May Musings - 21

Today is the 22nd of May, the anniversary of my London-Family, Habibtown (most commonly referred to as H-Town).

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Remember a while back, I wrote a post on loneliness? Many of y’all responded, with stories about moving to a new city, and the unique, acute loneliness you felt. It seemed an burden that was hard to shake.

I felt that deeply. I’ve moved to three different cities in five years (Alhamdulilah), each time learning a new neighbourhood, finding new hang outs, searching for new people. It’s not an easy process, especially if you move as a single unit and a freelancer, without the structure of a regular work environment and team to show you the ropes.

That’s what makes H-Town even more special to me. We’re an unlikely group - covering almost all the continents, all with different interests and career paths… but we found each other in a time when we all needed one another. Subhanallah - in a way, I think this group of people - and the extended family that we have around us - has made London feel like home in a way no other city in my adult life has done. This city feels like a place that I will keep coming back to, time and time again, inshallah. It has a special place in my heart, as do all of H-Town. Here’s to many anniversaries, habibs. Inshallah xx

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May Musings - 20

It’s nice to have gotten into a writing rhythm. I’m not always sure what I will write about, but it’s nice to be forced into the discipline for a bit.

I recently watched the film, Mary: Queen of Scots. Have you seen it? I’ve never traditionally had much interest in films and TV on English monarchs, it feels a little unfaithful to suspend disbelief and enjoy the entertainment without thinking about the bloodshed and havoc the various reigns were responsible for. What was interesting about this film however, was the focus on two female monarchs with very different attitudes on monarchy, marriage and their crowns.

I recommend the watch, if only for Saoirse Ronan as Mary. Her ability to so completely inhabit the persona of the monarch makes for a powerful performance. Hers is a character who is so willing to serve and give her life for her people, but who also so deeply believes that these people are her subjects. She is their Queen, and expects the accordant deference. Juxtaposing Ronan alongside Margo Robbie’s Elizabeth the First didn’t do Robbie’s character a huge favour; the protagonist was very clearly Mary. But the film did give some insight into the challenge of being not only a monarch, but a female one at that, in a court where literally everyone around you is plotting and scheming in some manner. ‘A lonely job’ doesn’t do the isolation of that position justice. It would have been utterly exhausting.

I have such mixed feelings about monarchy, brought into sharp relief now that I live in the heart of the empire: London. I am confronted with regular news of this land’s Royals on a daily basis - the very same descendants of those in the film. How is it a moral or ethical system? Do we accept it because of their ‘tourism value’, as one Brit told me, or because ‘they are the true essence of the country’? I’ve been told the Queen holds the country together, and is at least the one thing people can believe in above the mess of Parliament. Perhaps these attitudes are credit to this particular Queen rather than the institution itself.

I find myself instinctively uncomfortable with the concept of monarchy, but who am I but an uncivilised Sudanese Australian, a double colonial subject? Either way, I am still not of this land. Perhaps it makes no difference what I think about it at all.

May Musings - 19

On the True Nature of a City

Day Two in Dubai was a whirlwind of The Modist’s operations center, studio and offices, followed by a glorious iftar and suhoor in a majlis setting - the traditional seating of the bedouins, a little more jazzed up (exhibit A, pictured).

The entire trip has been a thought provoking experience, providing many moments of reflection as I pack my bags to leave the city. It’s intriguing to note that although I have been here many times before, this trip has somehow been so different. Perhaps it’s because I am not traveling with family, because I am not wearing the more traditional clothing (of a jalabeeya or abaya, that I would usually wear in the Arab world), perhaps because I’m a little older and wiser… it’s likely a combination of all the above. But I’ve had the pleasure and honor of seeing Dubai and the UAE in a light I’ve never seen it before, and that’s largely due to seeing it through the eyes of it’s many types of inhabitants.

