It is unclear when exactly my grandfather moved to Kuwait. My memory of the story was that he escaped Cairo by boat through Alexandria to Kuwait in 1952, just before the Free Officers Revolution, and never looked back until his return in 2003.
However, as I conducted interviews with my grandfather's relatives and close colleagues the story shifted. The general idea was that he had left Egypt in 1952, before the revolution, but then returned after the revolution. As the "honeymoon" period between the Ikhwan and Nasser came to a close my grandfather left Egypt and settled in Kuwait for good.
The Kuwait home is not just a house filled to the brim with memories; it is an experience. As long as I can remember every time my family and I came to visit my grandparents, we had to line our suitcases in front of the big wooden entrance doors and, before even greeting my grandparents with a hug and the usual two or three kisses on the cheek, we would pose and smile for the photograph then banter and laugh for the video camera. Family members were not the only people photographed at the front entrance, any visitor would have to pause for the camera. The camera was as much a member of the household as the actual people living in it. It was something we waited for, expected, and asked about when it wasn't around.
Once inside the house one is overwhelmed with the sheer amount of what at first appears to be clutter. The walls are lined with family photographs; Renaissance inspired paintings, cut-outs from magazines, newspaper articles, Koranic verses, and strangely shaped frames that encased fake flowers. Every surface of every table, coffee table, desk, and dresser is covered with little collections of porcelain shoes, fake foliage, pictures frams, shells, pens, place settings, and of course, large bowls of chocolate and other sweets. When I was young the house was a playground. As I got older I saw the house as overcrowded with useless materials, but most of all dark and sad with the stains of age.
This most recent trip I saw the house in a new light. Visiting my grandfather's house in Egypt definitely gave me a deeper appreciation for how far he had come from his humble beginnings. In addition, this project forced me to look closer at the photographs and memorabilia strewn around the house. For the first time I realized and read my grandfather's captions detailing why he had chosen an object, the memories behind the photographs, and information about who was in them. Not only did I notice how eloquent and humorous his writing was, but also I realized that everything in that house had a purpose. So wrong was I to think that the home was a sad place of accumulated stuff that only pointed to how old my grandparents were, how far away from life they were getting.
The process of framing objects and photographs was my grandfather's way of enshrining memories. It was his way of taking pride in the life he had led and giving us a way of understanding him long after he passed away. As we were packing up the house my grandmother would always repeat that my grandfather, before he passed away, told her that she needn't go anywhere after he died, but rather she should just appreciate everything he had left for her. The photographs and memories are his spirit, breathing life into the house.
I never really felt the weight of my grandfather's death. Even visiting his grave didn't cement his absence. It was only when the photographs began to come down off the walls of the house did it hit me that he is no longer with us. Those photographs kept his presence alive in the house, whenever I wanted to hear his voice all I had to do was read the captions. If I wanted to see his face all I had to do was turn my head. My grandfather referred to the home as "alboum maftooh", when means "Open Album", and it really is.