September 19, 2010

On Getting Lost

I went to the cemetery to visit Ibrahim. It’s been 3 years since he died. His mom is one strong woman. I don't know how she does it.
Every time I go to Ibrahim, I have to ask one of the guards where he lies. It’s quite a big cemetery, Bashoura, and an old one, and so the graves are all jumbled up, and I can never find him. I pronounce Ibrahim’s last name clearly different from what they have in mind, and so it usually takes some time before they have figured out who I am looking for, and I have figured out where he is.

And while I was standing there, at his grave, contemplating whether I should feel guilty over the fact that I cannot find his grave, I see this family roaming around. Up en down, clambering over tombs, maneuvering between graves, which are packed back to back. It’s early morning, but it’s hot already, and you can see the sweat glistening on their faces as they’re walking around. They come in my direction, and for a moment I think they come and visit Ibrahim as well. But no, they’re lost. They cannot find their grave either.
That made me feel a little better. It also reminds me think of another graveyard story, also about a lost grave, but a not so sad story, though. It’s rather funny. At least, whenever my husband tells me the story, he has to laugh. So if you are in a somber mood, do not read on.

My husband’s grandmother died at the height of the Lebanese civil war. It was her wish to be buried in Tripoli. However, there was fighting going on in both Beirut and Tripoli at the time, and the road to Tripoli, with several militia checkpoints to cross, wasn’t altogether safe either. But you cannot deny a dying woman her last wish. Her sons were not in the country, and so her son-in-law, with her two grandsons (one of them my husband), decided they would have get her to Tripoli themselves. There was no question that anyone else could join them, the roads were simply not safe. It was mid-summer, hot as can be, and so they drive up to Tripoli, coffin in tow.

They make it passed all the checkpoints without a problem, but in Tripoli, the situation – and I am not speaking weather-wise – is even hotter. Hubbie cannot remember who was fighting whom, Palestinians, Syrians or some local sunni militia, but there were bullets whizzing by all over the place. So here they arrive, at the grave yard, and the custodian says the grave has been dug somewhere ‘in the back’ and he gestures with his hand. “Over there,” he points hastily. He’s organized a local sheikh, who will preside over the funeral, but there is no way that the custodian is going to risk his life by getting out of the safety of the gatehouse to the cemetery.
They will have to find the freshly dug grave themselves. They wait for a while, sitting around the coffin at the gatehouse of the graveyard, for the shooting to abate, but the sheikh says it has been like that for 3 days. This could go on for hours and hours, maybe even days. There is no refrigerator, because there’s no electricity, and so there’s some urgency in getting the lady settled.

“Let’s go,” says the father in-law. And here they go; the sheikh in his thick dark long mantle, and 3 men in black woolen suits, balancing a wooden coffin, in search of a grave. But the place is packed with graves, and there are no real walkways in between. They’ve got to climb over other graves in order to get to the corner indicated. In woolen suits. In the heat. With a heavy coffin. And with sporadic shooting around them. And they clamber and climb, constantly balancing the coffin, and they sweat and sweat. And they just cannot find that hole! Where’s the grave? Where’s the darn custodian?

It doesn’t take long for them to get a laughing fit. It’s like a movie, a scene from a slapstick. It just cannot get more ridiculous than this.
They eventually find the grave. The sheikh says his prayers, one of the workers of the graveyard has finally joined them, and so together they place her body, and cover it.

This all comes to mind, while I'm standing with Ibrahim. He probably would have thought that to be a funny story too.

1 comment:

Francine said...

"But you cannot deny (...) last wish."