An Excerpt from Taghreed al-Najjar’s YA Novel, ‘Sitt al-Kul’

Um Saleh had brought some warm flatbread and spicy Gazan salad from home to share, too. Then Israel reduced the distance to twelve miles. A light sea breeze buffeted against her face as if it were tickling her, and blew her hair back behind her. Enough! Everyone gathered around Yusra, and listened to her tell them about her first day at sea. It didn’t matter where to; all she wanted was to be free of all the restrictions and barriers in her life. She dragged the little boat to the edge of the shore, and with Abu Ahmed’s help and a final push, the boat was in the water. I didn’t go far from shore, it was just my first day out there.”
Saleh’s friends started pulling in the net and folding it up so it wouldn’t get tangled. She wasn’t far from shore. Now it was just three miles. In 2013, Taghreed Najjar’s   Sitt al-Kul   was on a very strong five-book YA shortlist   for the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature. There weren’t many, just a few small fish and crabs, but enough to grill on the beach and share with everyone there. Everyone waved at Yusra as she paddled toward shore. “Let’s see how much I caught today. Appears on ArabLit with permission. Yusra threw the net into the water, just like her father used to do. A crowd of fishermen who had heard about Yusra had come to see with their own eyes if “Gaza’s first fisherwoman” was actually real. Jameel helped too, with focused excitement. Just let us live!”
A wonderful feeling swept over her. She checked her net one last time, hoping she’d managed to catch enough fish. She left the shore farther and farther behind, and thanked God the sea was calm that day. “And don’t go more than three miles from shore. “Here, help me pull in the net,” she said to Saleh’s friends with a laugh. Because if you do…” he trailed off. For weeks, she and Abu Ahmed had practiced balancing and paddling. She was hungry, so she opened the lunch her mother had packed for her, took a bite and drank some tea. She felt safer when she could still see it back in the distance. Copyright Elisabeth Jaquette and Taghreed al-Najjar. The horizon stretched endlessly in front of her. She started to paddle. Yusra had forgotten the world was so huge. Now all she needed to do was wait. Then five. As‘ad, Maher, and Abu Ahmed rushed into the water to pull the boat up onto the beach, and Yusra jumped out. She wasn’t calling for help, she just wanted – for once – to let out all the frustration and anger and sadness she felt. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrPinterestPocketLike this:Like Loading…‹ Sunday Submissions: The PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for TranslationCategories: #WITMonth, Gaza, Jordan, YA Finally, they saw fish jumping around in the net. Yusra knew that any fishing boat that crossed beyond the three-mile mark could be turned back, seized, or even shot at by the Israeli patrol ships. “Good luck, Sitt al-Kul.”
“Remember what I taught you, Yusra,” Abu Ahmed called after her excitedly. This excerpt was translated by Elisabeth Jaquette and is part of ArabLit’s ongoing celebration of Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth). The people of Gaza depended on fishing to eat and support themselves. The smell of grilled fish filled the air as the sun began to disappear over the horizon. Nearly two hours went by. She could yell freely here and no one could hear her. She was the only girl, the only fisherwoman. Chapter 17: The First Voyage
By Taghreed Najjar
Translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

Yusra knew what she needed to do. After being away from the sea for so long, she now felt her muscles growing stronger with every day. They were poised like sea monsters, ready to snatch up the fishing boats. But the area where they were allowed to fish was so small that now there were hardly any fish left there. Yusra stood up in the small boat, found her balance, and then began to paddle: once on the right side, then once on the left. Those heading out to sea included many seasoned fishermen around her father’s age and lots of young teenage boys about her age. It’s based on the real story of Madeleine Kolab, who took up her father’s trade after he became too ill to manage his small skiff. Yusra gazed out at the far-off Israeli Navy ships and shouted as loudly as she could, “Enough already! Only one of the titles, Ahlam Bisharat’s   Code Name: Butterfly,   trans. She looked at her compass and decided to try her luck in this part of the sea. A sense of tranquility settled over everything: the sea around her, the sound of little waves lapping rhythmically against the boat. Every so often she checked the net. Finally, it was time to return to shore. Far off in the distance, far away, she saw Israeli naval patrol ships looming menacingly on the horizon. She looked around and shouted again at the top of her lungs, with all the strength she could rally. The Oslo Accords decreed that Palestinians in Gaza had the right to fish twenty-five nautical miles from Gaza’s shore. And what really angered her was that those same patrol ships protected the huge Israeli fishing boats that came into Gaza’s waters to fish. Nancy Roberts, has appeared in English. Everyone was waiting for her as she approached the shore: her mother, father, and Jameel were there, and Abu Ahmed and Saleh’s friends too. Yusra knew there weren’t many fish close to shore, because over the years Israel had punished the Palestinian people of Gaza by limiting the area where they were allowed to fish. She put her fishing net in the boat along with the lunch her mother had packed and insisted that Yusra take with her. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and felt as if she could take off and fly on the ocean wind, out into the open skies, just like the seagulls she could see. “Good luck, my girl,” her father called out from shore, his voice a bit hoarse. The fishing was better out there. Sitt al-Kul, which the publishing house has also called   Against the Tide,   has not yet been published in English:
Najjar’s short novel short novel tells the compelling story of a teenage girl in Gaza who repairs her disabled father’s fishing boat — he was injured in a tunnel collapse — in order to help support the family. Yusra looked around and saw several other fishing boats heading towards the horizon, to the farthest point that the Israeli naval patrol ships allowed. She turned away and gazed out even farther, imagining far-off countries she wished she could visit.