A Place Called Home
A Place Called Home12 mins 68 12 mins 68
Do you know what it means to start over your life again after spending years to build it? Revamp. That's the word! It isn't as easy to do it as one might think it is. Life is not some residential address that you are changing and you are not some 'movers and packers' guy; pro at packing, loading, offloading, and unpacking.
A week back I celebrated Christmas with my family. Had my son and daughter come over from the Netherlands. Lost my husband ten years back. So now, it's just me and the maid in our big house.
My husband was very involved in building this house. Right from purchasing the plot to deciding the interiors, he didn't miss a detail. I have to agree he had a good taste. God, I miss him so much!
Amelia left for her further education yesterday. It makes me proud that my daughter is going to be in the army, just like her father. My son Kevin will leave back for the Netherlands next week. He is a practicing surgeon there. Amelia had gone to meet him in the Netherlands and had taken her alleged vacation for almost two months. Until last week they had not informed me of coming back to Massachusetts. Apparently, they wanted to surprise me. And I must say they did!
Over the past eight odd years, I have decided not to move out of the house around Christmas celebrations. It scares me. The crowd, the humdrum… Mostly I call up Emine and ask her to come over and she happily agrees. What is nice about her is that she does not insist that I should also go to her place just because she comes to mine. There's no record keeping and trivial calculations in our friendship unlike with some of my other friends. That sort of makes it comfortable. Honestly, I find myself going back to her place more often than I would at anyone else's.
Clint would also like Emine to come over. I used to be surprised at that in the beginning. I mean, as much as I know my husband, he rarely liked anyone come around at our residence. But Emine was always welcome. I think we have had the best times of our life together…
Just before Christmas week when I was cleaning the house, I found several old photographs that were dumped in a bag in the garret. As I started sifting through, I found a picture of the three of us when we had first met. It was taken at Mount Sinai.
After Kevin was born, I and Clint hadn't gotten a chance to take a vacation for almost a year and a half. Raising kids is a full-time job and I wanted to be good at it. Clint was busy at work, his career was growing and that hardly left him any scope to take a long leave.
It was only when Kevin turned five that we decided to take an extended outdoor trip. We decided to go to Mount Sinai.
I had always read about the place, as in, its relevance in terms of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. But I had no idea that it is located in the Sinai Peninsula which is in Egypt. The day Clint showed me the exhaustive travel itinerary, my happiness knew no bounds!
We met Emine on our summit to Mount Sinai that lasted for almost an hour and a half, thanks to the camels that were aptly provisioned for the tourists who did not want to climb on foot. Emine had recently shifted to the United States from Iraq with her mother. She belonged to the Yazidi minority community who were subjected to the Arabization process under the leadership of Saddam Hussein between 1970 and 2003. Fortunately for her, there was some intervention by the human rights organization and she managed to shift to Lincoln city in Nebraska. We lived in Nebraska then and that was sort of a point of conjunction when we met her.
It has been almost 25 years now that Emine is a part of our family. What started as a casual 'good-bye' conversation after that trip, reminding each other to keep in touch, turned into a thick bond of friendship. How couldn't it? She lived only five blocks from our place.
Before we knew she had become a regular visitor at our house. Whether it was just meeting for a casual cup of tea or going out for shopping, we both tagged along as much as possible. Many a times she would also help me with Kevin.
Life was going on as it should have and everything appeared to be just the way it should have been…
Emine would often tell me about the atrocities that she and the people of Yazidi community had experienced in Iraq. To date, she feels blessed to have been able to move out from there and settle in the United States. She also feels content that she could save her mother too who was the only family she had left after she lost her father.
Emine's feelings of gratitude for her own life increased especially after the Sinjar genocide which took place on 3rd August 2014. Before that, there were times she would whine about things. But after seeing the news coverage of the Yazidi massacre she stopped, and realized that she couldn't have done better than what she already had. She understood that no matter how much vacuum engulfed her she had to go on…; even when many times she felt that one moment of death with her loved ones, friends, and those whom she had known for years would have been more pleasing than this gift of life that she had.
The day the Sinjar massacre commenced was a week after Emine's housewarming party. She had just shifted to Massachusetts after her mother's death. We had not been able to meet a good ten years but were always in touch over the phone and emails. Emine writes very well. Very often when I used to be tired or worried, I would just open up my mailbox and read through her letters and feel a sense of connectedness that I have never experienced with anyone else. There is a sense of warmth in her words that comes from a place of having experienced a lot of pain very early on in life. It's strange how adversities can change people for the better.
Amelia was twelve at the time. I remember Emine's words when she had first seen Amelia. She had said, "Pristine! She is pristine!", and then she kissed Amelia's forehead. It was not until much time that I started realizing how similar the two were. Especially Amelia's eyes and her hair. They were just like Emine's!
Emine had never gotten married. But she had told me once that she had an affair with some man in Nebraska. He worked for the U. S. army. She loved him very much but they never went ahead with a marriage. I had even asked her once if I should ask Clint to find some details about this man since he surely would have some contact. But, she denied.
"I am not so sure of many things now. Have gotten used to a life like this. It's true … when life throws only uncertainties at you, day after day, year after year, it becomes difficult to imagine if there exists a possibility of actually being able to get what you want." Emine said once when we were strolling around a nearby park.
