Thursday, July 21, 2016

On Being a Woman

Yesterday, I was searching for diamante cake toppers online and I happened across a website dedicated to creating that Dream Wedding. I looked at the care, attention to detail, meticulous planning that goes into a wedding and was transported to my own, some 21 years ago – planned in under 4 months, I think. Wondered, whether, given a chance, I’d do it over again? 

Whether I’d opt for a proper gown as opposed to the simple organza and satin goodie I chose; whether I’d want a proper reception in a hall instead of the small Sunday afternoon meal that was served on my parents’ smallholding outside of Rustenburg - men seated in what later became my father’s workshop (or was it already functioning as a workshop at the time? I forget) – women in the garage and kitchen?

Whether I’d want proper flower arrangements for the tables instead of the (I hated them) dried ones my mum’s neighbour, Ma LeRoux, the potter put together. Whether I’d want to choose the colours for myself (to this day, I despise purple/lilac and yellow in one place). Would I want the Dream First Night in some romantic setting instead of a very uncomfortable night spent in the car, waiting for the housefolk to wake up and give us our keys because by the time we returned from my in laws in Benoni, everyone was sound asleep? Would I want the honeymoon (yes, please! – especially considering, a year later almost to the day, my son was born)? Mostly, would I want to have been older?

And then I think, what’s the point, really, to answering any of these questions since we never get to do over The First Time? You only Ever Get ONE First Time. And when you do, you pray really hard that it will be the Only Time. You laugh about the screw ups. The ways it wasn’t quite right. But you’re thankful, that hey, until now, it’s been your Only Time. How many do you know who weren’t quite that lucky? And are any of them happier? Yeah. You thought not.

You do wish, though, that you were wiser. I know, I do. Wish that I had had a better grasp of Me. Had understood Me better so that I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be utterly subsumed by my identity as wife and mother. So that I wouldn’t have forgotten myself so completely that it would be some 14 years before I began, step, by painful step, to walk in my own skin again. Only to discover that the skin no longer fit (sur-fucking-prise!).

So I tried on another (several sizes larger – don’t judge me), a smarter skin more willing to accept the bits of my being that I’d shorn away in all the years of forcing my  rapidly expanding ass into an uncomfortable mould. A skin more willing to accept that my opinions do need to be tempered to make allowances for the male ego. That my dreams need to be downsized to accommodate my children. That my strength is only laudable in arenas where it poses no challenge to the strength of my man. And I’ve since owned that skin. Made it mine.

Never mind that somewhere, deep inside, I can sometimes feel the Me I once was whispering. Reminding me of the promises I made myself. What are those promises in the face of 5 lives, each more important than my own? That’s what defines mothering isn’t it? A near cataclysmic altuism? Sometimes. There are times when the skin tears though. And I see my loved-ones scatter in panic. What now? How are they to navigate the clefts in my being that had been thoroughly daubed over by mothering and wife-ing ad infinitum?

And in those moments, I catch a glimpse of the bud I once was. A dried, papery thing that crumbles at the smallest touch. And I smile. Because I am no longer that sapling thing. No longer that insubstantial bud waiting for just the right sunlight to coax me into flowering. I am a tree. Roots firm and strong. I have walked beneath the shadow of death more times than I care to say. Brought life into this world. Lost babies. Been strong when men have fallen.

And yes, I will fit into your boxes when I need to. I will say the words each of you needs to hear me say. I will be respectable. I will sometimes be adequate. But that does not mean that I doubt my strength. Or have forgotten my worth. My worth is not confined to the value you attach to my being.  

Note - I don't quite know where this came from. Who it is directed at. If it's directed at anyone at all. Maybe it's for those men who want to tell women.
Tell women.
Tell women.
Even when women,
many of them,
already know. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ramadhaan Ramblings

I’m trying to write and I can’t. Possibly because I’m trying too hard to pin to paper, what for me, are moments that I can imagine crystallising over time into gems. Memory Gems that I will draw from a dusty mind and mull over in wonderment when time has passed me by and all I’m left with is waiting for it to return to carry me away to the next leg of our soul’s journey.

