Super.Full. Stories – Day 8: Inside the Jungle (Part 1)

We arrived in Zanzibar. The MAISHA Program Director and our van driver welcomed us. The director explained few things about what to expect and the schedule ahead of us, and off we went in the small van. He drove on narrow streets with low story buildings on both sides. It was like driving in any village in an Arab country. Except for the much greener, denser and higher trees.

But soon we started leaving the residential areas and arrived to a more vegetated territory, until the van stopped in a heavenly resort. It was like the places we see in honeymoon package advertisements. But it was real. And calm. The first thought that came to my mind when we arrived was this is a dream location for writing.

The Resort
The Resort

We had been warned before our departure from Doha that we needed to get anti-Malaria injections and a mosquito repellant. The pharmacist at Villaggio had then given Fatma a mosquito repellant for children because that was the only repellant he had, so we brought it along. We also knew to expect geckos. I am not the type of people who can pretend to be comfortable if I know I am living with a gecko. But we had promised ourselves, each other, and Ama to be brave.

Each one of us was assigned a bungalow. The bungalow consisted of a bedroom and a bathroom. They were nice and cool on the inside. The beds were beautifully decorated with nets dangling down from the roof to protect the sleepers from insects. Though that is a good thing, reverse psychology used it to assure me that there are insects. When I unloaded my luggage, I thought better than to disperse it in various places in the room so I only took out the shoes and kept all the clothes in my suitcase and kept it locked.

After every one of us checked her bungalow, the three of us girls decided that we’ll use one of them as a bedroom. Each one of us didn’t want to sleep alone in there. My daydreams included lions and giraffes. But the reality was different. It included, but was not limited to, insects in the bathroom, two scorpions in the room, few geckos that we got accustomed to live with slowly, and flying roaches.

As we were intent on keeping the courageous impression, we fought bravely against all these creatures on our own. Okay, it was not me or Fatma who did the actual battle, we were on the bed or jumping around far from the action, but still. And one time we had to ask the help of Qassim, our friend who lived very close to Mount Kili,  who had also come to the workshop with a very compelling story. But we fought and survived! Until the day of the red scorpion.

The red scorpion could be deadly according to Ama. And if our African fighter said that, then we had to report the incident to the program director. Our huge surprise came when we learnt that all the bungalows are clean of all kinds of insects, and we’re the only ones who had a zoo in there. And the solution was very simple, Solayman, the keeper of the resort came and sprayed it again. You can imagine how stupid we felt after all that struggle to save face when we could’ve simply asked for the room to be sprayed. Truth is, we had tried using the RAID in the room and our mosquito repellant, but the insects seemed to enjoy them more than anything.

Afterwards (5 days later) it became normal to enter the bathroom with a gecko in there, to put sugar with ants in the tea, to share the food with the crows out by the Indian Ocean. We were living it, the African way. And it is an experience not to be missed.

To Be Continued!

Watch Super.Full. and Vote for it in Youtube’s Your Film Festival at this link:

http://www.youtube.com/user/yourfilmfestival?x=player/v-oUhQc4AVU__en_us

Super.Full. Stories – Day 4: DOH – DAR – ZNZ

Our flight path from Doha to Zanzibar included a stop in Dar Es-Salam, capital of Tanzania. Fatma and I were lucky to have a friend from the Doha Film Institute join us. Ama is from Ghana, so she knew a thing or two about traveling in Africa. Fatma and I were conscious about our “city girl” status, so we were determined to prove courageous and break some stereotypes during the trip. You’ll have to wait for my “Inside the Jungle” episode to see how much we succeeded in that mission.

So our flight path was Doha Dar, Dar Zanzibar. Easy, right? The flight from Doha to Dar Es-Salam was smooth. Except for my earphones splitting in my hands into two, we slept most of the road. At least I did. I woke up over Kenya and took a look at mount Kili, as the locals referred to the great Mt. Kilimanjaro. For me, Mt. Kilimanjaro was something we study in eighth grade Geography as the highest mountain in Africa. And I had read folk stories about it in my Mythology class at Hollins. So seeing Mt. Kili was a historic moment for me, even from a plane. And it is a beautiful mountain 🙂

Soon thereafter, we landed in Dar (another local abbreviation). The airport there was fit to be in “City of God”. We literally walked through dark slums to get from one place to another inside the airport. But there was something cozy about it. And of course there was Ama to save us!