It reminds me of an old film I saw by a director named Ali Mostafa that my father took our family to see at the Arab film festival years ago. City of Life was a film about Dubai’s parallel existences. It was almost never shown, due to it’s very real depiction of life in the UAE with all it’s light and shade, however a last minute pardon from the country’s ruler meant it graced our screens. It broke box office records, toured internationally and launched the career of Mostafa, who has gone on to make successful Emirate films across various genre (comedy, thriller, etc). Word on the street is that City of Life 2 is in development, so I look forward to it, inshallah!

The reason why the film is so powerful is that it depicts what I still feel about Dubai, despite having a slightly richer understanding: the lives of folks are so separate from each other. Emiratis, who make up less than 20% of the population of the UAE, may go to the same schools and universities as the expatriates, but rarely marry foreigners, and seem to keep their culture - as rich as it is - close to home, reserving it for family and close friends in a way that is different to say, the Levant folk just nearby. Expatriates love the place for its opportunity and luxury and comfort, but feel slightly out of sorts by not being able to really ever have a path to citizenship, making one feel like a visitor no matter how long they’ve lived there. As for the service folk - the majority from South East Asia and the Sub continent - I wasn’t able in my time here to have a conservation that was beyond the superficial, but it seems to the observer to be a system whereby they are not afforded the same comforts citizens and expatriates enjoy. Why they are not even considered expatriates - given they are here for work - is a clue into the informal caste system that has somehow found it’s way into the development process of the region…

I could wax lyrical about my feelings and reflections. At the moment they are poorly formed, vague inferences rather than solid conclusions. However, what I do know is that I have been treated so kindly, welcomed so warmly and made to feel so comfortable - mashallah - that one thing is for sure. The culture of hospitality is alive and strong, and runs through the Dubai DNA.

(PS - they also seem to revere Sheikh Mohammed and Zaid in a way I haven’t heard of a leader - alive - who is respected in the same way. Fascinating! But for another day - I’ve gotta catch a plane!).

Much love,

Yassmin

Just figuring it all out, ya know 😅😇

Just figuring it all out, ya know 😅😇

May Musings - 18

On Energy and Vision

I’m always this excited.

I’m always this excited.

Sometimes, one has to make a choice about where they will place their energy. Choosing to ignore the small fights for the bigger win - the illusive deferment of gratification - is ultimately, for the best.

I type this after having spent maybe an hour longer on twitter than I needed to today though, so perhaps I’m taking to myself more than anyone else.

How much energy do you need to spend setting the record straight? When people are implying falsehoods about you, do you challenge every one, or accept that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and find another way to fight the good fight?

The longer I live (Alhamduliah), the more I think the latter is the wiser strategy. Brute force will not win when you’re out-gunned, out-manned, out-numbered, out-planned. We gotta make an all out stand… Now, I’m no political strategist, but I look forward to seeing what different ideas come out over the next days, months and years as we figure out how to collectively keep pushing for a society that is safe, prosperous and fair for all, inshallah.

***

On a similar(ish) note, today was my first day in Dubai for this Modist press trip I am on, an experience which is *absolute* honour and privilege. I’ve never been on a trip quite like this before, and so I am doing all I can to learn, absorb and hopefully add value. I’m always curious about the ethics of a trip like this - being supported by a brand, but in my case, not to write about it directly, but perhaps to inform my ‘audience’ (I guess that’s you, my lovely reader!) about the brand, and what they’re up to. For what it’s worth - the Modist is worth checking out, as they’re a modest clothing platform founded by the most wonderful woman. Ghizlan Guenez - who is as charming as she is stylish, mashallah - has strong values around modesty as a choice, around breaking stereotypes and around empowering women and girls. I mean, all the things I love. So, Dubai or not, I’ll do what I can to support a woman with that vision.

***

And vision has been on my mind today. We spent some time in a museum, learning about the history of Dubai in a way I’d not really spent time considering before. My father often talked about how the leadership of Dubai was visionary, how Sheikh Mohammed built a global city out of nothing, how we had to learn from his example and his entrepreneurship. I never really paid attention to my dad’s Sheikh Mohammed sermons though, for whatever reason - it wasn’t not-interested, I just didn’t connect the dots. Until today.

