Thursday, 29 June 2017

Monday, 5 June 2017

Ramadan Diary (fragments of a week)

day one 

after prayers, noreen and I decide to go for a wander. we wander through the deserted grounds of springfield hospital, by the derelict remains of the lunatic asylum. by the old mortuary, and disused workshops, the ballroom, the secret gardens, fading purple petals litter the ground, the wisteria is gone... we wander into a building, the corridors are empty and shadowy, I follow Noreen, it's so quiet, we keep walking, we shouldn't be here. we approach the end of the building, above our heads, a magnificent vaulted blue ceiling, I spot a nurse behind glass, she is shrouded in darkness, she looks otherworldly, hearts pound, we exit, we sit on a bench by the empty water fountain in front of the old victorian admin building, we spot a dead crow, we are surrounded by disfigured palms.

noreen borrows my jumper and spreads it out onto the grass. she says she wants to pray for the mentally unwell, she wants to pray for all those who have died in the hospital and all those who have been killed. I keep watch. She finishes and gives me my jumper back. I wipe the dead grass off with my hand. we sit on a bench a while, she reads up horror stories surrounding the hospital on her phone. we think about the nurse, and all the things she must have seen. we feel sad for her. then she reads up on its history, we learn our old school neighbouring the hospital used to be a farm, with over a hundred cows, we learn there was an orchard of apple trees and that they would grow food to feed the in patients, we learn about a water tower, and an ice house. we never find the ice house. we inspect pine cones scattered on the ground, noreen keeps calling them acorns. I stop correcting her after a while. what does it matter.  we leave after a brief stop off at a little garden outside the support centre for the deaf. we wander to the shops, we randomly spot sofia outside tesco's. together we go to a few of the asian shops along tooting high street, we buy samosa's and things for iftar......

day 2

I glance at the clock, it's 4.15 am. I get dressed and decide to go for a wander. I leave the house. the sun is coming out. the sky is a light pink, the streets are all empty. I think about going to the lake, but instead wander down the high street. everything is empty, and i feel like there's only me in the world, I go past the market and up by the bus stand, a bus driver says good morning to me, he catches me off guard, it's so early, I smile and say good morning back. there are rowdy people shouting and laughing outside mcdonalds, I pass by the library, the sky is pink and yellow now. I wander back down a small road and make my way home, a night bus passes. I wish I had my card, I could get away, the bus is going to aldwych. I wander down an alleyway, at the end of it there's lots of smashed glass and sheets of mirrors. I spot charlie, the neighbourhood stray cat.  I say hello to him, he scarpers. I decide to do the same. I pray and recite the quran in the garden.



later sofia and I go to the ramadan tent to hear noreen speak about her project. we get there a bit early. The volunteers are super perky and happy, I feel a bit uncomfortable. I go to take my boots off, but sofi comes up behind me, she says lets come back. I say ok, we wander around by soas and birkbeck, we have no intention of going back. sofi says she's not feeling very social, I concur. we head to hare and tortoise and order food in time for iftar, we call noreen and tell her to meet us after she's done. she does, we eat and laugh and talk and then sofi and i pray outside. noisy people pass by. I finish my prayers, we go back and pay the bill and wander through the empty night streets of bloomsbury. everything is strange and subdued and almost alive

day 3

i wake up. I can hear the neighbours from the half-way house next door arguing. I close my eyes. my mind drifts, i think about how difficult it must be for them, this world can defile you. I get up and shower and pray and read the quran in the garden. then I finish reading the forty rules of love, i feel inspired by the transformation of rumi from scholar to poet, and by the mysterious character of shams, but for some reason the book leaves me feeling a bit empty, a bit confused and frustrated. I decide to go for a wander. I go to the cemetery. It starts to rain, the cemetery is empty. I do dhirk. I look at the big mysterious trees, the mirror image hazelnut trees, the sad weeping willows and worn oaks. It's so quiet and peaceful, the sky is an inky grey. I feel like i'm in the middle of the countryside, I feel like i'm in the past, maybe a hundred years ago- maybe more. I wander, everything's a bit hazy. a fox gallops off in the distance, then ducks beneath a fence, it's just me again. i decide to leave after a while. I don't want to get locked in. my shoes aren't the best for climbing over gates. they're not mine. they're noreens.

