Thy Kingdom Come

The following myth was written quickly and isn’t finished, but was in response to the murder of a young woman last week. From Britain, to Kurdistan to Trinidad and Tobago, all countries I have lived in, I am so tired of hearing of these atrocities against women. I am so sick of hearing authorities tell women to take care and be aware. How about they start saying to men STOP. ABUSING. RAPING. AND. MURDERING. WOMEN

All who entered the kingdom could not deny its beauty. The mountains that shielded the interior were dense with trees of every green hue. Bursts of color, yellows, oranges, pinks would adorn the greenery like jewels at the neck of a woman. The sea lapped at sand as soft as chana flour and reflected the brightness of the sky as though it was made to reflect back the glory of the gods. The land was rich with resources that were coveted throughout the world and the foreigners travelled by boat and plane to bask in the beauty of this heavenly kingdom.

Only one problem blighted this paradise and at first, they thought it was easy to fix. Those men in high places who decided the fate of all who lived in the kingdom decreed that women would wear clothes to cover their body from neck to toe. They would cover their hair in the presence of all men except their husband. Not even a finger nail could be shown out in public. It made total sense, the kingdom crier announced. If there was nothing to see there could be no issue. 

            And yet still, the maidens of the kingdom were turning up in rivers and shallow graves. Stripped, defiled, mutilated and dead. The people of the kingdom raised their voices in discontent that there were those among them who could take the daughters of the land and violate them just so. The people took to the streets with chants and songs. The kingdom criers sat in town squares and told the story of each maiden who had been lost, naming them again and again until they were on the lips of every citizen.

So, those men in high places devised a new plan. It was written into law and each citizen was bound to a contract. It was decided that there were some who were pre-disposed to this kind of behaviour if not before birth, the surely straight after. It was decided that these boy children would have their penis removed as soon as they were born. When the citizens raised their voices in horror, those men in high places decreed that what the boy child had never had they could never miss, and this procedure meant that real men could be preserved in their rightful places within society. And those men in high places made this decision to show the rest of humanity that they understood. That they could deal with their own.

            And for a while the idea worked. A boy child was detected by scan at 26 weeks. The mother was given a detailed questionnaire to complete, with help, of course, because not all of them could understand what they were being asked. Some were too young, some didn’t finish schooling, some had no inclination to comply. Court appointed officials were based in each antenatal clinic ready to assist. The questions were very intimate, very personal. Designed to make sure she knew the responsibility that lay on her shoulders by having a boy child. Poking into every aspect of her mind to make sure she was capable of raising a good boy, to teach him right from wrong. Making her responsible for his fate. Fathers were not exempt. No, no. They were easier to deal with though. A blood test and a brain scan could determine what they were passing on to their offspring. It wasn’t of much importance, but science insisted genetics were taken into account, so science had to be appeased.

            At first some women tried to hide their boy child. They would give birth at home or deep in the bush. But a few postpartum grisly deaths made it not worth the effort. And the women who had lost maidens shouted out their anger at the selfish mothers and aided the kingdom officials to find them and to force adherence. The horror stories of gaping wounds and maggot infested infections that ate away at the testes and rendered the boy children sterile did not deter the men in high places. And once the removal operation was perfected it wasn’t an issue and so much easier to keep those boy children clean. 

            Many years passed and the men in high places thought they had done it. They felt very proud of their innovative solution to an age old problem. Except the numbers were not changing. Every week four or five maidens were being pulled out of a river, or a cesspit or from the side of the road. Broken and violated. And the voices soared in pain for these children of the land who were being taken. The voices demanded something be done and the men in high places listened. It was decreed that the problem was the hands that could carry out these heinous crimes and therefore hands were surgically removed from pre-disposed boy children at birth. Hands and penises were the perpetrators and with them removed the maidens would be safe.

            At the beginning, mothers complained bitterly about the extra work they would need to do, but the men in high places encouraged them to breed girl children to help. It was being done for those same girl children. They had to be part of the solution. And for a little while it helped. The number of maidens being dragged from bushes reduced to only four or five each month and young women started to peel out of their houses and walk alone around the streets and not peer around every corner looking for the bogey man. The pre-disposed boys played football and video games with voice activation and finally, peace appeared to be in sight. The kingdom collectively began to breathe easier. The sun shone brighter, the mountains stood taller and the sea became calmer.

