I woke up yesterday morning to find an email from my father, who is on a business trip in Europe at the moment, informing us that my grandmother had a stroke Sunday and passed away.
Unlike my cousins who grew up with her, I'd never known my grandmother. She'd always lived in Iraq and I always lived outside it except for my first year of life; she took care of me when my mother worked. But after that, Bibi (which means "grandmother" in Iraqi Arabic) and I were always separated by Iraq's wars and occupations aside a few brief visits in countries that were generous enough to bestow visas on the citizens of a country internationally viewed as criminal.
The death of a loved one should never have to be described in political terms. Neither does one's grief need to be broadcast beyond the scope of one's heart. But the death of an Iraqi usually carries so much more political baggage than if we were from Switzerland or some other nation that doesn't know the meaning of war. My family's mourning of our grandmother is a fraction of the large sigh Iraq releases everyday under the heavy heel of imperialism.
When the Pentagon declared in the lead-up to the war on Iraq that there would be no safe place in Baghdad, I emailed a picture of Bibi centered among my cousins to everyone I knew to show them just how non-threatening Rumsfeld's intended targets were.
I called Bibi on the night of March 19, 2003, after listening to Bush's address announcing the start of the invasion of Iraq. I asked her to stay away from bomb shelters, as it had been only a dozen years since the US bombed Al-Amriyah bomb shelter. All she said in response was "pray for us."
I saw Bibi when I was 14 years old. I had the good fortune of seeing her again last April for a few days in the middle east. She was en route between Iraq and North Africa, where her soul left this earth. At the Iraq-Jordan border, Jordanian officers insisted that she leave the car and get personally searched, which caused her physical hardship. It baffles me what threat a 90-plus year-old Iraqi woman could possibly pose to any country's security. I'd seen Palestinian grandmothers receive the same disrespectful treatment at the Zionist-Jordanian border in the summer of 2005.
When I saw her a few months ago, I wanted to interview Bibi for hours and hours. Perfectly mentally intact in spite of her age and alive since the first time British occupiers treaded Iraq's soil, she was surely a treasure of Iraq's 20th century history. But her ill health, due in part to the depleted uranium and other weapons the US has used on Iraq I'm sure, required her to spend most of her time receiving treatment.
Iraqi grandmothers spend their last years on earth struggling to claim the very fundamentals of a dignified life. A woman who raised 9 kids and dozens of grandchildren deserved to be surrounded by all her loved ones at her deathbed. But Bibi's children and grandchildren are all scattered in diaspora between four continents. She'll be buried under African sands, which my dad and relatives will probably have a difficult time visiting. Her grave, of course, would've been even less accessible if she were buried next to my late grandfather in Baghdad as she had wished. She didn't deserve to spend the last few years of her life under sanctions and foreign occupation. I bet that never in her long life did she predict that she'd be uprooted from the only city she'd ever lived in.
The last time I heard Bibi's voice was August 8, my wedding day. She called to congratulate us as I walked out of a salon. If there was ever such a thing as "mixed feelings", it's feeling happy to hear from your grandmother on your wedding while cursing the distance and displacement created by your homeland's turmoil. I fought off tears to avoid smudging the bridal make-up I'd just had applied.
We're still luckier than many Iraqis. Only God knows how many Iraqi (and Palestinian and Lebanese and Afghani) grandmothers have been ripped to pieces by US and Zionist bombardment. Outside the doors of the Amman hospitals where Bibi was treated there were Iraqi grandmothers, daughters of the richest country in the world with oil, selling cigarettes and gum on the sidewalks, just one step up from begging.
I hope that maybe someday I'll see Bibi's house in Baghdad where she raised two generations of Iraqis. Till then, the best way to honor her memory is to continue to oppose the unjust occupation that shattered her family.
Source: The author
Original article published on 4 September 2009
About the author
Saja is a member of Tlaxcala, the translator's network for linguistic diversity. This article may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source and author are cited.
URL of this article on Tlaxcala: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=8563&lg=en