Eid Mubarak!

14 Aug

With two Eids per year, my family have devised a system where we alternate between London and this seaside town where my aunt lives. You’d think, given there are two Eids and only two choices, it would be pretty easy to establish where we will be spending Eid. Unfortunately not and we have to wait until a decision comes in, always at the last minute, (we’re not quite sure where the decision comes from).

 So this time we went to my Aunt’s. It was those extremely, rare, few, unusual, infrequent, isolated, odd, sporadic, exceptional, unprecedented, unheard-of days where one could possibly suggest that living in a small town could marginally be better than living in London. It was this moment after morning Eid prayers.  As soon as it finished, everybody, with the excitement that Eid brings, went around hugging and greeting each other, one massive extended family. It was indescribably lovely. It was so unlike London. I even got in on the action too, creeping up on the women right after my aunt hugged them.

After this, we went to a marquee set up outside for breakfast. But the family still went home to have another breakfast (having a full Yemeni breakfast is usually the highlight of my family’s Eid and not even ALREADY HAVING HAD BREAKFAST will stop them). They all then napped, while I sat on the bed like an excited child waiting for them to wake up because I was the only sensible one who went to bed early.

 When they finallyyyy woke up, we went to the beach and I got to have Dinky Donuts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Do you know how much I love dinky donuts? And I had a chocolate ice-cream that was almost as good as Haagen Daaz at half the price! So, to summarise, the things that make me want to move out of London consists of hugging, dinky donuts and cheap ice-cream. Good a reason as any, I think.

We went home again and got more smartly dressed to go to this Eid party. The food was great and the people were lovely, but the children! There were just too many children running around and yelling. I made a promise to myself there and then that my future kids will be locked away at home on Eid.  They seemed to have occupied the kitchen and when I tried to open the door, they collectively screamed.  Though I was later impressed with their game playing they were later heard yelling “GUARD YOUR BATTLEFIELDS!” when my cousin’s wife tried to walk in to the kitchen.  

The rest of the Eid weekend consisted of being gathered around the table eating, a barbeque and more beach.  I tried to persuade my family to go strawberry picking but they were having none of it and laughed in my face. I definitely felt like I was Matilda who needed a Miss Honey to adopt me from my family. I hope you all had a lovely Eid too!

The G-Clock

5 Aug

My Grandma came to stay with us last Ramadan. Because the nights were a bit longer, the rest of us weaklings would fall asleep while she would stay up until dawn. Before she came, we had resorted to establishing a rota, where every 5 minutes, one of us would have to go upstairs to try to wake up the family member that was in a vegetative state. When you just want to sit and enjoy your food in the limited time you have, you can imagine that it was crazy annoying.

But then my G-ma came along. One time it was me who was completely knocked out. I was oblivious to attempts by my father, mother and brothers to wake me. My Grandma then shouted with such menace and moral outrage that I bolted upright and ran downstairs in terror. I was then too shaken to eat properly.

This was no one-off. In fact, her power was greater than any of us could ever have imagined. One night, the whole family was unresponsive. I was vaguely conscious of her calling out every 10 minutes. Exasperated, she yelled out with such force that we all got up immediately in such an organised and orderly manner you’d think we had practiced a drill. So when my dad asked me to go wake up my brother on another night, the most frustrating task placed upon man, I naturally delegated.

I did have enough foresight to know my grandmother’s stay wouldn’t be forever and that she must teach me how to fish. I tried to calculate how much percentage of anger, moral outrage and exasperation was in her call. I practiced my howling in my bedroom. When I thought I had mastered it, I practised on my brother. I think I saw a limb move but I can’t be sure.  Maybe I should try it on a full moon? I’ll keep you updated.  


Ramadan Lifestyle

21 Jul

It’s always interesting to see how each individual in the family adapts to the Ramadan lifestyle. Personally, the change in sleeping pattern has affected me way more that the fasting and I try to fit in naps throughout the day to get me through. I try to have these naps in random places, so that I’m not too comfortable and don’t sleep for too long. I enjoyed a very nice little lie down sprawled across the floor of my uncles’ living room the other day when we were invited over, after which I relocated to the sofa where I drifted in and out of consciousness. Unfortunately, that was for a good few hours so I will stick to napping on cold and hard surfaces from now on. 

And every night I have a debate on whether to stay up until 3am or to try and squeeze in a nap before having to eat again. Lately I have been giving in and going to sleep, despite the fact I always regret it come 60 minutes later (when you’re tired, you think everything will be easier in the morning. It isn’t.) My family seem to have no problem staying up, which means they can be pretty unsympathetic at times. One of these nights my brother tried waking me and this is apparently what happened (I have a very vague recollection but do remember feeling very distressed).
“X, I know you’re going to hate me, but you need to wake up to eat”. I remember him saying this in a really loud voice, so it is understandable that I apparently respond like this:

“Why are you doing this to me??” I plead, hysterically.

“X, you need to wake up”.

