October 16, 2007

A Bag of Second Hand Memoirs...


Do you remember your teen-age years ?

Memories of this period of my life are terribly vivid, still...

I consider teen-age years as the most difficult, in any case that was true for me.
One is not really an adult, not a child, just a someone, hovering somewhere in between.
Rejecting authority yet seeking its safety...
Not a woman but not a girl either. A body that changes, an identity that emerges, pulsations that manifest themselves and you don’t know what to do with them and where they will lead you...

I sublimated mine in books, "causes" and the search after the "perfect love."

The only thing that really lasted were the books. And I don’t even remember half of them...

As for "causes," they have not only remained unresolved but have worsened...
As for "love," I smile–laugh when I look back...How could I have been so bloody naive, I keep repeating to myself.

But then, those were the teen-age years and everything was possible. Change, revolutions and eternal love...

But a rebel, I was. I think it is genetic in my case.

I simply could not accept the given status quo. I had to question which I still do...A problematic attitude if you want to get on in life “smoothly.”

But then my life has not exactly been a smooth ride either. War after war after war after war...And my name is Layla Anwar.

These wars have shaped me more than I care to admit, intimately shaped me...leaving marks inside, like the foot-prints of some soldier's boot on wet mud, that eventually dry up in the sun and become like some old totem that one carries around one's neck...

And with each “war” and there has been so many of them, the totem becomes alive again and that rebellious spirit against the madness that injustice engenders, re-emerges...as if it has just woken up from some temporary hibernation.

A lost cause? Maybe...But I told you, in my case it's genetic.

Which reminds of a saying by some “good old feminists” who used to repeat,
“If I am determined by my biological make-up, do me a favor, do not tell me how to behave.”
So I guess, am determined by my “biological make-up.” So kindly spare me your comments.

A few had difficulty dealing with my “biological make-up.” In particular my mother and some of my "eternal loves". I guess I was not obedient enough and was not easily molded the way she/they would have liked me to be.

My mother for instance, one of the things that used to literally drive her up the wall, was my love for second hand clothes. She could not understand why on earth I would go out of my way and buy second hand clothes when I could buy something brand new.
She would flip when she saw me sneak in old, worn out army shirts, jackets and trousers...made in the USA.

She would go ballistic and say: “Do you have to be dressed like a soldier and like an American soldier for that matter?"
To which I would reply: “ All soldiers look alike – I, on the other hand, am a rebel, a guerilla fighter.”
And she would go even crazier and say: “ Guerilla fighters don’t wear shirts with the U.S. flags on them and they are not called Tom either...” referring to one of my favorite army shirts which had the name Tom sewn on it.

I guess she had a point there. But that was the closest I could get to look like a guerilla fighter...then.

Of course, today, am laughing my head off as am typing this...

"L’habit ne fait pas le moine” goes an old French proverb – the “uniform” does not make the monk. But I did not know it then. I was full of good intentions and...lousy discernment.

I think one other reason for my “love” for second hand clothes, was the fact that I could escape to the souk downtown called “al Balat.”
A souk where you can rummage for hours, amidst the tumult and noise...And escape, I did.

It all felt so alive for me. Finally real people, I’d say to myself. Nothing like my class mates, all fake and disjointed from the reality that surrounded them.
That was real life for me - the souk for second hand clothes.

I witnessed with my own eyes, some of the deprivation and that was like fuel for my rebelliousness...my “eternal” revolt. But I was nothing but a teenager then...


Three decades have elapsed since and I still remember these second hand stalls. Strange don’t you think ?

In fact, I remembered them yesterday, when I opened my closet and chose a look alike khaki army trouser (made in China.)
Okay, I agree, some things never change. I admit to that. But how do you explain the following part?

“Hit by war, unemployment, sectarian violence and the flight of capital, beleaguered residents of the Iraqi capital have taken to rummaging through piles of imported second hand clothing..."
It is more important to buy new things for the kids. We can manage ourselves from the second hand shops," said the 53-year-old father of five.
"Life has changed a lot in the past few years. It is a problem for badly paid state employees and those with limited incomes," he said.
"I try to pool my resources to buy what the boys and girls need. As for me, I will buy second hand items...said Jabbar...”


The owner of this second hand shop is jubilant: “Due to increased demand, Abu Hussein has set up agents in other parts of the country. “I now have many outlets to sell my goods," he said. (full article here)


Little did I know then, that the second hand souks I loved, would turn as the only outlets for clothing...
Little did I know then, that the majority of Iraqis would be wearing second hand clothes...
And, little did I know then, that the majority of Iraqi teenagers would be working to support their families, forsaking their studies and future...
While yours are sitting around TV screens getting pissed and smashed out of their brains...and whilst you arm with them weapons to carry to school, as if these were some lunch bag...encouraging them to become a new Tom...
And surely, I did not know then, that some Tom in an American army shirt was responsible for all of that.


Over three decades have elapsed, my love for second hand clothes has disappeared, but the “guerilla” fighter’s spirit in me has not died...
How can it, when there are so many Iraqis carrying bags of second hand clothes, when Iraqi teenagers have been robbed of their youth...and when American Toms in army clothes are roaming around?

Mother, hope you understood by now...All of my past revolt was nothing but a preparation for...today.
Oh, and you were so right about those Toms in army clothes.

I will no longer buy second hand, promise. It's all brand new and untouched from now on...
Virgin like some undiscovered territory, clean and fresh like some morning dew, and as ardent as a budding desert flowery cactus...
No second hand here, Mother. Its a daily, new surprise...in every souk, behind each house, in every alley way, around every corner...


Painting : Abdel Ameer Alwan, 1992.