Fuad Homaira: The Street Vendor Who Made People Laugh

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Homaira decided to study communication and Damascus University offered him the space and a suitable environment for fulfilling his artistic dreams. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Wissam Kanaan

Published Monday, April 9, 2012

When life gave him lemons, Fuad Homaira went way beyond the proverbial lemonade weaving stories for stage and television.

His family’s abject poverty led Fuad Homaira to go around Damascus’s neighborhoods selling ice cream and fava beans. He had to help support his family while his friends would spend their pocket money on whatever their hearts desired.

One time, he read the title of a book he liked through the front of a bookstore. Because he did not have money, he stole Syrian Pounds (SP) 10 from his father and returned home with the book in his hand.

“The strange thing is that I was born in an area that hadn’t had one library in four decades while the number of mosques is continuously increasing,” Homaira said.

Homaira had a cold relationship with his mother. He always felt that she did not give him enough love. But that does not mean that her death did not leave a scar deep in his soul. It actually pushed him into a depression that he had barely gotten out of when he became diabetic.

As opposed to his relationship with his mother, Homaira was close with his father. They had their disagreements, but they never lost the strong bond that connected them.

Homaira and his peers were the first generation in the slum neighborhood of al-Dahahil to go to school. The question of what he wanted to be when he grew up was absent in his household except when people from his village would come to visit them. He would cut the conversation short by saying that he is going to be a doctor, as all students say.

At the time, Homaira would spend his time preparing events and plays that the school would organize for national holidays and often could be found reading books outside the curriculum.

“I tended to read books by Marx and Lenin because they were cheap. There was no alternative to the Baath Party’s rigid ideology except tempting Communist thought,” Homaira said.

His first experience in love had been unsuccessful. His girlfriend’s bizarre condition for her accepting Homaira’s hand in marriage was for him to join the Defense Brigades led by Rifaat Assad, the brother of the late president Hafez Assad. Homaira almost succumbed to his lover’s wish. But he did not and decided to finish his studies instead.

After finishing high school, Homaira decided to study communication and Damascus University offered him the space and a suitable environment for fulfilling his artistic dreams.

He founded the University Theater group and organized Get-to-Know-You Parties with his friends that were tantamount to political cabaret theater. They also staged plays such as The Night Visitor and American Style Evening.

The group toured in all Syrian provinces and various Arab countries. “Had we been given enough support and an adequate budget, this group would have become one of the best Arab theater groups,” Homaira said.

In the meantime, Homaira fell in love with a pharmacy student who was interested in theater too. This girl did not have impossible expectations for marriage like his first girlfriend. Her only condition was to get married and build a small, poor family.

One time, his son wanted chocolate but Homaira had only SP 5 in his pocket. He bought his son what he wanted and as they were walking home, they found a SP 100 on the ground. “I cried bitterly that day. Even though it is not much, but the SP 100 solved many problems at the time,” he said.

Although he has suffered from poverty, deprivation, and misery for a long time, Homaira enjoys the art of making people laugh and he is skilled at it.

Alongside his likable sarcasm, death passed by stealing away his young brother. It is not possible to talk about this issue with Homaira who tries hard not to let his tears fall.

All these tragic and comic events made his own life a theater. He was like a hero on a stage. All he needed was a bottle of arak and a cheap pack of cigarettes to make himself happy without finding an audience to make happy.

That is how Homaira’s diligent search for an audience and fame began.

He read the 18th century book The Daily Events of Damascus written by al-Budayri al-Hallaq. Not long afterward he decided to write a script for a TV series set in old Damascus based on it. He completed an eight-page summary of his project and met with seasoned actor Salim Sabri who read the idea concluded that what Homaira wrote should be produced on TV.

The young writer disappeared for one month and a half and returned with half of the first part of Damascene Sour Grapes. Sabri brought Homaira and the “sheik of Syrian directors,” Haitham Haqi, together. Haqi felt enthusiastic about the project and got Orbit Network to produce it. But government censors did not approve of the series which remained locked in a drawer for four years.

In the meantime, Homaira would regularly go to a kiosk near his home and call people involved with drama. He managed to communicate with director Rasha Shurbatji. She asked him if he could write a script that would include some new ideas. He came up with an idea about the relationships of cultural elites with women on the spot. The young director asked Homaira to write part of the script. He agreed and returned home in a kind of maze because his idea was still in its embryonic stage. He engrossed himself in a long work session that yielded the first few episodes of the series Men Under the Fez (2004).

Shurbatji was impressed with the script but she later had disagreements with the producer. Her father, director Hisham Shurbatji intervened. He procured another producer and insisted on directing the series himself.

But the screenwriter found a way out promising the young director to write a better and bolder script. While Men Under the Fez was being shown on TV, Homaira was writing his series Deer in the Forest of Wolves (2006).

The script did not escape the censor's scissors, which cut out important parts of the program. Nevertheless, the series caused an uproar in Syrian public opinion when it was shown. The censors eventually released all three parts of Damascene Sour Grapes (2007, 2008, 2009) to be followed by a series of successes with Narrow Passageways (2007) and other works that made Homaira a registered trademark in the world of drama scripts.

The Syrian writer has just finished the script A Salty Life whose last scenes end with the start of the protest movement in Syria. Production of the work, which will be directed by Rasha Shurbatji has been delayed repeatedly while its murky future remains unclear.

Homaira is also trying to complete the script Boxthorn in which he returns to the era of the consuls in Damascus (1710). Thus the screenwriter returns again to politics which is never disconnected from his work. All the roads with this man lead to politics.

Homaira participated in the first conference of the Syrian opposition in Semiramis hotel. When he went to the podium, he could not help but entertain the audience with his keen sense of humor. He summarized the Syrian situation in a few sarcastic words that made everyone laugh and broke the monotony of the conference.

Homaira often likes to think about the current situation in Syria but he hesitates to criticize the regime’s practises and repression. Instead, he awaits its departure so “people can mend the wounds of the present and weave the details of the future.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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