A letter to our newborn baby

This article by Matthias Krug is featured in The Huffington Post

There you lie, sleeping peacefully on a bed sheet of roses.
A whole day could be filled just looking at you. One of my many favorite moments to do so is when you make contented faces after having eaten. At the time when you were born, supermarkets in Southern Spain were being raided in a coordinated ‘Robin Hood’ initiative to give food to the poor and needy. With strict austerity measures being enforced by the Spanish government and families increasingly struggling, there is little hope that it will have been the last such action. The supermarket where I buy your diapers has now put a guard on duty. In the streets of Valencia this morning I saw a man pushing a converted baby trolley around from bin to bin, looking for food.

How can I explain this to you: you who are so new to this world and regard it with your lovely big, interested eyes? Despite the fact that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, people starve. Beautiful babies go hungry in other parts of the world because we have failed to find a system to share out wealth, and food, more evenly.

The Markets dominate the actions of our governments. Due to cutbacks in health spending, a startling figure of some 150,000 ‘illegal’ (what an ugly way to label human beings) immigrants in Spain will be taken out of the public health system in Spain by the end of this month. Health too has become a business, available only to those who can afford it. Some autonomous governments have rebelled against the measure and announced that they will continue treating everyone regardless of their legal status.

In the month of your birth, I have published a novel, dedicated to you, my little one, which paints a frightening scenario if we continue to capitulate to unregulated Capitalism in this way. In the book, public words are sold to appease the greed and profit-hunger of The Market. The first word to be sold is ‘love’.
I love you so. We love you. I love your mother, who cares endlessly for you and sacrifices much for your happiness, as my mother did for mine. Love. Never has the word been so true.

Since your birth, days have flown by and merged effortlessly into at times sleepless nights. But what is sleep anymore, but a mere interlude to next seeing you? Your mere presence makes us happy; your smile changes the world a little bit.
On the day you were born, the world entirely changed for me. Every stranger I met on the street had to know about my newborn little girl, and everyone shared my happiness. An elderly lady walked with me for half an hour to help find a pharmacy that was open: ‘Don’t worry about me, I have time,’ she said, ‘let’s find it for your little daughter.’

On the lift coming back up to see you in the hospital, a woman commented: ‘This lift is so slow, it seems to have been hit by the crisis as well. If this crisis continues like this, we’ll soon be in the streets with machetes, going at each other’s necks.’

Will your generation devise a fairer system of living, or can we join minds and create it already?

Last night at 4am we were up together, watching the news. Together we saw the terrible Civil War in Syria, Assange being granted political asylum in Ecuador, the debate surrounding the supermarket plunderings in Andalusia, and all the time you in my arms, sleepless.

Who can blame you: it was a sweltering August night. It was not the news that made you cry, for you know nothing about our current predicaments yet. In your eyes they are just flashes on a screen. For you everything is simple: sleep, eat, cry a little, regard your new surroundings in this wonderful world, and sleep again.

There is nothing more beautiful than looking at you sleeping, admiring your little features, your soft nose, your expressive mouth, those perfect little ears, your curious and wondrous eyes, the little fingers which you swing around to explore and express, and your long feet which make everyone say you will be a tall woman one day.

When that day comes, you might write a letter to your own little baby, saying just how much things have changed since your old daddy changed your nappies.

Matthias Krug is a novelist and journalist born in Qatar and currently living in Spain. His most recent novel is entitled ‘L’.


V is Victory for Arab Women

This article by Matthias Krug is published in The Huffington Post.

1936. 1968. 2012.

A single thread of humanity joins these three historic Olympic dates. From Owens defying Hitler, to the Black Power salute of Smith and Carlos, to the victory sign at the opening ceremony of Shaherkani.

This Spring, when the current Olympic super-athletes like Phelps, Ye Shiwen, Bolt or Williams were still preparing for London, I organized a school Olympics in Madrid. A young boy of just 13 moved us all by continuing to the finish line in the mini-marathon, despite being completely exhausted and by far the last student running. His nose too ran, his eyes watered with tears. But the boy wanted to finish the race, and did just that.

