Saturday, February 18, 2017

My alter ego in text

It is a terrifying feeling, to see yourself in a character in a book. To see your deepest thoughts printed, word for word, written by someone else's hand. It's like seeing the future, or hearing a prophecy about yourself. Like an out of body experience, staring at yourself from outside your body. You feel exposed and vulnerable, and oddly violated. As if to accuse the character: how dare you, a fictional being who doesn't even exist, dare to drag out my private feelings and splash them on pages for public display, parading it as your own monologues?

Perhaps it's the shock of confronting my own demons, appearing so suddenly, a guerilla attack in my safe comforting world of books, that have shaken me so. I can no longer pretend not to see them. I have had a glimpse into what may become of me through the fate of my colorless alter ego in text. And it's terrifying indeed. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


The other kids always call me names like “stone face” or “heartless” or simply “freak”. I always thought if they really believed that I had no feelings, why would they think I would ever be affected by their taunts? I read somewhere that if bullies feel like their victims don’t react, they’ll get bored and stop bullying. I guess what they say in the books aren’t always true.

It was half right, what they said. I never show any emotion, any expression. My face is as featureless as the bare hills in winter, when even the sparse grass turns white with frost and everything blurs into rolling grey. The mothers gossip that when I was born I didn’t even cry like a normal newborn, just heaved a deep heavy sigh, as if I already tired of the world the moment I came into it. I asked Mother once if it was true. She started crying and hugged me tight, saying it was not my fault, it was hers. She said it was all because of the eclipse, and she thumped her chest again and again, blaming herself for not wearing red. I didn’t understand it all, but I didn’t ask again. Seeing Mother crying always made me get a lump in my throat, like I swallowed a frog.

I asked the books instead. They said that people long ago believed that during a solar eclipse, a pregnant woman must wear something red or metallic to protect their unborn child. An eclipse is bite out of the face of the sun, and without protection the child will also have something taken, and become deformed, incomplete somehow. The day I was born, there was a solar eclipse. I looked inside myself, and saw the gaping hole there, round like the eclipsed sun. I understood then, that a bite must have been taken from me, the part of me that feels. I looked again at the hole inside me, and thought it might have grown a little bigger.

Remember I said that the kids were half right? It’s true that I show no emotion, and I do not feel the emotions other people feel. I don’t understand what “happy” or “sad” or “angry” is. It’s like asking a person born blind to understand the concept of colours. They are meaningless words to me. I do feel something though. It’s like a wave that gurgles up from my belly and up my throat. When the kids jeer and call me names, it comes. When I find a really pretty butterfly, it comes. When there’s lightning crashing outside, it comes. Sometimes it threatens to burst out of my mouth. It makes me feel a bit ill, like that time we got on the boat and the sea was choppy, when the boat kept rocking and swaying and everyone looked green. I asked the books what this is called, and the closest word I could find was nausea.

Nausea (noun):
  1. A feeling of sickness with an inclination to vomit.
  2. Loathing; revulsion.

I thought it was funny how it had the word “sea” in it. The seas around here are always rough, so everyone would get nausea easily, even the fishermen. I also thought it was funny how it had two meanings, and the second meaning was an emotion. It made me think that maybe this means I am not a completely incomplete. Maybe the eclipse didn’t manage to take all of it away.

When I grew older, I learned that vomiting was the body’s way of getting rid of bad things in the body, like when you ate something rotten. Vomiting is a full forced ejection of the stomach’s contents, rejection of whatever the body deemed harmful. For someone who only feels nausea, vomiting seemed like the climax of all emotion, an extreme reaction. I’ve never felt so much that I actually vomited. Not even when my cat died, although there was a bitter sour taste at the back of my throat for days.

But then I met her. She was from the city, and she was the prettiest girl in our little town. All the boys clamored for her attention, and when she smiled the world got brighter, like a sun lived inside her. I would get nauseous every time I saw her, and it took every effort to hold back the waves, so I couldn’t even open my mouth to speak. Of course I never smiled back when she smiled at me. All I could do was dress nicely, keep my nails clean and my hair tidy, and watch her like a shadow. I ate little, slept little, constantly battling the nausea inside of me, which roiled like a stormy sea constantly.

They say it was a tragic accident. The seas around here are unpredictable, and she was unlucky. Her body washed up ashore the next morning, the waves kept lapping over her like they were trying to comfort her. Some of the people who saw the bloated corpse threw up, but for once I felt absolutely nothing while looking at her. The nausea that has been battering at me all this time stilled, and there was a deathly calm. 

That night I vomited. The dams I put up disintegrated as the waves rose with a fury from inside and crashed out mercilessly. I vomited again and again, rejecting this feeling from my body, rejecting it with every fibre of my being. When nothing was left to throw up, I kept retching and gasping, so I could turn my stomach inside out and vomit all my insides out until there was nothing left inside. As I thought that, I looked inside myself. The gaping hole was growing bigger as I heaved, expanding in a widening circle. It reminded me of a black hole I read about in the books, which can suck up everything and anything into it with immense force, destroying it all into nothingness. The hole kept growing, sucking me into its darkness as I stared into it.

At the very last moment before I disappeared, I wondered whether this is what they called “heartbreak”.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Setting my heart free

Recently, I’ve become easily moved to tears.  I’ve never been particularly tough, nor a cry-baby, just average emotionally. I do think that I used to be a bit cold though; unlike my mother and my sister, I was never the type to allow my emotions to rule my actions and decisions. Logic was my guiding compass, and mind over heart was how I thought a sensible mature person should live their life. I never got so angry I’d throw a tantrum or slam doors; I never fell so head over heels that I was blinded to someone’s flaws. But I’m not heartless: I’ve been excited and crazy happy loads of times, and upset and sad to tears many times too. But at the end of the day I was always able to calmly and objectively analyse my feelings, like there’s another me inside my head, detached from my emotions. And that voice of reason always helped me sort through my emotions, and make clear logical decisions that aren’t swayed by the tossing and turnings of my restless heart. I rule my heart with this ruthless iron grip of reasoning.

There’s one facet of my life that isn’t governed by that calm logic though: when it comes to my other reality, my faucet of emotions is opened full flow. My other reality, my world of books, movies, music and anime, is a world where I’m free to let my unruly heart go all out and indulge in every shade of sensation, from delight to rage to utter despair.  In return for the shackles I put on myself in my own life, I let all my walls go down in my imaginary world. I laugh heartily at the top of my voice at the jokes, I cry rivers when something sad or touching happens. Once, I was sobbing so hard and gasping for air, that my housemate came running in from her room and barged into my room because she thought something terrible must have happened. She was not amused when it turned out to be just because of an anime movie. On the other hand, I was feeling so sad saying farewell to a very good friend when I left the UK, but no tears came.  That’s just how I am, and I never thought there’s anything wrong with that.

I’m like that when I’m in love too. Not that I’ve ever been properly in love, at least not how I think being “in love” should be like. When I develop feelings for someone, I’m always aware of it. My mind would carefully watch the person I’m interested in, dissect my feelings to pinpoint why exactly I feel for this person. I would observe and analyse the person’s every action, every word, and read into everything like a detective. Of course, I’d try and gauge whether the person has feelings for me too.  I’d put together a profile, and see only the bits that I like and approve of. But once I feel that the person is not interested in me (whether it’s true or not, I do not know), and the person might have guessed my feelings for him (whether they really have guessed, I do not know), I back off. I didn’t want to look desperate, or be the one to chase the guy. My voice of reason would start zeroing on why this person is wrong for me, on the bits that I don’t like. And I always manage to find something that disappoints me, so I can convince my heart to give up, clear out and move on. I cut all ties with the person; avoid all contact to allow my heart to forget as fast as possible. This system has worked very well over the years, and I have never been rejected (neither have I ever been the first to confess my feelings) nor have I ever been heartbroken. I have successfully protected my fragile heart. I have also never been in a serious relationship ever in my life.

There was a time that I considered never falling in love and never marrying. I reasoned that, since I’ve never found someone I wanted to marry that is equally interested in marrying me, flying solo is the only option.  I never wanted to settle; “settling” was a dirty word to me that meant giving up my standards and lowering my self-worth just to fill my loneliness and fulfill people’s expectations. I knew exactly what I wanted from my future spouse, and I also held myself in high esteem, and wanted someone who is my equal. If being with someone is not going to give me a better life and future than being alone, that person is not worth it. I don’t mean this financially only. I want someone who enriches my life and inspires me to become a better version of myself, and I him. That’s the only way the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts. That’s the kind of man I want to marry. I’ve met only one man who I thought I would like to marry, and he’s now married to someone else.  I’ve met many guys who I would love to date, but never to marry. And that, I told myself, is the only reason I’m still single. I just haven’t met the right man yet. It’s not my fault at all, there’s nothing wrong with me.

But of course after so many years, I started doubting myself. Maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong with me? Maybe I’m the only one who can’t see it? Maybe I‘m the one doing it all wrong? I started thinking that maybe I should do things differently. Be more proactive, like my dad said. Meet new people, like my teacher said. So I did all the things I thought I would never do. I installed Tinder, proactively approached guys, talked to them. I became more open with my feelings, more honest about it. It didn’t work. I cringed inwardly at the conversations I forced myself to have, I felt nothing at all develop, not even friendship. This phase lasted only a month.  And it drained me. So I learned my lesson, and I decided to just follow the flow till I meet the right guy. 

Out of nowhere, from a random conversation, I started having feelings for someone. Someone I knew before, as just an acquaintance. “Just an acquaintance” slowly changed to a friend I enjoyed talking to, and I looked forward to any opportunity to strike up a conversation. But my logical brain was always analyzing, and decided that if I was the one always initiating contact, it means he obviously isn’t interested in me. Time to pack up and move on. Only this time, I hesitated. Giving myself the excuse that it was too early to tell, I kept going. Then, one conversation led me to realize that he has feelings for someone else. I actually wished him luck, and told him that I’m sure his love will come true. That was when my heart broke.

But I guess I really have changed. Even when I know there’s no hope for me, I’m still in love. My voice of reason is unable to shut my heart down anymore. I’ve learnt to live in the present, you see. I’ve learnt to enjoy being in love, the little heartflip of joy I get every time I talk to him, the waiting and constantly checking my phone for messages. Even when my heartbroken tears fell, a part of me was delighted that I finally can love enough to actually cry. So this time, I’m going to let my heart do as it likes. I’ll talk to him when I want to, cry when I feel sad, enjoy the happiness of a replied text, and let this feeling reach its own natural end. I will love with no expectations of being loved in return, and let my heart tire of being thrown around by the rollercoaster of emotions. Eventually, I’m sure this too will pass. But my heart will not be the same, having been broken and healed; I will not be the same, having loved freely for once. Truly, every experience we have is from God, and everything happens for a reason. I will grow from this, so that someday I can love better.

Juddi, Our Lone Ranger

My favourite memory of Juddi is of him napping in the spot of sunlight that shines just on the old sofa outside the house. This was many years ago now. It was his habit to have breakfast, then go outside the house to the little porch area, sit on the sofa and read a newspaper, although his eyes could barely see, even with his thick glasses. Once done with the papers, he would curl up on the sofa and take a nap, always positioned right where the rays of sunlight would be. Every time I saw him like that, I always thought he was like a cat, finding the warmest spot to nap. Funnily enough, the porch was also where the stray cats would come to eat scraps, often napping alongside Juddi on the floor by the sofa. Perhaps the cats too saw themselves reflected in my grandfather.

My sister called my grandfather our Lone Ranger. It’s because he used to always take a walk around the orchards after his nap, all alone, like a lone ranger making his daily rounds. Hands behind his back, in his droopy baggy pants (as I used to call them), he’d walk down the stairs from the house, cross the road and disappear into the orchards. His pace unhurried, he would walk silently around, checking on the trees, perhaps occasionally picking a fruit, and walk back to the house just in time for lunch.

Juddi and I had one major thing in common: a sweet tooth. After every meal, he’d ask my grandma for something sweet, sometimes getting a scolding in return. My dad told me that despite his love for sugar, Juddi has never had diabetes. Dad said it’s probably because Juddi worked so hard during his youth that his body is still using up all the sugar he’s eating now. He used to do a lot of manual labour, carrying heavy rocks and working with explosives for construction work. The walls in the orchards are made of stones stacked on each other, all Juddi’s handiwork. Dad told me that Juddi was always a man of few words, even from way back. He never talked much about his work, even though he was a hardworking man who worked on some of the biggest projects of his time in Lebanon. He let his actions speak for him. 

