Suad Amiry on the importance of our furry and feathered friends
In a marquee in Mantua’s Piazza Sordello, Palestinian architect and writer Suad Amiry introduced herself in accomplished Italian before switching to English. “I’m very happy to be talking about animals and not about Palestine,” she said. Her talk was part of the Festival’s accenti series, where guests talk for thirty minutes on a subject of their choice. Amiry chose animals because they were an important part of her childhood.
“How many of you have pets?” she asked. “What kind of pets? Dogs? Cats? What about monkeys? Rabbits? Gazelles? Pigeons? We had at least two hundred pigeons.”
Her mother was fascinated by animals, she said. As a child she played with the gazelles, who used to chase her around the garden and butt her with their foreheads. She talked about her dog Mickey, who was waiting for her every day when she came home from school, and her monkey Sasha, who used to escape and terrorise the neighbourhood in which they lived.
Years later, Amiry adopted a small street dog who she named Nura. Dogs are not popular in Arab culture, and when she took Nura to be vaccinated the vet asked her why she was bothering. Annoyed, she found another vet, who was Israeli, and who treated the dog with kindness. It was a surprise to her when Nura was awarded a dog passport certifying her as a citizen of Jerusalem. The dog could now travel to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but Amiry could not. She was curious to test the power of the new document.
At the checkpoint, the soldiers were perplexed. Where was her permit? Where was the car’s permit? What was she doing at the checkpoint? “My dog has a passport,” she told them. And with perfectly timed delivery: “I’m just the driver.” The audience broke into applause. As she recalled how she and Nura enjoyed themselves in Jerusalem, the author revealed herself to be not just a storyteller, but also a performer. And she had talked about Palestine, but we hadn’t noticed.
Here is a link to a complete recording of the event: