Here, narratives of the author's life happenings, brought about by the intricacies of life, are candidly told in their minutest details; a treasure trove of learning experience. All accounts are presented in a story-telling framework and a remarkably witty manner capable of enthralling adults of all ages.
In addition to stories that readers could personally relate to and learn from, Daniels' memoir briefly discusses his Aramean ethnic heritage and provides real-life examples of the maltreatment of others, particularly that related to the enslavement predicament endured by thousands of young Yezidi women and girls.
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By H. J. Daniels
iUniverseCopyright © 2016 H. J. Daniels
All rights reserved.
PART ONE: HOME-COUNTRY STORIES / CHILDHOOD - ADOLESCENCE (PRE-1958)
I have an overwhelming urge to start this book with one of my earliest memories, one that has had a profound, inerasable imprint on my psyche for much of my life, a singular recollection that has, to a great extent, even influenced my religious beliefs.
When it comes to supernatural manifestations, people are divided into two categories: believers and non-believers. Inquisitive people of education are inclined to fall into the latter group; believers, on the other hand, tend to be those who are deeply influenced by religion and also those who have had 'certain encounters'. I have heard so-called 'witnesses' on television talking about ghosts and UFOs, and wondered about the accuracy and even the authenticity or credibility of their accounts, only to remember the following personal incident and wonder no more.
I was about six years old when the heavenly, peaceful times directly following the end of World War II (on the European 'theatre') had just started, though unfortunately for a relatively short duration only. Location: Our family lived in al-Ma'qal, Basra, in (then) the Kingdom of Iraq up to 1958. Many of the houses in that small town, all being the property of the Iraqi Ports Directorate, were built with flat roofs, on which people slept at night during the exceptionally hot and humid months of the summer season. So, 'preparing the beds' (unfolding mattresses and arranging bed sheets) was a daily chore performed after sunset, when the heat subsided considerably; that task was decidedly my mother's responsibility, not that anyone had any proclivity to contest it.
One late evening, around dusk, my mother told my father who was sitting in the 'front' yard that she was going to work on the beds, after which she asked me if I wanted to accompany her. I followed her into the house and then out to the back yard, where a wooden staircase leading to the roof was mounted. She was halfway up the stairs when I turned to my left and started ascending in an opposite direction to where came from. As I did so, something, in the form of light, contrasting with the progressively darkening sky, attracted my attention. I turned sharply sideways to my left and looked upwards towards the sky; there, I saw a sedentary, bright and sharply outlined Spectre of a tall old man with a solemn face and a long beard facing where we were. The Spectre held a 'bucket' in each hand, with arms extended downwards close to its form towards a flat ground-like base, on which 'it' stood; the 'base', about one-third in width as the height of the Spectre, faded out rather sharply towards an irregularly-shaped edge. The entire apparition was in unadulterated white; it matched in height a neighbouring brown house above which 'it' stood.
In an excited voice, I called my mom, at the same time telling her what I saw and pointing to where the Spectre was. Following a glance, she instantly called my father, asking him to come quickly, after which I heard his unhurried footsteps approaching us. As soon as I heard him coming towards us, the Spectre started to fade out with every step. By the time my father was in a position in the yard to look where my mother pointed, the Spectre had already vanished; my father saw absolutely nothing, other than a dark sky! In response to his inquiry, my mother related the story, exactly as has been outlined above with a little variation, the latter being that the Spectre was holding 'suitcases', rather than 'buckets'. Both my mom and I have had vivid visions of these details for many, many years thereafter. The next day we asked some of our neighbours if they had seen anything; all responses were in the negative.
About sixty years following that exceptional incident, I visited my mother and sister's family in Copenhagen (Denmark); my very old mother was sick and in hospital. She died within two days of my arrival, and her body was taken to a Catholic church. Two days later, all relatives (my brother, two sisters and their families) congregated at the church attending the 'mass for the dead'. When the mass was over, we carried her coffin to the sextant's car. My older sister, Hind, and I then stood, separate from others, on the walkway waiting for everyone to get in their respective cars on our way to the cemetery. I was standing by that car's front end, on the passenger's side, about a yard from it; my sister stood next to me on my right. There was sombre ambient silence and overwhelming serene tranquility, as though time stood still for a moment. Suddenly, I became mystically aware of the presence of someone beside me on my left; I instinctively turned sharply, only to see my mother standing there and looking pensively at a large tree on the other side of the road past the sextant's car. She looked as I had seen her on my previous visit, when she was in good health, not this last one. The apparition took about a second; I turned to my sister and mumbled something about what I had seen. She later told me that she didn't understand what I had said at the time. My relatives, including my old aunt, told me later that my mother had loved me a lot during her life, more than the rest of my siblings, a statement I had heard several times during my life.
