Man’s Legacy of Destruction

There are six anti-aircraft towers in Vienna. I can see two of them from my apartment. At close proximity they are imposing, grey and ugly. Two geometrically shaped, fat middle fingers gestured at the sky and the peaceful creation nearby, a crass reminder of the destruction of man, and an antithesis to everything the city wants to stand for with its delicate architecture and charming civility, passed over two Millennia of its history.

They remain, two ominous centre-pieces of modern destruction in a baroque garden, because, as some believe they were too much trouble to remove. Or perhaps they stay to remind the locals of what they would rather forget. I think that there are still a few Vienna residents who have living memories of WWII, but the survival of these ornaments of destruction has become more poignant now, as we witness the consequences of yet another bloody war in Europe.

I have walked around the Flakturms many times, and read the inscriptions about them. They are more sombre in the winter, when the avenues of black ghostly trees frame them and the wide gravel paths seem to lead directly towards their concrete frame. I noticed once that the graffiti around the lower parts of the G-tower was the only colour in the freezing garden. “Never Again” The bold larger than man-sized letters screamed on the cracked concrete. But we never listened.

Spring has managed to screen the ugliness, somewhat for now, but it still pokes out of the foliage of nature, and the orderly topiaries of surrounding trees. There are some rambling vines growing on the side of one tower, and grass on a flat piece of the other. I also noticed that the pigeons seem to have nested in the crevices and open niches. One day when we are no longer there, nature might take them over completely. And this final thought is not sad at all.

Man supposedly inherited the earth, and in a blink of an eye managed to squander the inheritance. The earth will survive without us, and hopefully nature will recover before the next sentient beings wreak havoc on creation yet again.

The photo is of what the locals call the Flakturm. It is a “G-Tower”, cylindrical in shape and was used to launch anti aircraft rockets. The second tower in the garden is an L-Tower, and used as a control tower for radar equipment. Both were built by prisoners from the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

Love in action… And Words of Advice

A few years ago I became a convert to the religion of love. I used to believe it was a gimmick to sell books, movies and red valentine hearts. Now I know it is real, and it is something beautiful. And it really doesn’t matter whether its source is chemical, emotional or spiritual. The real thing, if you encounter it, is earth-shattering and unsettling. And even though my story was not what romance readers would call a HEA story, it is still a positive one that inspired me to run a marathon, write a very bad Nanorimo novel, and post profusely on this blog. It also deepened my curiosity about a range of subjects from philosophy and meta-physics, to spirituality and religion, and literature and life in general.

I have come away from that experience a bit wounded, but also a bit wiser and more empathic. I am unable now to recapture the Love, as a noun, that expanded my heart to fit the whole wounded world. But in exchange I gained an ability to experience love as a verb, as an action that helps me get through the challenges of life. I love my teenage son, even when he is difficult, rude, or ungrateful. I find opportunities to love my colleagues by showing appreciation. I love the world by understanding its failings and limitation and acknowledging that I am part of it. I love my parents and family by being there for them and being kind. Some of this is hard work, but I do it, because it is better to act out love than any other emotion. It is the glue that holds us together, as individuals, families, societies. It is perhaps the substance of the universe itself. I write this with true conviction, and without sniffling or tears in my eyes, so I know that my love-outcome was positive, even after I packed away my love letters and quit looking at my older heartache posts. And although I did not leave the battlefield of love without losses, some of which have proven irreversible, I still believe that it was worth all the pain and the suffering.

It has been over a year now since I had my last (now I say final) intense conversation with the man I loved. It lasted over two hours, and it was one of the times when I told him I could not forget about him. He listened empathically. I remember him saying that if he brought this problem to the attention of wise people in his family, like his daughter, they would advise him to “cut loose”. I heard only what I wanted to hear from this. But I also suggested that he should write me a goodbye letter, I even drafted the text. He read it and said, that I wrote well. I never received that note or any other from him, and this again was misinterpreted. When I read these lines now, I smile at my naive self, but I also rejoice at the sincerity of the sentiment and the depth of my devotion.

