The Women’s Baths by Ulfat al-Idlibi

Rewritten in a postmodern technique of magic realism:

Our household was troubled by the uncanny: my grandmother, who passed away last week at the age of seventy, still exists within our presence. Her voice is still imminent amongst the whispers of the wind. As the leaves of the Black Mulberry tree make subtle movements, her laughter emanates from the sounds of the tiny bells hanging from the low strung branches of the ancient tree. Everyone was afraidβ€”my mother the most given that she always antagonizes my grandmother by refusing all her puny requests, my father now avoids going to his chair under the Black Mulberry tree, and our maid won’t go to the restrooms at night anymore. Everyone is afraid with my deceased grandmother except me. For me, she is an endearment, a treasure who inspires my calling.

Grandmother is a strong-headed woman. She does not take no for an answer. She insists on taking a bath at the start of each month at the public baths as she requested for assistance of our maid. My mother, appalled would say, “but the market baths has been destroyed more than decades ago!” To which my grandmother replies, “It is gone, only to those who think it is gone.”

I enjoy waiting for my grandmother to go home from her imaginary visits from the baths, she tells me such lively stories about the colorful ambience of her visits from each bath. The baths were made of silver tiles, the maids were gentle water nymphs, and the warm water in the golden tubs were covered in vanilla musk and luminescent Jasmines. The bath was owned by the Goddess Atargatis, a beautiful mermaid who welcomes all Syrian women to pamper themselves alongside her. It did not matter that is was not realβ€”as my mother objectively points out every time she shakes her while overhearing grandmother’s recount on her experience, even when it was more beautiful than any other realistic imagery.

Three days before grandmother passed away, she bestowed upon me a gift. It was a large wooden trunk filled with silken linens called Damasks. Surprised, I gasped when she gave me this box because she always polished the box and never lets anyone touch it. From the linens, she produced a bundle of red velvet embroidered with pearls and sequins, white towels lined with silver thread, and a wine-colored bath wrap decorated with golden stars. These were all magnificent and they were mine to keep. That day, I felt like I have won the lottery with my new acquirement of linens.

I still remember our last evening with grandmother. She sang me a song from my bedside chair. As my eyes began to close she said, “In your dreams, you will always find me, my dear child.” I could not stop thinking about this as days passed by. It was an enigma to me that I would not solve. What dream? Why find me? Grandmother did not scares me, instead, she intrigues me.

One day, I woke from a silent whisper brushing my ears. Wondering, I yawned while looking out of my window. The sound seems to be coming from the Mulberry tree, as the whispers rustled amongst its leaves so I carried my shoes on the way outside and crept outside silently barefoot as not to wake up anybody. As I went out, the whispers became stronger. It was not just a whisperβ€”it was some kind of chanting coming out of the tree. As I approached, there were glowing embers of petals on the path as it led to a door I never noticed before. My curiosity urged me to enter to a place that might be just a figment of my imagination, or even my insanity.

There were little orbs that lit up the passageway inside. They were beautifulβ€”glowing balls of fire levitating above the ground. The air underground was also cooler I noticed as my drops of perspiration vanished. The explanation to this revealed itself eventually when I heard a splash. The corridor ended with a golden chamber. In the center was a statue of a mermaid. It was made of diamonds except for her ruby set eyes. I touched them, and with a click the statue moved slowly to expose to me a view that was unbelievable: grandmother’s description of her favorite baths. The floor was golden and there were baths made of silver tiles on the hemisphere of the hall. I can smell the strong Jasmine scent as its petals floated on the smooth flow of the water. At the end of the hall was a waterfall and below it sitting with a serene smile on her face was the most stunning woman I have ever seen. She looked exactly like a breathing replica of the mermaid statue.

