“Sharing tales of those we've lost is how we keep from really losing them.” ― Mitch Albom, For One More Day

I haven't done a collection post in a while. These were my favorite posts in the last 3 years. Some were picked because they had the most visits/clicks. Others were just me being totally subjective.

I’m fascinated how my voice changed through the years. In May 2010, I went on a meditation retreat for the first time and that brought my writing engines completely down. I couldn’t write for a very long time.

In August 2011, I said, “Well, why not?” – Then wrote every day for 62 days just to see if I still got it. Or if I could just fake it a little. Turned out that I didn't really lose my voice. It just broke. And whatever broke when I learned to shut up, took more than 2 years to mend. I don't know if it should be mended completely. I mean, my brokenness is my battle scar. I don't mind bearing any scar that'll remind me to forgive and yield what is and always will be part of me.

Yet, in August 2012, I felt that if I didn’t write, I didn’t have any other excuse to exist. That writing was the only bargaining chip I had left to ward off - or at least, stall my progressing brokenness. Writing was a guarding routine. A creation. A witness.

I’ve been writing in that voice since. Haven't you heard?

Hover on the links to activate jinx see the gist of the posts.

2010
2011
2012 
Others: From 2009 posts. From 2007-2008 posts.

And I think we're done here.


A guitar used to be an instrument played by a single musician.

Not like this.

Or...Oh my. (They must have been a joy to babysit as kids.)

Or…Oh. Forget I said guitar.

As I was saying. There is no such thing as a too many renditions of a good song.

And that, the more you love/hate, the less excuse you have to give less than your bestest best. Even if it’s offered to the public for free. There’s no such thing as cheap freedom, see?

"Virtually all acts of greatness are the acts of an ensemble" ~ @keithyamashita

"I know you are not Muslims, but that is shameful!"

It was an hour before dusk, on the first day of Ramadhan. Superstitious Muslims believe that dusk is the witching hour; when the buffer between the worlds thin. Magical beings are then allowed to pass through. Even in Jeddah. Especially near the crossroad.

We were shopping for iftar. Inheriting gait from our mother, we scuttled rather than walked. We moved faster than the traffic along our side, where vistas of congested cars, food fumes and hypoglycemia mangled on each other. We controlled our breaths by not talking and held hands for cues instead.

The man yelled from his car in English. He yelled with the kind of certainty that is typical in an empty stomach. It was enough for him to deem us foreigners and kafirs for my uncovered hair and our interlaced hands.

My brother did not miss a beat. He tapped my arm to excuse himself before releasing. Then he dove into the middle of the road, squeezing between crawling cars and straight to the caller's window. In full-fledged Makkawi Arabic, he said, "Did you just commit murder?"

The man's face crumbled but my brother did not spare him. The canons that protected his cinematography in a country where cinema is outlawed, fired from his mouth in rapid vehemence. And, just like in the movies, he left dramatically before the onset of apologies.

He groused about it until sahoor, but his hand, whenever he clasped mine, was always warm.

“It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story” ~ Native American Proverb

I haven't lived in Saudi for nearly 12 years. I’m embarrassed to be the one writing these posts. Who am I to speak about a country I have not lived in for so long?

I have traveled back a few times. Sometimes even tried to make it permanent. The longest, though, was barely two years. Things just happened and I had to go. I would like to believe that I don't have problems with Saudi. A chunk of my sanity depends on a lot of people there, and if it weren't for them, I wouldn't have kept the citizenship, wouldn't have felt so guilty for leaving, wouldn't have...

Well. Anyway.

Memories change over time and – in spite of my obsessive journaling – so have mine. I'm writing these memories not to preserve them, but because I can't avoid them anymore. These are the themes that mar the space between the words, and the themes that fuel the conversations in my world.

I do apologize for my subjectivity. Prolonged absence has stored my memories in slots of tenderness. Not only that we remember better when we’re happy but people also treat you kindlier when they know that you won’t be around for long. They can sense that whatever they say will never fail to impress you; for your eyes are sore with their absence.

If it’s any consolation, I’m writing based on first-hand experiences. Saudi is the quintessential landscape within me. My Holy Grail. It seems a waste not to write from a place so deeply woven into my voice, from the harshest curse to the softest purr.