I will send this note to myself now on his behalf, and do as I/he said.

Dear x. I appreciate that the feelings you carry for me are genuine and sincere. But I see that they are neither healthy for you nor helpful for me. I therefore allow you to let go of them without resistance. I set you free from any hold I might have unconsciously placed upon you by things I said or withheld. Think of me if you wish with fondness and compassion but release me from your heart as I will also release you in this life. Until the soul can decide where it will dwell in the next one.

Here are a few things that I learned from that experience. I would have liked to share them with the man who inspired them, but as I said, I already folded my unsent love letters and drafted my silent goodbye. Now it would be counterproductive to get in touch after months of silence just to say farewell. I am sure he will understand my silence for the goodbye that it is. It is possible that he will be even relieved that I finally cut him loose.

To all my girlfriends and women in love, you are important, so look after yourselves:

What you think he feels is irrelevant. Don’t try to interpret his messages, the jokes he makes, and the ambiguous phrases in his emails. If he did not spell out his feelings to you clearly, there might be a million different interpretations to the words he says. The interpretation you want is just one of them. Understand the odds and know that he might be only trying to be friendly, polite, joking, flirting or just humouring you. This is especially important to understand if you have been open about your feelings for him. If he is afraid to tell you how he feels after that then he has problems. You do not need that.

Take what he says at face value only. Never try to dig deeper or feel that you understand him better than he understands himself. Even if it is true, some people want to stay in their world of denial. It is not your job to fix them. Allow him to be what he believes he is.

If he is married, or in a committed relationship, always assume that the relationship is fine, and that his partner is a thousand times better than he will ever be. If he claims that his wife is not treating him well, always assume that she probably gives him the cold shoulder because he is an ass, and that he would happily kneel at her feet like a loyal dog if she decided to look at him kindly.

If you suspect that he is separated, divorced, or living in an open marriage, be bold and try to confirm this. Do not try to interpret the signs of missing wedding rings or removed family photographs. Most importantly, do not take his word for it. If any of these things are true then the partner or her friends would corroborate the story and you can take action accordingly.

If you want an affair you can do whatever you like, but it is also best to announce your intention so that the other person knows where they stand.

Remember: There are no rules. These are only guidelines for your own protection. All is fair in love and war is a correct statement but whatever you do, be aware of the consequences and take responsibility for your own actions. Do not blame the man for things you chose to misunderstand or misinterpret.

And if you have a girlfriend or someone you care about in a situation of heartache and endless wondering, try to be the sound of reason. Do not be a “pick me” friend by empowering and validating the emotional high. If she makes it, and gets the love of her life, you will be happy for her, and she will be so overjoyed that she will forget your scepticism. But if things fall apart you will at least be able to pick up the pieces with her and support her. This will not happen if you constantly validated her feelings and encouraged them. You might even end up as one of the people she wants to forget, a symbol of the emotional and irrational state she does not want to return to.

Some Final Words: Not everything I wrote above is reflection of my own experience, they are just imagined scenarios inspired by what I felt. I have written perhaps hundreds of pages on the man I loved, on how he made me feel and think. Only a fraction of my words made it to this blog. I recalled every detail of our few conversations, phone calls, and text messages, trying to analyse them and glean some meaning. This was a huge waste of time and energy and my best achievement and best work were done when I turned this energy outwards and created something out of it. I swapped the unattainable for the difficult but achievable, and loved those who wanted and needed my love, including myself. Love is powerful and beautiful, it holds the universe together, but we are mere mortals with finite time on this earth (or in this life) so we cannot hold its intensity for very long. This is not a limitation, it is a function of us existing in time. The transience of our experience enables us to survive through the trials and joys of our limited time. Nothing, not even enlightenment and transcendence, can be held for a long time. In the biography of the late Ram Dass, he wrote about his experience with psychedelics and how he progressively increased the dosage to achieve a transcendent state of consciousness. And every addict knows this, whether it is a drug, alcohol or sex, the more you turn to them the more you crave, and the less effective they become. In a sense, for us humans, less is always more. We should crave the doses of pleasure that we can handle. Or as Alan Watts said, “if you get the message hang up the phone”. I got the message loud and clear, and it is time to hang up that phone.

