Thursday, December 24, 2009

DECEMBER & A Recap

For a long time, I thought I was afraid of heights. The mere thought of going up on the roof or climbing trees would terrify me. At school, when other students leaned over the third floor banister to have a look down at the courtyard, I’d feel dizzy and sick and run for the stairs. It was only after I was on my fourth long haul flight that it occurred to me that I was not afraid of heights, but afraid of falling. The sensation of falling, that weightlessness, the loss of control, PETRIFIES me to the extent that I’m sure I suffer from Vertigo.

According to the experts, Vertigo is a symptom of a balance disorder - the illusion of movement when no movement is present. There’s a sensation of spinning or whirling that occurs as a result of a disturbance in balance (equilibrium). It also incites feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness and unsteadiness. Since I have all of these symptoms, especially when I’m on an elevator or above the ground, I’m adamant in my self-diagnosis.

I’ve spent most of December at our local Diving Club which boasts a rather large Olympic Size pool and a 22 meter Diving Pool. If you want to wrap your mind around 22 meters, think of a 10 storey building. It’s that deep. Anyways, as this month’s challenge, I thought I’d spend my days diving/jumping in an out of the Diving pool, trying to overcome my fear of falling and pushing my limits each time. It hasn’t worked. I’m still terrified. But I’m having a great time.
There’s nothing like crashing into that deep bright cerulean abyss and swimming to the surface like a mermaid. NOTHING. In those moments just before I come up to the surface for air, I find my happiness. And then I get out and do it all over again. Words can’t fully encapsulate my love for swimming. I’ve been swimming since I was a baby, since before I could walk. Mother was a good swimmer too and every summer for most of my childhood, that’s all we did almost every single day. As kids my siblings, cousins and I would swim from the morning until the evening in almost any weather, rain or shine. Those were and still are some of the best times of my life.
In other news, I can’t believe that it’s the end of the year already (I know I sound like a broken record). This year really flew by and was one of my busiest and eventful years ever. To recap, this year I registered for my MBA and agonised over it for the first three months before I decided it best to shut up and just do it. This year I was fortunate enough to go snorkeling in the warm waters off the coast of Mozambique and visit Inhaca Island with the cruise (& we had the best time ever!). This year I braved some other feats like White Water Rafting on Grade 3 and Grade 4 Rapids in the quaint little town of Clarens. This year I had a whirlwind trip to the UK, visiting my friends in London and touring Cardiff, Dublin and Edinburgh. This year I had an altercation of note and got fired. This year, I kicked some corporate butt and won a lawsuit and found what I was looking for in the process. This year I've lost a number of people close to me who’ve passed on, attended the wedding of the century and welcomed a new member to our family.

No doubt about it, it has been an exhausting year…physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally... but I can see the good and the bad that was this year and appreciate it for what it was, for where it’s brought me and for the lessons I’ve learnt. Like I always say, I’d rather learn them lessons now, than learn them when I’m in my 40’s. Things aren’t always easy, but there’s always a reason for everything and life is for LIVING, not dwelling on the past or on the negatives.

To top off this year, I’m heading off to a part of South Africa I haven’t really been to before with my family. So this is my last post for this year and soon I’m leaving on a jet plane to go and recharge my batteries. I promise to come back in the New Year with loads of new stories, a new positive energy, lots of photos…and a surprise which is slowly looking like my single biggest Challenge and Adventure yet. But time will tell.

I’m going into 2010 with renewed hope and faith, that no matter what happens, I will live my life because life goes on. And not only will I survive, I will thrive too. Here’s wishing all the Christians a very Merry Christmas and to the world, a blessed, prosperous, healthy New Year InshaAllah!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Four Funerals & A Wedding

I don’t grieve. Four funerals in 10 days (all of them people I’ve been close to) and I realised that I either don’t grieve or I’m physically and emotionally incapable of grieving. Maybe we’re allotted a certain number of tears per lifetime and I’ve already used all of them in the first two decades. I would believe that if I didn’t cry eyes out every time I watch King Kong (the emotion in that gorilla’s eyes is just too much for me; fantastic digital effects).

