Three Levantine Tales

15 December, 2021
Old water wheel, Hama, Syria (photo courtesy Samir Halak).

Nouha Homad



When Aslan Barazi was drunk, he became rowdier than usual. He was a tough, unruly man. He shot at people in Kafarbo, the neighboring village, with his rifle, which never left his side. Often, he maimed them, and sometimes he missed his aim and killed them. But none could object to the great man’s carrying-on for fear of incurring Aslan’s anger. After all, he was a manly drunk, and lord of lords.

On a clear day, Aslan would walk into both the mosque and church of the neighboring town and empty his rifle into the air if he so wished. The sheikh and priest, in their respective temples, were none too happy as they watched their respective congregants disperse and run in all directions away from this mad drunken fiend. The priest even put a ban on any of his flock holding commerce with Aslan the drunk.

But Aslan was Hanna’s friend. When the priest asked him to give up the friendship, Hanna would defend Aslan and swear that he was a good family man. So, the priest stopped preaching, and the villagers left Hanna alone.

Hanna was often seen at his friend’s home. They would drink themselves into a stupor, singing loudly, keeping half the town awake and trembling in their beds. It was always the same. At the end of the night, Hanna would walk back to his village, slurping from a bottle and braying his songs for all to hear.

One day, however, when they were both completely plastered, Aslan said to his friend, “Hanna, my boy, why don’t you convert to Islam?” This was a new game, a very funny game, and Hanna agreed immediately to convert.

“What do I have to do,” he asked.

“Oh,” said Aslan, “just say ‘there is no God but God.’”

“Easy,” said Hanna. “There is no God but God. Now I’m a Muslim.”

“No. Wait a second,” said Aslan, motioning with his hand and his head. “You only become a Muslim after you’re circumcised!”

“No, no, no, no, no, no!” cried Hanna. “That, never.”

“Ah,” cried Aslan, “since you’re now a Muslim, you must submit to circumcision.” He waved the blade menacingly in the air. “I would like to perform the honors.”

Hanna shrank back, the drunkenness slowly dissipating at the horror of the deed. “I recant!” he cried, holding onto his genitals with both hands through his loose trousers. “I recant!”

 “Then,” cried Aslan brandishing his sword, “I will kill you, apostate.” He teetered drunkenly towards his friend, trying to steady the sword in his grasp. Hanna now was between the devil and the deep blue sea. But better his penis than his head, he reasoned in the haze of his drunken fear. Better to submit to the agony and mortification of the lopping off of his foreskin. And, with Hanna yelping and cursing, it was finally achieved.

In the wee hours of that morning, Hanna shuffled grotesquely into the kitchen of his home, bawling loudly enough to wake up the dead. Unfortunately, it was not the dead that would witness his humiliation, but his shrewish wife.

“Hanna, you drunken louse,” she cried, “Are you back from that devil’s company?”

“Yes,” he whispered sheepishly. He told her the story, stressing the indignity committed on his penis. “And,” he added, ‘It was lucky I got away with only a foreskin missing. He would have had my head.’

“I wish you had apostatized and lost your head,” she snapped, then lay back on her pillow and closed her eyes.




Now, Makhoul the fishmonger was Hanna’s friend and neighbor. He was hideously ugly, and wont to give his wife a hard time.

As a young woman, Mariam had been given to Makhoul in marriage in return for his saving her family from economic disaster. She was magnificently beautiful. She believed wholeheartedly that she could have had just about anyone in the village crawl on his belly to kiss the hem of her dress. And yet here she was fettered to this monster of a man, this Quasimodo of her town and its surrounding villages.

Mariam bemoaned her fate to her neighbors, who encouraged her to take on the Muslim faith and divorce him. She was a simple woman and the opinions of her neighbors and friends mattered to her, swayed her. But she was a good Christian as well and changing faith could not be carried out lightly. However, one day, when Makhoul had been especially cruel and had beaten his wife black and blue, she vowed she would convert to Islam and divorce him.

The priest, when he heard of this calamity, became very concerned. Here he was in danger of losing yet another of his fold. He went to see the good woman. To support him in his argument, the priest took Farid Murhej, the wealthy and distinguished landowner with him. He looked with compassion at her black eye and tight lips.

“My child,” insisted the priest kindly, “by renouncing Christ you are committing a sin. You must be patient. God has asked his flock to endure suffering, in the name of Christ.”

