Treading Water

I’ve been here before. Unable to make it work. Overwhelmed by the debris of daily life, swallowed by both the details and the larger picture.

All this hatred and contempt makes me wonder how to guide my Muslim children into adulthood here in this atmosphere of intense malevolence. How do I protect them?
The shield of my whiteness has lowered and all I see is pain and injustice and a deep, deep commitment to maintaining a hierarchy of racial oppression.

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The fight against misogyny and racism is so enormous, so much bigger than me, all I can do is offer it to God. Somewhere I read ‘God is my inexhaustible resource’. I read about a man who had seven versions of himself. I need to be seven. In the minutiae of my daily life it is hard to get the dishes washed or the clothes dry or something healthy cooked and ready for eating. I cannot do everything, I cannot be everything.

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These are the times when I am all ideals with little application. Homelife feels like chaos. I’m seriously contemplating school. The questions I ask myself are

are there any clean pants?
what is rotting in the back of the fridge?
will my baby be ok?
how do I guide my sons towards a healthy masculinity?
is crying in the car worse than being forward facing?
can I get up and pray without waking him up?
will Ramadan tip me over the edge?
are we looking down the barrel of a holocaust?
will I be able to cook dinner?
what is the real ‘Feminine?’
will I ever ‘know’ God?
am I making a mess of it?
should I try and get a ‘real’ job?
why is my arthritis flaring?
is this my fault?

and so on

All day, every day.

who am I?
why do other people not question themselves the way I do?
do I know what I am doing?
is homeschooling a mistake?
am I ruining them?

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I’ve been here before and I’ve learned to ‘chop wood and carry water’…be still and be carried. I turn to one small patch of my corner and give it my full attention. This small thing I will do well. I’m sitting quietly nourishing him at the breast, he breathes in and out, the curl of his hair wrapped around my finger. I am only one but I can still give it all I have, whatever I do I can choose to do in love.

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I’ve been here before and I know the days turn quickly. In my country there are people of beauty and goodness, soon my baby will be running and talking and I will make bread and soup.

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I am not a failure, I am just stretched thin.
I am not alone in it, this is our modern world. We are mothers, fractured, carrying weights that were once carried by many..we do it side by side, we do our best.

Radical Homemaking

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So it seems that out there in the real world beyond my house there is already a term to describe what I am trying to get at with matriarchal homemaking – domesticity without the gender inequality….and a whole heap of other stuff.

I’m still trying to get a real grasp of what I really feel and think about these things so today I’m going to tell a story and this story will provide context and make sense of the questions I am trying to answer. It’s a story about gender, culture, spirituality and religion. It begins in my childhood home where feminism was espoused but not necessarily fully  lived. Still a home in which gender norms did not necessarily prevail – a mother, a (gay) step-father (the marriage ended when I was twelve), three small half-brothers. A home full of art, culture, music, discussion, intellectual argumentation. Unconventional and in some ways brilliant, sometimes dysfunctional (aren’t we all?), hilarious, difficult, enriching and stimulating, challenging and tough. In many ways it was a fabulous life and in some ways it was heartbreaking.

We were, for all intents and purposes, homesteaders before it became trendy. We raised our own meat, my step-father had a beautiful jersey cow that he milked. We churned our own butter, we drank the milk raw. We grew vegetables, we ran food related businesses, we worked. He preserved fruit and made jams and fruit cakes. My mother spun fleece from our sheep and knitted it into beanies and thick woollen sweaters. Tasmania is cold. We lived in one hundred year old farmhouses. We worked. Life on a farm is hard, running your own business is difficult. It was all hard work, it wasn’t really intentionally gender specific. It’s hard to remember but my mother washed the nappies and did the bulk of the cleaning and childcare. I think.

She also read Germaine Greer and I wore overalls.  The women I encountered as a child were feisty and loud. Most people we knew laughed at religion and laughed at the idea of the home being the domain of women, we were people of equality or so it seemed.

By the time I got to university I was adamant that I’d never have children. I lived within a small subculture of art students all with similar ideals. Gendered oppression was something I read about in books, I couldn’t recognise it in its more subtle forms at that stage, I thought it belonged to faraway worlds. It was not part of my life or my conscious thought.

