Loads of Language I
Adania Shibli - 31/10/2008
I try to recall the first time I ever heard of Korea. I was probably thirteen years old, trying to find an answer to the question a replacement teacher asked me years ago: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. After accepting that I can never be a singer, as I have no ear but to silence, I turned to sports. I adopted sports in my childhood and youth fanatically, not only practicing it, but also observing it. It was 1988. Eyes glued to the television screen, I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympic games in Seoul, Korea; a place I could not pin its location on the map and did not even think to look it up in any such map.
The song performed during that ceremony was magically repeated off screen by my sister who could not remember one simple line of what she learned at school. She went on repeating that song every day, as I would sit in front of the television, following the body movements of the athletes, in fascination. But also the smoke rising from a square in Seoul, where tens of demonstrators took on to the streets, opposing games which were held under the auspices of vicious dictatorship in a divided Korea. I followed how the bodies of these demonstrators were being attacked and dragged in the streets by policemen and soldiers, just as I followed the bodies of athletes performing what my body could only dream of doing.
Then Korea totally elapsed from my life until the year 2003. I was at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which hosted that year Arabic literature. Overdosed with all that literature exhibitionism, I soon glued my eyes to the ground, whenever I happened to be there. One afternoon, while moving from one section and floor to the other, trying to find an exit, I suddenly noticed the hem of a long black dress moving spontaneously and freely, in a way I could only envy. I quickly raised my eyes and saw a woman handing out some brochures that carried some information about next year’s guest- Korean literature.
In this spring I arrive in Korea, to Seoul, to stay for few months. In my first night here, before collapsing into sleep, one of my friends who fetched me from the airport, reminds me that I know nothing here, and so advises me not to go out after midnight. Seoul is an extremely dangerous city. I obviously treated his advice as usually I would treat advises in such unfamiliar situations. I woke up at 3 in the morning, went out and started to walk around in the area were I was staying.
Few people were drinking and eating on the sides of the streets, a man screaming a song from an empty bar, which has its doors wide open, and others just hanging around. I wanted like them to eat, drink, scream a song and hang around. But as in dreams, where I usually would utter a word, I kept walking around at night silently. The road signs and the loud sounds were all same for me, like a music I have no ear to. I could not make sense of what I heard, or decipher the signs on the facades of buildings, billboards, and on the top of shops, which had been until then, all I could see from a city.
And as I keep walking, I get further from being able to use language. But gradually I started to feel joy inside this absolute inability to read or speak. I’ve been imprisoned inside language, since I was a child, but now I’m suddenly ‘language free’, until the degree that my stomach hurt, after failing to explain to those in the streets that I wanted to eat. I went back to my room without food that night, but with a sense of pure freedom from the load language. What a paradise I’ve been thrown into.