Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Different it would be If the Blood was Mine

 Image from Al Jazeera America. Read the complete article here

This morning I received a broadcast. It spoke of an orphaned Palestinian child, who when offered a life with a South African family, opted to remain in Palestine. “To protect Masjidul Aqsa.”

The broadcast ended with the usual exclamations of subhanallah (glory be to Allah). An assertion that the Palestinians are ‘chosen’ for this ‘honour’ and a prayer for them and their victory. I felt my light sehri meal rise to my throat when I read this.

 I then found myself thinking of the time the Al Quds foundation sent people to our schools to create an awareness of the ongoing struggle in Palestine. Of how our kids chanted after them, “Bir rooh, bid dam, nafdeeka ya Aqsa.”

I thought of that convoy to Gaza that visited town after town some Ramadhaans back, of how the brothers undertaking this ‘epic’ journey were hailed as martyrs and treated like heroes. Entertained in style in every town they visited. How they raised a staggering amount of money. How a comprehensive accounting of this money was never given and of how there was talk of some of it being used to fund the liberation movements.

Offset that against the heart-breaking images spilling out of Palestine this last week, the words, the brouhaha becomes hollow. Cheap.

The blood we promise to sacrifice in order to liberate Al Aqsa (and by extension, Palestine) is not ours. Is not our children’s. Sitting here, on the Southernmost tip of Africa, snug in our homes, our greatest foe, the biting cold, and domestic workers who steal from us, it’s easy to send out a stream of unverified broadcasts and silly emotional platitudes.  We are not the people giving birth to children, all the while wondering whether they will be killed by a missile or an IDF bullet to the head, before the age of 18. Our 11 year old sons are not dragged, weeping to Israeli prisons, for the crime of throwing stones. Nor are any of them tied to military vehicles to prevent their friends from throwing stones. Nor are they fed gasoline and set alight by right wing Israelis in revenge attacks.

A Palestinian teenager is tied to an Israeli military vehicle to stop his friends throwing stones. (File photo -

I will always view war, foremost as a human being. I will always view the death of a child as a mother. I will always die a little inside when Islamic media writes jubilant articles on HOW MANY rockets Hamas rained on Israel (resulting in no fatalities and possibly, 2 injuries), while 39 Palestinians die in a space of 24 hours.

I cannot imagine that this is the life Palestinians would choose, had they been given a choice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How journeys across the world become journeys into oneself

Shadows. 1000 Cups, Buganda Road

It is the penultimate day of my stay in Kampala. It rains. A slanted shower that makes walls weep. Thunder rumbles and I find myself wondering who stole the lightening. The city is smudged, but is pulses, still. People worship, I hear their prayer. The guesthouse sleeps. I sit very quietly, close my eyes and listen. A year from now, Kampala will be blurred memory and I don’t want this to happen. I don’t want it to be time-smudged.

Evergreen stabbing sky.
From the guesthouse balcony

 I want it to be whole because this is where I learnt to be a Saaleha. I want to remember what it felt like to be, a Saaleha, just, a Saaleha. Not Imraan’s wife or Moosa, Ismaeel, Maseeha, Zainab or Hamza’s mother. I want to remember what it felt like to be another African in a sprawling African city; what it felt like to be a writer and meet other writers.

 I want to remember that not all writers are jaded narcissists and that maybe, just maybe, not all Nigerians hustle. I want to remember that. Especially that. Because it becomes so easy sometimes to put people into boxes inside our heads. They’re easier to carry that way. 

I want to remember that I have stories to tell. That I should tell those stories because I will have added something to the world in doing so.

I want to remember, while I make long lines of school lunches, or wrap sponge cakes in fondant, that somewhere in East Africa, there is a needle of a man who believes that too. Who believed it enough to bring me halfway across Africa, so he could tell me so. My knight in shiny shoes, who saved me from losing my cell phone to a thief with bone white eyes.

From left: NoViolet Bulawayo; Jennifer Makumbi; Nii Parkes, Zukiswa Wanner


It is my first day back home. Yesterday, at the airport, I was greeted by loving arms and sincere joy. We bought Nando’s for the kids and I came home to tea that wasn't gingery. My shower was a previously ignored joy, rediscovered, as was my bed.

