What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another. ― Gandhi I feel like I'm going to die in a few hours and this will be my last post.

Actually, that is how it feels to shut down all communication, in adherence to the regulations. After what has happened twice before, I don’t know when I can reincarnate and learn to speak and write again. Thankfully, vanity dictates that there is no way I'd go carrying with me this sense of unwritten.

***

Once, the Timekeeper held me by the scruff, threw me into his rural dungeon house and said, "Khalas, you have fulfilled those basic needs enough. It is time you learn other things."

Since then, I had a series of boyfriends breaking up with me because I could not go over the crux of man-woman relationship, which I used took for granted before the Father of All Intervention cannoned my gender-identity into premenopausal dissolution.

Why? Ah, if only you knew of things worse than sin and celibacy.

***

I once asked a man why he saved himself for the good wife, if she ever came by. (That is, by the way, my way of asking if he ever questioned his sexuality or if there is something wrong with his plumbing.)

He said, “Deeds echo and consequences ricochet,” and that if they were return to him or someone nearby, he might as well hope that it was in goodness.

I called it moral bollocks; that all is fair in love and frolics, and God would be happy for us having a good frisk.

He said, "At a point, it isn't about morals anymore. You have also had your chances to break your friskfast, why haven't you?"

Images of the Timekeeper intervened our conversation to a hush. Of the Timekeeper taking the risk in keeping my scruff in his house, entrusting his material wealth, patting my sobs when Boyfriend No. 1034, 2703, or 3229 lost interest because – for the love of mankind! – I could not step break my goddamned fast.

That, even if I did not care about him, I am too indebted to refuse the Timekeeper this much of obedience: Take everything you want, as long that you can spend all eternity reflected in it.

***

Maybe it would look nice and neat to stop here. Every time I lose my way in a rambling jungle, I want to quit while there is some value to sell at profit, rather than worsen what is already mediocre and morbid.

But something is amiss.

Society provides measurable reflections of validity. By doing things that I was naturally, gender-appropriately, good at, I mattered. ONE MORE VIRGINAL RELATIONSHIP CAN'T HURT, CAN IT? All I had to do was to fuel a system of coquetry that cares for nothing beyond felicity and vanity.

Whereas here? Now? Smack in the crux of the Ring of Fire? How did the earthquake that crushed Japan in early 2011, the Javanese volcano in 2010,and the Sumatran earthquake in 2009, impress the regency, the house and the life I write from?

Not a tinkle on the Boobster scale. This place is as icy as granny panties stuck in freezer that is entombed in an Antarctic iceberg.

And because there hasn't been a lot of natural disasters around, people had no choice but to warm themselves with work. They have had time to raise ducks and grow rice and feed the population. They even had to marry and have children and cultivate endless fields of hope within.

These villagers developed awareness of their higher needs in natural accordance with the fulfillment of the basic. That there had been at least three generations fed and fulfilled that they remember what it was like to listen to the voices within, consequently to seek and trust its guidance.

And because there hasn't been many natural disasters, you have had the time to sit there and indulge my rambling misery. If only I could tell you a story to remember how lucky I am to have your kind company.

That after all the meditation hideaways and yoga practices and linguistic disasters, with the right amount of blahness, I might touch the palest shades of epiphany, merely by recalling nature's effects upon society and - ultimately - upon the individual's partiality.

And be glad for what I have been allowed to live with.

“How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?” - Oscar Wilde

The prophet once said that the majority of the population in hell are women.

If that were true, then there are more women than men on earth. And more women in heaven too.

I don't know my religion well enough to theorize, but my version of the bible (Introduction to Psychology) gave me these ideas why the Prophet said the above.

  • Part I: Genetically speaking

XX chromosomes has a better chance to survive the natural selection than other variations. Hence, if nature prefers the XX chromosome to develop, doesn't it mean that there are more baby girls born than boys? More females walking on earth than male?

  • Part II: Statistically speaking

In countries where the female is subject to social suppression and gendercide, there are always less women than men on the social maps.

On the other hand, in conditions nearest to ideal, where men and women are treated equally (at least in legal terms), there are always more women than men.

Hence, is it possible that the drop in female ratio in suppressive conditions suggest that those unhappy female fetuses, girls and women are already going through a hell of some sort compared to the male population?

  • Part III: Socially speaking

Every time that hadith is questioned, the muftis say that there are more women in hell because they lack religion and intellect.

That they are impure due to the menstrual cycles, and that the responsibilities of motherhood and housekeeping are more important than religion.

I don't even need to menstruate to lack in religion. And I would seriously question a female's intellect every time she splurges on these, these, or these. Hold on, let me just finish that shopping order I started.

But, let us assume in earnest that the muftis are correct. That women do practice less religion, are forgetful beings with sinful tendencies to seduce and slur.

Albeit, I still dare assume that the female population in heaven exceeds the male. Without even trying too hard for it. Because, even though it is very fun to try going to hell, it is just too much extra work!

  • Staying married to the same man, just being nice to him when he comes home, equals the reward of half a jihad.
  • Staying married to the same man, especially if he is an ass, is even better: everything she touches shall carry a burning witness for her jealousy: Lord, her heart breaks, spare hell from her wrath.
  • Everything that has to do with the childrearing, from menstruating, maintaining dignity, every time she performs her wifely duties, every day of pregnancy, every pang of labor, every drop of milk, to the nights spent in vigil after a sick child is counted in multitudes of bonus hasanats: 70 years of prayer, enters heaven 500 years, 70'000 angels and so and forth.
  • Even if she never married, she still has a better chance at than all the men, because a single pious woman equals 70 saints. Hah!

If you put all of that together, does it add up to you that the female population in heaven and hell exceeds the male?

Conclusion

Alas, there is a running meter for passive femininity to every social situation. Whether virgin, sinful, repentant, widow, in Iddah, divorced, pregnant, mother, childless, victim of gendercide, it is all working on her behalf to send her to heaven.

For, going to heaven is the easy part about being a woman. It is believing that she deserves it that is hard.

Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. - 1 John 3:13 It is rarely known that after the ark was built, it spent decades sitting there in the desert, like a public declaration of its builder's insanity, before it did what it was meant to do for the forty days of the deluge.

In those decades, the ark was first a laughing stock, then a public latrine and finally a drug mine.

Since the prophesized deluge never came, and since the man who built the ark never quit rambling about it, it shifted swiftly from a being public joke to a public embarrassment.

To punish the man who had caused that embarrassment, the townsfolk used it as public latrine. They defecated all over it. From bow to poop, from stem to deck, was covered by their communal byproduct.

As legends go, when the ark was entirely pooped upon, came a plague. A rather strange one too, since none of the drugs they had could fix it. The disease was not as fatal as it was ugly and reeked of sin.