Because of this ideological basis (which I did not recognise as an ideology) I never considered motherhood as a viable career choice. It was lesser, you couldn’t just be a mother, you had to be something else. I went to art school and I wanted to be an academic. I wanted to live in the inner city and surround myself with bookshops and art galleries.

Our family hit a series of hurdles and I experienced fairly severe clinical depression. I was diagnosed with PTSD but I didn’t know what to do about it so I did what many soul searching young adults in the first world do, I travelled. I found myself in Morocco and I became fascinated by Islam. When I wrote about my first trip to Chefchaouen I described it as a town which was filled with a sense of ‘in-placesness’ , a tangible stillness unable to be expressed in words. I filled my sketchbooks with my new ‘obsession’ layering and pasting Arabic and Persian newspapers with text and drawings of my own, it looked like a kind of orientalist exoticism but it was building as something so different than that within me, I just did not have the language to articulate it and I had a conditioned resistance to considering that it was something spiritual. Five years later after a move to Melbourne I met a Muslim man and my curiosity about what he believed led me to look into Islam more deeply. Quite astonishingly within months my ‘research’ became a personal quest and I became a Muslim. I didn’t know what I was doing. Most of me recognised it, resonated with it at a deep non-verbal level. The other bit railed against it, rejected some of it.
It was, to say the least, turbulent.

I was occupying that cultural no mans land that often happens to Muslim converts. I wasn’t sure where my culture ended and Islam began. Often people assume that I converted to Islam because I fell in love with a person but it was the other way around, I got married because I had fallen in love with Islam.

Immersed in a world that was the complete opposite to what I was used to, a world in which there were distinct roles and expectations for men and women my reality was turned on its head. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I didn’t know what the religion really indicated about these things , I loved the idea of being at home with babies. I was filled with a warmth that I wanted to pour over things and gift to my family – love. I thought our expectations and wants were in alignment.

Needless to say it was the utmost naivety and a recipe for conflict. Our expectations of each other were way out of whack. I wanted to be at home, I wanted to be with the children but not the way he wanted it. Both of us felt like we were experiencing injustice.

My experience of domesticity within the framework of strict gendered expectations is what has made me a true ‘feminist’ . It was all theoretical before, lived experience is what creates a fire in the stomach. Yet motherhood has also seasoned me and brought me into being a woman in a way that is in conflict with some aspects of feminism. I don’t want an equality that is a sameness. I believe I have the right to be with my babies when they are small, it’s more than a right, it’s a known…the small child belongs to the woman’s body and space, psychcically mother and child are one in the infant years.

So what exactly is my feminism and my homemaking, my spirituality and my womanhood? These are things I am fleshing out. I know what I don’t want, I know what I feel is harmful, not just to women but society as a whole.  I’ve a large family to raise, they are my purpose. I love order and cleanliness but I’ve learned that I can’t do it all without killing myself. I protect my physical health now and I prioritise the education and guiding of my kids into adulthood over a superficially perfect home.

My roots have me seeking out the ways and methods of my childhood. I want to grow my own food, I want to handcraft. There’s a fullness in me that wants to nurture the world, I long for beauty and calm and peace. I’m attracted to fully-fledged home keeping.
Yet, not as some kind of insipid pandering to systemic male power, so I guess I am radical.

Birth

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Difficult experiences sometimes cause the words to sit thick for me and to refuse to flow. I want to write the story of my sons birth but it holds back and what comes out is rigid and formulaic. Still I want to mark the present with some words, to tell it in the best way I am able even if that telling has no movement and is not inspired.

A little over six weeks ago Little Man came into this world. And for the first time, I had an extended babymoon. For more than forty days I didn’t clean or cook or do anything other than cuddle him, feed him, sleep next to him and watch his siblings enjoy him. I did occasionally have to break up a squabble or holler at them to sleep but all in all we were taken care of and it has been amazing. As a result I am rearing to get back into normal life, I’m actually looking forward to cooking! I want to spring clean the house but my little breastfed man isn’t ready to let me do that yet.
Step by step.

