Durham University

Open World Research Initiative (OWRI)

Performing Cancer in the Middle East

As part of her project on cultures of cancer in the Arab World, Dr Abir Hamdar has written and co-produced a play titled 'I am waiting for you' (وصفولي الصبر), based on interviews with cancer patients and consultations with oncologists at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre (AUBMC), in collaboration with the Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute (NKBCI). The performance was directed by Lina Abyad and staged at the Madina Theatre in Beirut, Lebanon, between 21 and 30 July 2017. See programme.

'I am waiting for you' is the first dramatic staging of Arab women's experience of cancer. The play's aim is to foreground and break some of the cultural taboos vis-à-vis this disease in the Arab world, and to showcase to experiences that have for long been rendered unspeakable. The project's broader ambition is to raise cultural awareness of the politics of talking about, and caring for, cancer patients in the Middle East. The full account of the preparations, staging and outcomes of this project are available here. Accompanying the production is also a 4-minute short film, directed by Soha Choucair & Lina Abyad and edited by Moonshot Post-Productions.

The play was also performed at the LAU Medical Centre - Rizk Hospital on 8 August 2017. This was the first time adult theatre was staged in a working hospital in the region, with patients and staff as audience. Yet another performance took place in Beirut on 8 February 2018 to mark World Cancer Day (4 February). The performance was hosted by the Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute (NKBCI) of the American University of Beirut Medical Centre (AUBMC) and performed at its Saab Medical Library. Further performances took place on 1-2 December 2018, in Nabatiyeh, South Lebanon, hosted by the Nabih Berri Government University Hospital, and also at Sanayeh House in Beirut.

The findings of Dr Abir Hamdar's research and the reactions to the performance of her play were presented at the New Directions in Qualitative Health Research: From Patient Experiences to Participatory Action Research Conference, organised by DIPEx International. This event, a major forum where international research on patient experiences of health and illness is discussed and developed, took place on 5 November 2019 at the University Medical Center in Groningen, Netherlands. A screening of the above-mentioned short film, directed by Soha Choucair and Lina Abyad, followed the presentation.

A 30-minute documentary about the performance has been produced by filmmakers Paloma Yáñez Serrano and Benjamin Llorens Rocamora of The Big Tree Collective. They also recorded the post-performance Q&A session with the author, director and actors (in Arabic), as well as two post-performance interviews (in English) - one with the Lebanese poet, novelist and playwright, Jad el Hage, and the other with Lubna Izziddin, founder of SANAD, the Home Hospice Organization of Lebanon. This short documentary featured also at the Language and Identity: Explorations Through Film mini festival (screenings and discussion with filmmakers), The former Cornerhouse, Manchester.

For more detail contact: abir.hamdar@durham.ac.uk