Nour Kamel

Nour Kamel is a writer based in Cairo, Egypt. She also works as an editor helping to launch homegrown magazines and online publications, and is a Winter Tangerine workshop alumnus and advisor. She received her a degree in American and English literature from the University of East Anglia and also studied at the University of Mississippi. Kamel writes about identity, language, sexuality, queerness, gender, oppression, femininity, trauma, family, lineage, globalisation, loss and food.

How Lineage Works

My father says everyone in his family is egyptian with a twinkle in his green eyes (he sees the doubt in mine), except for his grandfather the greeneyed turk, but everyone else was egyptian all the way back, truly.

My mother, like a true egyptian, knows but doesn’t care where her people came from. Somewhere she calls upper egypt and my sister collects ashes of information and tells me we are maternally iranian and nubian, which explains both our hair respectively.

My pops says the romeros were spanish and not mexican, they had blonde hair and blue eyes (according to him), that grandma (his) was an aztec and that’s why he’s so dark and ugly (he isn’t) and she lived to a hundred.

I always thought we were all an amalgam of each other because how could i be three when most were two? it didn’t make sense to tell people i was anything but american, knew jingles from the 50s and said sangitch instead of sandwich. strangers know we are sisters but she looks like her dad and i look like our mom and there must have been some osmosis of emotions going on something not lost in the space between a womb shared. there are parts inside my mother that are my sister that are my pops and here i am. our brother, somewhere. i knew this, as a kid and forgot it, somewhere, when another kid said you shouldn’t call each other sister.

Woman Looking for the Disappeared Disappears on Way to Conference on Disappearances

look, people just go missing here
what could be more female than that
to go missing with no one to claim you
were ever there

to speak a woman’s existence
demands her existence
does she exist if

there is no blood
no virginity tests
no orbital wounds
ashed over

what can be more violent than never knowing
in which way the bodies were taken
does she exist if all that’s left

are her shoes
some heartache
the memory that

I’ve never walked a street alone
forgetting who I am but goddamn
I’ll fake my safety til they believe it too

until trust is not just family
life is had above ground
love can be in color

we are the missing, forced
disappearances are causality if you’re cruel
are oxymoron if you still have a sense of humor

what is the function of femininity except survive in danger

my female body is for their violence on the daily
who has our bravery
plucked out of soft palms

if we rain it down on them
do we become the bloody invisible
drenched in it to live

maybe              lets live

before they bring the dying for us
with a silencing and our soldered off parts
they keep in trophy closets

Raet Meets Me at Behoos

if I cry on a cairo street alone tear my face apart like this city does kindness
someone will demand I immediately stop
pull up the consolation of a chair from nowhere in the middle of the street w kobayit shay[1]
someone will say malik ya binti[2] and I will be the universal daughter that Ra couldn’t live without
someone shaped like mama will shove a shush and something sweetened
into my supplicant mouth that has forgotten every name of god
except my own

someone I love a woman tells me I’ve lost weight                                wait like
Where did I go What has hollowed me out and Have I done this to myself
have I pulled the abaya[3] tight to my body revealed the rolls of scripture I keep
only for myself, hastily hidden them for safety so well I’ve forgotten how to pray
to my body

the sun god had only daughters, or wives, an either/or type mythology blurred
that Ra herself could get away with being more than one grow herself fat for loving
soon you won’t feel the ribs poke through their shadow rippling underneath your skin
every breath breakable

I dream about crushing the men who would eat me between my pillowy thighs
grow my hair thick on air like I taught it it doesn’t need shit to live but my hands
Raet gives herself both names to survive in time, in fracture, she knew a part
must be lost, a part attached to our names, that they’ll acknowledged all the work
our body endures

once I started believing it I could count through my limbs everyone who branded me beautiful told me I was in their moment something rare they’d seen everyday the sunrise
confused for sunset at just the right moment they caught the clarity of me knew
I moved through the world like I moved it
I am sun, god


[1] made loose leaf and sugar heaped
[2] said half-exasperated
[3] not black, no, never