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Challenging Tradition in a Traditional Society #1

There are some traditions that are worth upholding, but many have collected thick layers of dust so opaque that we can no longer see what was once beneath them. We mistake the dust for the essence, incessantly complaining about a'raf and wajibat, the rights and wrongs of our forefathers...but we play along to avoid ridicule and choose the chains of cowardice, prejudice, and misconception. Ignorance.

I am not saying that all traditions are outdated and useless-far from it, in our Arab culture are jewels and treasures, and I am the first to call for preserving them. But let us stop for a moment and consider what we are heeding, rather than following blindly like grazing sheep.
Sheep and goats: I am reminded of kindergarden and a song we learnt in school. The teacher would walk around the classroom singing: Ya Ganamati. And we'd respond: Ma Ma. ...Ghannou waraya : Ma Ma..and so on and so forth. Very endearing, but also very telling. We grow up, Ma Ma-ing until we reach the grave.

I walk in to funeral to find a herd of women sitting around my aunt's living room. Her husband has just died. As I walk through the door, I feel all eyes turn towards me. They look me up and down. I do not take it personally, this is the norm. Each of us is measured up: Is she wearing the right thing, is she smiling too much, is she sad enough?. I look around and see nothing but bodies, they all look the same. Some are showing hair but most are veiled. I'm instructed by my mother to greet my aunts and cousins. Ma Ma. . As I pilgrim around the room, I am stopped by women I know and others I have no memory of. Shoo, inseeteena? A kiss on each cheek, at times one kiss, then one two three...there's a rhythm to the kissing ritual, but unable to figure it out, I surrender my face. May he rest in peace, I tell those concerned. I am served dates and weak coffee, and seat myself in a chair.
Some women have rosaries in their hands, others are gossiping about the women in the room, whispering this or that. As for the bereaved, they greet and serve the guests who flow in without mercy. This will go on for three days!

I sit in thought:

When I die, I do not want to burden those I love, I do not want to cost them money beyond their means to attend to the demands of society. I would want them to hold a party and raise their glasses in my memory, remember the funny things I did and even laugh.

If a person I love dies, the last thing I would want is loads of people crowding my house. I would not want to surrounded by people who feel obliged to fulfill their duty and who probably could care less about my pain. I would not want to serve anyone coffee or answer questions about where to find the bathroom. I would not want to be clearing empty plates and making sure there's lunch to feed the mass.

If someone I love dies, I would leave the guests and run away, returning only when no one is left. But what would they say about me? Do I care?

If a person I love dies, I would not want to dress up in name brands or get my hair done (which has become customary amongst the 'velvet society'. I hear there's even a special 'funeral hairstyle' nowadays). I would not want to brush my teeth or even bathe...

If some I love dies, I would want to be left in silence, to be with the people closest to me. I would want to be around those with whom I could cry and who would make me laugh. We could look at photos of the one who has just passed, and remember the beautiful days we had. Perhaps we would sit in silence, and maybe even watch a movie.....

But maybe it's just me...maybe there's something in this charade that I'm not getting.

I leave the funeral and return to my home. I tell my father about my day. He says that when he dies, he does not want a funeral, just a burial and that's that. I pray for his long life and say, for this and more, I love you dad.

L;- in Jordan


sa said…
Lana, when you die, I will come to your funeral and pray for God's mercy upon you just as I would hope you would do for me if I die. (without the name brands)

We go through these charades (the tea and coffee) so that we all remain connected in life and in death. When a new baby is born, it is tradition to go to the home and bariklhom. To share in their joy. When a person dies, it is wajb to go their home and share in their sadness and pray for the mar7oum. It is what keeps the hearts connected and alive. They are small gestures but they are small indications that you or your late loved one is not forgotten.

Because to be alone, truly alone in the world is the worst torture for a human. To be loved and cared for is the sweetest of feelings. We need love and affection and others to survive this dunya. So when your loved one dies, I will come (If I'm in region, of course) and offer my condolences and share in your sadness--just so you know that you are loved.

SA in SJ

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