My dearest grandpa,
I’m writing to you, although we weren’t that close. I was closer to Nanou. But since your departure, life has not returned to normal in the Mahalla house, the hidden gem that was hiding all the answers. I felt it was finally time to put all the pieces together, understand your story and my own.
It has been many years since you passed and I last entered our family home in Mahalla al-Kubra. Passing hope down over generations, it was always open to anyone and everyone. You never liked to keep it locked, even when you were traveling.
I walk into that home now a very different person than when I last did. I’m more open, more exposed and a more mature version of myself. But I’m still searching, on a mission to collect my memories and the moments that took place within these thick walls.
I find myself lying in each corner of the house, feeling your presence in your bed, where I used to cuddle with Nanou; in the kitchen, where you always created your special recipes; on your chair in the living room, which no one would dare to sit on.
I lay in the spaces between and beyond those days, observing and trying to polish my memories. I wander through your photos and get lost in an era that is distant, far from anything we’re living today. In your photographs, life seems black and white, but for me, these images are infused with the colors of life.
Do you remember how our homes were filled with people? Kids running around in the garden and along the corridor; familiar voices, prayers, tears and all kinds of sounds echoing through the rooms and hallways of each house. My world grew out of that world, a tree with deep roots.
I’ve come to know how much I resemble you. Being so attached to the past and to your ancestors’ belongings — aunty told me you were the same.
Your office was a place filled with endless treasures. Nanou hated the clutter you hoarded, and would throw away anything old. She could let go, but you liked to remind yourself of who you are. Now we enter your wonderland with much curiosity. We unravel what you’ve hidden, and I travel all the way back to when you wrote letters with your typewriter and exchanged stamps with your friend in India, learning all about your roadtrips with your friends in school and every place you treaded through your collection of coins.
I’ve come to know you better since you’ve left. Nanou didn’t wait long until she followed you in the year after. She couldn’t find a life after you. You were too full of life.
My heart, too, aches for the past and still cannot move forward. I’m stuck in your time. It is through my explorations of your time that I see hope, a vision, a way forward in re-forming the past through my art, resurrecting its complexity and simplicity, creating new stories and new pasts.
My life has taken me to wonderful lands because of you, because of who you were. I came to be who I am through you and through your eyes. I wish I had spent more time with you. I wish you could know me now.
Thank you for all the photographs you left behind. Thank you for making me relive those moments again. Thank you for leaving behind all that clutter so that I could explore your world and unveil the beauty of your journey here, a journey I came to know through your shelves of time.
Your legacy is what gives us our identity. And it lives on, grandfather, in old friends, forgotten envelopes, photographs, and in new ways, as I share what I have discovered of your life and your world with the world I live in now.