One day, one of the sick decided to meditate on his ill-fortune by spending his thoughts on the public's favorite toilet: the ark in the desert.

While he was minding his business, the man slipped and fell straight into a heap of his kinsmen's poop. Washing the damn thing off him, he saw that where the poop had touched him, the disease was healed.

The good news spread fast. Anyone (and that was everyone) who caught the plague, went to the ark to gather handfuls and cratefuls of poop.

Whatever was the method of treatment, as long that the disgusting material touched that area the disease was - miraculously - gone. Kind of like penicillin. It was lathered on, dropped in the eyes, swallowed, diluted, concentrated, injected, and even smoked.

But never replicated.

The only excrement powerful enough to fix symptoms of the plague was stuff brought from the ark. Hence, being so highly in demand, the ark turned into a mining field: Every part of it was covered by townsfolk meticulously searching between crooks and crannies, picking and scooping and tweezing, and finally wiping for the golden dust off the ark.

When the ark was spick and span, even cleaner than when Noah had left it, the plague ended.


That was the last installment of @G30HM, under the theme: “7 days to write fairy tale”.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. - Maya Angelou The carriage was not there.

This was not what she had bargained for with the fairy godmother, she cursed, especially with a smitten prince at her heels.

She ran outside the palace yard and whistled for a cab by the gate. Not a minute too soon either; her ball gown dissolved into the usual tattered dress as soon as she closed the carriage door behind her.

"To stepmother's house, please."

Entering from the back of her stepmother's house, she saw the pumpkin smashed on the side the gate. Mice and vermin circling it, merrily eating the pieces.

A horse's reins were tied tight to a tree nearby. It never left the house to pick her up from the ball.

Entering her cold room, she washed her face and tried to diffuse the smell of merriment off her. She did not want it to show even in her dreams. And especially not to him, the faithful drunkard sleeping there.

He stirred groggily as she removed his shoes and pushed him aside, making room for herself in their tiny cot. He reeked of cheap wine and whiskey, the smells of jealousy and grief.

When she felt his eyes on her, she said, "You forgot to pick me up."

"I thought you wanted to live there." He looked at her, the drunken glaze gone from his eyes. "Did he take bait?"

"For certain."

"Well. Then."

He scooted further away from her, as if there was any room left in their cot, his back turned to her, avoiding the sad thought of her leaving him for something better.

She sighed. Caressing his back, she saw that her hand was bare. Taking it out of her pocket, she slipped the ring back on her third finger.

They still had time until the prince found her, she thought. She refused to spend it in argument with him, the simple man she married out of loneliness in that big, cold house.


Been Tooted

“Is that what they call a vocation, what you do with joy as if you had fire in your heart, the devil in your body?” ― Josephine Baker After tea, the good King asked his son whom he would like to take as wife, for it was only proper that the Crown Prince of Cumbok celebrated his coming of age by choosing a wife.

The prince told the good King, that he had his heart set on marrying the woman of his dreams: a poor farmer's daughter in a nearby village.

As legends go, the king tried to dissuade the prince, the prince insisted on the same girl, the King relented, by and by, a royal convoy was dispatched to bring the girl back to the palace.

When the royal convoy finished reading aloud the royal declaration of intent in making her the second most powerful woman in the Kingdom, the farmer's girl said,

"What is the prince's job?"
"Madame?"
"What does he do for a living?"
"Why, he is the prince," said the ambassador. "All is provided for him. What does he need a job for?"
"You're telling me that - with all due royal respect - he's good for nothing and is foolishly squandering his life away. Tell him to learn a skill - any skill - and get a job. I have no need for a man who does not know how make his own living."

Enamored as he was, rather than taking offense, the prince took the advice to heart and tried his hand at a number of skills until he found that weaving carpets was something that his soft, princely hands were pretty good at.

The prince trained diligently in the art of weaving carpets, an art that was quite popular (even today) in his Kingdom. When the Royal Convoy arrived again at the farmer girl's house, they had a carpet worthy enough of princely credit as proof to what the man had done (so far) in the name of love.

A gesture that romantic was too difficult to refuse even for the most pragmatic girl in Cumbok. Hence, that part of the fairy tale earned its happily for that month: The crown prince got a job, and his girl agreed to marry and move in with him, albeit it is to his parents' house.

A few months after their marriage, the prince took a stroll alone in the city. When tired, he entered a decent and clean cafe to rest. Unbeknownst to him, the cafe was actually a burglar's watering hole.

The burglars, in return, seeing that an impeccably dressed tourist - for no sane local would - had entered their nest, decided to kidnap him. All the while not knowing that their victim was a prince.

The burglars, though, were soon disappointed to discover that their catch had no money on him and the best thing they might do with him was cut him up and sell his organs.

Not exactly thrilled by his captors' proposed business plan, the prince offered them a bargain.

"I'm a carpet weaver by training. In fact, I'm so good at it that I once won a girl's heart by weaving for her. Rather than making a one-time profit out of this delicate circumstance of kidnapping me, why not invest in getting me tools of my trade and win yourselves an even more sustainable resource for as long as I keep both of my kidneys?"

Long story short, the prince weaved a bunch of carpets, each was more beautiful than the other, filled with intricate details that pleased all who saw and touched it.

The burglars, having made a small fortune from few of the carpets they had sold in the public market, thought that they could make even more gold by selling it to the King of Cumbok.

When the carpets were spread at court, the prince's wife - a.k.a. the poor farmer's daughter who once refused a royal proposal lest the man had a job - recognized the carpet as her absent husband's work of hand.

Conveniently, she saw the secret messages weaved into the carpet's decorative details, disclosing information on the prince's whereabouts and location.

What happened afterwards, I will not insult my readers' intelligence by spelling it out. Though, I will freely assume that my readers can guess why, in the evening after his rescue, the Royal Crown Prince of Cumbok was seen kissing his wife's feet for the life she had saved him.


Footnotes:

  • Cumbok is in Pidie Regency, in Aceh Province, and it is still a carpet weaver's town.
  • The above legend was ripped from "Rangmanyang Menjadi Batu": A collection of Acehnese Folk Tales.
  • This post was a submission for another one(!) of my side projects: "Writing for 30 Days Movement on Social Media". This week's theme was Fairytales. Yesterday's story, in Indonesian, was posted on the other blog.
UPDATE: Done! Download and listen to Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-madinah and Meccah!

Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and MeccahPersonal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah by Richard Francis Burton

I'm currently recording and editing parts of the book's audio version. Coming from a third generation mutawwif family, this book touches the deepest vein in my Saudi heritage.

Yea, I really did put all three words in a single sentence, didn't I? Let's do it again and watch the fireworks go off.
My.
Saudi.
Heritage.

Did you feel that? Wow.

