They sent me this picture of you, Tnseem. I filed it in ‘My World’ folder.
You are smiling. At last I see you smile.
I am sure before the war started, our paths had crossed ways.
We must have met on the stairs or during Eid. Or on a Friday, weekend day, when you used to come and visit your family. Extended family. When it comes to families, in Yemen, I always lose count and thread.
I am sure I must have complimented you for your beautiful dress.
We must have kissed, as well. Many times, I am sure.
You must have made fun of my Arabic. I am equally sure.
But I do not recall ever meeting you before. Before the war, that is.
My memories of you belong to the war; they are relegated there.
You appear within my war frame.
I remember your perfume, your combed hair and pink clothes. I remember your voice, strident with happiness. Cannot expect anything different from an 8 year old who was eager to meet a young sister coming to life: your mum was expecting and I was praying she was not going to lose the baby because of the airstrikes. Because of fear, uncertainty. Because when you are pregnant and they are bombing, you might fall trying to find a safe place.
I remember you, indeed, but in the days of the bombings, never before.
I feel uncomfortable now, looking at your picture. Not because you seem serene, but because of the load of my memories with you. The contingency of the moment.
I remember one night, during an air raid close to us, in Al Qyadah st, when you rushed to me and said: “Can I call my Dad?” and there were no words to tell you, no hugs enough, no way of hiding my sorrow. I passed you my phone praying your father was going to answer immediately. Praying you would, eventually, forget this same night. And even me.
I remember you hugging a teddy bear, another night (always at night) when we had to take shelter downstairs at the palace entrance while the house was shaking.
I was sure we were not going to make it. We did. The night ended, our lives continued. During the day, when the airstrikes were fewer, you used to make fun of me, not understanding why I could not cook or make bread. Perhaps you will never find anyone as bad in cooking as me.
I see you smile, at last, my little Tnseam
You are holding your litter sister Lougean in front of the world.
Do tell her we are doing our best to change everything.
Starting from this horrible war because, since she was born, she has witnessed only war.
Maybe it’s not in the city.
Maybe it’s in the villages, down the valleys, behind the rocks. close to the sea, behind a water-fall where freedom happens.
Freedom to use what you have, combine the colours, the fabrics, plaid the wool as if it were your hair-dome, weave a basket hat, match a yellow scarf with blue and violet and embroidery and rough wool on your skin. All together.
With silver beads hanging from your head.
One day, in a village maybe close to a water-fall or behind the rocks, someone made art. She dressed beautifully.
There is still a Country
outlined by the routes of the ancient caravans
of the merchants of pepper, coffee and frankincense,
a Country equal to itself,
a jewel shining of its own light
century after century.
A Country which has remained isolated being at the nib of the Arabic Peninsula,
preserving itself from the greed of the worldwide traffickers
and the endless pointlessness of the modern world.
A country which gave birth to algebra and has perfumed the palates of the world
with the best coffee and the sweetest honeys;
a Country where the news are still being spread on the radio
and on the occasion of the weekly markets,
whilst the electricity struggles to reach everywhere.
A country whose people dress with the same fashion,
century after century,
and the mosaic windows received their name after the moon,
A country born as Arabia Felix,
as it was kissed by the monsoons
and from whose soil
the caravans filled with frankincense, myrrh
departed to reach and scent the temples of Imperial Rome.
A country anciently famous
as it was the site of the Reign of Sheba,
flourished 1000 years before Christ.
A Country which,
not even during its golden tourist days,
has allowed foreign fashions to change it.
A Country which celebrates weddings in the streets,
for the joy of everyone.
A Country of huge families
where the respect for the elderly is still being taught.
An eclectic Country which built the first mud and sand skyscrapers.
And damns famous throughout history.
Pier Paolo Pasolini simply described Yemen as
“the most beautiful country in the world’.
It’s Yemen, yes,
the most beautiful Country in the World.
Waiting to return home on an equally rainy night
with equally vivid feelings.