A dog of a day

I moved.

I’m assuming you were expecting an update. So.

The ‘new’ flat smells.

The ex-occupiers included a couple of four-legged creatures.  I found a small gate attached to the kitchen door and assumed it was to stop the dogs entering the kitchen; until I spent long enough in the kitchen to realise the smell that lived there was far more pungent and gag-inducing than the one that resided in the living room.  Gate’s true purpose- to keep the dogs IN the kitchen.

There are certain things that register 9.8 on my Somalino scale.  Dogs living in kitchens is waaaay up there with mooning.

I still have not moved into the flat.  

The smell’s only part of the story but pungent enough to keep me away had it been the sole reason.  I spent a little time in the flat on Saturday, looking for poop stains, pee marks, matt dog hair, dead pups behind cupboards- that sort of thing.  The smell and focused searching- like watching a horror movie through splayed fingers was headache inducing.  Not wanting to see what you’re looking at is self-inflicted brain torture.  I was also hungry and irritable- both entered the flat with me and then the smell got to work on them and made them bad-ars*(it doesn’t anglicise, ho hum).  I lit a candle under a litre of green tea oil and left it unattended. 

At the supermarket I spent £20 on cleaning paraphernalia.  Back at the flat, I emptied a giant can of Oust into the carpet zig-zagging, criss-crossing and up-and-downing across beige carpet that looked suspiciously beige and finally stood up to the mother of all head rushes.  I couldn’t smell or see.

Sweet relief.

Of course none of this explains my absence from cyber space and indeed from my own life but that, that, dear readers is too deep, too sentimental, too much for a woman that has a smelly flat to contend with it. Suffice to say, 2007 was annus horribilis and most of 2008 has turned into a prayer-answered, surprisingly easy delight and I just don’t know what to do with it all without gushing.

Praise the Lord.

Posted on Mon, June 9, 2008 at 05:31PM by Registered Commenterparadise in | Comments7 Comments | References8 References

Season’s Cleaning

When you’re a shopaholic and a traveller, Spring cleaning is not an option. It needs to be seasonal yes, but all-seasonal.  The sheer number of items that have to be D-ed- dug-up, dumped, donated or domiciled elsewhere and the stories they have to tell slow the process down considerably.

I start with the summer clothes that I had housed in a couple of drawers in the autumn. I move them from their temporary home to a suitcase. It fills up faster than I expect. Soon I find items that still have labels on them- not unusual- and drop one into a bag designated for girl cousins my size and half my age. What was I thinking buying that? I remember posing in front of a mirror once home from that impromptu shopping spree 18 months ago. Never having the patience to queue, disrobe and try on clothes in shops it is often only when I get home that I decide whether a buy is a keeper or not. That one time I looked and saw to my horror what some women don’t want to see- looking good in an inappropriate way. I was NOT going to go out in that! Still I looked and tried the item on with other clothes to try and inject some modesty into it but it was ruined like that. Really it looked best inappropriate. I threw it into the back of the wardrobe, saved from a return by looking so damned good on me.

I reach the underwear drawer and smile at something old and tattered. Ah, Vietnam. It needs to go. Underwear from Vietnam I think, I can’t throw it away! It’s made in China you oaf, like everything else, bin it. But, but, remember that magical, painful day spent getting lost in Hanoi and finally finding a department store where you found cold air and a whole section of underwear where you spent many…Bin it! Alright, alright. I sneak a look at the label as if looking for ancient Asian wisdom and find squiggles. I drop my arm to let go of it and am momentarily stumped, just what pile should it go into? Dump or donate?

Once upon a time I would never have paused for thought but experience has widened my considerations. I remember the time I crawled around in piles of donated clothes being sold on a street pavement. Like in any decent store, the wares were sectioned off- men’s, women’s, children’s. I was looking for shoes for the boy who seemed to work day and night and whom a friend and I had spotted walking in a pair of over-sized flip-flops. My friend who somehow always saw an opportunity to give suggested we get shoes for the boy. We pointed to the heaps nearby(we happened to be walking by) and then pointed at him; it didn’t take him long to work out he was in for a treat and he leaped into the pile of shoes with gusto. I dug into the shoe-pile for a pair that would fit and again and again located shoes too big for the boy. Now and then I stopped to consider a shoe for myself, such was the quality and brand of the shoes. Or so my excuse.

