Welcome to Elaine and Muna Imady’s Website
Mother and Daughter Authors
Ahlan wa sahlan
a warm welcome
Maybe you read one of our books and want to know more about us?
Maybe you just chanced upon our website? In either case, Ahlan we sahlan as they say in Syria.
About the Authors
A Syrian American family of writers
Elaine comes from a family with roots that go back to the 18th century in the hamlet of Palisades, NY, on the Hudson River. While studying at NYU, she met and married a fellow student from Syria. In 1960, Elaine, her husband Mohammed Imady – with his newly minted PhD - and their daughter Susan, went to live in Damascus, Syria, Mohammed’s home town. There, they raised three bi-lingual, bi-cultural children: Susan, Muna and Omar.
Mohammed & Elaine in Palisades, NY.
(photo # 1 Mohammed & Elaine in Palisades, NY)
In the nineties, the world famous writer Mary Lovell came to give a talk about Jane Digby at Damascus University. Elaine had read every book about Jane Digby, the titled Englishwoman who famously married a Bedouin sheikh in the 19th century and spent the last 30 years of her life in Damascus and the desert with him. Elaine felt an affinity for Jane so she rushed to attend Mary’s talk. After the talk, she invited Mary to her home and a warm friendship ensued. Elaine showed Mary some of her writing and Mary said the crucial words, “This could be published.” Thus encouraged, Elaine went on to write Postscripts from Palisades. This book is about a town, Palisades; a family, the Posts; but mostly it is about Elaine’s mother, Mildred Post RIppey, a woman who broke all the stereotypes. Her life was a brave struggle to overcome the fears of her childhood and the failure of her marriage; to meet the challenge of raising three daughters alone while holding down two jobs; and to fulfill her longing to get a college education. At eighty-one, she graduated from college and went on to fight her final battle which was with old age. She fought a valiant fight and died in Palisades where she had been born 94 years earlier.
Elaine’s next book was a memoir about leaving America in 1960, and travelling with her Syrian husband and their small daughter to Damascus, Syria where she has spent the rest of her long life. This book is called Road to Damascus and it is more than a memoir since it includes chapters on the history of the Imady family and of the history of Damascus where the Imady family has lived for hundreds of years.
In 2019, Road to Damascus won a prestigious Eric Hoffer award. It was awarded first runner up in the legacy non-fiction category for the 2019 Eric Hoffer awards.
(photo # 2 Mildred Post Rippey)
Muna was born in 1962 and at an early age declared she was a “writer and a poet”. Although the family laughed, it would prove to be the simple truth. From the time she could write, a pen was seldom out of her hands. In 1987, Muna married Nizar Zarka, an engineer studying in France. Muna and Nizar had two children born in France: Nour and Sammy. Also, in the bustling six years they were in France, Nizar obtained a PhD in computer technology and Muna earned a Matrix from the Sorbonne while continuing to write.
(Photo # 3 - Muna & Nizar in France)
After six years in France, the Zarka family came back to Damascus. For a while, Muna wrote stories in Arabic that were published in Majid, a magazine for children. Then, someone suggested Muna try teaching English to Syrian children since she came from a family of teachers. She was hired by Amideast and quickly became one of their star teachers. She wrote her own curricula, text books and reading primers and taught in a gifted, original way with games, puppets and skits. Her students loved Muna and her classes and learned English painlessly. In 1998, Muna stopped teaching temporarily when Kareem, her third child, was born.
( Photo # 4 - Muna with a class at Amideast)
It was perhaps when Muna was home with her new baby that she chanced upon a book that re-ignited her interest in Syrian folk culture. This book was The Disappearing old Damascus and in it the author, Anghelos Keusseoglou, describes the old customs of his city in a folksy, charming way. He saw how modern ways had begun to take over the city and wanted to make sure the old traditions were remembered. This book fired Muna’s imagination and reminded her of the folktales her tete (grandmother) used to tell her. When Muna returned to Amideast she brought with her this renewed interest in Syrian folk culture which, like Keusseoglou, she saw was being lost. She persuaded her students – who were from all the provinces of Syria – to ask their grandmothers for folktales and recipes and they were happy to oblige. Muna would translate them into English and use them in her classes.
(Photo # 5 – Muna teaching at Amideast
Life changed for Muna and for all Syrians as Syria began to unravel. The American Embassy closed, Amideast closed, and Muna moved to a private school where she taught until Damascus became so unsafe, that even this school closed.