The reason why I'm blogging about this (other than apologizing for recent excessive blogging hiatus) is because we're short on Proof Listeners. I want am trying to finish all recordings - Insha Llah - before Christmas, and would love if you could lend an ear and inflate a girl's ego by helping send this project into the IMMORTAL embrace of the public domain --  while tinkering with the dishes/laundry/the long drive home.

Think about it. How little you have to suffer (for my English is as broken as my Arabic), in return for that many of ETERNALLY AWESOME KARMA.

Namaste.

PS. Add me on
 Alia Makki's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

I don’t endorse Benetton or have converted to mainstream consumerism. Unfortunately, this blog is a sucker for anything that seeks comfort zones between conflicting ideas, even if it is clad in a boring clothing line.

The 1:08 minute film challenged even some of my conservatisms. The ideas are presented loudly and almost rude, but I could live with that. After all, it is an advertisement.

It does not mean, however, that these ideas are untrue. These image have taken place in our most intimate circles, possibly affecting our daily decisions. And it is nice to see controversy presented in that desperate tone between fear of repercussion and longing to reach out.

PS. There is no such thing as “unhate”. You either love and hate (angry form of love) or suffer the opposite of both: indifference.

The rebel can never find peace. He knows what is good and, despite himself, does evil. The value which supports him is never given to him once and for all -- he must fight to uphold it, unceasingly. - Camus 

Last year, at the end of the meditation retreat, my teachers summoned me to their private chamber.

I swallowed hard.

Even when voluntarily submitting under tutelage, I still struggled with authority. It's just a prophetic streak, you know. You grow up being called a rebel, you kind of get used to and believe it, follow it. I rebelled even in silence and between 11 hours a day of sitting still.

To be summoned by authority, shit, that only happened when rebellion loses its cool.

"The way you talked during one-to-one meetings got us concerned," my teachers said. "We weren't sure if you were straight enough in the head to follow through the course."

*CLUNK* went my life preserving rebellion. I swore I'll never rebel against the muses and teachers and diet regiments ever again if only I could get out of this one with shreds of my dignity intact.

"So we googled you,"  they grinned collectively in that eerie way that comfortably enlightened ones do. "And found out that you weren't really crazy. Actually, you're quite (compliment, compliment, and more blotted out compliments) but your grammar needs improving."

Wait, what?

Ya, okay. I stand by my last post. I don't give a grub and internet personas may go to hell. But when real life grabbed me choking for words, google helped make rebellion look sexy again.

Sometimes.

“May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door.” - Irish Blessings

I'm all over this place.

I'm in blogs, twitter accounts, chat, audiobooks, translations. It's like I don't want to be seen completely in a single light, on a single page. Like I don't want to be known, but still need to say things here and there. Like I'm afraid that anyone might see me completely, as whole, and then realize I'm not that awesome and then I have to do an acrobatic yoga pose or flash a boob.

Fuck this existential dip.

Come on, what does it all matter? Who cares? And why would I want to be remembered in the first place?

Don't all things pass?

Those parts that have been scattered had to be vomited out because I didn't, and I still don't want to be stuck. I loathe being stuck in love, lust, labor, hate, anger, word counts. Dammit. I still think my internet selves and work are shit, because they don't make out the real me. These internet selves are not who I am, or what matters.

I write myself out. I expulse myself in words and bytes and bullshit, so that by the time we meet, by the time the things that matter do happen, we can quietly simmer in the afterglow of things well done and fucking well said.

See if it still matters then. See what will remain between us in that smooth, uninterrupted wholesomeness then.

I'd give it 3.5 stars out 5, just for the musical diary. The rest, well, what'd you expect from a brain that's been loaded with drugs for too long?

I keep revisiting this quote from Steven Tyler's musical biography to summarize why I think people - in the end - should go through paying hefty wedding expenses or complicated OFFLINE dating rituals and get laid more often anyway. Whatever suits their social orientation.

You know there's always a rock n roll icon somewhere who has written the perfect paragraph in describing one of the finer moments of life.

For Sweet Jesus' sake. Of course.

I will tell you that some of the finer moments in my life were making love to a woman and coming together. There's an ancient magic ritual to this: if right before both of you come, you make a pact or say a prayer and focus on that thought, "Sweet Jesus, I want you to send this light"  to cure an illness, to achieve some deep purpose in your life, it will happen, because there is no power on earth stronger than that. There's electromagnetic theory behind it. If I hooked up that energy the instant you come to an electrode it would go mmmmmmmmmmbbrrrrgggnnnnnn. The little red needle would thrash like a rattlesnake's tail.

For what it's worth, I can believe in any Jesus every time that needle swung somewhere.  For the mere possibility of coming together.

Discipline is remembering what you want. ~ David Campbell

When it comes to sexuality, whatever is our orientation, we are faced with the same complications:

One, mating hormones evolved for the survival of the species (that includes in securing the needs for acceptance, intimacy, love, etc.), and not just to complicate our lives with the expenses of a wedding.

Two, whatever is your orientation, labels do not improve or worsen your chances at getting laid. They're just labels. What we do beyond these labels is what matters.

Big Picture

Let's say that sex is the best item on life's menu. Let's also assume that people who eat this food, are happier than those who don't.

So what about the people who don't have it? The celibate, single, married for more than 30 months, impotent, fasting, etc. Are they all doomed with starvation of the soul, lack of intimacies and intellectual growth?

And how about heterosexual rapists, abusive partners, the pedophile and the rest of the kinks. I'm not judging, I'm just highlighting that they're straight too, but would you think that they are practicing heterosexuality in a healthy manner?

What I'm trying to say here is that, at some point, sex life and orientation wouldn't matter so much if you've got other ways to be happy. If you're practicing to hit the best of luck, and if you want to worthy of other people's time, money, love and friendship FOR MORE THAN WHAT YOU CAN DO IN BED.

Think big with me. A backstabbing, curmudgeonly, selfish and uneducated man would not make a better company even if he is straight. And that gay man, who served his God in wonderful and true art, will always be the celebrated Da Vinci.

Big Why Bother

Sticking to the rules is a daily practice.

There's always the easy way out. But you didn't read this far because you want to do the easy thing. You kept reading because you want to do the right thing, and it's hard. And we get it; because we have failed too and failure is a gift upon humanity, for how else do we learn?

And sometimes we forget why we bothered taking the hard unnatural way; to stay miserably abstinent, or monogamous, or be creative in releasing this goddamn gift of pent up energy in making money, serving ourselves, the country we love, or pleasing some unseen god.

Because it's a daily choice: Be the mere labels you carry, or be more.

FIRE

I meant every word I fired at him.

Every possible bullet in my verbal arsenal skirred in calculated intervals. "You're a whining, annoying, unproductive failure. Nobody can stand you because your words sink them with embarrassment."

It was so easy to crush him. I took pleasure in it.  And the consequence was just as harsh.

