Forgotten Corona Heroes

blessings

It’s the sweltering month of September, and I’m in a bad mood. No, I think the three children in the back would say that I am in a vile, dangerous mood. We have to stop for groceries on the way back from school and the traffic is especially horrible because it’s a Thursday. “Mom, I missed after-school basketball today, couldn’t you have come a bit later for me? I could make the team you know.” I could think up of a thousand sarcastic and angry replies to that – something along the lines of “Yes, I’m your maid and driver. I’ll battle all this traffic twice, and cook and clean at home too, for good measure! And I haven’t just finished a long day at work, no why would I do that!?”

I take a deep breath and reply with clenched teeth: “I’m sorry. I have to go to work all weekend and your sister has a play date later today,” I reply. The AC is cranked up high but it still feels unbearably hot as the harsh sunlight hits my hands at the steering wheel. There is fighting in the backseat, and the little person sitting on the car seat first broke into small sobs, but now, there is an out and out tantrum in full swing. The green light slips into yellow just as my car was about to go and I slap my hands on the steering wheel in despair. I turn my neck back and my eyes flash. “Just wait till we get home…” I say in a sinister voice.

I wonder why I took three hungry children with me to the grocery store. I mean why would anyone do that to herself? There’s uniform clad children running amok in the store and there are some eyebrow raising and potentially problematic items (read: junk) that they are now carrying. The children are already eating cookies they picked up in the bakery area. I remind them that they haven’t washed their hands but offer the sanitizer in my bag and let them eat and tell them to keep the wrapper safe in the cart. We then collect the items on my list and after all the weighing and selection and waiting we are done. “I hate doing groceries,” I complain as we walk back to the car, laden with bags. We reach home and the children and I carry the groceries inside and my life finally has some semblance and order as I put everything away and the children wash up.

Cut back to this fateful year of 2020, April 2020, to be exact and supplies at home are thinning fast. It’s been two weeks since I left the house and for the children, it has easily been an entire month. The last time we did groceries about a week back was on an app on my phone and we couldn’t get a delivery slot until two days later from when I ordered it. A guy on a motorbike had come all the way to my doorstep, wearing a decidedly worn out mask and yellowed gloves. His eyes looked tired. He made minimal conversation as he took the payment and sped off.

If you’ve watched the YouTube videos on how to disinfect groceries you probably know what it’s like when there are grocery bags on your doorsteps. We disinfect everything with rubbing alcohol before bringing it inside. Then the process of washing all the produce with vinegar is absolutely exhausting and because I ordered a lot, we barely have enough storage space. This was last week. This week, however, I feel like I might have to step out and buy some essentials like meat, which I never order online.

Going out in this corona world feels – sad and scary. Sad, scary and different. People turn away from each other and the human face, you just can’t see it anymore. As I drive off to the grocery store it feels strangely quiet, there’s practically no traffic and whomever you see in other cars is covered up with masks. Inside the store, it feels a bit like a hospital as everyone has their temperature checked before walking in. A guy further down the aisle from me coughs and I panic and bolt off to another aisle. It’s stressful, to say the least. I have a lot on my list and I’m determined to buy everything I possibly can, as taking the risk of leaving the house again very soon doesn’t excite me.

My cart is chock full as I wait in the long line at the cashier. Seems like many people have been thinking along the same lines as myself – the queue ahead shows people want to stock up as much as possible. The lady at the cash counter is easily eight months pregnant and looks drained. Almost mechanically she scans the groceries and I can only see her eyes above her tightly plastered face-mask, but boy, the eyes say so much. Imagine having to touch and scan every item in that store, imagine having to stand on your feet so many hours a day while putting yourself and your baby at risk. Imagine not having a choice, imagine having to put in the hours, or not having bread on the table. Its finally my turn and as I lift a big bag of rice and put it on the conveyor belt I ask her not to worry about picking it up and putting it in a grocery bag. In a place like Dubai, we are spoilt. People fill in our gas at petrol stations, our groceries are put into bags by others and we enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle than many places in the world.

I think of the food delivery services that have picked up and I suddenly remember that I saw a lot of delivery riders on the road. Your Zomatos, Deliveroos, Talabats and restaurant and supermarket delivery guys – those businesses have picked up and the riders have no choice but to not #stayhomestaysafe so you and I can. The courier guys. The Amazon delivery guys. The security guard in your buiding. The policemen that still patrol the city day and night. The overwhelmed cashiers forced to handle the biggest contaminants – cards and currency. The people stocking up the shelves at the grocery stores, having to work long hours now because of the upswing in demand and having no more personal protective equipment than disposable gloves and a possibly reused many times over face-mask – do you know how scarce and expensive they are? The people who are not blue-collar workers but their companies won’t let them work from home, like my husband? I’m sure there are many other people you and I know who don’t have a choice. The people who are rarely celebrated, each of who is a hero in their own right.

