Wednesday, May 4, 2011

People Who Helped Shape me Part II

As I mentioned in Part I… I will be writing about my dear grandparents who have had a tremendous impact on my life. I have already written about my maternal grandfather in Sido… How I miss you! And therefore it is only fair to mention how my other 3 grandparents, whom I had the privilege of knowing, have affected my life and have also become role models. 
Jiddo, my paternal grandfather Dr. Najib Mahmoud Ahmed (Al Khaznachi), was also a physician (as my dad) but his specialty was Pulmonary. He was born in Baghdad and had an awesome house with a fantastic big garden. I remember how I used to love visiting Baghdad when I was little because I could spend time either sitting on his tummy singing songs or out in the garden in his small menagerie… Yes, he had a small one that had plenty of chickens, peacocks, rabbits, a rooster and colorful birds. 

My dad had many pets when he was young, mostly dogs. There is a video clip of my father crying when he was very little trying to fit a puppy in his robe pocket but was unable to imitate his father who had a much bigger pocket of course. 

Jiddo taught me to love animals of all shapes and sizes and no matter how weird looking they were. Not many people like crows, but Jiddo had a one that he loved so much. He taught me to look at the wonderful insides of beings and not care too much about the superficial characteristics.

I remember how my brother and I used to wake up really early in the morning (Poor mom) and run down the stairs in our pajamas, to feed the animals and pick the beautiful peacock feathers that were lying on the floor, carry and stroke the rabbits and caw at the crow and then water the garden with my Neneh. Jiddo taught me to take care of living things, how to be gentle with them and appreciate the true blessing of having pets. I now love all living things and feel particularly sad when people abuse and mistreat them.

Jiddo used to do minor surgeries under Local Anesthesia with such precision and accuracy to be admired. Such procedures are now done in hospitals and under General Anesthesia. Through that he taught me to be a pioneer and lead the way for things to get rolling instead of follow and wait for others all the time.

Jiddo taught me about perseverance, hard work and never giving up because in the end you will get a beauty: a beautiful job, a beautiful house or a beautiful partner! He loved my Neneh dearly but for years she did not share his love because she was busy focusing on her career. After seven years of not giving up, after seven years of hard work and perseverance, he managed to win the heart of one of the most beautiful women in Baghdad (or even Iraq in my point of view) at that time. 

Picture: Jiddo and Neneh with my father and dad's younger sister (who is the eldest of two).

Jiddo also taught me about loyalty. No matter how hard times were, no matter how abandoned he sometimes felt, he was loyal and truly faithful to himself and his family. He taught me to stick it out and keep trying to work things out, to keep fighting for what I believed in and for what or whom I loved. He never said anything out loud to me... BUT his actions sure showed it. I believe that one tends to learn the best lessons not by listening to people but by watching them. 
Jiddo taught my father the love of traveling and exploring the world. When my father was 20 years old, during the years 1962-63, Jiddo took the whole family of five on a trip around Europe. They took buses, boats, trains and cars as a mode of transportation but never airplanes as Jiddo vowed never to use one unless he traveled for Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca). This love of traveling was instilled in my father who in turn taught me to love exploring the world around me. 

 Picture: My Jiddo is the man on the right of their garden table and my dad is on the left. Neneh is sitting in the middle.

Neneh, my paternal grandmother Maida Al-Haidari, was an amazing inspirational lady in Baghdad who was always told that she resembled Ingrid Bergman and her beauty. As I mentioned before, Jiddo spent 7 years of his life pursuing her. Other than being  one of the first women to study in Lebanon away from her family in Baghdad, she was a teacher, an inspector of schools, Head of the Iraqi Red Crescent and represented the Iraqi delegation that went to study human rights in Japan, India and Thailand. 

Some of Neneh's greatest accomplishments were to  Head the Iraqi delegation to the International Woman's Congress at the UN in 1947 at the age of 31. She began her speech with, "I come from the land of Scheherazade  and the 40 Thieves" notice that she did not use Ali Baba. "Alas, we no more have Scheherazade, but we have more than 40 thieves!" Imagine the HEAD of an Iraqi Delegation saying this to hundreds of other delegations. And yet, she was never interrogated, persecuted or imprisoned when she went back home to Baghdad. She also added, "I did not come to you on a flying carpet but on an American airplane full of beautiful hostesses." When my dear father related this story to me, her courage to say something so controversial at that time, taught me to risk things especially when believing in the need for change and when fighting for basic human rights, no matter what the consequences were because at the end of the day, I am the only one who will have to live with myself and my actions.