I decided to hand him our ‘Olympic moment’ trophy on the last day of the event, but the headmaster of the school objected: ‘we have to be careful, because this boy is not popular among students, if we give him this trophy he could be bullied even more than he is being already.’ I persisted and handed him the trophy. The Olympics (even the school Olympics), after all, are not just about those who finish first. They are about defying the bullies.

They are about those who, despite all the odds and with no hopes at all of winning, participate. Who move us in front of the television screen with their effort, making us jump and howl and clap and moan. The Olympics are about those who try to finish their race. Despite the odds against them.

That pre-Olympic moment sprang to my mind when observing the first week of competition in London. There have been plenty of stunning sporting performances. But the moment that struck me as that ‘Olympic moment’ was the participation of two first-time female Olympians: the Saudi Arabian Wojdan Shaherkani and Qatar’s Noor Hussain Al-Malki.

In particular the victory sign displayed shyly by Shaherkani was my highlight of the opening ceremony. Not James Bond, not Mr. Bean, not the Queen, but that simple gesture was a significant moral victory for the first Saudi Arabian woman to participate in the Olympic Games. It will remain for eternity alongside the powerful black-gloved salute of Smith and Carlos in Mexcio City.

Her judo fight may just have lasted little over a minute, but the effect that Shaherkani’s participation can and must have upon future generations in the Arab world is worth thousands of hours of inspired training. There are those who caution that this is only a symbolic gesture. That may be so. A source in the Arabian women’s sport scene told me that there is still a long way to go for these girls. But it is equally true that every journey must begin somewhere.

When I met Qatar’s first football team a few years ago, they had only just begun to practice as a team, but the excitement at breaking stereotypes and long-entrenched perceptions was palpable.

This year, just ahead of the Olympics, I talked to Qatar’s first athlete, Al-Malki. ‘My level is still not good enough to be a role model,” she said, ‘but I will try my best to be a role model in the future. My Qatari sisters should grab these opportunities, get out of the house and develop their skills in the sport they like.’

Al-Malki may not have finished her first round race on Friday, pulling up with an injury after just ten meters, but she will inspire thousands of Arab girls who will dream of finishing their race at a future Olympics.

‘Once my active athlete time is over I would like to give back my experience and knowledge to the next generation of young girls,’ Al-Malki added, aware that she is sounding the starting shot for a wave of future athletes. ‘For them to be better than me, I would like to work as a coach or administrator in sport.’

Michael Phelps was stunning, of course. As was Shiwen. And Bolt. But Shaherkani and Al-Malki mattered, as future generations will show.
Matthias Krug is a Doha-born author and journalist. His most recent novel is ‘L’.

TDR New Novel Extract: ‘L’

Love, itself, was up for auction. Incredible as it sounded, and felt (gasp-gasp, rapidly fluttering eye-lids, shaky hands of the waiting reporters), it was going to the highest bidder. Within the hour, or so it was rumoured, it was to be a done deal.

‘What is this?’ an obvious tourist screamed nervously into the desperately hovering cameras.

This was no exclusive love-house with a purring, hissing, exclusive star lady (or man!). It had none of the usual markers; lonely ladies, lost men. No shady types acting as intermediaries.

No shady love.

No. It was all bright and clear and out in the open. On the large blue and yellow flashing billboard sign the message was quite unmistakable;

‘Love! Going to the highest bidder tonight. Use it while you can.’

This the citizens milling around in front of the seven star hotel did. Viciously. Some. Others with a certain (choking sound produced at the pronunciation of it; teardrop-teardrop) amount of nostalgia, as if remembering idyllic childhood moments or long-evaporated days of piercing youthfulness. Still others tasted it with last delight, as they would a frighteningly exquisite execution dinner desert, which virtually melted upon touching the tip of the terrified tongue. It was all rather a soft vanilla ice-cream passing over the taste buds along with hairy wild berries before the final shut-eye of a word which everyone had always assumed was public property.

