In memoriam

IMG_5235

Farewell, furried friend
Though I cannot comprehend.
Tears may fall
At your sudden call
This I know
I cannot show
Life’s bitter clause
Rent by your claws
For all we fear
Grab things we hold dear
Blistering
A tearing of the heart
When the heavens part.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Landscape

I haven’t participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge in a l-o-n-g time. For a blog with the the word desert included in the title, it has long seemed to me that I ought to incorporate more photos of the desert.

Having lived here for nearly one-fourth of my life, here are the photos that have been stored away (meaning: forgotten) in my archives (physical photo albums are so much better at reminding us of our past). 

DSCN4703DSCN4654

DSCN3457DSCN3461DSCN3468

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/landscape/”>Landscape</a&gt;

March thoughts: friendships and farewells

Well … this week has been an emotional roller coaster one for me. I hosted an Easter egg hunt the day following Resurrection Sunday. It should have been an eggs-ighting affair. But then. My friend’s special needs son tore up the roses that I’d gathered from the garden earlier that day. They  had smelled fabulous. Seeing them as garnishing for the grass, I was almost in tears. But. Roses are a poor excuse for turning on the taps. So I didn’t cry. I think we all had a wonderful time, though. After-dinner conversations after BBQs in the desert are always a delight.

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
Rainer Maria Rilke

Meanwhile … there are times when my mind gets muddled up and I can’t think clearly to write. Right now is one of them. Because. A dear friend has just given notice that she and her husband will be leaving in one month’s time.

I don’t think anyone ever gets used to farewells. Saying goodbye is a fact of life yet still, when they happen, life gets depressing in a way that no length of notice ever prepares you for.

IMG_1195
Breakfast with my friend who is leaving and two other friends, Spring 2015

If ever there’s a constant to expat life, especially in the UAE where the local population hovers at only 22%,  it is saying good-bye. I don’t know about others but doing it often enough just. does not. get me inured against missing someone’s presence. And. I know. That I will miss my friend terribly. Because ….

This time last year I was steeling myself to live the coming days in the absence of a friend whose baked goodies arrived whenever I had a cry in the loo. How did she know when I needed cheering up? I don’t know. I don’t announce when I’ve wept buckets down the toilet. But real friends … they have this uncanny ability to sense another’s burden.

My friend who is leaving – she’s older than I am. She’s the one who has been privy to all my secrets, my hurts, my fears through all these years … heck, she’s the one who tells me I’m ugly without make-up! I know that if friends arrive bearing food, it was at her instigation. When I declined an invitation to join our church ladies’ plan to go on a restaurant cruise, she – being the treasurer – paid for an extra seat then coerced me into coming along, knowing that I’d enjoy it as a treat away from the kids.

But perhaps I should not let this wave of melancholy wash over even as I feel that staying connected via texts and FB is a poor substitute for face-to-face communication. Reunions happen. Just last week we, the hubby and I, had a lovely time having coffee in the garden with a couple who flew back to our town after returning home for good two years ago. They  had accepted our invitation to stay behind after service even though they were scheduled to travel to Abu Dhabi with their four kids the following morning. While our children bounced up and down the trampoline, I asked questions:

How do you feel about the influx of refugees to your country? They answered in the affirmative. Would you feel that way had you not lived here and interacted with them? Both husband and wife shook their heads. We went on to talk about other sundry matters. Child discipline. Angela Merkel. House renovations. Raising boys. Christian living. After they left, I gave thanks for the experience then reflected on how much we are all the same even though we have different skin colors. How much we are all enriched whenever we reach out and exchange ideas with others! This last was an especially meaningful insight since the hubby had dragged me to a meet-up with people whom I didn’t know just days before this reunion.

A week or two ago, I learned a new word courtesy of The Artidote:

pistanthrophobia
n. the fear of trusting people due to past experiences and relationships gone bad.

My first reaction was “So this is it!” It was a relief to finally put a word to an emotion that has been with me for so long yet remained unnamed.