My sister and I always thought Juddi was the cutest grandpa ever. How he sleeps curled up, his sweet tooth, his lone ranger rounds, how he smiles every time we talk to him or call his name. You’d think that since we lived so far away, and see him only every couple of years, we wouldn’t feel attached. But even though he was hard of hearing, even though my Arabic is so bad I could only talk to him about the most basic daily life conversations, we could feel it. We could feel his love for us, his granddaughters, and we loved him back, our cute Juddi, our Lone Ranger. We didn’t need words for that, because like I said, Juddi let his actions speak for him. In his adorable toothy smiles and in the tears that well up on our last day of our visits, and in the extra tight hugs we get before we leave the house.

I’m not like my Juddi; I like words, because they help me remember. They keep a record for me, because my memory is terrible and unreliable. I write these words so the memories stay with me, and to share it with my future children, so they too can know and hopefully love my Juddi, the way I do and always will.

We will miss you, Juddi. May Allah bless your soul and place you in the highest Paradise.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Unrequited Love

It gets dark early in winter. On a long dark road, a lighted up bus stop glows like the Northern Star on an ink black sky. You trudge through the shin-deep snow, eyes fixed on that island of light,heading straight to it. It's an warm and bright island in a sea of gloom, and you speed up a little, wanting to get there as fast as possible. It takes you a while, and you're a bit out of breath by the time you reach it. You smile a little, glad you managed to make it. But your joy is short-lived.

You realise that the bus you want doesn't stop here. You know that you need to leave, you need to go and find the right bus stop. But leaving the light and going back into the cold darkness is a lot harder and scarier than just sitting there. Even though you know if you don't leave, you'll never get to where you need to go.

And as you stare out into the darkness, the only thing that is the same whether you leave or stay, is the loneliness inside. That's what unrequited love is like.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Istanbul Travel Itinerary

As I mentioned on my Instagram account, I've finally decided to sit down and post all my travel itineraries! Bear in mind that my long term memory is pretty useless, so some facts may be incorrect or missed out completely. However, when planning a trip, I always make a Word document to print out the itinerary and give out copies to my travel buddies. I also have pictures to refer to, so hopefully I won't miss out too much.

I've decided to start with Istanbul for no particular reason. I went with my two housemates in February 2015. It was off season so tickets were cheaper, but we were caught out when a freak snowstorm happened just the day before we were supposed to fly and our flight was delayed by a day (eek!) so our 5 day trip was cut short, and ended being a 4 day 3 night trip only (because by the time we arrived it was late at night). This is also why you should always have TRAVEL INSURANCE. We were put up in a nice airport hotel for the night by the airline though, so there's always a silver lining.
We even ordered room service :P

Istanbul in pictures always is sunny with clear skies, unfortunately when we were there it was mostly covered in snow, ice and grey skies -.-" But still, it was an amazing city; bad weather can't keep this historical city down for long.

Okay, now for the itinerary:

I booked our flights and hotel together via Expedia. I compared prices for booking things spearately and at the time the Expedia package was cheaper. Note that THIS IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE so check first!

We flew with Turkish Airlines from London Gatwick. 

Hotel plus return flights cost: GBP 246 

Hotel: Diamond Royal Hotel
Review: It's a small hotel, but the staff was very helpful and accommodating about our flight delay and changes. The room is quite small though, but the buffet breakfast was not bad plus they have a hamam which was free for guests for one hour! Go for the sauna! You'll have to pay for the massage though so we skipped it. They have a shuttle to the airport, which I would recommend booking in advance. It's quite a nice location, loads of shops and restaurants. We walked to most of the attractions on foot, all were 15-25 minutes away. Good value for money overall.

Day 1
Checked in and explored nearby area ( by this I mean we had dinner and then crashed due to exhaustion. Our taxi also got lost, so always have the address and phone number of your hotel on hand!)

Day 2:
Topkapi Palace (30 Turkish Liras)
-This place is HUGE so be prepared to spend at least half the day here. Even then you might not fully explore the palace.

One of the entrances to Topkapi Palace 

Inside Topkapi Palace. The tiles are crazy beautiful!

