Leeuwarden City of Literature invited writer Rasha Khayat from Hamburg to live and work in the city for a month. Today part 2 from her diary as a writer in residence.

Bridging the gap

I think about connections. My past week has been overshadowed by the dismal outcome of the EU election in Germany. It wasn’t a surprise or groundbreaking news that the far-right would make huge gains and in turn the green and social democrats would plummet, also due to the thoroughly abhorrent performance of our government. But to see the map of Germany on the eve after the election, firmly and solidly painted in almost exclusively black and blue, a clearly visible line dividing east and west into more black here and more blue there territory, to have only the tiniest of green dots around the metropolises Hamburg and Berlin, that image will stay with me for a while and will take some time to process. Is this who we are now?

So I think about connection as I go through my text messages on monday morning after the election. I try to console friends (all of them not-real-German Germans, like myself, people of color, migrational history and all that. People who have been dreading this outcome for many years) who are afraid of sending their kids to school now, respond to messages of love, shared concern and vows of solidarity and support. I gratefully heart a message by a friend who insists that we should continue to make art and beautiful things, because otherwise we’d be losers. It feels good to be connected in this way, to feel the warm embrace of love, friendship and community. To share our fears, to send virtual hugs and also a few dumb jokes, because after all, how is this not also hilarious as much as it’s scary. Connections to those who understand the importance of these shared moments are what will keep us going. Or so I hope.

Connection continues to be the theme of the rest of the week. I am off to more outings to this beautiful landscape surrounding Leeuwarden, I walk barefoot in the mud and on wet grass, I tip my toe into a chilly little lake. I press my feet into the ground, breath in and out and release my anxiety into the earth. I sit on a bench in the sun, stare into the clouds, feel the fresh breeze and a few drops of rain here and there, and all I can think is Alhamdulillah – Thank God. It’s this connection to the earth, to the elements that keeps me sane, here and also before, over the past months and years. Somehow, staring onto a large body of water for an hour just puts everything into perspective.

There’s another form of connection very prominently featured in Leeuwarden and the places around. I have developed a fascination with the bridges here, that get pulled up, so ships on the channels beneath can pass. The streets part, cars and bicycles and pedestrians are stopped and we wait. We wait for the bridge to slowly pull up, for ships and boats to slowly pass by. We wait and watch how one connection – the street – must make way for another connection – the water. “So do you think the bridge is now open or closed?” a friend asks me as we wait for some boats to pass. “It’s like the chicken or the egg”, I reply and it’s nice to know that we seem to see the same thing.

In Harlingen there is a bridge that I find particularly fascinating. Its two halves get pulled away sideways and get pulled not at the same time but very slowly one after the other. It makes me think of human connections and relationships. Sometimes, one person pulls out and all there is left is another person hanging there, in thin air, waiting for the other half to come back. To bridge the gap and restore the connection. I have seen quite a few connections being broken over the past few months, connections I didn’t think would be that fragile. But we live in strange, scary times and sometimes, parts of some of those bridges just become too brittle to hold the weight being put on them. Luckily, there’s always another connection, another channel, another hand to be a bridge over troubled water.