Jun 27, 2014

Tenedos

I've realised that there are whole genres of music I can't listen to without being reminded of my mum and being sad. Almost ALL greek music now brings tears to my eyes, so I usually avoid it. There are some days though that I wake up missing those Sundays when the four of us would pile up in the car and drive to the mountains listening to the radio. I miss the music, I miss the mountains, I miss my family, I miss the innocence of those sunny Sundays and the long road trips and listening to my parents talk about so many interesting and stimulating things. 

Part of project GRIEF is to bring back those memories that comprise my identity, and face the music, literally! This is an album that my dad got my mum when I was 9 years old. I loved it so much that I asked them to let me buy it for my favourite teacher in school (who was extremely surprised to receive it) and then in my first year in high school I sung one of the songs in the album acapella in front of my class as part of the music class "talent day". Unfortunately, the words of loss and longing went over my classmates' heads and I really couldn't understand why they were laughing at me. That was the beginning of my era as a 'misfit' in high school!










Tenedos is the title of the album, and refers to the long-suffering island in the Aegean sea, which after centuries of being conquered by different powers due to its strategic position at the entrance of the Dardanelles, was ceded to Turkey under the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. Unlike other places where Turkey and Greece exchanged populations, the Greeks in Tenedos were allowed to stay but suffered discrimination and fear under Turkish administration, eventually fleeing the island. Tenedos is part of the painful story of the Greeks of Asia Minor.

This remains one of my favourite albums of all time.

Jun 11, 2014

Who am I?: Indonesia

I think: Indonesia was so magical. How do you explain the massive butterflies, the eerie sounds of the forest, the edible colour of people's skin, the smell of clove cigarettes and their crackling fire like tiny lighthouses in the darkness of night, the myriads of metallic coloured bugs and moths, the shapes of the leaves, the waving children, the canopy, the landscape...

Indonesia was so magical, I left a part of me there. I know because I go there in my dreams. I fly above the world on the back of a giant Hornbill, whose loud beating wings stir oceans and bend trees. Indonesia changed me, as I questioned my notions of time, normality and among others, freedom.

I saw cocoa fruits hanging from trees, and wild orchids growing on the side of the road. I saw a hornbill's nest with a little hornbill chick's head poking out, and a langur monkey dying alone on the soft forest floor. I heard stories of spirits entering people, and of brutal beheadings carried out by flying parangs. I saw eels slithering in the shallow waters of a river eel farm, and fell asleep on a boat at dusk to the sound of a hundred muezzins calling the faithful to prayer. I was kissed under a cascading waterfall of an undiscovered Eden, and made love on a floating house while the tides rolled out to reveal a glistening treasure of crabs, shells, creatures. 

And now I am here, co-inhabiting with my grief, struggling with human relationships. I am the same person, carrying those same things. I once showered in the company of a frog and a bat, and now I search in people's faces for something familiar, for something lost. 

Without knowing, I trailed in the path of a clouded leopard who hid watching in the trees. I hid watching in the trees as a sunbear blindly intercepted mine. I caught the skins of fruits falling from an orangutan's mouth as I sat under his tree, and was once confronted by his angry fangs when I followed him too closely. The forest showered raindrops, sticks and tree-flowers on me, and I saw both the sky through the forest, and the forest from the sky. 

I got bit and stung and invaded by mosquitoes, caterpillars, parasites and viruses, and had my hair gently combed by an Indonesian nurse who had no common language or culture with me. I endured loneliness, and flourished in friendship. I struggled to hear my loved-ones' voices through storms and cables spanning continents. I got lost in the forest and panicked - I got lost in a village and rejoiced. I attended a funeral where white buffaloes were slaughtered to honour the dead, and black vultures were ominously circling overhead. I attended a wedding where I dwarfed both of the dressed up, powdered, decorated and stiff-looking bride and groom. I spent a whole day celebrating the end of Ramadan in people's houses, eating fluorescent-coloured sugar cakes and candy, and drinking sweet tea cross-legged on the floor. I traveled in a rickety car, a rickety bus, a rickety boat, a rickety train and finally a rickety plane, all the time praying I would make it out alive. 

And now I am here, searching in people's faces for something familiar, for something lost.


Jun 7, 2014

Searching

After heavy rain the back yard smells like the rainforest. It really transports me as I sit there in the early morning sun, watching the dog play. She runs through the grass, droplets of water splashing from her feet and getting caught in the light - diamonds sprayed into the morning! She is so happy to be alive. She takes such enjoyment out of sticking her snout in the earth, smelling the fresh grass, rolling around in the mud. Puddles are such a delight for her, as she jumps into them head first, then belly and, with an agile swiveling maneuver, feet up and wriggling, like a muddy little pig. The prospect of going out in the back yard every day is so exhilarating, that she is so happy to see one of her humans in the mornings, greeting us with one of her broad pit bull smiles, the corners of her mouth curling up to show her teeth, and her tail wagging at our feet. Usually I have to reach for the coffee pot grumpily before thinking of doing anything, but today I am as drawn to the outside as she is.

Yes, it has rained. Birds are so loud here, like in the jungle, and though it is not hot yet, the air is ripe with the promise of wet midday heat. It is the kind of heat that smells and tastes of water, the submerging and often suffocating kind. It bears little resemblance to the dry heat of Cyprus, which is striking, powerful and unforgiving.

So what have I learnt over these past two years?, I think as I watch the dog trot about like a goat and relish this beautiful morning. Sometimes it feels like life stopped since my mum's diagnosis, while the world just passed me by. I feel left behind, forgotten and lonely. The robust cords that connected me to the whole planet were severed, and for two years I have been living in the realm of the dead, and the grieving. In the beginning, after she died, I felt a sense of relief and rebirth. I thought "if she can do it, if she can die, then so can I". There was nothing to be afraid of. I was born again as my own mother, and I could build my life however I wanted to, without feeling responsible for her feelings. But those initial thoughts started to wear off like clothes that have been washed only too often. I was left holding rags. I descended into the most profound identity crisis I have ever experienced, as I realised that the only person who really knew me was now gone. All my self doubt, all my fears, all my darkness was met with silence, as if the emptiness echoed: you are nothing. My mother was not there to fight off any of it, to talk me back to reason and strength. The questions that had troubled me before "who am I, what is my purpose, what am I doing with my life" came now clad in an armour of futility, and night after night their powerful clubs beat me to a pulp. And worst of all, I ended up empty. After all the anger, sadness and tears were spent, I was left with nothing to offer. Unable to work, unable to write, unable to sex, unable to read, unable to talk about anything, I felt myself being stripped of colour and substance, and in place of me lived now a white paper person with a paper plate head and a paper thin smile. And this is how I walk about interacting with this world. I feel guilty and grateful for my family's support during this time, as I am unable to justify a lot of my actions, as well as my financial and emotional dependence. I am also secretly envious of the people whose lives seem bright and blissful, and most of all moving forwards. It sounds sad, but deep down I feel like I have no choice, I have to give myself time and wait it out till my lonely rock re-enters the earth's orbit once again. I focus on the small things that give me pleasure, like cooking good, wholesome food, enjoying the sun on my skin, spending the time I have with the people I love well, tending my plants, playing with the dog, listening to people.

As I am starting to write once again, I want to try and find my voice. In trying to find my voice I must talk about my grief. So what have I learnt over these past two years? The dog looks at me with her long tongue hanging out and I know it's time to go inside. Where do I begin?