Picture: The members of the delegation who went to the International Assembly of Women in N.Y USA, 1946. My grandmother is the first one on the left.

Another, is her mastery of 4 languages and the organization of a Qabul every month bringing her lady friends together with artists, poets and writers to speak about their experiences. She taught me that I could learn so much from other people's experience which would in turn add to my own and maybe even fill the gaps that were missing in my life.

She traveled to the above mentioned countries alone without my Jiddo which at that time meant that she was breaking the customs, molds and barriers. This led her to meet all sorts of famous figures such as Indira Ghandi and King Faisal II of Iraq, to name a few. She taught me that to be great one should never be confined by anything because no matter what I did, people will talk and therefore why not give them something amazing to talk about. 

 Picture: Neneh (the first one on the left) with Riad As-Solh, the first Prime Minister of Lebanon after their independence, and who was assassinated in 1951.
Neneh was a well respected figure in Baghdad and always knew how to talk to people and present herself. I remember once when I was 16, Neneh with her white gloves, drove my mother, cousins and I to a few monuments in Baghdad. But the one time that I remember the most was at  the Al Shaheed monument with the two beautiful split blue domes. She told us to go and explore while she waited in the car. When we came back we heard laughter emanating from the soldier’s trailer but could not find our Neneh anywhere. After 5 or 10 minutes of waiting and searching, we approached the trailer to ask the soldiers if they had seen a red-headed old lady walking about, only to find that she was with the soldiers cracking up a storm. I loved that about her. She taught me how to love chatting with strangers to create a connection, discover their hidden stories and just have fun with them. Brings the world together, doesn’t it?
Neneh was extremely talented with crochet knitting which she learned at an older stage in her life. She crocheted many tops and table runners for me and continued to do so until her illness took a hold of her strength. She taught me to love knowledge, reading and working. She never stopped doing or acquiring any of those until she was bed ridden. She taught me that no matter how old I was the drive for knowledge and learning should never stop. 

 Picture: Neneh the Valedictorian at her graduated from the American University of Beirut.

Similar to my mom, Neneh loved nature and her garden in Baghdad was always talked about in social circles. She had beautiful fruit and coniferous trees and a wide selection of flowers which she had planted with her own two hands. Every time a grandchild of hers was born; she would plant a fruit tree for him or her. I had a grapefruit tree while my brother had a lemon tree; she would also call the trees by our names. She taught me to appreciate and take care of nature as it is a blessing and something I should never take advantage of or for granted.
A little off track here....      Once when my father was young, a patient of my Jiddo's gave him a bear cub as a gift… let me repeat that for you so that you would not need to go back and read it again to make sure you read it correctly… YES… A BEAR CUB!!! LOL…There was no place to put it except in the garden where it stayed there for two days before being taken to the national zoo in Baghdad. The cub made such a huge mess and knocked a grapefruit tree down. It was apparent to the family that there was no way they could take care of such a beautiful animal and so they had to give it away. 
Tata, my maternal grandmother Samiyeh Abdel Rahman Al Taji, is a talented and loving person who creates the most amazing Palestinian embroidery pieces I have ever seen. She is 92 years old and does not use eye-glass when embroidering which makes me think that she must have amazing brain powers to allow her to do that.  She used to wear glasses and she did tell me once that she stopped using them feeling that her eyes have become stronger without them. AAAHA! So she does have some powers!
Other than my parents’ insistence on playing classical music in the car when I was young, my grandmother taught me to love playing music and I took up Piano lessons because of her. When she was 18, she was awarded a 98 score on her Piano exam, a score that was apparently very hard to achieve. She was asked to travel abroad to continue down the path of music but her father reminded her that she was getting married and therefore would not be able to leave. She loved playing the Piano but stopped because she was forced to leave her home in Ramleh. She did not own another Piano for a long time, until she was given a piano as a gift from my uncles. The first time her fingers touched the ebony and ivory keys, they played the sweetest songs. She taught me some of them and I can play them still.
She studied, along with many of her family members, at a German boarding school in Jerusalem run by nuns, Schmidt School.  The nuns there used to love taking the children, who were mostly from the same Taij family (13 brothers and sisters), to her father's orchard and smell the citrus trees with their lemons and oranges which he used to transport to Europe under the name of The Queen of Jaffa

A French nun in Mar Yusuf taught her to do metal work and she made all sorts of plates, cases, picture frames and surround any crystal work with intricate metal work which she had designed herself. She also carved her own piano chair and added brass in the carvings. She also make whole cabinets for her art collection and decorated it with bass. All this work was lost in her father's, Abdel Rahman Al-Taji's, house in Wadi Hunain. But she continued to make beautiful work with thread and canvas this time teaching me that the wind of creativity never ceases to blow.