Everyone around me was smiling while the unwinding chants resonate around with the warm fragrance of the petals and musk. There were water nymphs everywhereβ€”beautiful and gentle they enacted the role of bath maids as they crooned a soft chanting melody. “This is the sound that woke me up!” I thought. They were pouring vanilla musk oils on the people enjoying the baths. One water nymph approached me and asked if I can give her my robe. Baffled, I looked down and to my surprise saw that I was wearing the wine colored bath wrap decorated with golden stars, the one that my grandmother gave me. I whispered, “This is my grandmother’s…” To which the maiden nymph replied with a smile, “Yes, she is here. She has been waiting for you…” I followed her, my heart beating rapidly.

Grandmother was sitting in one of the baths, her head rating on the edges. She was smiling in a way that made her seem like she got everything she ever wanted. In short, it was a look of pure contentment. “Hi dear, so you have finally decided to visit!” she greeted me with her eyes closed. The pool of water was filled with the scent of Jasmine and musk. I closed my eyes as I inhaled the sweet tantalizing scent. That’s when I decided to sit beside the bath with her.

The bath was owned by the Goddess Atargatis, a beautiful mermaid who welcomes all Syrian women to become assured with their own femininity against the harsh obligations of the real world. Here, everyone is allowed to do whatever they please as long as it does not result to hurting another being. Now, I finally understood why grandmother insisted on visiting this place. It was an escape from the harsh realities of one’s existence. This was a place of freedom, self-identity, and peace. I told her, “I want to live here forever,” to which my grandmother opened her eyes and replied, “No dear. This is a place that needs to exist within you at all times.” She then gave me one of the floating petals. She pressed the blossom on my palm and touched my forehead. “Goodbye, dear. Remember everything.” as she sent me back to my own realms.

Thus, I woke back on my bed. The usual state of my room: strewn books on the floor, the windows opening, to let in the wind. I was shivering, in my cold dark room. Unfortunate as it was, the alluring of the whispers from the outside was already gone. The floating orbs under the Mulberry tree have vanished as well. Alone, I peered from under my bed sheet covers and began to question my own sanity. Being in a dream has never been this real before I pondered. If only, only, there is one thing that can make me believe…

A gust of wind, and I smell it again: Jasmine. I pulled back my covers quick and sat on my bed eyes wide open. That smile. The dream. And then it was there, luminous, peering between my fingers. The truth that I needed. The same petals in the first of my hand. A tangible dream worth believing…

~End

(Written on March 2017)

Travel Bliss

Travelling helps us reflect on inner bliss, a contemplative empathy for others, and a yearning to become more spiritual with oneself and the world. In the video that I watched, “Japanology: The Shikoku Pilgrimage,” By Peter Barakan, I was impressed with the path’s serene and calm enlightenment. It made me want to experience it as well for the sacred chants and the visits of all eighty-eight temples bring about a time to reflect and contemplate about one’s life. It is actually called the path of awakening. For me, this is the preferable excursion as it teaches us more about ourselves.

I had a similar experience of spiritual reflections a year ago, I went to Vipassana, a practical technique that teaches one how to lead a more positive, balanced, and peaceful life. It was founded by Gautama Buddha which he passed on and taught to others the ancient techniques of meditation as an “Art of Living.” Vipassana means to see things as they really are.

In this camp, we were not allowed to talk for ten days straight, use gadgets, communicate with others, read books, write anywhere, or do any sort of distraction. We had to take silent sits along with other spiritual seekers for hours without moving as much as possible or standing up. The purpose was so one can focus from within. It was really effective. I believe that this was one example of a spiritual opportunity during my travels. Travelling lead to self-reflection that teaches humility, the acceptance of other people, and the efficiency to change.

Reading the Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cosineau supported my strong leaning towards the state of travelling while finding spiritual peace and understanding. In Phil’s trip to Cambodia with his brother, he was able to experience highly emotional encounters such as meeting a Buddhist nun. It moved him given that he felt that she was in some way suffering but in my opinion she was actually at peace with herself. He described this encounter as an embodiment of the god of inexhaustible compassion. In travelling, I have met numerous people who gave me a similar kind of feeling. It is some sort of inner connection with other people that changes and links us forever. Human interaction, when in depth, is exceptionally important.