Economics aside, every time I visited Saudi, my sensors drowned in kaleidoscopic implosions. I could mine from every one of those implosions thousands of written words, dozens of stories. (If only I weren’t so embarrassed.) Like in every society, Saudi is never as straightforward as Halal/Haram, or any less complex and enriching as a bowl of ma’soob.

People and events don’t function like mathematical equations. The variables are countless with each person, every given situation. What works for me, may not apply for my cousins. What works for Jeddawis, might fit the standards of blasphemy in Bon Temps.

Maybe each of us is laden with a unique voice. Or maybe we just haven’t heard enough stories to find the one that relates to us. I only impose that the point to stories is not to judge one another’s experiences.

You have your stories. See if you could find yourself in some of mine.

“‘The doer is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.” ~ Nietzsche

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a reliable, luxurious and screaming-legitimacy kind of car.

But if you overfill it with non-Arab-looking folks, take it for a carpool at night around Jeddah’s ghettos, you might understand why Batman prefers to patrol from the rooftops of Gotham than on the Batmobile.

To be fair, we were asking for it. And not just because it was such a flashy car. The way our friends got out, a mile apart from one another. The way my hair was not covered. The way Jay drove at such an hour. We were only relieved that our friends were spared from questioning before the cops finally flashed their high-beams behind us.

I heard Jay say, "My wife," in his cheekiest tone. The car's magnificence seemed to have injected his answers with confidence, regardless to truthiness. “No, of course we don’t have our legal papers. The mu'amalah (permit) takes forever for Saudis to marry outside the citizenship. Would you like to speak with her?”

My social life is actually one of the things that I miss most about living in Jeddah. I’m sure distance has had some effect on rose-tinting my opinion. Though whenever I was there, I hung out with male friends as regularly as with the female, as regularly as I cared to do so in Jakarta. Regardless to citizenship or driving distance.

Saudi is not singular in its treatment to citizens based on race, sex or tribe. On the daily level, life is always much less dramatic, and so much blurrier than any journalistic segment. Authorities do not arrest and question people at random. There has to be glaring causes of suspicion for that.

And even with glaring causes of suspicion, with the help of fancy attitude and a comfortable tone of voice, one might still get away unscathed.

I smiled when I gave my ID to the cop standing by the driver's window. "We lost track of time," I said. “Dropped-off our friends – wanted to spare them the cab fare. With this car, could you blame us? Are you sure you've got everything you need? Would you like to see my father's business card as well? Some gum?”

And they let us go.

“Don't Panic.” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

“What isn't romantic about us?”

I twiddled my big toes on his dashboard as reply. Our 4-months relationship was made of stock clichés. My parents did not allow us to marry. I was Saudi, Tamo wasn’t. We snuck out. We had the pluck to go out for a drive, then park on the Jeddah Corniche at 11:32 pm. The weather was gorgeous and smelled of armpits. I was 23, pissed and he was broke.

These things, to deranged poets like him, were romantic.

Of course, romantics are also the most reckless. Puberty in Saudi is celebrated with cautionary tales about couples caught in seclusion and getting publicly defamed ever after. And there is no safe-word.

Not long after we parked, a police car flashed its high-beams behind us. An officer came to Tamo's side, asked him to come out of the car. They chatted for the longest 132 seconds of my life. 

When he came back, Tamo’s face was professional. It was the first time that I saw Doctor Tamo's I'm-Sorry-We-Did-Our-Best-But-You're-Still-Screwed face.

“Cover your hair. Stay calm. We'll tell them that you're my fiancée and your name is Hannah.”
”Are we...”
”No. Not yet. They just want us to tag along.”

They lead us to a quiet residential area. When the cars parked, two officers came out. One took Tamo out for a walk. The other stuck his head into the window, across mine.

