I Wish He Knew

Tell the dear one, who dwells within my heart
That I see him there, even when we do not meet.

That my eyes are attached to the sight of him,
Even when we are far apart.

I wish he knew that I never remember him,
How I can remember someone I can't forget?

And if he claims that I do not recall,
God knows that I never forget him, even for a second.

When he is absent from me, he inhabits my soul
How could the heart forget someone who dwells in the soul?
أبلِغ عَزيزاً في ثنايا القلبِ مَنزله
 أني وإن كُنتُ لا ألقاهُ ألقاهُ
 وإن طرفي موصولٌ برؤيتهِ 
وإن تباعد عَن سُكناي سُكناهُ 
ياليته يعلمُ أني لستُ أذكرهُ 
وكيف اذكرهُ إذ لستُ أنساهُ 
يامَن توهم أني لستُ أذكرهُ 
واللهُ يعلم أني لستُ أنساهُ 
إن غابَ عني فالروحُ مَسكنهُ 
مَن يسكنُ الروح كيف القلبُ ينساه؟

- أبو الطيب المتنبي-

The first block of this post is my interpretation of the Arabic poem (above) attributed to the Arabic poet Al-Mutanabbi. I always find Arabic poetry very skilled in describing the deepest devotion. I call it Love (with a capital L), or love major. This is the stuff of pure love, that is less concerned with possessing the beloved and more with the experience of Love, the pleasure of seeing the beloved, or even just remembering and mentioning him/her.

It is not a coincidence that some of these Love poems are used in references to divine love, mystic, and sufi traditions. Love in these poems is transcendent and spiritual.

While researching the poem, I found a page that contains another English translation of the lyrics. The same page also contains a link to a link to a beautiful rendition of it in an Arabic song, by Faia Younan.

Sala Kahle Mzansi – Stay Well South Africa

Today we leave South Africa on our very long flight to New York. I spent my last night in SA at my friend’s house. She is also the new adoptive mom of my cat Pete.

The day before that has been hectic with moving stuff and vacating the flight. At least I have 18 hours of doing nothing while en-route to JFK.

I am sending a shout-out and a heartfelt farewell to my beloved home country. Robert and I will come back, in two years. Stay well. Sala kahle my Mzansi.  Thank you for giving me a place to love and be proud of. Thank you for helping me grow up and find my patch on the rainbow. I will always think of the road leading to you as Paradise Road.

Cape Town Rocks !

This is my often declared opinion of the Mother City.. It Rocks ! but this has been taken to a totally new level with the U2 Concert at Green Point Stadium. It was a perfect evening, with a giant full moon shining over the mountain as we queued up to enter the stadium then rising over the stadium.

I went there with my best friend and we soaked in the atmosphere of the Fan Walk complete with carnival performers, big dolls representing the band members. We had Bockwurst Rolls from a kiosk and queued for a long time to get drinks, but it was all part of the fun.

At the stadium we first listened to Springbok Nude Girls led by Arno Carstens and then there was some wait until U2 graced the stage. The visuals were fantastic and the atmosphere electric. The best moments for me were when Bono shared the stage with Yvonne Chaka Chaka and they sang I Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For and then Stand By Me.  There were many visuals of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and a tribute to Suu Kyi the leader of opposition in Burma (Myanmar). In all it was a dazzling show that left me in awe. My ears suffered somewhat and in most songs I recognized the beat but not the words, I wouldn’t know whether this was the norm for all rock concerts because it was my very attendance of a live rock concert.

It is great that many other sites and blogs, including the Cape Town Travel Blog had an extensive post about the concert, with videos and great photos. This was especially welcomed since my own photos have fallen victims to a technical bug. My camera was ready, with spare batteries and all, but instead of taking pictures it winked at me with the message : NO DATA CARD. Sure enough I had forgotten my data card in the laptop the last time I downloaded photos. What can I say but, there is a good reason to own a good camera phone.