The sense of wonder and the gratitude in learning so much was prevalent in his travels. “In the uncanny way of spiritually magnetised centers of pilgrimage, I felt a wonderful calm exploring the derelict pavilions, abandoned libraries, and looted monasteries” (5). Travelling is about finding these snippets of bliss from the unusual corners of the world.

To travel is to see the world, (to feel, smell, and sense it in every way) to travel is to keep promises, (to yourself and to others) and to travel is to experience life in its spirituality as one moves forward. (or more so, to live in the beauty of the present) Such as the pilgrim who travels to shrines and holy places. “Pilgrims are persons in motionβ€”passing through territories not their ownβ€”seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way” (14). Travelling it the act of removing the feeling of emptiness within and towards a liberation of the self.

(Written on October 2016)

Essay on Robin Hemley & Mohezin Tejani

Reading Hemley’s essay, helped in grasping one’s cultural consciousness and its present undergoing change due to modernity. “Before we left for Manila again, Pakoran’s daughter Susan handed Laurie a short essay she’d written in her native language. Laurie had asked Susan to write the essay, not because he wanted to encourage her as a budding memoirist, but because he wanted to see how much Ilocano (the language of the lowlanders) had infiltrated the local Bontoc languageβ€”many words, it turned out.” Asides from that there were other things that were changing in Guinaangβ€”the people’s beliefs or perceptions.

There was a quick-witted tone in which he hears about Guinaang and how they behead people, the grotesque stories he has been hearing about. However, he was able to contradict this tone when he almosts got beheaded by a wire himself. Hemley has a way of making his stories both frightening and funny. His synchronous style of writing showed the ideals of the economic and personal despair that was happening in Guinaang, that the development is being integrated but not properly, that the people are slowly decaying such as the old tattooed lady and Pakoran with his spirits. In this place however, the acceptance of life and death prevailed. In this travel, Hemeley had an experience of being mortified by this. “It seemed somehow infested with mortality and I didn’t fancy myself a connoisseur of death. I wanted to go back to my land, where my people recover, where they never die.” The Guinaang’s chanting and calling of spirits declared their acceptance and respect for their own culture and with death itself.

His descriptions about nature made the essay discernable. “The road climbed steadily through the pine forests. The mountains, deeply grooved with the few ridges but many drop-offs into abysses of varying degrees, shot up at formidable angles from the valley.” Reading this kind of style about recounting and writing nature views is a rarity for me. He has a way of making one envision the place through simple yet effective words.

There is a captivating method in which Hemley’s story portrays his characters. He has the ability to make them realistic. He personalizes them with their flaws and values at the same time. Such as Pakoran for he has the uncanny skill of a storyteller yet he lives a life of an alcoholic. There is this way of his that makes it horrifyingly comical, “Pakoran, dressed in a G-string and a short sleeve shirt with a collar, plunked himself down in our midst, flush with good cheer and Ginebra San Miguel.”

I also found a great significance upon reading Mohezin Tejani’s Fruits of Childhood. His perception of Africa as his home brought me a sense of recalling the beauty of nature and home. “The sun’s warmth, after the heavy dawn shower, has brought plants and insects to life.” His description about his childhood in Uganda captured his longing for nature and its effect to his being. His memories were a call from his painful and wonderful past, as he tries to contemplate on his homesickness as he travelled around in Thailand with his friends. “Missing Africa always depressed me, so I decide to go along with them to break free of nostalgia’s black hole.” He tries to find a sense of belonging even from far away. “My yearning for Africa is forgotten, replaced by a multilingual chatter and the green scenery rolling by.”

I can relate to what he was trying to say, the idea that food can actually bring back memories of your home and your childhood. When I read this, “The simple growth of seeds has the power to animate memory, to unify past and present.” I envisioned the place where I grew up right away. The time when I was out all day: laughing, playing, and being carefree.

