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Published in Jin News on May 14 2020, in the “Women’s Pens” section, this column by Harika Peker.

The scent of your hair…

Walking on the grass, I feel the moisture from those hours when the dew settles. Nature has just begun waking. I know I am here to find something I have lost, but I can’t remember what it is. Then the wind starts up, lightly, as if it feared disturbing the leaves, and instantly it brings me the scent of your hair. And I realize… My heart lifts up. With the emotion of the possibility of a reunion, I move toward your perfume.

And you are standing under the almond tree, graceful body, hair braided as always. I call to you, you turn around and look at me. On your face, a smile burning with nostalgia…

Something bleeds in my heart, I can feel it, if I touch, my hand will be humid. As I am about to caress your hair, a fog covers up. I am afraid, but I experience the scent all the way into my being. I discover your braid in my hand. A flash of lightning pierces my heart I wake up, I look at my hands, time beats out your absence like the strokes from a clock.

When I learned that I would never see you again, I hid this truth, even to myself, for a long time. If I did not speak the truth, it would lose its substance, and the possibility of seeing you again would remain forever preserved in my heart’s shoulder bag. Even if that moment was uncertain in its timing, it would happen sometime, some day, some season… It would happen.

But my dreams did not accept this. I try to remember when I first noticed the scent of your hair. I was in prison. One winter morning, I saw a graceful figure approaching my bunk bed. You embraced me before I understood who you were. That was the first time I smelled the scent of your hair. It smelled like the narcissi in the mountains of Botan.1 “Oh! You said, Oh, my comrade”… I looked at your face, I teased you “those who see you will think you are happy to be put in prison”. You answered “where there are comrades cannot be a prison.”

Now, I sort through stories time has gathered in my memory. Stories of braided hair.

Women who lose their loved one bury their braids with the body, a mourning tradition rooted in Kurdish tradition. It is still perpetuated these days by Yezidi women. To express the grief they experience, they bury their hair, considered as sacred, next to their loved ones. We were living witnesses of this when ISIS attacked Sinjar. The women hung their braids on the tombs and joined the war. And they left behind hundreds of stories waiting to be written.

The link between hair and life is still a living one. This is why even nowadays, our mothers describe a grieving women as “porkur” (shorn hair) or “kezikûr” (cut braid). Perhaps this is a mythological gesture or perhaps it expresses the eternal mourning of grief and love.

It sometimes happens that the mystery of the moment seems ordinary, because it is veiled by the streaming of life, but despite yourself it remains in your heart for your whole life.

A memory from the 90s crosses my mind. In those days, even if what was happening was similar to what is happening today, each burned village had its own story. Tales were carried from one mouth to another, thus sublimated and sometimes transformed into extraordinary happenings…

In one of the mountain villages, the tyrants had assembled all the inhabitants on the village square, in order to burn the houses…

But one woman resisted leaving her house. She did not want to give up the house she had built with her own hands and that had required many sacrifices. The leader of the tyrants grabbed the woman by her braid and dragged her to the square. He pulled with so much ferocity that the braid stayed in his hands. The houses were burned and the braid of hair thrown into the flames. At that moment, a cry rang out. It came from the burning braid. Frightened, the tyrants ran away. In telling this story, the villagers add, as a kind of mystical consolation, “It was the voice of the tyrants’ sins, thus did the persecution fly off into the heavens.”

“The time and the place may be different, but cruelty does not change” say our mothers who did not rebel for nothing. It was the first day of the lifting of the curfew in Cizre. Everyone was in the streets, walking about as if each one was looking for someone, in haste and in fear. No one saw anything, as if eyes had been cauterized. Arriving in front of the destroyed door of the burnt cellar, on the stones I saw an untangled braid. When people saw it, they stopped as if in front of a sanctuary, as if on pilgrimage around a sacred object. It was if we were touching it, as if it had the power of speech, and perhaps incarnated the face of its owner, and could tell us what she had lived through. Everyone knew the reality, but no one dared speak it, even to themselves; she had burned and been reduced to ashes. One person speaking to herself whispered “may Raphael blow his trumpet now and may it be the Final Judgment.” We waited in silence. But the end of the world did not arrive.

And never would we know to whom belonged this braid.

If Time had a tongue with which to express how much beauty we have lost , how many unforgettable moments we have lived and pushed back into the depths of our memories…Now, in the privacy of our thoughts , they swarm up, those memories we wanted to forget, that we would not wish to relive today, the sensations that will never return.

In the chaos of living, thrown in every direction, we think we will never lose our travelling companions. Later, when stumbling against reality like against a mountain of ice, we understand that in fact, we preserve our hopes in their smiles. And that each moment is so important…

These days, experiencing this crisis of the loss of a world, as one friend said “we must take advantage of this period in order for each person to find herself again.” Far from individualism, this speaks of the return to our own reality. Thus, perhaps we will understand that camaraderie is the most precious gift we are offered.

Even separated by cliffs, we do not forget the scent of a friend’s hair, her smile, her beliefs, her limpid innocence, nor the enthusiasm of her heart.

I can almost see you telling me with a mischievous anger on your face “you have become so sentimental”. Ah, my comrade, we embrace all feelings, like Farid Farjad’s four seasons.2

I know you will return in my dreams, with your looks that transfigure sadness into smiles, until I find the braid you left behind and breathe in deeply its perfume, before letting it float down the waters of the Tigris.

Harika Peker


Illustration: The braid of a Yezidi woman who joined the struggle after the death of her fiancé.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges – iknowiknowiknowblog.wordpress.com
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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