Now that she was free, Muna began to write full-time. She organized the Syrian folktales and recipes she had collected and translated into a book. This first book of Muna’s is called simply Syrian Folktales and was published in 2011 by MSI Press. Folk stories and recipes from all the 14 provinces of Syria fill the pages of the book. Muna enthusiastically promoted her book on Facebook and attracted a large number of friends and folktale fans. Also, the prestigious on-line magazine, Wild River Review, began publishing Muna’s poems and stories.
(Photo # 6 Muna with her first book, Syrian Folktales)
After the success of her first book, she planned a more ambitious book. It would include folktales and recipes not only from the provinces of Syria, but also from the ethnic minorities in Syria that Muna felt had contributed so much to the country. This was her pushback against the way the Syrian war was dividing the country.
Muna’s health began to fail as the war intensified. She lived in Berze, on the slopes of the mountain overlooking Damascus and from her home she had a panoramic view of the city. Starting in 2012, her location on Mt. Qassioun began to give her a frightening overview of the war. Government shells were fired over her home to the Ghouta below while shells from the rebels in the Ghouta landed in Berze. Whenever her children or husband left home, Muna would constantly phone them to be sure they were safe.
( Photo # 7 - Muna & her children L t R Nour, Muna, Sammy & Kareem)
At the beginning of 2016, Muna was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. She had open heart surgery in April, 2016, and died twelve days later. Her family firmly believe the war contributed to her death.
Muna left behind an unfinished book with a complete table of contents so her plan for the book was clear. In addition, she left many hand-written folktales in Arabic and other folktales translated into English on her three laptops. Her mother and sister channeled their loss and grief into finishing Muna’s book. It took three years, but in March, 2019, Muna’s book, Kan Ya Ma Kan: Folktales & Recipes of Syria & its Ethnic Groups was published by Daybreak Press.
(Photo # 8 - The book launch of Kan Ya Ma Kan sponsored by Mozaic)
A gala book launch was held in Dulles, Virginia on 17 March, 2019 for Muna’s Kan Ya Ma Kan, which means “Once upon a time” in Arabic. The book launch was sponsored by the NGO Mozaic and ten percent of the profits of this book go to Mozaic. This very worthy non-profit charity organization provides a variety of vital services to new refugees and immigrants in their area. Muna would be delighted to know that her book will help this organization in a small way.
Muna left a trove of writing behind and Muna’s husband, started posting some of her poems and stories on Facebook. He began to think some of these stories and poems should be collected and that we should try to publish them. Thus, the idea for another book was born, a book Muna’s mother and sister also edited. The book came to be called Damascus amid the War and was published by MSI Press in July 2020. The first poems in this book were written before the Syrian civil war began or was even dreamed of. However, the poems and stories that follow were written during four years of the war, from 2012 to 2016 and were strongly influenced by the battles raging nearby. Muna was greatly affected by the war and the war helped shorten her life. Damascus amid the War is one woman’s heartfelt impression of her beloved city at war.
(Photo # 9 book cover of Damascus amid the War)
AMID THE WAR
June 20, 2020
Muna Imady, writer, poet and teacher spent her last four years in Damascus as
random shells fell, people disappeared, car bombs exploded young men were
drafted into the army, checkpoints sprung up around the city and there were
shortages of fuel, electrical cutoffs. Many of those who could leave, left. Muna
stayed and described in prose and poetry how her fellow Damascenes coped with
this war that no one expected and no one imagined would last so long.
What is life like in a city at war? Young men are drafted and sent to the front
lines, shortages of electricity and fuel abound, checkpoints spring up around the
city, people disappear, and worst of all, random shells fall so that no place safe.
How do Damascenes cope with the many cruelties of a civil war? Read this book
for one woman’s take on life in Damascus during four years of the Syrian war.
Muna Imady, bi-lingual, bi-cultural writer records in prose and poetry her city in
crisis and how her fellow Damascenes adapt.
