My First

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Freedom in Sri Lanka!

My travel itch is about to get scratched! But for now, I am satisfied with beautiful travel reminiscences so here is to my very first solo trip back in 2011. Destination: Sri Lanka. Cities: Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Sabaragamuwa, Sigiriya and other little towns with complicated names I cannot recall. Researched then booked my flight and hotels, found a kind-looking driver / tour guide and took off to the land of Green.

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The Buddhist Monk who blessed me!

From Buddhism and one monk’s blessing (he is the gowned man standing next to me who apparently saw ‘goodness’ in my eyes); to climbing Sigiriya with a 70 year old local man – thin and slouching, yet more resilient than most men (see that mountainous rock behind me – that’s the first rock I ever conquered); to my cockroach and lizard phobia – found under my bed in an eco-lodge where anything moving or remotely breathing cannot be killed (phobia had to be managed); to crocodile river-safari and scores of curious crocodiles surrounding my little boat; to elephant safari and riding; to fun elephant-bathing and an orphanage visit; to horse-riding (with fear) in some jungle in Candy accompanied by two local men and an energetic and dancing horse; to checking out coral reeves in Galle but hardly seeing anything beneath the murky water (due to the aftermath of the tragic 2004 Tsunami); to Sri Lankan traditional music and happy dancing; to my interaction with cheeky and daring monkeys; to jungle trekking with one local guide who (after I summoned up the courage to ask about snakes while trekking) told me in broken and heavily accented English “Snakes? Oh yes…there are many many MANY snakes! There are hundreds of venomous snakes but don’t worry, they usually come out at night”. What animals come out during the day I asked? Bores he said. And what if they attack us I asked? He said: “We run”!  I will never forget him – that funny-looking enthusiastic little man with crooked teeth and a heavy accent. Nor will I ever forget this sensational trip that introduced me to the wondrous gifts of solo traveling!

I Empty Myself

 

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I empty myself
Of all my fears
The paralysis of all my years
The reasons for all my tears.

I empty myself
Of inner chaos
and self-doubt
I empty myself
Of secrets that I kept
Of decades that I spent
waiting like a weakling
for cowardice
to clear.

I empty myself
Of all the ‘shoulds’
and all the patronizing ‘musts’
Of all my useless ‘buts’
Their lessons about what is best
How I should dress
What I should say less
and not confess.

I empty myself of their obsession with success
The anxiety about a future they hardly possess
The superficiality they wear as garments
The very things I detest
I empty myself of all kinds of stress
I no longer want to impress
It is time I rest.

I empty myself of reoccurring thoughts
of words resembling everyone’s words
I empty myself of anything remotely absurd
Of conformity and social acceptance
Of ridiculous moral lessons
Of conventionality or unoriginality
Of grand plans
Of overrated choices
Of preaching voices
in my head
Of contradictory things
they have said
that could have easily been misread
That sometimes robbed me of my dreams
and made me doubt myself instead.

I empty myself
Of the art of wowing creation
I am so bored and tired
of constantly seeking inspiration
Enough tantalizing temptation
There is an overload of sensation
We are overly stimulated
and easily deflated
All in the name of proof
to show we exist
to flatter
and prove we matter.

I empty myself
Of networking
and connections
Of fake ties
Of meaningless attachments
that weigh me down.

I empty myself
Of self-inflicted crimes
Of self-compromise
or any kind of sacrifice
I want to live again.

Oh how I regret
Wasting my time
Living in fear
Waiting for it to disappear

I empty myself
I empty myself
Courage is finally here!

The Neapolitan Novels

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The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

Book Review 

Referred to as The ‘Neapolitan Novels’. Simply fascinating! A  4-part series written by Elena Ferrante – a pseudonymous Italian novelist, and translated from Italian to English by Anne Goldstein. Each book is a modern fiction masterpiece about the friendship of two seemingly ordinary yet extraordinary girls from Naples.

