How do I Remember You?

Mama in her garden

My Mother Samiha Hasan Bayouq (1933-2020)

4 November 2020
The universe conspired. Looming lockdowns, Covid-19 restrictions, PCR tests up to 72 hours before flight, availability of flights meant that I missed my mother’s funeral in Amman today. She was amazing: loving, intelligent, generous, inclusive, optimistic and had a great sense of humour. She was also a keen gardener growing miracles despite the heat and regulated water supply. She loved all creatures and began her day by talking to and feeding the tortoises in the flowerbed, filling the basin with water for the neighbourhood cats, feeding the sparrows and the Palestine sunbird then the pigeons. We used to sit in our garden under the jasmine sipping tea and exchanging stories to ‘cleanse our hearts’. When this becomes unattainable, a memory, you realise that it was the best part of your life. A grownup now, locked up in your grief, you look back wistfully at the self you just had lost.

I shall miss ست الحبايب terribly. وإن القلب ليحزن

mama with flowers

23 November 2020
Whenever I encountered a problem I used to sit with my mother in our garden in Amman under the jasmine tree to solve it. We would sit in a cloud of perfume, surrounded by white jasmine flowers, sipping tea and talking. My mother would wipe away my tears then offer me baklava with tea and mint, fresh from her garden. That exchange of stories, ‘cleansing of our hearts’, was our way of dealing with whatever life threw at us: heartbreak, high blood pressure, back problems, wars civil and otherwise. The scent of jasmine, aroma of mint tea, and the sweet milky smell of my mother were home. That physical, psychological space was my haven, my hiding place and no demon however strong could harm me there . . . There are real and imaginary homelands, then there are homes constructed in retrospect, then there are desired homes, then there are psychological homes, then there are final destinations, where the tiled floor will always be covered with white jasmine flowers and where the eternal hands of my mother continue to wipe away the young girl’s tears.
Clouds of perfume, mint tea, and my mother’s receptive heart rose up and are now part of every sky.

Rest in peace mama habibti, يا أحلى وأغلى وردة في البستان

with mama smilling

30 December 2020

2020 is a calamitous year at all levels. A ten on the Richter scale of the heart. I lost my mother and two friends while enduring COVID-19 lockdowns and challenges.
Grief is a journey that starts at a specific point, but chooses its own route and length. It prises you open then tenderises you. A breeze could hurt you as if the whole of you has become a burn. The sight of a sparrow, a falling leaf, a cat, or a small act of kindness unravels you.
Farid Al Attrash was my mother’s favourite crooner and she often sang along with his songs. His songs and most music is a no go area now lest I slip into a grief so deep it would be hard to come back. Last year she sent me the following song:
“I wish I were a bird
So I could fly around you.”
And so many times during 2020 I wished I was a migrating bird that could cross continents and seas without any fear of contracting the contagion and passing it on to my parents. I wished I could stand on the lemon tree in her garden and bid her farewell.
Now we are not only separated by borders, lockdowns and travel restrictions, but by death itself. The finiteness of it all hits you as if you were run over by a lorry. The fact that you can no longer create new memories together fills you with anger and sadness. Grief constantly tests your mettle and you fail, succeed, fail, succeed . . .
Her grave is in her hometown of Na’ur at the top of a hill overlooking greenery and trees and the fresh air her lungs craved while alive is in abundance there. When the borders are open and flights are resumed, I will head there, sit by her grave, and weep. Like a bird I will hover above it remembering all the wonderful things we had done together. Big things like travelling to different countries or small but significant things like repeatedly inspecting old black-and-white photographs of our family.
Grief is another country and you cannot leave it permanently. You earn some reprieves through expressing rather than repressing your emotions. The angrier and more devastated you are the longer are your jail breaks. In the country of sadness good behaviour prolongs your sentence. Grief is a seismic activity that creates rifts and and new territories. You remap your heart, your position in the world, and restructure all your relationships. It is an acid test and some fail and others succeed. It strengthened my ties with my father, son, husband and some members of my family and friends, weakened my relation with others, and rekindled old friendships.

