The Tale of Two Crossed Brothers
(January 2021) Tarek and Baba didn't always get along.
Tarek Eldawi is the youngest of the Eldawi family. Born right after ours truly, Baba Eldawi. Tarek is a man of passion, strong will, and eloquence. The treasure-skinned, 5’10, stock-built Uncle’s greatest virtue was his family-oriented mindset. At times his emotions would get the best of him. But, Tarek and Baba did not always get along.
Tarek is a man full of entrepreneurial spirit, tenacity, and rigor. He always wanted to start his own business and be his own boss. He doesn’t cater well to orders from authority and is a lone wolf at times. He built an at-home A/C manufacturing company that became very successful in Sudan. Now it is among the top utility companies in Sudan.
My father, on the other hand, was a taller, lankier man full of charisma, quick-wittiness, and sarcasm. Lots of sarcasm. He always knew how to poke fun at people and tease them. Obviously, Tarek and Baba’s personalities clashed. They continued to clash as they grew up. One thing Baba loved to do was tease Tarek. This never sat well with Tarek. Once Baba moved to the states in the 90s to pursue the notorious American Dream, their relationship took a slight breather.
The next time we met Tarek was in mid-July, 2004, for his wedding in Egypt. He was getting to Mai, an exquisite, beautiful, warm-hearted American-Egyptian woman who spoke both Arabic and English fluently. She is one of my favorite Aunties in the Eldawi family because she used joy as her compass. She would let me and the kids play with new toys, joke around with her, and would take us out to restaurants that us kids actually wanted to go to. She was the type of Auntie to invite you over to eat more pancakes when she heard it would really make your day.
Soon Tarek became the father of 3 kids: Thoraya, Mustafa, and Kenza. They are currently 14, 12, and 8 years old, respectively. They used to visit us at least once a year between 2005 and 2010 when we lived in Dubai. Tarek always had this type of high paced energy that allowed you to really hear what was going on in his mind. He used to always ask me to massage his forehead. Not his back. Just his forehead. He saw that I would massage my dad’s back (Baba would bribe me by tricking me that he would buy me a new PS3 game every time he asked), and immediately seized the opportunity.
Fast forward to us living in Sudan from 2010 onwards, Tarek and Baba would argue a lot. They would go for months, sometimes years without talking to each other. They both suffered from big egos which honestly stemmed from deep love of one another. They just wanted to hear the other person say “I’m proud of you.”
Everything in our worlds changed once Baba’s body started to deteriorate. Some family members drifted away. Some, who we didn’t expect, became even closer to us. Tarek was that unexpected savior. He threw away all his history with Baba and immediately became his best friend. To the extent that Tarek would come over every other day. No exaggeration. He’d research new hospitals, treatments, and the latest ALS cure news. He would help lessen tension in the family when anyone would fight. He traveled with my dad to Germany and India for medical visits. He’d even pay for the hotel so my dad could get a better stay with more handicap privileges (eg. walk-in shower, a must). I loved him for that, dearly.
What inspired me the most was Tarek’s change of heart. He shifted his behavior to be the most loving brother who did not spend time worrying or blindly praying for a cure; he went out to fetch it. His entrepreneurial spirit served him well. Baba once said to me, “I never expected Tarek to be this great. I love him so much. He really is the best support system we have.” My dad seldom complimented his family members, so this meant a lot. Tarek taught me that there is no bond like a brother. This made me get closer to Husam, my older brother.
Tarek would, for some reason, constantly reassure that he would be the “first to go" before Baba, implying that Baba was healthier and would live longer. A very powerful statement that he tried to convince my dad that there will be a cure. My mom always cried when she heard Tarek say that.
Looking back now, I can see why Uncle Tarek said that repeatedly. He knew that Baba lost his hope since there is no cure for ALS. There is a perfect word in Arabic to describe this feeling that Tarek was ultimately trying to convey; tuqburni. This word translates to “you bury me because I can not live a day without you.” This is a phrase that means much more than “I love you” in Arabic. People rarely say it and only to their sincerely loved ones.
During my dad’s second year of ALS, Uncle Tarek had been feeling uneasy with his blood pressure. He was diabetic. He would become extremely stressed and get migraines. He was a warrior, never admitting to his pain. One day in late December (one month before my brother’s wedding in January 2019), he felt a few sharp pains in his arm. Later that day, he collapsed in front of his 10-year-old son, Mustafa. He called his Auntie Wafa who was in Port Sudan, a 6-hour drive away from Khartoum. Auntie Wafa of course called Mai and they rushed to the hospital. Tarek couldn’t open his eyes. A few hours later, he passed away.
He had a heart attack. This shocked my whole family. My mom called me before the family told Baba. He was purposely the last person to know. My mom’s brothers, sisters, and a few in-laws came over to give the news together to Baba. His tears were racing down his cheek so much we had to put a small towel under his chin. I remember Baba tearing up silently for months. I did not expect it. His family did not expect it. No one expected it.
I had an emotionless response. Not the emotionless type where you don’t care but when you are emotionally numb. The type of feeling when you can not cry but the heart does silently. Instead, I heard a whisper; Baba will meet him soon.
Losing Tarek unexpectedly hit the Eldawi family hard. As we were all anticipating Baba’s departure, we never thought that Tarek’s flight would take off so suddenly. When I gave my condolences to his kids, I told them “I know how this is so unexpected and nothing I can say will help alleviate the pain. I am going to join you very soon as well. Please hang in there... we are both in the position. I am here for you all.”
Tarek left a legacy. He taught my family how to treat each other with love. Tarek loved Baba with all his heart. He let his actions show this immense love. From accompanying my dad through international medical visits, visiting periodically, and emotionally supporting our family through our toughest moments.
Tarek’s own self-fulfilling prophecy came true. He did go before my dad. And now they are together. I hope they are enjoying their time together. As we miss them so dearly, they are probably having a coffee and biscuits together watching over their families.