 In some ways it feels like I never left, while in others, like I've been gone a long, long time. The stove is new and foreign because Imraan thought it would be a special surprise for me to return to. He was right.

They want to take me out for supper tonight because Ramadhaan is starting soon and we’ll all be housebound for its entire duration.  They suggest sushi. I find, it doesn't really matter.

I've been catching up on admin, while nursing the novel ideas that swirl around in my head, a mist.

Everything feels so strange though. But I think that is because I see it all now through new eyes. The me that returned is a different woman from the one who left South Africa a week ago. Maybe the world doesn't change, really. Our eyes do.  


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On being Listed

It was on a narrow stretch of road, some time in January, somewhere between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, that my phone connected to Wifi out of nowhere and vibrated. I was surprised, having grown accustomed to a silent phone over the last two weeks. It was an email. It started with the word: Congratulations. As a serial non winner of competitions, I was amazed.

I needed to present myself in Cape Town for a one Day workshop that would be conducted by Whitbread Shortlisted Writer, Rachel Zadok (of course, at the time I didn’t know this), since my ‘application to the Writivism 2014 Creative Writing Workshop had been accepted.’

The application had been carelessly sent. Something done on a whim, without too much thought given, to which bits of myself I would bare to the organisers. It was simply, a story taken from my blog, pasted in the body of an email, with a short introduction to myself. I knew that had I agonised over what to send, I’d have gotten cold feet and just forgotten all about Writivism.

Cape Town turned out to be nothing short of enchanted, the only blight on an otherwise idyllic weekend being The Workshop. I sucked at it. Really sucked.  I wasn’t  made for these exercises. I couldn’t write with an audience. I especially couldn’t share my icky first draft (written in pen, as opposed to on my computer) with a roomful of polite strangers, all trying to find something good to say, in the hope that I’d return the favour when their turn came. Had it not been for my doppelganger, Saaleha who’d also been successful with her application, I’d have died a zillion deaths by the end of that day, as opposed to just a dozen.

But, it was when I got home, that the real work began. I was introduced to my mentor, Nigerian poet (doctor too), Dami Ajayi. He was a prickly man. I was suitably intimidated. I penned my flash fiction piece which you can read here.

This was the easy part - though, wondering how people would react to this piece was less easy.

That behind me, my next task was to write a short story.

Anyone who knows me, knows that short stories have always been ‘my thing’. I wrote them (rather poorly) in one sitting, often without too much thought. But with Dami, I learnt how to count my words. How to tighten my prose. He was a harsh critic and for that I am thankful.  

Once my story had been submitted, I got on with baking and caking. The memory of the talented writers I’d met during the workshop was still very fresh. Writers who, unlike me, didn’t collapse at the sight of an audience. Writers who could turn clever little phrases, and write glowing prose under pressure. So, when another email, beginning with the word ‘congratulations’ landed in my inbox, I was stunned! Really pleased, but completely stunned. Delighted too, that my doppelganger had made the longlist along with me. The 14 longlisted stories will be published in an anthology, Fire in the Night, and launched on Friday , 20 June at the Writivism Festival in Kampala. This was more than I could ever have hoped for.

 I could now throw myself into the task of preparing for Ramadhaan, knowing that with all its soul sapping fracas, 2014 had finally redeemed itself. So, when another mail arrived on the 27th May, beginning with the word (you guessed it!) ‘Congratulations!’ I was shocked into silence. (Yes, incredible, I know.)

I had made the shortlist. One of five writers. I’d be attending The Writivism Festival in Kampala and thankfully, so would my doppelganger. (Can you imagine how terrifying this would be if I was doing it alone?!)

I don’t think the enormity of what has happened has sunk in. The last few weeks have been a blur of chicken fillets, kids’ homework, and worrying about how my mum will deal with my absence.

This week will be crazier yet, since I leave on Sunday.
There is a week’s worth of meals to prepare, along with shopping to be done and kids to assist with studying for exams.
There is anxiety to face and a dream to embrace.
There is disappointment to swallow too. It’s not only hard times that reveal our friends, see. Our successes expose them too.
There is insecurity to brave. I CAN write.
There is a meeting with an agent to prepare for. I MUST write.

