Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Coz theres nothing worse than waiting for your day to end & it feels like it's dragging on through eternity...

Turns out, the moon wasn't sighted in SA yesterday, but the good news is that tomorrow is definitely Eid! Today has been quite challenging... maybe it's because I couldn't wait for this day to end and it seemed like it had been going on FOREVER...
Onto other things, this is what we (my family) call Boeber (pronounced Boo-ber). That's what people in the Malay and Mixed cultures here in SA call warmed milk with almonds and vermicelli or sago/tapioca. It's less of a dessert and more of a sweetened nourishing drink that we have on our holy days and nights or whenever we feel like it. It's our version of eggnog, only there's no egg and there's definitely no nog.

Now some of the Indians/Asians here call it Eid Milk or Vermicelli Milk or Badaam/Almond Milk. Someone even suggested that Boeber is the same as Kheer, but it isn't because Kheer is of a much thicker consistency and made with rice or wheat. I seriously don't know what other nations or cultures call it. Anyways, this is dedicated to Michelle although I highly recommend anyone try it. The main ingredient here is Full Cream Milk. Every other ingredient serves to add flavour or substance to the drink.
Put two litres of milk (a little more than half a gallon) on the stove, add a few cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks and bring to a boil (I use about 3 pods and 3 sticks per litre but its subject to your preferences).
Then, put a handful or two of vermicelli pasta into a separate dry pot or pan and let the thin strands roast on the stove (I use a small handful per litre of milk). Vermicelli is a very very thin fragile type of pasta. It looks like Spaghetti's anorexic cousin and it cooks really quickly.
Once the milk comes to a boil, add a cup of sugar (for 2 litres- again user discretion is advised), as well as the the roasted vermicilli strands and about two heaped table-spoons of condensed milk and stir. Lower the heat considerably and let it boil on the minimum heat so that the vermicelli cooks thoroughly. Add a handful or two of sliced almonds and sultana raisins to the milk, let it simmer for a while until the vermicilli is cooked, pour into a mug and enjoy!

Tip: The condensed milk is optional but flavourful. So are the almonds and sultana raisins. These can be inter-changed with a handful or two of desicated coconut or precooked sago/tapioca pearls. Some people omit the vermicelli and substitute it with sago/tapioca instead. I've had Boeber many many times in almost every conceivable variation. In some instances I've had it with all of the ingredients cooked together i.e. almonds, sultanas, coconut, vermicelli and sago/tapioca. Some people don't like it very sweet and don't add much sugar while others like it very sweet and will have you sweating saccharine by the time you're done savouring a serving of the stuff. Either way, it's a lovely way to warm up the insides, particularly on a cold winters day and it's probably what I'll be having tomorrow for breakfast ;)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Coz we wait patiently...

I don't think words could ever articulate the feeling and emotion behind the concept of Unity. That despite all the differences amongst us, Muslims around the world can come together for a common purpose and share in the excitement that comes with that. It is truly a Mercy and a Blessing from The Almighty to experience this Unity.

The very foundation and essence of Islam is based in the concept of Community... that no man is an island and that we need each other. That is why as a Muslim, your neighbours, the people in your community and their collective well-being are very important and in certain aspects, they share an equal status with one's own family.

Unfortunately, it seems that time and globalisation have eroded our basic morals and values in our modern societies so this ideal holds very little value in the eyes of many average modern Muslims. The idea that I can't eat if my neighbour is starving and that we take care of each other through good times and bad has lost some of its meaning through the years.

And this is where Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr remind us of our duties to The Almighty... in much the same way that Christmas reminds everyone else about the importance of family and providing for the less fortunate.

As Ramadan comes to a close, we all wait with abated breath for the sighting of the new moon to mark the beginning of our Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations. It's a funny thing because even though I'm literally hundreds and thousands of miles away from many of my friends around the world who are also fasting, we share the same excitement.

We wait together. We're sad to see a blessed month go, but at the same time, we're excited to experience that sense of Unity. So we wait.