Love rules. Always. Acknowledge it, honour it, and experience it. If it doesn’t lead you to happiness, it will grant you kindness and wisdom.

.

Don’t Grasp …

The parting gift of 2021 for me was a little bit of wisdom and understanding. It did not come to me cheaply or quickly, but I still believe it arrived on time.

Intellectually, and from my pervious dabbling with mindfulness mediation, I already understand that life is only the present. Yesterdays are gone, and the future is an uncertain gamble, at best. Those who grasp at moments of past happiness are reconstructing remembered experience in hindsight from the viewpoint of the present. On the other hand, dreams of the future are sometimes just an escape from present discomfort. Living this way is a permanent sleep-walking state. We become completely or partly oblivious of the present moment, either imagining a future that might never arrive, or re-interpreting the past. In either case we are missing the point. Life is moving along in ever-changing patterns of good and bad times. All of them are temporary, and the point of it might not actually be where we have been or where we want to be next. The point is just the journey, the dance we perform and the music we play along the way.

In the past few months I was stuck in such a futile pattern. I came here, to the city of music and culture from a place where I knew I was happy. It was a place where I found love and glimpsed my own version of enlightenment. I missed Kenya. I missed Africa, the sunshine, the people, the coffee, the avocados, the simple uncomplicated life. I felt overwhelmed by learning about my new job, the challenges of raising a demanding teenager, the difficulties of adapting to a different lifestyle, and of simply finding a place for myself in foreign city. Most of all I missed the person that I became when I was fully embraced by my beloved Africa. So I tried hard to recapture that luminous phase of my life, and I grasped at everything I thought I lost. When I went shopping I tried to buy the exact same tools and utensils I had in my previous life. When I lost my beloved chain bracelet I tried to order an exact replica. I looked for Kenyan coffee, to recapture the taste of sunshine and inject life-giving warmth into my cold mornings. I grasped with desperation at memories, at moments where I felt my heart expand to encompass the whole universe, when I reached out to receive the world’s loving embrace. I remembered how well I loved, that I became wholesome in loving, and the universe seemed to hold and lift me, even while my beloved remained aloof and silent. I desperately wanted all that again.

The inevitable failure of my grasping phase came in little pointers and signs. The replacement bracelet was expensive and underwhelming, not at all like the one I lost, and the tools and utensils became useless white elephants, unsuitable for my modern European apartment. The coffee tasted like cardboard, and did not live up to my idolised version of African coffee. Each little failure was another loss, and another reason to wallow in misery and grasp even more at the past. In Kenya, I thought, everything fell into place for me, whereas here, everything went wrong. My spirit suffered as well. My attempts at recapturing the spiritual heights I experienced through running, yoga and meditation were half-hearted to non-existent. My heart felt closed and constricted and no longer capable of unconditional loving. I regained my cynicism in matters of the heart and started to re-interpret my emotional experience more rationally.

Comparing my present state of mind with the past one I remembered was jarring and unsettling. Sometimes I felt like I fell from grace, and descended from paradise to earthly suffering. At other times I thought that I must have been floating on an opioid cloud for the past six years, and just sobered up now to cold reality.

Eventually, and perhaps with the help of a lecture I listened to from Alan Watts, it dawned on me that neither my emotional nor my rational interpretations were correct. I simply failed to understand one basic lessons. Life is a flowing river, and it is a bad idea to grasp at flowing water. The clenching fingers fail to hold a single drop, and the tense limbs are no match for strong currents. That lesson holds for some things in the physical world too, like trying to fall asleep or trying hard to float in a pool. Trying too hard is sometimes the surest guarantee of failure.

Today, I have decided to float freely and stop grasping. However, in doing that, I also want to remember that I should not try too hard. True acceptance after all, is the absence of resistance, and sometimes the pull of the past will still be felt, but I need to understand it for what it is, an illusion, a re-imagining of the past from the viewpoint of the present.