            One day, a new phenomenon appeared and nobody could trace the source. But it began to disrupt life from the classroom to the supermarket to the office. On public transport and on the streets of the kingdom. Nowhere was exempt. Vile words began to spew from the mouths of men and boys. Words directed at women like chainsaws at a tree. Constant and without restraint these words began to chop at the legs of young maidens, and mothers, at aunties and grandmothers. Lewd words made to shock and disturb, and it passed through the kingdom like a virus. Even those who had not been identified at birth, who had kept their penis and their hands, began to spew the filth.

            It began as a whistle, then a strange sucking of the lips, like that used to call a dog from the field. Then words formed that sounded sweet to begin with, offering delights to the mind and succulent body of the female targets. And for a while, some unsuspecting maidens smiled or laughed, not knowing that their ancestors had also taken this route long before and that there was nothing innocent in that path taken. 

            Letters were written to the men in high places and they knew something had to be done. Maidens had once more begun turning up in rivers and fields, naked and covered in suck marks, bite marks and saliva. There was only one way forward and the men in high places decreed that the tongues of pre-disposed boy children should be removed at birth, along with hands and penises. The men in high places said this would guarantee the survival of their gender and show that they would not let the kingdom down.

            For the next hundred years pre disposed boy children had their tongues removed and lips partially sewn together at birth. And though mothers complained about the extra work of guessing what their boy child may need, they were told to be grateful for the extra girl children who could help.

            And once more maidens were free to roam in peace and live their lives in harmony with each other and the disfigured men they came upon. There was no threat to their being and only one or two maidens each month were succumbing to a brutal end and the men in high places felt that this was acceptable.

            Until one of their own was taken. The men in high places turned the kingdom upside down and their anguished screams could be heard ringing through the land day and night. Until their own was found naked at the edge of the lake, trampled into the mud, bitten, sucked, choked, raped and battered. The men in high places howled and ripped their clothing and did not know how this thing had happened when they had tried everything in their power to stop it.

            The wives of the men on high had always respected their husbands’ insights. Had bowed to their greater intelligence and understanding of the male species. This, though, was too much to bear and while the men lamented the loss of their daughter, the women took seats at the high table and made a decree.

            From that day forward no longer would boy children be mutilated at birth. Instead they would be brought up exactly the same as girl children. They would be trained to think of others, they would be of service to all, they would show respect for themselves and as an extension for all others. Mothers and maidens, aunts and grandmothers would show the boys how they were expected to act.  Boys would not be allowed to congregate in groups without at least two maidens present to make sure their mouths and minds stayed pure.

            And for many years peace reigned in the kingdom, until the men in high places began decrying these maiden men and began holding secret meetings, inviting men to join them and learn to be real men. Encouraging them to understand the ways of their ancestors and to take their rightful place as true men, in a society that needed them. And the men felt that a new world was opening up to them and books were written that told of man’s place in the universe and the rights that he should be afforded. 

            And soon maidens were turning up naked in storm drains and secluded beaches, battered and broken. And the women howled and collected their girl children to their bosom and left the kingdom. They travelled far and wide until they found an island newly emerged from the sea and claimed it as their own.

            Back in the kingdom, time passed and one by one, the real men perished and nature claimed the earth where they had once stood. The mountains and the bush grew thick and lush and the rivers and the sea flowed with ease. And it was as though the kingdom had never been.

The maidens flourished in their new homes and danced naked under the moonlight.

Free to be. 

Free to breathe. 

Free to live.

Ali Ashiq (Ali the Lover)

Ali Ashiq is a legend in Kurdistan. His story is retold both as a celebration and a warning about true love. I heard the tale of his life many times in many different ways and each telling moved me.

As Ali got older the Kurdish Government built him a house outside of Soran close to a waterfall, high above the twists and turns of the roadway below. He was often seen walking the hills going about his business, bothering nobody and in turn not being bothered. He died recently and this is my interpretation of his story.

Photo Rudaw.net

Ali sat in the shade of the only tree on the lower mountainside. Glancing up at the unbroken blueness of the sky, he marveled at his life. His sheep grazed peacefully on the rich grasses, deep green and lush after the spring rains. This was Ali’s favourite time of year. The mountains were waking up, peeling away the old dried grasses, like dry skin from the bottom of his foot. Winter’s rains and the thin layer of snow that had come and gone had softened them. The new grass pushed the old away and spring rain washed it down to the river to be carried away.

