The Road Home

We’re home.  Or the place where home first was, and for a long time.  Things have changed so much that my Dad got lost when he entered what was supposed to the one familiar highway.  Parts of the town are still recognisable, but in the way that someone you met once a long time ago is.   It’s the passing of time and it hits hard.  Like Roland of the Dark Tower says: “The world has moved on.”

 

But more about this place in a day or two when I’ve had a chance to meet old friends and explore old haunts – or what’s left of them.  What I want to write about is the drive down here.

 

It has been five years since the last time we came here and even then we were simply passing through.  I don’t know why I had forgotten how ridiculously beautiful the view is all the way.  It changes with every hour into something new and captivating.

 

We were up all night doing last minute packing (as usual) and when we finally left, I was so tired I thought I’d fall asleep before we were even out of our little driveway.  But by the time I’d actually found space in our way-overloaded car to curl up (that’s how overloaded it was) comfortably, there it was – all that eye candy.  It was too distracting and every time I’d be dozing off, something would pass by that would jolt me wide awake and have me staring out the window, eyes wide and mouth open at the visual feast.

 

It began with the hills.  Not far away horizon stuff – this is up-close and personal scenery where you can see the individual trees lining the bald stone heads like week-old fuzz; where craggy surfaces rise out of bases smothered in the greenest foliage you can imagine.  Then, just when you begin to wonder at how desolate and uninhabitable the place is, you spot the smallest of houses clinging half-way up the slope, like a stubborn parasite – proof that nothing deters Man when he wants to sink in his roots somewhere.

 

Seeing the peaks of the hills was somehow more fantastic than seeing a huge mountain would be.  These were things that I could imagine climbing to the top off and then waving down at the people in the car from.  I can remember my earliest memories being of this urgent desire to one day have the liberty to simply stop the car, and walk to the mountain.  Just like that, on a whim.   It helps me understand those people who talk about ‘conquering’ mountains. 

 

And the shapes!  It’s like a whimsical Hand was at work behind the entire landscape.  A Masterpiece inspired by a Thought borne of a Smile.  There were soft, undulating series of mounds in that particular shade of brown-green that appears when you cover a pile of rich, red earth with a carpet of soft, fresh moss.  And there were hills that sat on the land like bits of soft cheese with slices hewn out of them as if a giant hand had hacked off a hunk and taken it up to a giant mouth somewhere far above.

 

But perhaps the piece de resistance was a cluster of tiny hillocks that looked innocent enough until you passed them by and looked back over your shoulder only to see that at their center, it looked like Mother Earth had puckered her lips after tasting something extremely bitter – perhaps too much of the chemicals we pour down her throat?

 

It was like we were travelling across a child-sized version of the world with mini-mountains and tidbit hills.

 

The cottages and huts and views-between-hills would put any self-respecting English countryside to shame.  I couldn’t help thinking that this, here, was the way the earth was meant to be inhabited.  Did we have to lose all this natural glory to become ‘civilized’?  Have we progressed by destroying this amazing landscape and replacing it with the stone blocks we call homes and concrete pavements we call gardens?

 

Dividing the land like unspoken boundaries were dry riverbeds.  Empty crevices that were strangely filled with rocks!  I always thought a river bed would be flat and sandy, but these looked more like abandoned quarries.  And again, the temptation to stop was so strong!  To get down, roll up my trouser cuffs and simply follow these strange paths to where ever they would lead me, with the banks rising up on either side like protective walls and the rushing sounds of ghost water filling my ears.  Sounds carried into the present from a past long forgotten by everyone except the rocks that must long for the feel of that liquid flowing over their dry faces.

 

And then slowly, the weather changed – from blue spring skies to grey winter ones.  On one side, the greens darkened, hinting at the ominous nature of all this wildness; the ancient, sometimes malevolent, power that lay hidden beneath the youthful, innocent lands.  And on the other side  was a wall of grey, with the kind of flat blankness that only serves to confirm that it is hiding secrets – more mountains perhaps?  Or a surprise valley?  Maybe the shores of an unknown sea? Or an alien spaceship?  Whatever it was, it remained silent and elusive behind that curtain, never once peeping out.  But I could feel its eyes following us across the entire stretch of road, silently, patiently and slightly condescending at how flawed human vision is, that we sometimes cannot see what is directly in front of our nose.

