Home V
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October 4, 2012

Dear City of Corpses,

I hate how people romanticize you. They must have poor strategies of assessment. I find I judge you wisely because I have experienced you only in displacement.

These feet never touched your soil. This body never littered your space, and these nostrils never inhaled your air. But still I think I know you best. You are the figment, atom, and particle of our foreign home. Your inspirations permeate every surface of this othered house, and I sense you in all of its weavings. We hang your glorious paintings on the wall, your music makes my parents swoon, and even your smell politely effervesces from my grandmother’s concoctions.

You are a subject I know of in complete imagery and confused communication. People always seem to defend you with “there was a time when.” But really I don’t understand you in this manner. It is actually these memories that frustrate my current foreign home.

My parents disciplined me that my roots of origin are from your earth.

But this is funny and ambiguous because Mom and Dad never intend to experience your dead botany anymore. I think you destroyed their ecology too much.

Your pollen, though, still drifts over the Gulf, and we use it in manifesting our foreign condition. Others of our kind have done this also. It is a curious and strange space. Our garden grows nargis flowers to differentiate our home in the Other’s land. These flowers are displaced and uprooted from their indigenous atmospheres, and they look somehow faulty in this placement. Faulty, just like the structure they beautify. And it is this cultivation, the one I name Home V, which personifies and imagines you.

You created your own wonderful fallacy for sometime. It is that beautiful, secular, and cosmopolitan structure you supported and manifested with your sophisticated architecture. You had ambitious imaginations for being the modern(ist) space of the Middle East. But your ignorance to the Battle of Karbala1 and the Anfal campaign2 only came back to haunt you. Now you are militarized, divided, and in a constant state of decay. I applaud you; never has war seemed to carry such chic and artistic appeal.

And you did well. You Arabized my Kurdish mother, and she belly dances excellently now. She accentuates and utters Arabic in perfection, and she is the ramification of your fascism. Father, on the other hand, becomes ever more defensive and resistant of his Shiite origins. He really struggles fighting against these subjugations. Muqtada Al Sadr and he do not get along. I think his religious barometer is running low now.

My brother was stuck in your land for six months when you went through your Second Gulf War. We left him there because no one wanted us with an infant born in your territory. I think he suffers from a psychological glitch. Luckily, my sister was born in Canada. I hear that one day she could even run for prime minister.

At first I started to read about your courage and patriotism. Thank you for being part of a scheme that tried to manage the words, “Arab,” “United” and “Republic.”3 You might have thought you were fighting for the righteousness of the Arab cause. But you surrounded yourself with enemies who slowly destroy you today.

You witnessed some of the greatest undulatory structures of the Empire.4 And after its demise, you nurtured the Khawaja complex.5 These disciples corrected the city into petty urbanism and shadowed the urban motif behind its history. But Jose Luis Sert and Le Corbusier never managed to rectify your faults, did they?6

Writers and historians called you the modern nation state of the Middle East of that time. The glory you witnessed in architecture and culture battled those extant in Beirut and Istanbul. Cairene novelists and thinkers found no better readers than your patriotic citizens. But these moments are now archived and lost. And it is this hangover that saturates and frustrates my current foreign home. Home V is the extension of your myths. Inside it lies the nakedness of your deceit.

Your landscapes are tainted with parched earth; my parents do not want our foreign home to illustrate your inflicted scars. Thus, they have invested in laborious cosmetic schemes to veil, dress, and mask the house until its gates. My family’s appearance is so well camouflaged that no indentations of their pain are palpable anymore. I owe you many thanks for letting us out of your territory. We have been persistent refineries of your crude oil.

My mother even scolds me and tells me to cut my hair, shave my beard, and manicure my nails. I was also taught that bed sheets must match the drapery. The sheets should always be aligned and crust-free. Use coasters under my coffee mug, and clean after my spills. If I don’t, I would get a hurtful spanking. I must also ensure that the home furniture remains the way it is meant to be. And to be honest, I think you would be proud, as my current lush home has never ceased to disappoint with its perfected and sanitary appearance. I think my parents’ obsession with the furnishings of our home is actually your fault. I think you scarred any romantic pictures my parents had of home — thus their current edition of home must always be kept in such immaculate order. They recreate Home V in perfection for protection, not because of privilege. They want to shed the house of any scars that remind them of you. Your weight is heavy, you see.

But, really, these efforts are futile.

