Sample Texts and Poetry

Literacy through Poetry/Heritage Pilot Project

"Books" created by learners in pilot project

The following are examples of the texts, proverbs and rhymes generated in pilot classes in the Literacy through Poetry/Heritage pilot project, September 2002-June 2003. Although most of the verses are based on traditional tropes, some were composed extemporaneously during class discussion. All of the texts are in the dialects spoken in Yemen’s Northern Highlands. The first and fourth text deal with obstacles to girls’ education, a common topic of discussion in pilot classes. Others deal with problems common to women in Yemen. The prose texts, (the stories), are presented below only in English translation, but the poems and proverbs are first written in a transliteration of the original Arabic, followed by an English translation in parenthesis. Variations in the styles of the texts presented reflect differences among pilot teachers.

These are only a few examples of an advanced form of communication that is highly effective as a pedagogic tool. Using women’s poetic expression serves not only to promote literacy, but to preserve a valued and valuable tradition as well. In Yemen, short, two line poems are utilized effectively to mediate conflict. Poetry synthesizes the issue at hand and allows for disagreement without confrontation. When someone feels insulted, expressing anger in a poem is more sophisticated than physical violence or shouting. Moreover, rhetoric that one’s adversaries appreciate increases their willingness to accept compromise. This is critical thinking at its best.


Text 1: Hope and Yearning

All of the rural classes discussed the problems faced by orphans in light of Quranic injunctions to protect them. In the following story, an orphan is forbidden from attending school by her exploitative stepmother. Below the text and poem are four words, all of which utilize the letter "nun" as it appears in different parts of a word.

The Story:

Khadija, an orphan girl, is forbidden from attending school by her stepmother because she wants Khadija to help with household chores. Khadija has suffered from this [double] deprivation from learning and a mother’s love. But her desire for learning was so strong that she visited her friend, ‘Aisha, daily to study with her, despite her difficult situation. And as the proverb says,

Ya muhsina, ya ‘anbarud walima
La tusakiri fawqi ana yati¯ma

(Oh, unblemished one; oh, fruit of the bridal banquet/ Do not shut me in, I am an orphan.)

Text 2: The Forbearance of the Rural Woman

In rural Yemen, young adults usually perform major domestic and agricultural tasks, leaving older women relatively free. The following text is a story about an overworked, elderly woman whose daughters are married to men in distant villages and cannot take over her household duties. The use of the male pronoun is a common trope in Arabic poetry. Despite its use here, “the love of my life” in the second verse, line 2, refers to the woman’s absent daughters. Thus, this verse also expresses the heartbreak felt by mothers and daughters when they are separated.

The Story:

Hajja Jum‘a is a 60-year-old woman with three sons and two daughters. Yet [in spite of her age] she has to do all of the housework, agricultural tasks and herding because her daughters are married to men in distant villages. While working in the house, Jum‘a would sing the following verses [composed in class by several learners].

Wa hinn ya qalbi haninak ahnan
Hanin mukhfi, la zahar wa la ban insan

(My sorrowful heart, your sorrow is tender/ Hidden sorrow, neither visible nor apparent to anyone.)

Hinni ma‘i ya sa'ila wa shu‘ba
Ayna ja’ ‘umur qalbi wa kayf waqa‘ bih?

(Feel for me, oh stream, oh creek/ Where is the love of my life, and what has happened to him?)


Text 3: The Protester

In Yemen, if a woman is offended by something her husband or her in-laws do or say, she can return to her father or brother’s house in protest. (A variety of terms are used to refer to this practice. In the area around Sanaa, it is hanaq – literally, anger, exasperation.) The following text, which was generated by a photograph, deals with hanaq. The first poem included in this text is a song, and the second a proverb. Both are taken from the folk tradition: Both are poetic ways of saying that there is no justice for women. They signal an active engagement with issues of concern to women. These are not the words of victims who suffer quietly.

Below the text are three rows of words. Each row illustrates a single letter (sad, lam, ain) as it appears in different parts of the word.

The Story:

The setting is the guest room of Saliha’s house. Her husband’s sister, Hamida, is visiting them in protest. Hamida’s brother’s children, Muhammad, ‘Abdallah, and Asia, have come to the guest room to greet their aunt. Saliha is offering them all breakfast, and Hamida is talking with her nephews and niece.

Ya haniqa la bud min ruju‘ish
La yinfa‘ush ahlish wa la dumu‘ish
Illa samil akhdar yridd ruhish

(Oh, protestor! You must return [to your husband]/ Neither your family nor your tears will help you/ There is no hope for your [hurting] soul. (Literally, your only hope is green straw – i.e, no hope).

Ma yidum lil-mar’a-l-harib
Illa bayt ahlaha-l-kha¯rib

(Nothing remains for the woman who flees/Except the ruins of her [paternal] family’s house.)

Text 4: Sowing Seed

In this example, the story reflects hurdles to education often encountered by rural students. Poetry and humor present both the man’s reasons for taking his daughter out of school and his wife’s annoyed and clever retort.

The Story:
Muhsin went to the fields early in the morning. He went with Hamud and his daughter, Rahma, to sow seeds. When his wife brought them breakfast, she greeted him, saying: “Ya ma’in” (Oh, hard worker - This is a common greeting and appreciative comment to someone who is working.) His reply, also a common reply, involves a pun on her words: “Allah y’in al- jami‘” (May God help us all.)
His wife: “Shame on you for taking your daughter out of school to work in the fields.”
He protests with a verse attributed the the folk hero, ’Ali bin Zayid:

Ma rayt mithl-il-zira‘a
Ma rayt ana mithliha shay’
Al-waqt kullihu matalim
Ghayr al-madhari liha awqat

(I have never seen anything like farming/ I have never seen anything like it at all/ It is always time to plant something/ In addition to those plants that have specific sowing seasons - In other words, there is always work to do.)

His wife’s sarcastic and brilliant poetic retort was composed by a learner:

Hadhihi -l-sana biyidrisayn ‘ajayiz
Wayn al-mudir yidi lahin jawayiz?

(This year, old women are studying/ Where is the director [or school principal] who should be giving them certificates? In other words, why are men in positions of authority not providing girls the support they need?)

For further information contact:

Dr. Najwa Adra
22 High Pine, Glen Cove, NY 11542, USA
Tel: 1-516-676-9157

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