I go to the local mosque. It's empty, on the other side of the curtain I can see a woman peeling potatoes. Everything looks shiny and new, the gold curtains, the new prayer mats. I take a seat at the back and read quran. after a while a lady interrupts me and asks if i can go upstairs and read as they are preparing the food. I say of course. I feel a bit hurt that I couldn't finish the ayah I was on. I curse myself for being sensitive. I leave the mosque, feeling a little emptier than when I entered it. not the desert rose, or suleiman the drunk, just a wandering lost girl, whose sense of self is fading. just a girl whose been loitering around outside of the gates of paradise for far too many years, unable to catch a glimpse. I go home.

sofi asks me to accompany her to the shops. we go to aldi and do the shopping, we go to pooja and daily fresh and tesco's. we go home.... I listen to talks by shaykh hamza yusuf, a few of them move me to tears, rumi 'come, come again' everything makes sense. God is merciful, signs are manifest, though we may not understand them. this isn't a caravan of despair. the door it open. the door is open. i recite the quran. i feel myself heal. i feel myself getting closer. I fall short a thousand times a day, every miracle I've seen and experienced- everything I've been given, the door is open - blessings manifest.

day 4

I dash out the door and get on the tube. I get to south ken, I remember its half term, the queue outside the museums are too too long. there are crowds of people everywhere, from everywhere, every corner of the world, speaking so many alien tongues. I start my shift. time blurs. I tire of talking. I tire of smiling. I catch up with friends at the museum, M tells me she's leaving. I'm so happy. I hug her. I feel so sad. she can't leave.

I pray at the end of the corridor, on the other side of the door I can head muffled voices, thousands of them, peace is in the prayer...

day 5

I sit on the grass in the courtyard at the V&A during my break. I watch the children play in the water.

I see him come towards me and brace myself for the goodbye. I tell him I hope everything works out, and that i'm sure it'll be amazing. I feel sad knowing that I'll probably never see him again. I remember that line from stand by me 'friends come in and out of your life, like busboys in a restaurant, did you ever notice that?' I feel happy, knowing that nice guys don't finish last. Sometimes they get everything. their dream job at jaguar, a company car, their perfect woman. I feel happy. everything is beautiful. every departure is bittersweet.

on the bus journey home, I rest my head against the window and stare out of it. I stare at the people, below, at the buildings, the trees, the river. I feel like everything is changing again, and I feel unsettled, and as though my time at the museum is coming to an end. Ya Allah, show me the way.

day 6

I can't sleep after fajr. I get up and get dressed, Noreen asks where I'm going. I say on an adventure, I ask if she wants to come. She say's no, you're crazy. She gets dressed and meets me at the front door. It's 4.15, we leave and get the night bus. we sit upstairs at the front. the sky is still dark, but its gradually lightening, electric pinks and deep blues, silver chem trails leave patterns in the dawn sky. we chatter and we sit in silence. time before time. we get off the bus just before it crosses westminster bridge, the sun is rising, the streets and pathways and bridges are empty. we wander across it, beside the river. we wander over the golden jubilee bridge. there's no one and its mystical and magical. there are some women dressed in printed sari's, they speak in a language unknown, perhaps romanian. we wander down to the beach. I search for seashells along the foreshore. gold light hits the water, the pebbles, footprints in the sand, a single swan passes by. I pick up bits of pipe and rock and bone. I put them down, we sit on the sand against the river wall. there's no one in the the world, just the two of us....
 


day 7

I recite the quran in the early hours of the morning, the sun rises, everything is beautiful, my Lord is near, I feel myself ascend, to a place where there is only stillness.

the sun is shining, I wander, by the river. I wander around the fire brigade museum.


