Strong nosed woman

You’ve forgotten what it feels like to not be strong

Strength is all you’ve known.

Strong like the shackles of familial bond

Strong like the weight of your mother’s tongue

And your father’s fist

Wrapped tight around the idea of you.

You; unafraid to speak yet too scared to say words with meaning

That mean something like when the sun rises every morning

Rises; a new dawn with the promise of a new you

Unfolding like the petals of a flower

The petals crushed with the weight of expectations

Brown blood staining and tainting the petals

Once so pure.

You look in the mirror and you see a strong nosed woman

Brown skin

Bone and tissue carving familiar lines

Tracing back to your ancestors

Suffering and endurance; strength is all they knew.

You look in the mirror and you see a woman scarred

Once bloody and scratched, the skin is now flesh-pink and jagged

If you stretch it out, it looks almost smooth as glass

Brand new yet easy to shatter

Smash into shards reflecting the pain, the hurt, the shock

The sound of clean fingers against glass like the screech of a woman

Face stinging from the pain of a slap

Is this what it means to be strong?

Strong nosed woman,

Strength lies in endurance, you were always told

Strength lies in patience, you were always told

Strength lies in acceptance; you were always told.

So when do you realise the weight of your strength

Is weighing you down

Like a blanket of steel

Crushing crushing crushing your chest like angry waves at high tide

Slamming against the rocks of anger, hurt, betrayal

Rocks they threw at you

Your strength the crest; unwavering. Your pride ripples through.

You forgot what your reflection in the mirror feels like when it is soft, gentle, loved and loving

A softness that flows through you like honey

Warm and caring and a million shades of golden brown all at once

Body aching from the sweetness

Yielding like syrup.

Strong nosed woman

don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

The Eating Ramadhan

 

Ramadhan is the lunar month in which Muslims abstain from food and drink between daylight hours, offer extended night prayers, and generally aim to make the most of the blessings we believe God has placed in this special month.

Majority of Muslims will begin fasting this May, and subsequently the influx of Facebook posts, Tweets, and WhatsApp messages will begin to circulate, spreading goodwill and expressing joy at welcoming in the month. I also like to post in a similar spirit; wishing my friends and family a spiritually uplifting month. Mainstream media also tends to report on the arrival of the special month for Muslims, and with the expected exception of the bigot that is Katie Hopkins, it tends to be an overwhelmingly positive coverage. Many articles will be shared dispelling myths of starvation and Ramadan being a harsh month all about abstaining from food.  There is, in fact, a recurrent theme amongst these messages; the reminder that Ramadan is about self-control, mastering one’s carnal desires and ego, allowing sincere empathy for those less unfortunate than ourselves, and ‘emptying the stomach to feed the soul’, and become closer to God.

Despite the deeper meaning and purpose of Ramadhan, it cannot be disputed that the majority emphasis is placed on hunger and abstention from food. Fasting is the most commonly associated verb with this month. No doubt, with the month of Ramadhan fast approaching, millions of Muslims worldwide will begin their preparations by preparing copious amounts of savouries to be deep-fried…you know, to aid with sustenance throughout fasting, of course. So, quite naturally, or so it may seem, one of the most asked questions during the month is ‘how is fasting going?’

As a Type 1 diabetic for whom it is dangerous and physically near-impossible to observe the long summer fasts, my reaction to this question has led to deeper thinking. To many, I don’t disclose that I am not fasting. For a week or so, they will automatically put it down to my menstrual cycle but beyond that, I cannot bear the usual look of sympathy if I tell them the delicate reason why. And believe me, to this day, it is a delicate reason, especially in the closed knit community within which I live, where it is viewed as a shame that a young woman like myself cannot fast. Unfortunately for myself, and the no doubt countless other seemingly able looking young Muslims, any invisible illness is viewed as something to be hidden away. On a brighter note, I do believe over time this mindset will change, and that I have a role to play myself in being more vocal and accepting of my life-long condition.