Little Man was born in hospital even though I had planned to homebirth. Once I discovered that I had Gestational Diabetes I lost my confidence to birth at home. I knew that I was feeling larger than in my other pregnancies and so I was influenced by the big baby fears. I really didn’t want to be induced but I also knew the likelihood of going into labour naturally before forty weeks was slim. Little Man was induced at 39 weeks and four days and his birth weight was 4.31 kilo’s ( 9.5 pounds) and he was the biggest of my five children but only by 200grams. Did I make the right decision in giving up my homebirth? It’s hard to know, I knew that I could easily birth a baby up to 4.26 kilo’s which is why I asked to delay the induction. Would a couple of hundred extra grams make all that difference? If I had birthed naturally at 42 weeks he may have been 4.8 kilo’s, is that too big for me?

The hospital birth was not pleasant even though I went into it trying to have a positive attitude. I know that had I birthed at home it would have been completely different. I will probably never know if I can birth a 4.8 kilo baby without complications. I feel very sad that it is unlikely that I will have more children and that I end my experience with childbirth with fear.

I had been induced before with my third baby but that experience was nothing like this time. I wonder about the variables, did they allow me to progress more gently? Was it less harsh because I was younger and stronger?

The labour lasted one hour and ten minutes according to my paperwork but it was two hours and twenty minutes from the start of the pitocin. Induction is so horribly metallic and unnatural, it felt like being throttled, like my body was going to shatter. I trembled uncontrollably at transition and whilst this is common, it’s not normal for me, I thought my body was shutting down. I’ve never had a labour like this and I feel grateful to have come out of it with us both well and healthy because it felt wrong. I don’t have any desire to itemise the unpleasant aspects, the unnecessary invasive fingers and the trail of ever-changing staff, the doctor who insisted it was likely there would be a shoulder dystocia before we even began. As it was he came out in one contraction, head and shoulders in one go. I think I pushed once.

I’m grateful to have a delightful and healthy little boy. I’m not traumatised by the birth but if I was a first time mother I may have been. I knew what I was getting into consenting to another hospital birth.

I have given birth five times, I know the potential for birthing to be a wonderful experience, I know how the medical system ruins this. But there are also times when birth needs to be medicalised. Was this one of those times? I am still unsure. In the week before the induction I thought about refusing but I was too uncertain. It saddens me that there is no in between and that I could not have a more gentle and intuitive experience in hospital. I began contracting naturally after having my waters broken, that wonderful soft altered state when you feel the beckoning of ancient women. I experienced the sensation of being pulled in and the warm trust that they would take care of me. It writes like a cliche but it is real. But after four hours of irregular contractions the doctors pushed me to start the drip and I accepted with resignation, I knew I was on their turf.

I wish that this last birth could have been an empowering experience that I could relay to my daughters with confidence. I still feel unfinished as if  I glimpsed the transformative power of birthing but never quite made it there. Birthing is as much about women and the sacred as it is healthy babies, I believe this.

Fortunately my private midwife was with me during the birth and her presence gave me the courage to cope.

And here he is, my precious little man! I adore him and I feel so incredibly blessed to have him. He is a surprise gift, the baby I tried so hard to avoid and now he fills my days with happiness.

I’m grateful for my baby, I’m grateful for food and shelter and to not live amongst warfare. I’m grateful for a free healthcare system to treat the complications of my pregnancy. I realise that untreated diabetes could kill both mother and baby and I have wondered what outcomes there are for mothers like me in circumstances where they have no medical care. Although in many ways I think GD is related to the kind of society we live in, the foods we eat, our lack of movement….It isn’t a contradiction to be grateful for medical care whilst recognising how it could be better. And I want it to be better for all women.

written for him in the weeks after his birth

I watch my son as he grows accustomed to the workings of his body. His digestive system assails him like a storm taking him by surprise. He is caramel breath-ed fitra, a wondrous small soul. He gazes without blinking, his mouth a perfect circle and I gaze back at him.
I hold back tears when I realise we all begin like this, we enter the world in a state of complete trust. Complete grace.
His innocence is beauty that I experience as pain. There are not enough hugs that can hold him. He smells of fermented milk and angel smiles and he is entrusted to me.
This little boy is the greatest miracle that ever existed!
The movement of his breathing is profound all encompassing love. His days fill me with the curve of his newly learned smile and his curious intense gaze. I merge into his timing, sleeping and waking and seeing with him. He brings delight to my perception. Over six weeks we have lived each other’s movements, the world is his comfort in my embrace.
This precious gift that I moved mountains to try to avoid is now the greatest swelling of joy in the centre of my heart.

