I've been waking up a couple of hours after midnight, after no more than four hours of sleep. A dream so beautiful transfers a subtle anxiety. It drifts somewhere between my heart and mind, and lands straight in front of my eyes. I feel it, I see it approaching, until it wakes me up. I am up, every day, same time, same dream, same anxiety. I am up. I am human. I am anxious. In my heart, is anxiety. I need to write my anxiety out of my dreams. I need to rewrite my dreams before going back to bed. Before going back to bed. Before waking up.
Or might this be a jet lag?
Although this kind is purely natural, I've never really needed to use sleeping pills to go to bed before, despite my 3-year-long continuous experiences with jet lag. On the box it says: "take one or two 30 minutes before you go to bed." It's been an hour and 35 minutes since I've taken those two pills, and nothing. I am up and my eyes are wide open. I look at the window, thinking that maybe sunrise is soon. It's not, the sky is charcoal black. That white fog comes from our neighbors lights; "Fatima, it's not sunrise, go back to bed!" I cover myself, and I squeeze my eyes inward to keep them closed. The hissing sound of the AC is sharp. It knocks on my room's door and disturbs the silence I am in when it commences. With each pause, it becomes silent again, and I can hear my stomach growling. I am not sure if I am hungry or not, I'm not sure if this is breakfast or dinner time, but I begin thinking of the recurring dream, of its parts, its beginnings, the heartbeats that approach (which reoccur just with the thought), and the intensified tension just milliseconds before I opened my eyes. My eyes are wide open again.
I didn't enjoy any sort of attention back when I was a child. When I made an intelligent comment in class or a witty joke, my classmates would make fun of me because my face would immediately turn red, (though I never saw it happen, I usually felt it in my heart and sweat), and my friends often rushed to my desk to see if my scalp had turned red too, before the teacher yelled: "Everybody! Back to your seats!" It usually did turn red. I tried to cover my face with my hands, but those hands were too small to reach my ears and scalp. We would laugh and continue the lesson. That was it. Although I was a hyper child, and I used to be loud, play rough, and often also make my own silly jokes, I was still very shy, and I avoided any spotlight. My blushing continued up until I was in college, and began fading with time, depending on the crowd, my comfort, and state of mind. During my college years, this uncontrolled blushing became destructive, and it hindered me from speaking my thoughts, so I became very selective of what I shared and what not, and when I did so. I often listened, and when I would have a comment to share, I would begin thinking of the right moment to do so. I waited until it was the right moment; I waited until it was the right moment, one that would make me receive just enough attention to be heard, and not too much attention to turn me red. I needed them to hear my comment, not to see me blush. That was the point. Sometimes that right moment just didn't happen. I once wrote a poem on this. I later also produced a painting. I called both of them 'A She is Blushing':
I am not make-up
But a hindering sentiment
For that, my back is bent
Imprisoned behind a fantasy
A prospect to become
Someone you thought was you
I am blushing
I can't hide
It's all over my face
When I speak
It becomes my space
I am blushing
The heavens lay beneath the feet of our mothers
But when her and I
Become hostages of a single stream
Who can wake us up,
If we're enmeshed in this dusty dream?
