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AMMAN — A unique creative exchange programme is bringing together the seemingly opposite worlds of the small, medieval city of Durham in northeast England and the hilly metropolis of Amman, under the title "Alta'ir" (or "bird" in Arabic).
Initiated by Fadia Faqir, a Jordanian-born British author and academician, the exchange sees Jordanian short story writer Mofleh Al Adwan and British poet and writer Linda France swap places, aiming to gain a new source of literary inspiration.
"We live in dark times and are witnessing the return of the ultra-right and fascism. To counter the rise of racism and xenophobia, I began thinking about a project that could be an antidote to the toxic culture of hate prevailing all over the world," said Faqir about the reason behind the exchange, adding "this programme seemed a fitting way of challenging preconceptions and creating meaningful dialogue between civilisations, peoples and writers."
Moving to Durham 24 years ago after spending the first third of her life in Amman, the writer said she felt "it was time to give back to my hometown Amman and to Durham, the city that adopted me".
She received the help of the Council for British Research in the Levant (CBRL), directed by Carol Palmer, a graduate of Durham University herself, and Deputy Director Philip Proudfoot from Belmont in Durham.
For the first part of the exchange, Linda France, a recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the 2013 National Poetry Competition, came to Amman to explore what she said was "Jordan’s unfamiliar culture, language — written and spoken — landscape and temperature".
"I’m enjoying exploring the layers of history — the prehistoric, Nabatean, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Ummayad, Abbasid and Ottoman past. And the Islamic present — days and nights punctuated with the mu’adhin’s call to prayer," she said, calling it "a welcome reminder to come back inward amid all the sensory impressions drawing you outward."
Asked about the inspiration she has gained so far, she rejoiced: "You’d have to be half-dead not to be inspired by Jordan!"
"I’m taking lots of notes and photographs and already have a couple of early drafts of poems, as well as ideas for other writing projects I’d like to develop," France continued, voicing her "extreme luck to have been introduced to a whole new continent so central to current global dilemmas and so fertile for a writer’s imagination".
In the second part of the exchange, which will culminate with the Durham Book Festival on October 14, Al Adwan will come to Durham to exchange with his British colleague
"I am hoping that both writers will have new work to share inspired by their trips," said Faqir, expressing her delight over France’s "postcard from Amman" writing and voicing eagerness to see Al Adwan "postcard for Durham" out soon.
Alta’ir is a partnership project between Durham Book Festival/New Writing North, the CBRL, St Mary’s College, Durham University, Dr Fadia Faqir and the British Council.