Oh the miracles of modernity! Though Nadine Touma, the publisher of Dar Onboz, was not able to come to Camp she visited via Skype on Wednesday. Many of our teachers have incorporated books published by Dar Onboz into their curricula for Camp so it was a great pleasure to finally meet her.
Nadine began her conversation with the Campers by sharing her grandmother’s tradition of
beginning the day by sticking her face into a basil plant and taking a deep breath. Basil holds a rich symbolism for her family. Taking a deep breath of this herb is said to bring success, a happy family, and a peaceful home and to drive away negativity. She showed us her basil plant and blew its positive forces the 5694 miles from Beirut to Philadelphia.
In addition to the morning ritual of taking a whiff of basil, her grandmother inspired Nadine to embrace storytelling at a young age. Her grandmother too told great stories. Nadine said that her grandmother’s storytelling was “an homage to her matriarchy and her independence and strength as a woman.” For Nadine, becoming a writer was not a choice. She has loved telling stories since she was a young girl and “while some people see storytelling as telling lies I see it as creativity.” She has unleashed her boundless creativity in children’s books such as Doodles and The Moon and the Bird, which have informed this summer’s Art and Drama Classes respectively.
After this brief introduction, some campers asked Nadine how she comes up with her story ideas. “Sometimes they come to me in the morning when I’m sitting on the potty. Sometimes they come when I am kissing someone I love.” Campers giggled at her honest response.
Though she draws on all of her experiences in her writing, the book Is This a Passport Photo? is based on the incessant questions she had as a girl. This book of questions includes many thoughts and musings with which she pestered her parents. With this book she hoped to encourage parents to embrace the questions that their children pose.
The name of the publishing house exemplifies her reasons for writing and publishing books. ‘Dar Onboz’, which translates to ‘house of hemp seeds’, is a nod to the legend that feeding hemp seeds to birds make them sing. Similarly, she hopes that the Dar Onboz books will nourish people’s souls and ideas and inspire them to proudly express themselves. She aims “not to teach, but to share” with these books which she declared are her children. Rather than explaining what she hoped to convey in the stories she prefers to let “the reader to decide the deeper meaning in the books.” One topic that comes up in several Dar Onboz books is the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).
One camper wanted to hear about Nadine’s experience growing up in Lebanon during this civil war. “It was horrible. It was scary. I saw my parents’ pain and lost touch with family. It is something that has made me realize that violence is futile.” She dreams not only of peace but of a world in which there is a ban on manufacturing arms thereby forcing people to imagine other ways to solve problems than by picking up a gun.
Her desire to inspire people to think about the world and themselves in new ways is a common thread that runs through Dar Onboz books. She hopes the books will remind people to “look at the full moon and even if it happens every month, to notice how it is different and beautiful each time.” Her continuing sense of wonder, even as she grows older, makes her a captivating storyteller.