Growing up · Self-love · Women's issues

A tale of two women, gratitude, and why it matters

I have met a couple of women who have made a notable impact in my life. I need to thank them, and I also need to talk about them.

Both of these women were my teachers, and I met them a couple of years apart. They both come from different backgrounds, look different to one another, and you would also probably never guess that they have much in common when seeing them. But not only did they both teach me the same subject, they also taught me essential life lessons that I have carried with me beyond the realms of the classroom, and hope to retain for the rest of my life.

My relationships with these women went deeper than the subject of study. Between lessons, we had conversations  about our personal journeys, past experiences, and how we came to be the people we are. Oh, and sometimes there was tea involved as well.

Although I will only be able to share a couple of anecdotes from my time with them, listening to their stories of loss, failure, and even personal tragedy has permanently altered my perspective on a number of things.

Showing gratitude to people who help us along the road is essential. (I actually drew that, friends)

I remember when one of them talked about an accident that almost killed her and had left her severely disfigured. Despite this, she was due to give a presentation a week or so later, and had certainly delivered it, missing teeth and all.

This particular story still stays with me years later because it cements the importance of showing up.

It doesn’t matter what you have been through, and it certainly doesn’t matter what you look like, if you have things that need to be done, and you are fit enough for a task at hand — because self care always comes first — then execute them the way you know best, even if something as crucial and glaringly obvious as facial reconstruction surgery is due in the forseeable future.

The version of this woman that I had met almost a couple of decades later was a fun, empathetic individual who truly didn’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, she herself credited the accident in changing the way she viewed life.

She always seemed very interested in the diverse lives of people she met, and had enjoyed talking about what she learnt about and from them. She was also embracing of opportunity and change. The last I heard from her was when we said our goodbyes during our last lesson together, before she was set to start a new life, in her fifties, with her family across the pond.

A couple of years prior, the other talked to me about how as a young teenager, she was somewhat grudgingly pushed out of her comfort zone at school when it came to picking electives for her course of study. Her father encouraged her to pick subjects in which she had little background talent to fall back on, and that’s exactly what she did. But, the hard work she had to put in to catch up with her peers, and to excel, had led to her making great strides throughout her student years.

Over a decade later from those events, she would find herself in a similar situation. She would wind up in a different country, in a completely different continent where she didn’t speak any of the official languages fluently. She was forced to start from the beginning and learn how to live and communicate as she went along.

Between that time and the time we met, she had worked a number of jobs — some unsuccessfully — and her life could have taken many different paths, until she discovered one where she felt more or less centred.

She once said something to me along the lines of “I was fired many times,” but then made it clear how essential it was in molding her into the person she would become. Under her scholarship, she made sure to engrain in me what she had learnt in her younger years: no matter how much talent I have in something to start off, with consistent hard work, I would be able to accomplish whatever I set out to do. The lessons she learnt during her formative years had in turn shaped mine.

Whether from the words they spoke to me directly, or from the ones they shared with me in telling their stories, both of these women have taught me lessons on resilience, stretching my strengths and even engaging with my creative self. Both of them helped me see that my potential reached beyond what I thought, and that most importantly, I could get there. They saw and treated me as a young woman who had a lot more going for her than what she looked like or possessed materially.

They saw a whole person, even during the times when I didn’t see myself that way. And sadly, many young women may not, especially during the years where we’re still trying to figure ourselves out, and trying to muddle through all the mixed messages about how we’re supposed to be. I need to thank these women for playing a role in my reaffirming my unique personhood.

In a world that tells women and girls that the most important things about them are what can be seen externally as opposed to what they think or feel, it’s important for them to learn to view and accept themselves as whole, complex, three-dimensional people. It’s also important for them to recognise and honour the people who remind them of this. And that’s why I felt that I needed to write this, and that it matters.

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Growing up · Self-love

Ramblings on pauses, reverses and fresh starts and the like

بسم الله

AsSalaamu alaikum wa rahmat Allaah wa barakatuh and greetings to everyone,

Welcome aboard..again..after a long break  (an extended period of negligence?) and thank you all for sticking around to read this.

Life this academic year turned out to be quite different than expected. For starters, although it was an “academic” year,  it wasn’t an academic year in the I-am-in-full-time-education-and-I-am-solemnly-abiding-by-that sense. Somewhere between Julyish and Augustish in 2014, I decided that I wasn’t going back to university for my final year, because although  the university experience was swimming with positives, I couldn’t go back immediately just yet. I had things to sort through, perhaps even ever-so-slightly, a life to fix .

