Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dear Mummy

Allah says that He never burdens a soul with more than it can bear. Which must mean that I shall bear this. That I have the strength I will need to watch you grow smaller and smaller as you go further and further away from us. It’s like I’m standing on the shore and watching you wade into this pool of memory, one that I have no place to be in because I was not a part of your life when you created it. So I watch you go, knowing that in time you will slip beneath its surface and the you I grew up with will cease to be.

They say in time you’ll forget who I am. Like you’ll forget how to use the toilet. I try not to think of this time. I only pray that I will be daughter enough to clean up after you as you did for me when I was a baby.

You sleep so much lately. I think it’s because I am always busy so today, I will take you with me to bake biscuits. I think you’ll enjoy this. It will give you a sense of purpose. It was, after all, under your firm hand that I learnt how to bake. Though you haven’t baked in years, I hope you know that even now, me baking ‘something special’ is really just me, returning to your recipes.

You write me letters each time you leave the house. Your handwriting is shaky and you repeat things often. So different from that composition you wrote me in Grade 4, the pretty one with the beautiful descriptions. I try not to be sad when I read them. I try to think that maybe, my love for the written word; my ability to string words together, that was your gift to me. That maybe a fitting thank you would be me completing all my incomplete works and getting them published. You say your goodbyes and remind me of my many blessings. You pray for me even though often, I feel completely unworthy. Ours was a troubled past. But I hope you know that through it all, I loved you still.

I am not expressive like Fatima, or your confidante, like Salma. I think growing up hearing how I was your accident, the baby you cried when you learnt that you were having made me feel unwanted. As a child, I couldn’t understand this. As I child, I looked past your telling of how you prayed really hard that I be an intelligent and normal child because you feared that your being on the contraceptive several months into your pregnancy might have harmed me.

I didn’t see that for the love it was. And then I went on to have my own children, battled Post Natal depression after Maseeha, and in every subsequent pregnancy and realised that my depression didn’t mean I loved my unborn babies any less. Without them, there’d be so little of me.

Mummy, I need to be strong. Help me to be strong. For you. Help me to remember all that tied us to one another. How you rubbed my back when I feared that my body would be torn in two when I had Moosa, at all of 19. How you prayed with me at the time, reminded me that my strength was from Him and now was the time to ask Him for it. How you loved him so much, bathed him, dressed him. How you cared for me in between running your school and aftercare centre. How you did this over and over again, how you eventually stopped because your mind could no longer support your body in the things it wanted to do.

Help me to remember how you soothed my feverish brow each time I suffered a severe bout of tonsillitis. How you sat by my bedside when I finally had them removed. How you nursed me back to full health.

  Help me to remember so that now when I help you dress, I do so without a trace of sadness. Help me to see you as you see yourself. As the woman you once were. Beautiful. Tall. Amazing. Help me to see past the haze.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Did someone ask for cheese?

2014. The Year of the (runaway) horse.

 Barely 2 months in and so much has happened.

I've given up writing for The Review.

Been to Cape Town for the Writivism 2014 Workshop (which, if I’m to be very honest about it, made me feel like a sperm donor must feel. “Here, a girlie mag. A jar. Use that room.”)

Got to work on a menu for the ‘coffee shop' I’ll be adding to Lazeeza’s.

Been told I sound like a frustrated housewife and that I've become jaded.

Dealt with all manner of crises that no sane person should have to deal with in the first month of a new year.

Based on all the drama, the non-events and the events, I’ve put together my list of Hard Learnt Lessons, courtesy of The Year of the Runaway Horse:

  • ·         The best thing about life is that it goes on
  • ·         That life goes on with wilful determination should serve as a reminder of your own mortality. Of the fact that no one is indispensable

  • ·         That no one actually sees you as you see yourself. And that, that doesn't matter in the least

  • ·         That you should laugh often. With abandon. At yourself.

  • ·         The time to start living as you've always wanted is now
  • ·         Life will never be perfect but that should not stop you from being perfectly happy
  • ·         Every day there may be a hundred reasons to whine, but you’re better off looking for that one reason to be thankful
  • ·         Pray. Like you mean it.

