‘Skeena is a novel on patriarchy that never uses this word.’
– Kishwar Naheed
‘I feel as if I have been consumed by this novel; this is the most powerful effect, I think, of writing, when it grips you and does not let go. Skeena has done this to me. It is a beautiful and in some ways frightening thing, that kind of power of words.
‘What do we find in this novel? It is a portrait not just of a woman, but of many of the most intimate and beautiful, the closest and most terrible, parts of our humanity.’
– Anne Murphy
‘The novel takes a well-informed view of the way contemporary socio-political events have impacted women. Skeena’s interaction with women belonging to different ethnicities reflects the conflicting views that have arisen between Western feminist theory and third world feminism. For instance, there is a sense of impatience, lack of understanding, disdain, and frustration within the Canadian white women over Skeena’s failure to pull herself away from her cultural ties.’
– Shikha Kenneth
in South Asian Ensemble, 3/4, 2011-12
“Fauzia Rafique’s novel Skeena is written differently than the others, the author has begun and completed this work with the full witnessing of the time.”
– Parveen Malik
My name means different things in different languages. In Arabic, it is the ‘Spirit of Tranquility’ (Sakina), in Hebrew; the ‘Indwelling Feminine Face of Divinity’ (Shekhinah); and in the languages of Native Peoples, the ‘River of Mists’ (Skeena). At this time, I don’t favor one meaning over the other. They make a lot of sense together but if I met a people who associated this sound to a meaning that does not fit my scheme, I will have to pick and choose.
Skeena is the story of a Muslim Canadian woman spanning thirty years of her life where she explores her changing environments, religious and cultural influences, and intimate relationships. Told by Skeena herself, it is a rare glimpse into the mind and perspectives of a Muslim woman. With the utter simplicity of style and expression, and a plot immersed in gripping realities, Fauzia has created a novel that is hard to put down even when it explodes some deep-rooted myths.
Manjeet introduced me to Iqbal Singh, the farm owner. A kind and familiar-looking man, he had asked me a couple of questions. I told him that I had picked fruits and vegetables in the Punjab for three years. The lie worked well, and I was hired as a farm Worker and assigned to tend tomatoes in the Greenhouse. And just like that, I had a job. This was my first job after 10 years of landing in Canada but within 36 hours of arriving in Surrey.
I had no car but getting from Surrey to Cloverdale by 6:30am was no problem because a labor contractor picked us up and took us back in a discarded school bus. In my first season, I made $700 per month. It was less than minimum wage but was enough for one person to live on. It worked out better for me because Manjeet offered me a room in her house at half the market rent. She, as she does now, lived at the farm with her husband Bha Mahnga Singh and their two kids Parmjeet and Sukhwinder.
It was the most wonderful time of my life, and BC is way more beautiful than any other place that I know. On a clear day at the farm, I could see the mountains from my window; and the air did not smell of gasoline. The environment was so peaceful that I could hear the hummingbirds even when sixty people were picking berries and chatting in the orchard with me. I was at home like I had never been in Canada.
Manjeet and Bha Mahnga inducted me into their household not as a boarder but as a sister. That is what I also expected. Summer was busy, winter was no less. What was common was a sense of invigoration in my daily routine. All of us worked from five in the morning to nine or ten in the evening. Manjeet and I would make breakfasts and lunches, and get the kids ready; at 6:30, Bha Mahnga would drive them to school, and we would clean up and join him in the orchard by seven. From that time on, I would chase and pick berries, interrupted only by lunch and a couple of tea breaks. Evenings were spent watching TV, finishing household chores, reading stories and studying.
I found myself in charge of Manjeet’s children’s education and wardrobe because the kids had assumed that coming from Toronto I would somehow be competitive in both. I tried to tell them that I had lived in a prison in Toronto but both Parmjeet and Sukhwinder thought it was an interesting story. I also did not want to think about it, so I began making use of the public library to stay on top of teen fashion and education.
about the author
Fauzia Rafique is a South Asian Canadian writer of fiction and poetry. Her English and Punjabi writings have been published in Canada, Pakistan, and on the Web. Print titles include novel ‘The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentless Warrior’ (Libros Libertad 2016), ‘Holier Than Life’ Poetry (Purple Poppy Press ebook: 2013, Print edition: 2016), ‘Skeena’ (English: Libros Libertad 2011, Punjabi: Sanjh Publications Lahore 2007) and anthology ‘Aurat Durbar’ (English, Toronto 1995). She is a blogger and a web designer, and maintains sites and blogs on violence against women, environment and Punjabi literature and art. Fauzia worked as a Screenwriter for Pakistan Television, and adapted the first novel of Fyodor Dostoevsky titled ‘Poor Folk’ (1846) in Punjabi as ‘Apay Ranjha Hoi’ (14 Episodes, 55 minutes each, PTV Lahore 1976)
More on Fauzia Rafique