There will always be things that I can, and should, work harder at, like getting more exercise or practicing meditation. But the present experience should be the heart of the practice. I should enjoy the meditation session, the single run, and the yoga lesson. And while the end goal of running another marathon or getting fit and flexible in my middle age years could work as a motivator, the end goal is not as important as the present experience. My present moment is all I have, and I will make it count.

The Test and Lessons of Time

There is no going back on some things you do, and no recovery of some pieces you give from yourself. Some people have deep pockets and shallow hearts. They give their word today and forget it tomorrow. They give their hearts forever, but that “forever” turns out to be just a day or a year. I am one of the unlucky few. I only say what I sincerely feel, and then only when I know that I truly mean it.

In loving, my regrets do not extend to the casual losses of heartache. My hurt is not for the wasted time, the squandered pride, and unrequited feelings. To my mind, the people I loved were worthy of the time I spent, the heartache I felt, and the pieces of my heart that I will never be able to fully heal. And even if they were not, then the love itself was worth it, in its sincerity and purity.

What I regret most, is giving people once loved a window to my truest self, and then knowing, long after they have proven transient in my life, that they might be still watching, through that window, lurking on the fringes of my existence, and silently judging me.

And it wouldn’t have mattered at all if the dishonesty they accused me of was real, because only I know that what I gave was my very essence. It was the only thing, that remained unchanged, after life presented me with challenges and bottomless heartbreaks in ten different cities on four continents.

Some people agonise over the secrets that they surrendered to the ears of lovers or friends, in the heat of passion, or on the coals of remorse. I do not care if the world knew about my petty secrets. It would not bother me if everyone found out about the men I loved; even my teenage follies and the occasional bad choices. But I am grateful that the objects of my old desires cannot look at my words here, to know what I think of them now. Let them cling to the bliss of ignorance, and think what makes them happy. That I still remember, or that I really forgot. Let them keep and shape their memories of me, as a foolish woman, as a slut, or as the one they should have kept. And at least I have this magical place to laugh and to cry about things that happened, or almost did, or never came to pass. I can reflect on old loves, like I reflect and whinge on my rivals without fearing judgment.

For all my foolishness in love, I am grateful that at least I kept a space to myself to reflect where my former lovers cannot reach me. I think there was always a part of me that mistrusted men, and prevented me, sometimes at the last minute, from throwing caution completely to the wind. But I wish that feminine self-preservation extended further to my close female friends.

I wish I was woman enough to carry my pain alone, and bury it in this little wrinkle in the anonymous cyberspace, and not seek validation from anyone. It is a lesson I learned now. If I were observant, I would have learnt it earlier from the same woman who caused this regret. She always kept much of herself hidden, and only chose to show me things that I could relate to. But I was too much in pain to notice, and only started waking up when something inside me decided to rebel against my familiar, and house-trained, sorrow.

There are things now that I cannot talk about. It is the price I have to pay for being untrustworthy with the workings of my inner self. It is my punishment for giving a bit too much. But I will not allow it to be the end of the world for me, and it is not the end of giving parts of myself.

Some people I know in real life read this, and have access to my deepest thoughts. Most have proven their worth, not by being as foolish and open as I am to them, but by being always honest, empowering me to see things differently, rather than enabling my weakness. Not all of them are women. Some are family and some are decade-long friends. But all of them waited long enough for the privilege and understood it as an opportunity to critique, not a request for validation.

Almost 15 years ago I had to migrate my blog because my then husband and his family used to read it. It started as simple baby blog then turned into a space to chronicle my struggle with divorce and conflicts with my child’s father. I painstakingly removed all identifying information from blog posts, and started to speak freely about my ex. It was difficult at first to go past the self-imposed barriers of loyalty and pride. It became easier as time passed. Now my ex and I are so distant physically and mentally that it no longer matters to me if he reads here and how he judges it.

Time renders many things irrelevant, and perhaps this is also one of them. So I will turn the page on this story for now and speak about other things. From now on I will try to put things to the test of time, will what I say and do today matter next year? Will I love you next year like I love you today? Will I trust you next year like I trust you today?

