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. I want to run, but where? How do I protect them?

This country is degenerating. Is it? Or was it always like this and I didn’t know? 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. We ate Indomie last week, that’s a register of how my house is falling into neglect. 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

do I get a formal divorce?
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?
am I strong or self-pitying?
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.

Joyful Mess

I talk about mess a lot. I guess for people who don’t have children or who haven’t been made responsible for a household mess it must seem kind of boring and irrelevant but for those of us who have been immersed in a life in which mess has become an

Enormous. Central. Factor of existence

it’s definitely relevant, it’s something we can’t get away from, it simply never ends.

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I’m a tidy person, my preference is definitely for things to be clean. Even in my student slum housing days I took a lot of pride in creating a beautiful home space, it’s just something I love. My Mum too always created a lovely home so I probably inherited it from her, I’m grateful for the effort she put into our home environment. There are various reasons why I can’t stay on top of the mess in my house though so it never remains in the state I feel comfortable with but rather than going into those causes I want to talk about how I cope with how things are.

Mess makes me feel anxious, if you aren’t this kind of person you can stop reading now!

I’m a highly visually stimulated person, I’m in touch with what it is about my environment that I enjoy and what it is that bothers me. The ways things LOOK matters to me because it impacts my psychological state. So conversations about roles and gender norms and women and housework only matter to me up to a point, in the end it is ME that requires a clean, organised and beautiful home. It is what I strive for but I simply can’t achieve.

So where’s the joy in mess?

It comes down to priorities. I tried for years to stay on top of it and tore my hair out failing. Who did what and when and how was also a highly contested and charged topic during my marriage. So mess brought with it a whole myriad of negative emotions for a while. It is why I came up with the term matriarchal homemaking. I have learned to discover what I do want through what I don’t want. I know what I can do through what I can’t do.

I’d love a clean and peaceful and beautiful house but the experience of family togetherness, of creative shared endeavours, of love and learning together, travelling places together, eating healthy time intensive foods, caring for the environment, mentoring and guiding the children through adolescence, these things are all more important, they are a higher priority.

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out and about having a picnic whilst ignoring the abysmal disastrous mess at home

And above and beyond dealing with the negative reactions and expectations of folk who are still attitudinally immersed somewhere in the nineteen fifties I had to come to terms with my own attitudes towards MYSELF about mess. I had to let go of trying to control my environment.

I still want to come up with strategies to make things easier, I still prefer the idea of a house that doesn’t look like it’s being squatted in by a horde of feral elephants but I know it’s going to remain just that, an idea, for at least another ten years and I am ok with that….I think….I hope.

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learning to knit, crafting, handwork, simple meditative togetherness, it’s all more important. 

So embracing joyful mess is what allows me to do things like spontaneous Summer Solstice happenings. I literally trod over boxes of unpacked fruit interspersed with clean washing that had somehow been dragged into the hallway in order to get outside and bask in the sun. I’ll spare you photo’s of our underwear interspersed with carrots and Bok Choy.

Priorities.

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Mess is joyful when it enables us to be. It’s as simple as that…

Instagram as a Meditative Practise

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Instagram has been around for years but I only realised quite how much I enjoy using it recently. It is interactive and visually focused, it is topic based so you can explore all areas of interest to you and it’s incredibly user friendly. The aspect I enjoy the most about it though is that it can be used as a place of intentionality.

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I recently began a series of instagram photographs tagged #thirtydaysofhomeschooling. I loved the idea of recording a whole month of moments but as the days passed I realised it was not so much the recording or the online interaction that I was enjoying (although these things were great), it was the rhythm and repetition of ensuring I did the same thing every day.

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Although I don’t have a lot of time or skills to take fantastic photographs one of my favourite things to do is curate and assemble objects. I love moving furniture around a room for this reason. In the course of this little self assigned project I’ve looked forward to deciding what to photograph on a daily basis, initially I gave myself an exact time to photograph but with breastfeeding that proved difficult so I chose a window of a few hours.