Airport Art in Dar
Mount Kili in Dar Es-Salam Airport Art

We finished our immigration adventure and were told to head to a local terminal to fly to Zanzibar. But we wanted to “see” Dar Es-Salam. We asked the officer inside the airport to allow us to go out to take a photo. He didn’t. We nagged; city girls! He said, “five minutes!” It was raining heavily outside the airport. But that was my first tropical rain so I was still able to enjoy it.

When we went to the “Terminal” we found ourselves in a room. For myself, I was starving. But the only duty free shops were two: One was selling souvenirs and the other was selling local pastries and soft drinks. Nobody died of hunger that day. But I almost died of terror when I saw the “airplane” of our next leg of the journey.

Propeller Aircraft
Propeller Aircraft to Zanzibar

It was a jet with two propellers. To me it seemed like a Brothers’ Wright airplane. Did these people expect me to fly on this thing? Does my Mom know I am being sent to Zanzibar on something that is supposed to fly with two fans? Every piece of news I ever heard of a small plane crash in Africa started flashing back. Anyway, the real question at the time was, do I really have a choice but to get meself on the plane and shut up? I didn’t. So that is what I did. And the plane took off to Zanzibar. For the record, that was a very smooth flight on a low altitude, which provided us with beautiful scenery underneath.

Window Seat View
Window Seat View

You can watch Super.Full. and vote for it if you like, via this link: http://www.youtube.com/yourfilmfestival

Super.Full. Stories – Day 3: The Mzungu

When Fatma and I went to Zanzibar with MAISHA and DFI (the Doha Film Institute) to develop Super.Full. and Fatma’s script, I didn’t know very well what to expect. My only “real” knowledge of Africa had been through a post card that my friend Chadi once sent me from Gabon. Besides it, everything had been through mass media and literature only.

Africa is beautiful. But to be a white person in Africa, that is a completely different story. And who was the lucky person? That’s right. I was a Mzungu (foreigner). And I couldn’t really hide my Mzungu-ness.  When we walked on the streets people stared, merchants wanted to sell us souvenirs, others just wanted to say “Salamu Alaikom” because I was a Hijabi Mzungu, no less.

But it felt good to be actually in “the other’s” shoes for once. I could totally feel what it means to look different than everyone else and try to convince people that you are the same. It is not easy.

Mzungu
Mzungu

N.B. This post was surprisingly challenging to write because it is so difficult to be politically correct when you talk about people’s “color”. Please be forgiving if anything seems wrong – that was not the intention.

PS. Yes, there are other white people in Africa. I was not the only one.

Super.Full. Stories – Day 2: How the Station Manager Ended up a Female

One of the secondary characters whom I dramatically needed in the film was that of the Station Manager.

When Hania, one of my female friends in Doha, knew that we need someone to play a Petrol Station Manager, she said she’d love to do it. I also liked the idea of having a female manager of the Petrol Station in the film, regardless of the fact that you would never find a female manager of a petrol station in Qatar. In the world of my film it would’ve played very well. I have an aunt here in Beirut who has been managing a plumbing business for decades now, and I always find her character and job fascinating.

BUT, everybody talked me into not getting a female to play the Station Manager. And then, when we actually went to the Station to obtain permission to film there, the Manager asked if he can act. Fatma, my friend and producer, was the one who talked to him. And Fatma is a very sweet person. And Fatma said YES! We actually need a station manager. So that was one problem down the drain.

Filming day came. It was Ramadan (fasting month) and we were filming at the station from noon till sunset. In a temperature of at least 50 Degrees Celsius in the sun (122 F). And on top of that it was a Friday, weekend in Qatar. The manager didn’t show up. Simply. He wasn’t answering his phone, none of the workers knew where or how to find him otherwise. We had to find a plan B, asap!

None of the boys on set fit the bill really. So my first thought was to call Hania, who had originally showed interest. I called and asked Hania if she’d like to come and act, like, right away -these things always happen. But she was outside Doha and she needed hours to be back. Out of the question.

It was thennnn, that I looked at Fatoom, my producer. She was the last refuge. And I think she knew what I thought before I had to ask. Fatma was pretty practical about it and she directly said, “Ok, what do I have to do?” I love Fatoom. She saved us from a silly situation that day, and she ended up doing a pretty good job actually. What do you think?

You can watch Super.Full. here and vote for it if you like it: http://www.youtube.com/yourfilmfestival

Super.Full. Stories – Day 1: Chronicles of a short film

December 2010 was not the happiest December in my life. I had been suffering from a tennis shoulder injury for years by then, and chose to leave the comfort of my Doha luxurious life to the chaotic life of an indie filmmaker in Beirut. After five years of independence I was now coming back to my parents house. Mostly because that is a good way not to starve as an independent filmmaker. I didn’t have a job at the time and I wasn’t looking. But I had a plan: Rewrite my feature film and make it (NB: that is something NOT as easily done as thought).