I lived in ParaΓ±aque and our garden had three large aromatic mango trees. The smell of this fruit, whenever I smelled it, brought me back to my younger days. I have gotten flashbacks of running down to our small hill, carrying sticks, and climbing the trees so that I can read a book on top of the shady comfort of our mango tree. I would stay there for hours, oblivious to what was happening from below. I had my own world up there, usually getting lost in one of my Harry Potter books. Just like Mohezin himself, I had memories in my childhood that made me feel sentimental and away from the outer world. I go back in time with a magical sense of wonder and amazement. “Give me the smell of a childhood flower, the taste of a forgotten fruit, and Zap! I am back to the land of my birth, back to the patch of grass we called our soccer field, and the constant drone of cicadas in the banyan trees” There is this perception that everything before was like a fairy tale story: captivating, astonishing, and yet far away. His yearning for the fruit, gave me the realization that in a sense that it is not the fruit itself that he wishes for but the memory of being back home again, or more so, the feeling of being young and happy again. Whenever I sense a scent from my childhood, I tend to remember my strongest emotions and then I begin to remember what it was like before in detail.

When he finally found his Jambura homeland fruit in Thailand as “luuk wah,” I became conscious that each of us yearns for the feeling of home. A place where we belong. A place of family and being a member. “The assistant passes the bowl to my friends who, again, find the taste not to their liking. I couldn’t care less. I am back in Uganda, on a dirt road across from my house, playing games with my childhood friends in a jambura tree. We are playing “tree-tag” among the high branches.” This correlates with my own experience whenever I see an ‘Aratiles’ or a Muntingia tree, it makes me relive all my childhood memories with a warm feeling that makes me smile. I still remember its cherry-like shape as it rolled on my palm and its sweet succulent taste. I would close my eyes with an inner tone of delight. I still see my childhood buddies as they waited for me to climb down the tree and give them some of the little treats. This is how our senses bring us back to memory. They have a power to recall our joys, our pains, and our pasts. It is enabling enough to remind us that each one of us should always aim for this feeling of serenity, unwinding, and bliss. “Africa, it seems, is still deep within me, despite thirty years of globetrotting.” This short story, I daresay, is about finding one’s sense of home away from home.

Written on November 2016

Gender Studies: Finding One’s True Identity

Gender studies allow us to rethink and reshape our lives.

It enables one to question and understand the existence of terms like β€œsexuality” and the history that they possess. It creates a sense of openness towards each individual through education. To respect each individual despite the differences they may have; it is where they learn to accept diversity as the norm of today and help create a future of inclusivity.

Discovering different aspects of ourselves helps us piece together our identity. For example, β€œWhat or who do we truly desire?” This question should be answered in averse to the β€˜biased’ perspective of certain constructs. As Blumenfield and Raymond assert, β€œSexuality as more than merely a behavior but is rather an aspect of personal identity which strongly influences the ways people live their lives and view the world at large. The term β€œheterosexual,” β€œhomosexual,” and β€œbisexual” are then, labels which refer not only to sexual behaviors but also to the persons who engage in those behaviors” (77).

Such is the importance of having a strong sense of identity for one’s self. Through finding one’s identity, it is easier to positively define and perceive oneself. Michael Tan confirms that the medicalization of homosexuality is a modern ideal (203). Learning this enables us to realize that it is a social construction and therefore be careful about what it claims to be true. This opens up the eyes of the public to the misconceptions that society has created towards the idea of homosexuality. Also, discovering this can help homosexuals feel if not at home, but at least safe within their own society. Without the perceived notion of believing that there is something wrong with them, they are given a chance to live a better life.

Gender studies give us the opportunity to explore different depths amidst our own familial, cultural, or social expectations. To realize what it can be to tackle or understand one’s own identity and personal gender preference. As Garcia said, β€œGood or bad this is truthfullyβ€Šβ€”β€Šthis time truth is a provisional and more persona’s fictionβ€Šβ€”β€Šhow gay life in this neocolonized world ought increasingly to be seen” (xv). Our own identity should never subordinate to the viewpoints of the society in itself. Genders do not merely tackle one’s gender. It reflects one’s own experiences regarding race, ethnicity, class, and globalism. To see ourselves as part of the community and gain feelings of belongingness and motivation.