The answer has to be a clear YES before I write about it here. There will be no place for “I am not sure”, or “I do not know”. And this cancels out most matters of the heart, because hearts are fickle and prone to change. It also cancels out dreams, aspirations and desires. The same is true for best laid plans. When I arrived in Kenya in 2015, I said to myself that I came home. I believed that I will never leave the sunshine of Africa again. Six years later I am here, staring out of a window into the darkness of the incoming European winter. I could tell myself that this is only transitory, that I will return in five years, when my son finished school, but I fear that the fates are already laughing at me, that my destiny might be to stay here into my old age, or to die here before I even get to enjoy my twilight years.

Will it matter in a year? Will this hold true in a year? Even if I say a clear YES today, the outline of a NO might be already drawn for me on the pages of destiny.

Time is such a joker, so keep a space to yourself, to change your mind about everything, and to erase what you have written yesterday, with great conviction.

Diamonds and Frost

Sometimes, the pain of your soul will reveal, where your heart truly dwells.

Sometimes, 
I welcome the pain.
when it means I'm alive, 
that my heart still beats, 
With something beyond it's mechanics of survival, 
the rush of life's blood, and the rhythm of  breathing.

Sometimes, 
it's good to wake up with a memory of muddled dreams, 
where I fought for something undefined 
and awoke with a vague sense of loss
that tells me I'm struggling for meaning, 
I haven't yet sold my soul 
for a fist-full of gold

And sometimes, 
When I surrender to the urge,
to own, to buy and to consume, 
I remember that sunshine was free, 
as was love, friendship and the scent of rain

I still miss the red dust of Africa on my shoes, 
And the warm smiles cracking 
on tanned, work-weary faces
I miss the belief that I had plenty, 
that I did not need to ease the pain of existence, 
with shopping online

And it hurts me so, that I will soon surrender
the kiss of copper and bronze on my skin, 
to the blue-tinge of winter cold, 
And although I am privileged and envied 
I  know what I lost
I traded golden sunshine and hearts,  
the perpetual green, and the smell of warm earth 
for expensive perfume,
for style and high culture, 
at a great cost
for gold that only glitters, 
for diamonds and  frost. 

Somehow I’ll Find My Way Home

I spend long times dwelling on the questions of being and belonging, in a place, in a time or within a group. And after over half a century on this earth, I realize that I relate most to people who have similar questions about belonging. I gradually drifted from people who closely identified with ideals, from a nationalistic or religious angle. My nature is a questioning one, and I feel that my personality, my likes and dislikes are not fixed. Nothing ever remains the same so why should people relate closely to identities and groups they did not even choose.

If we can rethink our choices of careers, partners, friends and favourite activities, why can’t we revise our ideas of home, culture, religion and tribe? The identities we were born with were imposed on us and we should have the power to question and change them. If I take this thinking further I can venture to say that the least interesting people I know are those who were born into certain categories of existence and spent their lives defending them and trying to tell me and others that theirs was the only way to live. When I am faced with such arguments I mostly nod my head sadly and wonder about where their convictions came from when they haven’t tried other options. The most powerful arguments of this type come from religious or nationalistic camps. It is easy to get trapped into logical fallacies when you proclaim your way as the only way, given that you have tried no other options. That is why religious propaganda and missionary work often relies on converts who have found their true saviours in Allah, Jesus or Jehovah after being failed by one of the former or by any other styles of belief or non-belief that exist in the world today.

The most compelling spiritual stories are about people who have spent a long time on their journey and altered their destination or worldview to arrive where they are. None of the inspiring people we know was born into the lifestyle and existence that inspired us. We are mostly inspired by change, by moving from one state into the next and this in essence is what we seek for our spiritual life.

I type these words now as I look outside my window into a back courtyard of a European residential building. The neighbouring buildings are hiding behind the green veil of tall trees swaying in the breeze. The oak trees are still carrying their full foliage and haven’t yet turned colour and I am looking forward to the autumn palette that I have not seen in many years.