Without delving deeper into the theme of the novels just yet, let me share with you what had initially sparked my curiosity and eventually led me to buy the books. It was a combination of factors but it mainly had to do with my long-standing love for Italy and that the Neapolitan Novels could potentially bring me closer to it.  It was my intrigue with a city that grew on me over the years then one day gripped me –  the city of Napoli – historic, violent, crazy and misunderstood Napoli.  It was the fact that these books were recommended to me by an old and dear friend, who is an avid reader with trustworthy literary views. It was he, and because of the way he knows me deeply from a ‘soul’ perspective that ignited my interest in reading the novels. Then it was my mother who read them and fell in love and confidently knew I would also fall in love. Then came other recommendations by one or two other friends who are acquainted with my affinity with Italy, and who I believe value friendships as much as I do.

I completed reading all four novels under two weeks. They were real page turners. Set between this century and the last, the novels tell a beautiful story of intelligent Elena from Napoli, and her complex and often frustrating friendship with her best friend Lila. Ferrante paints a realistic picture of the protagonist’s love/hate relationship with her city Napoli – what her moody city has at times deprived her of, what it has generously given to her, and what it has brutally taken away from her.

With careful subtlety, Ferrante creatively shows the reader what it means to live through the ‘full circle’ and all stages of life.  She portrays the realities and hypocrisy of friendships; the bitterness of poverty, but also the downside of dressed-up wealth.  As a reader, I was cleverly guided through the waves and irony of life – the disguised grandiosity of being considered ‘important’ in your own circles but a disappointing ‘nothing’ outside it; how we are all little dots living inside a big tinted and dusty bubble; and how everything is relative.  The author shows us the strong and paralyzing hold that traditions – rigid and by now passé – have on some of us, and how self-reliance and determination can take us out of our dire circumstances and our once helpless selves, and eventually bring us right back inside ourselves (improved and hopeful versions of ourselves) and into self-acceptance.

Ferrante’s descriptions of human emotions and circumstantial behaviours are so powerful I felt I was Elena, living within her, and living with her in her harsh Neapolitan quarters; being part of her successes and failures; traveling with her and experiencing the unmatched yet fleeting ecstasy of recognition and success; and feeling the jabs she feels in her heart as she falls in and out of love and as she sometimes falls into the abyss of disappointment once lovers stand naked in their humanness.  Through Elena, the reader can discover the secret power that acquiring knowledge has on the soul and the beauty of self-learning which can only be revealed to those who experience it.

Ferrante’s writing flows beautifully and is easy to follow.  I love the way she speaks the truth and tells the untellable.  She reveals the messiness of our deepest thoughts and our irrational superstitions. She shows us self-destructive sentiments we do not dare to admit out loud, not even to ourselves like jealousy, envy, or like sometimes hating those we should be loving.  She has the ability to make a reader feel like she or he is normal (in fact, one hundred percent human) especially if you are a woman who has experienced the inevitable confusions of growing up. We are all still conflicted one way or another and yes, we may find an equilibrium as we get older and experience more, but that child in us lingers on and at times is fully awakened. I especially love how Ferrante is able to portray the excitement, the strong undying passion and naiveté of youth and how she then takes us with her on a journey which allows us to witness the marring effects of time and the decapitation of newness and eternal hope which were once the flagships of youth.

In those two weeks of reading bliss, I would go about completing my daily errands and ticking off to-do-lists – but I just couldn’t wait to be alone, to be seated on my couch, to feel the heaviness of Ferrante’s book on my palms, and turn its rough pages and live Elena’s volatile life through her intelligent eyes and incredible self-awareness. It has been ages since I felt that kind of excitement and anticipation for a book. So much so that when I finished reading the fourth and final book of the series – a melancholic cloud hovered for some time. I found myself wanting to read the books again so that I can relive Elena’s story, so I can be moved by her hopes and her dreams once again.  I missed her and I still miss her. We long for infinity but all stories are bound to end.