Here are some of the better pictures:

I was trying to catch the moon in this one, it is the “searchlight” on the far right corner.

It is not easy to see on my camera, but the stage has bridges and walkways that wrapped around parts of the audience (The Golden Circle crowd) who got the best position in the show. Later I heard that they had a bar right there in their midst and free sushi – for a ticket price of about 400 USD, it figures.

Depending on the lighting the setup of the stage looked like a spaceship, a giant arachnid or a cathedral. The whole screen setup was also very innovative.

Final number, gone are the days of lighters. It is now “turn on the screen of your cell phone” and we were all part of a galaxy of stars.

Music is the Shortest Way to the Heart

Today I was listening on my iPod to an archive interview with Johnny Clegg, one of the best-known cultural and musical icons in South Africa.

The interview sent me back on a journey down memory lane to the time when I first became aware of South Africa. This was in the mid 1980s, and I was a teenager, going to school in the oppressive environment of a small housing suburb located near an oil refinery but nowhere near any naturally inhabited city in the Emirates. Needless to say I had lots of time on my hand and the radio was my best companion, and I followed the British chart shows religiously. My favourites back then were Madonna of course and some other pop groups I am almost ashamed to mention by name today, but I was slowly developing my preference for rhythms and style that were not strictly western.  I remember being charmed by the message and rhythms of songs such as Something Inside So Strong by Labi Siffre; Gimme Hope Jo’anna by Eddie Grant, and Paul Simon’s famous album Graceland.

But it was the dance music of course that got me going best, and still does on those slow days. My favourite was this song by Johnny Clegg, the Scatterlings of Africa which went to become a major hit at least in Britain and other European countries.

Many years later I would meet my ex husband who was heading to this part of the world and I would take more active interest in the music and the culture but I think those songs were the hook that captured my imagination and brought me eventually here. I adore the music, and cannot resist humming along to Shosholoza, or tapping my foot along with the gumboot dance. I am always enthralled by pure African voices breaking out in spontaneous song.  There is a an undeniable magic there, and certainly the millions who were charmed by Waka Waka would agree. It is, after all, the only World Cup Song that became a bona fide hit.

And since we are speaking about music that speaks the heart I cannot resist including another video that came out of the World Cup hiatus, Helele by Velile Mchunu and the Safri Duo; a beautiful song with scenes from the mother city.

Help Me Out

August will mark the five years anniversary to my arrival in Cape Town, a time when I finally faced up to the fact that perhaps I did not want to go on with the status quo of my marriage. You may say, and correctly that it took me a long time to realize it, but well, that is the way things were.

From where I am sitting now I shake my head in wonder. How on earth was I bullied to think for nine years that I was to blame for all the ills of this relationship. How did I ever accept the verdict of my husband and his judgment on everything when I was an adult with a healthy common sense myself. It all goes down to upbringing and culture. My mother – bless her and keep her healthy- is the most wonderful woman in the world but by her example she encouraged a subservience to the male head of the family, and unfortunately for myself and my sister we did not have any other examples to a healthy balanced relationship. If you add to that the fact that my ex is 13 years my senior with that much more experience than myself, a female who had a very sheltered upbringing, you may understand where my feeling of inferiority came from. Regardless, of the reasons I was intimidated into thinking that it was always me to blame until East London.

I am often reprimanded about my fondness for East London, a sleepy town in the Southern African province of the Eastern Cape. Admitting that you lived there is apparently extremely uncool.  East London to me is the place where I finally rose up emotionally to my chronological age. It was a long, long time coming.

I will always remember East London for its rolling dunes and beautiful beaches, for the twin rivers that border it and for the simple uncomplicated people who live there. One day I will go there again with someone I love whether it is a partner or a son it does not matter, but I would like to show someone what I found there… I found myself.

