Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Wee Canto on a Life: Mourning the Death of Abu Hani

I only just now learned that Abu Hani died in December.  He was headed home to Baghdad.  It was a car accident.  A car accident.

Abu Hani was our landlord in Baghdad.  He survived Saddam Hussein, car bombs in his neighborhood, a mortar falling on his apartment building, thieves, and the day-to-day of dodging, weaving and dancing that was and has been life in Iraq for so long.

He and his family survived what we call the first Gulf War, hiding in a barn outside Baghdad.  They survived sanctions.  They survived escaping from Baghdad and the threat of the Jordanians to return Abu Hani to Iraq by force.  That may be my favorite Abu Hani story of all.

Along with millions of Iraqis, he finally fled his beloved Iraq to come to Amman.  His wife Um Hani was already there.  When he arrived, Jordanian officials told the passengers they would have to turn around and fly back to Iraq.

Time passed; Abu Hani argued and stalled long enough to ‘miss’ the return flight and as it got later in the day and into evening, he went to the hamam (the restroom) and changed into his pajamas, rolled out a blanket on the airport chairs and proceeded to make his place for the night.  When the officials challenged him, he calmly told them, “What do you mean I cannot do this?  I live here now.  This is my home.  From now on, I live in the airport because you won’t let me enter and go to my apartment in Amman with my wife.  So this is now my home.  I am very tired; I think I’ll get some rest.”

He rolled over and made as if to go to sleep.

Finally, the officials, mortified by the situation they had created, relented and agreed that Abu Hani could enter, but made him promise to tell none of his friends who had also come.  Of course he swore and of course he told them all.

On election day, Abu Hani took us walking around the neighborhood in Baghdad to various polling places showing everyone’s purple finger.  We sat many evenings around their table, eating, laughing, sharing stories.

He and Um Hani made us welcome.  They prayed for us and worried over us like mother hens.  They kept us safe as much from ourselves as from others.  They bade us welcome at their table in Jordan as well as in their apartment building in Baghdad.

Baghdad killed Abu Hani, finally.  He loved Baghdad.  He was Baghdadi through and through.  And so when the violence would calm, if only for a little bit, he would go back to oversee his investments as well as those of his friends and family.  And he survived.  Until the day when he did not.  And it was a car wreck.  In Jordan.  He was headed home again.  And none of the other passengers were even scratched.  And he is dead.  And it breaks my heart.  

You do not survive in Abu Hani’s world by being a fool.  And Abu Hani was no fool.  He was friend and protector, wisdom giver, proud father and husband, business man and consummate broker, witty and urbane, a Christian for whom the sands of Iraq ran in his blood.  And I mourn his passing with fond memories and a broken heart.

Oh, and I miss his laugh - the laugh of an Iraqi man - a laugh that contains the knowledge of fertile crescents and hanging gardens and wonders of the world and deserts and riches and poverty all beyond imagining – the laughter of one who knows much but tells little.

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