LINA BEN MHENNI (Tunisia)
Lina "- literally means "Our". That is, the one that belongs to us. The one with us. There was an omen in the name given to me at birth. Could it have affected my fate? After all, I was the first child in a family that lived in a country where it is desirable that the firstborn was a son. And where the daughter who took his place was almost a disgrace to the mother, and the father, who could not immediately continue his family, was forever under the shadow of the discontent of his relatives.
But there were also those who tried to comfort my parents.
"She's such a cute girl! And you're still so young, both of you, that there'll be time for a boy, too! A son will definitely be born!" a friend, a publisher by profession, reassured them.
But the paradox is that in my family, my parents passionately wanted to have a girl as their first child. Yes, and the maternal grandmother was for the girl: after all, in her youth, she was a fan of the first Tunisian president, Habib Bourguiba, who has the honor of emancipating women in our country...
"Lina! Let's call her Lina! my parents exclaimed when they saw me.
"But, sir," the official who registered my birth certificate objected to my father, " Muslims don't have such a name - Lina! And I can't write it down in Tunisian!
This solemn refusal of the municipal employee, who absolutely did not want me to register under that name, struck my father to the heart. After all, my name did not fall from the sky to them.
They chose it among thousands of other names just because it sounded beautiful in all languages. And this international sound was especially important for my father and mother: they were Marxist-Leninist activists at that time, and their home was always full of guests from all continents...
And now my father is being told that Muslims don't have such a name. That the name is not Arabic... For my father, this was the first serious encounter with life, with "human stupidity," as he said. But at the same time, the first serious success: a friend of my father's, a historian and sociologist by profession, who happened to be nearby, addressed the official with a speech, assuring him that the chosen name had not only Arabic, but also Islamic connotations, and was mentioned in the Koran itself: this was, as he said, the name of a young palm tree in one of the oases on the path of the Prophet... "Excellent!" the official replied, bewildered and taken aback by the mention of the Koran. However, he did not think to give up.
"But then you should write the girl down as either Linach or Linat. It would be more correct in Arabic. But in any case, not "Lina", as the child's father wants!
But the father also did not give up, he fought for the freedom to choose a name for his own child. The scandal began. It was somehow settled. Apparently, it was not without paying the official for the stubbornness of both... But that was just the beginning. Only the anticipation of my future fate.
...My parents ' small old house, a 60 - square-meter wooden barrack, was never empty. It was a real crossroads of ideas, projects, and dreams...
You can even say that different civilizations intersected here: everyone has been here - Swedes and French, Dutch, Latin Americans and Asians, Egyptians, Senegalese, Ugandans ... students looking for advice and support; oppositionists of all sorts; troublemakers and thieves-
Translated by: Linah ben Mhenni. Le Soleil au Coeur // Nouvelles de Tunisie. P. 2002.
traveling revolutionaries who dared to declare that "the only fighter for the highest Justice is only the people themselves" ... There were artists, poets, film makers, and other representatives of bohemia.
In short, there were a lot of people here, including our family, which was like any large family, which according to Tunisian tradition consisted of young and old, retrogrades and progressives, talkative and silent, those who listen and those who constantly make speeches...
This family also had its own guardian angel: a friend of Lina's parents, Hedi, whom she had always considered a second father in her childhood. However, this angel was apparently created by heaven in a hurry, because he could not save the girl from the misfortune that befell the girl on that vindictive evening of Ramadan-a Muslim fast that parents, of course, did not observe, but in the rhythm of which they lived, like everyone else, gathering with everyone to the table only in the evening.
That's when they discovered that their daughter's voice was gone. That she couldn't speak a single word, even though she'd started talking very early, not even two years old... And so it went on for four whole days. This was the first signal of the beginning of the disease. The first distress signal with all its losses and losses, pain, despair...
But despite the approaching disaster, the girl continued to exist in the world of sounds and colors, in the world of fairy tales and wonderful music. The girl lived in a world of dreams and fantasies, awakened in her by gentle parents and their amazing friends, who tirelessly told her about the world with a thirst for its improvement...
The flowering of her life took place as if in a lush garden. Everyone came there with their own seedlings. Her mother managed to grow in it, despite the evil winds and polluted air and soil, luxurious flowers and shrubs, and even various vegetables and strawberries. And her father used every excuse to go for a walk with her, made crazy expenses to travel with his daughter and show her her native country...
At the age when they move from primary school to secondary school, the girl was already a well-formed personality. With a thirst for life, open to various kinds of knowledge, thinking about her future, reading a lot and already knowing a lot not only from books, but also from the stories of friends of her father and mother who visited their home, thanks to the travels that she made both in her own country and abroad... She knew that the world was vast and wonderful, and that the people in it were both alike and different.
