It took a while, after I took the plunge to start Asfoura, to weather the sarcasm and smirks of my friends and family. You, Mirame? Books, understandable…but in Arabic?
It was both funny and shameful that it was so unimaginable to them that I would start a publishing house for children's books in arabic. I am fully Egyptian, despite those who insist on speaking to me in Indian when I travel. I have lived all my life in Egypt, I have no reason for my Arabic to be any less fluent than my English. Yet for years I have spoken, thought, breathed in English.
My friends mocked me because my stories are numerous. At my very first job, my superior burst out laughing when I typed "ElBatn contractors" in an official bank memo as I mistranslated it from مقاولون الباطن - I literally thought الباطن was a place. I have grown so detached from my mother tongue that I will immediately flip when provoked to 100 miles an hour English.
I am very, very ashamed to say that the first time I came across any of the legendary Nagiub Mahfouz's writings, it was in an English language final exam. My Scottish professor valued our prized Nobel winning author enough to place an excerpt of his work in our comprehension exam, yet I had not picked up any of his novels until the age of 14.
So while we all may have moments when we feel our shoes are too big, my moments are catastrophically pronounced. Even when I started thinking about writing blog posts for Asfoura's website, this became one of my main concerns - how can I express myself as comfortably and genuinely as I do in English while not being hypocritical on a platform that calls for practicing our Arabic?
Until I figure that out, and until I sharpen my Arabic even more… I decided to not repeat the same mistakes with my child. When I considered what pushed me further down this All-English-All-The-Time route, I realised that not being exposed to the right children's books was one of the main issues. I vowed to provide children with stories they are excited about, they can relate to. Subtle ways they can practice their Arabic until they no longer find it difficult or intimidating.
And so I created Asfoura. Because I needed it, even before anyone else did.