My best friends from older days mostly live and work abroad. My sisters had all gotten married in my years of expatriat-ism. I am an introvert. You get the gist.

The doctor diagnosed my shoulder with a rotator cuff tear and December was operation month. And operation meant an arm sling for twelve weeks, limited movement, and physiotherapy. Stuck at home, my physiotherapist doctor becoming my only friend, I spent almost all of December and January researching festivals I could send Super.Full. to.

My festival search included: First find the festivals that the film qualifies for, second check the festival requirements, third write the festivals asking for fee waivers using my exotic location and film story/theme/etc… (whatever worked really), fourth wait for responses, fifth send the film and whatever needed material… In short, it is a pain in the butt process perfect for a bed ridden jobless filmmaker (if you find one, grab them!)

I was being ambitious and a bit over-confident. But sometimes that helps. I looked up the process by which short films qualify for Oscar Nominations (If you’re a filmmaker you know you wanna do that -if you haven’t already). I wrote down the festival names and looked them all up then chose some. Then I started submitting based on the results of the painful procedure above. I had to wait few months and receive multiple rejections from known and unknown film festivals.

But I knew rejection is part of the process. My graduate school teachers are to thank for that -mostly. All I need is one YES. And the Yes came! After a long time, on the morning of Wednesday, March 30th 2011, but it came. It was an email from a Mr. Dan Doody and it was not a hoax! It was from the Academy Award Qualifying Seattle International Film Festival, the largest film festival in the United States of America no less. And they wanted to screen Super.Full.

And the first thing that came to my mind when I read the email was, “Oh. The film must be good after all”.

That was our first yes, and then there were more “Yes”s and more “No”s. But the first yes is where the festival stories started. And they still have not ended for this short film made with passion and dedication of a beautiful group of people.

Today, you can support Super.Full. on Your Film Festival : A vote a day can make this filmmaker’s dream come true!

And tune in here to read a new story about Super.Full.’s journey every day.

SIFF Super.Full. Invitation
SIFF Super.Full. Invitation

Bless Me Teacher, for I have Sinned!

EURO 2012 is almost here! I still haven’t gone over the groups in depth, checked the schedule, the fixtures and the players etc… But I am planning to do that in the next 48 hours. Today, I am posting about something else, still related to soccer. It is a confession, accompanied by a hope that it will be too late for a teacher at LAU to change my grade on an Arabic Course I had to sit through in the Spring of 1998.

The world cup finals were starting in June. I was finishing my sophomore year. I was 17.5 years old (still a child by United Nations definitions). And I was a crazy soccer maniac, just like my 13-year-old brother is now. I had the full listings of everything world cup memorized in my head: the groups, the mechanism of who plays who if they win first or second in their group, etc… Up to the final match.

The Arabic class (Appreciation of Arabic Literature) started to get boring gradually as the semester progressed. The teacher being a very old lady certainly didn’t help. So every session, at 9 a.m. when we started, I used to listen to everything the teacher said and write. But I was not taking notes.

In reality, I was jotting down the whole scheme of the world cup on my copybook, examining every probability of who might play who in the final rounds. I went about it feverishly. At the same time, I was good in Arabic Literature and I loved it. So I multi tasked between the world cup on my notebook and the philosophical things the teacher used to say about Scheherazade and Rasheed Al Da’eef. Basically, among the 40 sleepy students, I was the only one taking part in the discussion and writing “notes”. But I didn’t realize that until the teacher got pissed at my classmates.

She walked to the front row and stood at my desk. And she started lecturing the class.

“I am very disappointed with you all. Nobody discusses anything. Nobody reads. And nobody takes notes. Look at your friend here. What’s your name?”

Huh? Niam.

“Look at Niam, here. She is always taking notes without me even asking her to. I wish you’d all be like her.”

I protected my copybook with my hands and feet. Her thick eyeglasses suddenly became my utmost hope in the world. Please, O’God, Please, don’t have her ask me for the copybook to SHOW the classmates how brilliant I am. That’d be the end of me.

The teacher did not ask for Niamz copybook.

Niam got an A on the Appreciation of Arabic Literature course.

The 1998 World Cup Finals were the last finals she feverishly analyzed.

France won the 1998 World Cup.

The name of the teacher of that class remains unknown.