The past is now detected
And my future is probably infected
I am blushing
I am not numb
You can hear my heartbeats
On my thumb
I am blushing
A black SUV is waiting downstairs to drive the three of us to the theatre hall; The Elgin and Winter Garden Theater. The SUV aside, it is hard to believe that our North American premiere is being screened at a National Historic Site that was built in 1913 and is currently owned and operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust, in Toronto, Canada. Talk about planning! The feeling that the big day is approaching had escalated throughout the past 4 days in this city, but being surrounded with all the love and support, I feel very relaxed. We all seem to be so. It seems that our experiences with film festivals since February's Berlinale, had given us confidence in ourselves and our work, and respect to the industry and its people, a people that connect you, a people that want to see you grow, a people that surround you with resources & opportunities, a people that don't discriminate between beginners and pioneers, a people that make sure you are having fun; even at 2am as you perform 'A Whole New World' in a dark karaoke room, and a people that are on time and on stage to introduce you to your audience with the best selection of words, and best welcoming speech, a people who stay, even once the film is over, to connect and relate and try to understand! The people! - (okay not all the people)
The Q & A section of the screening night is what I always look forward to. It's my element; it reminds me of the rich conversations I had at Effat University and, definitely later at Harvard. You know the kind of conversations that begin with "I do agree with you here, but I would like to push back on that..." We wrap up the night in the theatre, we thank the control room and security guards, and head outdoors. Not being used to this role, I seem to ignore the crowds waiting for us just outside, and walk straight to the SUV ahead. In my head, I need to search for my friend and cousin who came to be here with me tonight. In my head, I have to search for them. I'm bending on the car's open door texting my friend: "We're at the back door!!" I put my phone away and look down at my blue dress, which looks like it's gotten a bit wrinkled; I straighten it with one hand, and I take a deep breath. I realize that I am more in need of deeps breaths to inhale the clapping, applause, and standing ovations. I'm surrounded; on both sides of the fences are people stretching their arms and posing for group selfies. The salesman approaches me and asks politely: "You can go say hi to your fans now and sign some autographs." I laugh out loud, almost in disbelief. As I head to the fence closest to me, I make this announcement to the crowd: "Thank you sooo much for coming, you're sweethearts, and I really hope you enjoyed the film, but y'all have to know this: I've never signed an autograph before so let's see what I could create." I am handed the first sharpie, and I write my first name in Arabic letters, with a twist, and I write the year in English just below it. A smile on my face doesn't leave me. I see one on their face too; it doesn't leave them. We take group selfies, I sign some more, and then a voice of a man from behind whispers in my ear: "I'm going to walk you to the car after this one, okay?" I feel that I have no option but to say yes, though I was just starting to feel comfortable, I was just starting to hear my fans' stories; some have driven their cars from Montreal and others have hired baby-sitters to stay with their kids. A smile on my face doesn't leave me. I climb the step into the SUV, and I wave all the way, till all is gone, till all is a memory.
I act in this film. I am the co-lead star of this film.
I think about how easy it could be for a person to turn into a celebrity; how easy it is to surround him or her with their celebrityhood. I worry about the young women and men, and I begin thinking of a few. Perhaps that's why it's been hard for me to say: "I am an actress." As Saudis, we can cut some paths short; 10 and 20 years short. If you work hard enough, you can make headlines like: "The 1st Saudi to climb a mountain, the 2nd Saudi to walk on the moon, the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th female actress..." This fetish for 1st and 2nd comes with a responsibility to ask ourselves who we are becoming with this, and how we want to use these opportunities to help us toward our path.
With this in mind, I am being selective to what image I pursue, and how this responsibility is to unfold. Some titles enclose you in their collectively approved definitions. Once you decide to claim a title and carry it around, it tells people who, or even, what you are, even before you're asked. I did not act in this film to raise Instagram followers, take photos with strangers, or receive Instagram-based marriage proposals. This is happening, certainly, but it is time that we use transparency to outgrow our assumptions about people, and to turn our discomfort into inquiry; into a conversation. I accepted to take the role of Bibi, and to embrace her and her struggles, because I am a social impact expert who believes in the power of the soft weapon, the arts. Social media is a double-edged sword, as the film depicts and as our realities show. As much as social media had crafted a possibility for a public space in Saudi Arabia, where people from all sexes can overcome the physical segregated realities, Bibi, in Barakah Yoqabil Barakah, embodies the case of the Saudi girl who lives in the virtual reality, where fame, likes, and followers make her long for intimacy, warmth, and simple pleasures. As much as some try to build a
bridge between those parallel worlds, the virtual and the real, many of today’s generation have remained stuck behind the imagined warmth of the cold screen, the smart phone.
Cinema is one of the many ways that societies can use to breakdown social misconceptions; it can be used simultaneously with other tools to shed light on varied social representations, realities, and forms of being. I have learned so much from watching films myself, which triggered my curiosity to ask and be interested, facilitated conversations with people from other cultures, and made me relate to people from around the world. Particularly, in Barakah Yoqabil Barakah, I liked that the script goes beyond an apologetic and victimizing narrative, which I often experience watching international and local films depicting Saudi Arabia, the Arab World, and Muslims in general. Instead, Barakah’s script is funny for us, local Saudis, and equally so for the international audience.
I am still processing this experience, what meanings it could bring, and what conversation it would enable. I will try to go back to sleep now, after this attempt to rewriting my dreams. To rewriting my anxieties. To rewriting my humanity.
The white fog gives hints to a beautiful sunrise; I cannot yet see it, But I believe it's happening. I sleep.