The walls in our house are filled with cemented cracks, and I only look at these breaks as pregnant with your ugliness. And certainly the constant maintenance costs us a lot. These walls are choked with your melodrama, and it is always finding ways to secrete back into the house. Our home still collects dust, and my mother has even hired help to keep it clean. We have learned to grow your flowers and even import exotic seeds from Holland to keep our garden green. But the stray cats still house themselves under this canopy.

The visual and literary vocabulary of our library seems to wither alongside your status. These old and glorious photographs of you are getting iron-rusty. Your literature contains too many torn pages and dents, and your richness is only stacked away. These house vases keep breeding dead flowers, and now they seem to only grow cobwebs. We even remove the stains on the birch wooden tables and crystal chandeliers with potent European chemicals, but they do not seem to keep them clean.

My parents gave up hosting your min-il sima7 and baklava, and now we decorate the coffee tables with colorful Parisian macaroons. But these sweets only seem to attract the meanest insects.

In the traditional kitchen, we try to conceal your dirt. We mitigate your depressing mood by cooking culinary dishes that remind us of home.

Stuffing and suffocating food is what we seem to do best. We have the klaicha, kubbat mosul, parda pillaw, dolma, and sheikh mahshi. The range of home cooking is always by coating and rolling other produce into clean and flat surfaces. It is like we are protecting ourselves from the bitterness and mess of your ingredients. Thus, we fry, boil, or roast it, to ensure the inside is dead of its rawness. And while the flesh cooks, the emotions evaporate.

However, the family and I go on to consume these foods. Its digested remnants and particles oxidize in our anatomy; they linger and breed your cancerous cells.

Your disease is fully colonized in one particular room of the house, and that is the salon. Its interior architecture is designed to segregate men and women through invisible lines of desire. In the conversations of the salon, your pathologies and symptoms are also infectious, and I am worried about their hereditary donations. Look at my female cousins: I like to call them AAPs (Arab American Princesses). These girls know no Arabic and revel in the life of the 90210.8 They wear bug-eyed sunglasses, drive sleek Porsches, and hold gigantic purses that outsize their anorexic bodies. You should come see these girls. They are the modern ones that despise the hijab, speak English, and dance on bar tables. We have come a long way, really!

My other organs feel suffocated when your citizens come visit and talk to me in my salon. When they arrive with their children at our home, I hope to create a relationship because of our nationalistic bond. But then they come in, kiss me on the cheek, and sit down. And my anticipation is disappointed. They look at my house in admiration and jealousy. They stare and judge my dress. And then they patronize my broken Arabic. In all honesty, I don’t think they like me.

My parents and their friends sit around in a circle, and they discuss you. They begin to converse about the homeland and share a collective, yet distant, memory of it. In this moment, an invisible gateway is erected. There is a direct negligence of present surroundings, and the conversation transports them back to a specific psychogeographic moment and history. Here, the situation suddenly undergoes apartheid, and nothing around them seems to relate anymore.

But their children become intriguing subjects to me; they are my age and are experiencing adolescence. As we continue to communicate, we are completely separated, my hair is gelled, I listen to my iPod, and I also had sex before marriage. They stare at me while I and my other friends make jokes about last week’s drunken adventures. As if to distinguish ourselves all the more from them, we speak of these events in eloquent English.

In the last eight years or so, we have used the salon so much more, and it is all in remembrance of you. These commemorations are funerals that merely bring your death closer. During this occasion, I do not feel sad for my family or myself. I actually feel sorry for the walls of the salon because you have shown them too much grief. They are always swallowing the audible screams and the mullahs’ recitation of the glorious barzakh.9

The salon becomes like an audition room for performances of melancholy, depression, and sorrow. And some look like they have been trained by the best acting protégés out there.

I get too frightened to be in this atmosphere, it looks like the walls are slowly wilting. I prefer to hide in my room on my balcony with my other cousins. We find it is better to do other things, such as smoke and drink while our parents are busy performing. It also feels reproductively correct to perform our own roles of teenage vigilantes.

We also smoke because in the salon everyone puffs away, like they are advancing their own death, just like you. Smoke is everywhere around me. The cigarette is transferred from one person to another, like our own post-colonial cultural method of the zakat.10

My grandmother, now awaiting her death, told me the British colonialists used to drive around her homeland and distribute cigarettes to find new markets for consumption. I am addicted now, and every time I light my cigarette, my grandmother shakes her head.

I left Home V, because I felt my weight was only helping the earth swallow it. Home V is slowly removing the mask it wears. And when it does hydrate its face, your colors are vivid. Home V is apologizing because its servitude is almost deceased.

