Sunday October 14, 2018 By: Dina Al Mahdy
When Alam Simsim, the Egyptian Sesame Street, first aired in Egypt, the show became an instant hit. It debuted in 1997 and was tailored for Egyptian children. Among the many humans and Muppets, the show introduced, Khokha (peach) was a feisty girl, orange in color, and who by all means was empowering young girls in her own muppety way.
The success of the show was a collaborated effort of its team, among which the writers stood at center stage to convey its messages to the young viewers. Zeinab Mobarak headed the writing team of Alam Simsim at its beginning in 1997/1998. Mobarak, who is also a children’s writer and lyricist, with 2 published books for preschoolers, continued to write and translate songs for Alam Simsim for many years.
Women of Egypt had an exclusive interview with Zeinab Mobarak to learn more about her writing journey and her future plans.
WOE: Zeinab, you are very active in the Egyptian literary world. Tell more us about your journey in writing, dubbing and translating. What have you found to be most rewarding in this journey?
ZM: Actually, for me all writing is rewarding and interesting. The translations I work on are all drama-related. I work on plays, screenplays, dialogue in films and songs, either for dubbing or written translation.
In 2015, I translated and adapted the famous musical Oliver (text and lyrics) into Arabic. It was directed by Khaled Abul Naga, and performed by Syrian refugee children, and Jordanian artists in Amman in September 2015. I also wrote a musical children’s play “Meekros and Tacros” in English, and an animation film in Arabic that is currently in production. A year later, I wrote the lyrics to the short film “The Birthmark Man,” which won first prize in the 48-Hour Film Festival.
My first novel, “A Glance Through the Sieve” was published in December 2016. It is a novel in Arabic. Currently, I am writing “Staring in the Face of Ghosts,” in English and it probes into its character’s memories and insight.
WOE: What attracted you to get involved in writing? Who are your greatest supporters?
ZM: I started writing quite by chance. I always wrote my diary, but one day I started writing a short story in English. It came out all in one go, and my brain throbbed like a monster coming to life! My husband and daughter are naturally my first supporters and critics. My father may have been a silent factor. He was a talented poet. He translated Omar Khayyam’s Rubaeyyat into Colloquial Arabic “zagal”.
WOE: What inspired you to write children books and how did you transition from that to fiction?
ZM: I had a puppet show group, Zassy, for 25 years. We performed our own stories and songs. So, writing for children came as a natural by-product of the shows. Then short stories followed, then a screenplay for children, then my first novel. So, I really alternate between children and adults.
WOE: Can you tell us more about your family?
ZM: I am married to Chef Emad El Khosht, the culinary artist of CBC Sofra, who, following a career in hotel business, has embarked on presenting his own cooking show some years ago. Our daughter, Mariam El Khosht, is a radio presenter in Mega FM. Mariam started her acting career in Ramadan 2017. She is also an animal rescuer and activist, and a longtime dubbing artist.
WOE: As a woman pursing her career and a working mother, how did you raise your daughter? How has your career affected her perspective on life?
ZM: I hope that my dedication to being a mother, a working woman and an artist has given my daughter an ability to see women for what they are: amazing multi-taskers, juggling several things in life. I think what I taught her is that you have to work at whatever you want as long as you enjoy it. Being a Zassy kid launched her into appreciation of art, and wanting to perfect everything she does.
WOE: Reflecting on how your parents raised you and how you raised your daughter, do you have any advice for all mothers out there?
ZM: Enjoying the time you have with your children is of utmost importance to their well-being. Beautiful fun memories are things no one can take away from them. Also, giving them the chance to speak to you about anything without reservation, is really vital to your relationship and their future.
WOE: As a writer, how do you choose your topics?
ZM: I really don’t know. But I find that in most cases, characters are what intrigue me, and where the story really starts. They are the catalyst to any story.
WOE: What are the other challenges you face as a writer?
ZM: When it’s for work, translation, writing songs, etc., I am very organized and disciplined. But when I’m writing my own stuff, the real challenge is to be in the mood to write.
WOE: What is the difference between children writers and writers for adults?
ZM: In writing for children, one has to be extra careful of the ideas that one instills in the story. Children absorb concepts and one needs to keep in mind that we are almost shaping new individuals. Adults are not as sensitive. I think in writing for adults it is more a matter of enjoyment, with concepts appearing subtly as a whole.
WOE: Which is harder, writing or translating?
ZM: Writing. I need to come up with an idea I like, a sequence of events that can engage the reader/viewer, and a good voice, style of writing, to present it all.
WOE: What is the message you wish to address to Egyptian women?
ZM: Do not for one minute believe that you should curb your talent, ability, or intelligence to suit anyone’s agenda or point of view. Women of Egypt have the genes of great female Pharaohs, thinkers, scientist and artists.
WOE: What are your future plans, professionally and personally?
ZM: On a professional level, I wish to present a great musical that everyone can enjoy. After translating the musical Oliver into Egyptian Arabic, to great acclaim in Amman, I hope to have an all authentic Egyptian musical presented on stage. On a personal level, I hope I can visit Japan. A great culture and modern country.
Zeinab Mobarak graduated from the American University in Cairo with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in Theatre Studies. She also studied playwriting, Arabic short story and modern Arabic literature. She was a member of the Writing Group in the Shooting Club, with stories published in its two publications of short stories. Mobarak has also led several literary translation groups in a number of Translation Summits in Cairo and Doha.
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