We had skeletons in our closets, literally. Sometimes, they were on the dining room table (not for eating :-). I grew up in a medical household where human bones were for studying. The only non-doctors in the house were the cats and me. Talking about body parts, illnesses and bodily fluids were normal dinner conversations. I remember having to recite which vitamins are in which foods before being allowed to serve myself. We had what you may call “pill infestation”: open any cabinet, closet or drawer, and watch bottles and boxes of medicine pour out. Pharmaceutical companies are generous with their free samples; many of which end up being used on us, the kids. Everytime I sneezed, my dad would run to me with a handful of pills and a glass of water. Getting shots for anything and everything was the MO of my childhood. I often felt like a lab rat and envisioned my butt looking like a colander. Science was fun! When my Dad slaughtered the sheep for the big feast every year, he would hang the dead carcass by the neck, open the belly, and give us, kids, a biology lesson; showing the digestive system, the respiratory system, the reproductive system, the different organs and tissues. I really enjoyed that part, even though I was never able to watch the neck severing. One huge advantage of having doctors as parents, is that masturbation is accepted as normal. I started pleasuring myself at a very young age, maybe 4 or 5. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew when I rubbed between my legs, it felt good. I remember doing it under the covers while my Mom and brother are having a conversation in the same room. Or stepping out from the busy kitchen where everyone is labouring over something, going to my room and playing with myself. Even though I was as discreet as a 4-year old can be, I’m sure it wasn’t a secret, yet never once was I ‘caught’ (my first introduction to “don’t ask, don’t tell” ;-). My Dad was an OB/GYN, we talked about pussies and butts just like any other body part, nothing special. Yet I still absorbed all the body shame, guilt and oppression from the surrounding culture nonetheless. I grew up hating my hair (too frizzy and thick), skin (too hairy and oily) and body (too skinny). I was repeatedly told by relatives that I’m unmarriageable because I’m too bony معضمه. My Dad, worrying about his daughter’s future, used to give me shots to increase my appetite so that I would put some meat on my bones. I did eat more, but never gained weight and never looked ‘marriageable’ (whatever that was). The irony is, I got the skinny genes from him. When I moved to the USA to study, for the first time in my life I felt that my body is not only normal, but also beautiful and desirable. What a relief that was! There was no going back.
Two liquids of different densities don’t mix, like oil and water. But when two slightly different variants of the same liquid touch each other, you would expect them to blend together and produce a new homogeneous liquid. Right? Not in the Amazon! El Río Negro meets the Amazon River near Manaus, Brazil, they share a 40 km (~25 miles) “border” without mixing. You can see and feel the difference. El Río Negro is darker, has high acidity (4.6 pH), warmer (26°C, 78°F) and slower. The Amazon River, or Rio Solimões as it’s known in that area, has low acidity (6.8 pH), cooler at 23°C/73°F and runs faster. Because of its speed (7 km/hr, 4.35mph), it washes off the clay shores which gives the water its light brown color. The high acidity and relative shallowness of El Río Negro (16 meters/52 ft max depth) make it home to only 300 types of fish as opposed to 2000 varieties in the Amazon (60 meters/197 feet max depth). The best part is that mosquitoes cannot breed in El Río Negro! It contains 60% minerals, including iron and uranium and 40% organic matter. The Amazon River is a gold mine, literally and figuratively. The region is very rich in resources: oil, minerals, gold, wood, rare flora and fauna, raw materials..etc, and is being exploited to the detriment of the environment, the wild life and the indigenous peoples. The government is giving incentives for companies to invest in the region by charging no taxes. So you come to the Amazon, only to find manufacturing plants for cars, digital devices, oil companies and other “modern” sores. Now Manaus, the capital of Amazonia state, is a busy polluted, grid locked metropolitan city with traffic jams, high rises and high blood pressure. Can’t blame them for “paving paradise to put up a parking lot”*. They want “progress” too and they have the resources to get it. The only silver lining is that arts flourish; free music and dance shows daily in the Opera House in addition to live music in the square, complete with drinking, smoking and trash everywhere.