Moonsighting forecast (click for larger visual) from Moonsighting.com
We wait for the moon to be sighted, anxious but hopeful. We wait to tell our friends and family quite excitedly while making mental notes of what needs to be done in preparation for the festive day. We wait to wear our best clothes and do our hair. We wait to cook up a storm and bake enough goodies for all and sundry. We wait to visit our neighbours, friends and family in each others homes with nothing but joy and well wishes. We wait to sample each other's food and eat all the good little chocolates, leaving the toffees and yucky stuff behind for someone else. We wait to greet each other in the street with nothing but a smile on our faces and the light of goodwill in our hearts. We wait to spend time with our loved ones and to reflect on the month that was. We wait, keeping in mind all those who won't be able to have the grandest of feasts and we are grateful for the bounties that have been bestowed upon us by The Almighty.

We wait patiently. Wishing everyone a blessed Eid Mubarak!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Coz I'll fake it until I make it...

I've been experimenting in the kitchen, trying to compile a list of really easy dessert recipes... y'know for those days you want to make a dessert snack really quickly and without much effort or without having to buy a hundred different ingredients that you might need. Here are a few I'd like to share:

PSEUDO-CHEESECAKE
Well there are really only two ingredients in this recipe, a packet of biscuits (digestives or whatever) and a tub of yoghurt (I had strawberry, but vanilla or plain yoghurt is best).
I blitzed the biscuits into oblivion before putting the crumbs in an oven-proof Pyrex dish. Then, heated up 100g (or so) of butter in the microwave. I was really just winging it, hoping to get the right amount. Mixed the butter and biscuit crumbs together and pressed it gently but firmly into the dish to make a crust.
I then opened the tub of yoghurt and gave it a quick hand-beating before scooping it out on top of the crust, leveling it out, and popping it into the oven for between 20 - 30 minutes on 180C/375F heat. Here you'd want to see if the yoghurt has solidified somewhat and started bubbling slightly on the top before removing it from the oven. And voila, instant cheesecake with less than half the ingredients, time and calories.
Tip: I didn't pre-bake the crust, but in hindsight I'm thinking I should have popped it into the oven for ten minutes or so, removing it and letting it cool before slathering the yoghurt on to the crust. I also used Strawberry yoghurt, but I actually prefer the Vanilla/Plain one because it tastes more authentically cheese-cake-y. And I would suggest layering less yoghurt than I did in the pic, it makes each serving more decadent without overwhelming the taste-buds and has a shorter baking time.

STRAWBERRIES & CREAM
Really, you don't have to be a Rocket Scientist to guess that the two main ingredients here: strawberries and cream. If you got that right, 10 points for you. You can use any strawberries, as long as they're not stolen and any dessert cream. I had a tin of Nestle Dessert Cream... oh happy day. What I usually do is rinse the strawberries in a colander, letting the access water drain before I slice them up into a bowl. You can slice them up any which way that pleases you; whatever tickles your fanny.
I then sprinkled 3 tablespoons of sugar onto the strawberries and mixed it around a bit. Now, you can use brown sugar as a healthier alternative; the amount of sugar you use is really up to you, taking into account individual preferences and quantities. The strawberries should then be covered and left to "stew" in it's own juices for about 2 hours. If it's a particularly hot day, you can let them stew in the refrigerator.
After some time, the strawberries will look all syrupy and delicious... then it's time to layer them with the cream. Be careful not to beat the cream too much, you don't want it to be too runny, a nice thick-ish consistency is what you're looking for. Then go about layering to your hearts content. And it really is as easy as that. Simple and oh so delicious.
Tip: For added substance and to dilute the acidity of the strawberries, slice a banana or two into the mixture as well as some papaya. You can also add some grenadine/granadilla/passion fruit pulp for an added kick of flavour and you'll have yourself a nice tropical summer fruit salad with cream.

CREAMY JELLY PUDDING THING-Y
So I don't have a name for this one, sue me. I can't even remember where we learned to make this dessert. Anyways, main ingredient here is a packet of your favourite Jelly/Jello powder (80 grams) and a can of evaporated milk.
You can start by making the jelly/jello halfway. Most packets require you to add a glass of boiling hot water (between 200ml - 225ml) to the powder as well as a glass of ice cold water before stirring the mixture and letting it set. HOWEVER, for this recipe, you only need the glass of boiling hot water for the jelly/jello powder, that is 225ml of hot water for 80g of whatever flavour jelly powder.
Mix the jelly powder and hot water well before adding it to the can of evaporated milk. Blitz the mixture in a blender for about 10 to 15 seconds. Pour into the mould or dish, cover and store it in the freezer for 20 - 30 minutes to set. Remove and put it into the refrigerator and presto... you have a nice creamy jelly-ish pudding for dessert.
Tip: For extra creamy-ness, add whatever leftover cream you may have from the Strawberries and Cream before blitzing all the ingredients together, a table spoon or two would do. Blitz for no longer than a few seconds at a time, you don't want the mixture to become too frothy. And if you happen to forget the dessert in the freezer, it's no train-smash. Simply let it thaw and it will be good to eat in no time.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Coz I miss the silence of the stars...