 

The climate however made no difference to the children.  And they were scattered across the countryside peeping from between the blades of grass, like brightly hued flowers.  I thought I should feel sorry for them, restricted to this life with no knowledge of books or video games or fashion or other things that city children their age take for granted.  I thought it was enslavement for a child to be expected to handle dozens of large, brutish animals all day, every day.

 

But with every herd we passed, it became harder not to envy these pint-sized shepherds their simple lives.  What was there to pity in their simple functional dress, in their total lack of design and the bounce in their step as they waved and whooped with infectious enthusiasm at the cars passing by. 

 

Who can tell who has the better life?

 

And then, like the icing on the cake, she appeared.  One minute, she was a  pale shadow and the next she was just…there, that final, majestic pile of rock, welcoming you as you drove towards the little town adorning her feet.  I used to think that referring to a mountain as a ‘she’ was a male ego thing.

 

But this mountain is infinitely feminine with every angular curve, slope and sweep.  When she first came into sight, she had her head in the clouds – literally – and as I stared and stared (and stared some more), it began to seem to me that she had bared her soul to anyone who wished to read her tale, conveniently allowing them to adapt it and make it – and thus, her – their own.

 

To me she is a creature of myths, some ethereal beauty who was married to Land in ancient times when the ties of honour were binding for life, and so she remains a loyal wife.  But her heart belonged to another – her soul mate – who dwells high up in the heavens.  Land clings desperately to her, but he never quite manages to bring her down to his level. 

 

Her True Love on the other hand knows he possesses her as completely as she does him.  His confidence is displayed in the almost casual gifts he sends her to remind her of his affection: now a crown of clouds, now a feathery caress of mist, now a veil of sparkling snow.  But each makes her glow in the way only a woman well-cherished can.

 

She is a paradigm of the unattainable, and that is why Man is so bewitched by her, so eager to climb to her highest peak.  But even when they finally reach there, if they stood still and listened they would hear her laughter in the wind, gently chiding, maybe even mocking them.  For if Land could not conquer this spirit, then how does a mere man to believe he has?

 

And just as she finished telling me this tale, I looked away and saw that we had arrived.

S’laams
Bint Ali

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I Am Enough For Me

I am alone.  Individual, singular, distinct – call it whatever you want, at the end of the day they’re just fancy words to say the same thing.  The fact that each and every one of us is alone.

 

Sure, we attach ourselves to family and friends, to work and to ideals, to possession and environments.  But once you strip away these things, there is nothing left but you.

 

And every one once in a while, it’s a good habit to step back and refuse the helping hand that’s offered, because it reminds you of that fact. 

 

I’ve found over the years that the best way to ensure that you’ll come unstuck when you need to stay glued together the most, is to rely too much on others.  It spoils you like good food and comfortable beds do.

 

If you’re not used to it, then at first, being able to lean on someone else’s shoulders feels awkward.  Then slowly, when you see how much easier things become if you shift responsibility to others, you begin to indulge in it more and more.  Until you reach a point where every time you’re down or you need a boost, you’re automatically reaching out.

 

And then one fine morning, something really big hits you and guess what?  There’s no one around.  Oh, not because they don’t want to be, but because they have their own ups and downs to handle.  Because they too are alone.

 

When you pamper yourself that much, the hardest thing is being hit with the reality that was always there, but that you blocked out by drawing the curtains of your own blindness over.  The reality that the safest shoulders you can ever lean upon are your own. 

 

So yes, I am alone.  And yes, sometimes I forget that fact.  But every time I am made to remember it, I stand up a little taller than the last time, I pull back my shoulders a little further and hold my head up a little higher.

 

I become a little stronger.

 

It hasn’t yet stopped me from repeating the same folly again and again – maybe that’s part of the convenient short-term memory cache we humans have for pain – but I know I go one step further to reaching that point when I will be able to confidently say:

 

“I am enough for me.”

 

S’laams

Bint Ali

We ARE Being Watched!

It’s the last month of both the Islamic and Gregorian Calender.  The season of Hajj is in the air, and tomorrow is the Day of Arafah. (Or Idd, depending on where you are.)

 

For the past ten days, since Dhul Hijja started, I’ve been reciting the recommended du’as for these days.  Most of the ones for this month seem to prepare us for the new year and Muharram. 

