Wednesday, 25 November 2015

White Ribbon Day

For me, 25th November will always be a bitter sweet day. A day in which most, silent bystanders to a war no one really wants to see, remember to say that Domestic Violence is wrong. For me, it is a day when I remember things I want to forget. Simple things really. The way I have been stripped by my humanity layer by layer until the only thing left were bare, raw nerve endings resonating with a pain so deep, so all consuming that if my brain would have still be functioning I would have lost my minds. And I don't want to remember that. I don't want to remember the fact that I was just a shadow living in so much constant terror and self doubt that I did not even know who I was anymore, much less being able to think straight. 

I used to be ashamed. And why not be ashamed? I was smart, educated, from a good family with good morals. I was not meant to be a victim and I could not find the words to explain how day after day, drop after drop, constant emotional abuse has eroded everything I was. Instead of my abuser being ashamed of his actions, I was ashamed of them and their effect on me. It took me years of counselling to accept that it has not been my fault, to stop being ashamed of the terror I had lived in. I can't change the past, and yet, sometimes, late at night, when the scars bleed unseen and unheard, I still wonder... If I had loved less... If I would have been less kind, less generous, less of who I am... would have I still walked the burning hell I had? 

I am not scared of hell because I had lived in hell day after day, never knowing when a war will erupt without notice, never knowing what will happen in the next second and slowly forgetting who I was. 

I remember the tears... Burning my face raw when I could see no escape... But worse then my tears, I remember my children's tears... Those did not burn my face... Those burned my heart to ashes... Because of them, for them, I had found the courage to say ENOUGH and walk away... Alone, in a country I did not know, without money or friends... I look at photos of refugees in the media and I have to close my eyes because I see us, as we were... 

I often hear the question why did you stay? It is a good question. Why did I stay? At the beginning out of love. Because I took vows to love at better or worse, even though no one told me that worse will be the most hideous hell I could ever imagine. Love and being told by my beloved that it was all my fault. If only I could be more mindful, more loving, more pretty, more whatever... he would not scream... he would not break things and mash groceries into the walls I had to later wash... So I worked on being better... I could have been a saint... the result would have been the same... A lot of people say that mental and emotional abuse is not as bad. That words can't hurt as much as broken bones. Maybe. I never had a broken bone, so I can't really compare. Maybe if the words are said once in careless anger, maybe they don't leave bleeding scars, maybe they can be brushed off. When words are said time and time again by someone that is meant to love and support, when words are said with the thought and intent of hurting, then the words do hurt. You brush them off once and twice, and three times, but every time after that another thin layer of defence sheds away leaving your soul stripped bare, every nerve ending exposed and painful in a never ending torture that leaves no visible marks. Because the bleeding cuts are on the inside, in your heart, your mind, your soul, adding and adding until you can't remember who you are or who have you ever been, until there is no flicker of hope or help left, and you are forever stuck in a torture chamber that would make the Inquisition look like Disneyland.

Physical abuse is bad. I am not contesting that for a second. But a fist in the face can never be anything but a fist in the face. Emotional abuse is different. Is not your body that is attacked. Is your mind and your very soul. You are being told poison time and time again, wrapped in a glittery package that is a travesty of love, and it is always you the one that does not love enough, is not good enough... You are the one inflicting the pain, you are the one at fault... But more then anything, it is never ending.

And in between the terrorising episodes that were all my fault, my beloved was sweet and romantic and apologetic... Maybe it did not help that he took extreme care to make sure I was alone. No friends, no family, no one to shine a mirror in my face. I look back and I have to bitterly laugh at how easy it had been to isolate me. All it took was love and the travesty of love. "I feel ignored when you talk to your parents... I feel unloved, left out..." So I spoke less, until I did not speak at all. Why did I stay? Because after love and guilt at not being good enough, there was fear... I have been told often enough that if I walk away I will never see my children again... that he will kill himself because of the atrocities I was committing... Later still, after love, guilt and fear, there was doubt. I had been told so many times I was crazy, by him, by his family... that I did not know anymore if I was sane or not, if all that pain was just a fragment of my sick imagination... That's why I stayed... Until the day my four year old begged me to end it and for a brief moment I regained enough sanity to look around me and understand what I was doing to my children... It took my four year old and the realisation that if I remained my children won't have a mother... And for once, the fear of staying became greater then the fear of getting away...