Her transition age, when a teenager becomes a girl, and the body is mature, capable of childbearing, ended early. Too soon, even. This transition took her by surprise and was not prepared in any way.
But she wasn't panicking. And her parents quickly explained everything to her. Although something strange happened that day. She was playing in the back of the garden with her friends. They were all playing with a kitten they'd picked up on the beach. They wanted to teach it to a dog that lived in the house and jealously guarded its owners... So one little boy, the son of her parents ' Palestinian friends who were wandering the land, driven by the misfortune that reigned in their homeland, leaned over in a friendly way and whispered in her ear:
"I'm sorry, Liu! I saw a butterfly fluttering over you, didn't want to fly away.
I didn't want to bother you or frighten you. After all, I know that you love all animals and insects, birds and butterflies... But, Lu, even as I squeezed my eyes shut against the sun that shone on your face and hit me squarely in the eyes, I didn't have time to notice that the butterfly landed on your cheek and froze on it. It's like it's imprinted on your skin...
Lina laughed. Her friends were also laughing loudly with her. But then everyone noticed that the butterfly really stuck tightly to the girl's cheek. Lina wasn't particularly thrilled about it, though she was intrigued by the butterfly.
That night Lina fell asleep with a butterfly on her cheek. Parents, excited by some discussion with friends, did not notice anything at first. But the next morning my daughter woke up with pain in her joints, swollen eyes and chills.
Her new life began. She, who adored the sun, could no longer bathe in its rays. She, who loved the open expanses of blue sea and green fields, now had to keep only the shade of the trees. She was overwhelmed by the disease. Life turned out so that the meaning of it became prescriptions of doctors, medicines, tests, X-rays, consultations and hospitals...
She, of course, decided not to accept her fate.
Rebelled, became picky, irritated, stubborn to everyone. Then I calmed down somehow. I often lay in hospitals and saw the suffering of other people. Unlike many, she was surrounded by the attention, love and care of her family and friends...
The father even tried to joke sometimes, even resorted to "black humor", and the family did not object, and even the doctors did not forbid him to communicate with his daughter in such a manner. And some of the patients who were lying in the next room or next to his little girl were just jealous of her, even though her father's humor was generally banal, almost natural in such circumstances, almost normal when it came to the possible and even, as it seemed, almost inevitable encounter with death... After all, Lina's illness was considered almost incurable. But, somehow, peace gradually reigned in her soul.
She even felt a surge of strength, believed in her ability to resist, overcome the disease, win, rise from the near-dead...
"Live!" "so she decided.
One evening, when she was struggling to wake up from her sleep-inducing medication, she thought she saw a face in the corridor, behind the frosted glass of the door, smiling tenderly at her, but whose face it was, she couldn't make out-the contours were vague. But this face certainly radiated love itself, a lot of love, inspired confidence, filled the soul with a sense of self-confidence, even instilled a sense of some kind of security...
But that face was gone - he was dreaming again. Not heavy this time. Calm, serene.
In the morning, she saw her father sitting by her bed and stroking her hand. "Dad, I had a wonderful dream. Strange, but beautiful. It seemed to me that I was running on the surface of some huge lake, incredibly beautiful, and basking in its bright glow; I was running towards the sun, which rises somewhere on the horizon, where the azure waters of the lake merge with the azure sky. I run and smile, as if I'm telling myself not to stop running...
And suddenly I stop, but I don't fall into the water, I don't feel its cold, but on the contrary, as if I am warming myself in the rays of the sun, which is smiling at me, and towards which I am running... It was as if the sun enveloped me, squeezed me in its embrace, filled me completely, penetrated inside, and it was as if I myself became this sun!"
...My father listened to me like I was listening to classical music. He even made a small gesture so that the nurse wouldn't disturb us. He kept stroking my hand. We were silent for a while, then he said to me in a low voice: "Yes, my beauty! You are the sun itself! Our sun, the sun of your parents, all of us who love you! Shine for other people too!"
I fell asleep again. And in my dreams I saw faces smiling at me, encouraging me. I heard the songs that were sung for me. And gradually I was filled with an extraordinary energy, some kind of cosmic force that came to me from everywhere...
And the next day, the doctors who treated me, who had never tired of telling me that I should continue to stay in the hospital, that it was vital, suddenly decided unanimously that I could return home. And their forecasts were more than optimistic. And I completely calmed down. I went back to my previous activities. I began to read everything that was interesting in one gulp. I watched my fill of various films, including documentaries, learned everything about my illness, and decided to end it once and for all. I clung to life, just sank my teeth into it. She began to live like those people who were permanently deprived of their freedom or the necessary means for life. I seized every moment of my life, grasping it as if it were an eternity, as if it were a blessing that might never happen again...