My mind is still buzzing with thoughts and ideas and indecision over the most mundane things, for the past week. It's like I can't come to a resolution and I'm struggling for something definitive. Sounds so arbitrary and ambiguous I know, but I can't even muster the appropriate words to explain my current state of mind.

All I've been thinking of lately, is that one particular night, on one of my many long haul flights back to SA. I'm sure I've mentioned this somewhere on this blog before - but it's late and being the absolute shite blogger that I am, I can't be bothered to check where.

I honestly can't remember where I was returning from but it was the middle of the night and most of the passengers were sleeping in the dimmed cabin. Awake and bored, I leaned closer to the window from my window-seat and looked out into the black night. To get a better view, I narrowed my vision, cupping both hands to the sides of my face, blocking out excess light and peripheral vision.

It was then that I saw the most spectacular view I've ever seen in my entire life - a midnight sky filled with billions of glittering iridescent stars that stretched on forever, disappearing into the horizon and a full moon shining on the coastline below, illuminating the sky and tracing the rugged shore with a thin luminous silver line. The sea looked still, as if it was basking in the light of the moon and for the longest time, it felt like I was suspended in air - just floating along with the stars and the moon and looking down at that amazing view. I remember wondering to myself, quite arbitrarily, if I was by any chance closer to God in any of those moments... I'm guessing not.

Never-the-less, The Almighty is surely the best painter of landscapes. Sometimes I wish I could go back there.

Anyways, I have an Italian friend on Facebook who's been lamenting his wife's absence for the past two months. She's left Rome for a visit to her home town in Malaysia and he misses her every single day. It's quite endearing to watch him profess his love to her and his longing to be with her again. It reminds me of a time when the world was supposedly more chivalrous... I wouldn't know when that was because all the good men seem to have died along with that era.

My friend's emotion and sentiments have definitely struck a chord with me. It's made me realise that men love in two ways... they either love with their ego's (as most men do with their hunter genes), or they love with their hearts. Men who love with their ego's make it all about them... it's a somewhat selfish admission and has more to do with him than the object of his affection. And any defect in the relationship is bitter to it's core, sometimes even exposing a nasty misogynistic streak. But they recover quickly and it isn't long before they've hopped along onto a new ego-stroking adventure.

But men who love with the heart... they're one of a kind. It's actually rare in this day and age. They love completely and self-lessly. There's both a strength and a vulnerability in their passion. They are almost fearless but they don't recover as quickly if the relationship goes south.

It could be true that some men who love with their hearts could love with their ego's in equal measure as well. However, I'm not inclined to believe the reverse - that a man who loves with his ego can love with his heart at the same time. But then again, what do I know... maybe they do, maybe they don't or maybe they simply can't.

In any case, my Italian friend definitely loves with his heart. And it's a profoundly beautiful thing to witness a man love so wholly because he's unashamed, unapologetic and generous with his heart... almost as beautiful as those glorious luminous stars that shine in the endless midnight sky.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Coz it's not supposed to be easy...

"So you don't eat or drink anything for the entire day, not even a drop of water?", I get this question sometimes. "Yes, it's not that difficult", I reply... to which most respond with "I could never do that, I'd DIE!".

The first non-official rule of fasting is to STAY AWAY FROM THE GROCERY STORE. Which one, you ask? EVERY SINGLE ONE! How many times haven't we, as fasting people, gone in to buy some milk and came out with at least 100 other items that we convince ourselves we're going to eat but can either never seem to get to it, or we find it doesn't taste the way we expected it to? 