  • ·         Life owes you nothing
  • ·         Whatever you do, do it with all your heart. Overinvestment be damned.
  • ·         Let people judge. Their judgement takes away nothing from who you are
  • ·         In a world obsessed with ‘the celebrity’, the best person you can be, is yourself

  • ·         Live honestly. Sincerely. You need no more
  • ·         Give thanks. Give voice to your thankfulness
  • ·         Express your joy
  • ·         Forgive. Forgiveness starts with forgiving yourself
  • ·         Don’t be afraid of change. Often, it’s for the better

And now you can all make your toasted cheese sandwiches and promise me you'll never mention this post. Ever.

 I mean it. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cos One Size Fits All

No one tells you when you have kids, that each time one of them is delivered from your womb, they take with them, a piece of your heart. That doctors deliver into yours arms a squalling piece of your soul that you will forever be connected to by an invisible umbilicus. That their pain will always be yours. Their sorrow will drive sleep away from your own eyes. Their challenges will make your gut clench in anticipation. That their joy will make your heart sing even louder than your own joy ever does.

Five times I gave up pieces of my heart. I have, walking around me, running, screaming, fighting, laughing, crying, smiling, five pieces of my once splintered heart - walking around me each day. Apart from me, yet of me. Five pieces that helped make me whole again.

I've tried, harder than one would imagine, not to pin hopes on them for myself. My hopes, I reasoned, should be for them and them alone. Their happiness. Their joy. Their success. It is for this reason that I have never pushed any of them unduly. Never pressured them. Never lived through them. I've had my chance. They should have theirs. On THEIR terms. Not mine.

But the truth is that they will have to navigate this world and it won’t always be on their own terms. They will be bound by society. A society that is sometimes harsh. Unforgiving. Myopic. Incapable of the unconditional love that I have poured on them - often, with great pain to myself - because I know this is the rain that will ensure that they thrive.

That the world will shove them into boxes. Label them. Diminish them. That sometimes that gradual erosion of their being will begin the day they enter school. This was how I saw it with my eldest.  My son of the short temper and merciful heart. My son who attended one school all his life, where he’d earned a reputation for being ‘disruptive’ and inattentive. A layabout, basically, who was wasting the school’s time. While they never said so in as many words, this was certainly the impression I had from parent’s meetings year after year.

Why didn't I move him, you ask? Because I believe, on some level, that kids need to learn that life isn't always fair. That people will sometimes judge you. And be wrong in their judgement. That YOU are the one who must make the changes. Adapt your attitude in order to deal with the environment. I was under no illusions. Knew full well that all schools had their issues.Moving him wouldn't have fixed much.

But as the years slipped by, he slipped too. Into anger.  And hate. I had failed him. In the end, I went with my gut and took him for the assessment that I had wanted to do in Grade One, but was talked out of by his teacher. He was an ‘Indigo Child’, she’d said. To this day, I haven’t the foggiest idea what an Indigo Child is. I cannot possibly imagine that she was referring to the Wiki explanation of Indigo Children.

As I’d suspected, he had ADD. He had fallen behind in the key learning areas and the school had never once brought this to my attention. Armed with a psychologist’s report, I spent the next SIX months trying to set up a meeting with the school. When I finally got the meeting I’d asked for, it was the last day of school.

I had failed. I had failed him. I had failed his brother too who had spent all his time at the school in the shadow of his brother’s infamy. Who had been judged, compared and castigated for what his elder brother was.

In the end, I enrolled my eldest in an FET College. He’s happier now. Maths is still a problem though. I removed my two others and enrolled them in a home schooling center. The change I saw in all three kids was immediate. Last year, for the first time ever, I felt as though I’d done something right.

I still have 2 kids at 'that' school. A necessary evil to be suffered until my two smallest ones are old enough to attend the Homeschool. I don’t get involved in any disputes and encourage them to get on with it. A means to an end.

Yet, at the end of last year, the school brought out a poorly penned newsletter where they sang their own praises ad nauseam. That would have been quite okay had they not seen fit to run a piece on the dangers of homeschools. Never had I seen a more gross generalisation, a more unfair, imbalanced bit of alarmist drivel. I was upset by this needless bit of baiting but let it slide. Sour grapes does strange things to people.

