September 18, 2007

A Relic...


There is a warm desert wind blowing...

From where I am seated, I can see a full crescent moon and next to it, a bright shining star...There are a few palm trees swinging in the hot breeze...so are the Ramadan lanterns, giving off a steady, quiet, golden glow.
Not too far, I hear a fountain and in between the trunks of the palm trees, I see more light reflected in the water...

For a few instants, I was totally lost in this idyllic moment, where everything was a perfect as can be...I only wished I could stretch it all the way to Iraq and beyond ...So they too, can embrace this quietude, these seeming temporary moments of peace.

Since yesterday's post, I have not stopped crying.
I cried myself to sleep and when I woke up and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I burst out in tears again...
During the day, I tried distracting myself with "things"...but every now and then , I would catch a few ones rolling down one cheek. I would discreetly wipe them away, pretending I had a grain of sand or some dust in my eyes...

I guess you can understand by now, that the fleeting peacefulness of this evening, is something of a present, a wondrous gift I have just received...

I was reflecting during this time, why all those tears, suddenly gushing forth like this fountain not too far from me.

Of course, there are many "objective" reasons, but Iraqis are known to be quite stoic or at least pretend to be...Besides I have been doing nothing but grieve since " our freedom ", so why those tears ? They definitely had a different taste to them.

Something about the last piece of writing maybe ? Something about the Past or from the Past ? A memory relic ?

It is all coming back now...

During " Desert Storm ", sorry I meant during " Operation Freedom ", when bombs were raining down on Baghdad like millions of fire drops...
When families were huddled together in one room, either hugging each other and saying their final goodbyes or praying in unison for safety from this air raid or the following one or the one after...
I had only one obsession, one fixed wish, actually two, that kept assailing my mind.

I know you will find what I am about to tell you very strange in view of the circumstances then. But if you think about it again, you will find that it is not that strange after all...

My first obsession was the Iraqi Museum and the Ancient Sites. And my second was an orphanage I knew.

I kept repeating it : " Please God, don't let them..."
Don't let them attack the museum, don't let them destroy the ancient sites...
And my second obsession was : " Please God, protect this orphanage, You and I know why..."
Needless to remind you that God did not listen to my obsessive prayer. I guess I was the only one making this kind of a prayer...everyone else was busy praying for survival...But so was I.

I ardently wanted the History of Iraq - Uruk to survive. I wanted its past to live on and remain the manifested symbol of the " cradle of civilization " and to remind the barbarians that they had none...
And I also desperately wanted the orphanage and the orphans inside of it to survive and live on, because I had secretly hoped that the " crucified boy " I had seen in my dream was an orphan and that he would become the Messiah of Iraq, the Savior of Uruk...

The ancient sites and the museum are devastated today and the orphanage was bombed and is in ruins, releasing a few hundred kids into the wilderness of the streets...
Some of them were kidnapped and trafficked as sex slave commodities and the others joined the ever growing bulk of Iraqi orphaned children.
Little did I know then, that the few hundreds of orphans would be multiplied by one million...

As I delved further into my thoughts and beyond 2003, I realized there was more to it...

At some period of my life, I was going through a very rough patch, not that it has dramatically changed since...

I remember a doctor friend of mine who was also an avid archeologist. We would occasionally meet and talk. One day, sensing my state, he brought a picture of an old Sumerian statuette. He said to me : " Look at her well, look at her eyes, look at her body, look closely..." And I did.
He added : " This is where you came from Layla...You two look alike. You know your roots, look how far back they go...Keep this picture with you and everytime you go through turmoil, look at it and remember how immemorial she is and how transient your state is..." And I did.

That statuette disappeared like so many others...And all I have is a photocopy of a picture. And a faint memory of the feeling that surged inside of me when he uttered those words to me.

And as I kept reflecting, more memories flooded me and my inexplicable tears started making sense.

I remember when I was a little girl, my parents would take me to those ancient sites and to the museum. They called it " educational expeditions "...And when we travelled abroad, they made it a point to take me to other ancient sites and I loved those " educational expeditions. "

I remember sitting by the ruins for hours and touching them...caressing them and in my little girl's mind, I used to imagine what it was like living there during these ancient distant eras...
My mother would tell me : " Layla are you done with caressing those ruins or not yet ? Yalla we have to go now..." and I would beg for more time, hoping that they would give away their secrets to me like a key to some mysterious door and that I would be the only one to possess the secret knowledge that they imparted me with and no one else. Just a little girl's flight into fantasy, Harry Potter - Iraqi version.


And as I was tying all those memory threads from 2003 and back...and everything was falling into meaning, finally giving my " emotional state " some sense, a young boy not older than 13, came towards me and placed a replica of an ancient relic, some ancient city, on the table where I was seated.

He looked straight into my eyes, which were glistening with tears and with the memories and said:
" This is for you. "
I was stunned. I blurted, totally dazed : " Are you selling this ? "
" No, this is a present from me to you. " And he turned his back and walked away...


Painting : Iraqi artist, Rafa Al-Nasiri.