Effort in finding out more about the author has proved futile. Who Elena Ferrante is or what she represents is a mystery, making her Neapolitan Novels even more intriguing. “Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors” – claims the mysterious author. Doubtful. What I am sure of is this and in one word: BRILLIANT. Read the Neapolitan Novels ASAP.

Solitude

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The greatest sensation
absences can give
is a mind
sculpted with lucidity
Able to shift
back and forth
between reality and dreams
And an imagination that dances
between oceans
free to drift.

Solitude is a gift.

According to the whim
of each living moment
I stray from banality
With every pore of my body
I dream and travel
through my mind
With eyes closed
I sleep
I unwind
I doze
The outside world
in an indefinite pause
I make room for silence.

I am alone
Inside the labyrinth of my mind
Amid the known and unknown
Barricaded by rugged rawness
In a swarm of wilderness
Wherein I turn all my sterile hours
into pure consciousness.

I wear the crown of bliss
On some exotic land
I am a happy captive
Soothed by a foreign hand
Empty of a future plan
Empty of noise
Abundant in poise
Separated from man
Consciously I stand
Tall
Whole.

Overlooking infinity
A horizon of divinity
Beneath emerging stars
Beyond the shadows
of the sky’s intimacy
I dream up dreams
of dramatic scenes
Of long journeys
to unimaginable
and impossible countries.

In that deep place
of untouched landscape
Men are scarce
One man less, less complexity
Two men less, less flagrant envy
Three men, less vulgar vanity
In general,
Less men, less vengeance
Less abominable lack of elegance
There is just the earth
And the colourful universe
Amused me
and my silent mindful mirth.

In my most heightened absence
and my imaginative fancy
I dream
I sleep and I dream
I dream and I dream
I even dream about dreams
And I am spared
from the myth of familiarity
from the sharp razor of reality.

It is exactly there
In my wide and vast dominion
That I am the world’s wealthiest recipient
of an everlasting income
without wants and needs
It is there that I found
my serenity
And became the ruler
of my mind’s territory
It is there that I diminished
The tortures of anxiety
that I divorced worry
It is there
that I proudly want to be
the woman I recognize as me.

Through the scattered rays of my imagination
The haven of my existence
Wearing my garment of relief
In my brilliant feeling of ownership
I fend off thieves
I fence off danger
No one can dare
step on my vibrant grass
nor trespass
my land of aloneness
my ground of deliverance.

It is only when
Reality can no longer be avoided
And my empire is invaded
When my implicit dreams are captured
and silence is ruptured
It is only then
That I,
With great reluctance
return home
with nothing to atone
And with much resistance
I leave behind
my solitude
I reenter
the unwholesomeness of normal life.

I write for my sister

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She kept him in her heart
He was her best part.

He was the sun
in her morning sky.

She was the connecting thread
in the web
of his dignified life.

Then one day
Fate stepped in
Wanted to stay
She tried to undo
what was done
But the thread gave in
The sun was gone
Her torment
had begun.

In her blinding disbelief
Her deafening heave
Her inconsolable grief
Her pain-stricken face
The colour grey
In her voice of fear
‘No! No!’
All I could hear
‘Baba! Baba!’
Ringing in my ear
That was my sister’s way
Keeping death at bay
Needing him to stay.

Days passed
So fast
Weeks came
All the same
Months fled
She hardly slept
Swept
by a confusing pain
by a depressing defect
stabbing away at her heart
wrenching her insides apart
She wept
while she lay in bed
feeling empty and dead
In the darkness of her room
In her wakefulness and gloom
Yet the burning tears that came
were tame
They never cussed
nor fussed
Instead
They silently bled
Flooding the valley
of his old city
with water
that is salty.

(She said to me)
He never leaves my mind
Day and night
he is on my mind
I feel so much pain
How can I explain?
I am the lonely sky
crying inconsolable rain.
 
