Hello and welcome to Week 16 of the Wise Not Withered Character Showcase! I'm thrilled to present Nardeen, our 75-year-old Herb-Tracking Navigator! This character was actually the very first one I came up with, and I'm so very happy with how she and the other characters turned out in her story. The writers for this story were Heba, from Palestine, and me. Nardeen's wonderful, detailed illustrations were done by Natalia, from Argentina.
Now, what is an "herb-tracking navigator", you ask?? I'm not sure exactly how I came up with this concept. I had a vision of an elderly woman that has a rare magical ability of diagnosing an illness, and identifying and tracking the right herbs to cure it. Not necessarily a past or future setting, Nardeen's world is one lacking in technology, but abundant with plants and herbs, animals (particularly goats), and supernatural elements like magic and spirits.
Nardeen's story, titled "Generational Forbearance", was a collaborative effort between Heba and me. The story begins with some tender moments between Nardeen and other villagers, including her grand-daughter, Amira. The story focuses on the relationship between the two of them; Nardeen and Amira both have the "sacred herb-tracking sense".
The woman of the generation in between them—Nardeen's daughter/Amira's mother—is named Aliana, and she does not have the herb-tracking ability. This creates some tension in Aliana's relationships with both Nardeen and Amira. In addition, Aliana's husband/Amira's father had passed away years prior to the story, from a tick infestation—even though it was not Nardeen's fault, Aliana still harbors some resentment toward her mother, the esteemed village apothecary, for not being able to save him.
A mysterious plague afflicts many villagers in the story, and Aliana is one of them. She ends up passing away, still visibly angry with her mother and never letting go and forgiving her. The title is "Generational Forbearance" because one of the main themes in the story is forgiveness (or lack thereof) of parents. We see in Aliana that she never forgave Nardeen for things that ultimately were not Nardeen's responsibility (Aliana's lack of magical abilities and her husband's death). I wanted to provide this tragic example to show how very sad but very real it is that some people die without ever forgiving people they feel have wronged them in some way. I think resentment toward one's family, particularly parents, is probably pretty common across all cultures. It's really up to each of us to recognize that our parents did their best, and the mistakes they made are ultimately our responsibility to come to terms with, especially if our parents are no longer alive to discuss deeper matters.
The main themes in the story are pretty deep and raw, not unlike those of other Wise Not Withered stories, and they resonate especially for me in this time of my life. I was hesitant to post this episode and have been taking a while to write it because I realized that there was no way I could not talk about my own mother, and how her recent passing ties in so closely with this story.
My mother passed away from lung cancer in the end of February, and it was an earth-shattering experience, to say the least. I guess I shouldn't say "was", because it still is affecting me nearly every moment of every day. When I first wrote Nardeen's story, I tried to write about what it might be like to experience the death of a loved one, and now that I actually have experienced it myself, I have two reactions to what I wrote. First, I'm surprised that some of the things I wrote about were absolutely spot on to what I am feeling now. Second, there were a few instances where I thought what I wrote may be a bit too dramatic, but after having lost my mother and experienced this type of grief first-hand, I will not change those parts because the death of a family member really is such a dramatic and life-changing event.
Forgiveness of parents and the cycle of life in general are the two main themes of this story. Aliana, as I mentioned earlier, provides an example of an older woman who does not forgive her parents, and ends up dying with the pain and resentment still locked in her heart. Nardeen on the other hand travels with Amira to the source of the plague and must come to terms with some incredibly difficult decisions that her own parents made, back seventy-four years ago when she was still an infant.
She discovers she had a twin sister that her parents tragically decided to leave behind, because they could not afford to keep both babies. The wrath of the twin sister is what ended up causing the plague—pain and resentment manifested—that traveled miles and miles across the ocean and rivers to Nardeen's village.
When I was getting ready to make this showcase, I thought about how Amira and Nardeen's relationship may become strained when Aliana dies. I thought maybe I should add in more conflict between the two of them, possibly Amira blaming herself or Nardeen for the death of her mom (and her dad years ago). I decided later though that there was enough conflict (between Nardeen and Aliana, Amira and Aliana, and closer to the end Nardeen with her twin sister's spirit), and adding in more would just feel forced and unnecessary. Besides, in time of grief and uncertainty, it just made more sense to have a solid relationship that never wavers. That's how I feel about my brother right now—while my relationships with other family members somehow became even more strained after my mother's death, I honestly feel like there's nothing that could come between my brother and me. While we are both feeling the intensity of losing our mom, we are able to see only each other and a few other select people during this COVID-19 quarantine. So I wanted to show that strong bond that gets even stronger during hard times.
This story has such a special place in my heart, particularly because as I said before, Nardeen was the first Wise Not Withered character I created, almost two years ago now. Nardeen's story is so fitting for a video game, and I'm so proud of the parts I added into the story that would be super fun to play. When Nardeen and Amira first set off on their voyage, I made a long list of things that Nardeen puts into her pack, though I finished writing that list after figuring out what all she was going to do later. Here's one of my favorite parts of the story:
“'Amira, we are in need your paddling skills after all,' the older woman smiled as she handed the oar to the younger woman. Amira nodded, not knowing exactly what Nardeen was thinking, but trusting. 'The direction of the river has changed, but we can still steer our boat to and fro.'