When we gave up on finding him a shoe we pointed to the trouser section and on our way to it discovered there was a roaring trade in donated underwear. I blinked at the pile of underwear and watched the people sift through it. Were they new or worn? I tore myself away from gawping at them.

The boy seemed to know what he wanted. He pulled out his first too-big colourful creation from the trouser-pile and held it up for us to see. We shook our heads, I said Nooooo in Khmer, then ‘big’ in Khmer but he hugged it to himself and made a face. OK, OK, try it. His face lights up and he drops the old trousers he’s wearing. We are faced with boyish nudity and open our mouths and look away in semi-mock surprise. He giggles and tries on the new trousers. They slide off his hips and even he can’t persuade himself that they’re the ones for him. Over and over he tries on trousers.

I crouch on the pavement and think what a luxury my life back home is. I don’t need to wear donated underwear or go without underwear at all. The boy finally settles on a pair of trousers that look like they are made of plastic that will melt in the sun he spends so much time under but he loves them. We relent. He walks away in his new trousers and too-big flip-flops, turns around to wave one last time. I leave with a green T-shirt.

I can’t not shop. I told you, I am a shopaholic.

The made-in-China Vietnamese underwear end up in the dump pile of my bedroom floor. I don’t imagine anyone would accept worn underwear and I couldn’t imagine my asking being received in any other way than disgust.

I move on to the hijab drawer which at some point became the hijab drawers. I grab a few hijabs and throw them into the summer suitcase. I couldn’t remember when I had last worn those. Snuggled amongst the colourful mass I rediscover the Malaysian hijabs. Jet black and detailed with colourful, sparkly patterns they have had pride of place in my various hijab drawers for years now. Next to them I place the Cambodian kramas lovingly over the Indian shawls. Each item screams its story for my attention and I spend many pleasurable minutes reminiscing. I buy head-covers from every country I visit, the latest from Dubai and Morocco; the ones from Dubai my daily work-wear, the Moroccan ones too beautiful to wear. I also find the headscarves I had made for me by a tailor in Vietnam from a material that was so puffy they made me look like a thick-necked beefcake last I tried them. I try them on one last time but they still make me look like I am on steroids and I leave them in a new D pile- decorate home.

I find paintings from Vietnam and Cambodia and drop them into the decorate pile; a theme was developing, who said recycling was boring?

I come across a white vest from Turkey and bin it with enthusiasm. The place was clearing up and I could actually see at a quicker glance just what I owned. I estimate there’s enough in my wardrobe to cater for two of me quite easily and I am relieved. I had promised myself to cut down on shopping recently. I have since managed to go shopping for hours during the Sales and not buy a thing!

If you’re looking for a festive miracle, there it be.

I ended the clear-up with a desire to burn some bukhuur. A new habit, I am normally an aromatherapy woman. Still it is not an easy decision as I look at the choices available and am flummoxed: what did I feel like tonight? Khaleeji? Morroccan? Somali? or Parts Unknown?

Posted on Sun, December 30, 2007 at 12:31AM by Registered Commenterparadise in | Comments6 Comments

Love, I remember

I watched Brick Lane last night. As I settled in I was sure I wouldn’t enjoy the film as much as the book. Within minutes of the film unfolding I was propelled back in time to another time and place- Sihanoukville Cambodia days before that Tsunami, days spent reading under shades of trees on the beach and nights in a two-bed room overlooking the coast. This is where I read Brick Lane.