The grocery store is somewhat of a catalyst. To what, you ask? Well I can only think of it as a Pregnancy Syndrome of sorts. It's horrendous. Ever watch one of those movies where the pregnant female wanted ice-cream and gherkins at like 1:00am in the morning? And not just any ice-cream... a specific brand that they only sell in a specific shop which just happens to be closed or out of stock? Well it's something similar.

For instance, it's like one day I'll want Lindt Chocolate Brownies. And maybe on this particular day, unlike other days, the craving is unbearable. So no one understands just how much I WANT the bloody Lindt Chocolate Brownies dammit! And I don't want just any Lindt Chocolate Brownies, I want THE Lindt Chocolate Brownies that they sell at JB's Corner in Melrose Arch and I want the scoop of vanilla ice-cream with the strawberry poised decadently on the top AND I want it to taste exactly like it did when I was out with my girlfriends on that warm balmy day when we couldn't stop laughing - I want to feel the goosebumps up my spine and the ecstasy in my brain from the chocolate overload - the exact same way I felt when I put the first spoonful in my mouth a few years ago. NOTHING ELSE WILL DO!!

And that's when I usually get a bitch-slap on the back of my head from one of my sisters. Get a grip. It's not like I've never had the Lindt Chocolate Brownies before, and it's not like I'm not going to have them ever again. The whole point of fasting is not to give in to your desires for one month out of the rest of the year that we spend being debaucherous cows.

There are many times when you'll find people complaining when they're fasting... they're hungry or they're tired (that's my number one complaint) or they're thirsty or its hot or it's cold etc etc. It never ends. But if we look at it carefully, it's not supposed to be easy innit. The entire point of fasting is to face the difficulty head on, to know what it feels like for those who have not, to remember what you have and be grateful for it. It's a time when we ask The Almighty for forgiveness and we cleanse our souls. And no one said cleaning is easy. Seriously, some stains just cannot come out. That's the kind of dirty that don't get clean. 

Cleaning your soul isn't going to be a walk in the park either.

It's not that difficult, really. The laws are simple. Fast if you are healthy enough to do so, if not then pay alms. All through my life I've had friends from other faiths join me in fasting... at work two of my colleagues quite enjoy it. A few years ago, it was a few of my flatmates in London. A few years before that, it was a friend at University. And before that, it was half of the school population.

I went to a predominantly Christian school. Actually, it was a Christian School and I just happened to be one of the 5 Muslims there out of a population of over 2000. Every morning at assembly, everyone would stand up and sing a hymn while half of the handful of us that weren't Christian would stare silently at the stage and the other half would sing along just for the hell of it... often substituting words like "Jesus Christ" with "Cheese & Rice".

We were a rat-pack of sorts, "brown" Muslims in a predominantly white Christian school... the dots on the Dalmatian, but quite popular amongst the masses none-the-less. I'd walk along the corridors and have strange people call me from the third floor "Hey you... I like you". I was quirky and down right crazy back then too and would curtsy or wink or tip my imaginery hat to my "fans".

I always think of my friend Reza when I think of my school days. He was one of a kind. Still is. He had the ability to make almost 2000 people wish they were Indian and Muslim too. He was a handsome guy, hilarious and oh so very charming. His calm assurance and air of confidence bordered on arrogance... and people just loved him. By the end of our stint in high school there were hoardes of white people swearing in  all kinds of native languages, and also saying things like Insha'Allah (God-Willing) or Masha'Allah in their everyday speech; and at least half of them were fasting along with us during Ramadan too.

Those were good days, but we never internalised the meaning of fasting. We just did it because we had to. I'm glad I found my way into an "enlightenment" of sorts. Seeing the bigger picture. It's definitely a month of reflecting and charity. Let us not forget all the others whose hunger never abates; those who are cold and homeless and can never warm up enough; those whose thirst cannot be quenched. In the grander scheme of things we're all just two steps away of being one of them. Give whatever you can, with an open heart and mind.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Coz I come from kings and peasants...

My spiritual retreat has become a little more like ashes in the wind. I can't actually explain it. There's so many things going through my mind but I'm struggling to put them all on paper, or blog in this case. On top of that, I'm struggling to keep up. I have so many people to respond to and so many emails to read. It's like there's always 100 things going on but at least 90 of them slip through the cracks because I either don't get to it on time or I'm zoned out, only to recall them at the most inconvenient of times (read bath-time).

