Teta's Tulips

by Nicole Nimri

Teta planted these tulips more than a decade ago. She watered them, talked to them, and told them “Good Morning” every day. She planted one for her mom, her dad; tulips for her brothers and children who passed away, another for my Jido. To her, those tulips were her family.

One morning she went outside to say hello to her tulips and they had been dug up. She looked for a remnant of them, evidence of an animal who might have gathered a midnight snack in her garden, but she couldn’t find them anywhere. She asked her neighbors, the same neighbors, who said God would strike down America’s enemies right in Teta’s living room during a visit to “check up on her.” In broken English, my grandma asked her neighbors if they would ask their guests who had just been admiring her garden yesterday if they had seen her beloved flowers. She tells her neighbors as best she can, “These flowers are precious to me. They are like my family. They bring me good luck, but they will bring bad luck to whoever took them, and I worry for whoever would take them from me.”

Again, they insisted no, but the next day they had tulips planted in their yard. Teta tells us this on her birthday, a couple weeks after the incident. She is sad, not angry. She says that these flowers brought her blessings like visits from her mother and from my Jido. She said after the tulips were taken she had a dream her mother visited her at the edge of the sofa where she sleeps, then turned around and walked away without saying a word. I hadn’t seen my grandmother this hurt since her brother passed away last summer, for whom she planted a tulip for that year. When Teta talks about Jido and the tulip that she planted in his name, she has the same look as when she tells me about her home in Al Husson, Jordan, and when Jido would take her to visit their friends and cousins in Ramallah and Ariha across the river Jordan.

Imagine this pain for tulips. For symbols of family, for whom many of them had never even set foot in this garden in Indianapolis where my Teta keeps their memory alive. Imagine this pain multiplied to Earth’s core where generations of family are buried and lived for generations: for the olive trees that shaded and witnessed your parents and their parents and their parents and so on?

By now, my cousin and I are heated— ma2hooreen for my Teta and we tell her we can just go and take them back right now. It’s dark. My grandma chewed on this, entertaining it. She says, “if I go and take it now, it will be one for one. If I release it to God, He will give me justice.” My cousin jokes, “The tulips aren’t enough now. They need years in hell for this.” We laugh, but I believe that God vindicates through your descendants. I believe in justice in the present, not a mystical “someday” or farther still, after death. I believe her when she says that what belongs to her is blessed to her and she believes it to be a curse to those who would take it from her.

Beyond the love and commitment that planting stirs, made doubly so when you plant in ceremony for the dearly departed, planting something is the greatest act of faith because it implies there will be a spring. It implies that the sun will continue to shine, the rain will come, and there will be another day to water them, another year to witness the tulips, to harvest the olives. To speak into the world, to advocate for your needs, to multiply — all this is faith that someone is listening and witnessing you and there is a tomorrow to speak for.

And just as Teta loves these tulips and speaks to these tulips, the tulips love her back, and they listen to her. Those tulips can never mean what they meant to my Teta to anyone else. To anyone else, they may see vibrant color or sweet fragrance, but to her, she sees relationships cultivated with daily visits, time and words invested with love and consistent, doting care. The spiritual embodiment of her loved ones who have passed. They can never mean that to anyone else. And just as the tulips will not mean what to anyone else what they meant to Teta, no one else will mean as much as Teta means to the tulips, for they remember just as well. Next year’s tulips will not forget my grandma no matter where they are planted.

In Palestine, the settlers may see the beauty of the land, the glimmer of the water, the fragrance of the wind, but the dirt, the hibiscus, the river Jordan, the Mediterranean Sea and her shores, the cactuses and the olive groves, have never forgotten who has loved them more and who loves them now.

The land will not forget that this year’s harvest season was stolen by the bombs and the white phosphorus. It will not forget the generations of Palestinians who tilled the land, who collected the zaytoon, who sat beneath their shade, who spoke to them, and remembered them, and told them “Good Morning” every day.