Thank you. I wrote, all these years, and you read.  And that always gave me one more reason to write even when there were a hundred others not to.

Most importantly, Alhamdulillah. All praises are His alone. Writing is sometimes, an act of faith.

Say a prayer for me :)

p.s. See the name of the editor on the cover? It was the most bizarre quirk of fate that saw my dear friend, Sumayya, edit my final copy.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Vote for Accountibility

The IEC has released Voter Registration Statistics as at 6 May 2014. I found these figures rather interesting.  In particular that the biggest number of registered voters are between the ages 20 to 39. I fall somewhere in the middle of that age group.

It’s also a telling statistic. Between the ages of 20 – 39, we’re young enough to have some degree of faith in ‘Democracy’, and we still care.

That numbers dwindle as people age, to me it implies a loss of faith in the system. A why-should-we-vote-since-nothing-ever-changes attitude. Which, as I near forty, I begin to understand better.  I have registered though. I have every intention of voting. But I still haven’t settled on who I’ll be voting for.

The only thing I am certain of is that I won’t be voting ANC. I’m not going to even bother listing the bigger issues that motivate this decision. Alex Eliseev  has articulated much of what bothers me in his piece that appeared in the Daily Maverick

What I am going to try to do, is address the Muslim myopia that saw these pamphlets stuck to car windscreens, this Jumu’ah past.

To the statement by our Imaam, that threatened, that if we vote for the wrong party and they ‘do wrong’ we are answerable for the wrong they commit. While I know he was hinting at the DA and targeting the pressure point that ANC members single out, when they tell us that the DA is pro Israel, if we applied this logic universally, this would mean that SA Muslims who voted for the ANC in ’94 and continue to do so even now, are in part responsible for the Same-sex Marriages being legalised, for myriad other laws that fly in the face of Islam.

In a secular democracy where protection of the rights of minorities is enshrined in our constitution, (yes, this includes gay marriages), that argument becomes nonsensical.

The truth is, whichever party we throw our lot in with, we will be obliged to accept the freedoms being accorded all citizens without fear or favour. There will be laws that are pushed through, IN OUR NAME that contradict our faith. There will be shady donors whose names we’ll never know. There will always be a conflict of interest. It’s high time we grew up and accepted this.

Another thing that gets under my skin, is when politicians (I use that as a dirty word), quote the Quraan to justify voting for the ANC.

It is easy to select verses of the Quraan out of context, to validate all manner of idiocy. We see it time and again, when atrocities are committed in the name of Islam. It is this mentality that has contributed in part to the negative image of our deen that is portrayed by the media. I won’t repay their duplicitousness in equal coin, but I will say this much, as Muslims, we are duty bound to speak out against oppression wherever we see it.

It is unconscionable that One Man could spend well over 240 million on his personal residence when millions of South Africans live without access to basic services and are denied human dignity. No amount of pro ANC rhetoric can whitewash this. No amount of President Zuma saying that only ‘very clever and bright people’ care about the security upgrades at his Nkandla home and that ordinary South Africans are not concerned with the issue,' is going to convince me to embrace stupidity.

Also, just so we’re clear, the freedoms we enjoy in South Africa aren't the fruits of the ANC’s labours alone. South Africans from all walks of life worked WITH the ANC to defeat apartheid.

The ANC of 20 years ago was a very different animal from the one we see today.  This one has been fattened off ill-gotten gains. Rewards corruption. It is a greedy beast and we all know that nothing satisfies man’s greed except the sand of the grave.

So, who do I vote for? I still don’t know. But mine will be a Vote for accountability, as much as it is a vote against the ANC.

Scrutinise the party you've been considering. Are there criminals on their lists? Are their leaders under investigation?

Islamically, leaders were chosen from among the best. Is the candidate you’re endorsing The Best?

People don’t need much to be happy.  But happiness cannot flourish where injustice is the order of the day.
The ANC NEEDS to be shaken. Even the justice loving of their friends think so.

Some reading material, in case you need help arriving at a decision.

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...