I wander around the migration museum. I enter into the calais jungle, I sit in the dark room and watch sad films sharing stories of the boys and men and women that called the jungle home. Valiant, courageous, desperate, visionary. My stomach rumbles. I feel grateful. Alhamdillah. I feel so grateful. I feel so sad. the world is unequal and harsh. eternity is forever. I look at the photos on the wall of boats filled with people, human beings with heartbreaking stories.


I leave after a long while. I wander around a tropical community garden. I wander under palms. I wander through a secret passageway that leads to another secret garden. I wander the streets. I wander to Oval. I wander to the bus stop. To home. I buy a frame for my neighbour Mia, and when I go home, I put her painting in it.  

Saturday, 15 April 2017

passing thoughts of a museum greeter

up and down, I wander... then pace, like a tiger, like tipu's tiger, ready to bolt.. I take a deep breathe, I look to the clock, a minute has passed, I stop. I stand still. I close my eyes. An eternity passes. I open them. I begin to wander again, into the renaissance gallery. narcissus is staring into the ground, his reflection has disappeared, the fountain is no more, the waters have evaporated- gone... there is a naked stone man, he is slaying another, his stone eyes furious, cold, filled with disdain... lyrics pass through my head, that old hindi song, lagan tumse man ki lagan, lagan tumse man ki lagan. I'm somewhere else, under the blue sky on a charpai in lahore on a balmy spring day. so many years later, so many years... life is passing by, sometimes freely, aimlessly, but there's so much left to do. shit, and I'm here, just wandering, just witnessing, a timeless act of violence; inert, still, restless, ill, but here... still here... alhamdulillah for life.

I watch the people pass by, a Japanese man wearing a blue kimono, an old Indian lady dressed in an orange and gold sari, trainers poking out, she smiles at me, I smile back, I forget sometimes that I'm not invisible, not yet- slowly fading- not yet. A monk in red robes, he's drifting, countless couples, little kids, elderly... tourists, dressed in beautiful attire. I have cat hair on my scarf and dust on my boots. I wonder, is it possible to die of boredom? I watch the clock, ten minutes have passed. I try to remember God. I try once again to do dhikr, I move my thumb across the length of my fingers... repeating as I go; subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah, subhanAllah....... 'excuse me miss, where are the closest toilets?' I'm pulled back to earth. Straight ahead down the stairs on the left. I repeat for the hundredth time. 'thank you' Off she goes. I sigh.

The construction workers pass by in hard hats, in neon yellow, gruff, they look out of place.... the director walks over to the information desk. I try to stand a bit straighter, but then I decide I don't care. I want to bang my head against the beautiful marble pillar. I want to lie on the floor and fall asleep until the end of time. I want the glass chandelier to come crashing down, but is it possible, I wonder? to die of boredom. thoughts that lead nowhere. isn't it funny, all I ever wanted to do was wander and watch people and watch life unfold, and sometimes it's everything. Sometimes it's perfect. my face hurts from smiling. I still can't laugh. On a good day, when my imagination runs wild, a thousand good thoughts to feed off, a soul energized, illuminated, pleasant exchanges, connections abound. a memory comes to me, a distant vague memory, the well of death, mona lisa's sad smile, her eyes bore holes into my heart, the stars and ocean at dongbaek, taking out the trash, fire and ice, a place i once tarried. But sometimes it's bad, because it's tiring doing nothing, and watching the clock, and waiting waiting waiting, and watching and wandering in circles, up and down, with only thoughts for company, the bad kind, the kind that won't ever go away. I lose my mind. I wander, I watch, I wait. Maybe it's the prednisolone. I feel dizzy- as though I'm caught in a whirlwind. The constant sound of people chattering is jarring the noise, the noise, the noise, the movement. You chose this. I close my eyes. Everything is everything.

soon i'll finish my shift, and I can walk under the sky. birdsong and river and evening light, solitude. sweet sweet solitude. my mind calms. I open my eyes again. A stone figure is staring at me. I will turn to stone. People will walk around me. Don't touch the statues!

I wander around islamic middle east, everything is too beautiful, the feeling passes. everything is nothing. I go back to the clock, the clock the clock...............................