Supplications are amazing sources of inspiration, but these ones never fail to wow me. 
They are declarations that were meant to be shouted out aloud from the hilltops and to the open skies, calling everything to witness what it is that you are proclaiming:

 

There is no god but Allah*, as many times as the number of days and nights,

There is no god but Allah, as many times as the number of waves in the sea,


There is no god but Allah, as many times as the number of thorns and trees,

There is no god but Allah, as many times as the number of hair strands and fur,

There is no god but Allah, as many times as the number of stones and mud particles,

There is no god but Allah, as many times as the number of blinks of the eye,

There is no god but Allah, as many times as the number of desert winds and rocks

 

You say the words every afternoon, and then one day it just hits you…this is what you believe, this is how strong your faith must be and most importantly, you can never again look at a thorn or a leaf or pebble or even a strand of hair without pausing to think about what its existence indicates, about the Designer who caused it to Be.

 

I’ve read so many times that human beings sometimes feel like they’re being watched.  That’s one of the reasons for the belief in an alien conspiracy and the Big Brother fears.  This sense deep inside that we’re being studied and observed and every move we make is being monitored.

 

Well, I came across another passage the other day that made me realize that we ARE being watched, but perhaps not quite in the manner we think… 🙂

All Muslims are brought up being taught to try and behave – and think – in a manner that is beyond reproach at all times.  A Muslim knows that it doesn’t matter whether you’re alone or in public, God is watching you at all times and it is His Opinion that matters.

 

But we’re human, so we forget and sometimes we do things, say things, or think things in the privacy of our minds that we wouldn’t be caught dead doing, saying or thinking in front of others.  I think it’s for times like those that this Hadith al-Qudsi** was narrated:

 

O Son of Adam, whatever you say or do, whether it is little or much,

My angels are watching you every day and night to write it down.

 

Whatever you see, My heavens stand witness to it.

 

The earth stands witness for every action you perform on it.

 

The sun and the moon and the stars are witness against you,

for whatever you say or do.

 

Whatever is hidden in your heart,

I know it very well.

 

So next time you’re doing something you shouldn’t be and feel the urge to look over your shoulder.  Rest assured you don’t need to – the witnesses are all around you.

 

And next time you do something solely for His Pleasure, don’t feel embarrassed to give a knowing wink to the stars or lean over and whisper to the nearest leafy branch: “One more to put on my record, eh, ol’ chap?

 

Because, while you can hide your secrets from another human being, to the rest of the world, you’re an open book…

 

S’laams

Bint Ali

*Allah – Simply means God, but the Arabic makes the sentences above more readable.
*Hadith al-Qudsi – Traditions quoted directly from God, but not part of the Holy Qu’ran.

Blogger Back (Bang Not Included).

Hmm…has it really been that long? Feels longer. I guess this is where I could apologize to all the readers that I fully expect to flock to my blog sometime in the not-too-distant future for leaving such a large, postless gap of time. But since, by the time The Flock does arrive, the gap will be no more to them then the simple scroll of a mouse, I shall skip the grovelling.

Blogging is weird. When you start off, you can’t stop. Every day, you want to go online and put up more, regardless of whether someone is reading your words or not. Then you hit a bump and you skip a day, then maybe another and pretty soon, you want to skip it everyday, regardless of whether someone is waiting to read your words or not.

Then when you come back, it all-guns-blazing and itchy-fingers until …you actually sit at the computer, hands poised over the keyboard and think to yourself, “What the hell am I supposed to write now?”  And that’s where I am.

It’s not that I don’t have stories to tell.  I probably have more than I’ve ever had in my entire life. The problem is there are too many stories and not enough time.  I feel like if I actually, seriously started on even one of them, I’d have to keep typing for the next week or so, because I wouldn’t be able to stop.

That’s probably why the best writing advice is that when an idea grips you, Put It Down.  Don’t wait.  Just grab the nearest things you have: pen and paper, ketchup and napkin, lipstick and mirror – whatever -just write it down.  You might not forget it, but you might find that you don’t have the physical capacity to put it down later.

I could write about what a year 2007 has been and what a year 2008 promises to be and how I have no idea what the 9th to 11th years of the 21st Century have in store for me, but I’m really hoping I’m still around for the 12th.  I could write about all the new things I’ve done since I last posted, and new places I’ve been to.

I could write about the highs and the lows, the sunshine and the rain, the blue skies and the grey clouds, the silence and the sounds, the tears and the laughter, the nights and the days, the pride and the embarrassment, the hopes and the dreams – and who knows, maybe over the next few weeks, I will.  

For now, all I have to offer is that I’m back.  That’s enough for me.  I hope it is for you too.

S’laams
Bint Ali.