The One Who Lived in the House Before Me: Exploring the Borders of Storytelling

The one who lived in the house before me

How far can a word go? What are the borders of a story? Are there any? Does “The One Who Lived in the House Before Me” just manage to break those borders and reach for everyone’s heart? 

The one who lived in the house before me
Rasha Omran, Nanda Mohamed, and Isabelle Duthoit’s Performance

These are all questions I kept asking myself when attending the performance of The One Who Lived in the House Before Me; a poetry collection by the eminent Syrian poet and activist Rasha Omran. Rasha Omran’s work has been translated into English, French, Swedish, and Italian. Her poems illustrate humanity in all its forms. She doesn’t only channel this humanity in her poems, but also in her work as an activist. She is one of Syria’s most well-known poets and reform advocates. 

This time in her performance of her 2016 poetry collection that took place at Rawabet Art Space on the 21st & 22nd of October. She managed to bring her body of work to life through Henri Jules Julien’s eyes, a french independent theatre director who had the idea for the performance and a clear vision for how the poems should be performed. Alongside Rasha Omran, stood the Syrian actress Nanda Mohamed who performed the same poem in French, and the improvisation musician Isabelle Duthoit, who performed the poem in sounds and music. The international performance had its world premiere in Cairo then it will continue its tour in Europe. 

The Story

The poetry collection tells the story of a woman who feels the loneliness of growing older alone in her apartment. She narrates the story of her loneliness in unison with all women who feel the same, haunted by the woman who lived in the same house before her. She sees her life in parallel with the previous owner, finding logic in everything the woman did and left in the house while feeling a connection with her through their shared alienation. 

“The poem’s inspiration comes from the Greek lady who’s in her fifties like me.” Says Rasha Omran, “she used to live alone in the apartment I live in now and she went back to Greece because she was scared of the loneliness of growing old.” She continues. 

The performance is one hour of 3 women speaking to the audience, in the rawest and most honest form. Nanda Mohamed’s eyes kept tracing the audience’s eyes, never shying away or diverting from them. At some point, I felt caged by the intensity of her performance, and simultaneously empathetic to Rasha’s words. 

“As I stared at the white tiles

I saw the prints of her small feet 

It occurs to me to put my left foot over the print of her left foot 

And the right one over the right

And just like that

I see myself in front of the door outside 

Opening it and closing 

Returning with her same sad steps after saying goodbye to her man

There’s only one difference 

There’s no room for new tears 

On the way back”

Rasha and Nanda and Isabelle performed these words, all in their own captivating language. 

The One Who Lived in the House Before Me felt like a tribute to all women. It is a voice to fears and long nights and connection. It’s a voice that was loud enough for people to take back home with them. 

When we asked Rasha Omran about what she loves about poetry she said “I love everything that has to do with it, I love writing it, reading it and performing it. I love to read real poetry whether it’s modern or classic or translated.” and that love surely made it to the audience. The passion in the room was deafening. 

The One Who Lived in the House Before Me is a story of many women painted by strong female figures. The performance was part of D-CAF (Downtown Contemporary Art Festival)  that started on the 1st of October and ended on October 22nd. The festival featured the works of national and international artists. From photography exhibitions, to live performances, to sound tours, and virtual reality trips, D-CAF truly had it all.

D-CAF has been held every year in Cairo since 2014. Visit here to know more about the festival.

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