Building cultural bridges ‘with love’ through travel literature
Basim Furat is an Iraqi poet and traveller who says there is no creativity without adventure. He has been to 35 countries, climbed mountains and spent days in the forest. In all the countries he’s visited, he tried to live and integrate with local people.
“It was love,” he said about adjusting to so many varied societies. “When you carry within you a great capacity for love and when you grow up in a city and an environment that nurtures you with love for your country and for diversity and teaches you to respect everyone’s specificities, you start seeing yourself not as the centre of the universe but as part of it, complete when together with everyone and everything but insignificant when alone.”
“I grew up in an environment that nourished me with respect for the specificities of others and for their choices,” Furat said. “The elderly in my environment were proud of and bragging about the diversity of their city, something that the head of the former regime did not like at all.
“Because of this respect for diversity, I found myself becoming quite attached to places, looking at them as schools and even libraries to learn from. It must be said that, no matter what we read about different countries and societies, nothing beats living in those countries and among those societies to get a real taste of them, see them in a particular light and go through a unique learning experience.”
Furat has been involved in a travel literature project publishing four books about his journeys to places where only adventurers dare go.
“I’m personally grateful for the circumstances that helped me experience the exhilaration of poetry through life experiences and the obsession with discovering things, nature and remote cultures that are marginal to us, us who are fascinated by Europe,” Furat said.
“I never thought of getting into any other type of writing besides poetry,” he said. “Poetry was my biggest obsession, my madness, my ambition and my purpose in life but, as I talked to my friends about Hiroshima and wrote to them about Japanese society, they started pushing me to document my experience in writing. I ignored their insistence until I went to Ecuador. My friends’ insistence grew even stronger, especially after my great experience in South-east Asia.”
Furat said his journey diaries had become a window through which he could depict to Arabic readers parts of the lives of the peoples he’s lived with, their history, the geography of their countries and their social and cultural lives.
He said travel literature is one of the bridges for cross-cultural encounters and for fostering love and understanding among the peoples of the world. In his travel accounts, he focuses on the positive aspects of the peoples and cultures he visited, rarely lingering on negative aspects.
During his travels, Furat said he has had near-death experiences more than once.
“Yes, I have been in dangerous situations and I have been close to death so many times that I’m thinking of dedicating one book to these experiences, those I’ve already mentioned in my previous book and ones I did not mention,” said Furat.
“As to my Guagua Pichincha [in Ecuador] experience, all along the long hike to the top, I was thrilled, fit and eager to reach the top, at 4,700 metres above sea level but, when I reached the top, it was already night and I was alone in the wilderness.
“I couldn’t sleep a wink that night because of lack of oxygen at that elevation and it was difficult to breathe. I forced myself to breathe and I was overwhelmed with the fear that if I let myself slip into slumber, I’d surely leave this life.”
Furat said: “I haven’t been to many countries, just 35. I’m sure there are millions of people who have visited more countries than I but there is a difference between travellers and explorers or between those who travel a lot and those who go on long journeys.
“Among the conditions to qualify as an explorer, you have to really experience life among the communities you visit, eat their food and adapt to their way of life.
“I would like to sum up the topic with what many of my friends have said to me, something that is really descriptive of my nature and reality. They told to me that whenever I arrive and settle in a country, I take on the appearance and characteristics of the people of that country. I become one of them. Thus, I became Japanese in Japan, Laotian in Laos, Ecuadorian in Ecuador and Sudanese in Sudan although I didn’t have the beautiful dark skin hue of most of the Sudanese.”
Furat visited Hiroshima as the city was celebrating life’s victory over death. There, he wrote poems in which Iraq’s woes and pains permeated every line.
“The most beautiful phase in my life and poetry experiences is the Hiroshima phase,” Furat explained. “I had left everything behind in New Zealand and moved to live there before the start of the 60th-anniversary celebrations of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
“It was a great adventure for me, worthy of my sacrifices. I told myself: ‘You were right to come. You who are forever on a quest for beauty, knowledge and awe.’
“I had hoped, and continue to hope, that we, Iraqis, will learn from the tragedy of Hiroshima. We must look back at the past and our tragedies as incentives and catalysts to still have faith in peace and to renounce violence and extremism, whatever its form, ideological or ethnic, and to let go of the claims of narratives glorifying our ancient past and grandeur for the purpose of hijacking the history of past nations.”