Like a Phoenix Bird, I had to rebuild myself out of ashes. I never found all the pieces I had lost, but I had regained enough out of them to somehow resemble the girl I once was. And I built new pieces for the holes left behind. But the fear remained a constant shadow. I had learnt to mask it, mostly. I had learnt to laugh again and to plan for tomorrow. I have made a new life, or trying to, with new friends... But the fear is still there... It doesn't take much to make my heart stop even now... A raised male voice... Anger... A private ID on my cell phone... I had learnt to take a deep breath and tell myself I can handle it... And I can. Mostly.

People that know me tell me I am strong. And I laugh because it is too hard to explain that when you have nothing left to lose, it is no strength but desperation that makes you put one step in front of the other, that makes you stand tall for the next minute... And if you can make it one minute, you can manage the next and the next... It is no strength when you have to do what has to be done because your children need you... It is love. 

It is White Ribbon Day and I smile. I am not fully free. Not yet. But I smile because against all the odds I had survived, and I had survived retaining those parts of myself that define me. A part of me smiles happy for that. And another smiles with bitterness because we actually need a day to remind us that Domestic Violence is wrong. That we need to be told that abusing another being is wrong. And maybe a third part of me smiles with hope that maybe one day, it will stop. That maybe one day Domestic Violence will be nothing more but just another dusty page of barbarian history. 

But if I had learnt one thing, is that as long as we humans continue to believe we are entitled, as long as we continue to believe we have the right to control another human being, as long as we continue to believe that humans can be possessions, something that belongs, domestic violence will continue. Because it stems from control, entitlement and possession. And that is what has to change before anything else.

Monday, 30 June 2014


Bored, I was looking at clothes online. And one item of clothing I totally love is the kaftan. Especially the yummy, amazing, stunning Moroccan kaftans. Getting lost in surfing the net admiring the highly embellished dresses, I can across quite a few blogs written by Muslim women. Interesting reading in their own right, but something I noticed as a common trend was the issue of modesty.

As a child in a well to do family at the time, modesty was always taught as having to do with behaviour. You don't flaunt your money and possessions, especially in front of the ones less fortunate, you don't brag about your high school grades (yeah, I was the perpetual nerd) in front of others that do not find it as easy to achieve the same things. Later, modesty was taught to be as a way always looking at my achievements in context. While my achievements were great (or so I thought at the time, anyhow), compared to the achievements of the person that invented penicillin hence saving millions of lives, were nothing. Later still, as I hit my teen years and discovered a passion for jewellery (still suffer from the disease), modesty meant more avoiding gaudiness and being moderate in the choice of accessories, in the sense that displaying the entire contents of my jewellery box at once was not only bad taste, but also immodest as it could be perceived as showing off.

Because of the world I had lived in, I always associated modesty with moderation. Yes, it was always encouraged to be proud of ourselves, but the idea of showing off was frowned upon. And, for me at least, modesty always had a lot more to do with behaviour then clothing. As a matter of fact, I don't think I have ever heard the word mentioned in regards to clothing until I married a Muslim. If my clothes were too skimpy or too much for the occasion, it wasn't an issue of modesty but of bad taste.

I know some very modest women some young some not so young. They never flaunt their abilities, they never brag, they know their own worth and feel no need to hit someone over the head with it. I openly praise my best friend for being a much better cook then I am when it comes to creating hearty, family oriented meals that taste and look delicious. And while she is very happy to be praised, who wouldn't?, she always points out that there is plenty more to learn. To be, that is modesty, it keeping it into context and being moderate in one's believes about themselves. And yet, when it comes to clothing, she often sports above the knee skirts and skinny pants, which she can easily pull off as she is one of those women that mother nature gifted with incredibly long, slender legs. What I would find lacking in modesty would be if she would feel the need to constantly praise herself on her great legs, not the fact that she wears clothing to show them off to the best advantage.