Funerals. Seriously, I can’t grieve. Most of the time, I’m just in shock. Yes I’m sad, sullen and reflective. Yes there’s this hollow pit in my soul…a sense of loss…a hole in my heart…but it lasts for like ten minutes and then it’s gone. I suppose I find it hard to be sad when I believe that the person that has left us is gone to a better place - released from the agony of existing on earth. It’s like asking me to be sad that a pauper has won or inherited a couple million British Pounds. Its not gonna happen.

I did a post once, on why I hate weddings. I hate funerals too, for similar reasons. The number one reason would be Gossip. Apparently, funerals are the place to be when you haven’t seen someone in ages and they don’t have Facebook and it’s time to play catch-up. Then comes all the “how-you-doing-it’s-been-so-long-what-are-you-doing-now”, and “yes-yes-my-eldest-got-married-in-Nelspruit-small-town-but-I-was-just-telling-Fatima-that-she-must-visit-to-see-the-photos”…or even worse “did-you-hear-he-left-her-and-ran-away-with-that-girl-she’s-only-sixteen-shame-and-she-has-to-see-to-those- kids-all-by-herself”. It’s disgusting. Pays homage to the old adage that if you've got nothing good to say, don't say anything.

Then you get those women (I call them Crows) that hound the body of the deceased, wailing like fucking banshees. It doesn’t matter that the entire world knew how much the Crow HATED the deceased. It doesn’t matter that the entire world knows how the Crow tried to ruin the deceased’s life by either spreading false rumours…or by going to witch doctors to kill off the deceased with some black magic…or by hiring those guys to break into the house of the deceased to rob and terrorise the family etc. etc. All that is irrelevant to the Crow, who’ll howl and wail until the cows come home perhaps because they like pretending they’ve lost someone dear, that they’re the victims. They love the attention. It's embarrassing.

What about those vultur...I mean people who are only there for the food. They could care less about the deceased or the family. In all the funeral homes I’ve been to over those 10 days, very few people had respect for the dead. Very few reflected on the life of the deceased or offered heartfelt prayers. Everyone was just concerned about their own welfare or how they could benefit from visiting the funeral home with new stories, gossip and free food to take home with them.

My point is this. If people can’t offer their respects without indulging in other *ahem* recreational activities, then they should rather limit their visitation time to 10 minutes, or even better stay away and don't bother pitching up at all. I wouldn’t want any fuckers like that at my funeral and I’ll haunt the bitches who think they can show up and make a mockery out of my death. And that is why I can’t be sad for the deceased; because with friends and family like that, they’re obviously better off dead.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tumbleweed

So I wasn’t always this pragmatic and cynical. People aren’t born cynical y’know. I use to be that chick with the rose coloured lenses, always dreaming away about something or someone. I was quite the romantic…maybe I still am, because being a fatalist is not enough, I have to be a masochist too. Anyways, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that changed. Maybe it wasn’t one moment, maybe it was a series of moments, but I do know that one of my biggest wake-up calls came one frosty January in 2005, in good old London.

It was freezing, (as it would be in the middle of winter in the Northern Hemisphere), and getting up to catch the bus to work was akin to a root canal without anesthetic. It didn’t help that my apartment didn’t have any heating or hot water for a week; thanks to a botched boiler and the Landlords’ extended New Year celebrations in freaking Scotland; and shower time was as exciting as diarrhea with no toilet in sight.

I stepped into the kitchen and carefully poured boiling water from the kettle into an old fabric-softener bottle before making my way to the bathroom on a Lara Croft mission. The water churning from the shower head was colder than I had imagined and literally five minutes later, after being sloshed with a mixture of icy glacial and scalding hot water, I was curled up in bed, hoping that the burns wouldn’t leave scars and desperately trying to retain any heat I had left in my body.

It was on one particular evening, lying in bed listening to the wind howling through the old window pane that I thought, what great sheets. They were so comfortable and at only £8.99, what a bargain. I briefly wondered if we had polyester- cotton in South Africa and made a mental note to buy others and post it home, when it occurred to me that I was alone. Completely and utterly alone. Well, not really alone alone because God Almighty is always with me…but yeah alone. For.The.First.Time.Since…well EVER.

