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When I was a child, I spent my early years with my grandmother because my mother was very busy with her work. I also used to spend the summer time in my grandmother’s house when I was a teenager. From my mother and my maternal uncles, I got to know the real story of my grandmother and how she lived and what kind of challenges she encountered.
The story which I have been told simply is that my grandmother was a second wife to my grandfather and they were blood related. Being a second wife, she had an unhappy life as there conflict and jealousy always existed between wives to control and possess the man. When I was a child and teenager, I just took the superficial story as it was, and as a result, I felt deep sympathy for my grandmother. When I got older and had my own complicated experiences, I started to form a different view about of my grandmother, not in the same way as how my mother and my maternal uncles portrayed her to me.
My grandmother was born in a village in Diyala governorate in Eastern Iraq in the twenties of the last century. My grandmother was a remarkably beautiful woman who deserved to be a beauty queen, with her white skin, unique grey eyes, and long blonde hair. Although she was affiliated with well-known Arabic tribe, many wondered about her Arabic origins because it was very obvious that her features were not Arabic with the dark skin and dark eyes. Many presumed she might have Turkish ancestors, which personally, I thought might be true.
My grandmother was born in a village to an extremely conservative family who always lived a reclusive lifestyle, not a sociable one. The oldest of her sisters, she faced restrictions of her freedom typical of women in Middle East, more severe at that time, one century ago. Due to the restrictions her brothers were able to finish school while my grandmother’s destiny was to be illiterate the rest of her life.
My grandmother had no idea what education was except from her brothers, but she was able to sense that it is something very powerful and superior that she was unable to get because she was a woman. In this environment and atmosphere, My grandmother had been raised with no social life, no education, no way of learning, little personal development, and personal growth. I am sure that as my grandmother became a teenager, she had not the slightest perception about herself, life, world, or people. She had no learning resources to help her or develop her mentality to form any concept about herself, life, and the world.
My grandmother spent all her years alone in a reclusive life in her village, and by the end of her teens, she had been informed by her father that there was a relative who had asked to marry her. Her father and family approved of this marriage, so she had to immediately prepare to get married soon. She might have learned that he was married and he had one son. He lived in Baghdad. She was going to be a second wife. Then, she found out that my grandfather was older than her by almost or more than twenty years, but he was wealthy and had a desire to have more children. His first wife, older than him, was incapable of giving him children, so that was the reason behind this marriage.
My grandmother had no idea about marriage, about a man, about anything. She was naïve, innocent with a childlike spirit, fully unaware to anything cruel in this life. She just got married to a strange man of her relatives who took her to Baghdad. In the beginning, my grandfather brought my grandmother to live with his first wife all in the same house. My grandmother learned that my grandfather loved his first wife but he wanted to have more children since he had only one child from his first wife.
My grandfather liked my grandmother youth and beauty, but my grandfather was oblivious to the jealousy between these two women and the consequences of that.
The first wife, who was in her forties like my grandfather, was born and raised in Baghdad. Although she was illiterate, she was a very sociable and sophisticated woman, and for her advanced age she had many life experiences and was very knowledgeable about human nature. She knew how to tackle any situation or any kind of person.
Since the first wife loved her husband (my grandfather). She felt threatened by my grandmother, the beautiful younger woman, and she had already made up her mind to destroy my grandmother’s marriage in every possible way. The first wife achieved her goal and used all her intelligence, experience, and wiles to do that with my grandmother inexperience of anything in this life, the natural result for any conflict or clash between her and the first wife was going to make her lose the war. There was no comparison between the old sophisticated woman ability and her naive ability.
After one year of marriage, my grandmother gave birth to her first child but during that year the first wife destroyed the marriage and separated my grandfather from my grandmother. It was very easy for that woman to make my grandfather turn against my grandmother.
My grandmother was unable to comprehend all that she had been through or what happened to her, all the trauma. As a young, broken woman with child, she was unable to comprehend and articulate her emotions. She had been rejected and treated very badly. There had been a war waged on her, but she had not understood what was going on? All this conflict, life and situation was beyond her comprehension and all she felt at that time was rejection and unfairness. The first wife used my grandmother’s innocence and used all her wickedness and all her experiences in life to win the war. She had been abandoned and lived with her well- educated unmarried brother in Baghdad.