In the years that have passed, in spite of the pain that bearing these five gifts brought me, there have been so many beautiful moments, not all of which I am able to even remember. But I can feel them. Those shiny times. And they warm me even now. Somehow, though, this Ramadhaan, the me that I am now, feels best placed to truly appreciate their magnitude.

Seeing my men and boy lined up in my bedroom while they perform Fajr Salaah in Jama’ah, four backs facing me, straight and tall, my littlest somewhere among them, not so little at 9 anymore. Listening to my Isma’eel lead the salaah in his melodic voice and asking Allah to help him return to Hifdhul Quraan. My eldest, a grown man, taller than his father now, when it sometimes feels like it was just yesterday that he crawled, then toddled. And then ran. All red cheeked and golden haired. Looking at these three growing men and knowing that they have each taken from their father and me, and hoping that each of them be better than either of us ever were. A better version of both of us.
Sharing tales of the challenges of Indian womanhood with my two girls while the men are away for Taraweeh, They're both just about women now too. Smiling as I listen to them sing while they set the table for suhoor. Maseeha, wonderfully off-key and Zainab, like a songbird.

Sitting around the suhoor table and taking in their banter even at 5 am. The teasing, laughter and even occasional angry outburst.

I am hopeful that my husband and I are giving them what money will never buy. A trove of memories that they will never feel the need to recover from. A sure knowledge that each of them, they belong. That each of them is special and wonderful and I am blessed beyond measure to have been given the chance to facilitate their journey into adulthood.

It seems impossible that a year ago my home was a place of sadness. Of sorrow and worry for my mother, fresh out of hospital, a suppurating wound cleaving her abdomen in half and me feeling woefully unequal to the task of restoring her broken body to her faded mind. Yet here I am now, smiling. Able to give thanks for what really is a wonderful life. Because mostly, it’s happy. And even when it isn’t, I cope.

It isn’t perfect, mind you. But I’ve learnt, in time, that perfection isn’t requisite for happiness. Because Happiness is a choice. And only a grateful heart is capable of making that choice. May we all be blessed with grateful hearts. And happy hearths.

Ramadhaan Kareem to my Muslim readers. Remember me in your duas, as you are in mine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Yes, I know, I haven't blogged in AGES! but things have been manic. And that's putting it mildly. In the midst of all this craziness, I do find myself conflicted about one thing though. ANd that's my decision to give up writing.

So that creates a bit of a conundrum. What becomes of the near-complete novel manuscript?

I figured, if nothing else, it could at least find an audience here. So I give you the first bit of the first chapter of Home Scar.

Home Scar

By S E Bhamjee

For me
because I can

The Dragon

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town
Upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown
Rapping at the windows
Crying through the locks
Are the children in their beds?
It’s past eight o’ clock

I don’t know why Mummy likes teaching me that nursery rhyme.

You have to know your nursery rhymes before you go to school, Asma. I don’t want anyone thinking Madam Patel raised a domkop.

 Or even why she likes telling me about him when she wants me to go to sleep.

Come now. Early to bed. Early to rise. Makes Johnny healthy, wealthy and wise. And you don’t want Wee Willie Winkie to catch you awake past eight. She wags her finger at me.

Just so you know, my name isn’t even Johnny. 

But I don’t like him, this Wee Willie Winkie man. He’s scary. When I’m lying in my bed, alone, in the dark, listening to Mummy and Daddy trying not to fight too loud, I know Wee Willie Winkie is just outside, standing there with his red eyes, peeping in my window. Sometimes I even see a little red glow from his eyes squeeze through the gap between the curtains. Then I feel like I need to pee even though I just went to toilet before getting into bed. I squeeze my legs together and pull the blanket over my head. And then I peep. I peep out from under it. Peep at my room door, left just a little bit open because I won’t let Mummy close it completely, open enough so a slice of light can crack the darkness, and I wish I could just forget about Wee Willie Winkie. Because he reminds me of other scary things. Like Sara.