I try and return my mind to the present but the internal moving images are more compelling and I am drawn back to that time. It is night and I am deep in sleep; the stillness is complete and I am comfortable- used as I am to sleeping in strange places. I am woken suddenly from sleep by a repetitive sound, rat-tat-tat-rat-tat-tat, by the side of the bed; in the quiet of night it sounds menacing to my awakening mind and I jump upright and stand on the bed. The sound continues undeterred, I don’t know what it is and in the pitch dark it is impossible to see this thing that goes rat-tat-tat in the night. I step to the back of the bed and leap toward the light switch, away from the sound near the bed and land on the lino floor by the door.

I flick on the switch and look. Nothing. I still hear the sound. Shifting my position I see a pool of water by the bed just where my legs would have touched had I swung out of bed after a night’s rest. Above it, a trickle of water appears in the ceiling, falls and disappears into the pool below. Rain? I wonder. It was not a creature scurring across the lino floor but rain. A stench slams into my face and engulfs me- no, it is not rain either. I cover my nose and mouth. Urine. The pool sits there and releases its fumes into the room.

I scramble into the bathroom looking for something to mop up the mess with. I am certain it’s cat pee, my dislike of cats propels me and I waste no time. There is nothing in the bathroom to use. I look around the room and my eyes settle on the rectangle of carpet at the door. I grab it and place it over the pool; I wait for it to absorb the fluid and move the carpet. I gag and tear up. What is the purpose of cats? Who insists on their survival?

Eventually I clear up the mess and leave the carpet outside the door but there is no hope of the smell leaving the confines of the room easily. I open the window and return to sleep in the other bed under the open window and merciful coastal breeze.

I smile at the memory. The film, the film….oh she isn’t as I imagined her and the husband isn’t as repulsive as I had drawn in my mind.

All through the film I am drawn back in time over and over. Somebody asked me recently what I got from travelling, did I find myself, did I change? I remember saying it was the first time I allowed myself to get close to people and I was changed in that way- more open, less afraid of people’s baggage, their capacity to hurt. Inbetween watching the film- I preferred my Brick Lane movie, the one I saw when I read the book- I admitted to myself that it was more than that, it was more, it was love, I had fallen in love with mankind. Not quite the content of everyday conversation, not quite and yet it would be dishonest, ungrateful of me to deny that I was loved by strangers and that I learned to love unconditionally in that time.

In the quiet of the cinema it is hard to stay composed, up on the screen there isn’t a scene that moves, any sniffles would be unwelcome, inappropriate. I struggle for composure but it gets worse, I remember my mother holding me in the weeks before I left to travel, crying because I was crying and I crying more because my mother was crying that I was crying. Rock bottom, that was home then and that moment when my mother asked how she could help, my unwillingness to articulate my grief to save her further pain, my fear I would diminish in her eyes left only silence and in that vacuum nature poured love. I still feel it; that certainty that I was loved. In the pain there was bliss. And so God teaches…

My mother’s advice was to stop crying about everything. I nodded weakly. I left for India and cried for my poor pathetic self, so often did I touch and wipe my eyes I developed conjunctivitis. Now my eyes weeped even when I wasn’t weeping. I would waken in the morning in another strange room and my eyes would stay glued together with retribution and I would have to remember what town I was in, the lay of the room and grope towards the bathroom and cleansing water.

What I could see through sticky, runny eyes though was poverty and struggle. Soon I forgot to weep for myself and weeped instead for others. My eyes cleared, my mosquito bites healed. I asked myself what the highlights of my trip thus far were and they were mostly centred around people. I remembered the female monk who found me one morning sitting forlorn only minutes after I had said, please God send me someone to talk to. And there almost instantaneously was a voice saying hello. We spent hours together; I remembered that I could laugh and laugh I did until I nearly fell off my chair. She was half white, half Native American, worked with black civil liberty groups in the 60s, became a monk in Nepal, taught in Thailand and was in India to do something special. She said, u know what? I said what. She said I think God sent you to me. And you to me I thought beaming.

As I moved from place to place, stopping to live in Cambodia(as one does), my capacity to give, do, help grew and grew; the more I did the more I got. And that is unconditional love- action separate from reward, the expectation of a reward irrelevant; the paradox- the less I thought about what was in it for me, the more I got back.