I could have blamed exhaustion, KITAS renewal process, long travels. The underline was - feel free to call me superstitious - that I couldn't write for weeks after that exchange with David

Everything I said fired immediately back at me. My words, the only crutch to my pride and excuse for existence, sunk me with embarrassment the moment I misused them.

Words and words, in this language and that, verbal and physical, nevertheless only words and more words, deserted me.

Had they been said in anger, if passion may ever be an excuse, they would have been staggered and clumsy. Grammatically incorrect. But I still have the logs, and the words I used were so impeccable in form and delivery, that I could almost see the parts where I gasped for breath to italicize my cruelty.

FORCE

If my words, after they had been said in variations, fall onto deaf ears and stiff extremities, I’d be the one to blame. It always felt like it's my fault, when I have had the opportunity to say the words, and none triggered a reaction.

I meant, "triggered the reaction I wanted". After all, I am a woman of words; if it’s not words that define me, then what good is there left of me?

Just words. My words. It's never about readers or listeners. Who cares about how they felt or thought? Whatever I say, no matter how I say it, I'm just trying to stay afloat with one more sentence. One more idea. One more quote to keep you interested. Lest I lose your attention and drown in my expanse of failures.

And the more I struggled to say the next eternally quotable phrase, the deeper the stink of fear soaked my letters.

FAILURE

Last night was climatic.

After three years of formal higher education in the most politicized region of the middle east, five years of blogging, all the eloquence and counting and, still, nothing prepared me for the humiliation that this writing assignment was going to deliver.

A former colleague asked me to be her referee. I have known her for years, professionally at first, then intimately. Yet there was nothing I could say about her that did not sound like a salesgirl high on immodesty and desperate to pay the rent by the end of the month.

Returning the blank referee form, I apologized for being worse than a failure. I apologized for being stupid.

FLOW

I was nobody.

On the pavement of that busy street, under the naked afternoon sun, near the rush of destinations, I walked in the annual solitude of not having an identity. I was nobody, neither Indonesian or Saudi: my passport and residential permit at the immigration for renewal.

But, the afternoon! It was so sweet and unpretentious and golden that I relished being able to walk the street by myself, ignored and desperate to be happy when any day I could lose it all.

I am nobody. If I died there, nobody was going to know where to place me, even in a sentence.

"Who was the deceased? We don't know. Not really old, not really young. Though certainly alone and unknown."

What a perfect eulogy, I thought.

And that’s when he texted me.

"I have failed at things, but I'm not a failure. I have a life and it's rough, but you know what it's like. Your words hurt me, but I understand why you're hurt. And it’s okay, it’s going to be okay."

That's when my words flowed again. When his words forgave mine.

Since 2008, these two questions have had the highest rate in making me stutter:
  1. What do you do for a living?
  2. Who's the Timekeeper?
I'm not going to indulge on the first one. There is so much that a professionally unemployed could say before starting to dodge rotten tomatoes.
Fortunately, the second question about the Timekeeper, I can still try to explain, if not verbally, then in a blog post.
Or eleven. Hundred. Ish.
Clergyman
In the simplest terms: The Timekeeper keeps the time.
There is a clock in every room in his house and there are two in his pockets: one tells normal hours, and the other tells equatorial hours (the sun dial). He keeps a close watch of the time because it is one of his duties as clergy to issue the prayer times in this village.
My brothers and I have known him since we were babies. The Timekeeper never married, hence he adopted us and filled in where our parents could not; the elder whose practical advice and detached love we trusted and obeyed and occasionally feared when we are naughty.
In a way, my family's relationship with the Timekeeper reflects at an atomic scale how the rest of the village interacts with him.
Fractions
I do not think it is possible to write about anyone or anything without slightly eschewing reality. We can, however, break down our experiences into fractions of simpler actions and words. Just so that our memories remain accurate, though in smaller doses. And just so that we don't start sounding like Timekeeper evangelists.
I can only hope that whatever Anggi showed in his video and whatever I said about him will reflect enough glimpses of our clergy and father, so that you may connect what you've gathered and make up your own version of a Timekeeper.
(Hover on the links to see the gist of the posts.)

When I knew that Sudhakar, barely 20 years old, was coming from Delhi, I shed all shame and groveled for food.

No woman stuck InNoDairyNesia could pass on a chance to import Indian food, man. You know what India has that Indonesia doesn't? Dairy products. And dairy-based sweetmeat. And Soan Papdi.

The Timekeeper always said that there are two hungers: Hunger in your stomach, and hunger below your stomach. And if you can't feed below the stomach, just eat twice.

Hence, everything there is to know about a place and the people who live there can be observed from the way food is prepared, presented and consumed. Life long relationships are forged or ended witnessed by food: Weddings, Super Bowl, Lebaran, funerals. Some of the most expensive shows on TV are based on food.

So you can imagine how easy it was for me to shower Sudhakar with respect and adoration based on a whole half a kilo of soan papdi, slowly installed in credits to my width.

~

People who work together tend to cluster around the same food and accommodations. And that's where things really happened between volunteers: When they ate together.

During one of these highly-recommended communal dinners, a pretty volunteer walks in and greets Sudhakar:

"Sweet Kutta, how are you?"

To my horror, Sudhakar smiled and returned her salutation in his obscenely sweeter manner.

Now, anywhere in this post, you can switch the "food" with "sex"; because they share the same forms of cultural expression. In places where food is abundant, sex too is abundant. In places where food is treated with meticulous preparation and ritualistic consumption, you can pretty much imagine how the people there behave in private.

But to respond nicely after being called a "sweet kutta" sent the big sister in me kicking. So what if she was pretty and he's vegetarian? Harassment is never okay ANYWHERE.

I held my mouth until the pretty one left, before commencing on bullying my adopted little brother and sole papdi stocker. "Did I just see you being polite to someone who called you kutta?"

There was a moment cross-cultural absorption on Sudhakar's face before he said, "Do you know what kutta means?"

"Of course I do!" I fumed. "Do you want me to hit that sweet kutti for you?"

A few more blinks. Then, "She said, Gupta. Sudhakar GUPTA! That's my name." And he laughed softly in that oh-so-polite voice. "No more papdis for you, Bhabi, I think your blood sugar level is messing up your hearing."

Laughing, I obeyed. I wasn't hungry anymore. The intimacy of a private joke in a crowded place marked the evening, marked him, with gentle companionship, whether or not there was food shared between us.

Day 1

A writer's liaison is a pompous, lollygagging fool.

That's what I thought I did on the first day of UWRF. I haunted sessions that I couldn't concentrate on because there were half-a-dozen other writers to hunt down. And I needed to find my writers to show that, indeed, there is a living, human face attached to that Liaison card, slipped in their goodie bags prior to their arrival.