///flashback////
what took you so long?

I don't know. I shrugged. Life happened. In my mind I search for the answers. Everything that comes to me, leaves me feeling a little emptier. self loathing, self doubt, a thousand insecurities, lack of courage and a desire to be free. <hesitation> a need for self preservation. What took you so long? The voices within and without. The rejection, the heartbreak, the condescension, the heartbreak, the self doubt, the job vacancies in my inbox, the voices, what if you're not good enough? you're not good enough, nothing even matters. Does it even matter? The questions, the questions, the questions, the questions. What took you so long? The past, the path, the daydreams, it seems; Life happened. an inability to commit, to trust, to speak openly, to kick up a fuss, the desire to leave, the heartbreak, the loss of faith, ---- to wait. Missing God. Missing God. Missing God.

I watch the clock. A few minutes to go. Just a few more minutes. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

weatherland



I bought this book a while ago for a friend, sadly I never got a chance to hand it over... i seem to have a growing collection of things I've gotten for people over the years... life is sad like that, people come and go so often, sometimes so unpredictably, and then you're without, but its nice to have things that remind you of them, a museum of things...

I recently started reading weatherland, it's an illuminating and a beautifully written book, an immense anthology of weather through the eyes of writers and artists, from virginia woolf to keats... it starts with an account from the author, she relays her experience of spending a few days watching the changing light and water in a small village in the south downs not far from alfriston...

weather.... i love the weather. especially english weather- as unpredictable as it is maddening, our weather is so varied - the rain, the wind, the lightning and thunder, sunshine on a cloudless day, grey clouds on a sunless day, moody skies, glorious sunsets and dramatic technicolour sunrises, vague heavy twilights that fade out ever so slowly, the fog, the mist, the stars on a clear night - there's so much beauty to be found in weather- so much healing. A perfectly painted canvas above, it spreads across the page, it reminds me of the greatest and most magnificent artist, the creator of all things, Allah swt.... it reminds me of the passing and transient nature of all things, the weather changes, as do most things in life, even seemingly fixed and certain things, and there's a beauty in that too... in understanding that and appreciating the weather, every hue in every sky... droplets of dew on a blade of grass, the rising purple fog on a baron field,  there's so much comfort and beauty to be sought in watching the weather, being part of it, there's so much inspiration...

It was really windy this evening, gusts blew through me, the weeping willows swayed wildly under the purple sunset sky, the birds flew up above, the river ebbed and flowed, the weather changed again- there was stillness (outside and within). lately things have been hard, I think maybe for everyone. I don't know. But it's so nice after being sick for so long to be able to breathe again (literally), to wander and to watch the weather and to find peace simply in being inside of it, to feel a sense of relief and a joy I can't begin to put to words- the gold light, a rainbow from a bus window, the drops of water that cling to it, the cosmos that lie therein...

at the museum where I work, I've been looking for weather too, clouds etched in ceramics, skies painted in oil, constable's and turner's... When life feels so scatty and dark and you begin to feel hopeless, sometimes it's so nice simply to pull yourself out of everything and to just watch the weather change, and let it inside of you- let is wash away and blow away, and burn away, everything that pollutes your heart, mind and soul....

Here's a photo of a sunset I saw yesterday and some passages from the book....






Sunday, 1 January 2017

(To Be) Turned Away

On New Year’s Day 2016, I found myself watching the sunrise over Jirisan Mountain in Korea with my oldest and closest friend, C. We never planned our adventure, we just took off on a whim the night before, we ended up driving for 6 hours until we made it to the deserted National Park. We found a room to crash in for the night, outside of it there were heaps of snow, a burning fire and a couple of hounds, above, there were a million stars- it was so mystical and dreamlike; that scene. I remember we woke up early the next morning to watch the sunrise before taking off again, to some new unknown destination. That's how we were, that's how we had always been- spontaneous, fearless, slightly crazy.

This year, we were supposed to be reunited in London. I couldn't wait to see her, my friend who over the years had become a close sister to me- closer still. We shared everything, adventures, stories, memories, laughs- so many laughs. I couldn't wait for us to be together again, to witness the dawn of a new year, a new beginning.

