Farah Beaini is a spoken word poet and freelance writer, interested in exploring stories of identity and belonging in an age of constant movement. Her work is grounded in authenticity and vulnerability, and often tackles difficult conversations within the community. Find her page on Facebook @farahbeaini and her website at yesbutmaybenot.wordpress.com.
I imagine you and teta* safely tucked away in the Chouf mountains, far away from the uncertainty of Beirut and the polluting noise of Simkanieh; past the old petrol store and the village mansion; sitting among the grapes, plums and pomegranates, on the patio of your three-storey house.
I can picture you greeting each morning in comfortable monotony, teta pouring the Argentinian mate tea while you stoop over your new pocket radio that blares the old Arabian greats.
Or so I imagine! You haven’t told me yet whether you got the radio I sent or whether you like it.
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to cotton on to the years of your diplomatic hinting. How could I not have figured it out back in the summer of 2012, when you told me that the antenna had snapped? Or even in 2015, when again you reminded me of it being broken? Back then, I thought it odd that you hadn’t replaced it, seeing how much you loved listening to Im Kalthoom and Sabah.
It wasn’t until mum texted me: “Jiddo sent you a present with dad,” back in February, that I knew something was up.
Since when do you send me presents? Isn’t that usually what teta does, hmmmmm?
You got my attention and I kept pestering mum to tell me more. She texted me again with a cryptic photo and the words: “Do you know what this is?”
It took me a few minutes before I recognised your ‘memento’ as the pocket radio we bought together back in ’04, when you and teta visited us.
Image: © Chris Campbell, 2015
This time, all attempts at diplomacy were over. In mum’s next message was a picture of a note accompanying the radio, in which you laid out, still politely, your request:
My dear Farah,
To trigger the memory and to remind you;
I request that you send me a radio like this one
A memento from Australia, from a Jewish shop.
I’m sorry Jiddo. I don’t remember the exact Jewish (!) shop that we bought the radio from. All I remember from that trip was how my heart nearly burst when I saw you at the airport; how it sang during our quiet strolls through Oakleigh and our grocery shopping amid the bustle of Dandenong Market; how you and teta filled some of that loneliness and longing that every migrant swallows with every passing year away from the smells and tastes of their country.
I’m sorry Jiddo. I couldn’t find the exact radio you asked for. My digital world demands electricity, while yours is stuck on analog, permanently relying on batteries for the inevitable electricity blackouts. I cannot help but feel that this is a metaphor for the disconnection that our migrating away from you has caused. I cannot find the words in Arabic, so I say them in English instead: like the radio, the connection between your world and mine is becoming harder to find.
I’m sorry Jiddo that I am not there to guide you, knowing that your sight wavers and your step grows unsteady. I know that only a few weeks separate me from seeing you, but, like every migrant, I don’t know when the next “hello” will be, nor the last goodbye.
So this time, I’ll make time to sit with you, safely tucked away in the Chouf mountains, far away from the uncertainty of Beirut and the polluting noise of Simkanieh; past the old petrol store and the village mansion; sitting among the grapes, plums and pomegranates, on the patio of your three-storey house, and listen with you as Sabah sings:
ألو ألو، ألو- بيروت
من فضلك يا عينيي
وعجّل بالخط شوي
Hello, hello, hello – Beirut
Please, if you could darling,
Connect me to Beirut
and make it quick!
* Jiddo = grandfather
* Teta = grandmother
© Farah Beaini, 2017