It’s another fact of life that as you grow older, some friends fall by the wayside. I don’t wish to elaborate further on this except to say that some experiences make you treasure those friends who have proven time and again to be real. Yes, there will be times when you’re pissed off with one another, times to cool off until a day when the warmth returns as if nothing has happened. Right now, even as I ready my mind not to see another friend who will be leaving in three months’ time, all I can think of is …

This friend … she’s real. That’s why I treasure her. We’ve both gone through cycles of cooling off, yes. Funny thing is, when I first met her, I didn’t think we’d hit it off. But then, my friendships are always like that. Those individuals who’ve become close because of shared values and interests are usually those who gave first impressions that turned me off.

In a murderous time
     the heart breaks and breaks
             and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
     through dark and deeper dark
             and not to turn.
                                  Stanley Kunitz, The Testing Tree

Ten years ago, I cried a whole day when the family of a friend immigrated to the US. Several months later, I wept for another day when another family left. To avoid the pain of separation, I told myself one must not get close enough to people. But then life happens. Without knowing it, certain individuals – some with quirks you can’t even tolerate in your children or husband – sneak unnoticed into the heart. And expat life does not help. Living so far away from home, one’s walls tumble down over time.

Even as I write this, I know that the symphony of life will continue, the music cresting in moments that catch us unaware till their passing. The coming months will bring new people into my life, some of whom will creep into the heart unknowingly until one day one realizes that they have become friends who – as Marie Kondo so aptly puts it – spark joy.

In the meantime, I will read. Because. Books remain the only unchanging (material) constant in this ever shifting world of mine.

The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. 
                                                 Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

IMG_4150
Comfort food for the mind

February thoughts: On abortion

Sigh. I was all set to write about the many occasions I exhibited stupidity (why do they occur in January without fail?), lessons on humility (of course these are related to my stupidity), reconciling with a guy who did not speak to me for two years, and the feel-good moment when one is acknowledged as a factor that pushed an old friend to start a blog. But then. I received an unexpected message on Messenger from my bff at university asking my thoughts on abortion.

Now I’d planned to write a post on abortion and was just composing my thoughts on the matter when I read When Abortion Suddenly Stopped Making Sense. Reading that, I promptly lost all appetite for penning a piece. I mean, what else could I add to the discussion? Will articulating my thoughts bring someone a new perspective on the matter? I sure don’t think so. But. Since you asked for it, these ramblings are for you, dear university bff …

                                                                  ♠♠♠

Perhaps nothing has been so divisive an issue for moralists, Christians and modern thinkers as abortion. Because. Where one stands on the issue is a silent declaration of an individual’s values concerning life, liberty, equality and citizenship.

For the record, let me state beforehand that as a Christian I am against abortion. Is it wrong? Absolutely. From a Scriptural viewpoint, abortion takes away from God a right that is His as the creator. To kill a foetus – a living, breathing organism – is downright murder because it is premeditated and intentional.

getty_rm_photo_of_sperm_fertilizing_egg
The moment of fertilization … to think that an intelligent being arises from the joining of an egg and a sperm! (Image Source: http://www.webmd.com)

Why then is there an epidemic of abortion the likes of which has never before happened in history? I’m not so sure but it’s probably due to a confluence of factors: the women’s rights movement, the rise of civil liberties advocacy, the advent of women in the workforce, the increased divorce rate, the sexual revolution of the 60’s which fueled the rise of live-in relationships, the pull of a professional life for women who want to be financially independent, the rise of educated women who want to have their cake and eat it, too ….

Perhaps the most instrumental of all is the current thinking that children are not a blessing but a burden, an inconvenience that stops females from from fulfilling their potential or achieving their career goals. I must admit – I have been guilty of this many, many times.