I never got to see C, because they never allowed her across the border into the UK from France. She called me from a police station on New Year's Eve. She said they didn't believe that she was visiting me. She didn't have many clothes or fixed plans, she did have a return ticket though and details of a hostel she had booked. The plan was we'd spend a few days wandering around London, we'd re-live some of our early adventures and embark on new ones, and then when we got bored of the crowds and the buildings, we would take a trip to the South Coast where we'd spend a few days walking by the coast, and talking about the things that mattered- often absurd and stupid things.

They never let her cross the border- the border (real and made-up) that separates people- and keeps them apart. They never let her cross. She said they asked her a stream of questions, and detained her for over 15 hours- they asked her so many questions. Are you married? No. Cross. Are you working? No I left my job. Cross. What do you do for money? I run an airbnb. Cross. What's you're fixed address? I currently live on a boat. Cross. Why do you have so few clothes? I don't need very many clothes, I can borrow my friends'. *suspicious look* cross. They never let her cross the border. They went through all her things, they read her diary- it was in Korean. They laughed at her. They told her she was a suspicious character. They made her cry, they said they were crocodile tears. She felt powerless and frustrated and so so sad. I could hear it in her voice. I felt her pain.

In this modern world, it's very hard to live an unconventional life and not be demonised for it-  it's hard to live an alternative life where you don't plan, where you don't have a fixed address, where you don't have a partner or a 'purpose,' you're not driven by materialism, and your sense of self is not reliant on the work that you do or the title that you hold. The things I love most about C, are her bravery, her sense of humour and the way she lives, freely, unconventionally, unbound by society and people and their small mindedness. I love that she never asks me how work is going, or what projects I'm involved in- all these too small questions in a too big world. Society doesn't like people who they can't put in a box, they don't understand vagrants, wanderers, poets, the starving artists and struggling writers- most importantly those with no titles and no need for them- the free. There is a price that you pay for freedom. There is a price you pay for living an unconventional life.

They never let her cross the border. She couldn't believe it, she said she couldn't imagine a worse way to end the year. She told me she would never try to visit Britain again. She said there are far better countries out there, and she'd lived in many of them. She said she only came to see me. Of course I knew all this. I knew it. All I could do was try to comfort her, tell her everything would be fine- that I'd come out to see her in Paris as soon as I could and sorry she had to go through this. I thought back to November last year when I rocked up in Seoul with a half-packed suitcase, a bit of money, an address scribbled on some paper and no plans. They let me through. They didn't ask me any questions. It was the first time I had not been questioned at border control. It felt amazing. I felt sad that she didn't experience the same kindness and hospitality I had. I felt sad that I couldn't give her the presents I wrapped the night before, that I couldn't buy her a dozen lunches, and take her on a few hundred wanders. I felt so sad, all I could do was comfort her.

At the end of the conversation, she laughed it all off good-heartedly as she always would, said they were just doing their jobs, and maybe she was in the wrong. I assured her she wasn't. I told her no one should be made to feel like that, made to feel less than human- I knew how painful it was- to be in that situation, to be asked a thousand questions, to be doubted and never believed, to have all your belongings searched, to be laughed at for your inability to live life in a conventional way- to have lots of clothes, to have lots of money, to have an itinerary, a plan, a plan, a plan. I know what it's like, and it's not nice. There's a price you pay for living free- if you're of colour that is. Maybe only if you're of colour.

Some people come into your life, and change it forever. C is one of those people. She's one of the few people in the world who I can be myself around, the most authentic version of myself, there's something about being around people who are unashamedly themselves, who live day by day and carve out new paths. There's something about people who don't give a shit about fitting in, and living a standard life. It's hard, it really is. But if anything, this experience has taught me that sometimes things worth fighting for are hard. The system is broken. It has been forever. Live the life you want to live, do what you want, and don't ever change to fit in to society, or to cross any borders (material or immaterial). Those worth crossing, won't need you too. X