So I've decided to tackle the biggest request so far. Many people have enquired about me and my family etc. Now, I've spoken about myself on this blog many times and it would be easy for me to give everyone a bunch of links but I realise that I have a lot of new readers and maybe it would be better to just do a quick re-cap. Maybe this is what I will tell my own children one day...

I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, to a very ethnically and culturally diverse family, Mother's family being the epicentre of that diversity. My mother's parents were well known in their circles and I've blogged about how they met before.

My late grandfather was initially known as Cecil Patrick and came from a Catholic family, with strong French roots and Jewish ancestry. His grandmother was a French woman who left home and married out of her race before giving birth to his mother, Edith Brown. He was as much of a brawler as he was quirky and eccentric and always challenged the oppressive authorities. Often mistaken for Portuguese during the Apartheid era, he would take the "whites-only" buses and when they realised who he was, he'd say 'sit my uit, sit my uit, ek is klaar by my huis!' (kick me out, kick me out, I'm already at home!). Most weekends he'd invite his friends and family over and they'd play cards or dominoes and when he was tired, he'd kick them all out saying 'fokkof, loop almal van julle, ek is nou moeg, uit' (f***-off, leave all of you, I'm tired, get out) and they'd reluctantly leave until the next weekend. He was always seeking for something more, some deeper spiritual connection in his life as he once said, but it was only after his brother Daniel murdered his wife, that he and most of his brothers (and sister) converted to Islam.

His wife, my late grandmother was an independent feisty woman who also left home in her early twenties to go and work in a clothing factory in Sophiatown in the 60's. Her grandfather was an Irish immigrant, Edward Brooks who came to South Africa in those early years looking for opportunities. He too married out of his race, to a Malaysian woman, and a few years later in the mid-1920's, my great-grandmother, Leah Brooks was born. Leah, as she was initially known, converted to Islam when she married my great-grandfather, an Indian immigrant who broke away from his royal family's roots and traditions in the name of love and whiskey. He had a penchant for it even though he was quite a religious man! Most of my grandmother's extended family married outside the realms of culture and race; the result being that one or two of her first cousins are Chinese, whilst a few others are Arab and can trace their lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad (saw) etc. etc.

My maternal Grandparent's barely had anything in the way of material wealth. They were poor and whatever money they made went to feeding the 8 children they had. But even so, they always ALWAYS took care of others too. As Mother recalls, there was never a time when they didn't have someone staying with them in their modest home. It was either a homeless couple, or a widow, or one of my Grandfather's stray directionless friends. Their home was always open to people in need, no matter how much or how little they had.

On my father's side of the family...

My paternal grandfather (father's father if we must be pedantic) was an immigrant too. Ethnographically speaking, he had strong Persian roots but that's about as much as we know about him because he was an orphan and grew up in a mosque in the mountainous region of the Swat Valley on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan...
So where he came from, and how he got there, no one really knows. He became an Islamic Scholar and an Imam (Priest) of the mosque before setting sail for South African shores. Some time after his arrival, he married my grandmother, a third-generation Indian (meaning her grandmother came from somewhere in India). By temperament, my grandfather was one of the calmest people around, with a wonderfully peaceful and pleasant countenance.

What made him a phenomenal person was his character. As an Islamic Scholar and Imam of one of the main mosques in Johannesburg, he didn't always ascribe to the ways of his culture. In fact he adapted to his new country, so aside from Fridays and religious holidays, he mostly wore a three-piece pin-stripped suit (complete with waist-coat) with his pants down to his ankles (not folded up above the ankles like many of the holy and sanctimonious folk) and polished shoes. He traveled extensively to other mosques in different regions of the country. On these journey's he often encountered Muslims whose ways and practices were not like his own, but he never reprimanded them, or corrected them... if a ritual did not go against Islamic law, he respected the context in which it was observed and practiced and never tried to change it. As a leader and as someone who was aware of people's rights and preferences, he always let the people choose and decide for themselves how they wanted to live and never interfered even when they deliberately erred. If he didn't agree with something, he merely sat aside and smiled and waited for them to complete their practices. He never ever condemned anyone to hell for not worshiping the way he did. The result was that people loved to be around him and everywhere he went, they would compete with each other for his attention and they would try to persuade him to their side. But he would just smile his smile, acknowledging their presence, making them feel worthy of his company, without siding with anyone or ascribing to their ways.

