Saturday, December 31, 2016

Snippets from 2016

I'm looking for my uncle's car keys that he entrusted with me and growing more panic-stricken by the second. The keys are nowhere to be seen on the key-hanger by the front door. Strewn on my bed are the contents of all my hand bags, emptied out. "Quick, he wants to go out now," yells my mom. Helpless, I rush around the house, over-turning everything in sight stupidly. Noddy is looking around too. "Is it the black key switch?", she asks in a calm voice. I nod in impatience. A few more hysterical minutes and several rants and gasps later, Noddy comes up to me with a proud face, the key in her hand. Peaches and I whoop and shriek, throwing a celebration. We lift her up and chant 'Hero, hero, hero'. Noddy throws back her head, giggling at our goofiness.

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It's afternoon and I'm walking the Campuhan ridgewalk with my family. My dad makes a comment or two about him getting old and not like before, but he walks on effortlessly, his 100-crunches-a-day clearly working. The rest of us huff and puff uphill. When we reach the top, we pause and drink in the scene around us. Clouds envelope us. It's leafy and green below as far as our eyes can see. Beyond, there are rice-fields and little huts. My eyes feel at peace. 'That's more like it,' they seem to be telling me. And I feel sorry for exposing them more to screens than to our planet.

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It's site visit day and as usual, I'm early and in a waiting room. Soon, Sajan the accountant arrives and we start our tour around the gas processing plant. Sajan has one of those contagiously cheerful faces. He moves around the place with a toothy smile, repeatedly pushing back his glasses up his nose in excitement. "Look look!" he says to me, pointing out the very large and unmissable plant looming over us. "Look!" he says again when we reach the gas cylinder belt. He laughs out loud as each cylinder gets sprayed red and stamped with a date. I laugh with him. Maybe my manager and the other suited, booted men wearing glum expressions think this is unprofessional. But who cares? As Roald Dahl said, "watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places."

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It feels like this moment is borrowed from somebody else's life. I watch myself sitting in the hospital corridor, between my aunt and mother. We take turns to hug each other and sob, then release each other, still feeling lonely. Inside the room is my granny's lifeless body, covered in a white sheet. They bring her out on a stretcher, four nurses dressed in blue and my uncle in a lab coat. The stretcher maneuvers through the many wires and machines that didn't keep her alive. We watch her numbly. I'm still numb as I drive back to work to bring back the laptop I left behind. Numb in my granny-less world, where the sun rudely shines on and drivers rudely drive on. We're all still numb in the funeral, giving our cheeks for kisses and condolences from strangers. It sinks in later - at our Friday gatherings around her empty armchair, on the Eid after that with no hand to kiss, at my sister's engagement where she would've sat dignified, clapping slowly, glowing with a beautiful smile.

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There are five of us zig-zagging our way across piles, heaps, lumps, stacks and packs of donated toys and clothes in a tiny office on Edgware Road. Some of the donations come wrapped with a note. "I hope you like this present - love from Sukaina", says one. Others look like they've been left by accident. All of them make their way into tightly packed cardboard boxes. It's the first day of the year and there's a crisp feeling of newness in the air. We fish through jumpers, doll brushes, colouring books, playstation games, oven mittens and car accessories. Someone talks about the fire in Dubai the night before. Little H demands to see the video and we hear him playing it again and again, wide-eyed.

Later during the year, we stand in the room to where boxes end up*. There are clothes neatly hanging in ascending size, shelves stacked with clean toys. In the corner, a wedding dress stands alone on display. A lady stands and explains how orphans come in here to take their pick while their guardian collects their monthly stipend. As if in demonstration, a tiny mousy-haired boy trots in, scanning the shelves and smiling shyly. The lady takes us next to the rehabilitation room. The walls and floors are brightly coloured, with pictures of smiling cartoons, plump cushions, big bean bags. She tells us how they try to bring colour back to children's lives in this room. She tells us of 14-year-old Asma, who went from stubbornly refusing to see a soul after her father's death to opening up and gaining an interest in fashion design. Of 5-year-old Ali who went from mistaking his teddy-bear for his lost mother to playing with other children. At some point, the lady and the room look blurry and I'm not sure I can hear what she's saying anymore. It makes me feel silly - that I come here with a few minutes of useless tears while there are those working day and night trying to build what's broken. Oddly enough, I leave the place hopeful. As I write this, twin blasts in Baghdad kill twenty-eight. More parent-less children for the rehabilitation centre. There are many hashtags and memes circulating social media today about how horrible the year 2016 has been, how glad everyone is that it's going to be over. Grim and gloomy the world can get, but there will always be the lady in the rehab room. There will always be people who sit back and curse the darkness, and people who stand up and light a candle.

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*If this interests you, find out more at Al-Ayn Social Care Foundation's website

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