I had no family. I hadn’t made any friends yet. I worked in a job where I sat in an office all by my lonesome all day, in the middle of Industria aka Lone-Central. Cue tumbleweed. I didn’t even have a freaking Landlord to tell me to keep the noise down. All I had was that gust of wind and a carving knife under my pillow in case I got any surprise visitors in the middle of the night.

It was both terrifying and liberating. Those were some of the darkest days of my life. Seriously because the sun set at like 3pm. But that loneliness, was something I never forgot. I vacillated between elation and the brink of despair like a bi-polar schizophrenic on lockdown. There were those cold days spent walking the streets idly with other strangers braving the icy wind, in search of nothing in particular; sometimes sitting curled up in the corner at Café Nero watching the world pass by.

Nights were either spent at the avant garde cinema, watching foreign films (ticket for one please) or holed up in the lounge of my apartment with hot chocolate and custard donuts watching Desperate Housewives on Channel 4 while most of London hibernated too.

The only people who spoke to me on the regular was the local librarian when she asked if I was taking out or returning books; the guy behind the counter at Chicken Cottage who always wanted to know if I wanted ketchup with my fries and Remy, a very handsome co-owner of the Lebanese restaurant just up my street.

Remy was something else. His antics flattered me tremendously and I couldn’t help but laugh at his theatrical advances. He was so outrageous and proposed to me everyday at the bus stop, sometimes with roses and once with a roast chicken, much to the amusement of other patrons. A part of me was always very wary, on guard even though there was no reason to be that way. I often reminded Remy that him being part of the Shi’a faction of Islam and me being Sunni meant that we saw life differently and maybe in an ideal world it would have worked.

It wasn’t long before spring came around and my dark days seemed to melt with the snow that fell that April. Suddenly, like the flowers in bloom, people sprang from everywhere; ready to shake off the spell winter had cast upon them to bask in the warm light. I was in a new job, meeting new people, making friends and going out and socializing more than I had ever done before.

Suddenly Tuesday nights were for laundry and fish fingers and every other night I was out at some or other gathering, debating life, love and everything else. The avant garde cinema saw a rise in ticket sales (tickets for 4 please), hours spent at museums and the National Gallery, until the paintings came to life; and every historical landmark became home. And before I knew it, my wings were taking me outside the city with my fellow angels, abroad to foreign destinations.

And just like that, like an unconscious patient in the ER, life was breathed into me and once again flowed through my veins. But something in me had inherently changed. In my mind, that concept of perfection had ceased to exist and my once idealistic outlook became more realistic, harsh and colder even. Taking in the good, the bad and the ugly of life, I began to appreciate it for what it was.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Life Happens

Oh where do I start? I have so much I want to say, but I’ve been so busy over the past few weeks that I haven’t had much time to say anything. And now, suddenly, it’s the end of the year already (can you believe it?!?) and instead of winding down, I find myself as busy as ever but for all the wrong reasons.

Busy with what you may ask? This is the part where I say ‘don’t ask’. You know how sometimes you get caught up in things and events that aren’t yours, or when you find yourself doing a whole lot of things that need to be done, that you didn’t plan to do…that’s my life these days. For instance, early last week someone I’ve gotten quite close to this year passed away very suddenly. Needless to say, it was a huge shock to everyone and attending the funeral was surreal. I’ve been at the home of the bereaved every day since, lending a helping hand where ever I can and grieving with the family.

The irony of it all was that just a few weeks prior, we planned to have this massive get-together to celebrate life, and there we were all gathered as planned but not in the most ideal of settings and sans one of the main characters in our story. And still left reeling from the shock, I've spent most of my nights since steeped in reflection, trying to come to terms with the year that was.

I can confidently state that 2009 has been one shit year. Well, the latter part of 2009 for me and my family anyway. In the last 6 months, I’ve lost my job and survived a traumatic court case with the company (and thankfully won). But thats not all folks, and in the same period of time within my small close-knit family:

o Cousin B had also lost his job for some or other stupid reason,
o 3 members of my family had gotten divorced,
o Uncle A was and is still recovering from surgery that has left him incapacitated and very frustrated,
o Aunt K barely survived through Chemo & Radiation after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer,
o Cousin N was told she can’t have children,
o Uncle K had been in 3 motor vehicle accidents all in the same month,
o Cousin F was diagnosed with Lupus,
o Uncle M was rushed to hospital with a near fatal bleeding ulcer...