Like it or not, Dubai has turned itself into a city that millions of people know about, visit, invest in. It is highly functional, safe, and there is a system that works. You might not agree with the system - and it’s definitely not a democracy - but the lives of citizens are good, Alhamdulilah. This is something that has been achieved over the course of less than a century - a few decades, even - and when you stop to take stock of the change, that’s an impressive and laudable achievement. Yes, it has it’s problems. It is important to note the questionable and unIslamic treatment of overseas workers that built said prosperity. However, I don’t think that negates the overall point re vision. Dubai works - and that’s something you can’t say about many other countries in the region.

Realising this left a bittersweet taste in my mouth. It brought home the depressing impact a lack of visionary leadership can have on a people. Sudan is a wealthy nation: it has oil, minerals, agriculture and at one time in its history, a thriving public service and lively intellectual tradition. I have often blamed all the country’s woes on the post colonial hangover, and yes, that impact cannot be overstated. But does the example of Dubai provide an interesting counterpoint? Perhaps. Yes, their histories are different; Sudan’s population is 60 times the size of Dubai’s, contains a multitude of tribes, and a legacy of both Arab and English rule, yes! I understand all this. But walking around today, a small part of me wonders what Sudan would have been like under a visionary leader who wanted to build a society for the people. Hopefully, maybe, that visionary leader is hanging out in the sit-in today, hatching plans to make an all out stand. Khair, inshallah. One can only hope.

***

Aside from my musings, I have two bit of news to share.

1 - You can now purchase my YA fiction book, You Must Be Layla internationally through my store here on the site! Order, leave your name and I will sign it for you inshallah.

PS If you have already read it or when you read it, if you could leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon that would be so very appreciated, thank you!

2 - I’ve decided to start sending out little email newsletters every now and again! I won’t spam you (or if I do, please let me know that it’s too much) but if you’d like to get updates from the blog, notes on what I’m up to, links I’m reading and the like, sign up below!

May Musings - 17

On Power, Change and Balance.


I want to say I was surprised by the result of the Australian election, but I am not. Rather perhaps, I am filled with a disappointment I was hoping not to feel, but am prepared for. It’s a hollow feeling though. I left the nation to live in London over 18 months ago, fed up of a politick and a rhetoric that I seemed unable to influence for the better. How can I feel disappointed when I am not one of the people who campaigned for change, who put up with the hate, who threw their hate in the ring, did everything they felt they could, and yet still find themselves defeated? In the Australian election, I am the critic in Roosevelt’s quote, not the famed ‘man in the arena’. That is my cross to bear.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Shortly after the results of the Aussie election rolled in, I found myself watching the recent Dick Cheney biopic, Vice. Have y’all seen it? Wow, did it take me back to the heady days of my teens, protesting on the streets against wars in the Middle East that seemed to just keep coming. Guantantamo Bay is still open and yet is so far from the political consciousness one could be forgiven for thinking it was old news. I guess there are newer, hotter, wildfires to put out. It’s one hell of a climate crisis out there.

The biopic reminded me of Cheney’s reprehensible legacy yes, but also made me wonder about the nature of power, and how we - and by we I mean those interested in working towards a fairer world for all - do that. How do we keep picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, fighting for fair, despite all that is ahead? How do we continue taking the high road, continue treating those who oppose us with dignity, continue to meet hate with love? It’s not as if anyone is immune to the heady effect of power, either. The hard left - communism - doesn’t have a stellar history, the same way that the hard right - fascism - was responsible for atrocities beyond imagination. Having visited a country in the Caucauses recently, the first place I’ve visited that experienced Soviet Rule, I cannot say with confidence that an extreme version of the left is something worth aiming for. Indeed, no extreme is ever worth aiming for, in my opinion. Indeed, Islam recommends the middle path, always. Surah Baqara says:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا

Thus, We have made you a justly balanced community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. (2:143)

One version of the tafsir, or interpretation is as follows:

أَنَّ الْوَسَطَ حَقِيقَةٌ فِي الْبُعْدِ عَنِ الطَّرَفَيْنِ وَلَا شَكَّ أَنَّ طَرَفَيِ الْإِفْرَاطِ وَالتَّفْرِيطِ رَدِيئَانِ فَالْمُتَوَسِّطُ فِي الْأَخْلَاقِ يَكُونُ بَعِيدًا عَنِ الطَّرَفَيْنِ فَكَانَ مُعْتَدِلًا فَاضِلًا

The justly balanced (wasat) in reality is the furthest point between two extremes. There is no doubt that the two poles of excess and extravagance are destructive, so to be moderate in character is to be furthest from them, which is to be just and virtuous.

(Note that there are many interpretations, and this is one from this site. I have found the page on moderation useful but cannot vouch for everything else on the site).

I wonder - how does moderation win over extremes? Is it a matter of time? Or simply a question of faith? I’m not sure. Allah knows best, and indeed, that is all I have for now. Khair, inshallah. All I know is that we all gotta get into that arena.

Christian Bale acting as Dick Cheney, in VICE.

Christian Bale acting as Dick Cheney, in VICE.

May Musings - 16

On growing up, authority and permission.

How I feel about being an adult.

How I feel about being an adult.

How does one decide what is ‘good’, or right? Are they even the same thing all the time? When we’re kids, often it’s simple: what are parents tell us, what our teachers tell us, what those in positions of authority around us decide. Who is in positions of authority? Often, when we’re young, that’s also simple too: those who are older than us. Ah, for the simplicity of childhood…

I think the moment I realised I was growing up was the moment I realised I may be different to my parents in some ways. Not from a knee-jerk teenage perspective either, but from a ‘I think we have different viewpoints, habits or lifestyle, and I don’t think I’m changing significantly any time soon’. I don’t think I can recall for certain when that moment was, but I remember it being a slight shock. The idea that my life might look different to the life of my parents, and that maybe it was okay for that to happen, felt downright scandalous, and in some ways a betrayal. I’m almost certain that they wouldn’t say it was anything of the sort, but the idea that my life looks very different to that of my folks has sometime felt morally reprehensible, despite it simply being different. Why does it feel so uncomfortable?

I think it all fits into this idea of trying to do what is ‘good’ and ‘right’, and that direction and permission often coming from my folks, and the community they symbolised for me. I’ve been a kid who often tried to do what I was supposed to (and often failed, lol). But striving to be like my parents, and what my parents approved of, felt like the ideal to strive for. It felt almost like a religious obligation! However now, with a life that looks and feels so different to theirs in many ways (where I live, what I eat, the places I go…), who becomes the weathervane? Who is the authority? Who gives permission?

Scary to think it’s perhaps, just me. And of course, my faith, so Allah - and of course, the people who I love and are around me… but ultimately, growing up is about deciding what is right for yourself. And then having the moral conviction to stick by it. That’s a lot of responsibility, if you ask me. Yet, here we are…

How do you feel? Is this something you have found yourself grappling with, or has growing up been all gravy?

May Musings - 15

This blog post is a little late today. A a few minutes ago Firefox decided to have a moment, freeze and quit, erasing an evening-worth of work.

Oh, the irony is Iftar-level delicious as well, given the entire piece was about how Ramadan has been tough so far but had reminded me of the power of discipline and patience. I am feeling neither patient nor disciplined in this moment, just a sense of searing frustration and a pang in my right arm that’s mildly concerning.

Perhaps Allah was protecting me from putting something out in the world I didn’t need to be putting out. Who knows. All I know is that today’s musings are going to be short and sweet, just like my tether in this very moment.

***


I started the day off as a guest on Monocle 24’s morning show, the Globalist, talking about the recent political escalation in Sudan. You can listen in [here].