And that my face was going to be offered to the smartest people, who have been around the world and know how to holler for a ride either in NYC or Gang Pojok. People who have achieved immortality by making real dollars and yens out of their published not-as-ebooks-or-godforbid-blogs books.

Every time the moment of truth arrived, I said, "Hello, Ms. Genius-Who've-Sailed-the-Publishing-Seas, my name is Alia Makki. I'm your liaison officer. If there's anything you need..."

Of course, by the time I reach "Liaison" in my recitation, I would have seen imagined it running it in their minds what a pitiful hobbit was standing in front of them, and whether it was amusement or alarm that's stopping them from squishing me with their godly writerliness.

Maybe I ought to have played it cool. "Hey, man, I'm Alia Makki and here are my boobs, please sign on them. First name on the left boob, please. Yes, thank you. Oh and by the way, even though I've never read any of your books, I'M A HUGE FAN!!"

Day 2

By the second day, I had already met most of them. Yihaw! That meant I was free to attend sessions. If nobody from the volunteers base camp called for back up. If all of the writers showed up on time for their sessions. If no other liaison officer called to set her writer a meeting with one of my writers, and I didn't need to call the search team to find my writers and pass them that holy grail of message about a meeting that is supposed to ... whoops. Forget it. I just missed the meeting without finding my writers.

My landlady banged on my door during the night. She thought I was getting murdered. No, madam, I said, it was just a nightmare about a couple of writers I couldn't find, and an avalanche of failure burying me under a crumbling tower of inefficiency.

Day 3

Now. I get it. Track them down while they're still in their pajamas. Call their rooms. Paralytic shyness can shove it up the telephone's hungover microphone. My voice must be used in two-way conversations instead of the monologous audiobook recording.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it? And look, there's a lovely room below the main event lounge where we can step out of a window and jump a gorgeous Ubud ravine. I didn't just say "shut up the fuck up" to that girl, did I? DID I? Oh sweet muses...

Day 4

I know this game. I know where my writers are. I know they will obey me. Bring it, y'all. Oh not you, Ms. Soft-and-sweet lady writer, I meant Mr. Mal...MISTER MALEENA, WHY ARE YOU ILL, SIR?! HAVE YOU CALLED THE DOCTOR? THE WITCH DOCTOR? EVERY VOODOO MASTER IN UBUD?! I'LL CALL THE AUSTRALIAN, AMERICAN, ZIMBABWEAN OR WHATEVER EMBASSY OF GODKNOWSWHAT COUNTRY YOU CAME FROM TO SEND YOUR PREFERRED DRUG IN AN EMAIL ATTACHEMENT AND GET YOUR HEAD RIGHTED ENOUGH BEFORE YOUR SESSIONS AND CLOSING PARTY TONIGHT, Sir.

Hell, no, I ain't gonna be your date for a writer's party, are you crazy? I've got Mr. So-and-so to chase down and help him find a cheap enough souvenir worth the 16 hours trip he's made all the way here.

Day 5

There was no day 5. The festival, indeed, was just 4 days long, officially.

Unofficially, well, let's just say that I'm still recovering from Night 2, Night 3, and definitely (just don't tell my mom), Night 4.

No, don't give me that look. Even if none of us wrote more than half-minded tweets for days, I bet my hobbit's liaison's ass that all the writers and volunteers who were in Ubud for UWRF are still in the same place right now. That place where their ears are still ringing with music, life and Ubudsickness.

Bet next year's festival on it.

Ubud, around 7AM

He remembers his name,

Not his age, claim or gods.

Poetry and family may be lost,

but his ancestral name

haunting and concrete,

flows in his breath,

with force and fright

against denial and doubt

.

He remembers his name to frame

How it felt to be a man, a father, a son, 

How it felt to love and want and lose,

How he will recite his name again and again,

Until every ear bears the burden of his fame

.

He remembers his name

to map country and duty.

…to find dinner and family

to warm his bed and fancy

.

He remembers his name to forgive and embrace

What he cannot count,

What he cannot have,

What he cannot face

.

He remembers his name so that I,

his accountant and mistress,

Will know how to find him

under his final stony address

.

Remember his name,

Ruwaidan bin Ashraf bin Jawad al-Khalidi.

 

Tegalalang, Ubud We write from quintessential landscapes within us.

In Ubud, every day was an adventure. I asked fellow writers, "Have you had time to write?" -- and almost always, I plucked a withering satisfaction from every bashfully unwritten shake. "Not a word since I got here."

Ha!

Ubud traveled through the length of our thoughts and bodies. The mountainous terrains squeezed our lungs and legs, filling our wakeful minutes with decisions: Our own or hers. Trains of events, talks and showmanship forced into our most private spaces; shattering every shudder of retrospect with waves of instant responses. Unapologetic. Abrasive. Impassive.

At home again, for only a week or two, I bandage myself in reflective veils. Sweet, fragile calm; nothing pokes in, hence it begins to flow outwards. Before movement and travel takes me again, I can show you in fleeting glimpses, how bruised and toughened it's like in here, in my quintessential landscapes.

Lemmie just show you my room before I get back to my slightly odd-houred work as liaison volunteer. (You should see my boss; it's almost midnight and she's still sending us updated info from the office. Bless them.)

I have this weird relationship with Ubud that leads to me always arriving in darkness. Darkness in strange lands is always miserable at first. Not to mention the fact that this place is hidden inside a traditional family compound. With a barely representative entrance.

You should see how creepy this place is at night. The cab driver was awfully nice; he carried my stuff and introduced me to the family, then asked if it really was the place we wanted. The family nodded happily, chattering in Balinese. Then lead us deeper into the compound, until the "cottage" lobby appeared. And then I (sort of) understood why this place flew with flashing colors among budget travelers.

DSC05081 (There is always something to be positive about as well as grumbling and whining, right?)

I whined about sleeping alone in a strange bed that first night in such a strange hotel with off-color sheets and faded blankets.

DSC05110 When morning came, though,

DSC05056 it came bursting in, impatient to show off its best side. My senses overloaded with unsynthesized, unrecorded sounds from every side of my 3rd floor room. In 4D stereophonic! Starting at 4AM, with mellow rooster calls that gradually turns into chicken-orchestral havoc by 6AM from every compound.

DSC05083The traditional setting in Ubud is that every extended-family lives in a compound. Where the Wantilan (or central gazebo) is in courtyard at middle of that compound, while nuclear families and temple (where the dead elders reside) live in bungalows built around that Wantilan.

So, if I pushed zoom just one bit with my ancient handycam, I could see the insides of their temples and kitchens.

DSC05084 It's kind of bizarre being in this place. On one side, Ubud is famous for being one of the most expensive places on earth, with the most "naturally" expensive hotels. On the other, here is this room where the selection of furniture give away their owner's decision making stories. Intricate door vs.  supermarket cupboard.