 

 

The time is nigh….

This is the view from my bedroom window.

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We have had a lot of rain and the plants are happy. We prepared the soil late this year and so we didn’t plant a lot of things but we have had rocket and bok choy and lots of cucumbers and tomatoes and there are capsicums still to come. It really was a struggle to keep this garden watered over the hottest days of summer and sometimes I used up my last little bit of waddle doing so but it is all worth it when it comes time to pick the produce. There are few things that make me as appreciative as freshly grown home veggies and fruit, there is something so beautiful about the whole process of growth and variety and something so calming about being immersed in greenery.

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I am spending most of my day looking out upon this view because if I spend too much time on my feet the SPD problems become really intense. It is frustrating because there is so much I would love to do in the house in preparation but still I am grateful that I can sit down and that the children are old enough to not require my physical aid and intervention all the time.

So much of our experience during pregnancy is influenced by what occurs at a subconscious level. And because we are conditioned to be rational not intuitive our emotions can get pretty confusing. Because I spent the first 30 weeks of this pregnancy completely avoiding the medical model I was able to really enter the beautiful rhythm of pregnant space. I didn’t worry about anything, I was not obsessed with time or what date I was up to, it was a lovely process. And I found the discomfort of having to suddenly exit that space and enter the world of medicalised birth very challenging. It involved a process of grieving for the birth that I longed for and because we don’t live in a society in which it is acceptable to include the mothers real experience as a priority then there is usually no vehicle for processing the grief, we are expected to just be grateful for whatever care we receive and it is thought selfish to consider otherwise. This is so short sighted because it is all so interrelated, the mothers experience IS the baby’s experience, there is no separation between these two things.

I felt very torn as I went about the decision making process, what aspects of the standard hospital procedure for dealing with Gestational Diabetes was I going to go along with? Induction is not complication free especially an early induction. And how do we really way up the odds between the risk of induction and the risk of macrosomia or stillbirth etc? It is difficult to be needing to make these decisions because what happens is that the more we are pulled into our analytical minds the more we lose touch with our natural intuition which is ultimately the thing that can help guide us make these kinds of decisions properly.

Initially I was told that I would need to be induced between 37 and 38 weeks and I was not happy with this. If left to go naturally I usually go into labour around 41 weeks. To be induced at 37 weeks is considered pre-term but particularly so when compared with my norm. Thankfully they did not push this when a scan showed that the overly excess amniotic fluid previously discovered had settled down and whilst the baby looks big there is nothing to suggest that it is big for me. At this stage it is just hypothetical, it can’t really be known.

I decided that I would refuse induction at 38 weeks and insist on being as close to 40 weeks as possible and I was kind of expecting a bit of a battle or at least being treated like a negligent fool but surprisingly it was not like that at all which gives me a lot of confidence because if there was any real medical need for early induction they would insist. I just gently asked if we could move the induction date forward a week and the doctor said it was fine. And this has taken a lot of the pressure I was feeling off, there is still a chance I will go into labour naturally and if not then at least there is far less chance of my body not being ready for birth at 40 weeks than at 37-38.

So now is really a time of waiting. Last night I dreamed that I moved with a group of women and children to a log house by a beach in Norway or Denmark. Our contemporary life is too fractured to make the real connections of sisterhood available but our bodies remember a more archaic time. I would love to spend these weeks sitting in a circle of women of different ages engaged in doing and making, to thread baskets and tell stories, to be quiet and listen. The odd conversation with a loved friend is not enough for me, I want it all day every day, I feel the absence but such is modern life.

I am being well cared for by the people around me and that is such a blessing. It is so, so hard for me to relax into needing the help of other people but the more I am forced to do so the easier it gradually becomes.