Then this evening I had to speak to the tutor that I’d had to find my son to ready him for a supplementary math exam at college. Little did I know he was of the school governing body. I had to suffer being told about how excellent the school is. How he didn't feel my son had what was needed to pass that math. How he’d still do me a favour. And if I wasn't happy with him saying that I’d have to lump it. All this because my husband had made an ill-advised joke about ‘his school’.

I’m angry.

At my husband for his joke that cost me my dignity.

At this ‘man’ whose need for one upmanship had reduced him to a barely human ‘thing’ in my eyes.

At myself for not getting my son help for his ADD sooner.

At life for pushing us into moulds that God had never meant for us to fit.  

At the system.

But even then, a luta continua...

Friday, December 20, 2013


I squeeze some oil into my cupped palm and massage it into her hair. It trails, still. Reaches well past her waist. But it has thinned. Her smattering of newly minted silver hair catches the light alongside the auburn streaks that were always a thing of pride for her. I plait it then twist it into a bun. She reminds me to use her hairpins. Her glossy tresses had always resisted these. I can still remember her, home from school, pins slipping out as her hair decided it had had enough of the imprisonment.

“Nani, my mummy is your mummy now,” he says, mischief making his eyes bright little buttons. She is confused.

“See, Nani used to oil and plait my hair when I was small,” I say to him. “Now it’s my turn to do it for her.”

He laughs.  

I am taken back to the days when she’d insist on two plaits for me. Despair of the kink in my hair that marked me as closer to my father’s family than her own.  She still doesn’t like seeing my hair untied. Yesterday she tried to brush it for me post shower when it took on a chaotic life of its own. The memory makes me smile.

The amity between us has shallow breaths and jerks often in its slumber. It makes me uneasy. I’m used to a near ambivalence and this tenderness that has swallowed me scares me. Like the age spots on her forearms scare me. Like her lapses in memory scare me.

They terrify her. I know this. I see this.

And then something miraculous happens. Someone gets out paper. And pencils. Crayons and pencil colours. And she is a teacher again. Teaching them how to form letters like teachers did back in her day.  Creating worksheets for them. Drawing a star that leaves the children awestruck, freehand. They take out books. He draws a forest in his childish hand. The spider has no less than twenty legs. There is a flying squirrel and a rat that looks strangely like Remy a la Ratatouille.

She says the kids in her class don’t understand why he calls her Nani. That she had to explain to them that she is his granny. I smile.  We've all forgotten how earlier in the day she didn't remember where she was. Didn't remember whose kids these were because I wasn't with them.

And for today I’m thankful for forgetfulness…

For it is forgetfulness that convinces her that she is tall, still. Convinces her that she has to get home because school still waits for her. Convinces her that I've always loved her.


Friday, December 06, 2013

Ode to a Nation

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” 

For far too long, as a nation, we've watched our father, Nelson Mandela cling to life, even when there was so little life left to cling to. I remember being shocked by how disoriented and shrunken he looked during the 2010 World Cup. But he’s had a full, rich life, I reasoned. His service to our nation, remarkable. 

Yet, he clung to life for another three years because, as a nation, we would not let him go. We needed him still because he had become, over these last 20 year, an embodiment of the force that keeps us moving forward, however haltingly. He had come to represent our Hope.

Without it we feared we would not withstand the protracted, agonising birth of a vibrant democracy.  He was a symbol of the triumph of the will of the people over oppression and indignity. A symbol of courage. A symbol of the power of forgiveness. A symbol of the resilience of the human spirit and a reminder that the desire to succeed should always be matched by a determination to stand up again, each time life brings you to your knees. However deeply divided we may be as a nation, on one matter, we remained united. The day this rich African earth, with its rolling hills and much too wide sky welcomed Nelson Mandela to its breast, was the day we as a nation were blessed.

His passing will see many voices raised in lament, and as many raised in celebration his life. It will see a near beatification of the man. The adoring voices will finally dull enough for us to hear the murmurs of dissent. The voices that decry. That avow his role in our continued suffering. That is the point that you and I, who value his contribution and understand just how much he has made possible for each of us need to remember, that while Nelson Mandela was at the helm, he had with him, an able crew. South Africa’s slaying the Monster of Apartheid was not a one man show. His achievement could never have been possible without the contribution of millions of South Africans.

As a nation, WE made it happen.

"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.  I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended."

