Abdallah Abdel-Ati Al-Naggar - Diary from Pécs


The plane took off from Cairo to Hurghada, and directly from that charming coastal city, we arrived Saturday night to Budapest; the Pearl of the Danube, where I stayed for the whole Sunday. The next morning, I met Károly Méhes, who is in charge of the program. He drove me to the historic city of Pécs, which I had heard a lot about. The reality was more beautiful and marvelous than I have ever imagined. We spent time talking about the history of Hungary, and the current situation in the Arab world, as well as the Ukrainian-Russian war and its repercussions at local and international levels. The greater part of our conversation during the two- and half-hour drive until we reached Pécs, was related to the topic that I intend to write about during the coming period: the unjustly forgotten Török May, the Hungarian wife of the last khedive of Egypt and Sudan, her role as Khediva, as well as details on the intertwined insights to the Khedivial court with snippets of her romantic relationship with Abbas Hilmi Pasha, her divorce, and her later life until her last days and funeral.

I spent two whole weeks in the two-hundred years old Művészetek Házában ‘Coworking House or House of Arts’. The place smells of the nineteenth century, the furnishings, style and paintings. As for the administrative staff, they reflect the senior management' well-selection of personnel, all of them, without exception, showed a spirit of cooperation, affection, they assisted in anything I asked for, even with the simplest matters. I grab the opportunity to repeat my gratitude to each and every one of them.

During these two weeks, I continued writing about the Hungarian originated Khediva of Egypt. I wrote a large part about her childhood and youth, her relationship with her mother, father and stepfather. I also met the renowned Hungarian writer Vörös István and the American journalist Hope Reese, where we talked and chatted a lot about various literary and cultural issues in our three countries: Egypt, Hungary and the United States. We had lunch in one famous, but strange restaurant. (For example, there is a basket full of delicious peanuts on each table, nothing strange here; however, the waiter asked us to eat as much as we want from the peanuts, and even to throw the peel on the floor. Since this is not generally common in Hungary or Europe, to throw the peel or leftovers of food on the floor, I kept looking secretly around to see what people were doing with the peanut peel. I even started examining the wooden floor of the restaurant to make sure before getting involved with it ... my God, this was real). The second time we met, we were graciously and generously invited by Károly Méhes and his wife Enikő Kulcsár. Just as the first meeting was pleasant and entertaining, so was the second. Good company makes time fly.

During my stay at the House of Arts, we also made a small informative documentary about the writing activity that each one of us does. I cannot forget the filming crew and their technical directions, which I do not understand much, nevertheless, I was obedient, this is their profession which they diligently master, as seen by all, and I trust them. By the way, I have just watched the trailer on the Facebook page of the Program, it is a mind catcher. I wish that everyone likes it and that we have introduced a new and useful thing.

I also gave a lecture about Török May to the students of the high school located in Széchenyi Square. It was followed by an open Q&A session from students and teachers on the same topic. At the same event, and through the “Writer and Translator” meeting, we also talked about the experiences and skills that culminated through cooperation with the poet István Vörös in translating his collection of poetry, Bread and Salt. There were really a lot of questions, and the professional photographer was there as usual... I mean Karcsi.

As for the second half of my stay in Pécs, it was in the official residence designated for the guests of the Program. It was very quiet, good neighbors, and an exceptional location, in addition to the presence of all the necessary capabilities for the writer. During the last three weeks of the residency, I focused more and more on the subject I was writing about, dealing with controversial issues in the life of the Hungarian wife of the Khedive of Egypt, her role in the political and social life in Egypt, how she saw the Arab world and the Ottoman Caliphate at that period, who supported and who opposed her. I wrote a whole big non-fiction chapter. I can't forget here either that I haven't given up my habits - maybe bad or good - that I love so much: shopping, especially in the local markets, and wandering in the narrow city streets that distinguish it from other Hungarian cities. I kept practicing all my hobbies without interruption.

I used to do my best to attend the concerts and cultural evenings that the city also organizes. Perhaps I was lucky, as two cultural events about Egypt were organized within the framework of the “Day of Egypt” program, and I was present. I say with all sincerity and frankness, I benefited from some new information about my homeland.

Of course, this five-week visit was full of work and writing, but I also visited most famous places within the historical city of Pécs and its neighbourhoods. The fifth largest Hungarian city is full of historical monuments, and it made quite a good impression on me. I recommend everyone to visit the Zsolnay porcelain museum, which is inseparable from the city's name, the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter, declared to be a Hungaricum in 2014, with its countless cultural and architectural attractions and family-friendly programs. In no way should you forget about the Mosque, the zoo, and the characteristic viewing terrace of the TV tower. I was also in Szigetvár, where Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was buried, and I visited the Mohács wonderful city full of historical monuments and also modernity. Finally, I worked and created a lot. The Hungarian Writers’ Residency of Pécs is really considered an ideal creative place.

On the margins of this visit, thanks to the Residency Program, I received invitations to deliver lectures, in collaboration with my friend Zoltán Prantner, at some Hungarian universities, such as the Technical University of Budapest, Eötvös Loránd University, Szeged University, Kodolányi János University. All lectures were related to modern history and international relations as it follows: Nándor Hidegkúti in the Arab World; Jewish Community in Egypt (1952–1970); The Egyptian aspects of the Trianon Peace Treaty and its effects on bilateral relations; The history of Yemeni Jews and their exodus to the land of Israel; The Hungarian Legend Ferenc Puskás – Historical moments, performance and memory in the Arab world; The Golden Age of the Egyptian-Hungarian Relations.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I intend to finish this novel during the summer of the next year, and that it will be published in the fall. Maybe I will finish writing it through another scholarship wihtin the Hungarian Writers’ Residency Program.

Giza, 2022. 12. 20.