brokentwigs said: You have a cool lifestyle. What is it you do for a living?
I study foreign societies and cultures.
Awatif’s mother died from cancer. The family and friends would describe her as being very tired, but never ill—like a collaborative denial of the severity of her condition. It was just a euphemism for the terminal condition she was in, and Awatif’s mother would actually never find out what killed her. Jordanians say the terminally ill should never learn of their condition, for fear that the hopelessness would kill them first.
It was only six months ago when she was first diagnosed, and it progressed so quickly that the family did not have much time to prepare for the worst. Awatif, my Arabic teacher, did all she could to not speak in detail of her mother’s decline in each class, but it was all that was on her mind—it left us with enough Arabic medical terminology to work at a clinic.
"It was stomach cancer," she would tell me, but her family is not certain. They are too poor to afford a detailed answer.
Awatif’s mother never knew it was cancer that killed her. She spent her last six days in the hospital, unsure why she felt so sick. It is possible she figured it out on her own, when her abdomen ballooned to six times its size, and those around her refused to reveal her condition. They were protecting her.
"She died in peace—while she slept," her daughter would tell me in tears.
She was buried outside the city of Salt, in a Christian cemetery. The only distinction between Muslim and Christian cemeteries are the elaborate decorations surrounding a Christian gravesite—some even decorated with stone benches for visitors.
The next three days, for four hours a day, the family will welcome visitors at a local church to offer condolences. In a country where tribes are so significant, the family would receive mourners from all around Jordan, even a few from other countries. There were four men waiting at the door of the church—they are Awatif’s brothers. They rose in unison and shook everyone’s hand as they entered. Awatif taught me what to say in Arabic, and I rehearsed the line a hundred times on my way there:
الرب يعزيكم [The Lord comfort you all].
The sound of my footsteps echoed off the walls, and men and women seated in their pews turned their heads to see who they belonged to. I approached the front of the church under the glimmering refraction of sunlight against stained glass windows, while receiving long stares and morose expressions. Men were seated on the left side and women were on the right.
I walked down the center aisle, trying to walk as quietly as possible toward the grieving family. It is customary to first greet the immediate family, who sat in a semi-circle at the front of the church, still divided between men and women.
Awatif was unrecognizable without make-up. No one wears make up at a funeral. The women surrounding her gave me their names, but none easier to pronounce than Awatif, which means “passion.” She was quiet, she stood up to greet me with a kiss on each cheek, a greeting usually reserved for close family.
I sat with the men along the left side. We did not know each other but we all knew the family, so we sat together in silence, listening to the sounds of footsteps entering the church.
In any Arab ceremony there is Arab coffee, and it was handed to me without question. It came in a small ceramic cup that I held pinched between my thumb and index finger. I smelled the distinct aroma of cardamom as I raised the cup to my lips, and finished it with one small sip.
Awatif’s father was inconsolable. He barely raised his head as others came to shake his hand and recite their condolences. I stood up and waited my turn to greet him, as was customary. I searched for the words to say that might comfort him. I practiced various sentences in my mind that made sense in English, but dismissed them for they may give the wrong connotation in Arabic. I stepped forward, but I said nothing, nor did he raise his head. I felt panicked at the long silence taking place between us. I looked at him to speak, but I noticed the tears on his face.
I realized there really were no words I could say to a man who lost his wife. Despite the distances between our cultures, silence often is the best response to someone in mourning. Even so, I spoke, with words I am more familiar with, where the weight of each syllable is understood to me and with every desire for them to become true:
"The Lord comfort you."
I have writer’s block, and I figure writing about writers block is better than not writing anything at all.
zai-nabil said: Who are you?
No one important.