It started out as a "family reunion" the distant relatives from Bristol were visiting, in addition to his only sibling, my father had made it clear that all the children were expected to make an appearance
Having cooked a rice dish, made the tabouleh, and heated the kubba I packed the car and started the trip to my parents' house, explaining to my son that when adults invited people over they made an effort to show off things they were proud of, his grandfather was proud of his ancestry and so would undoubtably show everyone the numerous yellowing photographs hanging on the walls, some dating back to 1800s.
His grandfather was also proud of his children and grandchildren and would be showing them off as well.
It went, in my father's words "very well", his cousin who was born and raised here, English like her mother, came with her English husband, they saw the pictures, admired the garden, tried the exotic food, and lingered on chatting for almost three hours after the customarily late, mixed Iraqi / English meal which had been followed by an early birthday celebration for the very soon to be five year grandson.
It was almost eight o'clock before everything was cleared, the washing up done and the tea consumed, and having reassured ourselves that our husbands were otherwise occupied, and our children were fed and watered we drifted into the kitchen and started chatting.
We always seem to do this, get together for whatever occasion at our parents' home, maybe once or more a year, and almost without thinking end up regurgitating past memories, tonight it started with a Nik Kershaw song, pop music I had enjoyed and they had heard as children, and progressed through two further decades of music to a time when I had already left, we then moved onto childhood memories of similar family gatherings, people we used to visit during Eid as children..'so how was um-Hamid related to us...I didn't like her", memories childhood "imaginary" friends, and of "haunted" rooms, memories of childhood lies to our teachers and parents, and memories of the subsequent punishments, memories of schools and studies, of struggling to understand what was required, and of helping each other out with homework, of older sisters nagging or bullying younger ones into preparing properly for exams.
We giggle together at our childish ways, we laugh out loud at what at the time seemed like such serious arguments.
"Will you go back for a visit?" our youngest asks, "the only time I would ever consider going back is if I was told I had a terminal disease..."
We talk about our isolation from our surroundings as a family back then, and our worries about our children's isolation here and now, and try to reassure each other that they will fare better than we did
Memories of our shared years, times of relative poverty and family difficulties, memories of our years of separation, times of real poverty and through it all the underlying danger, and as we talk, a trigger, a tear, and then a recollection.....
They brought the martyrs home....a motorcade with the flag draped over the first car....they brought four that day....we waited....the cars came down the main road......then they turned into our road....we were all crying and praying.....as the cars came closer Mum fainted......the cars drove past our house... it wasn't him.
There was an explosion in our area......he left his base without leave to check on us.....when he came home the next time he had patches of his scalp exposed.....his towel fell off his shoulder as he left the shower and I saw the bruises on his back....they had beaten him up as punishment.......
"I remember Mum begging him to do something, he is my only son, if you apply he will be excluded from service....but he would not do it...."
"I remember travelling to Stockholm to meet him, armed with all the evidence, the numbers, the facts, hoping I could convince him to somehow leave....to somehow get you all out....but he would not do it..."
When we finally collect our sleepy children, our bags and plastic boxes of residual food, we hug each other tighter than usual, and as we kiss each other, we are all fighting back tears...
Our shared memories bind us together, but they separate us from those around us
My distant relatives from Bristol have been my hope, within one generation they managed to adapt, to be assimilated, but they arrived without memories like ours, maybe even two generations will not be enough......