I had another friend, many many years ago that was fortunate enough to be stunning and she knew it. When it came to clothing, maybe she could have done with a little tone down, not so much in the cuts and patterns she chose, which always suited her to perfection, but in the number of designer labels displayed all at once on her body, and the fact that she had to point out the said designer names, in case that anyone was blind and did not see the markings. That to me, kind off screamed lacking modesty. We knew she had money, and no one begrudged her the fact that she did, however, poking out eyes out with it, was both lacking in modesty and terribly bad taste.

Jumping over to another decade and another friend. When it came to clothing, by just about any Muslim standard she was very modest. Not a hair showing, loose tops almost to the knee, scarf covering her neck and chest... And from underneath the scarf she will make eye contact with every male that crossed her path, her laughter and voice volume increased by about twenty decibels each time there was a man around and in the rest of the time she felt a compulsive need to point out what a great wife, mother, Muslim, sister, daughter etc she was.

I have to wonder who is more modest? A fully covered woman that did everything she could to attract attention to herself and spent the rest of the time going on about how great she was, or a woman that wears a tight top and a short skirt who always accept a compliment by offering one back and is by far one of the most unassuming beings I know?

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against anyone wearing anything. Hijab and loose clothing, dripping in designer labels or a bikini for that matter. As much as I am concerned, as long as you don't try to impose your views on me, you can wear whatever you wish, including chains and leather if that makes you happy. I might think at times you could no pay me to wear certain articles of clothing (for example the most hideous blouse I had ever seen that looked like rolls of toilet pater and it retailed at over 4Ks), or I might think certain things are absolutely tasteless, but as long as I am not wearing them, what do I care?

I guess that one I am trying to say by my various examples, is that for me, modesty is at once a lot more and a lot less than clothing. To me, someone saying they are more modest than I am, or some of my friends are, because that person is wearing something in particular, is simply put, immodest, because to me it says that you thing more highly about yourself then of others. And the hypocrisy or the pure blindness of the statement :"I am more modest then you because I am wearing X, Y or Z", makes me roll my eyes and bar my teeth.

To me, modesty is about attitude, towards yourself and others, is about the way you see yourself, is about not thinking you are better then anyone else, is about moderation. For me, modesty goes hand in hand with being gracious.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

A silver thread

It is night. Around me darkness and silence. From somewhere, from afar, a silent calling that only my soul can recognise. I close my eyes, slowly, and tenderly I try to follow the calling, a silver thread expending over thousands of miles. 

With the thread between my fingers, oceans and continents vanish and finally I can step over my land, the one I left behind following an illusion. I know its song, I know its stories, I know the perfume in the air and my soul trembles in joy. I hear around my language, the one I listened to in the womb, and I smile. There, in the distance are my mountains with white caps of snow in early summer, with fir trees raising like proud arrows towards a sky that is as blue as my dreams, with fast cold springs running over rocks between the flowers. I pass through tiny villages lost on the map and resort towns and finally, as I descend the last mountain, across the fields, I can see the old castle sitting quietly at the top of the hill, a testimony of the history I had left behind. The stones beneath my feet know my story. I take one step after another, between old houses in which ones I had friends, on old streets on which once I sang and laughed. In the tiny little park with weeping willows the old benches remember still a young girl laughing as she was day dreaming about the future. 

I walk further still, passed the centuries old German church, passed a school that once was mine and stands older then the country for which I had left it all behind and finally, finally I take my first step on my street. Each house has lived in my memory, each stone etched in my mind, each tree a guardian to my dreams. And there, just a little lower, the house that when I left was white as snow, a sunny yellow now. I stop by the gate and I lean my head on it. Between tears, I smile at all the memories. The day I had left the house excited on a date with my love, the day I came home with all my friends celebrating the end of high school, the days I went to the market with my mother and for long walked in the forest with my brother… Teasing my sister and listening to my brother…

I lower myself to my knees, there, next to the gate, and I can not stop the tears falling down my face. Why did I leave it all behind? Why?

Once, a long time ago, when I used to fight with my sister about silly belongings, I thought that having my own home, my own space will be a blessing. Once upon a time, listening to my father’s lectures, I dreamed of the day when I will have no one to tell my what to do. Once, when my mother would ask me to sit with her, I thought that being alone will be exciting. Once, when my bother was mercilessly teasing me, I thought that I would give anything for it to stop…

I sit now on the other side of the gate, a stranger in my own home, a stranger in my own country and I cry. Because I would give anything to have my father tell me what to do and lift the mountains of responsibility of my shoulders. Because I would give anything to sit quietly with my mother as we cook together yet another meal. Because I would rather argue with my siblings then being alone at the end of the Earth where no one knows me enough to tease me about things that happened a life time ago. I step into the yard; tears still falling, tears of joy for finally being home, in my parents arms, in my siblings laughter.

