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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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