1947 - Kifri

Kifri - The Clarinet Player (1947)

After we had lived for about two years in Dakhoukh, we went back to Kifri.
The town was almost the same as we left it. Only the British troops were not there. They had left the arid sand stone hills to the north and
northeast of Kifri where they were camping during the war. The war that brought them has ended and they were gone.

Dear Kifri and its monotonous world of small government employees. A life of continuous transfers from one town to another, and of daily struggle to make ends meet. They went six days a week to the Sarai to do their bureaucratic work and waited for years for the tarfi' (promotion) to arrive. Most of them where not natives of Kifri and lived somewhat detached from the local population.

Most of them had families with numerous members: their wives, children, grandparents, and occasionally one or two relatives. The wives spent their energy and lives cooking, cleaning, washing, backing bread, sewing, and attending the interminable needs of their families. Few of them were lucky and worked as nurses and teachers. Others, if the husband's income allowed it, would get a women from the neighborhood to help in the household.

At that time, Kifri had few schools, no kindergartens, a small hospital, a market, and a number of Jaikhanas (tea shops). No leisure time or cultural facilities. But in a world still dominated at that time by strict separation between men and women, only men went out to a tea shop or for a walk. Women remained confined to their homes.

However, the wives of the employees did have one important entertainment. They used to organize visits among themselves to chat and gossip and to exchange complaints about their lives. The visits were announced and organized in advance. A woman would send her son to the other family to announce her visit. Usually, such a visit took place on the same day, in the afternoon. The husband would leave the house before the arrival of the visitor and her children. The hosting family would entertain them with tee flavoured with cardamom, coffee, biscuits, cakes, and imported orange juice.

There was also the Khabul, a more elaborate visit to which several women were invited. Those were larger monthly meetings organized each time at the home of one of the women.

The employees had other choices for the afternoons and nights. They went to the Employees Club, to a tea shop, or took a walk. The club was the worse choice. It offered good food and drinks, but it was mainly a place for gambling, particularly for playing poker. Some went their to forget their problems and drown their dreams in alcohol. Some became alcoholic over the years.

Poker destroyed families and caused suffering. At the end of each month, when the employees had received their salaries, poker will flourish for few days until the pockets are emptied. The employees of the civil administration were usually joined by police officers and feudal Kurdish sheikhs, aghas and tribes chiefs. Some of them lived in Kifri, others came from their villages on horseback or in cars accompanied by bodyguards.

After the days of effervescence at the end of the month, a period of calm will follow until the next salary arrives. Meanwhile all Kifri will be
gossiping about the latest poker news: Ismail Bek lost all the salary,
Haggi Effendi won a huge sum, Sheikh Kader lost all the money he had on and was about to loose his car also, Ahmed Agha, after winning a handsome sum, lost even the money he received for the wheat he brought from his village and sold in the morning at the market. It is remarkable that although some people went to the club carrying pistols and rifles, they never quarrelled or shot at each other. A man, according to their concept of manhood, was expected to maintain calm and dignity even if he had lost all his money.

My father went to the club now and then. I know, he sometimes drank and even played poker, but never regularly or frequently. He was not the type of person for such things. He loved to go to tea shops or take a walk with fellow employees. They would walk all the way from the town to the surrounding farms and hills.

During the months of Summer holidays of my first years at the primary
school, my father used to take me with him on late afternoon walks. He was fond of taking me everywhere he went. Sometimes I went with him willingly, but mostly I didn't want to participate in his world of adult people. I just didn't like to be "exhibited" in any way. I was a shy and introverted child.

But those afternoon walks from the town to the outskirts were fascinating.
My father had a friend, an employee, who frequently accompanied us. He was from Mosul, a slim man of delicate manners, medium stature, dressed in a dark suit.

On some days, he came carrying a black box. We usually walked out of the town to the north or northeast, to the red rocky arid hills. There was a place there where massive rocks stood high and vertical overlooking a plain of pebbles, sand and good soil. A small river flew below in the shadow of the rocks. There was a smooth narrow path that started below near the river bank and went up steeply. Young men from Kifri used to compete and climb to the top of the hill running up that path.

Down on the plain, near the river, farmers cultivated small pieces of land
and grew vegetables and watermelons. After wandering around for a while, and just shortly before sunset, we would go to the hut of a farmer with whom my father was acquainted, sit their, talk and eat cucumbers and sweet watermelons.

After sunset, before the shadows got thicker and darker, my father's friend would open his black box, and fit together the pieces of an instrument which I later learned that it was a clarinet. He will start playing and we will listen in silence... the tones of the clarinet were solitary. They expanded over the early evening, within that landscape of contrasts: red and pink hills, the wall of rocks, so high and vertical, threatening the serene inoffensive plain below with all those docile vegetables. Somehow, the tones of the clarinet brought order into the things around us, to the hills, the rocks, the river, and into the consciousness of each one of us; they announced the end of the day, and filled in the invisible vacuum the departing day was leaving behind. Was the landscape and our existence within it poorer without those artificial tones, produced by a manmade instrument? I do not know. Yet, they did add an interpretation, a meaning, a value which the landscape and every one of us lacked and needed to retain, a certain balance that would secure our transfer to the next day with some hope and joy.