I decided to write down how I felt about not being able to home birth and it helped process the feelings.

Weary. Tonight I had a good sob after months of stoicism. Hopefully this means a good processing of all those things we are not supposed to feel but instead cover with a dose of saccharine gratitude. When another casual directive to ‘think positively’ made me want to start flying punches.
Acknowledging discomfort or loss or grief or worry does not cancel out positive thought. In fact it can be a stepping stone and a process. But it is so ingrained in our culture to silence the raw and churning places. And perhaps this is why so many live as dead zones enacting culturally prescribed roles but never really getting close to the pulse of life.
I am grateful and excited, there are a million things to be thankful for from basic food and shelter to the love of small people to the lightly showering rain.
I am also a woman on the edge of birthing sitting close to the heart of the world feeling it ache. There is exhilaration, anticipation and fatigue, fear and disappointment. I wanted to home birth and I can’t. I was pulled out of the intuitive rhythm of pregnancy into the analytical fear spaces. Trying to weigh risk against risk, decisions that seem impossible.
Birth and other rites of womanhood always open in me a gap, the longing I have for sisters, blood sisters. And aunts. Woman love. People who speak the languages of being female accompanied by unconditional love. The love that generally only blood or a shared childhood can accumulate. Pregnancy takes me into the heart of the island, my island-ness.
But well rehearsed now I can shed the tears and simply let it go. Trusting and knowing that weary spaces open us beyond our small limitations and in those openings there is peace. Shedding now the exhaustion and the hanging on and the million ways we women try to micromanage our lives. Birthing is the most beautiful time to surrender our illusion of control.

A couple of days ago I felt a real hormonal shift. I have not felt overly fragile this pregnancy compared with previous experiences but definitely in the last few days something has shifted. I have been weepy and grumpy. But it makes me happy because I know it means the time is nigh, everything is conspiring in preparation. InshAllah.

I have half packed my hospital bag and assembled the baby seat in the car. I enjoy the late summer afternoon air in the garden briefly before returning to my spot on the bed looking out on the greenery. It is time for waiting and patience and enjoying these last weeks, possibly the last time I will ever feel a baby kicking inside me.

I enjoy music that reminds me of being twenty and yet oddly contains lyrics that suit my current perspectives in life.

My little people also react to the slow pace of the household, all ‘formal’ homeschooling on hold now.

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I really truly believe that pregnancy is a journey for women designed to untie the places we are knotted. It’s impossible to articulate and so I won’t try. It is just such a truly amazing experience, a wonderful awe inspiring journey every time.

We women we know how to birth

Lili runs into the garden again and the way she moves transforms what I see. She is one with the wind and the late afternoon sun. She picks up a stick and she is calling ‘Wafa’, she looks for our cat. The sun is hot. Tomato plants wither against their stakes, tonight when it cools we will stand on the grass together and fill the garden beds with water.
The fruit trees tower over her as if already fully grown, she searches for her cat and the garden is a jungle. The fences are tall and this is her own private world. She moves with confidence.

I sit inside and I watch her and my womb is contracting. The pressure is down low, it feels deep in the earth. It tightens, tightens and I feel ready. But there are weeks to go, these are just the first signals, this deepness in me is communicating Beyond the confines of my skin and when the time is ripe the baby will come.

The house which just a few days ago was so neatly organised and clean has erupted into disarray, there are dirty dishes and piles of washing and I only dress if I really have to. My stomach is round and my breasts are low. My movements are slow and laboured. The pain in my lower back suddenly rings sharp and renders my legs useless. But all this is familiar now, I don’t resist it anymore.

I am resting. Waiting.

Sometimes I let myself be drawn out from this powerful energy, this other worldliness of late pregnancy. I am called into fear and into planning.

they will want to induce me, what am I going to do? Is there the possibility of refusing? What is safe?

The energy doesn’t want to emerge into cold sterile lights and the smell of disinfectant, the energy wants to stay home in this house that sees few people. This house with its fences and its garden and its layers of homeness. The energy is building and I want to abide with it. The energy fills a bath in the living room, it makes the lights low, it moves into the deep, it sways in the places where pain is not pain. And I am the energy and the energy is me.

