June 25, 2008

A Delicate Resilience...


Do you know what Resilience means ?

Resilience is not Resignation. It is not Abdication. It is not Submission. It is not Acceptance...

Resilience is a very powerful state, an inner state and only those who experienced it know its exact definition.

Resilience is under-rated, un-recognized, ill-defined. Social Scientists, psychologists, and your riff raff self proclaimed "analysts" know nothing of it. You probably know nothing of it yourself...

Since quite a few of you are so ignorant, it is so shameful, I will give you two definitions of Resilience.

Resilience is :

1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.

2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy


Now, I've met a few resilient people. All the Iraqis I meet in exile are resilient.

If there is anything at all that this Occupation and its hideous brutality taught us are - endurance, perseverance and RESILIENCE.

Resilience, again not to be confused with resignation, is a most interesting concept, state, way of being to observe, experiment and write about . And it is the most difficult to convey as well...

The best way to illustrate Resilience is by sharing stories with you. Real stories.

Recognizing Resilience necessitates two things: 1) humility. Without humility you will be unable to recognize Resilience when you come across it. Resilience is not pompous. It does not shout loud. It is the voice of the silent majority – those with no voice or a barely audible one...So for you to recognize it, you need lots of humility.

What is humility ? Humility is very simple. It is suspending ALL judgment, all preconceived notions, all theories, all concepts, all analysis and simply listening...

And the second prerequiste to recognize Resilience is 2) listening in between the words, lines...to what is not said. It requires the utmost carefulness, presence... It also necessitates that you rise above a situation and meet the person right where that other person is. Because a resilient person is exactly that - someone who rose above a situation even when he/she doesn't know it themselves...

Another cue to recognize resilience when you meet it -- you will be struck by its manifest simplicity. At first you may mistake it for naivety, but it is not. It is a simplicity of a resilient being "en toute connaissance de cause" – meaning, knowing fully well what happened, the consequences of what happened, the ramifications of what happened and still opting for "the original state" – the one before the event.

Resilience is not perfect, nor is it linear. It cannot be explained by a Cartesian mind. It is no cause and effect. It is cause and overcoming effect. It is beyond effect. Resilience is so powerful, it is almost a state of grace without the religious connotations. And yet it is so humble, so unassuming, that it can easily pass you by, ever so silently, tiptoeing...

You need to refine your senses, to tune them in, to recognize Resilience, because Resilience is ever so subtle...

It makes no noise. It has no propaganda outlet. It does not speak a particular language and has no color, gender, religion or sect attached to it either...

Resilience is delicate. And you need to be delicate to see it, otherwise you will miss out on the most powerful weapon of Resistance around...

I did say I will illustrate with living examples and am hoping you will be "delicate" enough to capture the essence of these living examples am about to give you.

Hossam, 40 something, half Sunni, half Shia. No malice in his eyes. No meanness in his voice. An unassuming, unostentatious man. Nothing particular to him. No specific traits. Except a web of kindness and generosity that envelops you when you meet him. If you are tuned in that is...

His father, 77 years old, was kidnapped by the sectarian Shia police. It is a miracle the father is still alive. He was tortured day and night for 7 days. He would be released for a sum of 350'000 dollars. Hossam didn't have the sum. He sold everything he owned and borrowed some more in exchange for his father's release from the so-called Iraqi police. He's the only son and wanted his father alive at any cost. He managed to collect the sum, and drove to a godforsaken place to hand over the money in exchange for his father.

The kidnappers sent a masked man to collect the money and told him his father will be released the following day. That following day, he received a phone call. One of the abductors told him.

"The sum lacks 50 dollars. As a punishment for you, you are to go and fetch us, another 50'000 dollars."

But, I counted. It is exactly what you asked for – 300'00 dollars. There are no 50 dollars missing" Hossam recounts.

" Are you trying to mess with us ? Do you want your father totally dead, he is half dead already...So will you accept your punishment of an extra 50'000 dollars or do you want your father totally finished ?"

