Thursday, 21 July 2011

Sour sixteen


I was ten, the oldest and the lucky one; I got a room to myself.
On the second floor, windows facing the road.

It had been L’s room. L died shortly after his mother, his clothes were found in a neat pile by the river edge, no one spoke about L; in fact we children should never have overheard the story of the clothes and the river.

He had painted one wall of his room purple, moving into his room was strange, I was an avid reader of horror stories, the Amityville house fresh in my mind, and I had nightmares in that room for some time with L peering in through the windows watching me.

The purple wall had gone by the time we arrived, but it took me some time and many “pushing the boundaries” battles with parents to convert the room to my liking, with cushions on the ground, and ruche curtains (in pink I am ashamed to say!).

An entire wall dedicated to my bookcase, with everything from my childhood comics and annuals, and later my teenage magazines, from school books, to my storybook collection, my fathers’ old Arsene Lupin and Sherlock Holmes detective stories and my own Agatha Christie series, later joined by the heavy tombs of medical books, the largest and a cause of years of teasing at college my Grey’s anatomy (this is the most comprehensive anatomy book but at over 1000 pages most first and second year medical students find it too heavy going), and my trusty skeleton (in his cool box, wrapped in tissue paper, surrounded by pieces of polystyrene, with his hands in surgical gloves).
Medical journals, atlases, picture albums, cassettes, and a few trophies completed the collection.

Sitting on the wardrobe, watching over me as I grew were my childhood companions. Two dolls; birthday gifts for my second and third birthdays, a sad teddy bear, and a grey poodle.

In the corner of the room my chest for the future, a small collection for my future home, handmade delicate tapestries, tablecloths, and bedding, curtains and cushions, waiting for their new furniture.

Under the bed was my special box.
An envelope with a ring, a letter from a teen admirer, three books of illustrated poems, black and white paintings, a small blue photograph album, an autograph book from primary school signed by my teachers, and by C, S, and N, and my white diary.

When I came to leave, my sisters queued to move in, some things would be used again, the books read over the years by many others, the skeleton traveled all around Baghdad for years in his cool box, the clothes worn out before conversion into patchwork bedcovers.

I went through my boxes, and imagined what would happen as I crossed the border, inspections and checks, how could I explain a party gown, brand new tablecloths, how could I explain the college photos, the poetry, the books, I could not risk it. I left it all behind, with me traveled only a few books and my white diary.

As I watch and read about people recording the packing of their lives, into boxes, into spare rooms, blithely organizing things away knowing they may never return, I remember those days, and I remember all those things I packed away in 1991, as I left my room for my sister, and I imagine all the things my sisters packed away in 2004, stacked up in my room to be locked up leaving the rest of the house for the relatives who would later be forcibly removed, and I imagine my room as it used to be, and I try not to imagine what it may be like now.

If you are leaving and cannot take it all, think of this, try to put your things in safe hands, try to distribute them thinly, try to let others enjoy or benefit from them, and destroy what you cannot bare to share, and if you can, photograph everything you love but must leave behind, in years to come your memories will fade, and you may never see your home again.

The image is a note written in haste, folded several times and crushed into my pocket, it was handed to me by my grandmother on the morning I left home for “a little while, until the situation improves”.
The text reads, “We place barriers in their hands and barriers behind them, and their vision will be blurred, and they cannot see” verse 9 from the 36th Sura Y.S (pronounced Ya sin)
Her advice to me was to repeatedly read this as I approached the border, and the patrols would be blinded and I would be able to pass.
Yasmin (Blanche) said...
Dear 3eeraqi Medic,
Yekhabbol !!.. Sooo touching..
it was always painful that one has to leave for good but cannot take the most precious things that sometimes mean nothing special but for this person in particular..
i still remeber things i left home, they were nothing valuable, but to me each piece held a memory..and was special..
i feel like crying.. yr post so deeply touching im thinking of writing a post about the things i left at home and still miss till this day..
PS: i left a 2nd comment on yr previous post..u once again took me back in time..
01 October 2007 09:59
Little Penguin said...
3eeraqimedic, I'm in awe of your honesty..

your accurate account of decade-old events is disarming to say the least..

It puzzles me as to why this is.. this life.. why does it pan out this way? I dont think it's nostalgia that compelled you to write this particular post.. discussing one's possessions and the dreadful thought of mis-handling your personal history, history which is cosmically-microsocopic yet sentimentally enormous.. writing about this is definitely the result of an enduring sense of betrayal by our surroundings.. by our life.. If I were you, I wouldn't have written this to feed a sense of longing and nostalgia.. I would be in desperate wanting of and an undying yearning for that kind of life.. music on the BBC World Service, book cases full of your own periodicals, stories and stuff.. all of that.. but I would mightily angry.. fuming..

This is not how things should be..

Have you tried retrieving your infantile best-friends and other items belonging to your mesmerising years in Baghdad?

The verse in the picture.. that single-handedly propeled me to many stories of my childhood when Mama would comfort me when I was afraid of the teachers finding out I had messed up my homework or not done something properly..

Allah Kareem Dr.. Allah Kareem..


P.S: sorry for my rambling.. i just couldn't cut things short.. i dont think we ever should when it comes to matters of this scale..
01 October 2007 13:52
3eeraqimedic said...
Painful yes so many years later and so many hands later "my" things odd isn't it.
You are right it is the personal memories attached to simple pieces that are just meaningless to anyone else yet represent a lost time.
01 October 2007 19:05
3eeraqimedic said...
Little Penguin
Well this got you going didn't it!!!
I am one of millions of Iraqi who have over several decades gone through this and no this is not the way it should be, but I was relatively lucky, I had time to plan and years after the event to have fragments "smuggled" out to me, but I think we appreciate different things at different stages of our lives and you can never really predict which scrap of "worthless" memories you will miss several years down the line.

My piece of paper with the verse I have cherished for all these years a momento of the sentiments on that day, I am glad they brought back pleasant memories of soothing mother's prayers.
01 October 2007 19:14
saminkie said...
3eeraqimedic that was one of the most beautiful lines I read these days....well 3eeraqimedic I miss my things and home too especially because I didn't imagine when I left that it will not be safe to go there again, I left many things there....Anyway look...AL JAHIDH was asked once, what made people more wise? he answered: 3 things, travelling, travelling, and travelling..
I know we Iraqis are not forced to leave our places but...
04 October 2007 11:09
3eeraqimedic said...
Dr Sami
Bitter sweet isn't it? I know what you mean about not knowing it would not be safe to return, and it is not possible to predict that.
Yes travelling does indeed increase the knowledge, but so much nicer if it could be followed by return home, I hope you do not stay away from home for long.
05 October 2007 21:18

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