I remember, last time, in early labour I climbed into the shower. Just to check it was true, if it was the real thing. And as the water ran and the steam rose it seemed as if I crossed over into the back of time. Water, steam, rhythm and sweet beautiful contractions. I could have stayed there forever.

Lili moves in the garden and I move in preparation.

I don’t want to surrender to my body being tricked. I long for the waves that flow from the deep, not a drip, not a synthetic mimicry.

I wonder why I am feeling these signals so early….
I have a glimmer of hope that maybe I got my dates wrong, maybe this baby is not too big, maybe I will go into labour naturally on my own before they set me a time on the calendar and call me in.

I am feeling the language of Maryam when she laboured by the date palm, alone.
I also hear their voices. I am too old….my BMI, the fluid, macrosomia, diabetes.

HIGH RISK!

But the deep tells me to move into the dark and these weeks now I am dimming the lights.

Now Lili comes inside and makes herself a cocoon in her blanket. She is talking to herself softly, she is several characters at once.
What’s the day today? one. two. three

Outside the foliage is enraptured, leaves like skin when touch calls it to ecstasy. I want to go into the garden and birth with the trees.

Lili is feeding her cat, she sings to her as she pulls the lid off the can. Wafa curls around her legs with love and affection.

I suspect I will be taken by the fingers and led through the lights and the lines. Step by step through the concepts of safety.
I should be grateful. grateful.

But there is a whole chorus; plants, bugs, bee’s and birds, a cat and a small child at one with the wind, they tell me not to forget what my body knows and what the back of time taught me,
we women we know how to birth.

A Creative Life, God and Womanhood

 

For the first time in a long time I am now throwing myself into rediscovering my creative self. I don’t want to have to compartmentalise things into mothering or artistness, these things can exist together although it is sometimes hard. I am pregnant and I have plunged into an intense creative space which is at once wonderful and terrifying, pregnancy is such a time of extremes.

At the moment I am finding the most influential things I am reading that really speak to my gut involve a writing about the Feminine, the loss of this knowledge in our culture, what this means for women. It explains a wrongness I have felt all my life, a wrongness that I tried to fix through my exploration of Islamic Orthodoxy and it’s gendered spaces, something that I did find answers to in Yemen in ways that are too hard to articulate and ways that always encourage protestation from people who refuse to imagine that such a path could honour the Feminine. And I am too weary now of needing to spin my life in protestation and defence, I just can’t be bothered. Nevertheless that journey was a beginning and it opened me to a new way of knowing things. It can’t be transplanted into an unfamiliar and unrelated context and nor should it be.

 

I haven’t been sleeping very well and despite my struggles now with my practise as a Muslim, in the middle of the night it is much easier to connect, to sit and look into the dark and to contemplate. At such times I feel God like an electricity in my veins, the night is alive and I am alive with it. I love the sensation of the house sleeping. In Islam we say that in the last third of the night God descends to the lowest heavens and this is something that feels so palpable.

I don’t have a designated workspace in this house. In our old house for a short period of time I set up a studio, it was a wonderful space and I would love to make something like that here but there really isn’t room so I just look at the pictures and remember it.

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I feel a fierceness now that is willing to protect the aspects of life that I find essential and nothing can stand in the way. I will not live in dullness anymore. I know that most of the shadows we face in life are from our own selves, I don’t blame anyone for what I have or haven’t done with my life, every choice has been my own.
What matters to me now is God, family, art and womanhood…
And all of these things I am exploring are like wonderful lights in an otherwise un signposted wilderness.
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I wrote this sentence today and so much of the life I feel buzzing within me is part of this realisation, I will not pander to patriarchy anymore, no matter the consequences, no matter the potential loss. Various people will make such a sentence far more reductive than it is. I am not talking solely about Islamic patriarchy but so much more broadly. And it is not contemporary Feminism where I find the answers.

These buzzwords are loaded, they cramn us into niches and often convey a limited vision. I have an insatiable need to write about these things but sometimes I think I need to find a new language.

I am happy, there is potential swelling all around me.
Alhamdulillah ya Raheem!