I was then quite fortunate to join Munroe Bergdorf and a number of other prominent activists for a breakfast and panel for Mental Health Awareness week hosted by iWeigh and the Allbright. We shared our experiences with social media and mental health and stood for a few cheeky photos....

Photo credit - Gerogie Glass - @georgieglass_

Photo credit - Gerogie Glass - @georgieglass_

It was wonderful to be connected in person with so many folk who I admire from afar, and be reminded of themes to reflect on regarding mental health, but also in terms of how we see ourselves in the world - and who we are centering when we are having those conversations. When we talk about liberation, are we centering others, or those we seek to liberate? What do our conversations say we implicitly value? Who do we deem as authority? Where does the pressure come from? How do we live in alignment with the values we purport to have?

I’m going to leave you with those thought bubbles, as I need to go watch some stand up comedy to let off some steam…


Allah give us all strength to get through this Ramadan. Khair inshallah.

Photo credit - Gerogie Glass - @georgieglass_

Photo credit - Gerogie Glass - @georgieglass_

May Musings - 14

Folks!

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I write to you from my mobile phone, on a train back to London from Bristol. I just had the most wonderful evening sharing my YA novel, You Must Be Layla, with the Bristol community through an ‘In Conversation’ event hosted by Words of Colour.  

With Joy Francis from Words of Colour

With Joy Francis from Words of Colour

It’s been an absolute joy - no pun intended - bringing this book to life and now seeing it in the hands of people all around the world. The Bristol audience was kind, engaged and enthusiastic, and the conversation also reminded me how far I’ve come since I moved to the UK in late 2017.

Times of darkness makes one feel like there is no light. Sometimes, the darkness is so deep, one wonders when there ever was light, and questions whether there will ever be light again. That’s the terrible wonder of darkness, it’s ability to make you forget the very existence of the possibility of salvation. 

Yet living through darkness makes the light all the more sweet.

I felt light tonight, Alhamdulilah, bouyed by the compassion and generosity of strangers. Thank you, to all who came, and to all who contributed to making it happen. I am forever indebted. 

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May Musings - 13

People love a fall from grace.

We’ve all been there. Retweeted gleefully, sprinkled a hot take with a couple of well place gifs, revelled in the schadenfreude. There’s safety in a mob: the herd mentality that takes over when you’re part of a wave of condemnation means you’re no longer acting as an individual, but as a member of a movement, a cause, a mission. The overall goal or intended outcome of that mission is rarely discussed, instead, what is focused on is the destruction. The complete and utter annihilation of the subject of anger and disapproval. There is no space for redemption.

Hey, no shade - I’ve been there too. They have not been my proudest moments, but it felt good at the time. What makes it more interesting is that I’ve actually been on both sides of the coin: a member of an online mob and the one bearing the brunt of it. And let me tell you, as someone who has had their life irrevocably and irreparably changed by the viciousness of the pack mentality, it’s not something you get through unscathed. It’s also very rarely anything to do with the inciting incident. Often, the importance of the catalysing moment gets lost in the melee, making the whole experience all the more tragic.

Why am I writing about this today? Am I making a broad reflective comment on my annus horribilis, 2017? Or a comment on the James Charles situation (lol no, I wouldn’t be unwise enough to wade into YouTube commentary, a world I know little about!). To be honest, my thoughts could apply to all the above, but has been mostly sparked by the conversation I’ve seen building online over the past couple of weeks regarding a large US based media company founded by a young Muslim woman.

I’m not here to name names, though it won’t take you much to ascertain who and what I’m talking about. I’ve been mulling about whether to write something regarding the ongoing conversation for some time: I’ve seen it develop and have questioned whether or not it is my place to get involved or intervene, and if I was to say something, what the most Islamic or ethical for me to say would be.

My thought process was as such: what frameworks do I have for thinking about what is going on? How do I know what is right?