Ali laid down his wax cloth and slowly began the ritual of folding back each corner to reveal his lunch. Since a small boy of ten until now, nine years later, Ali enjoyed this ritual. His sister would prepare his lunch and not tell him what it was. So that he could have a surprise, she said. So that he would know she loved him and thought about him, out there, all alone. Of course, Ai was not alone. He had his sheep and his two dogs. He had grass and rocks, mountains and rivers. The sun was his friend and the rain was his close cousin.

The tin pot was still slightly warm and Ali’s mouth watered. He took his time, savouring the moment. Dolma or Kofta? Maybe Biriani. He unfolded his mother’s bread, thin and delicate, slightly scorched in patches where it had stayed too long on the sér. Just as he liked it. The slight sharpness, the change in texture from pale to dark excited his mouth.

Closing his eyes, Ali lifted the lid and sniffed deeply. The tang of sumac, pepper, tomato. The distinctive and subtle smell of garlic that his sister put in just for him. To keep him warm inside, to protect him. So lost in the poetry of the moment, Ali missed the ripple of breeze that passed through the meadow. Opening his eyes slowly, he relished the dolma before tasting it. Tearing a piece of bread, he plunged it into the pot, his fingers deftly scooping and rolling a perfect formation.

Since childhood, Ali had appreciated the small things in life. Sitting with aunties and sisters, he had enjoyed the sounds of their voices as they chitter-chattered stories he didn’t understand. He was fascinated by the busy-ness of their arms and hands as they scrubbed, kneaded, picked and plucked. All the time their voices rising and falling. He liked the way his sister’s hair caught the sunlight and shimmered so that it looked like far away mirage of grass on a hot summer’s day. His favourite times were sitting with mother while she stirred large pots over open fires. Songs would whisper their way from her lips and drop into whatever she was cooking. Although too young to understand what she sang, he would know instinctively whether they were sad, when she lifted the spoon and blew on it before pressing it to his lips to taste. Sometimes it was bitter and he would screw up his face, other times the sweetness would make him choke.

As he grew older, Ali spent less time with the women in his house and more time with his father. Roaming the mountains, finding the best place for the sheep and goats to graze. Listening to his father’s wistful voice telling him of conquests old and new. Teaching him the ways of the Kurdish man who was fearless in battle. The protector of the land, the gladiator. The man. Ali listened dutifully, but his heart remained with the gentle cadence of his mother’s songs. With the fierce gentleness of his aunts and sisters. Ali knew there was poetry in life. Words that fit together in such a way that only beauty could come from them. So he listened to his father like a good son and dreamed of beauty.

The year Ali turned eighteen was when the two sides of him met. The feminine and the masculine combined and brought about the biggest change in him. She was beautiful. She was more than beautiful. She was Zozg mountain on a clear day, standing out against an azure sky. She was the waterfall pulsing in March. She was almond blossom, dazzling against the craggy mountain. When she smiled at him, her head turned slightly to one side, a small wrinkle in her brow as though trying to remember him, Ali knew that she would be his. For one year he had dreamed of the day they would be married. He planned each detail so carefully that sometimes he thought it was real and would be surprised to look around and see not the walls of their small home but mountains and sheep.

Ali was mopping up the last of the rice, his fingers smooth with red oil, a slight smile of satisfaction on his face. The sheep were still. Like monuments of the past. Waiting. Aware. At first, Ali did not notice anything his mind still focused on the life he would spend with his beloved. As he began to tidy away, he wiped his fingers on the grass and noticed the line of ants next to him for the first time. They scurried with determination, carrying crumbs of bread, grains of stray rice and twigs.

Something caught in Ali’s mind. He wasn’t sure what, but somehow there was a marching through his mind. A carrying of crumbs and fragments that were indecipherable. This time, he felt the breeze that blew through the field. It reached inside him and scattered his peace. The sheep began to bleat and Ali heard whispers. As though somehow the sheep were telling him a secret. In the distance he could hear drums. Faint. Beats missing as the sound bounced off the mountains. There was a whistling and shrilling moving in and out of the air around him.

The sounds of a wedding in the village. Ali knew these sounds. He heard them almost every Friday. Soon, he thought, they will be for me. But he didn’t feel the extra beat in his heart that usually accompanied that thought. Looking down he noticed the ants had begun to walk over his outstretched leg. As though he wasn’t there. As though he was part of the landscape.