My own journey of belonging is taking another turn, and I now live in Europe. I still feel the pain of leaving Africa. Today I re-organised some of my things, most of which are still packed in suitcases. I came across some gifts I received and items I cherished. The vibrant colours of Africa spilled out of my luggage from shirts, clothing items, kikoys, shopping bags, and masks. The ache is still there, and I miss the friendly faces of my Kenyan friends who became like family to me. But I also notice that I am slowly making this city my own. I walk the streets and see myself in many people, the crazy, the non-conformist, the woman who wears fluffy fur sandals in the mall, and the woman who sings audibly as she awaits the traffic light to change colour. I see myself in the ageing man with a pot belly wearing his socks with his sandals and in the young-looking grandma choosing her three apples carefully in the market.

I love the colourful markets and the niches of counter-culture I discover every day. I have even developed a secret admiration for graffiti artists and those who stick copies of their poems on the bridges that cross the river and its canals.

I used to identify as African, defying my son who branded me with cultural appropriation. I still relate to the simple African lifestyle, to the spirit of the good people, their patience and benevolence. How they are ready to welcome a stranger into their lives and make him or her feel at home. I felt at home in Kenya, and I believe that I shall return to visit often. But after over two decades of moving places, countries and continents, I learned that the only home I need to make for myself is within my own heart. I learned to welcome and accept myself at every stage of my life, and acknowledge that I had a blessed one. I am lucky to be where I am now, and I was lucky to stay six years in Kenya. I now know that I was even lucky for my four years in New York. In those four years I did not learn to befriend the city and its people, but now I know that it was possible to find my niche even in that wild city. I could have hidden somewhere from its blatant consumerist culture and found a space where art and counter-culture thrive on the challenge the city’s existence created.

There is always a place to call home. And it changes with time. Ten years ago, I visited South Africa for the first time after moving to New York. My friend and her children met me at Cape Town airport. They held signs that welcomed me and my son home, decorated with stars, hearts, and glitter. The childish colourful drawing and words touched me deeply, and I kept these signs for a long time. When I moved to Nairobi I stuck the welcome signs on the wall of my bedroom. The rising sun shone on them every morning, and I gazed upon them every night as I drifted to sleep. The symbolism of the sign was that I was truly home, safely in my bed, in Africa.

I gave up that symbol after six years. I now understand that a gypsy like me might always be on the lookout for a home. That the home that I am looking for might not be an actual place, just a feeling that I have when I like myself just as I am in this moment. And somehow I’ll find my way home. Somehow, I will be going somewhere.

I Wish You Knew

I would like to call you sometime. To tell you that you visited me in a dream, after a long absence. I would mention perhaps that we kissed, in the dream. I tasted your lips that remained forbidden to me in my waking life.

I would like to tell you that I am struggling to belong, in a place that you have never visited. That I feel like a stranger here, although I have been here before, I speak the language, and know how the locals operate. I wish I could tell you that this gypsy only found home in your eyes. I wish I could tell you what you meant to me, what you still mean.

I wish you knew that no matter how far I walked away, you always remain with me. I wish I could tell you that the best version of me was the woman who experienced the intensity of joy and suffering in loving you. I would tell you she was free from suffering for now, but lived in a shadowland, away from your light.

I am no longer the creature of fire and light that burned brightly in your presence. I am just a soul that soared once on the wings of angels, then crashed to the ground. But sometimes I can feel the remaining embers of that fire glowing in my innermost core, and I recall how it felt, to fly. And I still want to be gentle with every human I meet, because you walk this earth.

The Shape of My Heart

It is early morning in a smallish European capital that is laden with history, both for me and my family and for humanity. I am trying to make this city my home for the second time. Although the person who walked here over 30 years ago could have been a stranger, someone I heard about or imagined. My half-formed self has changed profoundly since then. And even the city whose existence is counted in millennia changed a lot in three decades.

