Daddy

My father died today. 

Today, I wore red . 

Red is his favourite colour. 

Red is my favourite colour. 

Today is Valentine's Day. 

Friday is his birthday. 

I woke up without the accustomed grogginess; albeit at 2:23 am. 

I had the insatiable need to cook. 

My father's love was cooking. 

As I chopped carrots, onions and garlic, I thought of him for no other reason than to fan flames of misandry.

Finally, I gave up the fight with my indignant attitude and a just as thick carrot stick and said:

"You know, when daddy dies, the first person to meet him in heaven will be his father."

One hour later the irony of those words would be realised. 

When I uttered those words, I had chosen to acknowledge his painful childhood; almost incomprehensible to me in large part to the father that he was when I was younger. 

I am often at fault in speaking in absolutes, but I could not have had a better father than the one I had for the first 11 years of my life- not even Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

 Why then had I, after my sister's own roundabout way of trying to get me to speak with him a few days ago, refused to pick up the phone and call?

Furthermore, why then had I made the decision (not yet acted upon) to 'cut him off' from my life for 2017?


He was my first love. And I do believe I, his. 

And my first heartbreak. 

So painful a heartbreak that the events that precipitated our estrangement have left me numb. 

My father does not deserve that indictment. The man who fathered me perfectly for 11 years does not deserve that. The man that inspired in my soul and in me an unshakable confidence that informs every success ever accomplished or will in the future, does not deserve that. 

But yet, it is the truth. 

His decision to choose another- woman, friends, family broke my heart. 

It was not until 5 days ago- after watching a video online about healing and boundaries did I understand that his actions, though diabolically painful were not intentioned that way or even malicious. Rather he was doing something for himself and not to me. 

5 days ago, I finally came to terms with that. 

And yet, I did not call or answer his messages. 


The reality is that understanding is not forgiveness. 

It starts the process. It is not the end. 

The truth is (and nothing to do with my father) I have endured things in my short 35 years on this earth that Quentin Tarantino would turn a whiter shade of pale for. 

I think the pain I have as it relates to my father, though separate and distinct, has been unfortunately compounded by men and events that he would have killed to protect me from. 

With his untimely death, I now hope that justice, balance, mercy, grace, dignity and self-respect can now be restored for me and for him. 

Rest in Peace, My King. And Rise In Glory. I will be waiting for you and I promise, in the next life your mistakes and my ignorance will not have the power to tear us apart ever again. 

King

Oh fear not, cause I'll be with you all the way. 

Don't you worry it is almost over. 

My King don't you be afraid, fear not

Fear not. 

And when the world starts trembling

Just say my name. 

Fear not, cause I'll be with you all the way. 

Fear not!

Fear not!

 

http://www.petrainthemiddleeast.com/new-blog-1/daddy 

http://www.petrainthemiddleeast.com/new-blog-1/

 

I lived with a prostitute for one year in Turkey

I admired her. Long before the revelation was made. Initially, precipitated by events surrounding birthday celebrations and feelings of sheer horniness, her embarrassingly and abnormally loud screams, cries and moans during nights of marathon sex didn't, surprisingly, evoke an attitude of disgust in me. 

Born and raised Muslim, the matter of fact manner in which she negotiated and reconciled her desire for sex, which was perceived by her as a mundane fact of life, with her very conservative Muslim religious beliefs, deeply fascinated me. 

Many times after a riotous night of reckless abandon, she would emerge in the morning to have breakfast woefully lamenting of mediocre sex. 

"I just can't deal," was her catch phrase. 

Embarrassed and at a loss for words, I would sit across from her on the breakfast table, carefully using my knife and fork to cut my scrambled eggs and sausage into bit sized pieces and desperately searching in my mind for a new subject matter.

My embarrassment, I guess did go un-noticed for a while until she realized that I was not the only audience during these nights of wild abandon. Living in an apartment building let alone a tight network of many apartment buildings, where sound easily bounced off walls, her penchant for dick soon became will known in the neighbourhood. 

Even then, as we walked the streets (no pun intended) and received glares of disgust, she remained indignant. 

For me, my admiration of her confidence, the confidence that I would never have in a million years, slowly began to change. 

I was a patsy. A good old fashioned patsy. 

A black girl from the Caribbean, Christian, unmarried and career driven, the neighbours were inclined to believe that I was the source of the nightly screams that pierced the tranquil nights of this very conservative city in Turkey. 

What could I do?

Time to Roll Out

"I don't like being heard like that," she finally admitted one morning out of the blue. 

"I think that I will just hook up with guys in Istanbul or Ankara from now on."