My first step was to think about legal frameworks of wrongdoing. To me, it appeared that what is being spoken about was less as legal and legislative matter, but more a matter of culture and ethics. In cases where someone has been accused of legal wrongdoing, it is easier to know what to do: there is a legal process us outside supporters can push for. In cases where the court of law has been less reliable, say in areas of sexual assault and harassment, it is also slightly easier to imagine what has occurred because of what we know occurs under a major structural power imbalance, say, in a case with a powerful older white man and a younger woman of colour. We have precedents and ways of dealing with such injustice.

But what about an issue of culture and ethics? An issue about the treatment of volunteers, promises of pay that were never followed through, the lack of credit given to creatives? How does one ethically navigate engaging with these conversations?

I guess it depends on the desired outcome. Is the desired outcome for an individual to resign? To make a promise publicly to fix the issues raised and move on? To bring people who have been wronged back in the fold? As this is a question of culture and ethics, once we start digging deeper we may realise that we have different ideas of what it means for issues like this to be resolved. So what does one do? Get a consensus from the community? Who gets to be part of the community that makes this decision? Again I wonder - how do we decide the best thing to do?

I honestly still don’t know the answer to this, beyond asking Allah for guidance. I’ve run a volunteer organisation before, from when I was 16 years old to 25 years old, and have no doubt that I wasn’t perfect. I’m loathe to throw stones. What I do know, however, are the values and principles which I hold dear, and my desire to push for them. I believe it is important to treat the people who work for us with kindness, professionalism and dignity, and if we get that wrong, do what we can to be better. I believe it’s important to credit artists’ work, and if we don’t perhaps that is our ego talking, or something off with our business model. I think it is important to pay people, but - I also ran a volunteer organisation for almost a decade, so I understand the struggle. It’s a balance I am still trying to figure out - and any mistakes I make, I hope to learn from and get better.

And I guess that’s the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable, and feels like a thorn in my side. I wonder to myself, what if I was in this founder’s position? What would I do? How do I redeem myself? Is there any room for growth? What do people want from me?

It’s a scary place to be in, because in one moment you have the expectations, desires, hopes and dreams of a community projected on you, and in another moment you are the epitome of everything they despise, everything they think is wrong with the system, the physical manifestation of structural inequality. The irony, of course, is that it has nothing to do with you as an individual. You no longer become an individual with fears and feelings. You’re an image, a projection on a screen, a reflection of whatever people want you to be. One could argue it’s an impossible ideal to live up to.

I’m not here to be judge and jury. Far from it. It’s sad to hear that a media organisation has left such a sour taste in the mouths of many who have worked for them. It’s sad to see a reasonable request for artistic credit snowball into something so messy and personal. It’s sad to know whatever I write about this, it will make someone unhappy - whether because I am seen as weak and not taking sides, or taking the side of one over the other, coming out too late, coming out too gently, whatever - I have no doubt that people will be upset. However, that’s not why I write this. I write this because it is important that we have measured, critical conversations about what it means to build a healthy community, online and off. What it means to treat each other with respect and dignity, in the way of our Prophet (SAW) - and that includes fair treatment in the workplace as well as when we hear bad news about people we respect. I write this because I am still figuring out the best way to engage, but that is certainly not to negate the experiences of those who are frustrated, angry, hurt and disappointed because of their experiences. For what it’s worth, Aima from @niqabaechronicles is an amazing graphic designer and content creator, and you should commission her - I certainly will be doing so as soon as I need one, inshallah.

Khair, inshallah. Allah knows best, and I pray that He guide me in tough moments like these. I’d love to hear your thoughts - respectfully - on what you think the best way to engage in conversations like this online are, and what you have thought / learnt / reflected on after reading this piece. Much appreciated x

May Musings - 12

Today’s been a day of transit, which has meant many a podcast was listened to, and I almost finished knitting scarf #2!