Kan Ya Ma Kan
February 18, 2019
With the terrible civil war raging in Syria one of the biggest fears of my young
friend Muna Imady was that her country’s unique culture would suffer. In
particular she worried that the oral tradition of story-telling, and even the ancient
stories themselves, would be lost. The result is this book of folk tales, and old
recipes, from diverse regions of Syria and handed down through generations,
painstakingly collected in numerous interviews and research and charmingly retold
here. Muna died before this book could be finished and published but she lives still
though her beguiling writings and poetry. Anyone who loves Syria will love this
book as much as I did. Mary S. Lovell
January 6, 2012
Muna Imady’s first book, “Syrian Folktales”, is a slim little book that is still selling 9 years after it was first published. Perhaps the reason for its popularity is that it is the first book of its kind in English, a book that includes stories from all the 14 provinces of Syria. Perhaps it is the charm of the book written by a bi-lingual, bicultural daughter of Syria. Muna was concerned that the rich oral traditions of her country were being lost and she persuaded women from every province of Syria and from every walk of life to contribute what they remembered of the tales, sayings, proverbs and recipes of their rich heritage. All the folktales in this book were told to Muna in Arabic who then translated them into English. Muna had a warm and friendly disarming approach to people and was able to get stories from total strangers; people she met on busses or in parks or on a tour; women selling vegetables by the side of the road, as well as relatives and neighbours. Relatives used to say Muna could get a story from a stone. Muna died in April 2016 after open heart surgery, but two more of her books were published posthumously.
Anyone interested in folklore or in Syria will find this book a fascinating
introduction to a little-visited country of the Middle East. It gives a tantalising
glimpse of the rich traditions of Syria.
Road to Damascus
March 2, 2009
In the mid-1950s, young American women were on the borderland of change. Ahead lay the upheaval of the women's movement and behind lay the landscape of their mothers. Girls were encouraged to get an education at moderate cost and a husband at all cost. Into this mix came Elaine Rippey, already somewhat of an activist and a student at New York University in 1955. She arrived from Palisades, NY for an education and within a short time left with an unlikely husband and a future no one would have anticipated.
Her autobiography of the first years of her marriage to Mohammed Imady, former Minister of Economy for the Syrian Arab Republic who now serves his country as Chairman of the Syrian Commission on Financial Markets and Securities, is a sharp-eyed look into the delights and detours of being a foreign wife in a country that most of her family and friends had never heard of. Even today, few Americans know Syria as anything other than a place too close to the Axis of Evil.
This memoir takes a long and loving look at the real Syria which became over time Elaine's home. She weaves her own tale into stories of her husband's family, a family that dates to the early 1500s. She recounts her introduction to a world of customs and rules so vastly different from those of mid-20th century New York with warmth and love. I personally sympathized with her "surprise" at the facilities, or lack thereof. Some things never change.
She tells the history of this ancient land through the stories told to her by her husband's mother, his siblings and assorted family members. These tales were a way for her to learn about the religion, the politics, the social structure of her new home. And they are an enlightening way for the reader to learn the history of this little-known country from the perspective of those who lived it. Mrs. Imady does not shy from addressing head on all the cultural differences and speaks clearly about her choices as she raised her three children. While other foreign wives of Syrian men struggled to find a life in such a different world, she adapted, considered, accepted and rejected customs that were strange to her at first. Many dear friends returned home. She chose to stay and we now benefit from her forthright and affectionate look back.
Mrs. Imady's position as the wife of a cabinet minister afforded her an unrivaled perspective. Her life was not that of a cosseted, sheltered "little woman", kept in the background and blissfully ignorant of the history being made around her. While not inflammatory or sensational, she is not coy about describing her experiences. Her description of the bombardment by Israel on residential areas near her home in October of 1973 is the tale of all women who see war come to them while they and their children look on.
This is a work to stimulate conversation. Her book is lively and an eye opening opportunity for anyone who is genuinely interested in knowing about another culture from the inside out. She provides an opportunity for correcting many misconceptions that Westerners have of a little known region. It is a must read for anyone interested in knowing both sides of the story.
Postscripts from Palisades
January 20, 2003
Postscripts from Palisades is the story of a town--Palisades, a family--the Posts, but most of all, it is the story of Mildred Post Rippey. Mildred broke all the stereotypes. She was a Presbyterian all her life, yet, when her daughter married Mohammed Imady, a Syrian student at NYU, Mildred welcomed him into the family. She made her first trip abroad at sixty to visit her daughter in Damascus and came to love Damascus and call it her 'second home.'
Her life was a brave struggle to overcome the fears of her childhood and the failure of her marriage; to meet the challenge of raising three daughters alone while holding down two jobs and to fulfil her longing to get a college education. At eighty-one she graduated from college and went on to fight her final battle which was with old age. She fought a valiant fight.