-There are plenty of restaurants around Topkapi, but they can be pretty pricey so walk further away to find cheaper eateries.
Grand Bazaar
-Souvenir shopping! Make sure you bargain hard, or else you'd definitely lose out. The scarves are quite cheap plus really nice, so make sure you look around first before buying. 
So many choices at the Grand Bazaar, so little time (and money)
-Somewhere near our hotel. We're three girls so we weren't keen on going out too much at night.

Day 3:
Hagia Sophia (30 Liras)
The ceilings are so pretty you'd want a selfie with the ceiling too lol
-The queue can get pretty long so get there early! This place is amazing but also very crowded, so it might take you a while to get to see the whole place. We spent about 2+ hours there.
Super crowded but super worth it!

Blue Mosque 
-Also a must-see site, it's absolutely gorgeous from outside as well as inside. It's right across Hagia Sophia so you can see both in one morning. There's a nice park in the middle between these two sites, great for taking picture of the exterior and to get a quick rest from the crowds. 
This fountain is in that park I mentioned, great views of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (as seen here)
The detail in all these historical sites is just breathtaking
We also had the great experience of praying in the Blue Mosque, which is a memory I'll cherish always.
Praying inside the Blue Mosque is...unforgettable.

Late lunch
-Can't remember where, but I do remember that Turkish food was delicious!
Basilica Cistern (10 Liras)
- Okay, I was the only one who wanted to come here because it's a major location in Dan Brown's book Inferno which I had just read. (Go read it or watch the movie, you'll see) But both my housemates were very impressed by it, and it's definitely something different, so I highly recommend it! 
The otherworldly atmosphere at the Basilica Cistern
Grand Bazaar again
-We're girls, we can never have enough shopping the bazaar is ginormous! 

Day 4:
Istiklal street, Taksim Square, Bosphorus coast
We basically spent the day roaming these streets and ending by the seaside facing the bridge that crosses the Bosphorus, connecting the Asian and European sides. We wanted to take the Bosphorus tour but we didn't have enough time so we just spent the day buying last minute souvenirs, walking and enjoying the sights before heading back to the hotel. We took their shuttle to the airport and headed home. 
The Strait of Bosphorus. That's the Asian side we're looking at. 

One place I really wanted to go and didn't manage to was Galata Tower. It provides one of the best views of the entire city apparently. Hopefully next time, Istanbul!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Yes, I'm smart. Deal with it.

You’re so smart, I feel inferior to you/intimidated by you.”

Oh no no, I’m not that smart. I’m lazy, I’ve failed a few times, bla bla bla (insert more humbling, putting self down nonsense)”

Guess which one in this conversation is the girl?

If I had a pound/ringgit for every time someone said the first line to me, I’d be able to buy a mansion by now. And if I had to pay a pound/ringgit for every time I said the second line, I’d be broke again.  

I am not the only one though. Almost every accomplished woman I know has had this conversation multiple times, and it is a sad reflection of the kind of misogynistic culture we’ve been brought up in.

Every time a guy says that he feels inferior or intimidated because of my intelligence or accomplishments, I’ve always automatically defaulted to putting myself down, listing all my flaws to the point of dumbing myself down to make sure the guy’s ego is soothed and to make myself appear more “approachable”. Why? Because we’re brought up in a culture where women aren’t supposed to be smarter than guys, and should never overshadow men. It wasn’t very long ago that mothers were telling their daughters not to study too hard or be too successful lest it hurt their chances at marriage. 

That has changed a lot today, but unfortunately the male ego hasn’t. The phenomena of young, single successful women struggling to find partners is largely due to the inability of men to accept that women are outstripping them in almost every aspect, and instead of stepping up to the plate to be equal and worthy of these powerful women, many guys are instead asking them to slow down and pretend to be lesser than their real selves. 

It has got to stop.

Ladies, stop apologizing for being amazing. Stop putting yourself down for a guy’s approval. You are smart, strong, successful and capable. No one can take that away from you, and you should never let anyone make you feel that it’s wrong to go get what you want.  The guys are the ones who should be keeping up with you. 

Guys, if you want to be with someone who is intelligent, independent and accomplished, then you should work hard to be equally intelligent, independent and accomplished. 
Step up your game, boys.

So next time I hear that all too familiar line, I’m going to say: “Yes, I’m smart. So if you feel inferior, that is your problem. Deal with it.