A year ago Soukaina armed herself with a flat iron and set about the task of straightening my curls. My hair was quite long at the time and the process took ages, but was always a welcome opportunity to shut ourselves in our shared bedroom and have some time for just the two of us. As she struggled to beat my curls into submission, Soukaina hummed along to the tracks of The Avett Brothers’ album “I and Love and You” which had just been released and was constantly playing in our room. She took a particular liking to the song "Tin Man" and I began to translate it for her.
You can’t be like me, but be happy that you can’t. I see pain but I don’t feel it, I am like the old Tin Man.
Her blank stare betrayed to me that she had no idea who the Tin Man was. Geeeeeeeez....
I had to backtrack into composing an Arabic summary of The Wizard of Oz, just so she’d understand who the Tin Man is and his significance in American culture. Only then could I translate the song with any real meaning. That’s a lot of mental energy to expend while she’s tugging on my hair, which will never go quite straight.
Two weeks ago Soukaina and I took a walk with our friend Kelsey, an American student who was staying with the Khattabis for a few weeks. Not far from the house we passed an alley where a man was tying an enormous TV onto the back of a donkey. Soukaina and I barely noticed until Kelsey mused, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
I translated: Ma baqinach f Kansas. I sighed. Another Wizard of Oz quote, lost in translation.
But I had to laugh when I remembered the last time I had used that phrase myself – in Tel Aviv, commenting on recycling bins, mini skirts and enforced traffic laws. In that case, “Kansas” was Morocco. Weird.
Yesterday Soukaina and I had a date. I took her to a showing of The Wizard of Oz, followed by a discussion with Moroccan students of English at the University and at the American Center. Soukaina, who has just started to take English lessons, was excited to see other students and their engagement with American culture as part of their language studies.
Watching The Wizard of Oz in that context – in Morocco, with Moroccans – was like watching it with new eyes. Naturally, I had my own research in mind as Glinda explained to Dorothy that she could have gone home any time she wanted. But before that she just needed to explore, adventure, ask questions, fall down, and learn things for herself. It was through the journey and adventure in Oz that she (along with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion) developed her character and found the strength to stand up for herself and for her friends (and her little dog, too) in the face of injustice. Glinda gave Dorothy instructions – follow the Yellow Brick Road – but didn’t hold her hand every step of the way. Dorothy had to figure some things out on her own.
What a beautiful metaphor for my research! Young women developing their characters by adventuring beyond the world they know, where they’re not taken seriously and are – as yesterday’s discussion facilitator described the black-and-white Dorothy - “ignorable.” But the girls in my book, who foray into a complex world of color, excitement, adventure, danger, good, and evil, do not do so randomly or aimlessly. They’re guided by something bigger than them: tradition, values, family, truth...the Yellow Brick Road. It's this anchored independence that takes Dorothy and my girls out of the realm of "ignorable" and makes them heroines.
And of course, as I'll explain in my next post, one other idea from the movie struck me hard yesterday...
“There’s No Place Like Home”
Whose Win is it Anyway?
7 years ago