In her novel Sawsan wa Othman (Eng: Sawsan and Othman) published in 2010 by Fada’at, the author, Dr. Emily Porter, takes the reader back in time to the early years of the twentieth century. During this time, as well as during the First World War, within this novel, Dr. Porter details the suffering of Christian Assyrians who fled oppression, persecution and massacres under the Ottoman Empire and took refuge in the British run Baqubah camp in Northern Iraq in 1918. However, in the camp, the Assyrians refugees were subject to further persecution and oppression.
Dr Porter depicts the social life of the Assyrian refugees who then moved to Baghdad and their integration into the neighbourhood. At the heart of this story is a love story between Sawsan, a Christian girl, and Othman, a Muslim guy.
One of the protagonists in this novel is Marioum an Assyrian refugee girl who was a victim of rape at the age of 12. Marioum speaks of her post-traumatic experience:
‘…My life has become meaningless since blood ran between my thighs. My days are renewed pain and on-going anguish. I no longer exist. My survival is pertinent to Sawsan’s and Shamshoun’s presence in America…My day finishes at four in the afternoon. Thereafter, nightmares start eating up on me until I immerse myself in bed; sweat on temples running down my chest. I am tucked under my woollen duvet, making a plea to sleep, any sort of sleep be it eternal or momentary.’*
Dr Porter chooses a more optimistic ending for her novel. Sawsan and Othman are getting married in Jerusalem and Palestinian women are joyfully chanting some verses to complement the bride and the groom. These verses are commonly known as Ewiha.
Ewiha is also the sound women make at the opening of every verse:
‘Ewiha… I come to sing and no one had ever sung before me
Ewiha …at the bottom of the valley a bird is waiting
Ewiha groom..may you enjoy your bride
Ewiha.. may you be healthy and may joy stay with us.’*
*Translated by Dr. Niveen Kassem