Love songs make me cry
Now that I learned the language
Spoken in the heart.
Love songs make me cry
Absent-minded but with a fully present heart
Love songs make me cry
Now that I learned the language
Spoken in the heart.
It is over a year now since I first met my beloved, and I now admit that I have initially underestimated the depth and resilience of my feelings.
The last post I wrote took a while to compose, I wanted to mention that on that day I met him again, but then the serious issue of the post took over, and I found it hard to bring its tone down by going back to the sore (and now sour) subject of my heartache.
Even though love itself lacks reason, there are certain qualities that first drew me to my beloved. The one I appreciate most is his empathy and his genuine desire to stand for what he feels is right and just, to champion the weak and marginalized and stand up for them. So it is natural that he shows up in an event against homophobia. I know from experience, that once I see him, whether face-to-face or in passing, the damage is usually already done, I know that I will be in for a day or so of sadness and despair, so I might as well speak to him and face the consequences. So I met him head-on, and gave him a little rainbow flag to stick in his shirt pocket. He kept looking at his phone and commenting that he was texting people and urging them to join the event. He also wondered about his Christian colleagues and where was their love for humanity. These are some of the small reasons why I love this man.
I do not remember much of what I said to him in return, but all I know is that in a room full of people I forgot about everyone but him. I was just lost in his presence. I remember he asked about my brother. A few days ago, and because my beloved would appreciate the irony, I had texted him that my brother was asking me for advice on how to make sure a girl likes him. I have found out since that my brother did not win his girl. But lucky for him and his clueless heart, he was not the worse for it. In fact he was quite amazed at how quickly he bounced back from the rejection. He was already on the mend that same day when his love interest told him she was not ready for commitment, how I envy him. I think I complained to my beloved how difficult it was for me to forget him. And even though he made fun of me and told me to listen to my mother and that there were “so many other fish in the sea” I could just look into his eyes and forget what he said and believe instead what his eyes were telling me. I might be delusional or clueless about the language of the eyes, but he told me that he was “bereft” that he did not have any books to read. If there is a word in the English language that would always remind me of my beloved Englishman it is this one, and it always brings back the feelings of loss that I lived with since I knew him. I am bereft too, and disassembled by loving him.
But since this is my life, where I am bound by some old-fashioned principles, the reality has to hit me even while I am fighting the depth of my feelings. I was standing next to him when his phone signaled an incoming call with the call ID of his wife, and in an instant I was brought back to the impossibility of imposing my presence into this script. I would never judge any woman who chooses to take a married man as her lover, if it is clear to all that the intention is to keep this as an affair, a love match that never gets formally recognized. But my feelings for the man are neither trivial nor transitory and I cannot degrade them in an affair that will inevitably taint my love with guilty and self-loathing. On the other hand, I know that an affair is all I could ever have, so I am done for either way. There will never be a “Bridges of Madison County” role for me, and it is best to walk and really mean it.
I have never loved anyone like I love this man, and I know my feelings for him are real, because I wasn’t out fishing when his love found me. I was not looking for a relationship and I will not even start looking now. It was foolish of me to think that an account on Tinder or OkCupid will help me solve the problem of accidentally falling in love with him. Because nothing will be solved until I heal my foolish heart. My problem is that love found me, where I did not want to be found. And as much as I am grateful for the colours it added to my life, for the depth of feelings that I became capable of since our first encounter, for the rebirth of my awareness of my appeal and sexuality, and for the renewed attention to my health, appearance and figure, as much as I appreciate and enjoy all that, there are times when I feel that I have given too much of my body and soul in return for a flood of tears and a load of heartache.
Maybe the happiness I had before was just an illusion, a sense of self-sufficiency that was thinly veiled by contempt, apathy, and cynicism. But I was content in my ignorance, and cushioned by my triumph over my past. Now I know that love exists, and I can no longer scoff at it nor deny it. But I cannot find full gratitude for its presence in my life. Given a choice, I might have wanted to remain ignorant.
So on the 17th of May this year, I decided to retreat into my shell. I wanted to disappear completely, and change my routine so that our paths never cross. I vowed to keep a low profile and not go again to any event where he is likely to be present. I intended to reclaim the empty and peaceful space within my heart, hold in it only those who are already there, those who love me or need me, namely my son, my family, and my closest friends. I wanted to read and write again and maybe go back to school.
I am carrying this through to the best of my ability. And I am sincere in my desire to break free from the Englishman’s spell. I never venture anymore to any place where I am likely to meet him. I never drink coffee on his side of the compound. I spend minimal time in common areas, and mostly take my lunch at the office or in some other place where I am sure to be alone. I keep to my practice of meditation, as I turn to my nerdy nature and ask for healing from within.
Some days are easier than others. It helps sometimes when I am busy with work and my other regular responsibilities as a bread-winner and single mom. At other times the load gets heavy, and busy becomes swamped, and I begin to drop one or another of the many balls that I am juggling. At these times I feel so lonely and need a kind word, I miss him then terribly, because his eyes spoke kindness to me and promised a shadow of understanding and compassion that I was desperate for. And every now and then all the various disappointments, all the heartaches big and small, fuse together into a single red-hot point, and combined they choose to hit me in the solar plexus knocking me off my feet. In the grip of my sorrow, I am still aware that the Englishman is my illness and my cure. Because it is his shoulder that I need to cry on, and his arm that I want to hold on to when I stumble.