As with any variation in life’s seasons, I had inevitably embraced this one with all its crookedness. Despite taking the conscious decision to do things differently for the year, back-tracking, regret and the feeling of missing out were themes that appeared less infrequently than I would have liked.

But fruits had been borne. Lots.

Walking the actual walk of experiencing life with less linearity is definitely one of the things that I have found to be easier said than done; I know, how obvious. But we plan and God plans, and His plans are always better than ours.

Even when they sting at first.

Feelings of regret and shame, and even slight envy at those who were doing things closer to the way they planned had occurred less infrequently than I would have liked. But how? After all, I made this decision, yes? But I wanted to stick to plan, and this was not what my 18-year-old “fresher” self had planned.

I really didn’t want to feel answerable to anyone about why I didn’t just get university over with once and for all, or what had prompted me to do things this way or whatever. I wanted to absolutely fall head-over-heals for my own choices no matter what, and to just twirl in the honeymoon phase, always and forever.

I spent the months between September and December doing and trying to do different things and then since January, I have been working as a schoolteacher. So that’s where I have been. I (partially) swapped the journalism/blogging/miscellaneous writing life for 5 AM starts, board markers, instant coffee, constantly-multiplying pieces of paper, excessively-boisterous children and of course, report-card drama. That awesomely challenging chapter of my life had wrapped up over two months ago. Alhamdu lIllaah.

That was the vocational bit. But, as is with everyone else, I’m probably a bit more than skin, bones, clothes and a designation, so we all know that this post won’t end here.

The simple act of taking myself out of the environment I was in — even if only for a little while — had given me the ability to detach myself from whatever I formerly perceived as expected or routine,  and because of that, I could form a more honest perspective on things and make decisions that better served me.

The result? A melange of better self-care, increased clarity and direction, and episodes of sadness and despair which were often born out of both a heightened awareness of just how destructive some of my habits were (are) and unsavoury circumstances, and joy I couldn’t anticipate .

Treading on the subject of self-care, it is true what the self-help folks say, oodles of positive things do result from it. And it isn’t all about scrubbing up well for every living second of the day, or burning a lavender candle in your room; taking the time to do anything that is important for you to live a positive, quality life is self-care.

My version of self-care included tweaking bits of my daily routine, welcoming perspective changes, getting treated for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and even working to make my spell as a teacher smoother.  God entrusted me with the blessing that is life and all the other blessings that come with it, and I am still to give them their due.

It is true that not everyone will be in a situation that will permit them to move away from current life in a conspicuous way, and I know that my combination of circumstances will not always be readily available for everyone, perhaps not even myself in another point of time. But I hope that you,and everyone else, can acknowledge that it is possible that there is no inherent rightness in what is seen as “linearity” or conforming to expectation. I hope you can forge a way to work things out. If you’re struggling with the way it’s all going, be it because of hardship or a mere desire for change, it doesn’t have to be this way forever.

Get a bit uncomfortable if you need to. Just do you, correctly and with good intentions.  And Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala (God Exalted be He) is the Most Generous.

Now here’s a visual account of what my version of The Teacher life (#theteacherlife) looked like:

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See you all soon.

Body Positivity · Growing up · Islam · Self-love

Reflections last week, empathy, beginnings and time, oh my!

So I know, I didn’t post on Wednesday and I know that the gap-long week between this post and the one before it is rather abhorrent, if you will, so my apologies to you.

Despite all of that, I still have the audacity to try to clue you in on the happenings of this past week, and you know what? I’m going to do just that.

Between this week and the last, a very long game of ping-pong was taking place inside the mushy mass of stuff inside my head that common-folk like to refer to as “brain”, and in the midst of thinking about too many things, I feel like I have learnt a lot about the way I see things and picked up some gems (I hope) along the way.

We all, and let’s admit it, have things that we are too embarrassed/feel too uncomfortable to admit to ourselves, or we’re in denial about something that’s not exactly going the way we think it should. Either way,  we’re not being very truthful to ourselves sometimes and it’s pretty understandable. We have a set of principles we to which we ascribe ourselves, and even at the smallest scale, for example, when we tell ourselves that something is “cool” to be/think/feel or not. And sometimes, just sometimes, we flout them and then we beat ourselves up about it.

Well, during this whole week that just went by (hello Monday!) I realised that there were emotions that I had that I tried to gloss over in my thought process, and I was doing things in ways that I actually don’t think are OK. And I needed confrontation and so I confronted myself, and I realised that my thought process is a lot healthier and deal that I deal with things a lot better when I am truthful to myself, because let’s think about it, I can’t really find solutions to problems that I refuse to acknowledge. And could  I really get the whole picture of something that I’m refusing to look at? Not really.