And so I find myself asking, am I experiencing a lesser version of this blessed month because I eat regular meals? Or are we subtracting from the true purpose of Ramadan when the one thing we ask about is another person’s hunger? Perhaps the reality is closer to a mixture of both, but I truly believe in a Just and Merciful God who wouldn’t have given me this chronic illness, if in it He didn’t see a way of allowing me to become closer to Him. I also believe in a God who loves me more than I could ever love myself, and has placed a special emphasis on looking after one’s self. I believe that self-care is a Divine responsibility, and whilst I am nowhere near the stage of accepting this as a rule for governing my life, I am trying my best to get there.

So, when we ask ‘how is your fast going?’ as our point of enquiry about the welfare of others during Ramadan, surely a more apt question would be ‘how is Ramadan going for you?’ Surely, we are at risk of neglecting, or not allowing ourselves to realise the true essence of this month when we place emphasis purely on the abstention from food and drink.

For me, the most fulfilling part of Ramadan involves Taraweeh, the extended night prayers. There is inexplicable beauty in congregational prayer; bowing in unison and experiencing the emotive power of recitation of the Qur’an. Congregational prayer reminds me of the importance of my religion; how we are all equal when we all bow on the same floor, and all say Ameen to the same prayers. It brings me closer to both my fellow Muslims, and it brings me closer to God.

Ramadan is also the month in which Muslims believe the Qur’an was revealed, and therefore, it is often referred to the ‘Month of the Qur’an’. If Muslims spend the 30 days concentrating on abstaining from food and drink, but do not make an attempt to build a connection with the Word of God, are we truly doing justice to this month?

A renowned Islamic teacher very eloquently articulated the following reminder on social media last Ramadhan which I feel is pertinent to all, and especially relevant to my situation when I cannot fast:

‘The purpose of fasting and the purpose of Ramadan are different. The purpose of fasting is to develop Taqwa (God-consciousness). The purpose of Ramadan is to get closer to the Qur’an. The spirit of Ramadan is lost…if you don’t come out of Ramadan more in love with the Quran than you were before.’

This is a beautiful statement and profoundly important. There are many avenues to become closer to God and more aware and in love with his Mercy and his Wisdom. For those who cannot fast during this month, the avenues to explore and deepen your faith are immense. But this is also the case for those who can fast, and it is the overall experience of Ramadan (not just the hunger and perhaps the few pounds lost) that is supposed to mould you to come out of the other end the better version of yourself. Isn’t that the point of it all?

Happiness and Mangoes

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing lately – some thought-provoked drafts for this blog, and others more politically charged due to the nature of my professional life. However, around a week ago I took a Saturday morning off just for myself. No friends or family involved; I dedicated the morning to a ‘Reading and Writing for Well-being’ workshop I had stumbled across at  my favourite Arts Centre.

It was a glorious morning, immersing myself in a group of women of all ages and walks of life dedicated solely to words; reading, writing, speaking, enjoying, creating, and experiencing them in all of their perfect literary glory.

Part of the morning was spent experiencing a mango. (‘Huh?!’ I can almost hear you wonder.) But it was great. Better than great in fact; marvellous. We sliced a mango and ate a piece, all collecting our thoughts on the exotic fruit and sharing them in either poetry or prose. I discovered a newfound pleasure in writing purely for creative expression. And so I have taken a small hiatus from the more emotionally charged and ‘philosophically-reaching’ writing and editing to share my creative expression below of eating a mango. I hope it brings you as much joy as it did to me (my condolences if you’re not a mango fan!).

The experience of a mango is a whole event, and a real treat – this fruit is far from humble. Succulent and visually pleasing; its smooth curves and pump shape holds the promise of pleasure. 

From the fragrance, the cutting, the peeling and the manoeuvring, the slipping and sliding -Oh! Watch the knife! – to the biting, the sucking, the bursting of flavour.

From the vision of a far away beautiful land, to the sweet humming of fruit flies, and the promise of a long summer. 

From the juice dripping and the finger licking to the teeth picking and the sweet feeling of satisfaction. Aah. One more, please!