Having endured multiple losses, I am weaker and stronger now. I mourn and gleam.

3 July 2021

At my mother’s grave in Um Al Quttayn Cemetery near her home town Na’ur, paying my respect. The olive tree will be planted in her memory. رحمة الله عليك يا ست الحبايب


13 July 2021

When you realise you are mortal, most things lose their meaning. You have never been eternal of course but losing someone close places your mortality at the centre of your world and focuses your mind on the finiteness of it all.

You move into a parallel universe, where darkness reigns. The lemons on the tree, my late mother planted a few years ago, lose their morning sheen; and the sky although blue, seems grey. No serotonin or dopamine to carry you through the day. You are unable to fabricate romance or project it on a sunrise or a sunset, for example. You lose your ability to reminisce or go down memory lane without a painful investigation of the past. Nostalgia becomes a disease like cancer. From now on no rose-tinted glasses for you. The multi-coloured picture turns black and yellow, a fading memory. You panic when you are unable to hold the past in a medium that preserves and beautifies.

A vital wood block had been removed from the centre of you, and the whole tower had collapsed. So how do you reconstruct yourself? Where does this or that block go? You try and fail to replicate what was. The structure you build is not the same and will always be misshapen. ‘You have to adjust to the new reality’. A realignment begins. Night vision needs to turn into day vision where infrared or thermal images become normal ones, seen in technicolour when light is reflected on them. But they remain bland, one-dimensional, and skewed.

You begin to have conversation with the selves you had lost, the ones that seem now naïve, unaware of their mortality, or self-delusional – you should have kept a skull on your desk as a memento mori. You look back in sadness for you had lost them all. How to forge a new self? Or how to regain some of the innocence you had lost?

Reminders of your former selves are all around you. Your love of history motivated you to document the many stages of your life. Things have significance and that’s why they are hung on your wall or stand on your shelves in Durham and Amman. But in this day of social media and virtual reality history is irrelevant to many. Stripped of their sentimental value your objects have little meaning to someone other than yourself. They might end up in a charity shop. Your legacy is mostly a pile of books, manuscripts, ink on paper, that someone after your death might find burdensome. S/he might donate them or even destroy them. Therefore, you cannot rely on the trail you blazed to remain visible. You shall disappear for you are transient.

Also the death of a loved one dims your heart so how do you continue this arduous journey? How do you get rid of that lingering feeling of despondency, fabricate a goal, and strive to achieve it? How do you reignite yourself when the battery has gone flat? There are no jump leads for the human spirit.

In the fullness of time, you might wake up one day your old self again. Perhaps the missing parts would be restored, and the blocks assume their old shape. An essence of the old you might be still there. Impermanence is the order of the day and there is a glimmer of hope in that. And then you ask yourself, ‘Do you want your old self back?’ You are a wounded soldier, and you cannot unwound yourself. Also, nostalgia is a psychological cancer, remember.

Bereavement rather than counteracting Covid-19 caused the loss of your sense of taste and smell. The five senses were hit: food tastes like cardboard, the jasmines have no scent, and your eyesight has deteriorated. The cliché ‘has become a shadow of her former self’ applies to you. Perhaps a semblance of normality would resume one day. In the meantime, you sit in this space between disillusionment and its suspension waiting for meaning to emerge, for the picture to acquire some colour, for the blossoms of the lemon tree to become fragrant. One day their scent might rise and fill your late mother’s garden again.