My grandfather meant to my grandmother all the world and the life. He was the first man she got to know. For her and all the women at that era in the forties and fifties of the last century, the man and successful marriage was their world at that era and even now to some women in the Middle East. The marriage and the status derived by it meant everything to my grandmother, it meant to her dignity and the need for approval. She realized that she had to fight tooth and nail to win in this conflict with the first wife. This war was her life war. She needed my grandfather financially, socially and in every other way. She was very dependent on him as were all the women dependent on men in that era. My grandmother had no education to pursue or to finish or any career. She was merely an illiterate innocent housewife who was trying desperately to keep her husband want her.
After many years of separation, My grandmother was still trying to solve one puzzle. Why my grandfather had preferred his first wife over her? It hurt her badly, and she wanted to put her finger on the problem, so she made the troubled marriage work. She wondered, what did that woman have she did not have? She was young, very beautiful and capable of having children so why? What was wrong? What was it? She got to know from some women around here that in that era the women were working in black magic, so it might be that the first wife was making all these spells to make my grandfather hate her and abandon her; since she got this advice my grandmother got involved in magic work. She might have thought that it was going to help her to regain my grandfather and that it was an attempt to revive a hope in her soul that had been tortured by frustration, rejection and despair.
My grandmother succeeded in reuniting with my grandfather and gave birth two children but the marriage did not work again. My grandmother had been deeply disappointed and bitter, having faced bitterness of rejection, humiliated defeat, and the ongoing control, power, and triumph for the first wife. I am sure that after the second separation my grandmother spent years crying with bitterness. All these years my grandmother wondered why? Why was this happening to her? Why had she experienced all this? Why was she not living an easy quiet life? Why all this pain, emotional and psychological scars and brutality? She was wondering what her mistakes were. What did she do? Why had she failed while the first wife succeeded? How to save her troubled marriage? And to be a lovable wife, what she should do?This was all beyond her capability and ability. She felt she was trapped and she did know not know how to save herself and family. These unanswered questions were just about killing her.
My grandmother wanted to succeed and win desperately, but she did not know what to do? She lacked all the resources; no one guided her. All of her guilt and sin was that she was an innocent, naïve woman. The other woman knew how to manipulate my grandfather and my innocent grandmother. The other woman knew how to separate my grandfather from my grandmother whether with magic or with other ways.
She was unable to keep my grandfather in a stable relationship and safe marriage. For most of her life, she did not feel safe. She was always afraid of being rejected and was left to live on her own with all her emotional and psychological pain. She was weak and lost. She was incapable of facing the world alone. My grandfather (the man) represented to her all the world. There was no way she could live without him or could accept being the loser, and the first wife won the war.
After six years of the second separation, my grandfather reunited with my grandmother. This time my grandmother seized the opportunity to make the long unstable troubled marriage work. She was just trying to please my grandfather. All she had been through, including the marriage experience, taught her hate and disappointment. The troubled marriage continued, and the jealousy was always there. My grandmother had always felt unsafe; such a marriage had no safety. My grandfather and grandmother’s marriage lasted this time; there was no separation. Twenty years later, the first wife passed away, and after eight years my grandfather passed away as well.
Now my grandmother had been left alone. My grandmother had six sons and two daughters; the youngest daughter was my mother. Whenever the sons were controlled by their wives and did not obey my grandmother, it called to mind the trauma of my grandfather and his first wife.
The only man my grandmother got to know, my grandfather, did not make her feel love, attention and safety. Everybody deserves love, but unfortunately not everyone is lucky enough in this life to feel it or to get it. She just lived in an ongoing war.
The brutality and cruelty of the life changed her into a cruel woman who treated everyone around her the same way she had been treated. She wanted everyone to feel the way she felt. All her children blamed her for any failure they might have in their lives. She might have been responsible in one way or another due to her ignorance, but it definitely was not her intention to hurt anyone. She lived alone the last years in her life. I was living outside my country at the end of 2010 when I called my mother and told her to contact my grandmother as soon as possible and be close to her because I had a gut feeling that she would die soon. A few months later, my grandmother got seriously sick, and it was obvious that she was dying.
She was alone when she was dying, and everybody around her was just doing their duty. While she was on her dying bed, she was saying a lot of things, and she was not fully aware about what she was saying. She asked my mother, who was close to her in her last days, to call me because she wanted to speak with me. Regardless of all the people who had been in her life, she just remembered when she was dying to speak with me. She was able to sense my deep real love.
So I want to respond to her in this way: I love you my grandmother. You raised me when I was a child and I spent many times with you. You were so beautiful, intelligent and special. You deserved to feel loved, safe and wanted. In my mind and heart, I will always remember you as a wonderful woman. May your soul rest in peace. I miss you deeply.
write by Alida