The silver thread snaps, just another sweet dream, and I am back again in my own home, in the dark, at the end of the planet. Why did I leave? Why did I leave it all behind with a smile on my lips? Why? All I have left are dreams and memories. And sometimes, late at night, I can close my eyes and imagine going home, and for a moment, just a second, the illusion is powerful enough to settle the yearning, the longing. And then, the dream vanishes like the touch of the feather on the face, and I am left all alone in a country far away and the pain is ten fold worse and the longing is clawing at my soul... Why?

Monday, 5 May 2014


I live in a world surrounded by technology. Even now, as I am sitting in front of my computer, I have a smart phone and an iPad on my desk. My eleven year old daughter has an iPad, an iPod and a smart phone. I look at it and sometimes I wonder...

I close my eyes and I remember a world without technology, a world of old fashion phones that could be slammed with satisfaction, a world in which my friends would simply knock on the door, knowing they will be welcome anytime. And part of me smiles sadly looking at my children that do not know the satisfaction of just knocking on someone's door and the joy of finding them home.

What does technology means for me? The luxury of seeing my parents' faces when I speak to them from continents away. It is a luxury I did not always have in the days of insanely expensive overseas phone calls and long waited for letters. And yet, sometimes I miss the excitement of opening my post box to find a letter hidden between bills and more bills. I miss the excitement of ripping open that envelope that has travelled thousands of miles just to carry the thoughts of someone I love, of turning the pages of that letter and following the lines written by a hand I know so well.

I close my eyes and I remember being one of the first of my generation to leave my homeland to seek my future in other parts of the world and in an age without the technology we have today, it was easy to feel lost and broken away from everything I held dear. Years passed and one day, with couple of clicks on my computer I was able to check on people I had lost to the roads of life. Sometimes we chat, we people that used to be friends a lifetime ago. And yet, sometimes I wonder how would it be to just hear their voices.

Today, with couple of clicks on my phone, I am able to see my parents' house, too see them walking in the yard, and the possibility of it is bitter sweet, because while I can see it and while for a second it settles down the longing, I am not really there. Today, due to technology my parents can see their granddaughters and be seen by them, even though my girls still miss them and my parents cry for all those things they miss.

For me, technology is that one thing that makes living at the end of the Earth bearable, barely. Many times, late at night when sleep eludes me, I think of all those people that came to this land, or to others, generations ago, before computers and fast internet connections, and I shiver at the idea that on a lucky day they had to wait half a year to receive a reply to a letter sent. I am blessed to live in the world we live in today, because without it I would be truly lost from all I love.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Another Christmas

I can feel another Christmas coming, with quick steps full of joy and jingle... I can see it approaching in the decorations that appear everywhere like flowers in the spring sun... I can feel it coming, and my soul lifts in joy... I remember the Christmases that passed, sweet days of my far away childhood, and I smile when the smells of another world surround me. The sweet, fresh smell of a real pine tree on a cold winter night, my mother's cooking, a symphony of flavour... I can hear the simple, uncomplicated laughter of the children we once were... The adult in me smiles and looks forward to recreating the magic...

With my children, I take out of a neat box the big, green pine tree we use every year and I long for the perfume of a real one, with little green needles pricking my fingers... Out of more boxes, we take out the new decorations we had just bought to make some imaginary colour scheme and from the iPod dock, carols in a language that sings not to my soul spill into the room combined with my children's laughter... Hanging the decorations in the tree, plastic globes instead of the fragile glass ones of my childhood, however, is it so similar that if I close my eyes, I can hear my parents and my siblings in those far away years...

With the tree decorated, taking advantage of the long daylight of the Australian summer, my children go off to play outside, and left home alone, I change the playlist on the iPod to another, still carols, but in a language that comes from my blood and I sit there, on the floor, looking at the blinking lights in the tree, and at fist I smile... For few seconds, I can keep up the illusion of being home...

