednesday over virus fears as the chain’s new BTS meal deal sparked frenzied buying from fans in the K-pop mad country.
Jakarta and several other cities slapped closure stickers on at least 13 outlets that were deluged with online food-delivery drivers picking up a meal set named after the hugely popular Korean boy band.
“We temporarily closed four of six McDonald’s stores here in Semarang for a couple of days,” said Fajar Purwoto, the city’s public order agency head.


“I don’t want Semarang to be in the Covid-19 red zone again.”
Indonesia is one of the hardest-hit nations in Asia.
Jakarta authorities did not respond to requests for comment. But local media said five stores in the capital were shut over BTS-meal orders.
The meal set of chicken nuggets, fries and a drink, first made available in Indonesia Wednesday, has been on offer in dozens of countries since May.
BTS have become global superstars with millions of fans around the world since their debut in 2013.


The Russian prison beauties hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year

The Russian prison beauties hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year
Updated 09 June 2021

The Russian prison beauties hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year

The Russian prison beauties hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year
  • The contestants are genuine prison officers who lock-up cell-bound inmates
  • Other government institutions to run beauty pageants have included the National Guard

DUBAI: Meet the Russian prison wardens cell-bound inmates don’t mind being locked up by

Voting is underway to find Russia’s most beautiful prison guard in the all-new Miss Penal System contest.

The 12 finalists, each hoping to be crowned lock-up lady of the year, were chosen from 100 contestants who each won their local competitions, Russia Today reported.

The Russian prison service is not the first government agency to use a beauty pageant to promote its work.

In 2019 police officer Anna Khramtsova won a similar competition when the National Guard held the ‘Beauty of Rosgvardia’ pageant.

Although all did not go according to plan for Khramtsova – and after a brief flirtation with social media fame, she was eventually fired after apparently breaching security by posting a photograph taken inside a facility.

The Miss Penal System contest is the latest initiative from the Federal Penitentiary Service – others included the instillation of British-style red phone boxes to decorate the room inmates used to make calls to the outside world.

Voting closes on June 11 when the world finds out which of the 12 finalists who let down their locks, leaving inmates a little happier about being cell-bound, is crowned the winner.