“But, Father,” objected the woman, “I cannot live with that filthy, ugly man any longer,” she cried hysterically.

“My daughter,” he reasoned, “Christ suffered on the cross for us. Can you imagine anything more unhappy?”

“Yes, indeed,”  she wailed, drying her eyes and sniffling, “being with my husband, that smelly swine!”

 “And who is your husband, my good woman?” interposed Farid who, up to now, had been sitting quietly listening to the exchange.

“Makhoul the fishmonger,” said Mariam.

Alarmed, Farid shouted, “I say, convert to Islam and divorce him, immediately!”

Dismayed, the poor harassed priest stared at Farid, his eyes popping out of his head. He objected vehemently, tearfully. “I asked you to come with me for support. Now you go and ruin all my good work by taking the side of this misguided soul?”

“Father, if you don’t know Makhoul the fishmonger, you don’t know anything. I swear to God that you yourself would have converted a million times over had you but known Makhoul the fishmonger!”




A stone’s throw away, in Karak, lived Freda’s grandmother, a fine strong woman. She had raised a big family of fine strong boys and girls, and she had raised them well, to be responsible human beings. And they had scattered over the country, acquiring important positions at impressive institutions. Her oldest son was now back in Karak to visit the family. He had been appointed ambassador to Sudan, and the city was splitting at the seams with pride. Celebrations had been arranged to greet this son of the city. Sheep had been slaughtered to prepare the distinctive dish of the country for all those souls who would be there to celebrate and congratulate.

Freda’s grandmother was bursting with self-importance as she looked at her gathered offspring. They had turned out very well indeed, and they were all present for the event. She sat on a red and black camel hair rug, spread out on the ground next to her pregnant daughter, contemplating the celebrations. Both men and women came up to her to congratulate her, to offer her their heartfelt admiration and good wishes.

Makhoul the fishmonger, dressed in his best attire, his massive ugly features made more presentable, had made the long trip to the festivities. His wife, her arms covered from wrist to elbow in gold bangles, wearing garish rings on her bony fingers and great golden pendants on her ears, hung on his arm, at once a ravishing beauty and a disgusted spouse.

The priest, beaming with self-satisfaction trailed after them, accompanied by a smiling Farid Murhej, and shook the hand of Freda’s grandmother heartily. She nodded her head graciously and murmured some appreciative words.

Aslan Barazi and Hanna, less drunk than usual, had covered the distance to honor Freda’s grandmother. But Freda’s grandmother, choosing not to notice their inebriation, greeted them with much cordiality. Hanna’s wife had elected not to come.

Then men attending the celebration from the neighboring town of Masanat began shooting in the air. Aslan’s eyes gleamed: how he wished he could have brought his rifle! One shot, then another, then another. The men were showing everyone their delight, and their closeness to the grandmother’s family. It was a dangerous game, firing real bullets into the air. But that was the way to let the family of Freda’s grandmother know that they were happy for them, that they were sharing their happiness.

The pregnant daughter shifted her position. She was sitting on her right thigh, both legs tucked to the side. A red stain had suddenly begun to spread on her lap. Her mother, looking down on her daughter, saw it all. Her daughter was bleeding. Apparently, as they found out later, a stray bullet had gone into the left calf of the pregnant woman, come out close to the knee of the left leg and embedded itself into the knee of the right leg.

But Freda’s grandmother was not to know this yet. All she wanted was to avoid her guests and sons engaging in a shoot-out. Like an arrow, covering her granddaughter with a blanket, she rushed out into the festivities, seeking out her sons, whispering to them to walk the young Masanat men with the guns out, away from the festivities, to protect them from revenge. She then returned to her daughter, who was bleeding profusely, with son-in-law. “Take your wife to hospital,” she said to him, magnanimously with iron self-control. “She has hurt herself.”

A few months later, the baby born to the very happy parents, was named Faris, “the knight.”


Nouha Homad has had a career as university professor teaching English and comparative literature, and French and Spanish language and literature. She is a writer, editor, translator and artist. Syrian by birth and parentage, Homad grew up in Paris, Rome, Cairo, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and Damascus, absorbing languages and cultural experiences along the way. She has since lived in Beirut, Amman, Washington DC, Tripoli, London and Montreal among other places and this has continued to enrich and influence her cosmopolitan vision. She resides in Montreal, Quebec.

Arab ChristianArab MuslimJordanlaughterLebanonPalestinesatireSyria

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