Wadida Wassef


Wadida Wassef
(وديدة واصف) writes: I was born in Alexandria. It was not the fantastic creation of Mr Durrell, but a sane and sober city dominated at the time by a powerful European community. I grew up speaking Arabic, French, and Italian. When and how I learned these languages I don't know - I must have picked them up from my father, mother, and the nurse, respectively.

All three were lingua franca in our house. I learned English formally at school. As a child I was sent to a government school because, contrary to common practice for families like ours, my father insisted I should start my education by acquiring a solid foundation in Arabic which only a government school could provide. Although parochial and language schools offered superior education, they neglected to teach Arabic.

Students of these schools were more familiar with the language, history, and culture of the countries to which these schools belonged than with their own. Father also believed that as a Copt, living in the midst of a Muslim majority, it would not hurt me to become acquainted with the religion and culture of the majority. So I also attended classes of Islamic religion where I learned the Quran.

Later I joined the American Mission College in Cairo. Besides academic knowledge, this college stressed moral and cultural training and it prepared girls for life in the home and community. For several generations the college graduated leaders in all fields of national life.

Between graduation from school and marriage I was allowed, as a concession, to while away the time in the .Faculty of Arts Department of English. For a while after that I taught English language and literature, and European history at AI-Nasr Girls College, formerly the English Girls College, and I loved my profession.

In later years, after marriage, I worked in translation, on side, mainly for the American Research Centre where I contributed to volumes of Egyptian short stories, drama, and contemporary Egyptian thought, edited by Dr Louis Awad for the University of California. For UNESCO I translated The Nights, a collection of short stories by Dr Yussif Idris, a prominent Egyptian writer. I am still busy with a variety of other translations.

I started to write in the 1970s when I went with my husband to Shabin al-Kom, a town in the Nile delta where he was appointed chairman of a large textile mill. Alone, and locked in a flat for days on end, with nowhere to go, and no one to talk to, there was ample time to brood and meditate on things past and present. Vague and erratic though they were, I started to put down my thoughts on paper. Slowly they were taking shape, and so it all began. I don't know how it will end.

(From Opening the Gates)

Publications: (English)


  • The Cheapest Nights
  • The Emigration To The North Country Of Hathoot's Tribe

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