(Kirkuk, around 1950)

Sitt Adawiya (Kirkuk, around 1950)

My aunt and Sitt Adawiya were friends. They worked at the same school in Kirkuk. My aunt was the director and Sitt Adawiya, a Turkoman, one of the teachers.

I was thirteen or fourteen at that time and my aunt would send me every now and then to deliver a message to Sitt Adawiya; tell her this or tell her that. I used to take my bicycle and drive to where she lived with her family at the entrance of Imam Kassem, the mainly Kurdish neighborhood, at the bank of Al-Khassa, Kirkuk's river, violent and full of water in winter, empty and dry in summer.

One day I arrived at Sitt Adawiya's house with a message from my aunt.
I went in and found her preparing herself to go out. She had a perfume
bottle in her hand, the kind of French perfume that came in dark violet
bottles and was popular in those days.

A soothing warmth radiated from her. Her healthy face was slightly rosy.
Adawiya was in her late twenties, an active person with a particular
way of speaking rapidly. She spoke kindly to me as she always did when
I came to her with a message, alternating between Arabic and Turkomenish. And as always, she asked me about my school and praised my achievements. My aunt, who was very fond of me and thought I am a bright pupil, must have been telling her about me. But I was a shy boy and felt uneasy when someone praised me for some work or achievement.

She kept passing her finger on the mouth of the perfume bottle, moistening it and passing it to her ears, neck and dress. Then, out of a sudden, she extended her arm towards me and passed her perfumed finger on my hair.
After that, she continued perfuming herself while talking to me as if
nothing has happened. But for me that movement had a secretive and
personal meaning, it was, as I will discover many years later, not only
a gesture of tenderness, but a recognition of my person. Yet at that
moment my face must have turned red. I felt uncomfortable.

Years have passed since then. I still recall that gesture. A decade ago, remembering Sitt Adawiya, I began to understand why she passed
her perfume over my hair, and what her gesture meant to me.

I keep this reminiscence as a gem. I go back to it whenever I face hardship. I just recall it for a while, get a glimpse of its beauty, ensure that it is there, and then leave it until the next time. It gives me freshness, hope, and renews my energy.

My aunt lives in Kirkuk, retired and over seventy. I know nothing about
Sitt Adawiya. No excuses, I have to find time to ask about her whereabout. Why do we think that people we appreciate most don’t need our attention, that they are there, and will always be there whenever we want them or need to go back to them? Or is this only my way of thinking, my negligence that makes me think so? Yes, I know, the distance, the separation, the tyrannies, the wars, the lack of communication, the eternal instability, the wandering, and the hope that never dies...

*) "Sitt" in Arabic is a word/title used when addressing women. It precedes the
first name and expresses both respect and certain distance. It is used to address
professional women (initially for school teachers, now for all professionals),
women of a certain social status and rank, and elderly women.