Shortly it was indeed to be the death of love. But everywhere it could be heard on tips of tongues, used, savoured, flavoured; goodbye, goodbye, my love, the love!

‘I love your shirt. What colour is that, maroon? With turquoise? That’s a crazy combination, man.’

‘Isn’t it lovely, woman? I love you to love it.’

‘I’d love you to give me some loving tonight.’

Off those two went for a final plough while the word still existed in the public domain.

But there were still the thousands of others waiting in front of the hotel for any brief (‘that him? No, that is him. Is that her? What a disgustingly wonderful dress. Does she have no taste? With all that money? Moth! No. Yes. No, I love to disagree because I think that is that guy, the rich one, the richest one in the world, who I know from the magazine which lists rich people. It says he will eventually become the owner of the word’), fleeting glimpse of the potential buyers.

The auction was open only to billionaires, of which there were plenty in the world. Cash only. The briefcases came in all shapes and sizes. Grey. Longish. Brown. Severely rounded. Black. Silver. Rectangular. Purple with laces. Disgustingly green. Their owners were equally diverse. There were the Chinese. Brief and formal and saving all emotions for an unspecified later date. In suits and with simple glasses and faces which were already calculating, frantically. There were the Arabians (‘Arabs? No, you can’t call them that way. Not with the money they have. Well, I’ll call them what I want. No, you’d better not. Who knows which word will be next off the list’) who flowed past with effusive smiles and trailed fruity clouds of perfume and white robes that portrayed peacefulness and confidence. Then there, over there, came the Russians, and the Americans, and the Mexicans and the –

They were too many to keep track. One limousine after the other pulled up; heavily armoured, heavily superfluous. Because only one of these gentleman (for no one in that heaving crowd really believed it would be a woman who would pull it off, despite the nature of the word) could walk away with the incredibly powerful possession of a simple four-lettered utterance. But what an utterance it was. Wasn’t it? That was what attracted all these sharks disguised as men, women, and the odd dinosaur. In all their different crooked shapes, sizes and costumes. But they all had that one thing in common. A richness of greed which elevated their societal importance.

‘I love that spirit of arrogance, suitcase in hand, when all their fortunes are really gathering interests in the banks.’

‘Let’s not be creating a division of classes here. Marx is long dead. And happily so. These here men and women could be saving the state Fermon from complete bankruptcy.’

‘We’re not creating division. Just look. It’s been made already. We’re here on this side of the barrier. And they are on the other. And please, don’t call my country by that name of a company again. Look at that peacock parading there with her –

‘I’d love to show you a piece of my opinion. Fermon is paying a huge portion of our remaining public services for the next 20 years. Let us not forget that, by love of God.’

‘Fermon is a computer company, it’s certainly not the name of my country. And this farce of hyper-privatisation, I could well do without.’

‘You take big words into your mouth, but I’d love to see if you can back those up with some real big –

The fist-fight which ensued as a result of this heated discussion was not caught by any of the many internet-television cameras flapping about (wireless, unmanned), catching snippets of highly important celebrity opinions from all humanely possible angles. It was something of a contradiction because that fight was the most action that would be seen that entire night.

Thereafter it was all number-crunching. For hours and hours on end. The analysts called this the ‘novelty factor’. This was the first auction of a word in the world. That gave it, as the commentator with the orange beard and the overtly white teeth on channel Internet Makes TV said ‘a certain exclusivity which is worth countless billions of these individual uncountable fortunes’.

It went on and on. And on. And on. Higher and higher the numbers went. Some observers dozed off in the giant, glittering conference room where four glittering letters hung from the ceiling. And the people waiting outside, having seen their snippets of super-stars and super-humans, filed off to an insecure rented flat to make insecure love. The throwing about of numbers was not their business. Nothing with numbers was. Unless it was crunching numbers to make the bills come together at the end of the month. They wanted nothing to do with numbers which were so large that they often had to be made to disappear. That, if anything, was what the politicians of Fermon were there for.

Taken from the new novel ‘L’ by Matthias Krug