I had a nightmare a few nights ago about Kurdistan.

It was a bad one.

When I was in Kurdistan, I felt harassed, pushed aside, scapegoated, threatened, and the subject of outright malice. The men were creeps; they often tried to touch me, to corner me, to make gross comments about my body, and at work they treated me like an ignorant. The women gossiped and shunned me.

I didn’t have much support at all, and I often felt raw. Grasping, targeted.

I have done my best to suppress those memories, simply by actively not thinking about my year there. I stopped trying to recall any Kurdish, hoping to forget the language and thus by association my memories of the region.

BUT. I saw a bunch of family over the holidays and was asked repeatedly to talk about my experience in Kurdistan – something I don’t  want to do anymore. I think this unearthed unwanted memories.

And in my dream I was back in Slemania and I was buffeted by malice from all sides. I could feel myself returning to the state of forever stresspanic I carried with me there.

And when I woke up, I had a whole load of (bad) memories I thought I’d forgotten.

Including words.

Once the word “bâle” (yes) popped into my head in my dream, a whole conga line of words followed. Like dominos, they all fell one after the other, clicking into their pre-designated brain spaces.

I saw a staircase and thought, “qadrîma.” I asked someone how they were and thought, “çonî bashî.” “Mn azhîm l’Slemani,” “dest halbara,” “bo chî?”

It was pretty scary, to be honest. I didn’t know that everything could return that forcefully and completely.

I tried to suppress my memories by also suppressing Kurdish. But it looks like that’s not going to work. Kurdish is still weirdly imprinted in my head and I’m going to have to accept that. I’m going to have to divide the language from the bad memories, embracing the former and shunning the latter.

I don’t really know how, though.

2 thoughts on “Nightmares

  1. This is sad and moving, but there’s something joyous and human inside it. Yes, the men on the street created such a foul association with Kurdish that you mentally shun the language, but you also loved your kindergartners. Your tale shows language and memory to be more deeply implicated than we usually think. A mere word can evoke an entire emotional past, like a smell. If I hear a nickname my sister used for me fifty years ago (a nickname I haven’t heard more than three or four times in that period), an entire emotional world is instantly recreated, and I remember language that I haven’t used or heard since that long-ago time.

    So I’m guessing that you would respond positively to some language your kindergartners might have used, or some other bits of Kurdish that have positive associations. For the moment, you may well prefer to forget, but the capacity for memory doesn’t go away, and its linkage to language keeps it going.

    1. Language is certainly a double-edged sword. When I think of things my kindergarteners used to say, you’re right, I grin. Yet on the street… I’m trying to figure out how to divorce the unpleasant experiences from the good, and the solution may be selective memory. Or it may be giving myself enough temporal distance from the experience that the memories pale and Kurdish remains strong. I know that since living in Israel, it’s getting easier to remember. I suppose living well is the best remedy.

      I would love to study linguistic associations more thoroughly, do you know of any books or articles I might read for research? It’s truly stunning what the brain retains.

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