Detail on door It is for these glimpses of common humanity (kitchen, sweeping the yard, the cheaper cupboard for the fancy door), that we are surprised and gladdened with the companionship in our travels, even in the strangest of lands: To experience our own life stories be told in foreign languages, by unfamiliar societies.

Samples

  • Some call it schizophrenia, others call it touched in the head, or sensitive, or gifted, or crazy. The essence is the same: seeing what the eyes do not percieve.
  • Some call it God, or fairies, or Cosmos, or energy, or nature or Love. The essence is the same: the energy that started everything and keeps an eye on the balance of things until It decides to end it all.
  • Some call it black magick, bad chi, voodoo, virus, or cancer. The essence is the same: That causes may vary, but essentially the human body ails and expires.

Ingredient

Truth is truth. It may have different facets and multiple dimensions, but the core and practical definition is the same.

Someone said that intelligence is the ability to welcome opposing ideas in the same mind. If the human body can contain solid, liquid, heat and gas matters all at once, why can't the human mind welcome opposing ideas? If the most balanced meal is the most diverse, why can't the balanced mind be the one that welcomes diverse ideas, and then have them sit comfortably together?

Directions

Whatever you call it, I know that if I waited long enough, whatever label we differ to give it, we'll agree on practical definition. Because truth is universal. Like the truth that we need food and water to survive. That gravity on Earth is 9.8m/sec2. And that all life eventually ends.

Facts aren't necessarily pleasant. But when we know enough, we can grow more comfortable with the variety in labels. And someday maybe admit the common truth behind all of these labels.

When you do understand it so well and beyond the labels, is the time when we can believe in heaven, nirvana, equilibrium, actualization: When humanity performs at its very best.

Take your time. You'll get it someday.

"She was perfectly unconstrained and without irritation towards him now, and he was gradually discovering the delight there was in frank kindness and companionship between a man and a woman who have no passion to hide or confess."

- George Eliot, Middlemarch

Yoga-toned forearm muscles we love.I'm turning into my idea of a dinner mate from hell: "I don't want to go bohemian. I don't want my curls to drop and frizz. I don't want to straddle a motorbike in a dress. I don't want to go scratching mosquito bites at the length of my high-heel-aching legs."

So he came in the car. Sat with me in an air-conditioned French restaurant. And saw beyond the curls and dress and band-aided heels. My Middlemarch friend.

Wishing you plentiful of sincere and lasting Middlemarch friendships.

With everything that will be going on in October, how in the world am I going to pull off another month of posting daily?

The Whine List

  1. Travel between Jatibarang and Ubud takes a good couple of days, aboard half-a-dozen means of transportation, and plentiful of swings between moving-vehicle-hopping and stiffly-confined-to-single-positions. Click to enlarge route of peregrination
  2. I'm carrying (amongst many others) a smartphone, handycam, netbook + modem, blanket, pillow, yoga mat, tea-sets, 2 pairs of shoes and 7 dresses.
    • No, I don't know how they will all come together in a couple of trunks, then be expected to leave and arrive at their points of destination safely chaperoned by yours truly, the manicured and harebrained mallrat.
    • Yes, this mallrat realizes that she is overpacked for a week-long trip, but she can't travel with just three T-shirts and a pair of Levi's anymore. No, by patrons of the Nouveau Maquillé, sirree.
  3. I'll be working as Writer Liaison. according to the book, that means working based on shifts that are not based on rosters, but Writers' needs. Which means, flexible on-call hours.

Which brings our attention to this blog's posting frequency. Or the kind of insanity that I'm musing to put myself through for another month. Whichever comes first.

Main Course

Okay, THAT trail of thought grew too long. I haven't finished packing and I'm sleepy and the first ride out of town is in eight hours from now, and I need ALL my senses functioning when I travel alone, so existential anxieties MUST WAIT.

In the meantime, we can go straight to desert:

Desert

If point 1, 2 and 3 were cooked together, added with choppy smartphone photography makes it a valid excuse to accept invitation to follow my peregrination on both of my microblogging accounts: @Angsar (Indonenglish) and @Hning (Arabenglish).

Yea, I said both; because research has proved that there never was a such a case of overdosing on the Narcissism of Hning. Hehe.

I'll see you soon, again and again.

We get feeble and sickly in character when we feel keenly, and can not do the thing we feel.--Robertson

It's always a brain trip to see festivity, integrity and public irony in orgy.

Distraction

When writing and reading are puffed up to a scale of a 5-day festival, in one of the most expensive places in Bali, the simplicity of being in the company of written word erodes under the abrasion of pricy admissions, faux-celebrity, and travel frenzy.

The good news is that, as far as my experience goes, that's the worst of it. It gets better from there. I think.

Desire

Much like Christmas and Pilgrimage and Rock concerts, when you surround yourself with people sharing the same passion, and in this case a craft both revered and solitary, you either

  • lose the sense of being the ONLY ONE in the whole wide world who is taken in reverence and near-crazy, or
  • gather the energy to postpone feeling depressed until some actual reading and writing occurs, or
  • take home whatever is offered from being in the same place with so many crazies as yourself and squeeze some creative juice out of it.

Detachment

All will be well, you see, if the people gathered around the festival of writers and readers manage to write and read whether or not they gather to celebrate the book-hysteria. The sooner they get to it is the better.

For the Hajji returning from Meccah, the groupie limping home at dawn, and even saints after neural-denting ecstasies, post-party blues entangle us all. Sometimes with even worse feelings than if the boohaha had never happened, lest we fight it off with positive action. Even a little. Even for a minute. Even if for just a cup.

Dénouement

It's just the thing to expect from a place so weird that it would pay such a vivacious homage to writing and reading, two of the most solitary human behaviors. A place that, as often as I have been there, has never failed feeding my imagination with sublime joys and lasting friendships.

Fuel for everyday awesomeness.

 If only I could stop myself from telling you about the boy I'm going to stalk while in Ubud.

For once, it's nice to know that so many written words has not killed the two very hot scientists giving the lecture. The lecture, by the way, would appeal to SciFiFans and literature fiends alike. No, I'M NOT LOOKING AT YOU, NESSIE.

Now, I haven't seen enough TED presentations to judge whether it is just the intellectual porn that made it watchable, or if TED is usually that good. And I insist upon taking a moment to understand this. Let's see:

  1. This is a lecture about books.
  2. I'm a blogger who'd go for voluntary servitude in return for smelling authors.
  3. I'd read books aloud just to taste the drawl of letters in my tongue
  4. I have called myself a wordwhore
  5. ….(sad crickets chirping in denial)…

Yeah. Enjoy the show.









PS. More about Ubud and this year's UWRF coming soon. Unless I stumble upon similarly awesome TED stuff and postpone life again for a while.

Damnation

The brilliancy in this list of writers' bio depressed me with awful sense of failure.