It was a long journey that I made alone, without the help of a mother, a sister, a trusted girlfriend or even an agony aunt, but I did have a therapist. It was back in July 2005 that I saw a therapist in East London, I tried desperately to speak to someone and even in such a sleepy hollow as this town -or perhaps exactly for that reason- therapists were booked for months in advance. This one had a slot after two weeks, maybe she was not that good. The only thing I remember about her place is the cream-colored couch and the light pastels of her consultation room. During the hour session, the woman did not speak much she just listened and commented and in that hour I articulated all the negative feelings accumulated throughout six years of marriage. The therapist made the appropriate noises and comments throughout and pointed me to the road that I have already glimpsed when I phoned for an appointment. It was not love that I was living it was an act of willful manipulation. It was time for me to break free and I did.

One month later found me on the shores of Cape Town. A few miles away from the Cape of Good Hope, and to me it was Good Hope. I had a lot of time to reflect on my past life and to think about the way forward; what I really want for my future. I could not, or was not allowed to severe my marriage completely, because at the time my husband  kept trying to win me back, for the wrong reasons now I know. It was the first time though since coming to South Africa where I lived according to my own rules, without having to defer to his every strict edict. I had a great time and indulged in simple pleasures that were not allowed at home: Staying up late, sleeping in, reading in bed, chocolate, cheese and many other treats and junk foods that were extremely frowned upon in my married life. I exercised when I wanted to, and rediscovered the simple joy of doing things for pleasure, not because I needed to break a sweat or do a chore. I also enjoyed the company of Spliff the cat, who shared my bed on some cold winter nights, another no-no in my husband’s dictionary.
The people I shared a house with – two singles dealing with their own problems with relationships and life- gave me plenty of insight, advice and anecdotes, and together we formed an unlikely but rewarding friendship. I enjoyed their company, more so because they also fell on the disagreeable side of my partner’s rules, he had something against overweight women and gay men.
Along with all these personal benefits, things were slowly going my way on a professional level. I bought a computer and worked on my first large freelance translation project, while I also attended interviews for jobs in Cape Town.

Still, no matter how successful I was, or how much I rationalized my relationship and analyzed its glaring flaws, there were many hurdles to conquer mentally and emotionally. I was helped along by a song that came out that year: All These Things I have Done by the Killers.
I would wake up at night sometimes to listen to FM radio on my headphones and would start humming along to the beautiful melody and the lyrics. Unlike the hopelessness of Losing My Religion, somehow there was an underlying theme of hope in this one, and the person crying for help, finds or at least expects to find a way out.
The best part for me was the refrain of : I’ve Got Soul But I am Not a Soldier. It translated my exact feelings: I do have a heart and emotions and I am capable of love and hope, but I will not continue this endless battle of my marriage, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The video of that lovely track, and the lyrics are below.

When there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son
One more son
If you can hold on
If you can hold on, hold on
I wanna stand up, I wanna let go
You know, you know – no you don’t, you don’t
I wanna shine on in the hearts of men
I wanna mean it from the back of my broken hand

Another head aches, another heart breaks
I am so much older than I can take
And my affection, well it comes and goes
I need direction to perfection, no no no no

Help me out
Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out
Yeah

And when there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son
These changes ain’t changing me
The gold-hearted boy I used to be

Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down

[x10]
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier

Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down

Over and in, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done
All these things that I’ve done
If you can hold on
If you can hold on

I read in one interpretation that the lyrics are written from the viewpoint of God. Speaking how people turn to Him only when they need help, which makes sense. However, like any work of art this song evokes different feelings, images and memories in different people. The message for me was hope, eventually I shall prevail, or find help, I have what it takes.

In April 2008, I moved with my six-month old son Robert to the same house that welcomed me when I first arrived in Cape Town.  I was determined this time to finish what I failed to do almost three years ago.  The circumstances this time were more difficult than the first time around, but on some levels I was much happier. I never took walks alone to the beach anymore and wondered about my future, I never worried about what I would do about love. I had all the love and the future I wanted in my son. When my song played, there were two of us to dance to it.