I am not yet sure whether I will befriend my new place of dwelling or loathe it. I have had both good and bad times here, and I fear what the northern cold would do to me. After six years of living in temperate climate, I find this European summer a bit cooler than the tropical winters of Nairobi. I am now wearing the same light jacket that I wore there when it got cold. The rain and thunderstorms arrive with the same frequency. But Africa’s weather, just like its people’s temperament, changes quickly from dark to light, and from cold to warm. Here, it takes longer for the air to warm from a cold spell, as it takes time for people to thaw from partially frosty and stand-offish attitudes.

I admit that I what I am saying is just my heart missing the warm embrace of Africa. With the exception of one glum taxi driver, who was not even local, I have seen nothing but warm welcome from colleagues and from the city itself. I look forward to exploring it on foot and enjoying, for once, the pleasure of being a flaneur in a well-organized walkable city. Because while African populations largely prefer walking, most of their cities and towns are anything but walkable. People still walk everywhere, among fields, on dirt roads and even on city highways. There are no rules nor paths for walking, the people just make them by the tread of their feet.

Europeans only walk for pleasure, not to commute or to get themselves from point A to point B. My current city is spoiled for choice when it comes to means of commute, as it has Subways, buses and street cars. And it is a fraction of the size of Nairobi, both in terms of space and population.

My current apartment is tiny in comparison to my place in Nairobi, but is well-designed and organised in a manner that makes its size irrelevant in comparison to its convenience. But there are still things to learn. How to sort waste, in the absence of informal recyclers who would make use of all discarded items of plastic and glass. And how to choose healthy foods from supermarkets bursting with choices and temptations.

It is relatively easy to replace mangos and avocados with apples and pears, even when your preference runs to the former rather than the latter. But it is much harder to go back from coffee capsules to regular ground coffee from a pour-on filter. My preference for plain water is already challenged by a myriad of fizzy drinks that offer low sugar content but god knows how many additives and sugar substitutes. And the African definition of fresh vegetables will surely be challenged by agricultural productions practices in Europe. My next learning tasks will be how to eat clean, when I am tempted by discount grocers and fast food outlets on a daily basis. How to maintain a frugal existence when I am surrounded by elegance and style. I am now an unwilling participant in the machine of capitalism, but I am powerless to resits it. The first thing I bought when I landed here was a fancy, and expensive, new smart phone. My African sensibilities cringed at this decadence, but I still produced my credit card and swiped it, confident in my financial and professional security. I made many excuses about this, but I know it is an unnecessary luxury. There are many cheaper phones that could do the job, but it is so easy to follow the temptations of luxury and convenience here.

I will watch carefully how this move will change me, to the better or worse, and I will learn more in the process about myself and my evolution as a human. The first lesson I am working on is how to let go of people, places and things that I loved deeply, and how to love new people, places and things. I will try to adapt and keep my humanity, and stay fair to those I interact with.

And while I am here, I will acknowledge that mother Africa and its people still have a big hold on my soul. Europe has the bling, the prosperity, and the convenience, but Africa has the shape of my heart.

The Shifting Landscape of Longing

Whether I am at my best or my worst, I always try to read. I read more when I am the best version of myself. And at those times, I have a structured route map for where I am going with my reading. My life would be going somewhere, I would be getting over specific difficulties, trying to learn something new, or attempting to fit what I am experiencing to some philosophy, life path or self-help doctrine. But there are also the times when I find myself completely without a compass. I lose sight of the meaning I once derived from suffering, love, or the struggle to learn. At those times my reading becomes equally lost, and I read discarded pieces of ideas, or obscure titles that I want to sample or consume before passing on. I try to grasp for meaning in once cherished practices, and get once more in touch with my hidden longings.

In the past three years I experience profound changes in my inner life. I suffered a lot, but I thought that I came out as a better version of myself. I ran a marathon, ate healthful food, exercised and meditated. I read and wrote a lot. If not on this blog then at least in my daily journal, and in my gratitude diary. Yet everything else in my life was in a state of flux. I was in a holding pattern, dealing with the worsening toxic situation at work, and the constant mismanagement from my supervisor. When Corona hit, I was not sure what to do with my travel plans, my career, and my investments. Only my soul was following its own north star, and steering by it. I loved, and the love I felt overflowed to everyone around me. It lent meaning to my life.