I then, according to my brother, cry like a crazy person, “Just leave. Just leave”

Now I am not sure how much he was exaggerating my reaction and playing down his own role, but if I really was this hysterical, then to be honest I think it’s a completely justifiable reaction to have after being woken up in such a manner, when being this tired. It was almost as bad as the one time I asked my little cousin to wake me up in the morning and he did so by shaking me violently.

My 17 yr old cousin has the opposite problem in her household. We dropped my uncle off at around 12.30am last week, and I went inside to pick something up. The entire flat was pitch black and silent apart from one light coming from the living room. I creep in to find her lying down on the sofa with her iPod, facing upwards and wide awake. She turns to look at me.
“Is this what you do every night?” I ask in amazement.
“It’s so lonely” she whispers to me.

Ramadan kareem!

19 Jul

A very late Ramadan Kareem!  This month is magic. A few days before Ramadan, I didn’t feel spiritually prepared to make the most of it, but on the eve of it, I swear magic was in the air. I know a lot of the excitement is down to the calls from family and friends giving glad tidings, and the Ramadan musical jingles, those pretty lanterns, and the melodic sounds of prayer on the TV, but the spiritual focus means it is more wholesome than the shallow, and eventually draining, sense of excitement.

Beyond the spiritual benefits, what I am particularly struck by is seeing the merging of belief and practice in the greatest way. In this month, the most fundamental structures of our life-night and day, feeding ourselves at set times- gets so jumbled up in the most extreme way. Particularly now, when we’re breaking fast at 9.20 pm, I generally finish eating, obligatory and voluntary prayers, and chores by 12.30/1am, utterly exhausted. So I change and snuggle in to bed, and die for one hour, before I must get up again to eat and pray before the fast begins. And I think to myself, in what other circumstances would I accept such disruption to my life? I am fascinated by the human capacity to sacrifice, without any sense of resentment. And the power humans have in letting their rational and emotional side rule over physical needs. It’s an incredibly fulfilling feeling, and it even makes me love the disruption, and the exhaustion, the time pressure, and the discipline, all in the pursuit of something greater.  


3 Jul

I wonder how long it will take for us to be able to judge how well this will end? 

Egypt Protests 2.

1 Jul

Say best case scenario is Morsi resigns and new elections are held soon, wouldn’t it be hilarious if the Muslim Brotherhood were democratically elected again? No? Well, I’d laugh to be honest. 

The Egypt protests.

1 Jul

So we’re in the latest saga of the Arab political unrest, but the sun was out in London and the shock and deliriousness from this meant that by the time I had arrived home, I had completely forgotten all about the protests. I logged into one social network to find someone had wrote “Go Egypt!!”

“Is there a football match going on?” I wondered.

Then I remembered, but the language being used with regards to these protests is making me wonder all over again:

“Ahmed Said, a leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF), the secular opposition’s largest coalition (said) “The semi-final was played on 25 January 2011. This is the final. I don’t know how long it will take, but Morsi’s going to go – and Egypt will never be the same after the 30th.”

These are some pics I took live (tv).



In the above pic, it kind of looks like there is a boxing ring in the middle, right?  “They should put the strongest man from each side in the ring, and whichever side wins gets to rule”, my brother suggested. Good call bro. Because honestly, that is how simplistic the reasoning seems to be here. Us against them. The images, the language, the attitudes in Egypt seem so completely inappropriate, that I’m wondering if I’m missing something. This talk of revolution, of overthrowing a government, is great when you’re dealing with a dictator of 30 years, but a democratically elected government of a year?

Sometimes you have governments you don’t agree with, sometimes they make mistakes, sometimes they are completely incompetent, but in order for the structures of a society to develop and progress, you firstly need to have faith in those structures. Its sad because it felt like Egypt had progressed to a new stage, still new, still shaky, still suffering, but rebuilding slowly by trying and trusting in a new political system. Imperfectly (but what is perfect in this world?), but moving on. I’m also confused at the lack of foresight. If these protests succeed, and Morsi is forced to leave, does this not set the precedent for the next set of opposition to want to overthrow the next government?  It is unfortunate that stability and security have become dirty words now, having been long abused by the Arab dictators to justify their rule, but it’s what’s needed now. Because, different things are needed in different situations. Context, nuances, rationality need to start being considered, and not just harking back to the now empty slogans of the revolution. Move on guys.

Back in London, but lets pretend I’m not because I have a load of unfinished Yemen posts, the first of which: Death always seems so close.

25 Jun

My gosh, I haven’t posted in so long, it’s shameful. As the title of this post alludes, I am actually back in London now, but have many Yemen posts that I need to post, so am just going to post as if I am back in Yemen in order to bring these posts to life and also because you’d be asking too much from me to go through these posts and change all the “here”s to “there”.

