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Timbuktu 1

Najati Al-Bukhari

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

1) Helwa was the name given to the young and lovely sister of the farmer. She came to live in her brother's house when she was five years old. There were no special reasons for the coming of Helwa to live in the house of her brother. It happened that her mother died when she was four years old. The mother of Helwa suffered from s sudden illness when the daughter was three years old. All people in and outside the farm-house knew that the young mother was hit by an incurable disease, the cancer.

Helwa, the young girl, was not aware of the tragedy in which her mother was living and was suffering. Her mother died when she was about four years old.

Helwa was told about her transfer to her brother's farm-house just on the same day in which she had to leave the house of her early childhood and in which she was born and in which her mother died. Her father himself told her in the morning about the plan to transfer her to the house of her brother. There inside the farm-house Helwa and a companion were received by the old maid. Only Helwa was asked to proceed to the interior of the house while her companion retuned immediately to the father's residence.

Helwa, since her arrival to her brother's house, has been enjoying a somewhat happy life. As a little girl she was treated by all the members of the family with kindness, warmth and affection. As a child, and in the absence of other small children in the farm-house, Helwa was taken care of by a maid-servant. She was considered as the daughter of all the members of the family of the farmer, her brother. All the wives, the concubines and the maid servants treated her gently and she was given a smile whenever she was seen by a member of the family.

2) People in the quarter talked about the forthcoming primary school that would be started very soon. It would be the first school for girls in the community. However, the inhabitants argued in a low tone and in a whispering way whether it would be necessary to send girls to primary schools.

House in Clouds 2
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

One day in September, and in the middle of the nineteenth century, the whole family of the farmer, the wives, the concubines and the maids got up early in the morning. It was Saturday and on that day Helwa, the sister of the farmer was ready to go to the primary school for the first time in her life. Her brother gave her the privilege as a girl to go to school like few other school age girls in the quarter.

The school life began from the first day girls were there in their classroom. Helwa proved to be a brilliant pupil. She was able to learn reading and writing in a quick way and more rapidly than the other girls, her classmates. Her teachers were fond of her and all of them appreciated her work and her personality.

Year after year, Helwa was promoted from one grade to another. Helwa proved her superiority in learning reading, writing, arithmetic and basic sciences. At the age of eleven, in the fifth grade, she was able to read some of the famous literary books.

At the age of eleven, and when she was about to start grade six at the girls primary school, she was withdrawn from school. All people were shocked to hear about this withdrawal of the small girl from school. Helwa was prevented to leave the house and was treated like all grown up women of the farm-house, the wives and the concubines.

3) Perhaps, when Helwa came to live in the house of her brother there was only one wife, the blond one. But later on, and during several years, new wives and concubines have been added to the farm-house. The little girl was wondering about the reason behind this repeated marriage ceremony for her brother. Of course, she could not have guessed the real reason behind these repeated marriages of her brother.

The young girl, the sister of the farmer, realized that she was going to spend all the years of her life in the shadow of her brother. Yet, she realized that she was to become a young girl of twelve years. May be in few years time she could get married at the age of seventeen or eighteen or even earlier. If she got married then she would start another life different from that life she has been living in her brother's house. But if she did not get married then she would be living a kind of life the nature of which she could not know at present.

On the whole, the childhood of the sister of the farmer passed with no problems. Before she went to the primary school she was free to go outside and around her house when she was under her father's control and supervision. Equally true to say that she lived a happy life in the house of her brother during the years of her primary education.

The life of the little girl, and after she stopped to go to the primary school of the quarter, began to undergo some basic changes in all aspects of her life. She started to live the life of seclusion. She began to be conscious of her life of sequestration in a world where all the residents were composed of women, or, of more or less grown up frustrated female human beings. She had to learn how to exist and coexist with others and finally to survive.

4) Helwa had already her bedroom. In fact she had this room since she came to this house six years ago. Inside this somewhat spacious room, Helwa got accustomed how to listen attentively to whatever was said or whispered outside her bedroom, night and day. Helwa was very regular in her habits of sleeping at a certain fixed time and to wake up in the morning at a certain time after sunrise. She trained herself not to look around in an inquisitive manner as if she was looking for something around her or as if something wrong was taking place at that time.

To avoid being envied because of her unrivalled intellectual superiority, she never carried with her a book, a textbook, a magazine or a daily paper. She did not like to show off her being literate amongst all the illiterate women. In fact, in her bedroom she never kept a printed material. She wanted to look as ignorant as all other female members of the family.

