Meet Madina, your oriental schizophrenic

Madina doesn't feel at home in Lebanon. She couldn't find herself in Dubai, felt estranged in Gaza, was bored beyond belief in Cairo, and got fearful in Damascus. She plans on exploring Baabda and Furn Chebbak soon - let's hope she finds a place she feels home.

I suppose we can call her Imad Gebrayel's daughter. He journeys her city wanderings with a camcorder in one hand and journal in another, penning her every socio-cultural misery - the usual paternal duties.

Bizarre metaphors aside, Imad Gebrayel is both the illustrator and the Arabic fiction author of Madina, a project in which the figure of Madina (translated to city) is depicted in various Middle Eastern cities.

Imad, who I met earlier this year, had Madina in his eyes. Now he has her on paper.

Don't skip text component. It's the best part!

I want to run off and add a few excerpts into my favorite quotes on Goodreads. Is that possible?

(Adapted to English by Nisrine Najem)

قابعةٌ في كرسي
إنه المكان العابق بروائح الطفولة، هناك حيث يعتنق الأطفال ياسمين الحارات ديانةً، وينتمي أكثرهم الى الوساعة والرحب.. هناك دمشق. وصلت ‘مدينة’ مثقلةً بما مرّ عليها من تجارب جعلتها غير قادرة على الحراك؛ لكنها المدينة الخطأ، فللكرسي هناك مفهوم آخر غير ذاك المقرون بالراحة بعد عناء. كراسي دمشق مضمّخة بالدم، مزركشة بآلاف الجياع، كراسي دمشق تعاند حد آخر جيفة، وآخر رغيف خبز. لم ترد ‘مدينة’ لنفسها الجلوس حيث لا مدة صلاحية لفعل الجلوس، فهربت مستنجدة

عابرة حدود الكباريه

هناك حيث الشمس تشرق على عجل، ثملة، مزهوة

هناك حيث تجتمع الأضداد، وصلت. لم تعِ ‘مدينة' أنها قد تجد مكاناً يشبهها حد النفور، حد التصاق الرذيلة بالفضيلة. وصلت الى المكان الملجأ، الى جونيه عاصمة اليمين المسيحي لأكثر من عقد تسعينيّ. يوم كانت بيروت تزحف بما تبقى، بل بمن تبقى ممن هجرها لاهثاً وراء ترف كسروان، توّاقاً الى شمس ‘الهوليداي’. لم تجد ‘مدينة' في جونيه شمساً تلبسها ولا قمراً تحاكيه، لم تجد غير

أقفاص يسكن بعضها جنّ أشقر والبعض الآخر شديد الوحشة، فحملت حقائبها ومشت 

Lost in Dubai
In the midst of everything that she went through, Madina still clung to dreams she delusionally found under every nu-arab’s modern dishdasha. Dubai… A haven for all the world’s civilization, coming together to prove the mightiness of the black gold.But Madina failed to drown in the titanic of Dubai for the beds were the same, and so were the slaves of money. Madina dwelled in Dubai but Dubai failed to dwell in Madina. There she became familiar with the mechanism of transforming humans into numbers on the banquets of flesh and bones and where she learned how buildings rise high every day to tickle the creator’s feet. Madina couldn’t find herself in Dubai despite all the contradictions it had to offer, despite the passionate wilderness she found under flowing abayas and enclosed inside gilded walls. So she left.
Swaying in Gaza
Dance Madina, dance. Dance on the ruins of treason, the rhythms of loading rifles and lethal symptoms. Dance Madina, for dancing in Gaza is as legitimate as a non-resisting resistance. Sway left and right, sway traitorous and militant. Sway Madina, swirl, trance on normalization. Sway, leave this city for it has become a stranger even for those she bore. Madina stuttered angrily, packed her bags and left Gaza.
حبلى في القاهرة

لطالما أحبت الفوضى، ففيها وجدت 'مدينة' سحراً خلّاقاً يبعد الرتابة ويؤجج الرغبات تماماً كسحر القاهرة. في ذاك المكان الكثير من طباعها؛ هناك يدخل النيل مغتصباً ليُشعر الجميع بلعنة الآلهة، هناك تهتزّ المبادئ باهتزاز الأرداف كل ليلةٍ حتى صياح المأذنة
لم تصبح القاهرةُ، قاهرةً، الا بعد فتوحات العسكر، فالأرض المعتادة جُماع النيل نهراً، لا يٓلِجها العتاد إلا مكبلة. مشت 'مدينة' مجدداً، تكسوها الخيبة ويشوبها الملل: 'فليسقط، 


B: Is she a long-term project? 

Imad Gebrayel: Madina, as a creative writing and illustration project, works outside of time constraints. However, with the current pace, readers can expect around two cities every month which are supposed to hopefully pile up to become a publication or ideally a book. I’m planning long-term, without stressing about it.

B: She's both 'creative writing' and 'illustration' - but which category, per se, first comes to mind when you think Madina?

IG: Madina depends on its own audience. Up till now, it’s highly perceived as an illustration project due to the fact that people tend to converge their attention to the amount of details and overlook the text. Having said that, I’m expecting a more diversified audience that’s also interested in literature, and the project is getting there. Two weeks ago I received an email from an Egyptian person that stumbled upon Madina and was curious to read more and actually ordered a poster. I find it interesting not to label the project and let it flow organically.

I personally am very excited about the Arabic stories a bit more than the visual outcome simply because I use the literature to set the context and start working from there.

B: Were you originally planning on setting Arabic the sole language for the project? How did English make its way into the vision?

IG: Regardless of the fact that I’m fascinated by Arabic literature and Arabic is my primary writing language, I truly believe that Madina shouldn’t be restricted to my online hipster friends. If it’s a project that tackles socio-political inequalities, corruption, and stereotypes in different Arab cities then it should primarily speak in Arabic. I refuse to make use of local stories seeking international recognition; it sounds politically incorrect to me and defeats the project’s main purpose.

After writing in Arabic, I found a need to translate the texts so that a larger audience can identify with the same purpose, keeping it secondary to Arabic. The job wasn’t easy since most of the stories are highly figurative and need a contextual understanding but Nisrine Najem did a great job.

B: Will she ever expand into print?

IG: Print is my ultimate passion, but the project is still in its early stages, evolving gradually. The illustrations are all handrawn on paper with pencil and ink, nothing is digitized, which really makes it time consuming.

For now, I do not have a stock library of posters waiting to be released but I admit that printing the posters or collecting them in a book is a future aspiration that should hopefully happen after a certain number of releases (Publishers are most welcome!).

B: Where's Madina going next?

IG: Madina already visited Gaza, Jounieh, Damascus, Dubai and Cairo. The next stops will be Furn el Chebbak and Baabda before she resumes her pan Arab journey. I’m looking for ‘underrated’ cities; ones that wouldn’t come to your mind at a first glance and aren’t used as clichés. For example it’s interesting to research a certain area like Furn el Chebbak and try to connect the dots to form one consolidated story, it’s definitely a more challenging task.

Find out where she goes next by following the Madina Tumblr or by liking the Meet Madina Facebook Page.

Create, appreciate,


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