The sheep were silent now. All turned towards him. Their sweet faces blank as usual but their eyes dripping tears. Above him the leaves began to rub together, straining on their branches as a fierce wind shook them. She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone.

Anniversary of the 5th Pan African Congress

75 years ago, the 5th Pan African Congress started in Manchester at Chorlton Town Hall. Lasting 5 days it called loud and hard for freedom of colonised nations. It is said it was the most important congress because it was the precursor for independence for colonised countries. In A House With No Angels, Ade was there. She danced with Nkrumah, she served food to Kenyatta, she listened to Amy Garvey. But inside she knew that 1929 was the real agent of change. It was the year she was born and the year of the Aba Women’s Riots in Nigeria. https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/aba-womens-riots-november-december-1929/ When the women stood against the colonial regime and said NO to being taxed on their market sales. That’s when change was crystallised.

More Than A Book Launch

Yesterday, I changed my profile picture on Facebook to one of me at my book launch. I look happy and proud. And on one level I am. This book is an achievement. The launch was a dream come true. And yet I’ve been unable to write about it until now.

Each time I’ve been asked about my launch and how it went, I immediately start talking about something else that happened that week. Something that was so traumatizing and painful it completely overshadowed my launch and made it feel insignificant. Conversations went like this:

  • How was your book launch?
  • Yeah, it was ok, but that same week we buried my son’s best friend, Faye and that overshadowed everything. She was only 29. She was killed in Nigeria by a random shooting. It shouldn’t have happened. She shouldn’t have been in that place at that time, but she was and now she’s gone and we buried her that week of my launch.
  • Ok, sorry to hear that. Bye.

Faye was an enormous part of our lives, had been since she was a teenager. She was my son’s twin. They did nothing without consulting each other. No matter where each of them was in the world they were together. No matter what they had to do they discussed it and planned it together. When they were younger, at any given time I could arrive home from work and find Faye sitting on the sofa or traipsing up or down stairs. Faye was part of our lives because she was part of Simon’s life.

But I also have my own memories of her. My favourite mug. I bought it when I was with her in London. We were walking through the rain to go and meet Simon and I saw this mug in the window. ‘Hippyshit’. I had to get it and we went in and laughed at all the tasteless tat in the shop. My favourite necklace that I rarely take off, Faye bought for me in Kurdistan for my birthday. Discussing my novel with her in the kitchen in Manchester while I was doing my PhD and her giving sound advice and strong opinions of what women represent and how they should be represented. Faye in the camp for internally displaced people in Soran where she taught English and we played with the younger children.

Faye in a terrible leopard print fur coat, channeling Bet Lynch from Coronation Street at a Thanksgiving dinner in D2, our accommodation in Kurdistan. Faye covered in mud when I went to pick them up from a Global Gathering Festival. Faye sitting on the doorstep smoking a roll up at 6:00 am chatting at a million miles an hour because she was too wired to sleep. Faye telling me a family secret and me getting all excited because it would make a great story, and Faye laughing while Simon was disgusted that I could even consider it because that was Faye’s real life. Faye kneeling down on the floor in our office in Kurdistan marking exam papers. Standing up when I introduced her to a colleague and giving the most disgusted look and ‘ugh’ sound when he refused to shake her hand because of his religion.

Faye Skyping me from Kosovo when she was being made Head of the English department and us laughing at the kitsch little house she was living in that was reminiscent of old ladies and even older cats. Faye in a Kurdish dress made from bright pink material we found in the bazaar. We’re out on a picnic for Newroz, with Sarwa’s family, eating dolma, and dancing. She sits on a rock, regal, while Simon sits lower down and we call them the Kurdish Posh & Becks. The last message on Facebook when Faye said she’d pre-ordered my novel and I answered ‘Love you, Moonfayce.’

Faye was killed on Good Friday, 19 April 2019 and life can never be the same again. Grief is relentless. But what I do know is that in her last five years Faye lived her best life. There is no doubt that there should have been more living, more bests, more memories, more of Faye. We should have had time for her to dissect my book and give me her bluntly honest feedback, for her to come and sit on my patio in Trinidad and drink rum, for her to come and experience carnival and play pretty mas, because she definitely would have done that.

My book launch was amazing and that was the week we buried Faye Mooney.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/21/british-woman-faye-mooney-killed-kidnappers-nigeria

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