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I was ready to share a slew of thoughts with y’all about democracy (inspired by this podcast episode reviewing a film called ‘What is Democracy?’) however, I’ve just heard the news of violence kicking off again in Khartoum, Sudan, and I can’t quite concentrate. 

There have been reports of shots fired, people beaten, harassed and martyred. Ina Lilahi wa Ina Ilayhi Rajiun. I haven’t verified these reports personally, and there is still speculation around who is responsible, but the escalation of violence is a reminder of the nation’s instability. The stalling of negotiations, electricity cuts and water shortages and the influence by foreign interests (UAE, Saudi, the like) all contribute to the pressure cooker and make the Sudanese Uprising Project all the more fragile. Khair inshallah. I hope everyone is safe, and I’m going to get onto WhatsApp right now to check just that, inshallah. 

May Musings - 11

Even the ancient ruins of Petra in Jordan have wifi. 

Even the ancient ruins of Petra in Jordan have wifi. 

Lots of thoughtful responses to yesterday’s post on loneliness; it seemed to resonate with many of y’all! Thanks for your comments, questions and open-hearted sharing.

Someone asked about why I thought the way we ‘organise’ was conducive to a lonely society. In brief, I think it’s about what we center in the design of our workplaces, families and culture, as well as what is given priority in our social fabric. For example: in work, for one to be successful, the expectation is that your career must come first, ostensibly at the expense of all else. This is implicit in the ‘hustle hard’ messaging we are surrounded by, both in the traditional corporate world and in the gig-economy. Those who are celebrated aren’t those with balanced, healthy lives, they are those who have sacrificed everything to achieve some business or financial success. There seems to be little tolerance for any other priorities except perhaps a certain type of ‘self-care’, which again centers the individual rather than the communal. I’ve not seen posters emblazoned with ‘Hustle Hard but Remember to Make Time For Your Family, Friends and Regular Volunteering Work’ in any workspace I’ve been in… Now. This is not a damning criticism of either the hustling hard attitude or the push towards self care, but a comment on how these ways of life, in absence of all else, are more likely to leave us estranged from our community than anything else. It’s up to us to decide if that’s what we want, I suppose.

Another reader pointed out the strange reality where living with family is disparaged, and living alone is valourised. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve fallen into this bias and trap, and it’s interesting to question why we again, seek to raise the individual who is on their own rather than connected to others, and what that does for the society we are all a part of.

Thanks all for your feedback and conversation, and keep it coming!

***

Today’s piece I’m musing over is on language, the author reflecting on the limits of hers.

…fluency is more than merely knowing the language. Fluency is seeing past the hard edges of definitions and vocabulary to the softer, nebulous contours of conceptualisation. Fluency means living in a language fully.

The short article is opening a series I am excited to follow, called Living in Translation, ‘a new series of articles, guest edited by Nanjala Nyabola, exploring the worlds our languages have built across Africa.’

The piece made me reflect on my relationship with language, especially as a member of the diaspora. I have a complicated relationship with Arabic. I can speak, read and write it Alhamdulilah, but nowhere nearly as fluently as I can in English. I’ve spent time in Sudan in an effort to improve my linguistic skills, and that worked for a while, but in the years since, living among English speaking peers, my tongue has again gained weight. Lisaany tageel, as we would say in Sudan. My tongue is heavy, unable to lightfootedly flit across the syllables like someone for whom Arabic is home. Alas.

Speaking of the diaspora, I enjoyed reading this piece on the hidden worth of the global African community.

Diaspora-ness is a tricky state of being. In their adopted homes, diasporas are referred to as ‘immigrants’, a term that often elicits a sense of unwelcomeness. In their original homes they are thought of as ‘runaways’ who want the best of both worlds – the first to trace their roots when it’s convenient and exotic but also the first to pack and leave when the going gets tough.

But these same diasporas, by some miracle, are expected to make a contribution both in their adopted and original homes. Hypocrisy arises because no matter how much their adopted homes look down on them, for instance, they do not waive their taxes. And even when they are referred to as ’them’ in the third person, the original homes do not refuse their remittances. By their adopted and original ‘homes’ alike, diasporas are treated as resources that should be carefully tapped rather than embraced.