In fact, I’ve even discussed it with other mothers of different ages: we don’t make nearly as much sacrifices as our mothers. And yet. We are so quick to complain about the demands on our time. Compared to previous generations, we have it so easy: we order food to be delivered when we don’t feel like cooking (was there fastfood during my mom’s heyday?), we have the Internet to keep up with news and correspondence (they managed with printed newspapers and snail mail), we pay bills and shop from the comfort of our home (they had to get out of the house to pay bills and shop).

So. Let us go to the crux of the matter: pregnancy is a material consequence of sex. An act that usually occurs between two consenting adults. Whether they are married or not is beside the point in today’s climate. But. It is damning evidence that most of the women who signed an amicus brief on January 4, 2016 and credit an abortion for allowing them to become lawyers were single, unmarried and still in school when they did so.

Previously, sexual activity was mostly confined to married couples. Now, we’re taught that it’s okay as long as it’s consensual. But. Training and teaching teenagers on how to handle adulthood have actually gone down as educators place more emphasis on boosting a child’s self-esteem. A lethal combination, if you ask me, considering that the average teenage brain is still developing.

abortionsintheus-740-rev
Image Source: http://www.guttmacher.org

In our house, we have a rule: you must accept responsibility for whatever decision you make. You stay up late to watch a movie during a school night, I won’t spend ten minutes to wake you up. Where’s the analogy here, you ask? Simple. The women who engaged in sex and found themselves pregnant probably had no plans to have their bellies swell for the next nine months. Thus, when confronted with the prospect of spending the rest of their life with the unwanted product of their sexual activity, they chose a quick fix to the problem.

Please notice that I did not say “easy fix.” Quick is not equal to easy. I’m trying not to be offensive here. But. To me, having an abortion is tantamount to declaring “I don’t want to be responsible for whatever material consequence arises from having sex. Yes, I still want to engage in sex but please, not at my expense! The men have it easy, they don’t get punished with a swollen tummy and spend the rest of their life with a child who will curtail my sexual activity… why should I? ”  Also: “I can’t afford not to have an abortion!”

Of course, that’s a crude way of putting it. Many women undergo abortion under duress, believing that it will enable them to achieve success while mired in poverty and a no-choice environment. And. They’re right. Abortion allows them to have control over their bodies and go on to lead productive lives.

tumblr_louqj5ibcc1qk48q1o1_500
Image Source: Soc.ucsb.edu

In addition, it confers many freedoms. Abortion allows couples to do away with a baby with a defective gene. Abortion allows a career woman to stay on track for a promotion. Abortion allows a rape victim to eliminate the reminder of a harrowing experience. Abortion allows a married woman who had an affair to hide her sin (I’m thinking of the Filipino husband who returned home after his wife committed suicide because she got pregnant by another man). Abortion allows an unmarried woman living in a land where premarital sex is illegal and ground for deportation to engage in sexual activity unhampered.

A selfish choice? Yes, if you ask me because most decisions are based on self-concern, not for the foetus. Ask any mother who struggled with fertility (and believe me I know a lot about this) what her immediate concern was after becoming pregnant and she will tell you: the baby’s health.

“To the world, I am an attorney who had an abortion, and, to myself, I am an attorney because I had an abortion.”
introduction to an amicus brief filed January 4, 2016 by 113 lawyers

Right now, abortion is hot in the news because an imminent case, Whole Women’s Health v Cole, will require the US Supreme Court to decide for the first time in 20 years to make a ruling on abortion. If you can, read the testimonies of the women who contributed to the amicus brief to persuade the US Supreme Court that providing safe, legal abortion is crucial to empowering women economically. A recurrent theme emerges: they became responsible for their destiny only after obtaining abortion. Nearly all are united in expressing that an abortion helped them go to law school, break a cycle of poverty and achieve personal/professional success.

But. Had they been more responsible (notice I did not say ‘selfish’), they would not have gotten pregnant in the first place. I mean, c’mon, there’s the pill, the condom, and the least popular choice, abstinence. Which, of course, is preached in the Bible. And so we go back to Scripture where it states:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know
that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven
together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16
Lastly, let me just say that I have tried to look at abortion as a woman’s constitutional right to participate fully in the progress of a nation and to enjoy freedoms that are taken away when one becomes pregnant. In fact, I have even written a poem from the perspective of one who regrets an abortion decision. But. I simply cannot let go of the reality that a foetus is a human being, subject to the same constitutional rights as its mother ….