And just like that, she was gone every week for two three days on end. On her return she would often recount tales that mirrored the encounters she had had in our apartment. 

As for our apartment, if you are wondering, it was not located in a seedy red light district part of the city. Quite the opposite. It was chosen for its 'conservative point of view.' Regarded as safe and away from the unpalatable elements as determined by a Muslim community. 

And this is why I admired her so much. She had courage. 

Yes, she used me as a patsy, but I know that she would never had known that I would have been her roommate when she arrived in Turkey one week after me. 

It was sheer coincidence and luck for her that I became her roommate. 

So, while her machinations may have been perceived as malicious, using racial and cultural stereotypes to seemingly impair identification, the reality of the situation was that it was purely coincidental. 

Later over some conversations, her disgust for Muslim men's hypocrisy became evident and served as a reason for which she simply did not care how they perceived her ... and why I shouldn't too. 

"At one point, I loved my religion. I practiced it with a passion. But then I realised just how hypocritical the whole thing was. Men. And now, I just don't care," I remember her explaining. 

That was as far as her testimony was to go with me on that issue. 

Hook ups or Business?

Because her sexual escapades had started with hookups, I assumed for that time that was the nature of her sexual exploits. 

I was quite oblivious to the fact that she was actually in the business of selling her body to anyone for the desired price. Married men, college men, married couples; the list of clients was as endless as the demand. 

It was only after a friend had visited me, whose interest in her had been piqued considerably by her frequent visits to Istanbul- a seven hour journey- at least 3 times a week despite having a 9-5 job, was the truth finally revealed. 

This friend stayed up late to have a friendly chat with her and over a couple shots of alcohol she stated what should have been obvious to me, but sadly was not. 

She was a prostitute. 

As my friend whispered this secret to me the next day, I simply could not believe it. 

But after a few moments of adding things up, it all made sense. Who has this much sex all the time? Who would travel seven hours every day, four days a week for dick and the occasionally clit? Who?

My admiration for her was now made groundless with that revelation. 

I had admired her because of her 'courage' to defy religious and socio-cultural expectations. Furthermore, my admiration had been bolstered by each passing sexual encounter as she appeared more beautiful, confident and I dare say, regal. 

Sex to her was like finding a piece of her soul and for someone who had lost theirs in acts of indignity, I had often wondered if God was trying to tell me something as I listened to her scream her head off during sex. 

The very thing that had stripped me of my own power, autonomy and respect could perhaps restore it. 

Men and Gods

I am proud of my astrological sign-Aries. Number 1- always. Valiant, brave, pioneering...What can I say? Everything that could be right with the world is summed up in the folklore of my sign's Greek legend. 

For me there is shame in tears, pity and even in assuming the victim role. 

Last night, my shame knew no bounds. After returning from my failed latte experience where several patrons refused to sit next to me and I was charged nearly doubly as a surety of keeping me away from the establishment once and for all, I quite unexpectedly lost it. 

When Gods Fail Men

Covering my hair in a scarf, I plumped my pillows and slid into bed anticipating nothing but sweet dreams. Twenty minutes later consumed by the anger and shame of that experience, I started to cry so badly that my congestion momentarily cleared up. 

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It is beyond dehumanising. It is powerlessness unparalleled. And I never want to feel that way again.  

 

 

Some People Aren't Meant To Live Alone- Hen Pecker Approved

Like everything that has happened to me over the last few years, Brenda dropped into my life with an unceremonious thud of 'out of the blue'.

Confusion, was my initial impression of this middle aged woman who bore a scary resemblance to my paternal grandmother. As I stood in the narrow corridor of my apartment in Iraq, I extended pleasantries to my new roommate, not sure of how this new dynamic would or could work. 

Almost immediately, a firm and distinct line was drawn to distinguish her status and class. Having lived and worked in Kenya for over three decades, this Goan native, had buttressed almost every non-applicable utterance with "Well, you know, a woman of my standing... would not know how to do that, or would never have to do that" to indicate that she was not of the working class but of the privileged technocracy.

I nodded and smiled as it seemed the least consequential thing. 

When Ignorance Is Bliss

48 hours later, I knew something was not normal. In that time span, I had entertained an obscene number of requests for the most mundane of tasks ranging from the drafting and sending of emails to neighborhood strolls to possibly even doing Bible study. 

The nature of the requests was not what made it obscene; rather it was the frequency. It seemed like every five minutes there was a reminder of what was said just five minutes before. 

To think that you could avoid any one of these requests was as unlikely as Brenda keeping her mouth shut for more than 5 mins. Impossible.