And just like my mother's parents, my father's parents too were endlessly helping others, always in the service of humanity. My grandfather would counsel people and help them in any way he could... and it didn't matter if they were Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Jewish - people from all races, religions and cultures often sought his counsel, giving him very little but precious time with his family. One day he was leading the Congregation in the mosque on one of our holiest days on the calender and as he kneeled down, his forehead touching the ground in Sujud (prostration and the ultimate submission to God), he passed away. Most of the people who were following him didn't even know he was gone until they realised that he wasn't getting up to continue the prayers. He passed away peacefully, in a position that Muslims consider to be the closest to God and he is still fondly remembered to this day, so much so that 40 years later, complete strangers still approach me in the street, wagging their fingers or nodding in nostalgia they'll say "Your Grandfather, he was a very great man".

Sadly, I lost most of my grandparents at a really young age, so I never got to know them personally. I got to know my last remaining (maternal) grandmother until the age of 11 and ironically, the only one I got to know really well was my Great-Grandmother, who lived well into her nineties (I was in my early twenties when she passed on). These are the accounts I hear from their children, including my parents, and the people around them, and all those people they helped along the way.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Coz the world's gone to shit but we still need to eat...

Whenever I feel like being a masochist, I hop on over to What Katie Ate and proceed to die salivating. She certainly has some amazing culinary skills. Just check out her home made pasta dishes especially the Cannelloni and the delicious looking Chocolate Salted Caramel Hazelnut Pie.

I spend a lot of my time off cooking, and love it. I can make almost anything but I'm certainly no professional. I'm sure if I had a chance to do a career makeover, I'd be a chef. It's another public holiday (aren't we lucky) and I found myself channelling my inner domestic goddess - it wasn't so much hunger than it was the need to keep busy that kept me going before breaking my fast.

So feeling very generous, I offered to cook for everyone and took orders. Mother wanted grilled fish and scones... for separate occasions of course... the fish was marinaded in a blend of crushed garlic and ginger, cumin and coriander (cilantro) spices, salt, lemon juice, fresh coriander finely chopped and olive oil.


The siblings wanted pizza... lots of it.
And so I prepared this Cajun Chicken pizza. The chicken is cubed and cooked with Cajun spices and sauces and the pizza is topped with chedder, green peppers and oregano.
The Pepper Steak pizza had steak strips previously cooked in a marinade of salt, pepper and Worcester sauce and the pizza is topped with a combination of Gouda and Chedder cheeses as well as sweet Italian peppers. 
And then I had to decide between the fish... naturally I went for the less healthy option and chose the pizza instead. 
And then there was dessert. First up Sweet Pumpkin, cubed and thrown in a pot with a half cup of brown sugar, a few whole cinnamon sticks and a drizzle of olive oil cooked on medium heat until soft and sticky and served with dessert cream.
Mother had a scone but she didn't like it. Served here with Nutella, bananas and cream.
I guess you win some, you lose some.

So, does anyone need a personal chef? ;)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Coz certain things are inevitable...

There's something about a very late or very early phone call that immediately spells trouble. I don't like late night or early morning calls... it makes my heart jump and my ears perk on high alert to hear if anything is out of the ordinary. When Mother's chatting on the phone in Afrikaans, I know she's talking to one of her many siblings, just a few more minutes into the conversation and I'll figure out exactly who she's talking to.

Mother and her family are weird like that. Their first language (mother tongue) is Afrikaans yet every single one of them converse with their kids in English. So when they talk to each other, they'll speak in Afrikaans, but the minute one of them addresses one of their children, nieces or nephews - they switch to English.

Back to unwelcoming phone calls. It's always bad news. On Wednesday, my aunt (mother's sister) was taken to hospital and diagnosed with lung cancer. She's only 48 years old. Now I've lost various members of my extended family suffering from various ailments over the past two years, people I've known... people I've been "close" to... but the prospect of death has never been this close to home since I lost my Grandmother in 1994. Mother's family is quite close, so this is different than the other aunts or second aunts or grand aunts I've lost before... not that we've lost her yet.