Etc Etc Etc

Suffice to say, when it rains it pours shit I tell ya...and these have been trying times and things haven’t been exactly peachy in the family. This year has unearthed and unleashed all kinds of worms, vermin and obstacles for us to deal with and every piece of bad news is a blow we endure as a collective. Its funny how something that has absolutely nothing to do with you, can still affect you. It’s like we’re all walking on eggshells and I’ve come to dread the sound of the phone ringing, in case it’s some more bad news:

Dear Lord Almighty
You know how much I like you and I really don't mean to sound ungrateful. but I've had enough shit for the next lifetime. I get it now. Thank You.
Your's Forever Faithfully
Azra xxx

In retrospect, this year wasn’t a total bust. I’ve managed to fulfill some of my resolutions, goals and objectives…like my LIVE campaign. I’ve managed to take some time and do something new every month and they have all been rewarding experiences. I also take away some valuable lessons…lessons some people usually take a lifetime to learn so I’ll count myself lucky:

Lesson #1: Vengeance, no matter how justified, is never the answer. Besides, karma is a bitch and what comes around usually goes around 10 fold, so why give him/her the easy way out.

Lesson #2: Arrogance will never get you anywhere. In Islam there’s a reason that our Creator despises Pride…because it leads to arrogance and arrogance usually makes people delusional enough to think that they can just go around doing whatever they want without facing the consequences.

Lesson #3: Sometimes its better to keep ones mouth shut, especially when there’s nothing good to say. And in this world filled with jealous people who have sinister intentions sometimes the less you reveal, the better for you.

Lesson #4: I’ve found that the only way I can live the life I want is if I relinquish control to a higher power and TRUST that the Lord Almighty knows what He’s doing and that it always works out for the best.

Lesson #5: Education is the key to freedom. Know your rights in any situation, in every capacity so that people don’t take advantage of your good nature.

Lesson #6: The world will only be a better place when we can all accept each other for who we are, not sitting in judgement of each other and inspiring change rather than dictating it.

Lesson #7: Life really does happen when we’re busy making other plans.

Lesson #8: Faith is a gift that has to be cherished and nurtured. We often take our Imaan (Faith) for granted, unaware that we can loose it in an instant. Faith is like a growing child that you have to constantly watch over to ensure that he/she is on the right path…that he/she is safe and taken care of.

So this year has been one major learning curve for me…learning the hard lessons and leaving me emotionally drained. But I don’t mind to be honest, because I’d rather learn them now than in my 30’s or 40’s. I don’t want to be one of those people that go through life blind and oblivious to the truths of life. Ignorance is not bliss. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, all we have is our hope and faith. And I’m choosing to have faith and hope that this coming year will be much better since nothing lasts forever. I’ve also decided that instead of making plans, I’m going to go where life takes me and trust that it’s where I need to be.

Monday, December 7, 2009

End Of Days

WARNING: Parts of this post contain spoilers to the movie 2012!!!

I often think of my Great Grandmother, who incidentally out-lived my Grandma and only passed away a few years ago when she was in her early 90’s. Her name was Leah Brooks, the daughter of an Irish/Scottish immigrant who changed to her name to Zuleikha Khan when she married my Great Grandfather in the 1920’s. She was a very spunky feisty lady, quite healthy throughout her life, very rarely sick, and generally very active even until the end. She was always up before dawn and could always be found sipping her tea, staring out at the horizon, deep in thought.

I remember her last days on earth. She had a flu that she couldn’t shake and was just laying on the bed in Mother’s Aunts house. Mother still told her not to be so melancholic and morose, that she couldn’t just lay there and wait to die. She replied by saying that she was tired. I can still see her blue eyes, soft pale skin and her coarse hands acquired from decades of hard physical labour. She was a real gem. After she passed away, I spent many months wondering where she was…where she went to. And every now and then I still dream of her, or I’ll see her face smiling at me in those drowsy moments before I fall asleep.