In my native Arabic language, the word “heart” shares a root with the verb to shift, change or reverse. So it is not a good idea to place too much trust or meaning to the whims of the heart, or trust the shifting landscape of longing to provide a permanent map. My guided meditation practice often dwelled on the idea of “impermanence” so I knew intellectually that change is inevitable, and nothing ever stays the same. In fact everything can change completely in the blink of an eye. And this is what happened to me. I was already feeling disillusioned with my life. My struggle with the toxic work environment has reached a new high that drove me to draft a formal complaint, and apply to jobs in places that I did not like, just to escape. And my trust in the capacity of my own love was starting to erode. I retreated to a selfish state of self-preservation where I stopped opening my arms to embrace the universe (or to get stabbed in the chest by its inhabitants). I cowered instead in my shell, waiting to be acknowledged, sought, and consoled. I lost sight of my north star, stopped exercising and meditating, and simply devolved into a worse version of myself. Not quite the worst, but one I knew was so much inferior to the one bathed in loving kindness, and positive cosmic energy.

At this time, I met a strange book. It is an obscure volume by a British/South African author known for his police procedurals set in South Africa (Imago by James McClure). The book has some hints to the crime genre, by masking or hiding the motivation of characters and then showing the strange influence these motivations have on subsequent events. But in truth, the story is about a competent doctor who is suffering a midlife crisis. Tom the main character, is a married doctor in his early forties. We meet him, as he becomes besotted with the teenage daughter of a friend. In a space of a few days, his life takes an absurd turn as he pursues this love, with the stories he tells himself. He mis-interprets events, misreads the meaning of each encounter, and lies to cover up and misdirect in the manner of a confused teenager. I cringed as I watched his laser focus, which should have been on his work and patients, turn to this new object of his longings, to the extent that he only performed all tasks mechanically, as he went on inappropriate flights of fantasy.

The story takes its tragi-comic turns, with flawed characters who are blindly following their own route map of longings, and unrealised dreams. The irony of finding the book, when I did, was not lost on me. I did not think I was as delusional as Tom in my love story. I definitely had more evidence that the object of my longing had some feelings for me, but did I really? If I took the approach of hard logic to my narrative, I could have also been reading non-existent signs in the sand and misinterpreting innocuous kind remarks or facetious flirtations. It is all a shifting landscape depending what you are looking for, and what you believe. For Tom, the delusion gave way to something new, but it somehow mapped the rest of his destiny and pointed him to a new direction that answered to his longings. Maybe it will be the same way for me.

Shortly after the book found me, my world tuned itself around. I am now in the midst of switching workplaces, countries and continents. In two months, I will be departing from my beloved Africa, and starting a new life elsewhere. I am also leaving a piece of my heart here. My inner life is now coming into a state of flux, while my outer life is changing completely.

My heart still wants to believe that there was more to my love story than the void I am now left with. And I still long for the better person I was, when I loved. But I am not abandoning hope of one day finding a new meaning, a new direction to follow in the shifting landscape of longing. And while the evolving chance for change presented itself to me, by an unexpected, and welcomed, relocation, I will always remember the mesmerising blue eyes that first led me to search deeper into my soul.

When I Loved..

I was a better human, 
I floated on silver wings and saluted the sun.

Never worried who called or texted first, 
Reached out to those who have forgotten me. 

My sorrow turned to joy, in a heart consumed by fire, 
And the fire lit and enlightened my soul.

When I loved, the universe made sense, 
I knew my own spirit, and yours, 
I was one with humanity, its joy and pain. 

On the morning I stopped believing, 
My wings burned to ashes, my heart stopped expanding, 
settled back in my mortal chest.

My pain constricted
to the size of a single human, 
but so did my once boundless joy.

Now I go to sleep with the small sorrows of  living, 
And rise to diminished potential, 
once a carrier of light, now a fallen angel.

And I still question, the half-remembered dream, 
where I danced with the spirits, and almost touched the divine

When I was fully alive.