It is one’s right to be respected and hopefully, accepted by the other. Gender awareness is important given that it teaches us to realize that each gender has its right to exist. Such as the Filipino gays who are mocked and derided as a lesser being called, β€˜bakla.β€˜ This makes the word into a derogatory lesser meaning. They are even considered as a funny joke or an amusement. Apart from that, gay existence has become an inherent problem to others due to religious beliefs of misconception. Michael Tan expresses this concern, β€œIn society such as the Philippines, we face a double dilemma where religious dogmatism condemns what used to be β€œnormal” (not necessarily normative) behavior as sinful” (209). The coming out process of the gay, thus, becomes a challenge due to prejudiced constructions.

This highlights the importance of gender awareness. Its benefits will pave the way for future generations to be more open-minded. The Philippines and its traditions can well be prosperous with both not only economical but also spiritual while simultaneously accepting gays, lesbians, transgenders, and other genders. Our country is adamant in its beliefs such as having a head or breadwinner in each home, the man, while the woman takes care of the children and does tasks at home. By better educating the youth today through gender studies, our future can be much more liberal and non-restricting, a vision of an accepting Filipino community.

(Written in the year 2017)

References:

Bergman, David. Homosexual Discourse. University of Texas Press, 1991.

Blumenfield Warren and Diane Raymond. Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life. Beacon Press, 1993.

Garcia Neil. Philippine Gay Culture: The Last Thirty Years. University of Philippines Press, 1996.

Tan, Micheal. β€œSickness and Sin: Medical and Religious Stigmatization of Homosexuality in the Philippines.”

Ladlad: An Anthropology of Philippine Gay Writing. Anvil, 1994.

Body Shameless

β€œSensuality isn’t Shameful and Your Sexuality is your Pride.β€œ π‘Œπ‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘  π‘‡π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘™π‘¦..

It took me years to fully accept myself as a woman who celebrates her totality. It is still a journey that is an ongoing path in which I learn more about myself and others along the way. It is my hope that I can inspire and connect to other women to see that there is nothing to be ashamed about, regardless of certain beliefs that feed only on conformity that does not cater to our own growth.

Someone reached out to me this month to voice out my thoughts on Body-Shaming…

I have always dealt myself with the issues of non-conformity amidst the ongoing occurrences of self-shaming, slut-shaming, and body-shaming happening all around me. Being comfortable with one’s own body is not a problem, especially, if you are not using it as a means to make it a commodity of some sort.

Why was it always seen as a shameful activity to wear bikinis and expressive outfits? To start off, when did the exposure of our skin become an expression of sexual connotations in itself? It should not be deemed that way. When was our skin reflective of how it affects the opposite sex? Should our skin not be deducted from our self disregarding all ideals that it is a mere portrayal of temptation? These are questions worth pondering about before resorting to such shaming.

π‘‡π‘œ 𝑠𝑒𝑒 π‘¦π‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿ π‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘¦ π‘Žπ‘  π‘Žπ‘› π‘œπ‘π‘—π‘’π‘π‘‘π‘–π‘“π‘–π‘π‘Žπ‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘› π‘œπ‘“ π‘ β„Žπ‘Žπ‘šπ‘’ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘Ž β„Žπ‘–π‘‘π‘‘π‘’π‘› 𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑑𝑦 π‘π‘œπ‘šπ‘’π‘  π‘“π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘š π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘šπ‘–π‘ π‘’π‘›π‘‘π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘ π‘‘π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘π‘–π‘›π‘” π‘‘β„Žπ‘Žπ‘‘ π‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿ π‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘¦ 𝑖𝑠 π‘–π‘›π‘‘π‘–π‘ π‘π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘’π‘‘, π‘“π‘™π‘Žπ‘€π‘’π‘‘, π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘‘β„Žπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘’π‘“π‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘’, πΆπΈπ‘π‘†π‘ˆπ‘…π΄π΅πΏπΈ.
𝐡𝑒𝑑 π‘œπ‘› π‘‘β„Žπ‘’ π‘π‘œπ‘›π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘¦, π‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿ π‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘¦ 𝑖𝑠 π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ 𝑀𝑖𝑙𝑙 π‘Žπ‘™π‘€π‘Žπ‘¦π‘  𝑏𝑒 π‘Žπ‘› 𝐻𝑂𝑁𝑂𝑅 π‘‘β„Žπ‘Žπ‘‘ 𝑀𝑒 π‘ β„Žπ‘œπ‘’π‘™π‘‘ π‘™π‘œπ‘£π‘’ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘’π‘β„Žπ‘œπ‘™π‘‘ 𝑅𝐸𝐺𝐴𝑅𝐷𝐿𝐸𝑆𝑆 π‘œπ‘“ 𝑆𝐼𝑍𝐸, 𝐢𝑂𝐿𝑂𝑅, π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ 𝐼𝐷𝐸𝐴𝐿𝑆.