Indeed! I’ve often thought of myself as a ‘resource’ for my land of residence to tap into, rather than as a human being with an inherent right to exist comfortably in a space. That is in no small part due to the lived diasporic reality, but it is also a frame of mind that I haven’t found the courage yet to challenge. Perhaps because it hits right in gut of an insecurity many of us share: where do we actually have the right to belong?

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May Musings - 10

Today’s been a quiet day, well suited for the pace of this break and allowing for moments of reflection. It reminded me of the idea that the way we perceive time isn’t in the discrete seconds, minutes and hours of a clock, but in ‘experiences’. This explains why a holiday in a new environment can feel like it goes on for ages, while we can barely remember the discrete days of going to work, or school - they all blur into one ‘general’ memory.

***

Connected to the piece I shared yesterday referencing men and their lack of close friends, I found this article on Venture Capitalists backing companies that purport to have a mission around ‘creating connection’ and battling loneliness. Capitalism hates a vacuum, indeed.

As someone who has moved to three different cities in the past six years, I’m familiar with the challenge of moving to a new environment, and the difficulties associated with building close friendships, the kind that truly sustain you. To think that one could monetize that process seems… not only concerning, but in some ways missing the point of what friendships are built on: vulnerability, authenticity, respect.

The piece does differentiate between those who are temporarily lonely and those who are chronically so. Those who are temporarily so are looking for jump-starts to connections (something that is truly helpful when relocating to a city, especially as a freelancer without a pre-set social group to join), while the chronically lonely may find the process of overcoming social pain excruciating.

Placing someone whose brain is in overdrive into a social setting with strangers “could actually make things worse,” Cole says. These companies are attempting to address a clear societal need, but “we get confused by the hunger and what it’s for.”

Reading articles like this often deeply saddens me, as it seems like a uniquely unfair affliction in a world full of people. I often wonder how we can better design our societies so folk do not find themselves chronically alone, and question how such a cultural change would occur: is it about legislative change (don’t think so), economic change (potentially, given captialism’s role in our obsession with productivity above all, including relationships) or even changes in the religious institutions and expectations in a society? Bear in mind that these reports are often Anglo-centric. A cursory look online unearthed a few interesting reads on the capitalistic and Western nature of this ‘modern’ day phenomenon:

One of the more insightful pieces was on a favourite website of mine, Aeon:

The contemporary notion of loneliness stems from cultural and economic transformations that have taken place in the modern West. Industrialisation, the growth of the consumer economy, the declining influence of religion and the popularity of evolutionary biology all served to emphasise that the individual was what mattered – not traditional, paternalistic visions of a society in which everyone had a place.

The author raised an interesting point though that I hadn’t really considered (highlighting my own blind spot!)

Presuming that loneliness is a widespread but fundamentally individual affliction will make it nearly impossible to address.

…loneliness can exist only in a world where the individual is conceived as separate from, rather than part of, the social fabric. It’s clear that the rise of individualism corroded social and communal ties, and led to a language of loneliness that didn’t exist prior to around 1800.

It would appear that ultimately, the way we currently organise ourselves in the West will continue to produce chronically lonely people. The focus on the individual is damaging us: the individual as separate from the social fabric, as wholly responsible for and focused on themselves alone, and as primarily economic-value-producing assets - this individual is not set up for success.

Ah. It makes me grateful for having grown up in a household of religious and communal obligation (despite my grumbling at the time!) for at least I understood I had a place.

The question becomes, how does one maintain that place when you move? When you leave those bonds of community and obligation to a place nobody knows - or cares - who you are?

A question for another day, perhaps. In the meantime, enjoy this pic of me in my new hijabi hat: the Papakhi, the woolen hat worn by men in the Caucasus. Whaddya reckon? ;)

Not my actual hair.

Not my actual hair.