In the mid 1980s, I stumbled upon a TV interview with an intelligent and beautiful young convert to Islam named Lisa Kaaki. Of British-French descent and barely in her twenties, she had moved to Saudi Arabia with her Lebanese husband. Lisa worked for the Saudi Broadcasting System, English and French Services, in Riyadh (and she would soon move into TV programs).
I was lonely, not just for a friend who would help me practice French, but for someone who understood what it was like to be a convert. Since I wrote for the Saudi Broadcasting System, English Service, in Jeddah, it was natural to try and contact her.
The friendship grew roots over the phone. We experienced many of the same things and gave each other support. Lisa was a budding writer. I told her of my publisher, American Trust Publications (NAIT), based in Indiana. ATP had put out my first story book, The Four Daughters of Yousef the Dairy Farmer. Editor/author M. Tariq Quraishi was working on my second, The Princess Who Wanted to be Poor.
Writing is a consolation to dreamers, which Lisa has always been. She immediately wrote a touching story of a little Muslim boy named Tarek who has lost his memory and is found sleeping in front of the Eiffel Tower by a woman named Madame Rose. Lisa asked me to edit, which I was happy to do.
ATP published Tarek, engaging the same talented illustrator, Mamoun Sakkal, as did the art for my later books, The Jinn in the Clock and A Wicked Wazir.
Lisa then wrote another poetic and meaningful Muslim children’s book, The Awakening. In this story, a little Arab boy named Salem, who has everything he could ask for, feels emptiness. Against his will, he turns into a palm tree. From that experience of life, he transforms into a stone and then a rose. When Lisa sent me this manuscript, I was delighted at her imagination and edited swiftly.
Tarek could not be more appropriate for this present moment of countless child refugees seeking asylum–and supportive comfort–in the West. The Awakening continues to offer a powerful yet subtle message for those young ones so blessed by material goods they may undervalue their own humanity.
Lisa and I wrote a travel column together for the Riyadh Daily newspaper. At the same time, she carved a niche for herself on Saudi television and radio, in both French and English, interviewing many interesting people and helping Muslim women gain respect as can be seen in this Youtube interview with female historian Hatoon Al Fassi :Lisa Kaaki, Not Without Women.
Today Lisa, ever the poet, lives in Cairo with her daughter and grandchild. I love her dearly. Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, mon amie. Que Dieu te bénisse!