Neptunian Nostalgia

‘Listen to the story of the reed, of being separated.

“Since I was cut from the reedbed,

I have made this crying sound.”

Anyone pulled from a source

longs to go back.’ 

– Rumi

“Where are you from?”. This is the question I am asked most frequently since having moved to London. It could be a host of mannerisms that give my immigrant status away. My accent, my (slow) pace of walking, my being a few minutes late to every appointment, my need to find some sense of belonging with the transient souls in central London, my anxiety and self-consciousness in social interactions with locals… I could go on and on about how foreign I still feel in this place that I thought I would fit into like a lost piece of a jigsaw puzzle. If I didn’t fit in the East, surely that meant I would gel in the West, right? Wrong. The irony is that I am more aware now than ever before about how much I am a product of my Eastern culture, if not in its entirety then perhaps in unconscious ways that one takes for granted. Having consciously rejected many parts of my own culture I cannot say that distance has made me grow fonder of every aspect of it. It is more of a humbling self-awareness that I do miss the home I tried so long to flee, the country that made me feel unwanted and unsafe. How is this even possible? But there it is, that unreasonable longing for home. I miss the sunshine, the smell of the rain as it fell on dusty pavements, the old trees, the roads I know so well, the delicious food, the ease of conversations in my own language, the music, the cotton clothes, the colours in the sky…

Most of my adolescent life I felt caged by the traditional values of my culture; they impinged on my personal preferences which veered towards New-Agey and feminist ideologies. However, now that I am in the land where the monarch is a woman, modern values prevail, peace and security are the norm and alcohol is legal, instead of feeling liberated I feel a bit like a villager who keeps getting lost on public transport. I find myself questioning and re-assessing my expectations, and I find myself feeling the ache of all thats missing from my previous life. Well, the nice parts anyway ! It is amazing how much euphoric recall one can indulge in when engulfed in a wave of homesickness.

The trouble is, I escaped one hateful system of patriarchy and dropped through the cracks of another brutal framework where the amount of dignity you are owed as a human being is dictated by the colour of your passport. I didn’t think it was impossible for anyone to loathe my passport more than myself, but it turns out that there are whole office buildings full of people that do, indeed – and they are on a pay roll by their government to make it illegal for you or your passport to cross borders into their country without going through checks that are fit for the most hardened criminals. No one warned me that the process of immigration into the UK would be so wounding to my pride, so heavy on my heart (and pocket), and so very alienating. If I can feel this isolated being a person with liberal-secular views, having had a Western postgraduate education, speaking the English language and living in a good neighbourhood, I shudder to think of the hardships of migration for those who do not have all these advantages.

Perhaps it is all a matter of what is written in the stars for each of us. If someone had told me a few years ago that I have the planet Neptune on my natal IC which indicates a person who leaves their country of birth only to come to long for the place from which they have escaped, I would never believe it! I can hardly bring myself to accept it now that I am experiencing it in real time. For those who care to know, Neptune is a planet that describes collective and individual longings, and the IC is where you come from. In my case, the conjunction of the two gives a sense of yearning for having lost something before having fully appreciated having it.

On that rather melancholic note, I’m signing off and hoping for a bit of sunshine to warm this rather cold May morning.

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Leaving the Motherland

“Some say your destiny is tied to the land, as much a part of us as we are of it. Others say that fate is woven like a cloth, so that your destiny intertwines with many others. It’s the one thing we search for, or fight to change”                                                                                              – Brave. Dir. Brenda Chapman (Walt Disney Pictures, 2012)

 

I remember how excited I was to watch this Disney animation about a young girl fighting against the patriarchal traditions of Medieval Scotland to carve her own path and find her true destiny. I felt I related to her wild aspirations and free spirit, and wanted desperately to see her succeed in her quest. Perhaps it is strange that a grown woman like myself should turn to a children’s film for entertainment or even inspiration, but I don’t see any reason to have a bias about where either of these elements can be found. I will, however, confess my unabashed love for children’s films and books, as I feel that my childhood was filled with too many harsh realities and not enough story-time (Let me qualify that remark by adding that I had a very ‘comfortable’ life by some standards, but that is only a part of the whole picture). I have consequently spent much of my adult life chasing after my dreams, reveling in supernatural mysteries and found adventure in the most seemingly mundane things. Who better to stoke the fires of my spirit than Pixar animation? Given the optimism with which I entered the cinema, I still could not have been prepared for the above mentioned opening monologue of the film. It struck such a powerful chord in me that I had to watch it a second time, just to preserve these poignant words to memory.