The other day we had a leaky sink and a problem with our bell so the maintenance guys came in. Mask, check. Gloves, check. They just did their job with minimal of fuss and I wondered about their families back home. They are heads of families, they are breadwinners, they mean the whole world to some people and as they potter around from house to house fixing people’s lights and sinks I wonder who celebrates them. Their incomes run families and the maintenance guy (now a regular in our house) says we just trust God and do the best we can in terms of protection. He pulls out his phone and shows me a short video of his teenage son giving a confident, fiery speech. I notice his eyes water just a tiny bit with pride, or is that fear? Oh God, please protect this man, and all the other heroes like him, I say under my breath.

heroes

If you log on to Google, the homepage has a red heart and some medical supplies as #weareallinthistogether and a heartwarming message to support and celebrate all the doctors, nurses and paramedics around the world fighting the coronavirus. We certainly should be grateful to every one of these people and pray for their and their families’ safety and wellbeing. I personally know some great doctors and waste no opportunity in letting them know how selfless they are and what a wonderful job they are doing. But shouldn’t we also look out for the people that have no way of observing the lockdown? What about the construction workers of Dubai, who go about their business like nothing ever happened? What about each and every person who cannot take a break because the authorities do not allow it – or because if they do not work, their family will go hungry? These are truly unprecedented times and the challenges that loom ahead would have been unfathomable even six months ago.

I think back wistfully to the after school grocery trips and children that could run amok in grocery stores and eat a cookie while at it, too. I think about how I hated grocery shopping and yet all I had to do was buy stuff, and put it away and enjoy the blessings it brought. My life has changed and so has everyone else’s – but why did it take such a paradigm shift to make me appreciate all that I took for granted? And the scarier bit – what else am I taking for granted right now in this moment that can be taken away if I don’t understand that it is in fact a blessing? Has the time not come for me to appreciate the relationships that I have, the joys that still surround me if only I paid attention? To sign off, I’m sending out a heartfelt prayer for all those people (and the hospital staff top this list, surely!) who take these huge risks day in and day out just so I can #stayhomestaysafe.

Corona thoughts

faith

My fingers feel a little bit unfamiliar today, yet typing on the laptop has been something that I have done incessantly for the past many years. Perhaps it feels a little strange because I haven’t written on the blog for a long, long time. There was no time. No time to breathe deeply, or think, or even do a self-analysis. There was just the mad rush of meeting deadlines, doing the school runs and somehow making sure everyone was fed and watered and that uniforms didn’t sit in the laundry hamper for too long.

Now as my children attempt e-learning and I (unsuccessfully) try to tutor my little one, pretending to be a wonder mom, I can’t quite wrap my head around everything that’s been happening. To say it’s been surreal would be a start. Sometimes I smile too much because I want to be positive and happy and spread good vibes around the house, sometimes I feel utterly depressed (almost despondent) and wonder if anything I’m doing even makes a difference.

There’s a mountain of dishes at the sink and a half-finished cake batter sits on the counter, some of it splattered across the cooker. Crammed inside the fridge are a lot of grocery supplies to last us for more than a week (hopefully) and nestled on top are yellowed, over-priced flowers I’m hiding from my daughter. It’s her birthday you see, and I want it to be special, as special as it can be in the circumstances. I think wistfully of the hired help that would come in and make my house look less like a war zone. War zone. That’s exactly what it feels like right now.

I see my husband off to work I wonder how can he go? Is it safe? And who knows how long the job will last? And is it even under my control? The realization that so little is under my control dawns on me and I look upwards in a silent prayer. I fumble with my phone and realize that yet another friend has just lost her job. As I scroll to my newsfeed I look away – the number of people infected by the virus is spiraling completely out of control. People are struggling and suffering around the world. I look outside the window and the road is eerily silent. Then a garbage truck shows up and a man dressed to the nines in protective gear empties the dump out into the truck. I bite my lip and think – that in fact is real risk and he’s doing it without a complaint. Why have I never been thankful? Is now the time to start?