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I started to discover that the act of recording was causing me to be intentional not just about the photography but about the actions I was undertaking to create the image – making a meal, reading to the children, setting up a homeschooling activity, I started to approach these things with a reverence I don’t normally have simply because I was paying more attention to them.

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What do you like about Instagram and why?

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.

Fes – City of the Heart

Twenty years ago when I arrived in Fes, I discovered my visa was running out for Spain and since I had to travel to Germany by land to catch my flight home I disappointedly boarded the next bus to Ceuta the following morning. I spent the night in the Ville Nouvelle, I did not see the old city. I did not see Fes. And it always seemed like unfinished business.

When we stepped off the train in Fes from Casablanca and took a taxi to the ancient medina it was a moment of sheer elation.  After so many years of longing, we were finally there. Fes medina is now filled with luxury riads and I was tempted to choose a middle range one simply because we might never have that opportunity again to sleep in such a resplendent sign of our tradition. We were met at one of the many gates and taken to our destination by a man with a cart, red faced and puffed after what seemed like a sprint through the labyrinth alleys of the medina. The ancient medina is a car free zone, only accessible by foot or donkey.

 

Before you arrive in Fes everyone warns you that you will require a guide. It is impossible to find your way around at first because all the alleyways look the same and it is difficult to find any markers of landscape. I thought we were adventurous enough to try it without a guide but after our first day in which we walked in circles and did not find any of the landmarks we were looking for I decided to be a sensible tourist and do what we were told.

Considering it was only three days since we had left Australia the impact of visiting these places is very difficult to put into words. It was just overwhelmingly beautiful. It seemed fitting that we started with Masjid Moulay Idriss II because he was the founder of the city and the son of Sheikh Moulay Idriss I who is considered the Father of Morocco. It seemed that through greeting him, it was like greeting the whole country and it’s rich history and honouring the beauty that brought me into Islam in the first place. As I was standing in the courtyard I heard a voice cry out ‘Marhaba Hajja!‘ and I turned and realised an old man was talking to me so I in a somewhat startled voice replied ‘shukran/thankyou’ to which he said ‘Yes! Shukran!‘ and went back to sweeping the fountain. Later I discovered that Zeph had taken a photograph of him at some point during our visit.

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We also visited the tanneries briefly and whilst we were there I remembered that Sidi Ali al Jamal was close by as I had read that his zawia was in this area of the old city. I had planned to try and find it myself as it is not well known like the big mosques but since we were close by I asked about it and some old men who worked selling leather items described to my guide how to get there. First we passed by the zawia where his daughter is buried but it was closed so then we found our way to the Zawia of Sidi Ali al Jamal.

It was locked but there was a phone number on the door and my guide rang the number and soon a woman came and opened the door. My camera battery died the moment she opened the door. We entered into a lovely courtyard filled with fruit trees, it was still a family home tended by his descendants.

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I think my expectation got the better of me on this visit, I had longed to visit here for so many years that to be standing there and with a rather stroppy ten year old, just left me not knowing what to do. It was only when we left and I thanked the woman and took her hand that those expectations just dissolved briefly and with tears in our eyes we said goodbye and stepped back outside the courtyard walls. She invited us back for the Thursday night dhikr but I had no idea how we would find our way there alone in the dark as it was quite a long way from where we were staying.

That night I lay on the bed in my room and imagined the dhikr that was occurring and how much I longed to be there. And I thought about how that was such a common theme in my experience, sometimes being so close to these things yet not being able to partake. And I stared up towards the incredibly high ceiling in the room and it felt as if we were sleeping in the very heart of the universe.
Fes felt like the heart of the world and I was so grateful to be there.

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The following day we found our way back to Al Qarawiyyin for the Jama’a prayer. To be able to pray Jama’a beside the courtyard was a wonderful experience. And something we returned to do again when we visited Fes for the second time just before returning to Australia. The second time with my lovely friend M who had come from Belgium for us to be able to meet in Fes!

And still, every Friday now, I transport myself back here in my memory.

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The film Fez – City of Saints is available to watch on Youtube.