Sara’s eyes are just like Wee Willie Winkie’s. They shine like hot red coals in her dark face. I think they’re actually black. Black like all bad things.  Black like the night where Wee Willie Winkie and other scary things like the Jinns live. And just like Wee Willie Winkie, Sara scares me.

Mummy, how come Sara’s eyes are so black? We’re having breakfast. Daddy is still asleep. Mummy is getting ready to go to school.

Asma, how can you say Sara’s eyes are black? Didn’t I teach you your colours? Sara’s eyes are brown. Like chocolate. Remind me to go over your colours with you when I come home. No child of mine is going to school half baked.

Mummy says such funny things. How do you bake a person, I wonder? And do people smell lekker when they bake? Like biscuits and cupcakes? I’m about to ask Mummy this question and then she’s gone. Mummy is always gone. Sometimes she’s gone even when she’s here.

I know I can’t ever tell Mummy this, but I like Daddy more. He hugs. Sometimes he tickles me. And sometimes he still throws me in the air and catches me just in time like he used to when I was smaller. Then he groans about how his back is so sore now because I’m growing up and getting so heavy. I know he’s acting. Daddy is a good actor. 

My stomach feels like there’s ants in it when I see Daddy get ready to go to work. I don’t want him to go. When I smell his aftershave, my stomach starts to pain. I know that when he goes, I’ll be alone at home with Sara.

I don’t like being alone at home with Sara. Mostly, she’s okay. She lets me help her wash dishes. Sometimes I wash vadoeks with her too.

Eye, mara your mother. I don’t know which stupid told her that a old vadoek must be white.

Sara, she complains a lot. She complains about the house.

Hawubo! Mara why must three people live in such a makhulu house, eh?

She complains about the bathrooms.

Two bathrooms? Makula, they like to mosha. For what must so small family have two bathrooms?

Sara is silly. Doesn’t she know that one bathroom is for Mummy and Daddy and one is for me? Mummies and Daddies must mos share a bathroom. They also share a bed. And a bedroom. And I don’t know why Sara complains about the vadoeks. Washing them is fun.

There’s so, so many soapy bubbles. I try to count them sometimes but then I get to a hundred and I must start again. Some of the bubbles have rainbows inside. I try to catch the rainbows but the bubbles always pop in my hands. Sometimes I blow the bubble cloud in the basin and one floats away. And then I climb in the bubble and float off in it. Up, up. Up. Out of the kitchen door. Over the peach trees. Over the houses. High over the mountains. 

Haikhona! Sara shouts. u Ya mosha. U ya ganga, wena.

 I don’t know what that means but when Sara says that, I hold my breath. I hope she won’t decide to punish me. I don’t like it when Sara punishes me.

I don’t know what to think sometimes. Daddy says I’m the best girl ever. Mummy likes me sometimes. And sometimes she doesn’t because I don’t know all my colours or because I forget that after 36 comes…er… 37. And Sara? Well, Sara lets me play with bubbles, but sometimes when her eyes get red she punishes me. Sara says the Polices will come if I tell anyone about her punishment. And when she says that, all I can think about is floating away in a big shiny bubble.

At least then the dreams will stop. Mummy calls them nightmares. When I wake up screaming, she always rushes into my room. Sometimes her hair is all upside down and she’s wearing mixed up slippers. One of hers and one of Daddy’s. Then she sits next to me and pats me back to sleep. I like how that feels.

She reads for me. She says my Kalimas and duas will keep the nightmares away. They work. Most days. But maybe what really works is feeling Mummy touch me. Mummy and Daddy’s touch doesn’t make me feel dirty like Sara’s does.

Monday, February 15, 2016

I used to get angry

I used to get angry at men who lock women up in their wallets and swallow the key. At men who slice women, splinter them into teeny fragments. With their words. Or deeds. Or fists. I used to get angry at men who make themselves men by standing on the shoulders of cowering women.

