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Blue Eyes

By Selma Chalabi
September 2002, Cardiff
A digital story from Capture Wales

Eyes to the soul

Selma tells us about a feature of her grandmother that lives on in herself. This along with stories from the family gives Selma an insight into her grandmother's life.

Music by Asim Al-Chalabi.

They say she had the same eyes as me.

She was an Iraqi woman born in Baghdad in 1918, married at the age of 18 and died at the age of 31 from rheumatic arthritis... a disease now easily curable.

I am a British woman... a child of the eighties... a woman of the nineties and very much alive at the age of 33.

We have two things in common... her son is my dad... and her eyes are my eyes... blue eyes... a good thing in my family.

I've always wondered why - perhaps it's prejudice - blue eyes seem to be rated as being more beautiful in Iraq. Or perhaps it's because she has blue eyes and she has gone down in family legend. Her name was Nabiha, meaning bright and alert in Arabic. When her brother and her sons talk about her, they cry. She was everything a woman should be in their eyes: kind, compassionate, proud, dignified.

Her husband had no time for the family; he was too busy with politics.

She brought up three sons in poverty but still found time to sew clothes for other children in her street. She was good at singing, but didn't sing in public.

When I look at her picture - the only picture I have of her - I see a woman of spirit...

I want to ask her what her desires were... what would she have done with her life in different circumstances?

Here I am, her granddaughter... a woman of my time... a woman with opinions and ambitions. I like to think she's watching me. I like to think that by doing things I want to do, I'm living for her.

She deserves more than her 31 years and after all, we do have the same eyes.

End slide - 'Nabiha Jaafar Al-Chalabi 1918-1949'

Selma Chalabi

What's your story about?
My story is about Nabiha, my grandmother on my dad's side. She died in her thirties, but her short life seems to have had a great impact on the people who were close to her, particularly her sons and her brother. Whenever I visit my great uncle (her brother) he always tells me that I have the same eyes as her, and this prompts him to tell stories about her. Although I never knew her, it makes me feel close to her.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
The one picture I have of my grandmother stirs lots of emotions and thoughts in me. Her eyes aren't clear as they are in shadow, so I can't tell if they really are the same as mine. But the way she stands makes me feel that we have something in common. I wish I had known her. I want to talk to her, ask her questions, and find out who she really is beyond the myth.

What was the experience of making your digital story like?
The experience was emotionally cathartic. My grandmother is a big presence in my life, mainly through the impact she had on others close to me, particularly my dad. Telling the story helped me articulate how I feel about her, and using new technology gave me more creative freedom to play with the story.

Your comments

"I am also a fellow iraqi with blue eyes, and the only one in my family apart from my grandfather. both my parents have green eyes and my brothers and sisters all have grey and green eyesLeft iraq at 6 months old and have never seen or heard of it apart from on the news due to tragic war stories." Moe Edan, London, Aug 2008.

"This is so inspiring being a fellow Iraqi i an connect with your message ... It was just wright, the timing and the words. It unleashes an untold story- that Iraq has more than just wars." Suzy Al Amira, Sep 2007.

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