I let go of that new way of being when I returned home, not immediately but within a few months. Some of the old self-focus returned, people became problems, there was pain and struggle. My lesson hadn’t imprinted itself well enough. Later I relearned and thrived; then I forgot and there was suffering this year.

Recently I visited some of the boys at Feltham, strangers in a strange land and we talked. What did we talk about? Regret, the past, the future, PS3s, books, family, xalwa, mothers, reality checks, violence, cells.. As they walked away at the end of the time we had together my heart strings felt a tug.  Love, I remember.

Posted on Sun, December 9, 2007 at 05:46PM by Registered Commenterparadise in | Comments14 Comments

Man in distress

I'm not one to generalise however I'm now sure of one thing- men are suckers for a woman's help. And I'm a sucker for helping.

Example No 45,787

Location- 2am Dubai airport - the two line queue is a sea of heaving trolleys and blatant queue jumping; wait there IS no queue really. Man after man tries to jump in ahead of me clanging into my trolley, my feet and my patience. 
When I realise they won't stop I go into traffic warden mode and stick an arm out shouting STOP. What's really great about this technique is that it works, over and over. They stop dead in their best suits(isn't that soo 1979? travelling in your best?) and stare back at me. They complain to one another in their mother tongue. I care little, I want to get on that plane!

One guy appears almost out of nowhere, though I am certain he has sullied a few well-polished shoes and scraped a few suitcases along the way. I look at him incredulously.

Excuse me.
He looks my way.
There are TWO queues.
Blank stare
And you're not in EITHER of them.
Looks away

An older Somali couple appears behind me. While in conversation the man loses his spot behind me to jostling suits and trolleys.  I jabber in Somali. Adeer, don't lose your spot. Every now and again I look behind to make sure he's not being overwhelmed.

We scan the bags and on the other side I grab two trolleys, one for the man who has now lost the woman(she wasn't on the flight) and one for me. He helps me with my bags. At check-in he asks if I'll watch his hand luggage for him as he has to get something sorted out. He says he doesn't want to bother me. I am addicted to helping. My mind quickly considers watching a stranger's bag in an airport and says Yes.


It gets better.


While he runs off to do what he has to I stand well away from his bags and keep an eye on them casually.

My body language is bags, what bags, I just happen to be standing here. If anybody asks if they're mine I'll say no and say a big Somali left it there and make no mention of my stupid compulsion to give the  benefit of the doubt to everything that defecates.

Soon and not soon enough for I am by then considering going on with my journey he returns and thanks me. He rejoins the queue and I make my way.

This is where it gets really good.

Location: the other side of customs
state of mind: unguarded and oblivious

The big, bald Somali man in short long trousers(u know the ones) finds me again. While we walk on the moving floors he asks about this and that. This and that being me and my life.

He mentions he's a wadaad. I don't care. I don't care that I don't care; it doesn't register in any particular way until later when he asks, 'Wadaadada ma ka hesha?'. (Do you like wadaads?)

No to be honest.

You would think that would shake off big, bald Somali.

Why he asks.

Wey dumar badan yahiin(they have a lot of women).

For the next God knows how long we have a conversation about wadaads, multiple wives, deceit, family abandonment, the comparison of a good many-wived man and a bad single man as marriage prospects and what-not.

I get the feeling he wants to 'convert' me. I also start to get the feeling he's enjoying my conversation. Me and my big mouth I think for the 45,787th time.

Where's the blooming gate? How big is this airport?

Phew, finally Gate 10, except the flight's going to Beijing! They've changed the gate and there is to be more walking with the big guy tagging along.

Finally, quite directly he asks what about it.

What about what?

Well, we've started talking already why not continue.

Not interested.

I say it matter of factly and without cushioning.

Big Somali guy has thick skin. Read on.

He asks me what I look for in a man(cue travel nausea before boarding). So when I tell you you can pretend to be those things?

I(with emphasis on the I) am a man of God!
And what are the rest of us? Why do you separate yourself from the rest of us?
It is the rest of you that label us.
Wasn't it you that introduced yourself as a wadaad?