I used to get angry at women who make these wallets comfortable. Fit them out with the latest technology and fill the wallet closets with designer shoes just so they can’t feel the hole where their souls once were. I used to get angry at women who live with these woodcutter men, these butcher men who make them into nothing. At women who drag their children into these bloody worlds. These worlds where words are always blades. Where conversations have neither ‘verse’ nor any ‘pro’ to balance the ‘con’.

But now, all I feel is sad.

For women.

My sisters, have you forgotten that you are the conduit between the seen and unseen worlds? Only you are strong enough to ride the waves of pain, powered only by your love, in order to deliver another soul to the shores of humanity. Yet you, yes, you, allow this same soul to become a man who would one day reduce another woman to nothing. You tell this girl soul that she must always remember her place. Why?

You are the spine that helps a fallen man stand again. Yet you walk by when you see a sister’s spine being broken by a man’s heavy boot. 
You are his honour. Yet you strip another woman of her honour by blaming her when your man is a slave to his desires.  
You help your man earn his place among men. Even when you no longer see yourself as human. Yet you won’t teach your daughter that her place is more than a mere vassal, sworn to serve her man.

Have you gone so long listening to the lies men tell you when they, emasculated by life, steal your humanity to regain their masculinity, that you now hold them to be your truths?

tell me, have you forgotten?

Monday, January 04, 2016

A Backward Glance

I’ve called it the Year of Perspective for I can think of no other title more fitting for 2015. Because if ever I’d thought a year long, 2015 showed me what a long year REALLY was. If ever I’d thought a year tough, 2015 showed me that I was talking plain smack.

It’s all relative, the year smirked. And I had no choice but to agree. And to surrender. For fighting it, any of it, was futile.

I’m not sure what I hope to achieve from this post, but I’m hopeful that summing up the year, its lessons, will bring me a step closer to putting it all behind me. I’m not deluded enough to imagine that buying a new calendar automatically ushers in a new me. We cannot shed out me-ness like a too tight skin when we cross the threshold of a new year. We carry with us, into the New Year, our problems, sadnesses, sorrow, and yes, even our joys.

So this is me, trying to distil the heaviness of a harsh year. Me, trying to pin it all down so that I can pretend to have shed it. Me seeking enlightenment at the bottom of a particularly bitter brew.

2015 taught me

  •  To count the small blessings. Every breath that you take with healthy lungs, every step you take with strong legs, every bit of unexpected joy, count it. Stop and savour it. We know life is unpredictable, but few of us really KNOW this completely.
  •  you WILL survive. And when you do, you will look back and wonder how the fuck you did so, but you will survive. Because He who tested you will also give you the strength you need to survive it all. Yes, you will be scarred. Yes, you will be drained. But you will survive. And that in itself is a modicum of success. A triumph.
  • not all who are family are Family and certainly not all who are friends are Friends. And your dark days will teach you this. So be thankful for those who come through for you. Be thankful that you have such people in your life. Invest in those worthwhile relationships. Give a fuck. Because deep down, you know you do.
  • when it all just feels too heavy, it’s okay to give it up for a bit. Just to lie down and say: I’m tired. I need to rest. I’ve had enough. It does not make you smaller or weaker or less when you do so. If anything, you’ll be stronger when you get up again (which you will do), more able to keep going. Being able to do this shows that you respect yourself enough. That you care about you. And you should care about you.  
  • some people are assholes. And it’s quite okay. And their being an asshole says nothing about you and everything about them. And your job on earth is not to fix them or change them. The only asshole you’re responsible for changing is yourself – if you’re being one. Cos let’s face it: We all have our asshole moments.
  •  if you have no control over it, just let it be.
  • life isn’t fair. Often it’s ugly. But still, look for the beauty. What you seek is seeking you ~ Rumi
  •  nothing, not people, not situations, nothing is as it seems. So avoid drawing conclusions until you’re sure there is a conclusion to arrive at.  
  • Stop. Every once in a while. Just stop. And ask yourself: What makes me, me? Cos it’s easy to get lost, see. To get confused and think that this online presence, or this house, or the job, or the kids, this is me. It isn’t. Who would you be without these things? The older you get, the more mired in the external you become, the more important it becomes to be able to answer this question. So what is it then? What makes you, you?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Muslim lives could matter. But we're just not sure

In the wake of this weekend’s Paris bombings there’s been the usual deluge of support on social media for the French people. An outcry over the inhumanity that is ISIS. A rise in myopic anti-Muslim sentiment.