That’s Me in The Corner

Last week I reconnected with a dear friend from the home country and we had an online chat. The talk led me down memory lane and made me think of old songs and music that I listened to in the past, songs that punctuated my life and formed a sort of accompanying sound track to its incidents.

I think everyone has these songs, those that we fell in love to, and those that helped us fall out of love.  Because of my background my soundtrack is an odd mixture of influences and genres, my current iPod play list has songs in Arabic, English, Spanish and German in addition to instrumentals, new age and podcasts. For this blog though I will stick with songs that have special significance for my life.

The melancholy strings of REM’s Losing My Religion take me back to my marriage. I picture myself sitting next to my husband in the car humming along to the words that spoke of my life.

My marriage was a singular fight of trying to keep up with my ex and trying to squeeze out a little bit of love and appreciation out of him. I often felt I was stuck in a corner, especially at the beginning of our relationship when I literally had nobody to turn or speak to. Sometimes I thought the feelings we shared originated only in my wishful thinking or my dreams, because there was nothing tangible in my life to show that he loved me. That is exactly what I thought the singer was talking about when he said:

That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spot light losing my religion. Trying to keep up with you and I don’t know if I can do it.  Now I said too much, I haven’t said enough. I thought that I heard you laughing, I thought that I heard you sing. I think I thought I saw you try.

Listening to it now is like riding in an emotional time capsule, it takes me back ten years to the feelings, the emotions and the torment. I can see myself then, in the passenger seat of a car on a Johannesburg free-way, humming along to the song next to a silent and brooding partner. Yes, that was me in the corner.. No more, no more.

A Little Crazy

I dropped off Robert at the day care, and because I had a few hours to kill I stopped with my laptop at a coffee shop that has a free wi-fi zone. I was totally out of place with the beautiful rich people, killing time and sipping coffee, but at least my laptop measured up. In my rush to pack up my laptop upon leaving home I forgot to equip my son’s schoolbag with nappies, everything comes at a price.

At eleven I had an appointment to look at the only flat I found in my price range AND in my area of interest. I Just wanted to reassure myself for a final time before I paid a deposit. As usual the place is not perfect but has some advantages over the one we live in right now. I went home and did the banking, paid a deposit then went for another appointment to view furniture being sold by a work colleague, I agreed to buy.

At about half past one I made my way under drizzling rain to pick up Robert from day care then onwards to the company garden where I had arranged to meet and spend an afternoon with my new friend D and her son, who is four years old.

We made a pretty picture, two women with similar colouring, two kids, one blond one with dark tightly curled hair, and no men in sight. D is also a divorcee so we had a few laughs comparing our situations.

The sun obliged and came out after we arrived at the gardens and the kids got to feed the squirrels and the pigeons. Robert mostly held on to the packet of peanuts and ate them himself until a cheeky little squirrel went up on its hind-legs and clambered up on his shirt trying to reach the little plastic bag held firmly in my boy’s fist. Robert was so surprised he dropped the packet and started howling… the image was worth a picture, but I was of course too surprised to capture the moment. D was quick to pick up Robert and comfort him, but his distress was mostly because he thought he lost the peanuts forever, and all was well when he reclaimed them. We made it as far as the museum, by way of statues of colonialists, bird cages and Koi ponds without Koi, and we ended the day at McGrease with two burgers, two happy meals and two very hyper kids, then D went with her son to catch the train while I half dragged half carried Robert to the minibus taxi stop.

I will be moving by the end of next week, but until now I have not arranged a moving team or packed a single item.  But I arranged to spend the day tomorrow with another friend Jen, who will be bringing my boxes. I will also meet the owner of the furniture to give her a down payment. The money is going through my fingers like crazy, and I feel somewhat crazy myself.

We never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy, and nobody says it better than my friend Alanis.