Hossam spent other sleepless nights, gathering the extra 50'000 dollars for his 77 years old father's release. He finally managed to give the rest of his "punishment money" to the police. His father was released 48 hours later, and not the following day as promised -- an "extra punishment"-- they said.

Once the father released, the son immediately sent him outside of Iraq a few days later. He said to me

" His back was so black from torture, it was blacker than the shirt you're wearing. It is a miracle he didn't die. My mother died when I was young and the only one left was my father. I would have done anything for him to live on. I am not a courageous man, but I was given courage. I don't know how and why...My old man still screams in the middle of the night and he wakes me up with his screams and his nightmares but I say nothing to him. I don't want him to remember...I am protecting him. He doesn't know how much he's hurting. As for me, I am forgetting details of the whole story. I am sure they are very ignorant people. I don't hate them. I am simply surprised because I don't recognize all of this....We were never like that before... Anyway, I am glad it did not affect me as much as I thought it would and I was able to somehow overcome it. Now, let me tell you how to make roses blossom. You need the right gardening skills...you need to water the patch every other day...Roses are delicate and need to be treated with care..."

Hossam's Resilience are in his roses.

Ali, a 13 year old boy. He was kidnapped by the sectarian Shia militias for 3 weeks when he was 12 years old. Ali stutters when he speaks. And he has this lost gaze in his eyes when no one is watching. Someone who knows him well, told me that he was tortured, sodomized, raped for three weeks on end...And this is when his stuttering begun. He never "speaks" of the incident. Besides he has no one to speak to. His father was killed in 2006 and his mother is very ill. Ali doesn't go to school, but Ali has dreams and plans for the future. When you ask him what he wants to be when he "grows up", he says he with a smile that melts you heart -- "I want to become a policeman and a doctor."

So I asked him -- "Both ? You want to become both ?"

"Yes, both. So I can take away the bad people and heal the wounds." And he says it without a stutter, no stutter whatsoever. His face lights up and his smile captivates you....

And his Resilience lies in between the gaps, in his no stutter, that space where all is reversible and possible...


Iman, 30 something, already a widow, with two kids. Diagnosis -- Severe Post traumatic Depression.

Iman's husband was murdered by the sectarian militias on his way to work on February morning. Iman had lost both of her parents a year before. Her younger sister, Magida,lived with her. And one morning, the JAM -Jaysh al Mahdi of Muqtada Al-Sadr, knocked on her door. Iman opened. They stormed in, gang raped Magida, dragged her to the porch and set her on fire alive, in front of her sister,Iman.
Iman took the kids and escaped outside of Baghdad.

She now lives in a insalubrious one room piece called an apartment. Her kids don't attend school and she lives off charity. Iman is severely depressed. A catatonic depression, punctuated with vivid images of a sister on fire.

Yet...Iman receives you with impeccable manners. Her one room flat is spotless despite its lack of water and electricity. She even manages to dab some lipstick on and prides herself with --"I am told I make the best coffee in town." And she even manages a smile when she serves you her cup of coffee.

And she sits silent and asks you out of the blue "Do you like the coffee?"

And your nostrils filled with the aroma, transporting you away from her murdered husband and her sister on fire, you nod with "yes, perfect".

And she smiles so more, and you see life slowly seducing itself back, in between her droopy eyelids...

Iman's resilience is in her coffee.


Well, I did warn you these are no "extraordinary stories". These are just moments, inklings of grace, stepping stones of sanity....

Remember, Iraqis don't have the luxury of your 5th avenue, 300 $ /an hour therapist, helping you find your own resilience...

We rely on what is left of our senses, the delicacies of simple, ordinary occurrences...

We find ours in the simple things in life....a rose garden, a child's non stuttering dream or a cup of coffee...

And our Resilience is our Resistance.

A simple Resistance. A daily Resistance. A drop of sanity in the sea of your psychopathic, mad, criminally insane Occupation...Our Resilience, our Resistance....

And, drop by drop...like a limpid water delicately carving, splitting, a hard rock --you shall be driven out...Out.


Painting : Iraqi artist, Sina Atta.