His death comes at a crucial time in our history. We’re an angry nation. Disillusioned. Divided.  Nkandla continues to sour our mouths. State coffers continue to be plundered while millions still live in near inhumane conditions. Many of us view our unstatesmanly President as little more than a moron. Elections loom, like a bank of angry clouds on the horizon. We’re plagued by uncertainty and more and more, we have the sense that South Africa is roiling. One small catalyst away from a massive implosion.

It is moments like these, that throughout history, have birthed leaders. True leaders. Sons and daughters of South Africa, step up. The shoes you have to fill are massive, but as Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done."

Hamba Kahle, Tata Madiba. A Nation mourns, but we shall celebrate your legacy by fighting the good fight. For you. For ourselves. And for the generations to come. Your courage lives on in each son and daughter of South Africa.

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


We parry words, with words
You and I
You say I rationalise
A crutch that slows me
Indulgent much
The sin that gores me

I call you harsh
Say I liked you more
Back when you were all want
And little more

You fill the cracks in your being
With the polyfilla of perfection
I let mine bleed
Pores, I seep from them
The sweat that is me
Until I am little more
Than a pool
Tears at your feet
Hormonal, you say

I watch you melt into a sheet
Snow drifts that cover
Your want
Your need
Deny the scar on the inside of your wrist
You bled too
I saw it
The snow is stained
A drop
It blooms
A rose
You press it to your lips
Peel a petal, I whisper
You hear me in your dream
Finger gored
You never saw the thorn
To match my own

Reconciliation for sale...30k a pop

I was very unsure about this month's column for The Review. Felt it abrasive at a time when we need a gentler hand. Or do we...?

I was all of 14 when then President FW de Klerk held his whites only referendum in ’92. “Do you support the continuation of the reform process that the state president started on 2 February 1990 and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiation?”  This was the question White South Africa had to answer. Carefully worded so as not to cause alarm. Pussy footing around the ugliness that was White Domination, carefully wrapped in the hideousness of apartheid.  

4.2 million People deciding the fates of 36.9 million others.

 It was a calculated risk taken by de Klerk at a time when his party had been suffering losses to the Conservative Party in by-elections, sparking fears that the CP could well win a general election.  The CP preyed on fear, threatening White South Africa with a black rule that would rob them of all their (ill gotten?) gains. Communism that would leave them impoverished.

Sounds a little like Ramaphosa’s “If you don’t vote, the boers will come back to control us,” statement, doesn't it? Hoping to prolong the lifespan of a defunct government by preying on fear and dredging up painful memories.  Except, in the ANC’s case, people have nothing to lose by changing allegiance. They were poor in 1994. They are poor now. Ramaphosa has since apologised to hysterical White South Africa, but of course, words, especially those immortalised in print, can never be taken back.

Let us not fool ourselves. There was nothing altruistic about the (not quite) resounding “Yes” vote that saw power change hands in South Africa, relatively peacefully. For many white South Africans it was not a decision made on the basis of the moral rectitude of it all. That the strongest advocates for a “Yes” vote came in the form of companies like Anglo-American, Barlow Rand, BP, Caltex, First National Bank, Murray & Roberts, Shell, and Standard Bank proves that White South Africa thought with their wallets. Looked at their empires and thought, “Ja nee, I’m not giving that to some darkie.”

Maybe I’m being unkind in this assessment, but that the upper echelons of corporate South Africa continues to be dominated by white males, and their Ja Baas’ing black compatriots, ah well..

This is the picture of our democracy that disgruntled ex ANC cadre Julius Malema has latched onto when he along with hard core, disillusioned Africanists gave birth to the EFF. This is the moment of our history he keeps in mind, the moment when 31% of that 4.2 million actually voted to keep Apartheid in place. 875,619 closet racists who occasionally show their true colours during Red October or on talk shows each time our black government (that they didn't want in the first place) does anything stupid. Which is often.   

And this is what convinces Malema that he is right when he makes inflammatory statements like:
“You are suffering from a generational curse, because of the people who came before you. To get rid of the curse you must give back the land. You are in possession of stolen property,”  - conveniently ignoring the fact that, unless he and his forbears are San, even he is an immigrant to what is now  considered South Africa. Ignoring the logistical nightmare that determining just whose gains are ‘stolen’ would entail.  He is optimistic though, if he thinks shoving populist rhetoric bereft of any concrete ‘PLAN’ in our faces will be enough to take him to Nkandla. That will become the Presidential residence for all future presidents, right?