The young girl, who was to be very soon fourteen years old was aware of the fact that she had already some signs in her body indicating that she was no more a child, a small girl and that she would be a young girl who could be a mother at any moment under certain and given circumstances.

Nobody was expecting that this girl, the sister of the master of the house, would be reaching a phase in her physical development where she would be really a young adolescent. All the members of the family were under the impression that this girl would continue to be a child. In other words, she would never have the chance of becoming a young girl, a grown up girl, a young woman, and at last a complete woman, a wife, a mother, etc. etc.

Helwa remembered her happy and joyful days in the primary school for girls and how the hair of each girl was combed and decorated differently. The head of each girl contained some new innovation in the combing and in the decoration of the hair of girls.

Helwa was quite aware of the fact that she was not yet of the age where she was allowed to make up her face or paint it. Although all the seven women of her brother were heavily, moderately or slightly painted in their face, Helwa, at this phase of her life did not have the any inclination to make-up her face.

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However, and few weeks ago, Helwa was having some kind of a temptation to paint her lips with red color which she saw on the lips of the women of the master of the farm-house. It was a problem for her to get a lipstick. It would have been impossible to ask one of the wives to give her a lipstick or to allow her to use her lipstick.

One thing of the make-up of the various parts of a woman's face she would never forget. That was the kohl black powder used to cover the eyelashes of her beautiful black eyes. Kohl was on the whole an integral part of the local traditional culture. All people speak about kohl and most female adults, married or otherwise, used it very often. It was used on the eyes of the children just in application of some medical traditions and prescriptions.

5) Helwa, because of her age, was not interested at all in the morning coffee meeting and gathering. As long as she was considered a child she was not encouraged to approach at all the corner in which women of the family took their coffee in the morning time. Nevertheless, she began to be interested in the gathering of the morning coffee just some months ago when she was no more considered as a child.

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Before that, Helwa, when she was a small girl, was not invited at all to come and sit with the women in the corner of the waiting room. The women, every morning, surrounded the tray on which were placed cups of coffee and the coffee pot.

Usually, all the women came to the corner of the waiting-room. Every one of them took the place where she usually sat. All waited for the coming of the old maid carrying the tray of the cups of coffee.

6) Helwa used to see the four wives of her brother as well as the three concubines while they were doing their house management duties or while they were attending the recreational and the amusement family activities. Helwa has been seeing all the women of her brother and she found the black wife as the most charming and fascinating.

Of course, Helwa was fascinated by the black color of Jawhara. The blackness of her skin attracted her attention and continued to charm her night and day.

This black wife of her brother, who was all the time in all social meetings more a listener than a speaker, was more intelligent, wise and judicious than all the other women of the farmer without any exception. Also, her husband, most of the time, gave her more attention and inclination as well as more preference. The brother of Helwa showed more respect to her than to anybody else.

Her being black had no negative effect on her position, status or reputation in the family or in the community. The black woman had been constantly attracting the attention of the members of the farm-family including the three maids.

The black woman herself was incessantly keeping herself aloof during the day time but in keeping her presence felt wherever she was found. From afar, she looked at all around her without trying to attract the attention of others. At all time attention was already fixed on her. Besides, Jawhara was also a good and a clever observer. She wanted always to be aware of what was going on around her.

The black woman of the master of the house and the farmer of the quarter had the habit of going to bed more or less before anybody else in the farm-house. Nobody knew why she preferred to go to her bedroom early. The other wives of the farmer appreciated the habit of the early going to bed.

Nobody knew exactly what she did in her room before going to bed. The black woman got up from bed also early and she went to the bathroom early also in the morning.

The night in which the farmer spent all the time in her room, the black woman considered this as a special occasion. She had the habit of telling others that it was her turn to be with the husband of the seven women for the following night.

The black woman was still young. She was not yet twenty five years old. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that most, or all, of the wives and the concubines were young. Even the first wife did not yet exceed the thirty years of her age.

For the last six or seven years of her married life, the black-woman was more or less considered the preferred woman in the house. The master of the house showed respect, admiration and courtesy towards her.

The back woman was constantly the best dressed in the house. She had the best kind of perfume. All the other women noticed the special position which this woman had in the family. But nobody would explain why. Was she prepared by destiny for a future role, position, event, development? Nobody could explain this special position which the black woman had in the farm-house.

It was natural that all eyes in the house were fixed on her body, more especially on her belly. All the members of the family wondered whether this woman would be or could be pregnant. All would ask the question concerning the same kind of illumination that surrounded her black face and head. Was it because of her black color that some kind of illumination came out of her body, her face and her head? Did she use a special kind of oil or ointment that made her face shine as if some kind of light was coming out of her face, out of her black eyes?