So my conclusions about related things had come to these: it’s okay to admit that you’re not completely okay with something you’re trying to convince yourself that you are. It’s okay to admit that there are issues you haven’t worked through yet and that you need time. It’s okay to admit weakness or defeat. It’s okay to admit that things are not going as planned/that your thoughts aren’t going as planned/that circumstances aren’t as linear as predicted/that you might have to change your game-plan. It’s also okay (albeit many people see this as taboo) to admit that there are parts of our character that need work. And it’s okay to not get it right from the first time.

In relation to the above, another thing that I have been getting huge doses of lesson-things from is empathy.  And honestly, when looking at things from a more empathetic lens, I feel that they just become a lot easier to work through. When you’re being empathetic,  you’re not necessarily succumbing to a circumstance, but you understand it a bit more, and that can save you heart-break. I’m not saying that it’s wise to go out there and scratch everything raw trying to find out why things worked out the way they did in a bid to “understand” them, but a bit of understanding can be a strong guiding light which will be there when you need it. And this applies to ourselves as individuals. I realised that many a time, when we are empathetic towards other people’s behaviours and ideas, we forget about our own and we go on to senselessly punish ourselves for thinking and behaving a certain way.

While I am a strong patron for self-improvement and I do believe in bettering oneself, I wholeheartedly believe that approaching yourself with understanding can clear so many things up and finally give you a kick-start on changing things for the better. No change, to my knowledge, has ever been fully effective if it came from a place of shame. Shame brings anxiety, which brings high expectations, which bring even more anxiety, which brings shame. I think you catch my drift.  If you understand yourself and work through your issues through a loving lens, you can only serve yourself better. May God Grant us all understanding, Amen.

Of course the product of that  sense of understanding towards will differ from person to person and situation to situation, and those products are up for modification as well. But, you won’t really know any of this until you actually start looking for solutions that way. Now I am not saying that what I say is the best, and I certainly won’t tell you to take it wholesale, but this is just my showing you what conclusions I have come to about certain things, and I would certainly love to hear yours.

It’s quite ironic how this post has come about now, Glory be to God, seeing that the Islamic New Year began just yesterday (I’m Muslim, in case you haven’t got the memo), and it seems like everything is coming together to show just exactly at what rate things are changing. I’m not, nor have I ever been one to have New Year’s resolutions of any kind, and I think that everyday is good for a new beginning, but this does give me a bit of perspective on time and how fast things are happening and effectively, how I must make use of it in the most efficient way possible because it’s not really waiting for me. I don’t think it’s really waiting for anyone, for that matter.

I hope you all keep sticking around for more updates and posts on this blog because soon, I’ll be doing more of the “journo” stuff that I know a lot of you want to see. I will be talking with people who do cool things around the interwebs so you’ll be getting a lot more than just my ramblings, God Willing.

Watch this space!

Body image and body positivity · Body Positivity · Growing up · Self-love · Women's issues

Poem: I want to breathe, I want to be free

Hello *insert appropriate adjective and/or newly-coined noun to describe/identify my readers*!

First off I want to apologise because this post was supposed to be published a few hours ago when it was Friday where I am but of course my intended end of the week hour-and-a-half nap had turned into a six-hour slumber. All in all, I bring to you, my second post! *Applause*

This is the latest edition  to a poem I wrote a year-and-a-half ago when the subject matter had a strong grip on me, and because it still resonates with me, I’ve decided to share it with you all here; I hope you all like it:

I want to breathe; I want to be free,

But I am told I can only do something if it results in an aesthetically pleasing me,

I don’t want to be bound to the labels on my shirt, trousers or bra,

But it’s as if no one wants to look beyond that far,

Why am I more beautiful if I am bustier, slimmer or taller?

Why can’t appreciation transcend beyond that border?

Why can’t anyone look beyond what’s skin deep, and for once, stop me from crying myself to sleep?

My reflection is ever changing and temporary, so I am going to cultivate what is preliminary,

Profoundness, zest and quirkiness,

These define my happiness!

I will only let those things affect my smile,

And if you beg to differ, I suggest you run a mile!

Everything is exactly what it’s supposed to be at the moment and is great and perfect,

And even if you really want to change, you should still live, love and work it!

For once, give your mind a break from your waist-to-hip ratio,

Play, write, draw or call a friend to say hello!

Beauty and everything that makes you never fail to amaze,

Do not depend on your body shape or face,

The shape of your heart and the contours of your soul are what truly matter,

So none reserve the right to take your feelings and toss them to a scatter.