Gate A-4 poem

[NOTE: Occasionally an author of fiction or a poet gets right to the heart of intercultural dialogue. One such example follows. If you have other suggestions, post links as comments.]

Gate A-4
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed for four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”

Well–one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help,”
said the flight service person. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”

. . .
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate–once the crying of confusion stopped–seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other
women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

[The full poem can be read here]

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Using Poetry to Build Intercultural Dialogue

“Peter Zsoldos, ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Egypt, discussed poetry, translation and its role in the future of intercultural dialogue at the third In Translation lecture this semester, calling for greater intercultural dialogue through creative means. At his lecture titled “Translation, Poetry and Diplomacy: New Horizons for Intercultural Dialogue,” Zsoldos, a diplomat, poet and translator, championed the idea that cultural diplomacy, dialogue and interaction can be used as proactive instruments to develop better and more nuanced relationships with countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. “To understand is to share an interest,” he said. “The aim is to find out what makes others tick.”

Zsoldos has a diplomatic career that spans more than 20 years, the last 10 of which have been spent in the Middle East serving the Slovak Republic’s foreign service in various capacities. In 2000, Zsoldos became the ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the Gulf Cooperation Countries. For the past three years, he has lived in Cairo. As a student, he was interested in literature and religion, and wrote his doctoral thesis about Afro-Cuban religious systems, colloquial Spanish spoken in Cuba and Cuban literature in the 20th century. In the diplomatic corps, Zsoldos asserts that cultural diplomacy should be a tool to counter stereotypes, bias and prejudice.

“There is a saying: take two opposites and connect the dots and you have a line,” Zsoldos noted. “Intercultural dialogue can change long-held positions and attitudes. While changing attitudes is always a work in progress, it is diplomacy and artists that are the first to see and connect these dots.”

Zsoldos is the author of five books that have been translated into different languages, two of which are trilingual books (Arabic, English and Slovak) that he co-authored with renowned Emirati poet and translator Shihab Ghanem. Their first book Pearls and Dates: Poems from the United Arab Emirates won the Best Book of the Year prize at the 2003 International Book Fair in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Their second book, Contemporary Poems from the Arabian Peninsula, was published in June 2010. The books are a translation of Slovakian poetry into Arabic and vice versa. For Zsoldos, the idea stemmed from a desire to better publicize the great works of Arab poets and authors in the Slovak Republic. “I was looking for something that will bring a new viewpoint to Europe,” he said. “By expanding the body of literature, we are hoping to also expand the greater dialogue.”

Zsoldos has observed that in the post-September 11 era, many works that had not yet been translated from Arabic are now available in Slovak. “Recently, many major Arabic works have been translated into Slovak such as the Quran, the complete One Thousand and One Nights and some of the works of Naguib Mahfouz,” he noted. In the future, Zsoldos wants to continue to build cultural and diplomatic bridges as well as translate the works of Slovak and Arab authors and poets, a pastime he greatly enjoys. “It is a wonderful feeling,” he said. “There is a process of creation that takes hold. I feel as though I am taking off the clothes of the poem, until there is nothingness, and then redressing it in the words of another language.”

Originally published by the American University in Cairo.