by Wilder Penfield
…if you tune in CBC Morningside for the next 10 days, you’ll have an extraordinarily visual experience.
Malka, the former folksinger, who won an ACTRA Award for her complex, multi-layered, eight hour Bite Of The Big Apple, is introducing today a powerful project: a series of highlights from a tape-recorded diary she kept late last year while she was living in the Sinai desert.
The diary entries I heard are very short (seven minutes is maximum), very simple, very vivid, very direct, and her first person present tense makes this time-warp world seem remarkable here and now.
There is one chapter where she hikes off to a foul smelling well with a group of nomad children (we hear them chattering and playing around her as she talks) and persuades herself to drink the dirty brown water. There is another where she finds an extraordinary ‘sisterhood’ with the two wives of her Bedouin host – women who had never before encountered a stranger of any kind (let alone a Westerner!).
“I’m not a scientist, just a human being who had a great opportunity and went along with it,” she told me the other day.
It was not, of course, actually that simple. She lived “like a Trappist monk”, preparing for four months, studying the Bedouin customs and their Arabic dialect. “My research meant survival; mistakes can have great ramifications there.” she said.
No, she never sang for them. She did pick up some of this illiterate people’s uncanny ability to improvise poetry, and she answered questions put to her about her own country (one of the most surprising was ‘Had we collected all the pieces from the Russian satellite yet?’), but she tried to keep a low profile. “It would have shocked them if I’d told them about free-choice marriage, for example…”
Likewise her analysis of them is remarkable free from judgment. “You cannot apply your own ideas of right or wrong to such a different culture,” she told me.
Her hosts she now considers good friends, even family, but “I’m not like Lawrence of Arabia, who was swept away by all this. I don’t have an idyllic view of the desert. I mean, I do see the dust and the lack of water, and I don’t live under the illusion that I could make it my lifestyle.
“It is a place I am drawn to without illusions. It has given me much hardship and taught me hu-mi-li-ty: It was also given me much beauty. I was touched by these people, and I expect I will all my life.”
“… I became accustomed to the elegant style life and manner that the bedouins relate to each other… there is always a moment of pause when the Bedouins exchange words, comments – even in the body language. A pause to sort of take in and have time to react properly to the next thing.”
Malka: “… I became accustomed to the elegant style life and manner that the bedouins related to each other… there is always a moment of pose when a Bedouin exchanges wards, comments even in the body language. A pose to sort of take in and have time to react properly to the next thing.”