The Cover-yourself-because-to-do-otherwise-lessens-your-worth mentality is based on a discriminative representation of one’s own anatomy. Our body from our face to our most intimate organs have all been created with its purpose. Each is important and acceptable amidst shaming.

π‘‡π‘œ 𝑠𝑒𝑒 π‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿ π΅π‘‚π·π‘Œ π‘Žπ‘  π‘Žπ‘› πΈπ‘€π‘ƒπ‘‚π‘ŠπΈπ‘…πΌπ‘πΊ π‘π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘‘ π‘œπ‘“ 𝑒𝑠 π‘€β„Žπ‘–π‘™π‘’ π‘Žπ‘π‘π‘’π‘π‘‘π‘–π‘›π‘” π‘‘β„Žπ‘Žπ‘‘ π‘’π‘Žπ‘β„Ž π‘›π‘Žπ‘ π‘π‘’π‘›π‘‘ π‘–π‘›π‘β„Ž π‘œπ‘“ 𝑖𝑑 𝑖𝑠 π‘›π‘œπ‘‘ π‘Ž 𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑓𝑒𝑙 𝑒π‘₯π‘π‘™π‘œπ‘–π‘‘π‘Žπ‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘› π‘œπ‘“ π‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿ π‘£π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘¦ π‘‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘Žπ‘™π‘–π‘‘π‘¦β€¦

Our body should be loved, accepted, and not hidden with shame.

𝐾𝑒𝑒𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑖𝑛 π‘ β„Žπ‘Žπ‘π‘’ π‘ β„Žπ‘œπ‘’π‘™π‘‘ 𝑏𝑒 𝑠𝑒𝑒𝑛 π‘Žπ‘  π‘Ž π‘—π‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘›π‘’π‘¦ π‘‘π‘œπ‘€π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘‘π‘  π‘œπ‘£π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘™π‘™ β„Žπ‘’π‘Žπ‘™π‘‘β„Ž 𝑏𝑒𝑑 π‘›π‘œπ‘‘ π‘Žπ‘  π‘Ž π‘‘π‘Žπ‘π‘’π‘™π‘Žπ‘‘π‘’π‘‘ π‘ π‘‘π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘‘ π‘œπ‘“ π‘π‘’π‘Žπ‘’π‘‘π‘¦. π»π‘’π‘Žπ‘™π‘‘β„Ž 𝑖𝑠 π‘π‘’π‘Žπ‘’π‘‘π‘¦ π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘ π‘ π‘‘π‘Žπ‘›π‘‘π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘‘π‘  π‘Žπ‘Ÿπ‘’π‘›β€™π‘‘ π‘¦π‘œπ‘’π‘Ÿ π‘œπ‘£π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘™π‘™.

I feel healthiest when I workout for the thought of self-care and eating whole plant-based foods to feed my body. I came to the understanding that being healthy is beautiful. This leads me to the mentality that my well being is the reflection that works best for me.

#π‘π‘œ#π‘‡π‘œ#π΅π‘œπ‘‘π‘¦#π‘†β„Žπ‘Žπ‘šπ‘–π‘›π‘”