Written in Amman

عندما تدرك أنك فانٍ، فإن معظم الأشياء تفقد معناها، أنت لم تكن يومًا مخلداً، ولكن فقدان شخص عزيز عليك يجعل الفناء محور عالمك، ويركز عقلك على محدودية كل شيء

في لحظةٍ من الزمان، تنتقل إلى عالم موازٍ، حيث يسود الظلام، تقع عينك على شجرة الليمون، تلك الشجرة التي زرعتها أمك الراحلة قبل بضع سنوات، فإذا بها تفقد لمعانها الصباحي؛ وعلى الرغم من أن السماء زرقاء، لكنها تبدو رمادية

لا يوجد في دماغك أي سيروتونين أو دوبامين يحملك على المُضيّ قدماً في يومك، وتجدُ نفسك غير قادر على اختلاق الرومانسية أو إسقاطها على شروق الشمس أو غروبها، ويكون من الصعب التذكر أو التّجوال في حارة الأمس دون أن تجري تحقيقاً مؤلماً في أحداث الماضي، ويتحول الحنين منذ تلك اللحظات إلى مرض كالسرطان، وكأنك من الآن فصاعدًا لن تملك نظارات وردية اللون لتلجأ إليها، والصورة متعددة الألوان تتحول إلى الأسود والأصفر، وتبدو الذاكرة مزاجًا من الصور الباهتة، فتصاب بالذعر عندما تكتشف أنك لن تتمكن من الاحتفاظ بالماضي في خابيةٍ تصونه

الأمرُ أشبه بإزالة كتلة خشبية حيوية من وسطك، انهار بسببها البرج بأكمله، فكيف لك أن تعيد بناء نفسك؟ أين تضع هذه القطعة أو تلك؟ لعلّك تحاول وتفشل في تكرار ما كان، لكن عبثًا لا تحاول، فذلك الهيكل الذي تقوم ببنائه لن يعود نفسه وسيظل دائما مشوهًا

 “عليك أن تتكيف مع الواقع الجديد”

تبدأ إعادة صف القطع، يجب أن تتحول رؤيتك الليلية إلى رؤية نهارية؛ حيث تصبح صور الأشعة تحت الحمراء أو الصور الحرارية طبيعية، وتُرى بتقنية الألوان عندما ينعكس الضوء عليها، لكنها تظل مسطحة وذات بعد واحد ومنحرف

تبدأ في إجراء محادثة مع ذواتك التي فقدتها، تلك التي تبدو الآن ساذجة، غير مدركة لفنائها، فقد خدعت نفسها مراراً، ربما كان يجب عليك أن تضع جمجمة على مكتبك تذكارًا يصرخ في وجهك ليلًا نهارًا أن الحياة زائلة وستنتهي حتما بالموت، تشيحُ بوجهك إلى الوراء في حزن وتنظر باستغراقٍ لكل ذات من ذواتك؛ كيف تصوغ ذاتاً جديدة؟ أو كيف تستعيد بعض البراءة التي فقدتها؟

الأشياء التي تذكرك بأنفسك السابقة تتبعثر في كل مكان حولك، فحبك للتاريخ دفعك إلى توثيق العديد من مراحل حياتك، وكل مرحلة تحتل في نفسك مكانًا خاصًا إذ علّقتها على الجدران الخاصة بك ووضعتها على رفوفك في عمان ودَرَم، هذا ما كان في السابق، لكن اليوم حيث انتشرت وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي واستبدل الكثيرون حياتهم الواقعية بالعالم الافتراضي، لا يهتم جل الناس بالتاريخ. وأغراضك القيّمة وأشياؤك الأثيرةُ لا تعني الكثير لأحد سواك، فقد جُرّدت من قيمتها العاطفية، وقد ينتهي بها المطافُ في متجر خيري

إن إرثك هو في الغالب لا يعدو كونه كومة من الكتب والمخطوطات والحبر على الورق، والتي قد يجدها البعض بعد وفاتك مجرد عبء يثقلهم، وربما تبرعوا بها أو تخلصوا منها وحولوها رمادًا، ولا يمكنك الاعتماد على أن المسار الذي حفرته وأضاءته أن يبقى مرئيا، فاستسلم: كتب عليك أن تختفي لأنك عابر

