Drawing by Gino 2007
Preface: This is Chapter Two of a story, a book I began writing in 2007 in Jordan. I decided to not continue out of respect for the characters (both living and dead) It is a true story, my story and I will share it with you in a total of 5 chapters during this month of Ramadan. I hope you will take the time to read each installment. This is as far as I got. Many of you know now about Umahmad from my poetry.
This is how it all began.
Donna found herself in a small apartment on the other side of the world Christmas Day 2000, the first anniversary of her mother’s death.
Being an only child, and having lost her father so early in her pre-teens, made her mother a particularly strong and vital influence in her life .
She was old enough now, to even look back and feel sorry
for her, trying to raise such a child as she turned out to be!
Other subconscious thoughts and intentions can be seen by Freudian psychiatrists, like great motion picture projected on the outside of a face, while they remain totally invisible to the one inside having them, experiencing, and planning their life without even realizing how they are triggering and affecting each plan, like magnetic fields acting on the earth. Perhaps it was plain to everyone but Donna, that when she converted to Islam in the simplest of ceremonies, that June 23rd day year 2000 in her living room in Costa Rica perhaps she had decided somewhere in the dark plots of her own mind that she would never celebrate another Christmas as it would be too painful.
Forever it would remind her of calling her mother, who was almost bed-ridden on Christmas morning and have no one answer. Knowing her mother had a phone in every room of the house, including next to the toilet, there was no good or logical reason why she didn’t answer her early morning Merry Christmas call. One year later, Donna was celebrating Ramadan, the muezzins song heard through the cold air like a chanting invitation as a reminder of how far away from home she had traveled.
Lying by her side, a new husband, so much more difficult than the others before him. A gas space heater turned off for the night was put on hastily and she wrapped herself in a long wool coat, with scarf to brave the temperatures of the kitchen, with its big windows, so lovely to see out of in the summer, but so easy for letting in the cold desert drafts that whipped her second- story corner of the building without mercy.
The houses were not constructed for this weather, and for Donna, the fact there was even such a thing as a harsh winter in Jordan, was beyond any rudimentary knowledge of the country she held, before she actually mounted a plane that would carry her away to a new life.
A Jordanian winter was so much colder than she could ever imagine and some had said it might snow that night. Here she was in the land of sparkly new moons that shone like crystal instead of Santa Clauses and Reindeer, Christmas trees and nativity scenes . From her kitchen window she could see the green and red lanterns hung on windowpanes, lit even in the day, to mark the approaching Eid, a three-day feast that officially ended Ramadan and the obligatory fasting.
The only thing she needed to do in the kitchen that 25th of December morning, was to cook rice in boiling water, to feed to the hungry sparrows and pigeons and doves, who had come to expect a hot steaming plate of sticky starch every morning on the window sill behind her kitchen sink. They were already lining up, hungrily, fighting for position and peering in through the semi frosted glass which proved it was a bit colder outside than in. Breakfast would be ready in about 15 minutes, but only for the birds.
Her first meal, her” fatoor” would be at sunset perhaps some 12 hours away. Osamah stayed up all night, eating his last meal, perhaps at 4:00am before the “fajar” dawn prayer was called. Then he would sleep maybe at 6am and wake up a few hours or less before the call for the “Mahgreb” prayer which signaled the end of the day’s fast. Most of his fasting was done asleep, but she could not breach that subject, as it would be the beginning of perhaps a fight to last all night. She was a new convert, and knew next to nothing . Getting irritated with her was a regular habit of his, even when he wasn’t on his Ramadan schedule, which meant he was in a bad mood and she had to tip toe around the house all day to not awaken him. If she closed a door too loudly she would hear from the bedroom, ”Now, what are you doing?” His shouts echoed her own thoughts,” What was she doing on Christmas Day, keeping a husband asleep until the late afternoon?” She studied Arabic on the internet, wrote emails to friends back home telling them how exciting her life was, when the truth was, she felt lately like a prisoner, trapped in a cold apartment, with an unconscious husband, who could transform into something worse with just the sound of a click or a doorbell.
Umahmad knew enough to never ring the doorbell, and Donna never forgot to leave the door unlatched on her days to come to clean. She heard footsteps on the stone stairs, and she smiled. Her friend was about to come to the rescue. She felt as if she had one big present, that would soon sweep through the door, dressed in black and perhaps a gold scarf. Her very own package, that little by little, if she could just learn the language, she could unwrap to reveal the gift she sensed waited for her inside.
