This wooden camel was part of a caravan that traveled along my Grannie’s living room windowsill. My brother and I used to play with them whenever we visited Grannie, but we were cautioned to do so with the upmost respect. These camels represented our Grandpa, Eddie, who died before we were born. He was the second son of the Saad family- Lebanese and Syrian immigrants who carved out a life for themselves in the flat lands of suburban Illinois. Looking through a scrapbook filled with letters, it was clear that he was wildly in love with my Grannie. He called her Yakka- a name my Grannie adopted and abbreviated, signing all of her return letters, ‘Love, Yak’.
Grandpa spoke Arabic with his family who lived in the house behind the fence. Legendary arguments would be carried out along the boundary between the fence and that house- all of it in Arabic. Yet he never passed the language down to his children- not even curse words! By all accounts, Grandpa was a simple solid American boy who went to church and fought in the war, raised a family and worked for the rail road. He was a dark skinned man who made a point of passing. His family’s desert past faded into a suburban Middle- American present. Over the years, the camel grew to prominence as a symbol of my family’s estranged Arab roots. Now as it travels along my Brooklyn windowsill, I imagine myself atop the camels hump searching a desert horizon for the oasis of my family history, wishing I knew more.
– Jason Eisner