Death always seems so close

In fact they seem quite blasé about the whole keeping yourself safe thing. I am not sure if this is because health and safety just isn’t emphasised here as it is in the UK, or that they simply have an admirable acceptance of the inevitably of death.  Danger just seems to be more in sight. It’s normal here for gas cylinders to be used in open sight and with the electricity cuts, loud portable electric generators being used everywhere.

Of course, I am sure the conditions of the country play a part and you hear of the most awful freak accidents. One example: army planes keep on falling out of the sky. I am not sure if the problem is that the planes are simply malfunctioning or if there is some sort of political game going on, but one fell on open plains, another on a busy market, and most recently onto a residential area not far from where my grandma lives, obviously resulting in deaths. Its crazy how, as a result, the topic of conversations here so differ to ones I would have in London. The day after, I suggested that the family go and have a picnic in the park. “So that a plane falls on us?” my grandma asked me, putting an end to that idea.

 We also have other issues. Corruption has seeped through to the masses so instead of building quality roads, engineers pocket most of the money and only lay a thin layer of tarmac. Heavy rainfall in Yemen and a problem with the drainage system has meant crazy uneven roads, and so there have been a couple of incidents where the road has given way and cars have fallen in to drains. I know, it sounds like slapstick comedy, but these are people’s lives. Though perhaps the best way to deal with it is to make light of it, as my uncle said, “When you cross the road in Yemen, you need to look left, right, then up and down before walking”.

The thing is, though they all need to have a serious think about health and safety, I think my perspective also needs to change. One night, we went to a restaurant for supper. My cousins and I were playing in the restaurant’s garden when a tanker arrived and started transferring gas to the restaurant through the use of a rubber pipe.

“Is that safe?” I ask my cousin.

“Not really” replies my cousin nonchalantly, swinging on her swing without a care in the world.

I get up from my own swing. She looks at me as if I am crazy. I sit back down. I contemplate my end.

 But then I think I get it. If it’s meant to explode it will explode. It could explode even if all safety measures were put in place, (still though, try to put safety measures in place.) My time in Yemen has led to an epiphany. Death IS always close. Whether we talk about it or not, whether we see the dangers or not. Accidents happen everywhere and death happens everywhere, at any time.

 And you know what? after this internalisation, I never felt so alive. Not in a cheesy, happy carpe diem way, but I mean: so conscious of myself and my surroundings, so aware of everything, even my breathing. Thinking of death made everything so profound. It gave me this incredible balance where my thoughts became grand but the little everyday things became unimportant, as they should be.Who needs drugs when you can think of death? I understood why the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) recommended that we remember death. I also felt terrified of course, but lil bit of terror never killed nobody. Of course, as is the fickle human heart, this only lasted a few weeks but it’s a state I will always try to get back to.   

But still, they really need to teach children at school the “left, right, left” rule before crossing the road. Many kids here seem to think the best time to cross is when the car is right in front of them, at which point they run across with their arms flailing about.

A visit to the doctor.

10 May

My uncle’s wife (Aunt B) offered to take me to this doctor/physiotherapist/masseuse/healer after hearing that about my several bone problems-I keep on having accidents and hurting/spraining/breaking them.

A bunch of us went, all with our own ailments.

“So,  she’s a doctor right?” I ask, as we drive there.

“Not really a proper doctor” says Aunt C who has a pulled muscle.

“She’s an Arabic doctor.”  Says my Aunt B, who has a problem with her elbow.

“What’s an Arabic doctor?” I ask.

“She’s trained in Arabic medicine”, says Aunt B.

“She uses black magic”, whispers my cousin ominously, who has twisted his ankle.

Now I am a super-cynic, so knowing she wasn’t really a qualified doctor meant I didn’t expect much from our pending trip.  I even back out and decide not to let the Arabic witch doctor cure me.

But my Aunt persuades me to at least let her check me out. I sigh and agree. Deciding to test her with one ailment, I tell her I fell down the stairs at a tube station a couple of months ago, and my ankle is still hurting.

Lie down, she instructs.

She starts pressing down on my foot in various places. “It hurts here, doesn’t it?”

“Aghhhh “ I cry, “How did you know??”

She presses down on other parts, and “and here, and here too, yes?”

“Aghhhhh” I yell again, “How can you know all this??”

More pressing, more yelling. But since then, I’ve had hardly any pain from it.

While she’s pressing down on my feet, she says “There is something wrong with your stomach. Do you  often get stomach aches?’

“YES!!!” I squeal. I can hardly believe my ears, my stomach ALWAYS hurts and my GP in the UK was absolutely useless.

“What is it trying to say to me?” I ask pleadingly (I don’t really ask this, but isn’t this beginning to sound like a psychic session?

She gave me something to drink so we’ll see if anything changes. I know one thing; I’ve changed as a person.  No longer will I be a cynic (within reason), but will be open to the fact that there are all different types of wisdom.

Sports shop.

4 May

My cousin takes me to a really nice sports shop one day. Impressed, I ask, “Are these things genuine?”

“Almost”, she replies.