And not that she cares. Mother's family don't do grand emotional displays... or should I say, they're very strong so nothing really cripples them emotionally. Looking at her in her hospital bed, she complained about the TV and the remote and joked about how dying would be easier than watching all the crap on TV. And when Mother called her yesterday to ask whether she should visit her in hospital she said in Afrikaans "Save your energy for the day you need to bath me".

Still, I can imagine it must be difficult for my Mother to watch her older sister - the sister she's been close to for many years - laying in a hospital bed with lung cancer.

It made me think about my own life and my own sisters. I don't want them to be all sad and maudlin. I want them to remember all the times I complained about how much I hate this effing world, quote a few of lines from Chris Tucker's movies, laugh, make dua (pray) for me, let it go and LIVE their lives to the fullest.

I suppose it doesn't hurt to plan for the inevitability of death, no matter how depressing it may be. So if anything should happen to me, I've asked my sister to delete both my Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as this blog. There's nothing worse than looking at a deceased person's profile and reading their last words and trying to analyse their timeline, wondering if they had any indication that they'd be dead within a week. It's just plain spooky and disrespectful. I definitely wouldn't want my words hanging in the air, waiting to be plagiarised or desecrated at someone's whim or fancy.

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Just because... (2)

When you strip down Islam to its core – removing ALL the perceptions, interpretations, opinions, rituals and innovations – all you have is faith and trust in One God. It’s a sense of God Consciousness in every aspect of our lives. It’s an acknowledgement of what He has given us... from the food we eat, to every breath that we are allowed to take. And in that consciousness and acknowledgement is a perpetual sense of gratitude for everything we have in our lives.
It’s the first day of Ramadan here in South Africa. The new moon was sighted last night... or so they tell me. I wouldn’t know. I was too busy trying to find a nurse to help me inject myself with a vial of Vitamin B12. The things we do for our deficient blood cells...

I love this time of year, not only because I derive some kind of gratification from deprivation, but also because it gives me time to reflect and re-group. It’s like a spiritual detox for the mind, body and soul. For me, fasting is more than just a physical experience. It’s a spiritual one where I feel kinda zoned out from the perpetual rush of life. It’s like my body and soul is being brought down from the highs and lifted up from the lows and made to settle somewhere in the middle, in contentment. I feel more centered during this auspicious month than I do at any other time of the year.

In many ways, this Ramadan won’t be any different to previous years... I’ll still be hungry at 10:30am, I'll still be going to bed earlier. I’ll still be taking my breakfast/sehri/suhoor before dawn (at around 04:30am here). I’ll still suffer from caffeine withdrawal for the first few days. I’ll still count down the hours before I get to break my fast (at around 05:44pm today in Johannesburg) and eat good homemade food. I’ll still be significantly well behaved and somewhat subdued (or try to be). I’ll still use whatever free time I have to immerse myself in prayer and remembrance of The Almighty.

I always think of my late grandfather during this time. I think of the legacy he left behind. The kind of man he was. He was a man who devoted his life to helping others. He devoted his time in the service of humanity... regardless of their race, ethnicities or religion. He never ever judged anyone. People often came to see him from all over the country and they had a tremendous amount of respect for him.

The result is that even though I haven’t met him I regularly encounter perfect strangers in the street, telling me what a great man he was. They hold all their stories or accounts of their personal experiences with him and his memory in their hearts, like little treasures they want you to see. It always makes me think “I should have met this man; where can I meet him?”. Some of them cry while they narrate their stories... nearly 40 years later and they still cry for him.

The one thing I want to focus on this Ramadan is my way forward in life. I want to focus on change and reflect on the kind of person I want to be - my place on earth that would honour his life - not for myself, but for others and for the sake of The Almighty too. Life is like a river in that sense... the water always needs to flow, it can’t remain stagnant because stagnant water is often toxic and unhealthy.

You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips ~ Oliver Goldsmith

Side Note: Here in SA, we have many towns and areas that have the word "fontein" attached to their names e.g. Slangfontein, Kalkfontein, Jackalsfontein etc. "Fontein" means "Fountain" in Dutch and Afrikaans. I have added an "Islam-fontein" section to this blog for additional Ramadan reading, chronicling previous posts and relevant material.