Humans are, indeed, the cancer of the Earth and cities are the tumors. Like cancer, we grow at a faster rate than our host, Earth can support. Can we stop before we sink our mother ship and die?
* From the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell.
Meeting of the waters near Manaus, Brazil.
Meeting of the waters near Manaus, Brazil. From Rio Negro.
Opera House, Manaus, Brazil.
The human race has been seeped in a culture of fear and scarcity for several thousand years. All human made borders are drawn in blood. Countries appear and disappear through wars. If you are alive today, someone in your ancestry line must’ve killed people. It’s been so long that we have no clue what life looks like without fear and scarcity. Like all living systems, our culture of fear is very efficient at replicating itself. Because fear is the most contagious and most addictive meme, it’s very good at producing quantity, but not quality. In fact, quality of life under fear is very poor. Yet, it is the only system we know and the only mode in which we feel “safe”. Because we’re so addicted to it, when we have no real reason to fear, we create imaginary threats and fear them. Sometimes it’s insects, animals, wild nature, change, the unknown,…etc. Most often, it’s other people who don’t share our myths/skin color/location/ even the way they choose to use their own bodies. We demonize them and fear our made up demons. We create borders, build walls, race in arming ourselves, throw our youth in the fire, all in the name of security. But in reality, we’re securing the myths that we made up. Of which many become self fulfilling prophecies. In the culture of fear, there are no winners. It doesn’t matter on which side of the wall you’re standing, you are still a prisoner. It doesn’t matter whether you’re holding the gun or standing at its point, you’re still a victim. A victim of a rotten system that stripped you of your natural empathy and compassion. Your suffering doesn’t end at pulling the trigger, it only starts. The emotional, psychological and mental damage of our fear systems go much deeper and propagate much farther than any physical damage. We keep passing it on to future generations who keep passing it on and so on.
The most efficient way to produce numbers, is to use men as cannon fodder and women as breeders. Hence most of our belief systems, traditional gender roles, beauty standards and human culture are dominated by ideals that enforce and idealize those modes. Often at the expense of individual happiness, freedom and self actualization. Yet this “effectiveness” is not only making us unhappy, it’s also depleting the earth’s resources faster than they are being replenished. War and killing are now children’s games and no one gives it a second thought. The first thing we teach our children is what to fear: strangers, insects, darkness, wild animals, wild nature, the future and anything that we cannot contain and control. The list keeps growing with every generation.
Can we stop this madness? Is it possible?
I don’t like to lie. It complicates life and kills something beautiful inside me; the comfort and relaxation of just being me. However, there is one super delicious lie that set me and my dad free. It still makes me proud when I think about it. You see, my dad was very religious. He believed that his God would punish him if I, his daughter, didn’t follow suit. Somewhere in his holy books, there is a godly decree that said: “teach your children to pray at 7 years old, and by 10, beat them if they don’t”. In Islam, “pray” is not something you do once a week in church, or even once a day before you go to bed, but 5 times every single friggin’ day. My Dad was a doctor, highly educated, very compassionate and relatively open minded, except for one blind spot called religion. I would be playing with my friends in the street. My dad would come home from work, call me out of the game to ask: did you do your prayer? If I said no, he would ask me to leave my game to go pray. He obviously didn’t know how games worked. We’d argue, sometimes he’d let me finish the game, sometimes not, but it was always very frustrating. One time, I obliged, left the game to pray, by the time I came back, all my friends were gone. As an 8 year old, the message started forming in my mind “God is no fun”. Winters are very cold in Egypt because the houses are not well insulated. We used space heaters and only one of the 2 bathrooms in our house had a butane water heater which was turned on on demand. Typically for showers. Winter evenings were especially torturous because I had to do my ablution with cold water, which left my hands and feet cold for a long time. If I wanted to use the water heater, I would get ridiculed as being a sissy. Besides, God would give me more browny points for using cold water, I was told. Another mental note: “God likes us to suffer”. One cold winter night, I think I was 12 or 13, my Dad came home from work and asked his usual question: “did you pray?”