The X Page: A Storytelling Workshop
It was the summer of my fifteenth birthday, on the third Friday of July. It was the yearly Imamat day celebration at Almuhamadia school in the Alkhwabi area. From the balcony I could see people gathering at the school for the event. The school is across the river at the bottom of the valley and our house is in the middle of the mountain. At 4:00 pm it was time for us to go there too. I called my little sister Ola who was eleven years old at that time and we headed to my uncle’s house to join my cousins.
We crossed the road leading to my uncle’s house through the village square. The village square was a place of shared joy and sorrow, weddings and funerals. It was where the children of the village played. At the edge of the square there were two large oak trees, one that shaded the stairs of my aunt’s house, where some of the village elders sat to escape the heat of their houses. The other tree shaded my uncle’s house. Between the two trees lay the grave of Sheikh Musa, and between the grave of Sheikh Musa and the village prayer house was my uncle’s house. This house is the heart of our small village. It welcomes us when we come to the village.
I was wearing a white cotton dress with light purple stripes and my hair was braided with a purple flower knotted at the end. My little sister Ola was wearing a similar dress, but the purple flower was knotted on the side of her short golden hair. Our dresses were made especially for that celebration by the best tailor- my mother. Uncle Shams El Din welcomed us with his usual smile as he told us that we were more beautiful than the flowers on our heads. I love my uncle Shams El Din and his beautiful words still make me happy. I used to feel a pang of jealousy for his five children, who have the best father in the world.
I love that home. In my memory I can still see the white walls and the dark green marble floor.
I have many memories of the roof of the house with my five cousins. I played in water fights, ate pomegranate and olive salad, sang to Fayrouz, and followed my cousin’s creative ideas. My uncle and his good wife never complained about our noise.
Beyond the entrance, on the right there were the children’s bedrooms. On the left is the salon and the large black library. From that library my uncle would give me traditional books to read. In front of the library was the dining table where little Ibrahim sat waiting for his usual meal of eggs and milk. In front of the sitting room was a glassed terrace overlooking the beautiful valley.
On that festival day, from the terrace, I could hear the sounds of cars heading to the great celebration. Many people would gather every year from the neighboring villages and the nearby city to hear the presentation of religious songs and poems, and most importantly, that was our only chance to see our school crushes in the summer time.
The celebration venue is a fifteen minute walk from our village, but walking on that humid summer afternoon was not comfortable in our fancy clothes, so my uncle took us in his blue Chevrolet pickup. The celebration that year was different for me as it was my first time participating with the singing group. I remember that we stood before the audience on a high concrete stand and without a microphone. I remember that the place was quiet with only the voices of eight girls reciting a poem that we still—even to this day—repeat every Saturday night. The sun was hidden behind the mountain, giving us a chance to enjoy a pleasant summer breeze. I remember eyes watching me and my heart beating hard.
I was so shy to ask anyone about their opinion of our performance in the choir, but the praise was not late, especially from my uncle, whose words I had been most eager to hear. That evening at his house he told me that I was shining like a star in the sky.
For ten years I have been waiting for the third Friday of July to visit my uncle’s house. Maybe, if we went, my fifteen-year-old daughter would sit on the blue pickup with other children and go to Al Muhammadia school to celebrate.