Not long after graduating from the American University in Kuwait, Jawa Al Ahmad found herself headed down a typical path. She was done with school, had started working at a reputable company and was immersed in the marriage trap. Suffocated by the typical lifestyle she felt obligated to live, Al Ahmad decided to do something different.
“I said, do what you want to do, start over,” she told bazaar. “I remembered my dream in high school was to always be a writer. So I said, if you don’t do it now you are never going to do it.”
Al Ahmad decided to take a trip with her sister to Paris, a city that has always enchanted her. They met a friend from Amsterdam and the trio spent ten days traveling to seven cities in France, Holland and Germany. All the while she kept her black moleskin notebook within arms reach and wrote. The finished copy, Fay, is the story of two young women fighting the typical, and finding their own path in life.
In each city they visited Al Ahmad found inspiration for scenes in her new book. Parisian rain fueled settings filled with hot chocolate and warm blankets. The picturesque houses in the harbor town of Voldendam in the Netherlands became an inspiration for the lake town the two young ladies visited for two weeks that would change their lives. The darkness of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany inspired her to explore her darkest emotions.
For her first book, Al Ahmad wrote about the topic she found most prevalent among her friends and family in Kuwait: marriage. The Kuwaiti had lived all over the world including USA, India, London and Italy with her family. When she returned to her home country, she had to adjust her very Western views to the traditional values of her family and of utmost importance was marriage. Yet, something was very wrong.
“I wanted to reflect the problems that made the divorce rate in Kuwait 72% last year,” she said. “I wanted to show that when you live in Kuwait we live by fake rules, and symbolize an alternative universe.”
Fay is set in that alternate universe, a place whose people follow Middle Eastern customs and traditions but are set in a scene surrounded by lake houses and small towns with art parties in quaint squares. The protagonists, Fay and her sister Sarah are in relationships that they know are not good for them. Sarah is married to a man that spends more time outside the house than in it, and almost none with her. Fay starts the book happy with her socialite lifestyle and the all the perks of being engaged to one of the country’s most eligible bachelors, but comes to the realization that there is more to life.
The dilemma is one that many Kuwaiti, and Arab, women are faced with. Fight the people you love to marry the man you want, or concede to their demands and live a life of dread behind a veil of happiness. Through her characters, Al Ahmad explores both options realistically. She punishes the girls for moral mistakes by exploring the consequences of such actions. Yet, she gives them the opportunity to turn their lives around, and live the life they dream of.
The strength of Fay lies in the author’s ability to transform the reader into this universe she has created. She describes the car ride to the lake house that will change the girl’s lives:
“There was magic in gray skies and pouring rain that seemed to bring to surface hidden secrets of one’s soul. The cold wind blew through their hair, caressing cheeks and necks and reminding them of emotions hey both seemed to be without in their lives.”
For the young Al Ahmad, being published is just the first step in what she hopes is a long career doing what she loves. The avid reader turned professional writer is keen to explore the psyche of her people, and begin conversations on difficult situations.
“Sometimes our dreams are scary because they are harder to achieve,” she said. “It was all about facing my fear and making my dream come true, and it gave me perspective in life to do what you want to do. But, to actually be a real writer you have to cross lines.”