There are days in my life that I’d be willing to live over and over without changing a moment- May 18 was one of those. I woke up in Shwan and Yvonne’s place in Coquitlam to a fantastic breakfast, was chauffeured to Douglas College with a detour on the way to see the beautiful Maillardville and then I ran into my old friend Jeff on his way to the event. “The Event” as it’s been called for 2 months, was planned by Kurdish House, mainly Shwan Chawshin, with ferocity. He invited MPs, put out flyers, advertised on Kurdtv, emailed, facebooked, telephoned…Shwan filled that auditorium.
What a thrill for me to read to a Kurdish audience! I felt my life had come full circle. After all these years, I was embraced again by a Kurdish community. Eighteen years ago I promised a group of Kurdish refugees that I would tell their story to the world and here I was reading from it to a group of Kurds, many of whom were refugees.
I’ve been haunted by the refugees I met in North Kurdistan in March 1996. I’ve wondered, tearfully, many times what happened to them, if any survived…I remember especially the barefoot boy who fell in the cold mud and his poor mother who didn’t have water to wash him or heat to warm him.
I read that part of the book to the Vancouver community. When I finished, a number of people came to talk.
“I lived in one of those tents for 4 years.”
“My father was killed, my brothers died in jail…I am the only one left.”
“I was Peshmerga, 8 years.”
They are miserable words, but to me, to see so many people who had survived, who had made it to Canada…well for me, it was an affirmation of life. I hadn’t been able to imagine how ANYone could survive the desolate situation I witnessed.
I also read about the wedding- a foreigner finding her way through 3 days of rituals and celebrations- and the audience laughed out loud at her efforts and observations.
A few people told me they had both laughed and cried in the 30-minute reading. What a joy for a writer to see the impact her words have made! And I was reminded again of the emotional openness and honesty of this community- men who can come up to me with tears in their eyes and say what they are thinking or remembering. I have said it before: The Kurds are stunningly courageous people in so many ways.
I remember sometimes resenting that my evenings, weekends, holidays were spent in isolation, indoors, working on a manuscript. I didn’t know if it would ever be read by anyone but me. I wondered sometimes if I was wasting years of my life. Other times, there was nothing more important than keeping my promise, nothing more beautiful than the polished words that I touched and touched and touched again. I did dare to dream it would be appreciated…and this past weekend that dream came true.
Ava Homa read from her fascinating collection of short stories Echoes from the Other Land, Avan Ali read poetry in Kurdish and the host Nassir gave a stirring speech. We ended the afternoon with singing by Nadia- a Kurdish singer. After the strain of travelling and the tension of speaking, that music was a release. Nadia’s voice roused the joy in us all and as we clapped along I watched for who would dance first. It was a group of men at the back. They formed a chain and snapped the handkerchief. I attached myself to the chain and danced with pure exaltation.
With all of my heart- thank you Shwan and Yvonne, Ava and Shaima, Aras and Sewar, Taban (who gave me flowers before I even read and who had never met me before), Jeff and all of the beautiful people who shared their Sunday with me.
Thank you to Kurdish House for the plane ticket and the roof over my head!