How big is this airport!?

Close to the new gate, he says, 'Waxaasi hadal ma aha eh si wacan noola hadal.'

Some people don't know how good they have it until you take it away on a moving Dubai airport floor without looking back.

Next time. Example no 45,788. Location: London bus stop only 4 days after landing, state of mind: forgotten example no 45,787. Already.

I'm a sucker.

Posted on Fri, November 9, 2007 at 04:52PM by Registered Commenterparadise | Comments13 Comments

A Cracking Day

I found myself a new physio; the other one had moved on to pastures new.  I did some research and came across trigger points.

Horribly fascinated I ordered a self-adminster trigger point massage book from Amazon and looked for physios that use this as part of their treatment.

It isn't long before I find one around the corner from where I work.  I make my way there in anticipation. This physio turns out to be energetic, fast talking and extremely confident.  I can scarcely keep up with her instructions and questions.

She asks me to show her how I sit. I doubt I can mimic how badly I sit at my desk but whatever I do is still bad enough to her.  It seems, wait for it, that I don't sit on my bum properly. This is news to me.  She makes me arch my back exaggeratedly and to then to roll back until I'm sitting on my bum bones. Bum bones I ask.

She sticks a hand under my arse. Whoa, yeah, yeah those! She pulls away.

My hands are too far from my body when I type;  she pushes them back in, relax the wrist.  I do.  Relax it!  She grabs my hand and shakes it. Relax it! I stare at my skinny wrist; my hand looks floppy. Floppy it seems is not relaxed; relaxed is straight, neutral. Well, now that we get that straight she goes for my breast bone,  pull up but don't arch your back.  I pull up and arch my back; she pushes me back.

This sitting business is a nuisance.

She tucks my neck in and back.

It feels unnatural, which means I sit unnaturally normally I say.

There’s no time for reflection.

I demonstrate my range of movement to her- it's better as result of weeks of physio and stretching- and when I look to my left she grabs my head and pulls it farther than I thought possible. I like her already; she makes my neck go places it hasn't gone before.

I lie on my back and she checks my neck joints, C1, C2, C3 et co and says it's not too bad;  she suspects it's worse further down.  Rib No 1 on the left hand side to be precise.  She says, I'm going to do something and it's gonna hurt. I want u to breathe in and out 3 times. My mind has fixated on the soon-to-come hurt.  I've had this done myself and it's nasty she reassures me. She tucks her fingers into my rib area. OK. Breathe in. I suck in shock. Wait. Just get it over with it!. Breathe in. I do. She pushes down.

I'm fasting. I can't swear. I go blank instead.

Breathe out.

I let fear out.

Breathe in.

She pushes.

It's like labour, I'm in labour with a rib.

Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out. And no baby to show for it.

Sit up.

Give me a break.

I sit up and she says look left, look right u should feel the difference.

I follow the instructions and my neck feels like it's on hydraulics, mililiqmililiq.  I grin. Free at last, free at last, God almighty I'm free at last.

She instructs me to lay face down and announces that she'll crack my back.

I'm squeamish about neck and back cracking.  I imagine paralysis taking hold but I have no time, she's on a mission. You'll feel like you can't breathe but that's fine; don't be surprised. Relax she says.

That word again.

I make an attempt, I'm wondering if it's any good when oh-dear, CRACK. I bounce back and breathe. Not much time to recover she's on a roll and moves further up my back.  Relax. Crack Part Deux.

One more time, it's a trilogy.


Sit up.

It's like being in boot camp. I sit up expecting a concave chest.  Instead there is relief.  She sets me free with a warning she’ll test my sitting next time.  I go home, read the self-massage book and after Iftar self-massage painful trigger points on my neck and arse.

I want to marry a massage therapist, preferably one who specialises in myofacial/trigger point therapy. If you can make sense of the below:

















write to nomadicexpression@googlemail.com. In return I promise to sit pretty, baby.

Posted on Wed, October 3, 2007 at 04:40PM by Registered Commenterparadise in | Comments6 Comments