To provide some background, I was residing in London at the time this film was released. My purpose for being away from my country of origin was to undertake a rigorous MA program on a subject that had fueled a fire in my country and in my own heart for as long as I could remember: Religion. To be clear, the nature of my relationship with religion has been like a true love affair – ranging from deep devotion to deep distrust, final disassociation, and the inevitable: unanswered questions lingering as uninvited bed fellows for years to come. I tried to find an equilibrium and become an agnostic, but the obsession, or rather the curiosity with this powerful subject arose once again when I felt the need to find some relief from the duress under which I lived in my country (based on my gender, my occupation and my stance on religion, politics and other ‘sensitive’ issues) by going abroad to pursue higher education. Conditions in my country were becoming increasingly volatile and it seemed the right thing to do at the given moment. I was never far-sighted enough to make any long term plans or anticipate how this action would set into motion a chain of events that would change my life permanently. And yet, that is precisely what happened.

I toyed with the idea of building on my creative education and skills during my time abroad, but another, stronger desire took precedence*: I decided I would undertake to study religion -the bane of my existence- as a social scientist. I relished the idea of putting this larger-than-life phenomenon in a box, poking it with a stick and studying it under the proverbial microscope. This would be my rebellion, my revenge and hopefully my victory over this pervasive, invasive, destructive and over-bearing brute that had wreaked havoc in my country. Predictably, such a course of academic study could not be catered to in my own god-fearing, patriarchal homeland. I rode on my ambitions and resolved to face the difficulties that I would undoubtedly have to face in a completely unfamiliar context.

Thus began the journey that led me to leave my country, find my life partner and to rediscover myself in a foreign land. This is an ongoing journey, one that I feel compelled to share; for myself, for those whom it may benefit, and not least of all for those whom it will make uncomfortable. I have been planning to write about my experiences for many months but I could never gain enough perspective to move from a place where I was feeling overwhelmed and isolated to where I was feeling acceptance, surrender and at peace with myself and my surroundings. Many events and people (not to mention the favorable movement of the stars) have made the birth of this blog possible. There will undoubtedly be more about these elements in future posts…

 

*This decision was also influenced by a dream I had shortly before I had entertained any notions of a change in my career as an artist/teacher or of pursuing further education in a different field. Upon waking and some introspection, it seemed that I had received a powerful message about a significant part of my life purpose from my unconscious mind. If anyone is familiar with Jungian dream analysis,they will no doubt be able to read the symbolism that I am about to describe in some detail: in my dream, I had the ability to travel between two worlds that were on the surface very different, but had an implicit connection and an influence on each other. I found myself in the lobby of the corporate office building where I used to work, but instead of going up the stairs where my colleague was leading me, I went into the basement. Here I saw a dark church building with Gothic architecture, and I was transported into its underbelly where there I saw women living  in deplorable conditions, being ordered to work around a conveyor belt by a (Caucasian) man with a whip. It seemed they were being used for labour and for producing (his) children by force. For some reason, I could traverse this environment unharmed and I even spoke to some of the women to find out details of what was happening to them. At that moment, I had a strong desire to tell the people over the ground about what was going on here, in an attempt to amass some help for these women. On that note, the dream ended. At the time, I did not understand why I had this dream or how it was relevant to me. Some weeks later, when I began to feel the ‘push’ to choose a course of action for my life, I started to connect the dots and was lead to an academic course that elaborated on all the themes that came up in my dream – Religion, Patriarchy and Gender (among other fascinating liaisons within these topics like religion and globalisation, fundamentalism, new media and the Muslim world, religion and politics, etc). As it turns out, the ‘enslavement’ of women (or gender inequality in its various degrees) can be directly linked to the influence and policies of religions and other patriarchal institutions like the corporate world and feudalism, to name a few. This may not come as news to some people, but the widespread ignorance on any such taboo subjects in my native surroundings is not only deeply disturbing, it is crippling for our society and the world in general. Fast forward two years, I have married and emigrated to London and am in the process of finding my feet in this fast-paced world of opportunity and freedom. I live in the hope that having received the education I needed to understand these issues from my unique perspective of participant observer, I will be able to do what I can to bring about change and empowerment for the disadvantaged, especially women. How, when and where, still remains to be seen… (Suggestions are welcome)

 

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