* * * * *
I never learned how to pump up the kerosene heater to make it work instead of making it smoke. It was the heater we used in the kitchen, but since I wasn’t planning on cooking anything until mid-afternoon I gave up quickly and thought soon Umahamd will be here, then I looked up and she was in my kitchen doorway. It was her way of walking that allowed her to always surprise me. She could creep up behind me and I would not even sense her presence, let alone hear a footstep. I loved that about her and when I was alone, I even tried it myself, but I could never do it like she could. I looked rather ominous, where she was the height of gracefulness, I looked like I was stalking, but she, looked like she was gliding.
She was holding an immense heavy pot, giving off steam, and a rather deliciously unusual aroma and she said
“Peace be with you” I helped her put it on the counter,
“And also with you” and we smiled simultaneously.
I had now two months speaking to her three times a week and she was my inspiration and my teacher. I studied my Arabic course online, but she told me that it was really only good for reading the newspaper and literature, that “real people” spoke the “spoken language” and that was much more vital for me to learn than any Modern Standard Arabic course. I was convinced that I just wanted to learn to be able to speak with her, so if it was spoken Arabic, with a Jordanian dialect and many Iraqi words thrown in..then that was the Arabic that mattered to me. I just wanted to be able to convey my feelings, hopes, wants, fears and my life story as well as understand hers. I didn’t care so much about learning how to say” vacuum” or” iron” I could do that with charades and make her laugh. By The end of December, I only wanted her to know how important she had become for me and how I felt she was holding my sanity in her strong hennaed hands , that if I didn’t see her one day, that I felt like I was holding my breath until the next time she came back into my life.
She looked at me in the harsh kitchen light and I felt old and ugly, compared to her beauty and unblemished skin. Even in bad winter lighting , she looked beautiful and I felt her stare a little too long at my face and thought she was analyzing my crows feet. There was an uncomfortable moment and then she said, pointing to the big pot, ”Kershat” I said “Shoo?”(What?) she used the word for cattle (kershat), which could mean, sheep, goat, lamb, or beef and then pointed to her stomach and then licked her lips. I understood it was tripe probably from a goat, but it struck me so funny. I said “This is for me? For fatoor?” and she nodded and pointed to the bedroom as if saying” and for your husband too” I pointed to her “Your stomach you will share with my husband?” and she caught the joke and we laughed even more as she violently shook her head “no” and wagged her limp wrist up and down in a gesture of “shame on you.” While she rolled her eyes in pretend embarrassment.
“What’s wrong with my face? “ I said and gestured
“Nothing” and she made a face like she had no idea what I was talking about.
I said “You looked at my face a lot, is my face so ugly?”
She looked shocked” No never ugly. Why you think that?”
“I see you look to my face. I think it is ugly so you look.”
“No. No” she protested, I think your face hairy.
Arab husbands don’t like hairy face.”
This made me laugh even more and I closed the kitchen door to not wake up the sleeping faster in the other room. I was blond and had a very light hint of peach fuzz in an almost invisible beard and mustache. I had never thought about doing anything about it, as no one did in Costa Rica, and it was barely noticeable
“Where is Husband?” she said and then made the gesture of sleeping and snoring.
I said “shhh” and we both grabbed each other on the elbows and steadied our balance that had been thrown off by our silly brand of humor we had been perfecting from the first time we saw each other until this present moment.
She said “Dishes I wash later, you come to living room, I make your hairy face… beautiful.
She held nothing in her hands and I was thinking what could she possibly do to make me less apelike with her bare hands?
She led me to our guest-room, the most formal and lavish room of our cozy apartment. She was always holding my hand, inside the house or in the street; I always felt like an awkward child being led by a floating princess. She sat down on an embroidered Damascus cushion of our wall -to -wall Arabic couches that covered the outer walls of this large room. Beautiful oriental rugs, originals, lined the floor. She gestured me to sit down next to her and I did, and I found myself, pulled into her lap looking up into her face, and having no idea what to expect. She pulled out a bobbin of strong black sewing thread, and tore off a large strip. Placing one end in her teeth, then turning and twisting the other side so that it made a little lasso, she began passing it over my face starting at my cheeks, all the while it slid between her teeth.
Years later people asked me in Costa Rica how it was done, and I never could figure it out. All I can say is, it left my entire face tingling, red like a spanked baby’s bottom and just as smooth. It was absolutely the most painful beauty treatment I had ever experienced, but I trusted her, looking up into her face, her large black eyes staring down intently on the area where she was pulling out peach fuzz. I relaxed in her lap, never taking my eyes off of her, and the way the thread slipped through her teeth without breaking. When she was satisfied, that the ape had been changed into a woman, the kind “Arab husband’s like”
She looked me directly in the eyes for just a prolonged second, and then she bent down tenderly and kissed me on the lips and the forehead.
I could have stayed that way forever.
To Be Continued
Part One can be found here:here