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September 14, 2021

A Poem about the Love Story that Encompasses Time.

One of the 20th century’s greatest love stories of the late Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti and the late Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour can be traced through their literary works.

In his seminal memoires, I Saw Ramallah and I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, Barghouti wrote about their relationship. Their story began when they met, in the 1960s, as students at Cairo University. He wrote his first poems to her on the steps of the Cairo University library when they were not yet 20 years old.

Without it occurring to them that a personal interest had developed or was developing between them, they took part in literary gatherings at the faculty together. As they were students, they often limited their discussions to certain topics such as their studies, while never going beyond these or raising any intimate conversation. Their professional friendship continued, until four years had passed, and he was done with his studies and went to work in Kuwait.

He used to write regular letters about his new life in Kuwait to her. However, he later noticed that his correspondence with Radwa comprised nothing of his news or the events of his life and was only limited to his unspoken feelings about that life.

During the summer holidays and his first visit to Cairo, they realized that they talked similarly to a mother and father, and sometimes to a grandmother and a grandfather.

They talked like a family of two that had been together for ages.

In 1970, they married, and Radwa went to the United States for a time to study toward her PhD. Their only son, Tamim, was born in 1977. In that same year, 1977, Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat visited Israel and ordered Barghouti and many other Palestinians to be deported from Egypt. Barghouti was prevented from living in Egypt for the next 17 years, which resulted in his remaining the father of an only child.

On their continued years of off-on separation, Radwa would dedicate her time to caring for her son without the presence of his father, except for short, intermittent periods. When she was obliged to undergo a life-threatening operation, she would be alone with Tamim, who was not yet three years old, while Mourid was in Budapest and forbidden to be by her side.

Barghouti was able to return to Egypt and later even to Palestine—a journey documented in his I Saw Ramallah. After that, he was able to bring their son, Tamim, who is Palestinian-Egyptian poet and academic, to see Palestine for the first time and wrote this experience in his second memoir I Was Born There, I Was born Here.

Barghouti used to tell Ashour stories about Palestine, which added to Radwa’s personal interest and talented research, almost total knowledge of everything about its villages and its peoples—their names, life stories, and their sorrows—hence her production of her multigenerational epic, The Woman From Tantoura. Prior to this great novel she had written her intriguing masterpiece, The Granada Trilogy about the expulsion of Arabs from Andalusia.

The two of them were married for 44 years, until death did them apart when Radwa died on December 1, 2014, after a long struggle with cancer.

I leave you now with one of Mourid Barghouti’s beautiful poems, “You and I,” written in 1983, dedicated to his wife Radwa Ashour:

You’re beautiful like a liberated homeland

I’m exhausted like a colonized one.

You’re sad as a forsaken person, fighting on

I’m agitated as a war near at hand.

You’re desired like the end of a raid

I’m terrified as if I’m searching the debris.

You’re brave like a trainee pilot

I’m as proud as his grandmother may be.

You’re anxious like a patient’s dad,

I’m as calm as his nurse.

You’re as sweet as dew

And to grow, I need you..

We’re both as wild as vengeance

We’re both as gentle as forgiveness.

You’re strong like the court’s pillars

I’m bewildered like I’ve endured prejudice.

And whenever we meet

We talk, without pause, like two lawyers

Defending

The world…

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