Interviews with Storytellers - Alia Alzougbi

Alia AlzougbiAlia is a Lebanese storyteller based in London. She performed at the Settle Storytelling Festival in 2010.

She tells us, "the modern history of the Middle East has been fraught with conflict. My family escaped Lebanon during the 1982 Israeli invasion and moved to Iraq, then fled Baghdad in 1991 during the Gulf War. Since then, we moved to Jordan, then Syria, and finally settled back in Lebanon some years back. I came to the UK 6 years ago.

Where in the world are you?

London, UK…for now. But I have a gipsy heart and something tells me I’ll be on the move again very soon!

How long have you been telling stories and where do you perform?

All my life! My father is a religious man and as children he would try to get us closer to our religion by telling us exciting stories about it. I learned from him. Professionally, I have been telling stories for around 6 years now. I perform in Museums, festivals, schools…and quite often in casual surroundings to my friends!

Why did you become a storyteller?

Sheer coincidence. I trained as an actress, and once I was asked to tell a story as a performance. I loved the process and the responsibility. In storytelling, you can’t say ‘Oh, it was no good because of the writer or the director…etc’ It’s all about you, so you give it all you’ve got.

Where do you get your stories from?

I like to research tales from the Middle East in the Arabic language to remain as close to their vein as possible. 

What advice do you have for aspiring storytellers?

There is a jewel in every story, but it is not immediately apparent. Sometimes it leaps out at you because you are in a place where you need guidance, but sometimes it takes a little bit of time before you get the ‘aha!’. Find stories that speak to you in this way.

Who is your favourite storyteller?

There are many, but at the moment I am most interested in the works of Rumi. In the UK, it is Hugh Lupton. 

What is your favourite story?

That keeps changing depending on where I am in my life and what guidance I need. At the moment it is ‘The Lion and The Well’ by Rumi. It is a very clever story about how the world around us is our own creation, depending on how we choose to see it. 

Who is your favourite folklore/ mythological character and why?

There is a character in the Middle Eastern tradition called Juha. He is what we call a ‘wise fool’. His stories are very funny, even when they are a bit tragic. His logic is such that he sees the world in a convoluted way so that his experience of difficulty is always received with wonder and excitement. His resilience is in his humorous approach to the world. 

How do you relax?

I spend time with loved ones. I practice yoga. I have a long, hot candle-lit bath. I close my eyes and focus on the good things in life.