I tell myself that leaving was my only option. I reason that every day will get easier than the one before. On most days I do well, I can remember him without sorrow, but then grief hits me in the gut, and I have a tearful day like today.
I have not lost hope. And even on my worst days I still work on healing my heart. But I am not interested in the other fish in the sea. Love found me while I was peacefully drinking coffee alone and reading Dostoevsky. If it wants to find me again then it will, no matter how well I hide. By then I hope to have healed my foolish heart. By then I will know if it is the right love for me, and I will know not to mess with it if it was likely to burn me. I will wait, I have the rest of my life.
On May 17th, my employer held an event to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB). It was the first time the Rainbow Flag was seen at the Nairobi headquarters of my organisation, and that in itself was a momentous event.
We received the usual notification of the event many days before. I usually attend those in solidarity with my LGBTI colleagues whether openly acknowledging their sexuality or not. I attend also in my belief to stand up against any form of discrimination. My responsibility to attend weighs a bit heavier because of my Arab/Muslim background. I would like to show that not everyone from my culture is a homophobic.
Sadly, and although there were free snacks and drinks on offer, the attendance was not high. Attendees were mostly of European descent, with the locals making up a very small minority. Kenya, like most other African countries, is highly homophobic. The reason behind this is the traditional macho image of men, which the African tradition shares with my native Arab culture. Later the influence of religious beliefs that view homosexuality as sin deepened the prejudice further, and the native cultures that tolerated to a certain extent gay relationships between women, now stand against these as well.
Among the male Africans, or locals, who attended the head of protocol and the head of the staff union made brief appearances. And within the small African group, the women clearly outnumbered the men. I find that women are more likely to stand up against discrimination, perhaps because they are often a target for discrimination themselves.
There weren’t many surprises in the keynote addresses. Officials and ambassadors from mostly liberal Western countries spoke (Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, for example). A notable exception was the Executive Director of one of one of the international organisations, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, from Malaysia. She spoke in support of the occasion, and even mentioning that the day coincided with the first day of Ramadan. I have always been wary of the director’s appearance, because she wears the Islamic headscarf. I am prepared, however, to dismiss people’s appearances and examine their their behaviour patterns instead. And in this particular instance I choose to lay aside my inherent skepticism. After all, she could have chosen to attend but NOT speak, so I will view it as a positive sign for a Muslim woman to take the podium on this issue.
All the speakers emphasized that the Declaration of Human Rights, also enshrines the right to live in freedom with our chosen gender identity and sexual orientation. The discrimination against gender identity and sexual preference is no different that any other discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, class or disability.
The most touching address for me was the one given by Kenyan activist Yvonne Oduor. She listed many of the overt and covert ways Kenyan gays and lesbians suffer from discrimination and denunciation in their communities and families. The discriminatory statements that high-ranking Kenyan government officials make against same sex relationships are widely publicised. The current president was quoted as saying that “Homosexuality is not a problem in Kenya”, implying that it did not exist in Kenya or that it was a Western invention. Either way, his statement is false and denies reality and clear historical evidence. The discrimination, marginalization and stigma are the only reasons why the gay community remains largely invisible in Kenya. Yvonne ended her remarks by saying that as an activist she is not fighting to win people’s love and support as a gay woman, she is merely fighting for her right to live, and not to be lynched for her lifestyle. It is sadly true, but the fight against homophobia still has a long ways to go in much of Africa.
I have mentioned before that my native culture is no better. Love is a huge thing in Arabic poetry and literary tradition and there is plenty of evidence on its existence between men and women, and between men. Love between women was almost the normal order of the day, especially in the court of the sultans and strongmen who kept many wives and scores of concubines in their Harem. Women spent most of their days amongst themselves, entertaining each other, in the absence of their owner/husband. The only men they had access to were eunuchs. I would think it is human nature for them to find solace, and even love, with their fellow captives.
African society also tolerates the love of woman to woman, but the hypocrisy of its macho tradition precludes any sexual image to a man other than the aggressor in the sexual act. The attraction to another man is not the problem, what bothers these macho men most is the idea of a male taking the role of a female in a sexual intercourse. It took me a while to understand this sub classification in male-to-male love.
Saudi Arabia for example is a place where gay relationships are punishable. But the nature of its repressive society and strict gender segregation makes it a fertile ground for same sex relationships. Yet when it comes to sexual relationships between men, everyone wants to be a “top” and there are hardly any local gay men who are willing to be the “bottom”. It seems that there is discrimination between the two roles, one is seen as less “man” than the other. There are no such problems in female-to-female relationships, even in this morally conflicted environment. Women who have sex with each other are still women, but since woman’s ranking is already low in the society, she cannot go any lower from her position of powerlessness, whether straight or gay.
I am always at pains to understand the nature of our discrimination against gay people. It is hard enough for heterosexuals to find genuine love and understanding even while looking in the bigger pool of heterosexually inclined humanity. So why would anyone willingly restrict themselves to finding love and understanding within the smaller pool of gay people? Or maybe it is that gay people are genuinely nicer and more in touch with themselves and the people they love. After all, who would understand a woman better than another woman? And who would understand a man better than another man? Maybe they are on to something.