My gap-filled memory only sends me back a few blurred or imagined images; this is how I grew up away from myself. Where did the first 16 years of my life go? Suddenly I wake up and I have no past. My imagination becomes my memory and reality becomes my imagination, like in a dream in which I swim anxious, tired.
I live with my mother Nawal, my sister Rima and my brother Rayan, in a house that resembles more a hotel. No schedule for us or for the numerous visitors who pass by unexpectedly. We each live in our space, with frontiers to guard. None of us asks the other how they feel and we never confide to one another.
My family so resembles this country where we live, Lebanon. No stability in sight, the problems lie there and stay there, no dialogue gives any concrete results; each one of us gives time the custody to bring answers and yet other questions.
At home, each room is private but at the same time a public space which reflects what we individually and collectively are, an odd family. Every photo, every object says things about this permanent chaos and us.
Communication between us happens through silence, unspoken words, furious clashes and negotiations.
Nawal never tells stories. She never confides in any of us, never talks about her past. Maybe no one ever asked her. Nobody notices her, nobody sees her. Yet there would be a lot to say just by looking at her, observing her throughout one single day of her life, which day in day out tirelessly go by uniformly and monotonously.
Every morning, she wakes up at 5:30 am, has her coffee. At 6 am she gets into her old Mercedes, picks up a few kids for the school where she teaches.
After school, she taxies them back and she then goes out again to give private lessons.
At night she works in a small grocery store, which sells mainly alcohol, at the fringe of an area where alcohol is forbidden. Whilst taking care of her clients, she edits texts for a publishing house and recycles aluminium cans to sell them back.
Nawal gets home at 2:30 am, falls asleep on the couch in front of the television set.
Suddenly my memory or imagined memory turns itself on. I recompose postcard-like memories with Nawal and evoke in voiceover my relation to my mother extracted from holes in my memory, as in a diary where I speak of my fears, my anxieties, my doubts and my exhaustion.
I dream that Nawal speaks to me, at last. I see her in the Lebanese mountains, in the alleys of Béjjé, her native village where her father deprived her of inheritance when she married a Muslim. She tells me of her past, of her life, of her Christian upbringing that she escaped very young by entering the Communist Party of Lebanon. She tells me of her dreams, of her projects, of her political aspirations.
She tells me of my father, Mustapha, whom she married in the midst of the civil war. This father who never did anything other than becoming a “fighter” and who, at the end of the war, stopped all activities and left us. My father who returned to his village in Syria and who remarried without notice.
She finally talks to me about herself, Nawal, her disillusions, the war, her lost love in the daily chaos, and of my family that I only know in bits.
I then try to learn again how to live in this dialogue with my mother; on this very long journey she has undergone and taken us with her.