SUNDAY, 2 MARCH 2008
“This Tuesday it is my turn”
Those words filled us all with glee.
They called themselves the Tuesday group, they took it in turns, meeting every week at one of their houses, they would talk, exchange magazines, recipes, gossip, news, clothes, books and films, always leaving their husbands behind and usually accompanied by the younger children.
Like all such arrangements, it had started as a simple small group meeting over a coffee and a slice of cake, but in time and with an increasing variety of people of very variable backgrounds and wealth, the get-togethers became a showcase of homes, designs, and individual’s abilities and flair.
Whoever’s turn it was would prepare her own specialties, exquisite little samples of cuisine, occasionally made from ingredients that were difficult to get hold of, ingredients they needed to save up for, search high and low for, order in advance, store very carefully, or if all else failed ingeniously replace by alternatives from Shorja.
Over the years they included Danish, German, Greek, and Mexican tasters.
When it was our turn there would be profiteroles.
I would watch as the dough was mixed in the large glass bowl.
Once cooked and cooled it was my task to fill them individually with the cream, careful not to damage the perfect spherical shape.
A variety of other finger foods would come and go, and in the end the desert would arrive.
The largest green and white serving plate, piled high with a pyramid of the little balls would be brought to the table, and with it a jug filled with the heated chocolate sauce, when the glistening sauce was drizzled over the pyramid it would warm the shells just slightly, but spare the inner chilled cream.
Everyone would be impressed.
By the evening, when everyone had left, there would often be leftovers to clear away, but rarely if ever was there a single profiterole.
I very rarely speak of my mother here
Sometime not so long ago, the subject was taboo.
I have always thought of myself as Iraqi, but in fact that has only ever been half of the truth.
A half nurtured for over twenty years by my father, a staunch nationalistic believer in everything Iraqi.
And so it was, I looked the part, I spoke the part, and in my eyes at least I also behaved the part, at some point it became vital to be absolutely and totally that part.
Somewhere in my teens when my behavior was being watched more carefully by relatives, friends and neighbors, waiting for the inevitable poor outcome of the “inferior” upbringing.
Possibly after Sahar was unceremoniously placed with her family in a truck and driven to the border to return to the country of her ancestral roots.
Or when it was decreed that all those of my mother’s ilk must choose, denounce what you used to be or leave.
Birth countries didn’t understand the situation, and many saw the loss of nationality through marriage as “your own bloody fault for marrying the natives”.
Many left, never to return.
But a combination of nationalism on one hand, and motherhood on the other proved a blinding, catastrophically powerful force, and some shrugged their shoulders, wiped their tears, and handed over their priceless passports in return for the worthless Eagle embossed green prison badges.
Even after I left, for the first few years after I arrived here
It seemed that to acknowledge my mother’s nationality would be to undermine my efforts, any success would be put down to her, any failure down to my father.
I now comprehend the extent of your isolation in the early days, without a common language, without friends or family
I now see why you needed to prove to the disapproving that you were worthy, and why you took on a new face, a new name, even a new faith
I feel small realizing how you allowed so much of yourself to be eclipsed in order to protect us from confusion
I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been, childbirth, illness, and injury, the unfamiliar heat, the mosquitoes, and all those flies
I understand why you asked everyone to bring back little tastes of home, a certain type of tea, a chocolate drink, and your gravy
I am grateful that you stayed up all night preparing a special dress, that you only realized was needed when someone read you the note, late at night.
I am grateful that you tried hard to learn the language to help us with our homework
I am amazed by your courage and strength as you walked miles, and traveled often alone from city to city, and across borders repeatedly for your children
I am so sorry we teased you by calling you Youm rather than Mum.
I am sorry we sniggered when you listened to the Queen on Christmas day
I am sorry you had to go from baking profiteroles, and fruit flavored loaves to baking chicken-feed flat breads on a kerosene heater
I am sorry I could do nothing but wipe your tears when you couldn’t be with your dying mother, because you had no male companion to travel with
I am sorry that our weddings were not what you had dreamt of
And I am sorry that when you arrived, with a family, full of dreams, you flew in to the shining lights of Baghdad, but when you left, you were alone, in tears, and trekking across the desert.
But most of all I am sorry to see you grappling with your birth country, when you eventually returned, to find it had changed so much in thirty years that it no longer felt like home
It took me a long time to accept
That we were so alike
We both made the choices
That made us foreigners
And it took me a long time to realize
That I could never be
As great a Mum as you have always been
I dedicate this post to all your friends, the honorary “Iraqi” Mums
To auntie Doreen; who gave us our jabs when we were small, and on whom we wished all manner of childish horrors.
To auntie Sally who negotiated her way across the city to help a stranger in need, and came to my birthday to meet my Mum
To Sandra who persevered for the sake of her children, despite everything, including sharing her home with a second wife
To Barbara who despite all the horrors she went through never ever stopped remembering the good days in Baghdad
To Mary who succumbed only after everyone was out and safe
To Sybil who put her own health on hold, and life at risk
And to the friend I never met
To Margaret, who paid the highest possible price
For staying with her family in Iraq
POSTED BY 3EERAQIMEDIC AT 08:49 4 COMMENTS
It was so difficult for me to comment on this post, but I got to comment, cause my parents also are of different nationalities. It was so brave and clever from you to write this post. Am sure it was so difficult, cause am just trying to comment and find it so difficult. Dear 3eeraqimedic it has many advantages and some disadvantages. My mum suffered also, but am not sure that I can talk about that. Any way thank you dear 3eeraqimedic for this very important post which I read 3 times, till today. thank you.
15 March 2008 09:48
I lived in Algeria for a while, and saw how some people got dual belonging to Algeria and France. Either they got a parent from one and the other from the other, or they were born by 2 parents from one country but living in the other, for example tink of Zidan, the football player, or Alber Camus, the novilist, or Faudel, a singer, and many many others. many elderly Algerians get retirment saleries from France. Many got scars of wounds while they were defending france in war.
Am more familiar with that cause my mom is Algerian.
15 March 2008 10:02
Edward saed said that those with dual belonging see life in two perspective.
15 March 2008 10:04
I am sure there is a psychological term for it, but the English saying goes "it takes one to know one", and hence your understanding and empathy for this post and all the turmoil that lies beneath the words, yes there are advantages, our collective survival is one, but there have long been disadvantages many of them not visible.
On a separate note we have relatives living in Algeria of mixed Iraqi/Algerian parentage, and I must say I have often wished my French was up to a standard to talk with them, because we struggle to understand each other's Arabic.
16 March 2008 10:17