So. You want to know what’s my take on the issue, moralizing aside? It’s this: you want to engage in what adults do? You better be prepared to handle adult responsibilities. Like raising a child.

PS. I just realized that I don’t know whether your friend who had an abortion is married or not. Please don’t judge her. She needs your compassion and help to turn her judgment around to the fact that life is precious. 

For Earl

Our lives are stories.
                       Hilary Mantel, The Present Tense

Come December, it never fails. I’ll hear the strains of a Christmas ditty and suddenly, the memories come. And wash over me like rain dropping on a garden in summer. With them a melancholic fog settles while I do everyday household chores. Because. I was not able to say goodbye to a friend whose death brought so much grief I buried all memories deep within for more than a decade.

It’s different now, though. Having lived away from our country for so long, I play Christmas songs from back home even though one particular song induces memories that rise up from some forsaken pit of the mind. For the past few years, I’ve fought the urge to write them down. Thus, this post has actually been in gestation for several years.

Like I said, it’s different now. My gray cells are graying. With no physical memento or photograph to hold on to (except that taken at my wedding), memories are all I have. So write I must if I want to remember anything ten years from now of a friend who was more than a pleasant companion during a period of my life when I was young and gauche and insecure about so many things in life.

                                                                     ♥♥♥

Having graduated from an unknown university and surrounded by English-speaking (English is not my native language) colleagues who appeared sophisticated beyond their years, I often felt like the country mouse in the office where I’d worked briefly before deciding to become a stay-at-home mom. Earl was the antidote to all the loneliness of a young girl alone with few friends in the big city.

We were compatible companions in that we both knew we were safe in each other’s company: he had a wife in America and I had a boyfriend back home. Thus, we were able to be freely converse. And talk we did. Over endless cups of coffee. Opera. Asthma. Shakespeare. Nursery rhymes. Audrey Hepburn. Pranic healing. Christianity. Aerobic exercise. You name it, either he knew it or had an opinion about it.

Once, I expressed admiration for an opera singer whose voice soared like an eagle and told him that all I could recall was her name “Flicka.” He readily supplied her full name: Fredericka von Stadt.

It was obvious that he loved his wife. Whether she did, I do not know. At university, we’d discussed setting free people you love during angst-filled days. Here before me was a living embodiment who’d actually done it: he’d allowed his wife to work in America, pursuing her career goals, while he languished at home doing work that was not conducive to upward mobility. It was a partnership that I with my young mind could not comprehend. Once, I probed deeper. He explained that to him, marital faithfulness was all that mattered, not sex.

And so he proudly talked about Irma and her idiosyncracies. How she wore a new pair of shoes everyday of the two weeks she’d been home to visit him. How she was apprehended by police one time when she threw out the garbage and called him from the police station. How she sued her former employer, Bank of America, for racial discrimination and won. How she called him “My lord.” How she … I can’t remember anymore.

What I do remember, though, were our eating sessions which most often occurred at my instigation. Whenever I was frustrated at work, I’d invite him to accompany me to eat out. Almost always, he’d come and introduce me to another dining spot in Makati.

He had a houseboy, Orly, who cleaned his house but did not cook (so it seemed). Thus, he knew all the best eating places in town for different cuisines. We dined at Mother Saatchi’s (vegetarian), Kashmir (Indian), Dayrit’s (hamburger), and other restaurants and cafes whose names I can’t remember anymore. When he started praising the kebabs and other Middle Eastern dishes of a restaurant in the red light district, I begged “Take me there, please!” but he declined “Ermita is not a place for young girls like you.”

How I wish I could tell him now “See, you didn’t want to take me there but here I am, able to taste any Middle Eastern dish I want!”