I considered my own mother when frustration grew, choosing to be graciously complicit and understanding to her needs. 

Despite my best dogged attempts to satisfy her insatiable demands, there was none on her part to even acknowledge, let alone, respect me. 

By the third night, I had woken up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and had slammed my foot into... something as I was walking into the dark kitchen. Fumbling to find the light switch, I audibly gasped when the light revealed an entirely new kitchen layout. Fridge, water cooler etc. had been shifted into completely new positions. 

Despite having the energy to remodel the kitchen, Brenda did not have the energy to clean the mess that had resulted. Rust shavings, dust and cobwebs were all left to me to clean, which I did on the spot. 

As I cleaned, I could hear  Brenda's reminder of her social standing playing in my mind over and over again. 

And while this incident was not so blatant a sign of disrespect, it certainly foreshadowed what was to come a few days later. 

Still inundated with demand after demand, Brenda met me at the door as I got home late one afternoon, and insisted on us going out to dinner. 

Dinner out was certainly not in my plan for that day let alone evening. 

However, so persistent (annoying) was she that giving in was the only way to make the damn noise stop. 

Before leaving I went to the kitchen to get a small sip of water. What awaited me revealed why she was so persistent. 

One sink, and counter full of every dish and utensil that apartment had. 

Over the last few days, Brenda, the able cook, had cooked, but refused to wash any dish. Realising this after the first day of wares not being washed, I kept my own stock in my room and used and washed at will so that her increasing ware count did not affect me. 

Now, with no clean wares or utensils in sight, Brenda had no choice but to eat... out. 

Why do I have to go with you?

Was my initial thought as I braved the cold winds walking to the restaurant. 

" You really don't need a lot of people around you, do you?" she asked as we walked. 

"No, not really. Never been that much of a people person." 

"That's nice. Not like me, I need lots of people around me all the time."

Ordering our dinner was comical. Explaining to Brenda that English was not the language spoken made no difference, as she insisted on finding out as much as she could about the menu. 

"Brenda, you are going to have to look at the pictures and choose that way," I said after a solid five minutes of her interrogating the exasperated cashier about the ingredients of each meal. 

A few days later I would hear through the grapevine that she 'bought' me dinner that night with the same tone and sentiment often extended during Christmas or Thanksgiving. 

WTF!!!

I guess that should have prepared me for what was to be the penultimate form of disrespect. 

Scrambled Eggs and Sausage 

The sound of a crash and a clatter in the living room 5:30 in the morning made me sound my voice to ensure that everything was ok. 

"Yeah, I am ok. Something just fell." Brenda responded.

Two hours later, I opened my door preparing to leave home for the day. Seeing a mass puddle on the floor in the corner of my left eye, I turned to see...

a swampy soup of scrambled eggs, sausage and tea. 

I stood confused. 

Looking at my watch, I was now able to put the crash earlier that morning into its rightful context. 

Now that I knew what had happened, I still could not understand how two hours later, the impressive mess that had splattered across the sofa and walls too, was still there. 

Not having any time to react or be angry, I rushed out the house leaving Brenda in her room. 

You are taking the Mickey out of me

Nine hours later, I returned home and was almost paralysed as I saw the mess still there. 

A few days earlier, Brenda had made it clear that a woman of her standing in Kenya never did such menial tasks- only the locals did. 

I guess I looked like a local so I could may as well have been one. 

 

Two more hours elapsed with Brenda even taking naps on the sofa that was directly above the mess. 

My resolve had worn thin. 

Not wanting to give into this lunatic but not wanting to succumb to rodents and cockroaches, I cleaned it up. As I did so, I lamented the number of times I had succumbed to Brenda on the grounds of compassion and understanding. 

As I finished my second round of mopping, Brenda who had hidden herself away in her room, opened the door with a pep in her step and a smile on her face and said,

"I was just about to clean that you know. You didn't have to do that."

 

Just Beyond The Boundary

You don't belong. Their eyes refuse to  make contact with any part that is your black you. When forced to confront you and the stereotype that is you, they move seats or simply leave the establishment. 

You are bad for business. You don't mean to be this much of a problem- you just want a latte and a chance to take today's instagram selfie. 

You scare them away when you take out your smartphone and pose. Apparently, you are not taking a selfie, but rather, unscrupulously filming your white subjects because what else is a black girl supposed to do in a cafe full of white people. 

You are charged almost double the amount of money.

Lesson learnt.  