. I was tired of the back and forth, so I said “No. It’s too cold”. He asked me to put my book down, pulled me by the arm to the nearest bathroom, the one without the heater, and said: “do your ablution”. I said: “the water is too cold”. Next thing I know, there was a slap on my face. Mind you, my Dad never beat anyone. It just never happened in my family, never before and never after. That one slip of a slap sealed the deal for me. I went through the motions of praying that night, for the VERY LAST TIME in my life! You see, my logical mind kept churning and came up with the perfect solution: whenever dad asked about praying, there is always only one answer: “yes, I did”. He was hardly ever home, working all the time, and had no way of knowing the truth. That one slap, albeit emotionally very painful, set me free: I never had to leave my friends, interrupt my games or reading, never had to be cold at night and most importantly, never had to disappoint my Dad. I was actually surprised by how easy it was to lie. No shame, no guilt, just pure sweet relief. If obeying God turned my kind compassionate Dad into an aggressive monster, then it’s not worth obeying, I figured. I would often see the surprise on my Dad’s face when he heard my confident “yes”, but he didn’t question it. I think he was so happy to get the “yeses”, that he didn’t argue. Later on, I moved to the USA, freed my inner atheist and lived happily ever after. I didn’t tell my family until 10 years later. But that’s a different story.
“When you point a finger at someone, 3 fingers are pointing back at you”. When I find myself judging someone or something, I think of the 3 fingers: B.E.T; Body, Emotions and Thoughts. Let me explain…
At the root of every judgement, there is fear or scarcity. Here’s my checklist to capture the source of my judgemental attitudes. I ask myself “What is missing?”. The pinky: on the Body level (B). How is my body feeling? What does it need? Do I need food/drink/rest/sex/temperature change/touch/movement/toilet break…etc? You’ll be amazed how much negativity disappears after a good nap, let alone a good orgasm! If my body’s needs are met and I’m still in contraction mode, I go to the ring finger: Emotions (E). How am I feeling? What emotional needs are not being met? Do I need company? Do I need my space? Do I feel safe?…etc. Then I move to that most problematic of all: the middle finger: I examine my Thoughts (T). Is the judgement mine or inherited? Does it stem from the present or the past? What fear/unmet desire is underneath the judgement? Am I envious? What lesson can this fear teach me about myself? Can I shift fear and scarcity to love and abundance?
Sometimes I’m not exactly sure, so I write, meditate or move. Usually, something shifts. The most important thing is not to identify with the negative judgement as “The Truth”. It is, like everything, fleeting. The more energy we give it, the more it lingers. Also, ignoring, suppressing, numbing or pretending it doesn’t exist only makes fear stronger. If we simply witness, listen and let go, it passes. And we’re left … a little older, a little wiser and a lot happier! As the Portuguese song says: “Você não sabe o quanto caminhei para chegar aqui.” (You don’t know how much I walked to arrive here). So, don’t judge.
If we are to change the world to a more loving, trusting and peaceful place, we need to come out and let the world know that it’s possible to love unconditionally. As long as we keep hiding, we can’t expect the world to accept us. As Harvey Milk said “Hope will never be silent”…
May 28, 2017 10:11pm
Mucho amor de Costa Rica! Spent the first week decompressing; delicious tropical fruits, beautiful warm beaches, birds, LOTS of rain (with temperatures in the mid 80s °F/mid 20s °C), getting over a cold and feeding the insects. We also had a pool volleyball party and went Salsa dancing. Studying about “Non Violent Communication”, Eco communities and peace building. This is as much of an internal journey as an external one. Doing a whole lot of nothing without any guilt; Hibernation!
May 13, 2017 11:10am