Singing. I am out of tune. But. Despite knowing that he played the piano (he’d once narrated how he’d scared two maids with his piano playing at midnight at their ancestral home in Bicol), I had no reserves when it came to singing in his presence. I sang while we walked down the street. Then he’d flash that devilish grin. Still, I’d sing. I sang until the day we were eating at a dine-and-sing restaurant and I heard another patron come up onstage to sing that Christmas song.

When a friend broke news of his death, my initial reaction was “Now don’t you go dying on me – you’re going to be my firstborn’s godfather!” But. It was meant to be.

                                                                         ♥♥♥

Is it so bad, to hold on to memories? I don’t know. All I know is that next Christmas, hopefully the memories won’t come.

Earl Calleja, this is for you.

Fashion dictums

It’s increasingly hard to be a woman nowadays. Not only must you wear make-up when you go to gatherings (how many times have you opened FB to find your face included in a party pic?),   one is also bombarded everywhere by fashion trends that are so-o-o appealing were not one a middle-aged matron with flab on her belly. The sad part is here nearly every holiday is reason for the shops to have a sale. With Eid Al Fitr (the Muslim equivalent to Christmas) just over, yours truly once again had an opportunity to save $$$ while shopping for clothes.

I keep thinking “Did my mom have this pressure to always wear make-up, er, look good?” Then I remember – she wore make-up each time she went out! Even when buying fish at the wet market. It probably made her feel good. According to Tiger Daughter, one of Tiger Mom’s sayings was “If you feel bad, look good.” That makes sense alright. Because if one looks good, one feels good.

Ahem! So how does one look good nowadays? Definitely not by following fashion trends. Because if I do, not only will the hubby become bankrupt, I’ll become the laughingstock of our street. So now, I’ll let you in on a secret list that I’ve been adhering to ever since I was a teenager. They’re my fashion dictums.

1   Wear clothes fit for the weather.
So it’s summer right now. It’s the time of year to wear sleeveless tops and shorts. But. Don’t show off everything. If it’s not for sale, don’t display – ever wonder why beauty pageants are also called meat displays? Wearing summer clothes does not translate to giving strangers an opportunity to lambast one’s fashion sense.

2   Wear clothes fit for your age.
This gets me, it really does. Because. There were many, many clothes that I was not able to buy when I was younger. Still. I refuse to indulge in what so many nowadays do – push the boundaries. If you’re over fifty, why show off the signs of ageing that are apparent to everyone but you? I had ample evidence of this at our recent staycation in Dubai where tanned fashionistas wore strapless clothes while shopping at the Mall of the Emirates. Really, it’s ugly to see such self-delusional peeps.

3  Wear clothes fit for the occasion.
Methinks this is self-explanatory. You wouldn’t wear a bikini to a graduation ceremony, would you? If one is in a quandary, opt for the middle ground and wear something loosely formal.

4   Wear clothes that are comfortable in any position.
The hubby hates seeing gals wearing short skirts who cover up their knees while riding public transportation. C’mon, if you’re traveling in public, why wear short skirts and shorts that show off your butt (I had ample evidence of these when I returned home last year) only to pull them lower again and again? For me, being a breastfeeding mother made this rule number one on my list for a couple of years.

5   Wear clothes appropriate for the culture you’re in.
This one makes it to the list because of a personal experience. The first time I flew to the UAE, I had two toddlers and a baby. Thus, I had no thoughts of being in fashion while transitioning between airports. All I knew back then was the UAE was desert country. So. I wore a spaghetti -strap shirt and trousers (fortunately I didn’t wear a mini-skirt which was what I pair spaghetti-strap tops with!) while flying. Imagine my dismay when I arrived and saw nearly all the women at the airport covered up in an abaya. I felt nude.

To this day, I ask the hubby why he said nothing to me about my get-up, why he gave no advice about covering up. To him, it didn’t matter. But. Believe me, it does. Unless you want men to stare at you, be culturally sensitive. As the old saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.