Diana

I have a bad habit of speaking in absolutes. What can I say? I am a zealot in more ways than one, hence why I must confess in the only manner I know i.e. extra, that Diana is breathtakingly beautiful. 

Located in the North East of Iraq, this small traditional city boasts some of the most scenic areas, I dare say, in the Middle East. 

So scenic and mesmerising, Diana, that the task of taking out my camera, focusing and adjusting apertures just to prove my absolutism, proved too arduous and sacrificial a task. 

Capturing this region's beauty at every turn would have denied me the experience, which I know I will never have the privilege of again in my life. 

Forgive me; I could not oblige you. 

Moses Country

On my way to Diana from Erbil, I had glimpsed clues of its majesty. And before I went out to explore further, I explained to my sister in Barbados, how gorgeous Iraq was. 

Like me, I am sure that maybe she had had a preconceived notion of this place. 

Still, she acted unaffected by my descriptions, instead affirming the history and folklore of the region. 

"I forget that you in Moses country," she said in Bajan dialect while wolfing down her breakfast. 

And suddenly it clicked. 

On my way to Diana, much of the scenic range was dominated by mountainous ranges with distinct ridges of water marks from thousands of years ago. 

Unconsciously, I was referencing biblical stories of Noah and the Ark and the Great Flood that killed off humanity. 

These mountainous ranges were so massive that it was hard not to imagine them as once beds of a great ocean as the water marks certainly give more credence to the idea of a place that was once a rich water resource. 

Waterfalls

Diana greeted me with a maze of hairpin twists and turns down into a valley lined by beautiful streams and one amazing waterfall.

Spellbound is not the word. And again, I am sorry that I was so entranced that I could not take photos. As my body leaned left and right and then left again with every turn of the car, I was not prepared for the waterfall to appear quite unexpectedly after a colossal cliff face. 

"There are waterfalls in Iraq?" I thought to myself as I stared with an opened mouth. 

I remember an Iraqi friend in Turkey telling me about the beauty of the Northern Iraq region. He had mentioned that the idea of Iraq as a water scarce region was just as much a fallacy as any of the stereotypes associated with this Middle Eastern region. 

One such stereotype that I was forced to challenge in Diana was Iraq as an Islamic country.

diana

Before leaving for my trip, I had obviously done my research on Diana and had surprisingly found out that the very name of this city had its origins in Christianity. Diana is the Kurdish word for Christian and so, was often associated for thousands of years as a place with a strong Christian community.

This Christian community still exists today, as I later learned. 

Regardless of the religious affiliation or lack there of, the scenery of Diana challenges your  belief system in a Higher Being. 

The peace that you experience as you try to wrap your mind around the largesse of the place is soul deep.

after glow

I started my trek around Diana in the afternoon. The falling sunset gave a beautiful vintage brown glow to the majestic backdrop.

A solid 10 minute drive uphill from the city center to Korek mountain almost reminded me of the Grand Canyon, which I had flown over many times en route to Las Vegas. 

Even though there were similarities attributed to the rocky mountains, it was still different. Diana had mountain ridge after mountain ridge with cliff faces and deep ravines, traced by crystal clear streams. Despite the streams and rivers there was not much greenery and that was because the mountain ranges were skyscraper high. 

You certainly felt the size of insignificance as you looked at this scenery. 

Given the watermarked time stamps displayed on the mountain ridges, it was impossible for me not to think about life here hundreds if not thousands of years ago, where Assyrian, Islamic, Semitic and Babylonian cultures clashed. 

Ever so often, lodged in a cliff face of a mountain ridge you would spot the mouth of a cave. 

"Could there be treasure in there?" I pondered. 

"Or buried texts of antiquity unlocking many of life's mysteries?"

These were questions that I wish that I could answer myself. But the likelihood of me going hiking through this region was slim given my athletic inability to even get over highway bumper rail. 

Probably a blessing because imagination in the case is far better than finding truth. 

 

 

 

Ramsey

And almost immediately too, I could tell that this middle aged man, married for as many years with grown children had had the kind of life that writers dream of personifying in their characters, if only to hold their audience captive.

And captivated I was.

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"Sister"

We made eye contact as she made her way up the spiral staircase of a bureaucratic agency in Iraq. Beautiful in the most simple of ways: pure chocolate skin, petite and of good height, she happened to be the most modestly dressed woman in a sea of people all trying to conduct business as quickly as possible. Each person appeared as diverse in character as did every article of clothing that she wore. 

Her long skirt was made of dark velvet in a blend of several plum tones; the white long-sleeved buttoned down cotton shirt was striped with several colours all associated with the Caribbean or Africa: yellow, green, red and perhaps brown if I remember correctly. 