I often think back to Mom, and her indomitable spirit and her ability to give thanks in the hardest of moments. She passed away without witnessing these strange and uncertain times. I wonder what she would have said if she were here. She would have asked me to take stock of myself, of my life. She would have asked me to realize all the blessings I am surrounded with. She would have told me to appreciate the roof I have over my head and enjoy the little things my children get excited about. She would have called my depression nonsense and she would have told me to get more productive and stop wasting time. Gosh, I realize I miss my Mom. It’s been years since we lost her but it never gets easier.

As I finish the cake batter and ensure that the oven is hot enough I stop for a moment and think to myself – if there was ever a chance to prove myself, it is now. A voice inside me says something along the lines of “I’m done!” but then, as a lovely smell wafts from the oven I feel as though I might get through this after all. It isn’t about living a perfect life in a perfect world – it’s about being the best you can be in a world that tests you. It’s easy to have faith when paychecks are fat and life is exactly as you want it to be, but isn’t now the time to truly submit to the will of my Lord? Isn’t this the time to ask forgiveness and give thanks and realize that the world is but a test?

“Surprise!” We all say together as she walks down the stairs. The icing has gone completely runny and I have to admit my cakes usually look much nicer. But it doesn’t matter. She’s so happy. She loves the card I wrote. The Pringles are hugely welcome too. It isn’t a giant celebration or anything but it’s definitely very special. “Thanks Mom! The cake is delicious! And how on earth did you manage to buy the flowers?” I steal a look upwards and stifle a tear as I finally, say thanks.

Between You and me

 

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When love is too small a word,

When You mean more to me than the whole world,

When I’m unsure yet I feel safe ’cause Your light shines bright,

When Your thoughts illuminate every day and night,

I feel so blessed to have this life, and my beating heart,

That loves You and knows You right from the start,

You, Who saw every tear, every fear and heard me out,

You, Who made my heart strong and dispelled every doubt,

You, Who never turned away but always cared,

You, Who never disclosed all that I have shared,

Allah, the One and Only, the Mighty, the Wise,

Who after the world breaks me down, allows me to rise,

A day without Your remembrance is a day worse than wasted,

To know You, to love You, to worship You is why I was created,

My heart feels calm amid the storm,

When upon Your guidance I remain firm,

Guide me please through this life that seems to lead me astray,

Oh Turner of the hearts, allow me to on the right path stay,

There’s a lot that needs doing, and I need Your direction,

There is so much I don’t understand, I desperately need Your protection,

What say You Oh Allah, of one who has little sense,

Who’s own shortcomings and faux pas make her troubled and tense,

Who’s deeds don’t warrant Your forgiveness,

Who wants, more than anything Your love and closeness,

Its all I have — a mad, passionate love, a sea of yearning that I live in,

Someday, somehow, I know it’ll help me win.

What, really, is the world worth?

Our beloved Prophet Mohammed (May the peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him and his family) said that the 2 units of sunnah prayer before the Fajr Salah are better than the entire world and all it contains.

Then what really, is the rat race for? The heartbreaks, the better position, the ‘ME’ we sometimes so blindly follow? Deception?

Let go. It’s not that important. Your connection to Allah while still living in this dunya is what really matters.

Oh to wander a little more…

I think something like this was originally said by JR Tolkien in Lord of the Rings (or is it Rumi?) but it’s very close to home.

I’m just feeling incredibly blessed every single day and the wanderer inside me just continues to float, discover, feel joy and then wander some more.

When the journey itself is success, there’s no pleasure as profound as seeking. Yep, go figure 😊🙏🏽

Fourteen years later…

Life’s challenges were never so clear to me as they are now. Perhaps there is something about spending more time in this world, becoming more aware of everything around you and figuring out where you stand and what it is that you are really pursuing.

Roughly fourteen years ago I became a man’s wife. I was suddenly expected to be a caring, intelligent partner and with time, a parent. A mother who was meant to know how everything was done and who was someone to look up to. On a personal level I was going through myriad challenges. I was young, raw and not exactly angry but unpleasantly surprised with life and with the people around me. I had no idea how to be this wonderful partner and much less – how on earth – to be a mother, a somewhat okay mother. Fourteen years later the ignorance is still very much there, but for so long, somehow – and only God knows how – I stand as someone who this far seems to be doing alright. At any rate I haven’t killed anyone and I haven’t killed myself either. 🙂