So it’s dawned on me that I’m kinda fatalistic about life. Well I interpret fatalism as equal to optimism + realism, but many will disagree. I was trying to explain to a friend the other day and he thought I’m depressed. I had to clarify that I’m NOT suicidal or depressed, that I just see life differently. See, while most people are preoccupied with their cars, houses, brands, gadgets, relationships, and other mundane details of their lives, I’m always (and I mean ALWAYS) thinking of the bigger picture. I wear the inevitability of death like eye-shadow, its breath constantly grazing my cheek; and every time I get into my car or step into a shopping mall or fall asleep at night, I’m well aware that everything could end in an instant.

Sounds so morbid and dark I know, and I can see how people would interpret that as being depressed, paranoid or even suicidal…but I can assure you it’s none of that. I’m just constantly aware that each moment could be my last. And it’s not really the actual dying part that keeps me fixated; it’s more the where-do-we-go-to-from-there. Afterlife. I’m in awe. Fascinated. Obsessed. Terrified.

I haven’t always been like this, just the last 5 years or so and I reckon I’d snap out of it if I had other things to worry about, like a husband and kids. So this weekend, I went to watch 2012 (just to cement everything I believe in) and while the audience sat wide-eyed, some ooh-ing and aah-ing; I just sat there, having actually imagined worse many times before. The CGI was still spectacular though and I’d recommend that everyone watch it, just to see how insignificant most things are in the face of impending doom. It is also very disturbing to think that many aspects of the movie are real and accurate.

Unlike other similar scripts or story lines, this one is based on fact. The Mayans really did predict that the world would end on the 21st of December 2012; my Anthropologist sister can confirm that. And world temperatures really are rising on a year-on-year basis, thanks to global warming. And Geologists have confirmed the continental shifts that occur every year by a degree or two as well as the shifting polarity of the North and South Poles. So the probability of something as devastating as 2012 occurring is very real. However, if you had to ask me if I believed that it will happen, my answer would be no. I don’t think the world will end as we know it in 2012 simply because as a Muslim, I still believe that Jesus (Isa AS) has to come back to earth to slay the Anti-Christ (Dajjal), after which he will live on earth for a number of years (some reports state 40 years).

I often wonder how Jesus’ presence on earth will be made known to the world. Like will it announced on Facebook as a global Facebook status update or will Twitter send out a mass tweet saying the messiah hath cometh. Or will it be headline news around the world. Perhaps all of the above. Think about it, with the amount of communication platforms available today; will the Anti-Christ use social networking sites to relay his devious messages? Will Jesus even know how to use a computer? I ask not out of ridicule or scorn, I’m dead serious.

I can’t help feeling though, that people still prefer to sail down that river of denial and have this attitude that “it won’t happen to me”. Like Aids or Cancer, the apocalyptic end remains a myth until it actually happens to us. I wonder then, how we would react. Will we be in that state of perpetual shock, paralysed by our own fears, ignorance and stupidity…wishing we believed the day would come and that we did more with our lives on earth? Or will we try to outrun the hands of death, fighting to survive, wondering why we wasted our lives with bigotry and hypocrisy, contemplating the consequences of our actions? Suddenly your precious iPhone is just another useless mobile device with digits that can’t shield you from the terror, and your car can’t take you faster than 200km’s per hour over stretches of land that no longer exist.

Personally, I would elect to say my Kalima and the Shahada and die the fastest way possible. I don’t see the point in going through all that shit, running away from the earth caving underneath your feet and flying to China in a desperate attempt to search for that modern-day-state-of-the-art Ark, built by exploiting an over-populated nation, just so that you could survive long enough to see that the world as you knew it no longer exists.

I did find the ending hilarious though. They all lived happily ever after as South Africans. Ironically, every other report that postulates the destruction of the earth through global warming has the same conclusion; that Africa, well most of South Africa in particular, will be one of the only regions not wiped off the map. So the way I see it, we have two options. We can either get married and die, or move to the Drakensburg Mountains.