The Olive Writers Summer Camp 2021 has been an adventurous journey, for me personally, because it didn’t change me but rather empower me to be myself. However, there was more to the program than just jokes and tears, knowledge and human connection happened to be the gravity that pulled us all together. I have to admit that as someone who came from the same city where this year’s TOW camp took place, while the rest of the participants were joining from other parts of the country and even abroad, made me somehow doubt that my experience would be as fruitful as theirs. I was wrong, because the moment I set foot in the first workshop of the day I'd already been transferred into a completely different world, and I’m not even exaggerating.
One of the programs that helped me grow was the “Inner Identity Map” moderated by Sahar Bantabet on the second day of the camp. An activity where everyone gathered in a big circle, sitting on the floor while keeping a safe distance of course, and started a healing journey through art. During the process we were asked to answer a couple of questions either drawing or writing them down, then we would sit in the middle of the circle and try to describe what we had on the papers without saying a word giving others the chance to throw guesses. My map was colorful, so to get everyone close to the picture that I drew I had to use colors as symbols. First I must say that I wasn’t going to share, but then I remembered what Mohammed El Wahabi told me before the camp; “just be yourself”. So I said “this is it” and volunteered to talk about it. The “it” was me being a queer person who’s fighting to leave the closet and accept my real identity. On the paper, I used black color to describe where I came from, something inside me which my society always referred to as dark. Yet where I was heading had the six colors that represent the flag of my community; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Then pink was the color I added to express where I was at that moment, a combination of all six colors with a small dot of blackness that still follows. I wouldn’t lie and say I wasn’t scared, because I was literally shaking, yet knowing that I was surrounded by my friends made me feel safer and pushed me to be more myself. Someone reading this may ask “what does all of it have to do with writing?”. And I’d simply say that it had everything to do with it. Imagine knowing that you have the ability to write using both hands, but one of them is cuffed and throughout time the one hand you wrote with your entire life is now tired and weak to even hold the pen. Would you fight to free your other hand or just give up writing?
When I embraced my identity and didn’t pretend to be someone else during the camp I became more productive and surprisingly creative, I mean I even wrote my very first short story, something which I never thought I could do. Being free helped me grow like a butterfly breaking from its cocoon and out to explore worlds; a world within me which I’ve been denying, and the world where I was told I don’t belong, then bring them both together to form the one life I wish to live. But none of it would have happened without the opportunity the Olive Writers has given me, and I will stay forever grateful to every one of the staff members who worked so hard to make sure we were home.