7) All the seven women of the farmer were aware of the fact that their husband was sterile and was unable to fecundate his wives. He would end his life with neither posterity nor an heir.

After marrying the third and the fourth wives and the three concubines the farmer himself became absolutely sure of his sterility. He discovered that none of his seven wives was able to give him his aspired children. The sterility of the husband was finally confirmed.

Actually the sterility, that of the husband was evident when he married the first wife. The farmer was not in need of consulting the sorceress to help him in finding a solution for his problem. He should not have married the additional six wives to discover at the end that he was unable to make his wives pregnant. The first wife was enough for him to know that he was sterile.

Each wife of the farmer began to be engulfed in worries, anxiety and nervousness. Each wife could not imagine how she could live and survive in this life in the farm-house without giving posterity and children to their husband, the farmer of the quarter.

8) The second wife, Jawhara, the beautiful and the charming black woman was the most worried and disturbed amongst the seven women of the farmer for not having children at all.

She was sometimes somewhat worried but she did not talk to others about her anxiety or her uneasiness. She kept all the time silent. She had on the face all the time a sarcastic smile.

Jawhara, the black woman, was not all the time at ease and happy in her life in the farm-house. She was happier with her family in the plantations of the Valley of the Spirits where she was living in happiness with her family, with her tender and compassionate mother who had the tradition of giving birth to a child every now and then. The black woman could not remember her mother but pregnant.

The black woman, Jawhara, had three of her sisters married to white men of rich and important families in the community. It was the tradition in families of honor and reputation to get their men married to a black woman.

The father of Jawhara found it a golden opportunity for his family to have the most prominent farmer coming to his house for asking the hand of his daughter for becoming his second wife.

The black woman could not blame her father for this unsuccessful marriage. How could her father know that this man, the farmer was sterile?

Naturally, she could only blame destiny. It was her destiny to be the wife of the farmer of the quarter. The black woman was all the time thinking, reflecting and contemplating. No doubt she was thinking of a solution to this impasse in which the farmer was submerged.

Last Wish
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

The farmer wanted desperately a child, a son, an heir. Most of the time she kept herself isolated in her bedroom. She came out of her room in time of taking the three meals or of having a short walk in the wide spaces of the farm-house.

She attended most of the time the morning coffee session. She liked coffee but she did not like talking. Sometimes, she spoke few words without any significance. Yet all the other wives noticed that the black woman was really thinking and reflecting all the time.

Only once was the black woman, Jawhara, visited by her mother with the permission of the farmer. The visitor was all alone, not accompanied by any of her many small children. The visit was carried out late in the morning. The visit lasted for one hour, approximately. The meeting with her daughter was held in the bedroom of the daughter.

Of course, the mother and the daughter discussed only the problem of not having engendered so far a single child, a boy or even a girl. What could Jawhara do as the wife in this respect? The black wife and her mother spoke a lot for a long time about various ways of getting pregnant.

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The mother of the black wife of the farmer gave birth so far to eight children. All of these children were alive and some of them were married, specially her sons.

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Sons of the black family were married to black girls. While three of the daughters got married to very important men of the community. The mother of Jawhara never repeated the visit to her daughter.

Yet in that single meeting between the two, the black mother and her daughter, some agreement was arrived at.

After the mother's visit to Jawhara, the daughter, some changes have taken place in her behavior. The behavior of Jawhara became more and more curious and strange. The black woman became in fact a somewhat more joyful and gleeful and more elated and gay.

All the wives of the farmer have noticed this sudden change in the behavior of the black woman. They noticed that this change started after the visit of her mother. All the wives wished to know the secret, the mystery and the riddle. Nevertheless, nobody could guess what was going on in the mind of the black woman.

The young girl of the family, Helwa, began to watch and observe the behavior of every member of the family. Day after day she could realize that the black wife of her brother was really manifesting the most distinguished changes in her behavior.

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Helwa could not at all discover the secret behind this change. She noticed the aloofness of the black wife and she noticed the sarcastic smile in the face of this black woman. Being young and inexperienced, Helwa was not in a position to explain and to understand the behavior of her black sister-in-law.

Jawhara, the black woman was suffering from the absence of children and her failure to be pregnant. Certainly, like all the other women of the farmer, the black woman was all the time after an answer for this problem of sterility that reigns over the whole family life on the farm-house.

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© 1980-2017 by Najati Al Bukhari, Mont de Marsan, France

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