Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Kan Yama Kan (1)

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Kan Yama Kan (1)

Article excerpt

These were the opening lines to all of her stories. Night after night, I waited for her to repeat them. They marked the continuation of our story-telling ritual, a ritual whose memories I kept alive within me, recalling them on those occasions when our ritual was interrupted, be it by my residence in that accursed boarding school in Beirut, be it by my family's prolonged absence from Beirut during its years of civil war, or be it by what she regards as my never-ending years of ghorbeh in North America. In between these absences, we resumed our ritual, turning all our nights together into an uninterrupted stream of tales--tales and memories. I remember my eyes following her every move in anticipation of that moment when her body would take leave of the household chores, when her wrinkled hand would hold onto mine, when from her even more wrinkled lips those opening lines would pour out. Not once did their repetition arrest my yearning for the tales and the memories that followed. Not once did I waver in my desire to hear her repeat them, for she repeated these lines with such spontaneity and emotional immediacy that each time they sounded new.

These opening lines etched themselves on my memory. They became an invisible cord connecting me to her, to Sa'sa'. "Our bond is special," she used to whisper in my ear. It is not just blood that connects me to her; it is not just the love for the father/son that binds us. Our bond is indeed special: it's made of stories which stir memories--and memories transmuting into stories. Through them, she is always present, no matter the distance and the circumstances separating us. Some stories I must have heard many times before, some were new or sounded new, while others changed characters, locations or dates. "Our bond is special," I whisper into the phone, praying that her ears, her body a million miles away, will feel the tingling I felt in mine each time she whispered them to me. I put down the handset, my hand caressing it, and repeat to myself her always-same closing line: Toto toto, matfakri, ya siti, khilsat hal-hatoto.

How to translate her opening and closing lines to you? Can a translation ever do justice to the translated? Will I be able to transmit the playfulness in her voice and the intensity of emotions reflected in her face? Will I be able to give you a glimpse of how the cares of exile lining her face danced to different rhythms each time she revisited these lines? Only when you and I acknowledge this loss can I begin the long road toward a translation of the lines from which all of my grandmother's stories began and ended.

Siti Em-Refaat or el-hajeh as the people in the refugee camp refer to her. "Once upon a time, there was a land and there were a people. And on the darkest of nights, gone was the land and dispossessed were its people," and "Toto toto, don't ever believe, oh grandmother, that the story has ended."

I was shocked to discover that these lines and those stories were not describing the lives and fates of some invented characters but were, in fact, oral memories transmitting the history of my family's life before, during, and after el-Nakbeh. El-Nakbeh, its vocabulary of the disaster entered my memory at a very early age, though at what age precisely I do not remember. All I remember is that el-Nakbeh came to denote the dispossession of my father's family from their native village Sa'sa' in the north of Palestine to a life of refugees in Lebanon--a consequence of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. All I remember are the stories; stories that came in segments, in bits and pieces. Some abruptly halted by tears, others surprisingly postponed by laughter, all interrupted, all incomplete.

I was born 20 years after el-Nakbeh, 20 years after my family's dispossession from their native village. Decades later, Sa'sa's traces are still etched in my father's voice, in my grandmother's verses of ataba, in the tears that flowed each time I listened to the stories, and every time I remember. …

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