To top that off she wore a scarf. It was not a hijab but a brown scarf that most black women would wear on a short trip to a neighbour's house or to the corner store. Only thing different was that somehow it screamed 'Catholic'.

And I do believe that she was religious too, even though I am not certain to which affiliation she belonged. 

What I do know, is that the moment our eyes met, it was as if I had known her before.

Perhaps it was the fear or anxiety in her eyes as they quickly surveyed the floor landing looking for something... or someone that made her seem familiar.

She had seen me on the ground floor as I had made my entrance into the bureaucratic agency a few minutes before and had decided to follow me up the staircase. 

As she finally made eye contact with her subject, a look of duty and responsibility took over her countenance. 

And even though the look of submissive anxiety was now more subtle, she, after reaching the landing of the first floor, took a few minutes to survey it and the people there, carefully, before making her next move. 

I was now sitting in a row of seats sandwiched in between two people, my head looking down and staring at the floor. It was this perspective that had allowed me to make eye contact with her as she made her way up the staircase parallel to me. 

Two years in Turkey had taught me not to gaze, lest I be assaulted by stares of disgust, anger or confusion. It was a well learned habit. 

Surveillance complete, she shuffled so quickly to the remaining seats in my row that I thought for one moment she had been a figment of my own constant daydreaming. 

Concentration not broken though, I kept my blank emotionless stare on the floor faithful. 

Now sitting two seats away from me, I did not need to look at her to feel her faint anxiety and concern. 

For what? I do not know. 


Even though, I did mention the headscarf that she was wearing that screamed Catholic, I failed to adequately convey her innocence beyond that. Indeed, there was an innocence of spirit which religion cannot inspire. 

It was the kind of innocence that is often seen in and trapped by sad eyes. The world is a cold, clinical place that oftentimes has no capacity for empathy, non judgement or love i.e. innocence. 

As I continued to gaze intently on the floor, there came a succession of incessant calls,

"Sister, Sister, Sister, Sister."

Clutching the collar of her blouse tight as she held her black 'church' bag to her chest, she was now leaning forward in her seat in an attempt to get my attention. 

Still not registering, her calls continued until I finally glanced to my right. 

Still it was not her voice that caught me, but the biggest discs of brown lying under the clearest cling wrap of pain; endured only by the lowest of the low. 

Still clutching her bag to her chest and her collar she leaned forward even farther and whispered softly, 

"Sister."

Looking deep into my eyes with a steadfastness that calmed the two years of anxiety that I had suffered while in Turkey, I was reminded,

Fear not for I am with you...
— Isaiah 41:10

She, perhaps knowing the dormant anxiety that lay inside of me from being the 'only black person' in a sea of others, made it her business to follow and find me with the only intent of reminding me that I was not, nor never shall I be alone. 

Medicine administered and healing in process, I turned in her direction to ask her her name. 

Too late. 

The train of her ankle length pencil skirt swept each step as she made her way down the spiral staircase and into the crowd of people on the ground floor. 

 

 

"Are You Cold?"

Living in the Middle East as a Western, let alone, Caribbean woman makes you conscious of the way you dress. 

The slightest show of skin, whether it may be legs, arms or shoulders could draw the most intense stares from men, women and children. 

And in some dire cases even worse reactions. 

As a result, on those early mornings or late nights when I would have to run out of the house for something at the corner store, I paid particular attention to my dress much to my dismay because my fastidiousness often kept me back in time. Very precious valuable time. 

So, when a friend was inviting me on an excursion to a waterfall in Soran, and I stupidly out loud lamented the lack of attire, he paused for a second and reminded me that local women would not be wearing such attire there and neither should I. 

Indeed, bathing suits in conservative Muslim regions are not even anomalies, they are just simply unheard of. 

Still bearing this in mind as I nipped out to the corner store some days later, I made sure to put on a bra under my tank top, cover my hair with a scarf and wear my hoodie as well, to cover me. And for bottoms I wore loose fitting pants. 

Entering the store, the clerk greeted me with a warm smile and as I made my way around perusing, another woman had entered engaging him in conversation. What had caught my attention was that even though she was dressed in the abaya and the signature ruffle hair tie used by hijabis in this region, she was not wearing her headscarf.

By the time I made my way to the cashier, the woman was gone and we were once again alone in the store. 

I pulled the strings of my hoodie even tighter around my face forming a circumference of dark blue around it. 

Adding each item to a plastic bag, he tallied the total and in a visible state of confusion asked

"Are you cold?"

"No, why?"