And when I left, I went to construct my own imagined community. But in these isolated, cold landscapes, I still visited the shawarma and perfumed shisha shops. I also joined the Palestinian resistance groups. I found myself flourishing in the stereotypes of the Arab and still identifying with you.

My name also ensures my relationship to an abstracted Arabic region. It carries such a generic tone, but I still think it is all I own. And really it is a heavy burden to carry. In the West, I am judged because of its Islamic derivations. In the East, I am questioned about the legibility of my Western passport. There was such a mocking tone when my name was said in these other landscapes. The Westerner never learned how to say it; they usually said “akhmad”. The Arabic “h” becomes a “kh” or a silenced “h,” almost like a whisper neglecting its full existence. It sounded like a persistent voice that erased you.

And thus I rebelled; immersion in politics and philosophy radicalized me, and I wanted to fight for your cause. I left the centers of imperial production and control and moved halfway around the world to help you.

But in Jordan, I realized the locals don’t really like us either. We apparently have inflated land prices and made it almost uninhabitable for the “original” people. But this is true; you have created a new subspecies termed the nouveau riche. They spout money, and their bellies are round and robust. Gold spans their arms, and their houses are filled with corrupted diamonds.

In Syria, we are mostly refugees and have to choose between Jeramana and Sayeda Zaynab11 for means of identity. These camps ensure our political weight is carried with us no matter where we go. Most of your girls approached me to whore, and your men thought of me as their enemy. One even came up to me and said, “You studied in the ajnabis12 country, right?” Your refugees thought my counseling was part of a larger Americanizing scheme and they would never admit their poorness to me. All my previous failed attempts in the bedroom never matched the impotence of my experience in the humanitarian sphere.

These refugees, though, did tell me something about you. They said that your Euphrates has turned salty. Soot is camouflaging the greenery of your palm trees. And that only your black gold matters. They also said that the etymology of your name translates as God’s gift. But really they felt they have nothing to bless you for. Communicating in your spaces no longer relies on using dialectical speech or body gestures. It has degraded itself to using other methods, such as throwing shoes.

When I sit with them, they tell me that your public spaces and markets are constantly exploding with fireworks. But I ask you, what are you celebrating?

With Best Regards,

Ahmad Makia

1 A military engagement between the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein and Yazid in 680. This battle was regarded as a major cornerstone for the birth of the Shiite branch of Islam.

2 Anfal, which means “the spoils” in Arabic, a term derived from a sura of the Quran, refers here to Saddam Hussein’s campaign in 1986–89 against the Iraqi Kurds whom he suspected of supporting the Iranians during the final stages of the Iran–Iraq War.

3 A “United Arab Republic” was the dream of pan-Arabists and briefly came to life when Egypt and Syria formed one country between 1958 and 1961. The same dream of unity inspired the Baath Party when it ruled Iraq.

4 In fact Iraq has undergone one empire after another, from the Abbasids to the Ottomans until the days under the more short-lived British Mandate in the early twentieth century.

5 A postcolonial construct that anything produced by the West is viewed and understood as superior in Arab culture.

6 In 1957 the last King of Iraq invited famous Western architects, including the Spanish Catalan Sert and the Frenchman Le Corbusier, to redesign parts of Baghdad. The latter’s envisaged sports complex was intended as a means to win Iraq the chance to host the 1960 Olympic Games. When that bid failed and Le Corbusier died in 1965, the project fell into abeyance and only survived in the form of a gymnasium named in honor of Saddam Hussein, and built in 1981.

7 Iraqi sweet delicacy made with caramel, almonds, and dusted with white taheen (Arabic for “flour”).

8 Formally Californian zip code, but best known as the cult American TV series featuring the privileged carefree lives of West Coast teenagers.

9 The barzakh in Islamic teaching is the point of transference between death and immortality. It is the temporary space where the soul rests until Judgement Day.

10 One of the five pillars of Islam, zakat is charity that is to be given by Muslim believers, usually to the poor and needy.

11 These peri-urban areas (slums) in Damascus that house the marginalized of society have become home to a large number of Iraqis since 2003. Jeramana, Christian and Druze, is a secular town. The very conservative Sayeda Zaynab is populated exclusively by Shiites.

12 Arabic word for foreigner, or Westerner.

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Ahmad Makia is a writer and researcher, and he is currently an editor at The State.
Critical Writing

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The Makia family home in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photograph by Clint McClean.
Photograph by Clint McClean.
Photograph by Clint McClean.
Photograph by Clint McClean.
Photograph by Clint McClean.
Photograph by Clint McClean.
Photograph by Clint McClean.
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