* * *
In later years, following the former story (appearance of the Spectre), when I got to an age where memory started to actively kick in, I oftentimes heard this next story from my father as he related it to friends of the family during mutual visits. I was two years old, when he was transferred on a temporary basis to al-Faw, a town at the southern tip of Iraq, where the country's borderland touched the waters of the Arabian Gulf.
He, my mom and I were taken on board a small ship (the Yenen) sailing down the Shat al-Arab River to a location at its southernmost part, where we were supposed to disembark and reach al-Faw by car. The story goes that during that trip I disappeared by wandering around (well, everything was so exciting; a ship! I never saw anything like that the whole of my life!). It didn't take my parents long to find me; I was then holding in my tiny hands a small can from which I was drinking kerosene; was it ever yum-yum; cheers/cheerio and, as the Chinese say: 'Gam Bay!'I herein honestly and solemnly declare that I didn't consume enough then to cause any subsequent fuel-price hikes, be it on the short or long run.
* * *
UNINTENDED STOMACH CLEANSING
With this story, I go back to a curious event (around 1950). One day, we had two visiting families. After chatting and presenting tea with cake, it was time to serve a homemade sweet in the form of marmalade jam. The latter closely resembled orange marmalade; instead of orange peels, however, Iraqis had the advantage of having another kind of citrus called 'Ttringe', resembling pomelos. That fruit, quite larger than an average orange, had a peel that was rugged and close to 1 centimeter thick, thus being ideal for such jams. The peel of each fruit was cut vertically into four or five pieces, then boiled and simmered with sugar.
We had during those days an epidemic related to infected vegetables, so sanitization was meticulously followed; at that time, people used diluted solutions of 'potassium permanganate' as an anti-bacterial agent to kill germs on vegetables and kitchen utensils; it came as black crystals, a small amount of which was dissolved in water, turning it into a medium-to-deep violet solution. Following my father's instructions, my mother brought in a tray bearing a wide plate that had several mouth-size marmalade pieces, arranged like a flower (nice to look at!). There also was a fork and a glass containing that antiseptic solution. My father asked the visitors to dip the fork they were using in that solution before sampling the marmalade.
Starting from the right, as custom implied, the gentleman took a sample of the jam, returned the fork on the plate and, after slight hesitation, took a sip from the glass! Quickly, and under my father's incredulous stare, the next visitor did the same, this time without any hesitation! After that, it was far too late for my father to correct any misapprehension; all enjoyed both of those two 'servings'!
* * *
THE SAVING OF MY SISTER
One day, only a few years subsequent to the narrative on the Yenen trip, above, and around the time of the Spectre story, my sister, Hind, and I were playing outside our house's front garden; she was not even three years old then, fair complexioned, blue-eyed and blonde-haired. A dark-skinned local man passed by us, and as he did so he gazed at her, then picked her up and walked away. I ran indoors and breathlessly told my mom what had happened. She jumped out to the front yard, hysterically calling our gardener, who was a stout man, and begging him to do something. After I indicated to him the direction where that man was headed, he ran that way. A few minutes later, he brought my little sister back; he said that the kidnapper, hearing someone running behind him and yelling: "stop!" dropped her and ran away.
Our gardener told us then that the kidnapper likely planned to have her grow up with a group of gypsies, who would later turn her into a belly dancer, and that such nomads were in the habit of kidnapping kids! We certainly would have lost her if it wasn't for that chivalrous and courageous gardener! (How many of that type do exist these days!)
* * *
The courses of thought outlined above bring to my mind the following memory: My father was only thirteen when his father died (1912). He had, then, to leave school and work in order to make ends meet for his family (mother, aunt and four siblings). He readily found a mediocre job that earned him a small salary. One day, he went to the bank to withdraw 2 dinars (US$7). The money was given to him in small change (which was not small at that time, considering the value of the local currency; example: one Iraqi dinar could probably have brought 50 chickens; now, after the 'blessings' of all the coup de tats and wars following 1958, a chicken is worth 2000 dinars. After receiving the money, my father stood not too far from the cashier's till, in order to carefully count his money which was in the form of 'change'. As he was absorbed in that process, he heard a man (who had been in line just behind him) asking the cashier to give him 100 dinars.
My father was astounded, to put it mildly, and as the gentleman had collected that huge sum and turned to leave, my father approached him with a smile and both politely and humorously asked: "Sir, can you please tell me why I can only withdraw 2 dinars when you collect 100?" Lowering his head, in order to be able to see the person addressing him closely over the edge of his eyeglasses, the gentleman looked probingly at my father who was light-complexioned, in contrast to the commonly 'tanned' general populace, and asked: "You are Christian, 'ma' (isn't that so)?" After a response in the affirmative, the gentleman said: "Look, it is simple; when you Christians pray to God, you ask for enough subsistence for the day; whereas we, the Jews, ask God to give us a lot of money! He gives us what we ask for!" This happened when Iraq still was civilized enough to embrace people of different religious faiths, including Jews.