(She said to me)
How can I ever forget
His mark on me
Who he was for me
What he meant to me
What he instilled in me
What he represented for me
What he changed within me
What he sought in me
What he gave to me
What he took from me
What he brought out in me
What he taught me
What he selflessly gifted me
Love, love, and more love
What I was never deprived of
To make me see
The potential in me
How great I can be
And because of he
I am secure and free.

(She said to me)
How can I but surrender
to nostalgia and remember
His serenity
His humility
His completeness
His uniqueness
His infectious sweetness
His discreet importance
His strong presence
His grandness and essence
His intense life lessons
His strong impact
A known fact
on little me
on growing me
on older me
on mother me
He was my soul’s key
My soothing sea.

(She said to me)
Please write
and describe
the extent of my pride
How he was my most brilliant light
How he made darkness bright
How he was everything clear and white
How his laughter was my cure
How his heart was kind and pure
How he was my bravest knight
How he had so much fight
How he made everything right
Record and remember
How he was my center
My faithful encourager
A man without blunders
A man with beautiful gestures
Write and tell
Repeat and retell
Don’t let them wonder
Keep alive
His relentless strives
His innocent smiles
His effect on so many lives
So that the world can read
Every great deed
So that everyone can see
pages of his glory
of inspiring he
what he used to be
what he will always be
what he was to me
The man of my world
My mountain of love
My magnitude above
My triumph.

(She said to me)
With urgency
Or with something
resembling fright
Please write
What he signified to me
Leave not a shred
of doubt
About
How I wish I could talk to him
How much I miss him
Fussing over him
Caring for me
Sitting with him
Hugging him
Our special connection
My affection
My attention
His fatherly protection
Don’t forget to mention
My complete devotion
As wide as the ocean
to my remarkable father.

(She said to me)
Please write
and highlight
The depth we shared
How much I cared
Let them be aware
How I cannot bear
That he is not there
Write
With great care
what I cannot dare
on paper
You are much braver
with words.

(I write for my sister)

She was his fair middle-child
The mother of his first grandchild
With light eyes like his eyes
Smiles like his smiles
She was his heaven’s river
His happiest giver
His sweetest letter
His personal defender
His most loyal lawyer
And I clearly remember
How generous
How gentle
How selfless
How tender
She was
with my father
No one could be her.

I write
Memories of the past
Destined to last
That touched me greatly
Made me smile fondly
How countless times
in their lives
in her unwavering eyes
in her somewhat subjective belief system
Despite my sister’s bountiful wisdom
His wrongs were always rights
His faults were never faults
His fights her fights
Shortcomings?
She couldn’t find
She stubbornly denied
The way a child
is utterly blind
To the weakness
of humankind
In her mind
He was the best
And the rest
were just the rest
Anything he said
was great and wise
Everything he did
she idealized
He was the answer
to every why
To everyone she told
He was her Captain
He was gold.

Did I write
How sometimes
she tries to hide
Unaware of her self-comprise
In the name of motherly sacrifice
To find inside
Some secret place
or space
to deal with her grief
to contain her pain
Less frequently, selectively
she timidly confides
in those few
she considers kind
Perhaps to carry on
to walk on
to march on.

Other times she shies
from those stoic types
And pities the ones
who dehumanize
the old who die
The ones who know her
but continue to belittle
knowingly or unknowingly
the pain she feels
Or rudely ignore
her cheeks’ wet trickles
Or do not acknowledge
her unstable flowing tears
as they appear and disappear
In her quiet mind
they signify
with their mean features
Earth’s most egoistic creatures.

(I write to my sister)

My dearest sister
My heart’s listener
Despite the thread
that became undone
Despite the fact
that the light is gone
Despite the tears that
stung
and the sadness that clung
Despite their drunken stupor
and insensitive tongues
despite what you have endured
and how vulnerable you have become
You won!

My sweet strong sister
Stay strong.

Baba was, is
your morning sun.

By Razan Abdul Majeed