Analysts are divided with regard to what impact the EFF is expected to make at the polls. But that they exist reminds us of the fact that in spite of the piecemeal efforts by the TRC, we are a country, largely unreconciled. The facts are immutable. Far too many South Africans are still hungry, the majority of them, black. And the R30 000 reparation that was paid to some of those whose lives were poisoned by apartheid has done nothing to erase the memory, mostly because it hasn't fed anyone.

Between whites insisting that we forget and men like those at the helm of the EFF demanding that we never do, the reality is still that 41.4% of South Africans live below the poverty line and South Africa, is today, more unequal than it was 20 years ago.

The only power people actually do have is a vote. One that they may choose to wield. Depending of course, on just how disillusioned they are by then. Vive la Démocratie. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”
― Rabindranath Tagore

All my sapling life, the message of how blessed I am to have been born Muslim was drummed into me. Islam was presented as The End All. 
The Final Message. 
The Key to Paradise. 
The Only Key.

When I was younger I didn’t think too much of the implications of this dogma. 

I do, however, recall grappling with ‘Islam’. I attended maktab and everything the Ustaad insisted was Haraam, was simply part of my daily life at home. There was a TV (gasp!); music (double gasp!); my hair was cut really short until the age of 9 and (astagfirullah!) I wore shorts when I swam. With a swimming costume, nogal.

Over time, I became an expert at living a double life. Wearing my ‘Muslim clothes’ to madrassah and being (what I was led to believe) a perfect heathen at home. I was the interloper among the ‘Proper Muslims’, ill at ease in a madrassah class.  The chasm between ‘Deen’ and ‘Dunya’ was impassable.  I was of The Dunya. To them belonged The Deen.

And then, at 16, I elected to go to daarul uloom  - much to the annoyance of my parents. Immersed myself so completely into ‘Deen’ that I became ‘them’. My little monochrome ocean was home. It was where I was most at ease. Handing down judgement on all and sundry, making dua for every wonderful ‘Kaafir’ I met, that they embrace Islam. I even adopted Jamaat work.

All these steps were merely resting places along the way, I now realise. Ghandi, (the racist Indian) once said, “Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.”

Over these last 20 years, I’ve been growing, changing. Systems that I once believed were just and true, now rankle. But through it all, one thing has remained. A Faith. A simple understanding that even when I am distracted, turn my face away, Allah doesn’t.

For the longest time – much of that time in Daarul Uloom – I tortured myself with how unworthy I was of his love. But If he tells us that All of the Creation is his family, surely, I was not excluded?

In my hedonistic struggle for perfection, I failed to realise that To him belongs perfection alone. I am meant to struggle. To stumble. To fall. Sometimes, to fail. And while I judged myself harshly, in turn, I judged those around me just as unkindly. Who knows whether by my ignorance, I turned someone away from his door? Allah forgive me, my arrogance.

Recently I’ve met several born Muslims who have, in their quest for truth, chosen a path other than Surrender. I spoke to an online acquaintance who told of how many youth she'd encountered who have found themselves tested to the point of abandoning faith.While I respect their right to seek the path that makes them most comfortable, I’d be lying if I said that that did not make me sad.

 As a weak, sinful being full of failings, I know how deep a well of solace his presence in my life has always been. As someone who remains resolutely in love with humanity, I cannot help but wish that for my fellow beings. All these wonderful people whose ruh, whose soul, is a piece of Divine light blown into them by a Benevolent Rabb.

I’ve met people angry at Him. And this has made me take a step back and ask myself whether I, on some level share their sentiments.

Is He really a vengeful God, sitting in ambush. Eager to punish?

 I was then reminded of the Hadith Qudsi where he tells us:

   أنا عند ظن عبدي  بي

I am to my servant as he thinks of me

How profound a celebration this statement is of man's will. 

Faith is a choice. The kind of faith we end up with is a choice too. 

A faith borne of love, this is what I want to teach my children. There is far too much fear in the world as is.

The Simple Path
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace

― Mother Teresa