And… a flood of support from within the Muslim community with even celebrity Mufti, Mufti Ismail Menk and Moulana Ebrahim Bham of the Jamiat tweeting in support of the French people.

Yet, interesting to note that neither Mufti  Menk nor Moulana Bham had anything  to say about the bombing in Beirut that killed 40 people just a day before the Paris attacks. In fact, the esteemed Mufti’s concern on that day was about the need for being direct in speech. 

 While Moulana Bham wanted us to be happy with what we have.

So if this is how our own scholars feel about Muslims deaths, are we surprised when mainstream media displays this same bias? As though Humanity is only really real if it is in the Western world? As though some deaths weigh more than others?

Even within the SA, the silence from the Muslim community on the horrors in Beirut was painfully obvious. Or did we just not care enough to know because the Middle East is so unstable that if we got upset over every death there, (outside of Palestine), we’d be upset all the time?

Did all those Muslims tweeting and changing avatars in support of the Paris attacks know that on the 10th October 102 people died, and some 400 were injured in what is believed to be an ISIS led bombing in Ankara, Turkey?

Oddly, while the President of the Free World, Barack Obama, made suitable noises about the Turkey bombing, the screaming silence from our own Muslim scholars did not go unnoticed. In fact on the 10th Mufti Menk was tweeting about marriage. 

And what of our community? Have our minds been colonised to that degree that even we cannot be moved to care about deaths unless they’re western deaths?

Or is it that we’re so eager to be seen as something other than blood-thirsty savages that we only feel the need to say something if the attacks are on western soil?

I get that we think the world wants us to clarify that we are NOT TERRORISTS every time a Muslim terrorist does something. But until now I have not seen Christians coming out and saying they’re not mass shooters every time a Christian goes on a rampage and guns down schoolkids or innocent Muslims in their homes.

But all that clarifying, has it yielded anything? Just this weekend, I was told that Muslims need to do more and teach out children real Islam so young people don't fall prey to the lure of ISIS. I don't know how to respond to that without turning it into a history lesson. 

And Islamophobia is still on the rise in much of the First World. Maybe it’s because the narrative in insipid bigoted circles where Fox news is their only source of enlightenment is change resistant?

Is it perhaps because this is the age the Prophet PBUH prophesised when he said: 

‘There will come a time when the nations gather against you, just as people gather around a feast.’
A man said, ‘Will it be because we are few at that time, O Allah’s Messenger?’
He responded, ‘No, you will be numerous in those times, but you will be as useless as the scum of the sea, and Allah will remove the fear that your enemies used to posses from you from their chests, and He will place al-Wahn in your hearts.’
It was said, ‘What is al-Wahn?’
He responded, ‘Love of life, and hatred of death.’ [Ahmad, Abu Dawud] ?

So maybe we are the problem, after all. 

Monday, November 02, 2015

getting it wrong

Photo by Illiyoun on Treck Earth

in Uganda they called me 
though my eyes have never spied 
the Lego block city of Madinah from the air
with the Prophet's Mosque pooled like an oasis
at its heart
though my feet have never burnt
on the desert ground of the overglitzed Makkah
nor have i clamoured to touch Al Hajr
been rebuked by stern guards
i have only imagined these
after listening to the blessed recount their experiences
dreamed of them
wished them into being with tears on
a prayer mat
wished so hard
worked so hard
that this year it seemed that
the dream would finally be
And then He said
so what if you’ve bought tickets to fly
I don’t want you here
not yet
not now
Maybe not

How He mocks at 
the most carefully laid
of our feeble plans