With her grandmother’s directions, Amira paddled their boat to either side of the river while Nardeen reached out and plucked a multitude of reeds and grasses of different lengths and widths. She then broke a handful of twigs and branches off of the dead tree trunks. Nardeen sifted through the pile of twigs until she found two that were the same length and shape, bending slightly outward. She carved a small slot in the bottom of each twig, then using a thin blade of grass, she threaded it first through the slots then around and around, securing the twigs together.
From inside her pack she retrieved a large handful of dandelion stems. She squeezed each stem gently, catching the goopy substance that came out into her hands. Rubbing her palms together, the dandelion goop became a single, thin, elastic piece, which she strung across the top of the twigs, in the space that formed as the twigs bent away from each other. Nardeen reached in her bag for the stash of small nuts. Bringing her newly crafted slingshot up to eye level, she placed a nut in the spider web, pulled it back, then fling! The nut flew through the air and landed with a plop into the water."
As with all of the other characters too, I could not have fleshed out Nardeen's aesthetic and personality without the help of the writer and illustrator who contributed to her story and look.
So without further ado, first here is Heba introducing herself and talking about her experience writing about Nardeen.
"Hello! My name is Heba Hayek. I live in Palestine in a small city called Gaza, where a lot of conflicts happened in the last decade. I'm married, and I have three beautiful children. I've worked in several fields. Currently, I am a translator, proofreader, and creative writer. I started writing in the age of 13. Most of my writings were about my daily life, and sometimes I would criticize some thoughts and ideas that I didn't like in my society.
Each article, or topic, or small paragraph that I write usually reflects a certain situation, feeling, or person that had an impact on me. The most precious articles to my heart are two. The first one is called 'Survivor Lost Within'. In this article, I reflected my own experience during the last aggression on Gaza, while being pregnant with my third child. And the second article is called 'Beneath The Rubble Rises Hope', where I talk about a young lady who fought all the misfortunes she had in her life to achieve her goals.
In this story, I wanted to reflect the bright side of my society, because worldwide we are not recognized as the peaceful, loving society. When I started writing about Nardeen, in my head I had imagined every single mother and grandmother in my society. Nardeen is an example of any grandmother who is willing to do anything for the sake of her family. Nardeen is an example, because she is a leader. She is willing to do anything to serve her people. In Nardeen's character, I chose to implant my traditions, reflect in her dress: the color of the dress, the colors of the dress that sewed in the dress. While Amira is another example of any grand-daughter in my society.
The whole story reflects the strong relationship that gathers the families in Palestinian society. The scenes in the story are a collection of my own childhood. The places where I used to spend my childhood, the view of the sea, the view of the boat, the view of the farm: everything is all a combination of a shattered childhood.
Because I've always believed that women are capable of doing anything they want, that's why I joined the Wise Not Withered project. The idea of the project is to erase the stereotype image of women all over the world, and to show them that women are educated, strong, and can achieve anything they want. The whole experience of the project was amazing, and it let me get to know different people from different cultures worldwide."
And here is Natalia, introducing herself and talking about the gorgeous illustrations she made of our protagonist Nardeen, and her grand-daughter Amira.
"Hi, my name is Natalia, AKA Nillus Art. I'm from Argentina, so I'm really sorry for my English right now. And well, I'm going to try my best. I describe my art style like girls, girls, girls! Because like eighty percent of my work are female characters. They are everything to me, I love drawing women. Also I love to use gold, doing really really beautiful flowing hair, and you see pink, blue, and violet in my palette because they are my favorite colors ever.
I think one of my favorite pieces are some of the latest pieces I made with red, black, and gold. I'm making a series of mythological creatures. A year ago I made a spirit, and I think I used blue, green, and pink. That is also a great palette. It was like super hard, because the piece is really little, and have so many details. I don't know why I made that to myself. So they were really difficult to do, and I'm so proud of them. I hope you like these pieces too, in the story's work.
I really love the story, and it made me remember a lot of my granny. I think Nardeen is so like her. I think the story is amazing, because you have so many depths in the characters, you have so many moments... They are so well-balanced: you have bad moments, you have good moments, you have dramatic moments. I think you will find yourself loving the characters in the end of the story. What I love the most about Nardeen is that even in a really dark moment, she finds herself, keeping on, and doing the next right thing. And I think she is so brave, and a lot of people are going to love her for that.
I joined this project because I love the idea of representation of older women in the media. As a gamer and comic reader, it's really sad to see that 40+ woman characters are only support or really secondary characters. I think that telling these stories really reflect women and their value. I know I'm going to grow old someday, and I hope to be like them, like all these characters. Keep doing what I love, because you have no limit to do what you love if you're alive."
[caption id="attachment_664" align="aligncenter" width="1806"]Illustration by Natalia
Hope you enjoyed the episode! Thanks for listening. I'm a bit slower than usual to get them out right now, but there are indeed nine more characters, so please stay tuned for more showcases!