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Letter to Ahmad, 3
Anisa Darwish, Palestine
December 28, 2000
It’s Eid today, the first Eid in this Intifada. And it’s only daybreak, but the sound of group prayer has already travelled the short distance from the mosque to my window. ‘Allaho Akbar, Allaho Akbar’ arrives a mixture of the worldly and the spiritual: continual, and rhythmical, it is the music of faithful ritual. But ‘Allaho Akbar’ also comes low-pitched and strained. It’s almost like the lunar calendar has caught these men off-guard and here they find themselves, celebrating, while still pressing on fresh bullet wounds to contain the pain.
The neighbourhood children are up. One or two are even already dressed in their Eid best and are strutting around chewing sweets: perhaps some things never change after all. I, as most women, will get up to cook and to start brewing Eid coffee: bitter by custom. You know I still cannot work out why after so many generations, we do not even consider drinking sweet coffee instead. And how did this tradition start in the first place? Do you think we drink bitter coffee to commemorate hijra, to remind ourselves of flight, this essential element of Palestinian identity?
Well, the first to migrate of my children, Ashraf my son, has not remembered to ring, or is it that Eid hasn’t happened yet in the US. I wonder if there is still time for Eid in that postmodern space. Hala, my daughter, has just rung. Maybe women experience hijra differently, maybe there is something about the experience of femininity that can better equip the self to find some anchor. Either that or she still remembers Eid because her hijra has only just started and Palestine is still a home to which she could return. Mostafa, as you know, is still in his ‘philosophical’ mood. Horror has taken its toll on him, left him uninterested in speech. And so he sits muted watching Eid go by.
Ahmad. I’ve just come back from a short visit to the Palestinian soldiers stationed near the house. They are part of what is now termed, ‘the national guard’, set up to protect civilians who live in ‘contact zones’. I put on the traditional dress, some make-up (and even high heeled shoes!) to mark this as a special event. One of the soldiers needed to help me step inside the hastily assembled ‘room’ they live in. ‘Khala’ (aunt) Anisa they all shouted in surprise and greeting as I stepped in. In that moment, all the cynicism I think I am burdened by, the cynicism of all writers, just disappeared. As we all sat on the floor of that obviously poor but clean and tidy room, I felt so proud of these young men who had nothing to offer but their Palestinianness. For a brief time, I felt at peace with myself and this cruel world. Back home, I cried, hot tears for them, for us all.
In the respite Eid provided, we sand-bagged another window. If this is peace Ahmad, let us not consider what war will bring.
Anisa Darwish is a Palestinian poet and writer who lives in Ramallah.