“What's you're name?”
”Hannah. And we weren't doing anything wrong. Just talking. I swear. My parents know about him. I swear. You can call my daddy to confirm that. And if we meant to do anything wrong, we wouldn't have gone to the beach. Not that we would gone anywhere else. No, that's not what I meant! I mean, I'm going home right this minute. I promise. I'm never, ever going to do this ever again.”
”Why are you talking so fast?”
”I'm terrified. Isn't it obvious? I've never talked to a cop before. I swear. I didn't mean any harm. Neither of us. We were just talking!”
”What’s your name again?”
”Al…Hannah!”

I honestly don't remember what I said. I might have sworn more than breathed. I do remember, though, seeing my cop stifle a smile. All that police training did not go to waste. And that he had seen through me since the first time I said “Hannah.”

When they gave us leave, I asked Tamo how his interrogation went. He said, "We talked about cars. You and your cop took so long; my cop ran out of ideas and I ran out of excuses. So we talked about cars."

That’s it. No lashing. No public embarrassment. Not even a tweet. Nothing. None of the romantic-horror news in Saudi was based on me. I swear. And you probably won't hear it from another source, either. This isn’t the kind of thing that the mainstream media would care to tell you about Saudi.

That even the Saudi police force isn't immune to reckless, albeit heartfelt, romantic clichés.

Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. ~ Paul Tillich

We can’t explain ourselves all the time.

For one, there are no words that could explain better what our actions could not. Even if we tried explaining it in tidbits, it won’t be the whole picture. The supremacy of time and seasons is just something that we have to obey and accept.

The more we understand, the less we are able to share it with anyone. 

If lucky, we might meet someone with similar experiences, and from them the best companionship is a nod of recognition.

Otherwise, when the divide has been cleared, the others won’t matter as much. That is why we try so hard to understand, in spite of time, rejection and failure. We are trying to develop a resiliency of faith in ourselves and actions.

And when understanding has evolved into faith, disregardful to endings and judgments, we know that we’ve done our work in the world.

And know we have been happy.

“There are times when silence has the loudest voice” - Leroy Brownlow

Start Herein

If we spoke quietly, our audience would be forced to lower their tones too. And if we stayed quiet despite the noise, the quiet will spread. Because even the Unquiet needs a loud audience to stay loud. Simply because speaking loudly fills one's ears with deafening ring.

So long that one of us is quiet enough, even the loudest and most chaotic will one day run out of voice and find wisdom in hushing up.

What happens then?

For one, we'll hear better. Then respond more efficiently, and get to have more time to do things we actually like. With the people we really like.

For another, it gets easier to look out for ourselves and each other. Like steroids for awareness, for our minds and feelings.

Just from hushing, see?

(Heard in a hotel in Dubai - Last Eid)

Hotel Staff : Yes, Sir, how may I help you?
Saudi Patron: Don't call me "sir". That is name for Kaffir. I am Muslim. Call me "Hajji."
Hotel Staff : Yes, Hajji, how may I help you?
Saudi Patron: Where is bar?

*giggles* .

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

I only have only an hour left of my life left today.

I planned to go to bed in a timely fashion, like a respectable woman, within the hour. An hour means that I have only half an hour to draft few hundred words and another half to edit, tweak and publish.

Once the hour passes and I leave for bed, this December 1st isn’t going to repeat itself ever again. I dread meeting the day when I find myself wondering how I have spent my only chance of going through December 1st – or February 24th, or May 18th!

It’s a terrible feeling. To stutter instead of saying it with dignity that I have done a day, a year or ten-thousand hours, the justice it deserved. How does time make itself pass like that? And what’s with the cruel inevitability?

What’s more, I blush to admit that one of the best parts of this year’s December 1st – or what I can remember of it – was when a man told me to shut up.

***

Daniel tweeted a question about hotels in Banda Aceh, on behalf of a friend. He wanted it to be clean, air-conditioned, near downtown and with internet access.

My reply was, “Your friend's a 3rd world nomad photographer and is still counting on free WiFi? #USBmodemAwarenessCampaign #cheeky #AskingForIt”

That’s when he told me to “oh shut up :)” and made me :) too.

***

I was flattered. You can only feign public offense with those whom you trust. And it is so easy to trust strangers, isn’t it?

A well-delivered flattery can be disarming. I felt recklessly freed. I felt that I could tell Daniel everything and hear from him anything. As if I had the clearest conscience and nothing in the world could burden me with shame.