أمام هذه اللوحة من الخيبات، يأتي موت أحد الأحباء ليطفئ القلب، فكيف إذن ستستمر في هذه الرحلة الشاقة؟ كيف تتخلص من الشعور باليأس المستمر وتختلق هدفًا، وتسعى إلى تحقيقه؟ كيف تعيد إشعال نفسك عندما تصبح البطارية فارغة؟ ترى، هل هناك شاحن للروح البشرية حتى تستطيع الوثب نحو الفرح مجددًا؟

قد يمر الزمن ويتغير كل شيء، وقد تستيقظ نفسك القديمة ذات يوم مرة أخرى، وربما ستتم استعادة الأجزاء التي فقدتها، وتتخذ الكتل شكلها القديم. لعلّ بعض جوهرك لم يفنى، وحتى الثوابت هي في حالة تحول دائمة، وهذا يضيء بصيصًا من الأمل، ثم تسأل نفسك، “هل تريد أن تعود ذاتك القديمة؟” أنت جندي جريح، ولا يمكن لجرحك أن يضمّ شفاههُ بنفس الطريقة التي جُرح بها، وتذكّر دائمًا: الحنين هو سرطان نفسي

بالنسبة لك، فإن الفجيعة لا الإصابة بفيروس الكورونا هي التي تسببت في فقدانك لحاستيّ الشم والذوق، بل تأثرت حواسك كلها: المأكولات تتجفّف في فمك مثل الكرتون، ولا تجدُ رائحة للياسمين، وتقع عينك على الأشياء فلا تُبصرها، أو بمعنى أدق، ينطبق عليك الكليشيه: “أصبحت ظلًا فقط لذاتك القديمة”، ربما ستستأنف الحياة الطبيعية أو ما يشبهها يومًا ما، وبينما يحدث ذلك، تجلس في تلك المساحة التي تقع بين خيبة الأمل والإيقاف المؤقت لها، في انتظار ظهور المغزى من كل ما حدث، أو حتى تكتسب الصورة بعض اللون على الأقل، وحتى يعود عبير أزهار شجرة الليمون الدافئ. يوماً ما، قد يرتفع عبقها ويملأ حديقة والدتك الراحلة مرة أخرى

فادية الفقير

كتبت في عمان

The text was translated into Arabic by my amazing nieces Sameeha Faqir and Hiba Iqliem

Last photograph with my mother – 24/9/2019

3 November 2021

To my mother on the first anniversary of her death.

The sight of any lemon tree. The smell of orange peel, which you used to put on the stove. The sound of Farid al-Atrash, your favourite crooner, blasting from a café in a side street in Amman. ‘I wish I was a bird.’ The taste of baklava on my tongue, which we used to have every midday. The feel of wool jackets, which you needed so much. A jasmine tree. The smell of wet grass. Kathem al Saher singing lyrics about amazing women. Tea with fresh mint. The satin ribbons you kept in the sewing box. A cat drinking from the well you had made. Your signature risotto with carrots and chickpeas. Circassian accordion music from your faraway homeland. The taste of apricot jam, which you used to make for the whole family and the neighbourhood. Velvet like one of your kaftans. The silk scarves you gave me. The scent of honeysuckle. Boisterous Bedouin music. The taste of rice pudding with gum mastic. The smoothness of the beads on your embroidered headcover. The flowers I showed you on Facebook messenger before you died. The Oudh fragrance you used to wear. The yoghurt labanieh with chicken you cooked for me to settle my travel tummy whenever I flew back. The cooing of pigeons on our cherry tree, on any tree. Your rough, gardeners hands on my face.

It does not take much for the tissue I fabricate every day to protect myself to be pricked. When open and stripped of patience, I yearn for your smile. One glimpse. Your scent. One word. Deep missing seeps in threatening the me I had constructed since you died. My heart unstitched; I weep until the keyboard is wet.

But the centre must hold, mother. I stand up, dust myself, and walk on following your example and honouring your wishes.

Fatsia, Glossy Paper Leaf Plant

27 December 2021

The glossy leaf paper plant my late mother had planted in my garden in Durham, has flowered for the very first time this year. The audacity of nature and hope.

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