There were times I felt it particularly disturbing to be able to really understand what Emine's life was like. It became more complicated to understand her especially after following the news for almost four months up until December 2014. Witnessing the coverage about the execution of the Yazidis at Sinjar by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an extremist militant group had made her quieter.
I was born and brought up in the US. It was sort of difficult for me to completely grasp the extent of the suffering that the Yazidi's went through beginning the night of 3rd August 2014, 3.00 am, when the genocide was initiated by the ISIS. But, Emine walked me through all of it through her own perspective. In a way, I could relate to their agony through Emine's pain because over the years I have started considering her my own.
I was particularly perturbed to know that about 6500 Yazidi's whose roots in the Sinjar dated back to as early as 2000 B.C., were not only abducted by the ISIS, but, about 5000 Yazidi men and older women were also killed in the massacre. While 400,000 Yazidis fled to Mount Sinjar to seek refuge, thousands of them died due to hunger and thirst.
Emine had once received a call from her neighbor Saki who mentioned to her that many young Yazidi women were sold as sexual slaves and young boys were taken up as war trainees. That day I saw Emine breakdown right in front of me.
Not that she did not know about these things…
She had seen the news.
But hearing it from Saki who had gone through the worse being seized as a salve herself was something else.
They both were of the same age, had grown up practically together.
"I have seen my people questioning their very existence and sense of individuality because of whatever we have gone through as a collective. There cannot be more pain than this.", Emine said that day.
That day as she was about to leave, I asked her if she wanted to stay with us for a couple of days. I was seeing her through the course of her pain and felt it inappropriate that she be alone in her house. Amelia was around when I asked Emine to wait back and she got particularly excited at the whole idea of it. You know how growing kids love these things…
As decided, Emine stayed for a good five days. It really helped her change her state of mind and in the days ahead she gradually adapted to whatever was going around more bravely. Talking about bravery, Clint was also back from his latest work assignment for a good six months then. In those days he would be sent away for some classified duty for longer durations of time. It had just been a week that he had returned, yet, he seemed more than happy when I told him that Emine was to stay back. I was glad that he did not feel any interference especially because we too had a lot of catching up to do...
That night I decided to sleep with Emine in our bedroom. The children were in their room and Clint adjusted himself on the sleeping couch in our living room. I had made a scrumptious dinner and Clint brought in some ice-cream for all of us. At around ten-thirty or so I put the kids to bed and headed to our bedroom where Emine was reading a magazine.
Suddenly, she excitedly told me that she would like to go to the Sinjar mountains with me someday. Emine felt that since I had shared her sorrow with her, I deserved to be a part of her life in ways more than what I already was. She told me that the Sinjar mountains were like any other mountain until they were negatively connotated after the massacre and that she wanted to go there someday because they were considered sacred by the Yazidi community. I could see the light in her eyes come back.
It wasn't there for more than five months… I let a sigh of relief…
We continued speaking for some time keeping the dim light 'ON' as I always did before sleeping. There was a really good breeze that day. I guess we were awake up to 12 or so and then we slept. At least I did. I have this habit of waking up in the middle of the night for drinking some water. Its been there with me since my teenage years. But I genuinely wished later that I had not woken up that night…
Emine had said that the refugees on the Sinjar mountain struggled for life and were sometimes so frustrated that they waited desperately for their execution.
After that night I too have struggled for death.
Emine had said that her fellowmen waited for a return plan, for justice, reconciliation, with an unfailing wish to go back to their villages in Sinjar.
After that night I have been asking myself will I ever get justice? Where is it that I should go? Does this house really belong to me?
I think it was about 3.00 am when I woke up that night. Emine was talking in her sleep, wailing a bit. For a moment I thought she had had some dream. But what she said startled me. She was holding the bedsheet in her fist and she said, "Why don't you understand Clint. She was to be our daughter and I gave her away. I am in pain. So much pain…", and then a tear rolled down from the corner of her eye.
It was at 3.00 am that the ISIS had launched an attack on Sinjar.
It was at 3.00 am that I lost everything that I had ever thought belonged to me...
I never questioned about all of this to Clint or Emine. From what I had gathered, it was all over between them and what remained was a mere humane affection.
At least, that is what I chose to believe.
That is what helped me accept the situation.
That is what brought me peace.
But after that day I could never give myself wholeheartedly to Clint again …
Clint never stopped being a good father and a kind husband. Thanks to him we are living a sufficient life and even at this age, I do not have to depend on anyone for anything. Not even my children. He secured everything for our family and especially for me way before his demise.
I never even spoke to Emine about her dream. She already had enough pain in her life and I knew that she needed me more like a friend than I needed her. She was alone. And, I am not sure most of us can understand what it means to be alone unless we face it ourselves. We continued to be friends.
Many years have passed ever since I had to face these brutal truths in my life and life has not been particularly easy living with them. There has not been one day that I don't remember what happened that night. Yet, I have managed myself well.
Fortunately, I have not given up on a lot of things…
I still find pieces of me in some memories or a distant fragrance or a compassionate touch or an interesting conversation. But what is remaining is not what it used to be and it is hard to come to terms with.
What was harder was understanding that it never will be and that I had to stop trying.
That my world had lost forever and I was unbroken, watching it crumble right in front of my eyes.
That I have to continue living for a better tomorrow.
That, like the people in Sinjar who are struggling even today to return back to their homes, I have to be hopeful that someday I will be able to make complete sense of all that has passed.