I bend over the conveyor belt and grab my suitcase. ‘Ok, let’s go.’ The Nymph, Syrian editor Suhir and I are back in Beirut. We are going to work with the writers from the Shatila refugee camp
on our collaborative book project. ‘Wait!’ The Nymph exclaims. ‘My big suitcase hasn’t yet arrived.’ Another suitcase? An even larger one? The one standing next to her is not exactly small either. I can’t imagine what Peirene has packed. But then it dawns on me: She has brought books for each of the writers. And presents for the staff of our NGO, Basmeh & Zeitooneh. How thoughtful of her! A wave of warm feelings towards my Nymph washes over me.
The next morning Peirene does not turn up for breakfast. Eventually I have to knock on the door of her hotel room. The taxi that will take us to Shatila is already waiting outside. Peirene opens the door with panic in her eyes. ‘I don’t know what to wear!’ She pulls me inside. ‘I’ve been up since five trying to make a decision of what would look best on the front cover of our book. Do you think these earrings go with this dress?’ She’s wearing a long, pink evening dress and is now holding up big sparkly earrings. For a moment I’m speechless. Clothes are strewn everywhere: across the floor and the bed. Some hang over the TV screen. She must have brought her entire wardrobe. I’m suddenly irritated. ‘Take off the silly dress, Peirene, and put on something comfortable. We are going to spend the next five days sitting in that small, hot room in the Shatila camp revising the stories with the writers. We are not attending a fashion show.’
Peirene turns her back, determined to ignore me. ‘You are clearly no help,’ she sighs, stepping into her high heals. ‘I saw Paul arrive with his cameras last night. Tell him, that I’m ready when he’s ready to shoot the front cover.’ Paul Romans is a photographer who has joined us on this trip to take pictures of Shatila for the book. I now roll my eyes. Oh, my silly Nymph. ‘Paul is waiting in the taxi with Suhir. The front cover won’t be of you, Peirene. It can’t be. It has to be an image of Shatila. But I promise you, he will take pictures of you and of us all working together. So, please change into something more appropriate and come with us.’
When she finally squeezes into the taxi, she’s wearing more sensible clothes and flat sandals. However, she hasn’t taken off her big sparkly earrings. ‘Arab women are so beautiful,’ she explains before I can say anything. ‘I need a bit of sparkle in order to stand a chance next to them and not to appear like a grey mouse in the photos.’ She takes another pair of sparkly earrings out of her bag. ‘And you, too, might want to put a pair on,’ she adds with a wicked glint in her eye.
Image by Paul Romans, all rights reserved. Back row l-r: Safiya Badran, Writer / Hiba Maree, Writer / Suhir Helal, Editor / Safaa Algharbawi, Writer / Nibal Alalo, Writer / Meike Ziervogel, Publisher / Fatima Ghazzawi, Writer; Front row l-r: Omar Alndaf / Writer, Samih Mahmoud, Writer / Omar Ahmad, Writer.