Until we meet again, Mama Sayida

mama sayida
Photo taken in September 2013, Sana’a, Yemen

“We’re going to wash her body now,” wrote my sister on WhatsApp. I put down the phone and paced the room. I wanted to be there. I fucking wanted to wash her body like I had promised my grandmother I would. I still remember that day very vividly. With qat in one hand and a cigarette in the other, she had requested that I wash underneath her large sagging rocks.  “Please don’t even joke about this,” I begged her, and then added, “don’t worry, Mama and I will make sure to wash every inch of your mountains.”

Today I broke my promise.  Today, I wasn’t there to wash al-nahdain. I wasn’t there to kiss her goodbye. I wasn’t there to tell her that I love her. I wasn’t able to support my mother during this difficult time.  Instead, I sat in a random café in London, surrounded by strangers and a cappuccino.

I’m thankful though that my mother was able to be there with one of her brothers- such a blessing, unlike my other uncle who has no way of traveling out of Sana’a. The airport is closed and even if he could fly from Aden or Mukalla, getting a visa to Saudi Arabia at this time is nearly impossible. This is why he hasn’t seen his mother in four years. It was four years ago that I last hugged her too.

Fuck distance, war, and inhumane visa regulations.

After pacing the room for some time I decided to take a shower. I wanted to wash my own body at the same time that they were washing hers, maybe then I could be with her in some way, somehow.

A short while after my shower I received another message saying that they had finished washing the body and that “the men will go bury her now.” Maybe it’s a good thing that I wasn’t there after all. I would’ve gone crazy if I was banned from burying my own grandmother because I was a woman.  She would’ve understood my rage, but others wouldn’t have.

I’ll have to find another way to say goodbye.  Maybe I’ll listen to her voice.  Last time we were all together in Yemen I recorded many informal chats with her. I asked her about her childhood, her marriage, the wars she experienced, and the killing of her then nine-year-old daughter. Our discussions had inspired me to write her story especially since she couldn’t write it herself.  When I’d asked her if that was ok she’d agreed but on two conditions: 1) I had to change her name 2) I had to turn it into a famous Ramadan series.

Maybe I will do that one day Mama Sayida, maybe I will.

While they bury you six thousand kilometers away, I’ll listen to your recordings not as melodies of death but as reminders of life. I will breathe your smoky voice and imagine that we’re sitting together in your Marfaj on zira’a street blabbing, chewing and looking through old photographs while oud plays in the background.

Until we meet again, Mama Sayida.



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