My relative Issa Youssef in Södertälje, Sweden, became one of the Assyrian victims of the Corona virus on April 2, 2020. He was born 1943 in the Assyrian town of Qamishly, Syria. His family had moved from Enhil in Turabdin to the French protectorate in Syria to escape oppression and poverty in the wake of the Assyrian Genocide, known as Seyfo. His mother Hawo had survived Seyfo in Zaz and sought refuge in the village of Enhil together with her little daughter Basse. She married my relative Gawriye Youssef Danho and they got two other daughters, Sitte and Attiya, in addition to Issa.
At an early age, Issa lost his father and the family lived in poor conditions. Nevertheless, he succeeded in educating himself as a teacher of mathematics and became a well-known and respected person for his involvement in cultural activities in Qamishly. He also participated in printing books to develop Assyrian literature. He once told me of a memory from a time when he and his friends in the Assyrian printing press Matba'tho da'layme had printed a book by the bishop of Mardin Mor Yuhanon Dolabani. The bishop used to write by hand and leave the script to the print shop that used lead phrase at that time. Long afterwards Issa visited Turabdin and Mardin, as he often did. When introducing himself to Dolabani, the bishop's first reaction was: Nfal fawde sagiye bakthobo dil, which means; "there were many misspelling in my book".
Malfono Issa was a very happy person who enjoyed traveling and experiencing the world both when he was a young teacher in Qamishly and later when he ended up in a wheelchair in Sweden. He enjoyed every fun opportunity in his life, whether it was his well-seasoned, oven-baked fish with a glass of Araq or an excursion during his countless vacation trips. He was simply an Epicurean that many of us admired. We blurted out that he could not get out of the wheelchair after six months as the doctor had given us hope. But he started to train his torso to better handle life in a wheelchair.
His life in Sweden began in 1976 when he came to the refugee camp in Flen in the summer of that year, where my family lived for a few months. Soon we were placed in Vårby Gård, a suburb of Stockholm, while Issa remained in Flen. He bought an old VW Boogie and used to visit us or his niece Fahima Kaspo's family in Södertälje. I remember how cool it was for me to take a ride with the old Boogie that had a gear lever with ten gears. When I asked if the car really had ten gears, he responded in his usual humorous way and said: "Yes, of course". Then he explained that the ball itself on the gear lever belonged to a truck.
One day in the fall when he was on his way to Södertälje, he drove off the road after carbon monoxide had leaked into the cabin. Carbon monoxide is a gas that neither smells nor feels. He fell asleep and the car flipped in a field. His seat belt was not fastened. He was thrown out of the car and hit his spine. He arrived at the Karolinska Hospital 35 hours too late for the operation of a swollen vertebrae to succeed. The spinal cord was strangled for too long and he remained in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He stayed in Karolinska for several months and I used to visit him daily after school. Often I massaged his legs. I also brought home-cooked food that my mom had sent. At that time, it was difficult to obtain raw materials for Assyrian dishes such as Kutle or make omelet with qaliyo.
A nurse named Elizabeth came into the room and massaged Issa's spine and legs. She asked: "What is ‘varsågod’ in Assyrian?". Issa replied, "take". When she was done, he said, "Thank you, Elizabeth!" She replied: "take" instead of "Lo medem" (You’re welcome). We laughed well.
The following year Issa married Seide Sharro from Qamishly. The couple was wed by Father Yousef Said in the Kaspos family's apartment in the Geneta district of Södertälje. We, the closest family, attended. Issa and Seide got two sons, Gabriel (Gabi) named after granddad Gawriye and Rabi. Rabi Youssef was a promising football talent before he quit and Gabi played ice hockey. Today both sons are married and have small children that Grandpa Issa loved over all.
Malfono Issa started a printing company to print wedding cards. He obtained a small printing press, which he placed at a room in his villa and named the business after his son Gabi. Gabi's Print shop became a concept among the Assyrians in Sweden when it comes to wedding cards and gift items.
Prior to that, he worked as a teacher, including at the Stockholm Teachers College, where in the early 1980s, Assyrian home-language teachers were trained. I applid to this, mostly for fun, while waiting to get into journalism studies at the university of Gothenburg. I conducted the entrance exam under the guidance of head teacher malfono Asmar Khoury and malfono Issa who taught methodology. Malfono Asmar, who was known for his beautiful writing, asked me to write a piece and said I had a nice writing. Malfono Issa who so often released his humor added; "He will probably forget what he can after completing this training." We laughed well. I got approved. Shortly after that the whole Assyrian branch was canceled.
Malfono Issa was a literate and modern person who did not believe in superstitions, mathematician as he was. I would like to share with you a memory of the subject of astrology and superstition; When I published two books in 2011, I visited associations and various events to launch them. One such event was a fundraising gala to the Mor Augin monastery in Turabdin. We sat at the same table and the conversation came in on one of my articles in the books that was about my deceased father's knowledge of astrology. My point with the article was that my dad had access to advanced codes that allowed him to read people's future. We Assyrians call it "to let open the BOOK for somebody".
Then Issa told an interesting story that linked to the subject. He said:
“I have never believed in divination or seers, but the following personal story was still remarkable: When I was a little boy, my father visited uncle Jejo dbe Qoujur during one of his visits to our home village Enhil and asked him to read about my future. Uncle Jejo checked in his book after calculating the numerical value of my name and my mother's name. (You calculate the total value and then divide to a certain level. The letters in Issa's name have the numerical value 70+10+60+1. That's how Assyrian astrologers work). When he was done he said to my father; 'Your son will meet a life threat (Qeso) at the age of 33. If he manages, he will live a long life’. Long afterwards when I thought about my traffic accident, I remembered these words. I was 33 then."
His eventual 33 years lasted until 77, triggered by the Corona virus. At the end of March he felt a sore throat and was taken to hospital in Södertälje. Two days later he was dead in Covid-19. Rest in peace dear cousin!