This is not part of my ongoing food series, however, it is a necessary interruption at this point. My heart goes out to Falasteen.
As I look at the stained cloth over the dinner table, the burned down candles, the empty plates, the scattered chairs, the empty cups and the few half-full ones, I realise that the house is empty now. I had just closed the door after everyone had left. It is quiet now. I gather up the pile of plates and I recall one of my guests, the pilot with all his exciting stories about freedom, that, which he found in traveling. “No one knows who you are, you don’t know who anyone is and nobody cares. We just share a space, a period in time, and that is that. At that moment in time we are all the same.” he said. I asked him if he ever feels homesick and he sighed: “Home!”…At that point, I am looking at the mountain of dishwashing that stood witness to our occasion, our chats and our joys. I had cooked and we gathered. We ate, laughed, talked and even sighed. That must be home, I thought. What is home? Is it mum and dad? Is it Gran and Granddad, uncles and aunts, siblings, the garden, and the cherry tree next to the window, the lemon tree on one side of the house and the figs tree on the opposite side…? All those must be home. The grass in the backyard, grandma’s little herb garden, the rose trees in the front and the olive trees lined on the sidewalk like a fence around our house, those are home too. Kids running and playing, the sound of a ball bouncing off the wall, the neighbours and the neighbourhood’s football teams, those are definitely home… regardless who we are. The neighbour’s laundry on the balcony, grandma’s irritation with the sight, the small playground and the swing, my uncle shouting because we are playing loudly while he is napping in the afternoon; that too is home. The joy, the laughter, the tears and the tantrums all come with home. A safe haven, that must be home. Maybe acceptance, comfort, love; those too are home. The piles of washing trouble me!
Then I remembered my other guest, the farmer, to whom life is land. The one who revels at the thought of watching life spring from the ground. He admires produce and speaks volumes of its qualities. He narrates stories about an orange, where the characters are its colour, juices and flavours and its plot happens in a farm by the trees. A story in which you get lost in a world of senses, where you see, smell, taste, hear and even almost touch the orange of which he speaks. He takes you through acres and acres of trees in a peaceful place where noise is only that of birds and the workers picking oranges and loading them to the markets. He then takes you to the market with stories about merchants and buyers walking through an old city’s open market, where everyone knows everyone and where a merchant would be ashamed to sell you a bad orange because no one will ever buy from him again. His eyes light up as he speaks and your heart delights as you listen. I admire his passion and the simplicity of his joy. “But life is different now, the markets are different now. Some things should have never changed!” I told him. “Everything has changed! nothing is the same…” he said.
What changed? Is it the place, the people or perhaps both? Is the earth no longer fit for life? Where did the merchants go? What happened to the oranges? What about those trees, or at least the acres and acres of his family’s farm?All these questions had to wait, because there was a stubborn stain on my table runner. I rub it with a stain remover and wait… and as I wait… ‘I want to have a farm one day. I want my children to look forward to visiting me when they are older. I want their little ones to be excited about visiting grandma. I want to pick oranges and strawberries with them. I want to push them on the swing in the garden, tell them their mum or dad’s childhood stories. I want to cook for them and spread a banquet for them in my garden. I want to make jams, cakes and cookies with them. I want to have a farm. Where? South of France, maybe Tuscany, how about South Africa? … Falasteen! Yes, Falasteen would have been nice!’… The stain was now pale, still there, but pale. I put the runner and the napkins in the washing machine. Full cycle that should do it.
My daughter gets up and says she can’t sleep. She is scared of monsters, aren’t we all? I tell her not to worry, that monsters do not exist. I reassure her that even if they did, they can never come inside our home. “This is home and we are safe here” I tell her then tuck her back in bed. How innocent these children are! What a huge responsibility it is to raise them and take care of them. In the end what do all children need? A home, a sense of security and most of all love? What big words: Home, Security, Love… I drink some water… as I do I remember the doctor, whom we had met through a friend and invited to dinner. A European doctor who recently volunteered to give medical care to the wounded of war. The horrors this man had seen! The injured, the bereaved and the dead… The women, the men, the children, unfortunately, most were children… the elderly, the young, the civilians, the people, the land, the sky, the trees, the houses… are all injured, bereaved and dead! The clouds, the sky, the heavens, the mosques, the churches, the synagogues, the hospitals, the schools, the streets, the stones and the walls, all were injured! Everywhere is dark, cold and miserable he described. I told him how sorry I was he had to go through such sorrow. “The horrors, the injustice, the randomness and absurdity make you feel like there is nothing worth living for, and takes all the energy to get over, if you ever do.” He said.
Monsters, do they really exist? They must if such wretchedness is a reality somewhere. But why? Money? Power? Revenge? Old dues? Sadism? Politics? Weakness? It must be weakness, a failure to look and really see what this is doing to everyone. Arrogance maybe! To think that humans hiding behind tanks and weapons are so powerful and godlike! Shame! What do we really tell our children? What will they tell theirs? We leave so much behind, but most of all we are all leaving historical rubbish for these children to deal with. I can’t even think of that Palestinian mother whose child had to witness such horror at his very young last hour. Nor can I imagine the horror of those children at the beach in Gaza, directly attacked in cold blood by a rain of bullets the source of which was cowardly hiding behind bullet-proof armour and smart false propagandas of a “right to defend”! Defend what? Defend themselves from the demons haunting them for what they have done to this country and these poor little children? Or defend their inhumane reality? Perhaps defend themselves from having brutally taken the lives of so many innocent people that their false image is finally showing its real face! Defend what?
The dead are gone but the living remain to collect the pieces and gather the shreds of their ruined lives, trying to make sense of it all and find a good place left in their hearts!… I kiss my daughter and think of that mother. I pray for her, for heaven to give her strength, and for judgement to consider her despair.All finished, all is washed and tucked away now, in anticipation of another day when the spotless runner is spread out, and the lamb is slowly roasting in the oven, when the candles are lit, cups are being filled and the night is long. Another night, maybe another time, when we can breathe and look with pride to our humanity. When a child sleeps scared of imaginary monsters because real ones don’t exist, when a mother cries at her son’s graduation, wedding and the birth of her grandson. When a father returns home. When a house has a garden with trees and grass, flowers and roses instead of ruins topped with grey stones. A time in which children run and laugh, neighbours hang their laundry out in the open and grandmas are irritated by that sight. A day when football is the only battleground and the ball is the only weapon. A day where people, all the people of this land, have safe homes that are theirs. Homes they can pass down through generations, within the walls of which are happy memories of children growing, newborns and a full life cycle filled with joy. A day when all the voices of heaven no longer clash but rather are peaceful, as they are meant to be. Maybe then the pilot will have a home to which he returns from his adventures, and the farmer will have a land from which life springs and the doctor will want to live to help the mother give birth to the child who will live to make her proud.
Maybe then you and I, whoever we are, will know peace and freedom.