If I were to talk about some of the more important lessons I hope to have learnt by now, the first of them would be that Allah swt lives on. He doesn’t die, He doesn’t even feel sleepy or tired, He doesn’t get sick, He doesn’t move to another country and He’s the One and Only Protective Friend and Guardian who doesn’t spill your secrets and doesn’t let you down. Calling upon Him is never expensive and private conversations can go on forever. Parents’ – the people you love and count on eventually fall sick, fade away and move on from this world. Friends can let you down and people can break you – both in distance as well as in nearness. But Allah swt, the All-Seer, the All-Knower, the One who doesn’t judge You because of how wealthy you might be or how perfect your body looks, listens to you every single time, understands you and calms you down. He is the Only One who has stood by me through the good and the challenging times, the One worthy of absolute love and trust, the One Who washes and enlightens my heart every time it darkens and then allows me to hope some more for an even better tomorrow.

hadith image, islamic quote

The next thing that’s started making sense is that there isn’t any real satisfaction, success or peace, or indeed lasting victory in getting laurels from the world. Sure, it’s a wonderful ‘I’m-floating-on-air’ kind of feeling when you see your name in print – but then once that’s over – then what? All creative people (writers, artists, poets etc) know that you are only as good as your last article/book/piece. Lasting peace and happiness comes from realizing that it is indeed Allah swt, His obedience and His remembrance that strengthens the heart, actualizes the soul’s existence and pours forth a shining bright light on the path ahead, illuminating the correct way in a maze of bewildering and overwhelming directions. Peace and happiness increases manifold when you perceive those around you with love, compassion and totally clean-slate forgiveness.

At a very deep level, marriage, first, for me, was about acceptance, as are so many things in life. Your partner might be an excellent person, and a righteous individual but if the two of you can’t stand each other there isn’t much in the relationship except random moments of passion that might exist. People fall in and out of love all the time but acceptance, I feel, is the more important one. There has to come a time when you stop blaming and shaming yourself, your partner or your parents or life and simply accept things and give thanks for whatever good is already manifest and for whatever khayr the Almighty has in store for you. A little bit of gratitude goes a very long way. Things begin to change. Acceptance gradually transforms into gratefulness. Giving thanks gives way to love. And love begets mercy and compassion, which finally transports you to a form of communication higher than love.

When no words are necessary between the two of you and when a gentle touch, a short but meaningful text or a tender back rub might mean so much more than just that. When you start caring about the other person and you’re not entirely sure why or when it started happening but you now understand the importance of their presence in your life and wouldn’t want it any other way. Understanding means being unselfish and letting the other person have their time and space if they need it.

One of the most essential ingredients of a good relationship is humility and ensuring that your ego doesn’t destroy you, both when you are right and more importantly when you are the one who you erred. One must question oneself all the time and make small but conscious efforts every single day to water the family tree.

daisies

My husband is a great man. He really is. And I don’t say that just because he’s put up with me for all these years – although that in and of itself has got to be pretty remarkable. He’s a strong man with insides of steel because he takes all the personality assassination I do of him, digests it, takes whatever benefit he can from my ruthless analysis, discards the rest and then forgives me wholeheartedly. He then renews his vow to stay by my side forever. Yes, I know. I’m incredibly blessed. Alhamdulillah.

As for me, I’ve always found it a bit hard to totally forgive and forget, barring now when I’m finally learning that there’s absolutely nothing cool about being permanently hurt and there’s this incredible feeling of liberation and happiness when you just – let go. Intelligent people move on and embrace each day as an opportunity to receive and radiate all things good and positive.

My husband’s also a really creative guy. He can create power from a bunch of tired looking wires and solar panels and he can probably fix everything from broken glasses to a broken fridge – not impeccably, mind you, but good enough to get you by for a bit. He also loves breaking things apart and enjoys discovering how they work and how and when they don’t. I’m happy to say that he’s now learning to curb this same desire with the wife!

I’d like to sign off with a final piece of advice to myself and anyone else who might care for it. Always notice the little things. If she folds your laundry and puts it away remember to say thank you and mean it. If he clears the sink while you get your assignment done a smile and an “OMG what would I do without you” doesn’t hurt at all. Be respectful and don’t say things you wouldn’t say to a friend. Lastly remember Allah put you in their life for a reason and them in yours for an equally powerful one. Set time aside for just the two of you and remember that the joy, the happiness of the moments today require much thankfulness and acknowledgement. And for when things aren’t so hunky-dory, it pays to be patient and knowing that it too, shall pass. And we’re all going to return to Allah anyway. 🙂

And seek help thorugh patience and prayer