I look out of the window at the colourful birds playing on my flowering balcony and further still at the green bush and the deep blue sky of summer and the sweet illusion shatters leaving me frozen... I am not home... There is no winter night with snowflakes falling in a mad ballet from the sky, there is no boiled wine with sugar and spices, no fire roaring wildly under terracotta tiles... No children singing carols at the gate... No family...

The longing squeezes my heart painfully, so painfully I can hardly even breathe and a sad, lonely tear falls on my cheek... With quick, pounding steps, guilt follows longing... Locked in a world on the other side of the planet, I am depriving my parents of having their only grandchildren around the Christmas tree, I am depriving my siblings of having their nieces... I am depriving my children of their family and their traditions... Guilt hammers at my heart and it melts again in longing...

I have friends... On Christmas Eve I shall have countless presents under the tree, a house full of friends and a table full of those dishes that on the other side of the planet my mother would be cooking... Same perfumes, same flavours, same laughter floating around my house... But I wont have my parents and my siblings... I wont have children singing carols at the door and snow falling in front of my windows...

In my blood, I will feel the bitter cold of a winter's night and the painful wind that calls me from afar... In my heart I will feel the longing for my singing language...

I sit there on the floor, watching our blinking tree, listening to the carols of my land, and the tears start falling down my face, a bitter river of regret and longing...

Will I ever get used to a Christmas in summer? Will I ever get used to Christmas without my parents and my siblings? Without my language flowing around the table? One would think so. I have spent a third of my life in Australia now... It is home now, this country I had made my own... But at Christmas, my blood calls and my heart longs for... my own...

Monday, 1 April 2013


As life runs by in a mad rush, there are moments when you forget, when you stop thinking, and it is easier somehow... Stolen by life and separated my many ocean miles, you forget what it means to have a family around.

Because there is no other choice, if you want to keep going day after day, you turn the key on the memory box that contains all the shared laughter and moments of joy, all the touching smiles of true belonging, all those arguments, all the years that passed by when you could be simply fully accepted just for being you. You forget, or try to forget what it means to not have to prove yourself every moment of the day, what it means not to be judged and what it means to be loved for the simple fact that you are there, part of an unity.

There are days, like birthdays and holidays, when you remember the unity that once existed, and your heart squeezes painfully, and you turn the key harder, not to let the memories fly, because it is too hard to live in what it was and is no more, in what it could have been only if...

And sometimes, across the years and across the seas, you get the incredible chance to hold tight that which once you had. You remember that one night from long ago when you sat under the lit Christmas tree with your brother, talking and dreaming of the future... You remember the snow ball fights and the laughter... You remember fighting with your sister for clothes and your mother's cooking... You remember those days when you locked horns with your father for the simple because you were a teenager... The Sunday meals... So many memories of family...

When you are young, too busy looking towards the future, you rarely appreciate the love and the trust, the acceptance and friendship that hold a family together. And then, life takes you away, and you see each other rarely, for short periods of time. You wait on a busy airport with your heart beating faster with each second that passes, with a smile of happiness and anticipation on your lips, until you see your sister or your brother, your mother or your father. Years fly away, and as you throw yourself in their arms, holding them tight, you are a child again, life and distance forgotten.

Together, every second maters, every minute is held tight in the memory to last forever, every hour is filled. With laughter, you remember the fights you had as a child, you remember the times of bonding. After years of having real time together, you look one at another, and your eyes can not move away. Some things changed, as you had changed from the child you once were, and yet others remain the same, despite the passage of time. The teasing and the jokes, the comfort, the love and support.

And all too soon the day comes when you drive back towards the same airport, with your heart squeezed painfully for another good bye. Recent and old memories fly through your mind. You try to prolong the moment, to hold tight for one more hug and one more kiss, for on more photo that is biter sweet. You try to say good bye quickly because you know that the tears will start falling...

For a while, you had your family, or a member of your family close again, and you remembered what it means to be part of that unique unity again. The simple trust you have with the people of your blood, the belonging, the roots, the love... You remember that you are not alone, but part of a greater whole, and your soul longs for it, longs even more when the seconds are more precious then diamonds...