To illustrate that, the following conversation looped in my head under every unpronounceable writer's name:

ANNOUNCER'S VOICE: "Shall this depression evolve through the stages of grief? Will the writer of this blog finally indulge in envy, anger, rebellion and then actively seek fame and glory?"

EX-BOYFRIEND'S VOICE: Aye...and about time too. Don't say I didn't tell you so.

DYING CONCIENCE'S VOICE: "AWAY, YE EVIL EGOMANIACAL VANITIES. YOU'VE NEVER EVEN HEARD OF A JUNOT DIAZ BEFORE!"

Disenchantment

It's a job hazard. Hearing voices and getting depressed while reading about unfamiliar and alive writers, is a daily risk for everyone who dares to try anchor their thoughts in writing.

You know it, I know it. There is no such thing as a jubilantly happy writer no matter how successful. And we know how lack of jubilation fuels creativity, because there is nothing like occasional shots of bitter envy sadness to keep us writing.

No marketable writer's bio in the world would mention -- that in order to become half-as-good a writer -- they breathed in irony, risked hernia and sanity (as each has to entertain as many saints as demons for as long as they write) and hoped that by the end of the day even loyalists like Colson would not quit reading by the second paragraph.

Nobody writes well, or delves too deeply in the unknown lands of creativity, for sheer fame and glory. Enduring the brutality of writing as a practice was the lesser evil for those who mean it.

Denotation

Problem is, nobody would want to attend a gathering of depressed people who like to distract themselves by reading and writing about what made them so depressed in the first place, either.

So they airbrushed the muses, glazed the bios and called it a festival.

I love freebies. While honestly trying not to be intentionally-distracted, I found this gorgeous songstress and solo guitarist, whose music you are legally permitted to download for free. This instant. Right now.

PS. Feel free to send me your audio pleasure.

What are the top 3 primary things that you are attached to in your life? - Asked by @Rohily, on Formspring

1. That God and Devil are in the details; there's good and bad in everything.
"لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ" (Q.)

2. That none of this will last. If it is good, it will pass. And if it's bad, it will pass too.
"وَعَسَى أَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ وَعَسَى أَنْ تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَكُمْ" (Q.)

3. Everyone is doing his/her best. Everyone wants to be good. Nobody wants to be called a loser or a meanie. It's just the methods that vary. Not the goals or intentions.
"لا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا " (Q.)
"إنما الأعمال بالنيات ، وإنما لكل امرى ما نوى" (HS)

Which is in FIVE minutes. Damn Indonesian time zone.

Where did the last 23 hours and 55 minutes go? How did I become such a horrendous procrastinator? It's not like I have a job or a life or a nagging boyfriend and children with colic. It's not like the Timekeeper suddenly decided to marry me off to the first bidder (alive) and I've to plan my escape from the continent.

No! None of that!

And actually, I've planned to run my life in fulfilling this very purpose! I've braved 30 years of doubts and sneers and eloping just to HAVE THIS ONE MORE POST PUBLISHED! What if this was to be my very last chance? What if I die tomorrow? No, what if the electricity cut and I get stuck in internetless darkness this  VERY MINUTE?!!

(God how I love the convenience of All-CAPS when writing at a rush. Don't you?)

It isn't like I'm out of embarrassing, funny or uplifting stories to tell, is it?! Oh mother of all inspirations! BUT I HAVEN'T EVEN STARTED ABOUT THE…

 

(pip)

Post has been sent.

“Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it.”

― George MacDonald

A man was obliged to pay a certain sum of denarius in Zakat, in the early days of Al-Islam. It was only about 2.5% of his wealth, but it still seemed like a huge amount when 2.5% is multiplied by 100, 1000, 10'000 dinars.

He asked the Prophet's Companion Fulan, wondering if he might be allowed discounts. The Companion told him that his due was actually more than the calculated amount. Then he asked another Companion. And another. The last one threw his hands in the air, "THERE IS NO ANSWER GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU!  Go seek the Caliph's advice."

He found the Caliph Umar bin Al-Khattab at his usual hour to receive audience. The Caliph listened quietly as the man recited the history of his Zakat problems, the discontent that in all the learned men he met, none had given him a satisfactory answer to what duty he was due, and that as subject of his judicial territory, Caliph's word would be the last.

The Caliph emphatically rephrased the man's words, "Ye have went to this, this and that Companion asking them the same question concerning Zakat and none of the answers have satisfied ye?"

"Yes, and it is only in desperation that I seek justice from al-Farouk (The sword drawn between right and wrong)."

The Caliph's face brightened, then started towards the private part of his house, saying "Ruwaydan. Ruwaydan."

Wait a minute. Wait a little.

The man beamed with hopefulness. Al-Farouk has a solution. And from the looks of things, the man was going to get the silver bullet to all of his Zakat issues.

The Caliph resurfaced from inside the house with his famous sword, unsheathed and drawn, in his hand. He said, "Ye have questioned God's rights in yer wealth. Ye have questioned the counsel of learned men. Ye shall not question either evermore, once the sword speaketh its word."

And the sword swung. And the head rolled off. And the Farouk delivered its unquestioning duty as servant of God and man.

If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it. ~ Anthony J. D'Angelo There is honor in wives who carry their domestic burdens in silence. There is honor in men who bring the food home. There is honor in the nurse who nurses, the sweeper who sweeps, the teacher who teaches and so on and so forth.

In fact, whether or not it is followed by acknowledgement, it seems to me that honor is available for anyone who performs their duties efficiently, quietly and gratefully for the chance to serve.

The more duty performed is the more heroic an honor, no?

Hence, wouldn't it be dishonorable if one complains about their duties? Would it not be even more dishonorable to complain about the negligent government, the delayed flight, the inattentive boyfriend and other things that one has no business of and cannot make better or change?

Besides, what difference would complaining have made?

"The past is never dead, it is not even past." ~ Faulkner

Every year, about a month after the chaos of Lebaran has passed, the Timekeeper commemorates the passing of loved ones in a ceremony called "Haul" - cryptic Arabic for Annuum.

For the occasion, he clears his stock of cookies, piled throughout the year and sorts them in small goodie-bags, later to be given out to those who attend the ceremony.

Tonight, as we sat sorting through a bottomless pile of Danish cookies, he told us of a year when he was short on supplies, and he went to his father's resting place to consult.

"I'm out of cookies, sir," said the Timekeeper.
His father raised an eyebrow, waved a dismissive arm, and said the typical thing: "Are you making excuses, son?"
"That year," the Timekeeper said, "was the year when everyone received a goodie-bag."

I sniggered under my breath at the end of the story. How convenient would it be if the dead could be consulted, seen and be sending cookies?

Also, how comforting it must be if true and that death is merely a rite.

