An Inner Journey Facing Mortality by Emel Behlouli, Tunisia

It is still hard for me to put what I felt into words. It was the 29th of November, 2010. That day was dull and obscure. No life, no oxygen, and no heartbeats were felt. I was flying from New York to Birmingham, where I lived. I was alone with scattered thoughts. I was away, but in a strange place. For the passengers on the same plane, it was merely a flight. I was not there. I was floating like the clouds I was staring at from the aircraft window. Random noises filled the plane. People were conversing, breathing, squeezing their chairs to make their positions comfortable. I was simply not aware of them; my soul was with my father. I missed him, but I was not ready to see him on the plane. He was looking at me with those most caring eyes, glowing with the reflection of the military green jacket he was wearing. He was not standing straight, but ready to leave. I looked at him trying to make him stay, but my tongue was chained and my throat was dry; my heart was torn in two. I wanted so badly a warm hug, but I was not ready to hear him say “Goodbye!” with a despaired look. It was so real that I could see all his details. He turned to walk away. It was not a sunny day, nor was the sky blue. It was grey, like my soul. I was uncertain if it was a daydream or a hallucination. I was confused, but I believed in every detail of this mirage. I, then, decided to force my eyes to be opened. I was staring at the clouds from the aircraft window. I could not tell how long that vision took, yet, I felt a confusing glimmer of hope that this was not a revelation within me. I could not stop my thoughts from racing, and I cried in pain. Hot tears rolled down my cold cheeks. I felt the urge to go home to see him. I could not stop the heartache. I doubted that I existed, like any other human being around me. I felt separated from life. I was afraid. I thought I had lost my senses. I was lost in thoughts. I could not focus in the middle of so much confusion and sadness. I found myself gathering all the possible reasons for God to make him stay. He should stay. I was unable to flee. The plane landed and I wanted to run faster than light to touch him and to feel relief from all the “ifs” and “maybes”. Everything was freezing because of the weather. I was cold, alone, and above all, wordless. I booked my flight overnight and I waited until morning. Time was fast suddenly. I was not ready to hear shaking voices, especially my mother’s. Fear and loneliness invaded me. I was weak. I felt myself like a poor grey mouse burying myself in the ground to hide, but in vain. My dad was someone I could talk to, laugh with, and argue with about random topics anytime and anywhere. He was the first one who called me princess. I still hear his deep narrative voice saying, “Go ahead! I got your back. Dad is always there for you.” I loved to hold him and feel secure. I loved looking at his radiant brown eyes under his thick dark eyebrows, listening to him mumbling random lyrics that could sometimes be his own. I could hardly forget moments spent together while we used to sit in the garden, planting and watering the green trees in front of our house, or contemplating water. I could jump up and down on his back, on his legs, and look at his round sun kissed face and hold on his straight grey hair like a baby monkey. Many years later, I was still enjoying sitting with him. I enjoyed his solemn presence like the breeze of a late summer evening perfumed with Jasmine flowers, sipping coffee quietly. The smoke went as slow as his inner peace. His absence made me realize how special our talks were, our hangouts, our loud voices when overtaken by discussion. I was picking roads in my life; studying, travelling, meeting people, working, discovering, failing, and succeeding, and he was always a supporter and a believer in me. I was inspired every time we opened up a little discussion about life. I could not have another opportunity to learn that men and women are equal and are all to be treated based on their determination and passion for things. He had a huge impact on my development, and I stood as strong as he had aspired me to. I do believe now that standing against fate or anger was not the solution facing mortality. Instead, supporting our beloved ones in their decisions, even though it hurts, is the best we can give to them. Two months ago, he told me over Skype: “I love you. And it is ok. You will be ok.” And he came just for me the day of the plane, to say goodbye. I decided that I should support him and accept his decision. Throughout the past seven years , I was proud to call myself a happy feminist who wears makeup and shaves, and especially who was raised by a feminist man. Against all odds, my dad paid attention to my views and to my career. And as you might know, Tunisian society is a patriarchal one; giving women limited or no rights at all within their own families, at work or in college. I was definitely a lucky girl and the daughter of a great father who will stay my greatest lifelong friend.  
This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region. 

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