I learned to listen well to my body, understand my body, prevent bouts of illness, and take care of myself. I even learned to accept the pain if it was repeated, to retreat in order to save my strength for further struggle...
...Having faced death so many times, she had learned to elude it at the very moment when it seemed that the last spark of hope for recovery was already extinguished. And Lina learned to endure pain, to protect herself from the inevitability of misfortune, and willingly taught this to others.
One day, her father took her on a trip to distract her from her suffering. They went to the island of Djerba. Lina was happy that she recognized him not only from the map and book guides for travelers. She said to her father ," Didn't Grandpa live to be 95? It seems to me that at fifteen I already know more than he does, and that I have lived longer than he has! After all, he never went anywhere. I've done it many times before. He is often ill, of course, but he has not looked death in the face as often as I have."..
...While walking along the beach on a gloomy day when the sky was overcast, Lina met an elderly lady, oddly dressed, who was holding a funny and cheerful poodle on a leash. She said, " Mademoiselle, I think I've seen you before! In any case, I remember that the girl who climbed over the fence into the garden, where there was a house overgrown with brambles, in which the Palestinians lived, was very similar to you! I haven't seen her since." Where are you, my beautiful one?"
And suddenly, without waiting for an answer, she continued: "Beware of the wolf, my dear! And don't trust the butterflies! Look more often at shooting stars, the trail of which sometimes lights up the sky above your garden. And think, think, concentrating with all your might, about the sun that has already settled in your body..."
But the old lady did not have time to finish her speech, when suddenly an old man who appeared as if from nowhere came up to her, stretched out his hand and dragged her along!
I guess, Lina thought, I'm still asleep, and I'm having a dream... Why else would this old lady dress so strangely and talk to me as if she knew everything about me? How unusual all this is! And her warning...
How does she know about my Palestinian neighbors? She even managed to remember me climbing over our garden fence...
I didn't seem to sleep very long, but my sleep was so healthy. And I woke up with such a wonderful feeling, as if my whole body was renewed! And this strange butterfly that once brought me cruel, like the bites of a wolf, suffering, flew away from me forever! And that only the sun, only the sun warms me and shines joyfully to me with its rays! I felt a surge of some unknown energy, powerful, determined..."
Sure enough, Lina was awake. "Our" girl finally regained her former form. And for the first time during her daughter's illness, the mother heard her sing. And then I saw my daughter walking towards the train station. With a smile on his face:
I've made up my mind, Lina mused. "I don't remember how it all happened, but I'm sure of my decision, of my choice.
And I know that I did not hesitate at all when I went to the students who staged a hunger strike to demand the restoration of the University from which they were expelled for their trade union activities."
The crowd of policemen standing at the entrance to the humanitarian building, where the strike was taking place, oddly enough, but parted in front of the girl, as if by magic. A miracle happened. All these men with batons in their hands, usually rude to demand documents, hurrying to push everyone into covered trucks and take them away for questioning, let her pass without saying a word, seeing how calmly and confidently she went to her goal...
"When I left the University," she recalled, " I felt so light, like I was flying on wings... The road opened out in front of me, illuminated by the rays of the sun, without signs of any shadow... It was a bright path. And without any obstacles on it. "I must serve my people from now on! I decided. - Stand up for the people. I must be in the group of those who stand in opposition to the authorities and say "No!" whenever it is necessary, and even when it is life-threatening!"...
And since then," Nasha " - Lina belongs to all of us, becoming a true fighter, a true citizen of her country and the whole world, proud and unbending, despite all the blows of fate and humiliation.
But most importantly, she did not think about the suffering and pain that she had endured, which only she and her family knew about when Lina was seriously ill. But her illness was dangerous because it could flare up again at any moment...
Lina knew that. But I didn't want to think about it.
Her fragile silhouette, her childish face, and her soft voice now know everything. They'll find out quickly. Evil people lie in wait for it, pursue it, try to "neutralize" it, and look for an opportunity to destroy it. But the children of the people ,the" unloved " of the authorities, all those who suffer, who are poorly organized in this life, all the poor are waiting for her appearance, hoping for her help. All those who know about her, about her deeds firsthand, love her, fear for her life, pray for her, worry, although they approve of her in her struggle, believing in her strength. After all, her struggle is also their fight for their best life, and they feel happier when they see her happy.
On December 17, 2010, a young black-haired boy threw out all the despair that had accumulated in him, challenging the evil that reigned in his country, reviving the hope of his people, especially their youth. He showed everyone that you can openly say "No!" and not be afraid of the fate prepared for you. He turned himself into a torch, but ignited a general outrage at the order, which condemned people to a long silence.
It was on the day that this living torch was lit that Lina took the wanderer's staff in her hand and set out on her journey through life. Back to where the new sun came on.
Translated from French by Dr. S. V. PROZHOGINA
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