The job my father had then did not bring enough income to satisfy the needs of the family, so he decided to learn typing in English, which was a scarce commodity in Iraq in those days, since many Iraqis could not even write their own name in Arabic. There were a few English companies in Basra involved in international maritime trade and services (imports of manufactured goods, exporting barley and passenger travel), and a job with one of those companies was expected to be exceptionally rewarding. However, there was no way to get help getting education and training on such a profession as 'typist', since typewriters weren't even available there, except at a few select offices. One day he had an opportunity to be in the presence of one of those enigmatic and 'majestic' machines. There were letters and numbers built in a step-like lay out, and those letters moved down, when pressed, a process that resulted in letters appearing on a sheet of paper; there were other features like a space bar and shift key. After observing how different parts of the machine worked, he hurriedly looked for and soon found a board on which to draw a facsimile of what he saw, paying attention to the actual and relative positions of the letters. Driven by ambition, he enthusiastically took that board home and spent quite some time trying to memorize those arrangements, while moving his fingers around over it.
A few days later, he went to the largest of those English companies (Strick Ellerman Lines) and asked if they needed a typist in English. The person in charge of the office looked at him quizzically and asked if he could type; after replying in the affirmative, that person brought a typewriter, handed him a sheet of paper and asked him to type a paragraph from a book. At that juncture, my father, with some obvious embarrassment, asked the gentleman if he would kindly insert the sheet in the typewriter for him, in response to which the surprised gentleman said: "But you said you knew how to type!" My father boldly responded: "Yes, yes, I can; but please put the paper in there". To satisfy his own curiosity and bemusement, the gentleman got that done and stood aside waiting. After slight hesitation, my father started typing, awkwardly but fairly well. Soon after explaining, as he was bid, that gentleman gave him the job. Later in life, he held another (supplementary) part-time job with them for several years; his younger brother worked for that same company 42 years.
With time, and pushed by strong ambition, my father acquired a small cigarette-making machine and started a good business, based on two or three brands. As a consequence, he was able to buy four houses. With time, that machine broke down, and he had to buy another one from overseas, because there was no one there who could repair it. After a long wait, the new machine finally arrived by sea. As it was being loaded on a cart, it fell down and broke: no more cigarette-making business! At one time, thereafter, he started importing kitchen china from England, but didn't succeed because most buyers could not afford the merchandise.
* * *
THE 'DENTIST' OF OLDEN-TIMES
I was at a delicate age then, probably five to six years old (circa 1945), when my parents and siblings visited Baghdad, the capital of the country, where my mom's parents lived. One day, my father took me with him to visit my grandfather, whom I knew was a dentist, at his work place. We arrived at an old building (called "khan") which was square and two-storied, and had an inner courtyard in the middle that was open to the sky; that courtyard was surrounded by rooms on two levels. Khans were precursors of present-day hotels, and they had acted as such for centuries, catering for travelers on what used to be known as the "Silk Route" between Europe and India-China, and vice-versa.
We went up a wooden staircase to the upper floor, then walked over an inner courtyard's wooden walkway surrounded with a wraparound railing and proceeded towards my grandfather's 'clinic'. Halfway there, we heard horrid screaming emanating from that office, then saw a large man with bloodshot cheeks and drooling mouth dashing out of that office; he rushed madly towards the staircase, as though being chased by the devil, himself. Soon after, my grandfather emerged from his clinic's doorway opening holding a pair of pliers (resembling those used by barbers/'dentists' shown on Western movies) up in the air and pleading in a loud voice to the runaway patient: "come back, come back, there still is a tooth fragment in there!" Well, he couldn't catch him! It is relevant to explain that in those days, there were not many university-graduate dentists in that region of the world. As we were just about to enter his office, I could, with difficulty, read a sign saying: "TEETH oVERHAULER" (!)
Excerpted from Reminiscences by H. J. Daniels. Copyright © 2016 H. J. Daniels. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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Table of Contents
Contents(Selected Subtitles; Best Reading Where Bolded),
PART ONE: HOME-COUNTRY STORIES/CHILDHOOD - ADOLESCENCE (PRE-1958), 1,
PART TWO: HOME-COUNTRY STORIES/ADULTHOOD (1958 - 1964), 80,
PART THREE: IN THE UNITED KINGDOM (1976 - 1979), 143,
PART FOUR: RESIDING IN CANADA (POST-1979 TO 2004), 150,
PART FIVE: OVERSEAS (AT THE GUEST-HOUSE), 156,
PART SIX: TRAVEL, 196,
PART SEVEN: AGOCO'S GEOLOGICAL LABORATORY, 234,
PART EIGHT: BACK IN CANADA (POST - 2004), 253,
PART NINE: PERTAINING TO SPORTS, 291,
PART TEN: ANIMALISTIC, 297,
PART ELEVEN: GENERAL, 324,