You go back towards you home, towards the life you live day after day, and you feel empty and lost... The house and the streets are full of ghostly memories, your home feels as empty as a desert and you long even more for the oasis of the family, never knowing when you will have the chance to be together again, and being grateful for every second you had, appreciating that unity even more so, because it is missing again...

And when your child wakes up in the middle of the night, whispering sadly that they are missing their uncle or aunt, their grandmother or grandfather, when your child looks around and says that the house is empty and they feel as lost as you do, you feel like howling...

Monday, 7 January 2013


My oldest daughter, little miss 9, went to her first camp for a week. She was a little bit nervous and very excited. I am happy and proud of her, but a little part of me is sad. My baby girl is growing into a little lady and with each passing month her wings are extending further and further, preparing her for the day when she will just fully fly towards life. There is pride in seeing my daughter grow, but there is also sadness, for these years, when she is still a child are flying by too fast.

I guess that from now on I will end standing by, watching her travel on her own road more and more, waving to her and praying for her safety, knowing that I will always await her return... And there will always be those questions that only the passing of years can answer. Have I done a god enough job teaching her the necessary skills to navigate the twisted roads of life? Have I taught her all that she needs to know in order to grow into a decent, kind, loving, independent, strong adult? Did I teach her how to be happy and how to stay safe? Only time will answer.

But waiving at her, watching her take these steps towards independence and self awareness, watching her grow more and more into her own person, apart from me, fills me with pride, and in the same time with sadness and fear. Fear for her safety, fear of not having taught her the skills she needs, and sadness because I am losing my baby for this little beautiful miniature lady that fills my heart with pride.

In a way, it was easier when they were just tiny little babies that only needed love and care and cleaning. Yes, the sleepless nights were torture, teething a feverish nightmare, and at the time I thought that things could not get much harder. But looking back, it was simple and easy. Or at least, easier then the many questions that plague me as they grow. How much freedom to give them and in what conditions? How much information is the right amount? How to teach them to be independent while making sure they stay safe? When to say yes and when to say no? As they grow more and more into miniature adults, there are so many shades and so many nuances, so many twisting paths that need to be navigated by them, but also by you, as a parent. And it is scary.

It gets harder and harder to stand by and watch them growing and making mistakes, knowing they will inevitably get hurt and there is only so little you, as the parent can do. Yes, you can be there with advice, if and when it is required, with love even when it is not wanted and a shoulder for when it is needed, knowing that you can never fully shelter them, that you can't fix everything for them. And knowing that some things they need to learn for themselves, that they need to make mistakes in order to grow, it only makes it more confusing. If you as a parent shelter them too much and lift every weight of their tiny shoulders, they will never grow into the independent, responsible adults they need to grow into for their own wellbeing. But on the other hand, it makes your heart bleed to see they crying because a friend hurt them, or because they ran too fast and their knees are bleeding. Yes, you know that they absolutely need to learn to deal with the friend that hurt them, you know that you will not be able to be there to shout warnings, but it still makes your heart bleed. And when they start walking on their own road, flying in their own skies, your heart is squeezed tight by pried and by fear.

My mother told me once, when I was crying to her after three nights with no sleep when my daughter was couple of months old, that small children mean small problems and big children mean big problems. I did not understand it then, and part of me thought that it can not get any worse. But now, when the sleepless nights because of a baby's cry are a memory, there are other things, other worries that keep me up at night, the problems are more complex, the roles more blurry, and with every year passing it gets harder to figure out what is the right thing for them, the children that are growing. Oh, there is an amazing beauty in it, in seeing them extending their wings, but the needs are different and less clearly marked, and as a parent you can not wonder if you manage to have the wisdom necessary, the forward thinking and the ability to really see how every little thing might develop into something else. And there is so much pride for them when under your eyes they learn how to navigate pot holes and they start being little wise people! Your heart melts and squeezes, grows and beats faster, with a love that keeps growing as they grow themselves.

As my daughter grows towards her teenage years, and later towards an adult, I find myself second guessing my every move more and more, even as I am more and more proud of her. And it also makes me look at my own parents with a new understanding of the fears they must have had, of the journey they took to bring us up into the grown ups that we are, and it makes me respect more the sacrifices they made, day after day, so quietly that I never really saw it until I had become a parent myself.