Picture: Tata's house in Wadi Hunain, Palestine

Picture: My grandmother and the rest of the Taji family at Schmidt School in Jerusalem, 1926. (She is the first one on the right, second row)

Tata loved the nuns at Schmidt very much despite how strict they were but it made her whom she is today. She is an extremely meticulous and neat woman. Even if she made a very small mistake while embroidering and had to go back and take out 10 or 100 stitches to correct it, she would do that. It did not matter how many times we kept urging her to continue as no one would notice. But she taught me that if I wanted to do anything in life that I have to do it well, not haphazardly or dabble at it.  She taught me that even if I were the only one who knew about my mistake ... I am going to have to either live with that burden of knowing or correct it and feel clear and better inside. She gave many of those embroidered pieces as gifts and therefore, these gifts were not to have any mistakes as they were from the heart. She taught me to give people the best of what I had and that a hand made gift was more precious than a bought one. 

 Picture: Tata embroidering one of her thousand pieces.

Tata is an excellent cook and makes the most amazingly flavored Palestinian dishes ever. Whenever any of her grandchildren travels to Amman for a visit, she made their favorite dish no matter how time consuming they were. One my favorite dishes is stuffed eggplants and green pumpkin with cumin and cinnamon spiced rice and meat. To carve those vegetables takes hours but she never stops wanting to make her loved ones happy. She taught me to love without boundaries and with no conditions.... and especially to love my children unconditionally.

Tata also taught me that no matter how old I was, I could still be cheeky, a little naughty and have fun with things. Despite her elegance, composure and lady-like manner, she loved listening to farting jokes and would not stop giggling if she heard them. It makes me smile just thinking of her laugh as I am writing this. 

Picture: Tata with four of her ten great grandchildren and my mother, 
Amman 2010.
My Grandparents are the protectors of my past, history, traditions and customs. They showered me with love and amazed me with their life stories. I always loved sitting next to them to hear the adventures that they had been on or the experiences they have had.  I find myself extremely lucky to have had such models in my life.

p.s. None of the lessons in this Part or Part I were taught to me directly... they were all taught through actions and this is why I hold them so dear to my heart.

Note: I wish I had recent pictures of my Jiddo and Neneh with me but there were no digital cameras when they were with us on Earth,  and the pictures that I have are in Amman, not with me. The ones that I have were actually sent to me by my parents, my brother and my uncle who posts most of the old pictures on his Facebook.


Noura shahed said...

Beautifully written Lana I really enjoyed every part of this "historical lesson"... Ur grandparents must be very proud to have u kisses

Tabouleh said...

Thank you habeebti Noura... thank you for taking the time to read such a long blog entry... and thank you for your wonderful warm comment... I hope you and your family are doing great!

Jan said...

So interesting to hear about your grandparents Lana. I am particularly interested to read about your grandmothers. What talented and inspiring women they were. You share their lives with such tenderness and honour.

Tabouleh said...

Thank you for your comment dear Jan... they are definitely inspiring women... I aspire to them but I am not sure if I can come anywhere close to what they have accomplished in life... I try though!

Birdie said...

I am in awe. What an amazing legacy you have been given. You have been surrounded by so much love and wisdom.

A bear cub? LOL!

I love the pictures. :-)

PS- Lana what was your first language and how many do you speak now?

Tabouleh said...

Thank you Barbara for your warm comment...they were/are amazing people and I feel blessed that they touched my life and I had the chance to spend some time with them... learned so much... and wish that I could achieve what they have...

My first language is Arabic but I have studied subjects in English since I was in fifth grade... I speak a little bit of French as well and have taught myself some Italian... but I am not that good because I did not keep practicing... and now I can get by a little with Thai... but my main languages?

Tabouleh said...

man the last sentence was erased for some reason... I said ... but my main languages are the first two... do you speak any language other than English?

Birdie said...

Unfortunately, no. Just English.