August 16, 2006
Şahîn B. Soreklî
TO ALL THE AUNTIES WE LEFT BEHIND
In Kurdistan it is customary to call all women older than you “aunty.”
I always remembered Aunty Zeho. When I was a child, she used to be the most beautiful woman of our village. Although from a wealthy and well known family her husband was rather poor and only had a small piece of land, two cows, several sheep and a donkey. When one visited their home, however, one had the impression this was a well off family as Zeho was a woman of taste, always well dressed and so generous to her visitors. She was a woman of quality, well spoken and at the same time not as serious as other women in the village. In her presence one felt happy and optimistic.
Last time I visited the old village, after many years, she was one of the first people who came to see me. As soon as I saw her entering I felt like a child, got up and walked toward her:
- Aunty Zeho, how glad I am to see you!
- Oh, please sit down, my son. Don’t stand up for me.
- If I don’t stand up for you, who does deserve standing up for?
She got red in the face and with the blue eyes shining her beauty could still be seen through her old age.
- And, how are you, Aunty, how is everyone in the family?
- First tell me, how you are, son. We all missed you so much.
For a moment I felt so ashamed. Do people like me deserve such nice folk? They give you so much respect and attention. This is the difference between the West and the East. In Kurdistan, as in many countries of the East, one feels like a full person. In the West, those of us who were born in the countryside of the “developing countries” don’t get the same feeling. Indeed one often feels to be a mere number. In the villages of Kurdistan one asks who your father or uncles are or which tribe you belong to. In the West, if you are lucky you will be asked about the suburb you live in or the town you come from. Otherwise, at least nowadays, one may ask you about your serial number or your driver’s license number.
- I missed you too, Aunty Zeho. I heard uncle Oso left us, may God bless him. How are your sons?
- Yes, Oso gave you his life. He always used to say, what a pity you didn’t return. He had so much admiration for you.
I felt like crying. “So much admiration!” Do I really deserve it?
- And your sons? Where are they?
- They have all gone. They have disappeared to the cities. Damn the cities. Our villages are now half empty. They went to the cities. Do you remember how lively our village used to be? Damn these governments. They only look after their cities. We have seen nothing but hardship from them.
For a moment I felt I was among the ones she was cursing, for I too deserted the village, although for a different reason and in other circumstances.
- Oh yes! I do remember. No doubt in the days you were a girl (In Kurdish society only after the marriage the title “girl” changes to “woman”) the village would have been even livelier. I wonder how many young men you turned crazy!
She again turned red in the face. She smiled and at the same time almost cried. I nearly told her that as a child, although she was almost as old as my mother, I too admired her beauty so much, but I didn’t because I wasn’t sure how she and the others would take it.
- You are just kidding me. Your mother was prettier than me. God bless her soul, she died so young. She couldn’t stand you being away, you know?
- Yes, I always beg her forgiveness but nothing will return her. What can we do? It is fate. But no, Aunty Zeho, my mother once admitted you were prettier.
- Did she really? You are just being nice to me, aren’t you?
- No, no, she really said it. I remember very well. Everyone knows you were the prettiest. Tell me why don’t you join one of your sons? Go to the city. It is more comfortable.
- To the hell with the city’s comfort. I couldn’t stand it more than three days the last time I was there. City life is not for me. They are imprisoned in a flat like birds in a cage. One of my daughter-in-laws even covers her face when on the street. A Kurdish woman covering her face! What is the world coming to? No, no, I would rather spend the few days left in my life with my two goats and my chicken. How could I leave our sky, our air, and besides, they speak another language in the city. Even ours speak it. Shame on them. I will never be able to speak that language at this age.
- Yes. But if you were younger, maybe things would have seemed different.
She again smiled and said:
- Well, unfortunately you live your youth only once. Nevertheless, I don’t regret anything. I think, despite it all, our’s was a better life than that of today’s youth. They deserted many of our traditions; they just imitate the others. Look at the way they are dressed, listen to the way they talk…
- You have a point but some won’t agree, aunty, some won’t agree.
The day I left Aunty Zeho cried. “I probably won’t see you again,” she said, “may God always be with you.”
This time I couldn’t control my tears. I kissed her on both cheeks and left without being able to say a word.