Freedom is a state of mind, after all. For me, the definition of social freedom is to able to love anything and to forgive anyone. To be free of wants and aversions. To be free of grudges and expectations. That is practical freedom.

I wondered if I could love Daniel like that because I don’t know him well enough. I don’t know how he sounds when he entertains a splitting hangover on Sunday morning. I don’t know how he picks his nose. I don’t know if he wears fresh underwear, or if he refuses to shower on Thursdays. I don’t know details that shrink the glories of unfamiliarity in a hairy 40-something, blue-eyed Caucasian in board shorts, squeezing his way through the streets of Ubud on a beaten Vespa.

I wondered if I had known Daniel better it would be as easy to love and forgive him. And if I could still love humanity in its unfamiliar distance, why can’t I love humans intimately?

Can't the seed of love and forgiveness for strangers viral through hurts and petty whims? Can that kind of love transcend above sibling rivalries, murky squabbles and the dregs of chores? And if mere love and forgiveness could do all that, then how in the world..?

I can't go into that right now. My time is too short. I must prepare for bed; for my contact lenses are starting to unpeel my irides.

Nevertheless, if anybody asked how my Saturday night - December 1st went, I shan’t be ashamed to admit that Daniel has planted a seed of love and forgiveness, by telling me to shut up.

In memory of the friends we've lost  to AIDS

Image has unrelated with post. Sorry. Feeling incontextually cheeky. Besides, a picture of an outhouse wouldn't explain anything either. Would it?
I'm bowel shy. Thus I don't have a phone.
When I go, I have to take the phone with me for two reasons:
  1. To distract me
  2. To distract the folks who might be passing around the bathroom from any sound effects by camouflaging it in the phone’s music in full volume.

It just happened that things got unusually complicated this time. My phone slipped into the bathtub. I tried drying and reviving it with no avail. My precious Smartphone. The phone my little brother gave as pelangkah (overstepping) gift for getting married before me two years ago.

When I told him about it, the Timekeeper lassoed the parental high horse. "Let it be a lesson for you to never take your phone to the bathroom with you."

I took offense. "You, of all people, should know how mean you sound."

***

It started when I was little. The Timekeeper, as one of the people who helped raise me, has had his fair share of my shit flying his way.

Or in this case, rickshawing his way.

One night, we were at my aunt’s and I needed to go. I couldn't. The idea of having to go in a traditional outhouse knotted me up. My parents found me curled up at a corner, soaked in cold sweat. They figured out what's wrong and – smearing horror on humiliation – they announced it to the world in roaring laughter.

Then they hailed a rickshaw and took me to the Timekeeper's house, few blocks away from my aunt's. Like all private toilets, this one also represented its owner's hygienic habits: sterile and shiny with obsessive cleanliness.

There, forever traumatized, I went.

***

Back to the present. I was probably tired and haven't gotten the publishing orgasm for too long. Hence, his comment won my master a generous overflow of pettiness.

I swore, "See if I'm ever going to use the phone ever again!"

Of course, I'm still as communication-overloaded as any attention-whoring blogger hipster. Being connected through the internet from three other gadgets (iPod, iPad, laptop) doesn’t exactly pass this as a CCE (Communication Constipation Emergency).

It has been nearly four days since the death of my phone, rest its jingles in peace. I am happy to announce that I haven't followed suit. The passing of a phone – great-great-grandinvention of Mr. Graham Bell, mothergadget of alarms and beeps and notifications, step-sister to insanity – feels uncanny, but not critically.

It shames me to admit that I haven't taken advantage of the golden hush well enough. Except in fixing my sleep, which was single-handedly devastated by the writing marathon. (Which I won, of course. Titus! To not be able to poop AND lose that challenge?) I was hoping that some magic might follow the absence of a phone. Like winning another ridiculous challenge or something.

Maybe it's too early to say. Or maybe I won't say. Not over the phone, at least. I look forward to knowing how long I could hold out without a phone. (My record is 10 zombified days.)

In the meantime, I need to publish this post. Now. As distracted and rushed as it seems. Before anything else falls victim to my unpublished pettiness.

 
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