Tuesday, September 27, 2005

In the Days of Dark Circles

"The children are frightened. No one can sleep."

Mohammed and I spoke for less than a minute today, but there was a note in his voice, bone-weary but too on-edge to sleep, I had come to expect during the Intifada, that constant wariness of people determined to preserve normalcy with a tough stoicism laced with humor. The nights are broken with bombs, the days are weary, lived in fear of the next night.

We rang off quickly, but his Rafah neighbor's words haunted me: "The children are frightened. No one can sleep."

Dark circles. Bloody nights, broken sleep, dreams, hopes, loves, lives, and during the day, dark circles under everyone's eyes. The days of dark circles are with us again.

We had been talking just a few weeks ago about dark circles. He had visited our friends in Rafah and emailed me a family portrait, plus an amazing drawing for me, a piece of Arabic calligraphy saying, Mohammed told me, "I love you, my mother Erika!"
Well, that's the Arabic way--once someone considers you a loyal friend, you find yourself "adopted"--a "second mother" or sister, daughter, brother, grandparent. So for a few years now, I have grown accustomed to a new raft of sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters. There's a cousin or two in there who always say hi to Ya Ma Erika. And the cousin's mom. And probably a few others I can't remember at the moment. Mohammed was delighted when I called to thank him for packing up and mailing off these gifts. But, I told him, the best part of the family portrait taken in June was there were no dark circles.

"Dark circles?" He was puzzled.

Sure, I explained. Dark circles. He'd been sending me family pictures several times a year for two years now. The children are gorgeous, the adults have wonderful faces, full of strength and character. The mother is classically beautiful; the grandparents are distinguished. Over two years, the children have gotten taller. They're well-nourished, healthy. And everybody, in every picture, always has dark circles around beautiful, intelligent, open, hopeful, wise dark eyes. Because nobody in Rafah ever gets an unbroken night's sleep. Dark circles. Dark fears. Dark times.

But, I went on, the most thrilling thing about this picture, taken in June, is that no one has dark circles. The children are amazing; the girls almost young women, the boys almost young men; they did wonderfully well in school, but there has been a cease-fire since February; no Apaches over Rafah; people can sleep. No dark circles.

Mohammed laughs. Yes, yes, you are clever to notice this, he says. This was last week and Mohammed is uncharacteristically lighthearted, on that amazing Friday when so many in Rafah slipped through the wall on shopping expeditions to Egypt. He was even happier when I told him I was laboring mightily over some Arabic calligrahy of my own--with a dictionary and a long-sufering Palestinian-American friend, I was making a drawing that said--in Arabic, "Habibi be hedbak, ya abinti"--"I love you, my daughter"--Insha'allah, I would mail him the drawing, some photos and some gifts in good time for Ramadan. Mohammed was delighted--he could deliver the package and take new pictures for me. The perfect time to say Ramadan Mubarak.

But this time there will be dark circles. "The children are frightened. No one can sleep." The Apaches rape the night; the bombs shatter the silence of the holy month; the days of dark circles have fallen over Palestine again.

Dark circles. Dark times. Dark deeds. But no darkness can last forever.

Pray heaven the dawn comes soon.

"The children are frightened. No one can sleep."


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At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best wishes to Mohammed and his family - I saw the lovely photo of the candle over at the gallery in special remembrence of his dear brother so sadly missed!


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