Sara Shaarawi

Sara Shaarawi


Dear Lyceum,  

I have trouble sleeping these days. If you knew me well you’d know that I never have trouble sleeping. Sleeping is a vital part of who I am.  

I don’t know why you would be interested, but as I sit here, writing to you from a small Hebridean island, all I can think to say is that I have trouble sleeping because that’s what’s on my mind right now. I lie awake terrified the same way I was terrified as a child when I used to be scared of the dark. Scared of people coming and killing my family. Scared of ghosts and djinns that might want to mess with us. Scared of being watched without any of us knowing. Scared of being caught off guard, of being caught helpless. It seems all those fears I thought I semi-conquered are back to haunt me. 

It doesn’t help that my partner is an avid sleep talker. One night after making the mistake of watching a horror film, I lay wide awake imagining all the worst things my brain could conjure up in the dark. Then my partner rolled towards me, tensed up and whispered ‘what the fuck is that!’ to which I promptly shouted ‘EWAN WAKE UP NOW.’ 

This must be a scary time for you too. I wonder how you’re coping with being empty? Whether you’re even coping at all.  

Sometimes I feel like I’m coping well and other times I don’t. Having very limited access to phone signal and internet doesn’t help. I’ve been living on the Isle of Colonsay since March. We’re here supporting my partner’s family, it feels right in times of crisis to be near loved ones and family. We can’t be near mine so instead we opted to stay near Ewan’s. I don’t know how well you know me dear Lyceum (I feel like we know each relatively well), but I am not a rural, remote island living kind of person. I am a bit city girl through and through. For the first month, we slept over a small gas leak that we assumed was an animal rotting under the caravan. I have to walk out on to the road to make phone calls, and I take work calls in a shed. Sometimes it takes an entire two hours to send one email. I am constantly chasing bees out of the caravan and today I helped rescue a lamb that had gotten stuck in the fence. There’s a beautiful garden next to the caravan, but I know nothing about gardening so now it’s become a jungle of herbs, flowers, trees, weeds, leaves, there might even be veg in there at this point, who knows? I cook a lot, we ask for mystery items in our deliveries to create variety. Once I give up on getting any work or life admin done, I play video games. I think about how interesting it would be to write a video game. I’m reading books again. I spend most of my mornings trying to get stable-enough internet to send an ‘all is well’ text to my mother. I worry about my parents a lot and I wish I was nearer to them. I try not to think about the prospect of something happening to them as Cairo airport is closed and I wouldn’t be able to fly in. I had been thinking about moving back, I now know it’s time to spend more time in Egypt. 

It’s taken me a long time to write this to you. I don’t know why. I think it’s because I feel I have nothing to say at this point in time. I don’t have anything witty or smart or thoughtful to say about theatre, or community, or the pandemic, or Scotland, or Egypt, or about life really. I don’t have the energy to play all the parts I usually play, token Arab of Scottish theatre, or disgruntled playwright, or angry woman, or emerging new voice, or whatever it is I’ve played over the nine years I’ve been in Scotland. I guess I’m in the process of re-evaluating what I want to do and where I want to be, maybe even who I am or who I want to be.  

Do you think you’ll be asking yourself the same questions? I think you’ll have to. I think all theatres will have to. This is a transformative moment and it’s moving so fast, I can barely keep up. We are all part of it and I wonder which of us will cut out all the bits of us that are toxic, rotten and decaying, and which one of us will hold on to the bits of us that are fossilised, archaic and rigid. We are all being forced to rethink how we share space, how we connect, how we take care of one another, how do we want to spend our energy. I hope you’re also thinking about all this, how will you create space? How will you create connections? How will you foster care? How will you spend your resources? Personally I also hope you think about how you can build solidarity, about who occupies your building and why, about who runs your building and why, about how the value of an arts building is measured because your value as a building is being tested these days, so maybe it’s time for a reimagining, maybe it’s time for transformation. 

Anyway, I need to go now to visit Ewan’s mum, we sit outside her house, she makes us fresh scones (with jam and butter), we share stories, and we make plans to go Egypt once all this is over. 

Tags: Letters