1939 - Qalat Salih

Um Itlayat (1939)

There was one photo of her in our family album. A woman from the south wearing dark clothes covering all her body except her face and hands. Dark clothes: was she in permanent mourning because of a dead or lost husband, a daughter, a son? She must have been in her fifties at the time my father made the photo.

I was then three or four years old and we lived in Khalat Saleh where I was born; a small town in the governorate of Al-Imara. A place with much water, fragrance of Anbar rice and Tigris fish at noon; and all those birds from the Marches.

Um Itlayat is a nickname and means the one (the mother of, the woman) who has lambs. I don't remember seeing her with lambs. I myself had a lamb at that time. Thinking of it now does not make it tangible. I only realize that a lamb did exist and it was there. There is, however, a photo of me walking with my father and the lamb with date-palm trees in the background. The lamb doesn't seem to be real. It is white with a circular or whirling black pattern covering its side facing the camera. My father is holding my hand and while we walk he looks downwards to the person who is shooting the photo. Who was that person?
The lamb, my father with the Sidara, a head cover for government employees of that period, and myself between them with a funny expression on my face as if someone was blinding my eyes with a flashlight.

Um Itlayat was tattooed like most women from the countryside or the tribes of the south. Apparently, she was the woman who helped my mother at home. I don't remember details of her work. But certainly she had no lambs at that time. Maybe she pastured lambs and took care of them in her youth.

I don't feel her hand or her breath nor sense her approaching figure, her presence. Her image went into my memory and my image went into her memory. Then one day, the line traced by her movements across the years stopped at some point and was retrospectively deleted. My image vanished as her memory disintegrated.

I need to recover her detailed image, but there is no way to retrieve her voice, words, her history. Where did she come from? Why and who nicknamed her? What was her real name? How was her youth, her later years, her death?

My knowledge about the plenitude of her life is scarce and incomplete. There is nothing beyond that photo I can explore or know for sure. And that photo is only a virtual photo; the real photo is not with me. I only have shadows.