"Your body needs to be held and to hold, to be touched and to touch. None of these needs is to be despised, denied, or repressed. But you have to keep searching for your body's deeper need, the need for genuine love. Every time you are able to go beyond the body's superficial desires for love, you are bringing your body home and moving toward integration and unity." ~ Henri Nouwen

She unwounded from screaming bloody murder to whimpering snivels. Straddling her back, my elbow pressed her deltoid and my knee heavy on her gluteal aponeurosis. I was almost done and she almost forgave every one of my faults if only I would got off her back.

"Why do you always massage with vengeance?" Mother rolled to her side, throwing me off balance into the bed. "Why does it have to hurt so much EVERYWHERE you touch?"

I said, "That's just you being more aware of its presence, Ma. Even if I don't massage, it's there. You just got used to ignoring it. All I did was poke it alive."

"By shooting more pain?"

"Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice. All I'm doing is just help your body be more aware of that. The good news is that, once we are aware of your pain, we can have it flushed."

"Flush? That's a nice word to call 'irrepressible, loud and ungraceful retching'. Isn't there a prettier way?"

"Sorry, ma, sickness is sickness; it's always unpleasant. Besides, I would be sick instead if I did not release your negative Lom. Lom, by the way, is the Thai word for human energy, chi, electricity, calories etc."

"How would you know about Lom?"

"Oh well, the Universe had her odd ways of giving clues when I was prepared to follow. Enough questions, Mama. Time to sleep. Don't you feel better?"

She looked within her and sniveled again. Deeper. The floods of fresh Lom washed her with something cool and calm and - inevitably, as all memories come - sad. "I wish you had known of your gift when my mama was ill."

"No, Mama; that's the devil's talk. Gramma had the best treatment available for her. Whether doctors, tabibs, xifus or hodun witches, we are mere messengers. Illness is from God; only God heals, and death is but the ultimate absence of all illness."

I felt her creases smoothen. There were no more intrusive thoughts or feelings jagged between us. With enough explanation, faith can sometimes be allowed to take over, and stand guard as we sleep.


* It should go without saying that massage is a technique and I'm not just recklessly inflicting pain. Apply what you read with discretion.

"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." ~ William Shakespeare

Once upon a time, in ancient Japan, there was a pair of daughter and mother in-laws who shared the same kitchen and used to fight about everything every day.

The fights got so bruising that the daughter in law wished for the older woman's death. She did not want to bear the wrath of her husband and be accused of murder though, so she went to the Wise Witch of the Mountain for solution.

The Wise Witch paid close attention to her story, sympathized with the daughter in-law and gave her a pot of poisonous lotion to lather on her mother in law daily for a whole month.

"How can I lather it on her? She would bite my hands off."

"Feign that you are giving her a massage," said the Witch. "Do it daily. The poison will take effect inconspicuously. Nobody will notice your intent, but she will be dead within the month."

Happily, the daughter in-law did as she was bid. Every evening that followed, the two embittered women set their hackles aside; allowing the younger to give and the older to receive massage.

Within the week, the older woman's nagging vehemence subsided, and the daughter in-law celebrated her approaching reign upon the kitchen.

By the second week, their relationship became so amicable that the changes began to affect the daughter's mind too.

On the third week, the daughter returned to the Wise Witch and cried miserably at her feet. "Please, give me the antidote to your poison," she said. "Ever since I started massaging her old body, I have become fond and cannot bear the thought of losing my dear mother in-law."

The Wise Witch of the Mountain shook her head sadly. "There is no remedy for kindness, child. The that thing which you apply on her is an ordinary lotion. It was the exchange of physical contact, which you gave and she graciously accepted in a massage, that healed between you what words could not."

During an Ebola epidemic, there was a nurse who took care of the sick and dying. Ebola kills 9 out of every 10 people infected. Infection is almost too easy, with a very messy onset: one dies with innards juiced and leaking out of every orifice in pus and blood.

The nurse could have left while she was still healthy. Yet, having had Ebola up to her knees and elbows, she thought how unlikely that she might not already be infected, and merely was in the incubation period of the disease. Hence she decided to spend what is left of her time on Earth in service. She held the dying, cleaned and buried their remains, did her job. She served until the last villager died and was buried.

Then she prepared for her own death. She set clean covers for her bed, put on her cleanest outfit and laid down in waiting.

It just didn't come. She laid there for days, and Ebola just ignored her.

I'm sure that the nurse had her precautions against the disease. But what are the chances that she could be the only one to survive when the entire village caught the disease?

I hold on to this story when I have to touch anyone skin to skin and take in as much of their pain until it hurts me. I hold on to this story when I concentrate all my intentions in wishing a loved one better in everything.

That disease chooses it targets. And when the time comes, no back up plan or immunisation shot can keep it at bay. Whereas when it is not time yet, no matter how deep you delve in Ebola county, no matter how bloody you retch after a massage, ain't nothing will kill ya.

Because, as the old war veterans used to say, every bullet is made with its target's name on it, as every germ has its designated host. And, as much precautions as we can take, it is only against our own feelings and thoughts that we have the better chance to win at a fight.

We had been waiting for more than an hour in the shala when the secretary told us that the teacher was not coming.

Disappointed, we tried making up for a wasted yogaless evening by exchanging other yoga teachers' addresses. When that was done, I suggested extending the conversation over coffee.

Only one of the students, a pretty 30-something Canadian, took bait. We crossed the street, entered a crowded coffee shop and sipped on cappuccinos, conversing about our practices and credentials.

She told me about was Thai masseuse and a Yoga teacher from out of town, came all the way here to train. And I asked her the one question that I shy asking about teaching.

"Does teaching take you away from your own practice?"

She said,

"Teachers don't teach. Their role is to make themselves an exemplar of practice. That's what makes teachers worthy of their their students' time: to train hard and become powerful in their practice, so that when the student comes they can answer, 'Yes, it is difficult, but it will get easier. Yes, it seems pointless, but it does not matter because practice is faith.' So that when it is your turn to teach, you must offer it not torn with lonesome aches, but hot…"

- she sucked a passionate breath,

"- HOT, I tell you, with belief in what you do and say. That is why they pay teachers. That is why we seek teachers too. Anything else can be taught on YouTube, in books and DVDs. But the embodiment of belief and practice can only be shared in the glimpses of those hourly classes or rarer day-long workshops, and if you cannot convey that strength and confidence and faith from the first 5 minutes, then there is nothing else that you can teach to anyone."

I stared at her throughout the monologue. There were hints of enviable crazy in every word. No matter. I asked, and this was the answer I wanted.

There is a tradition by the Prophet that the Angels bless every step taken by the student to and fro the sake of learning. Perhaps, that was how the Angels found the yoga students from out of town, and the Angels wanted to assure them with blessings upon the path which these two have been introduced, whether or not there were ordained teachers and classrooms certify their learning.

 
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