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Archive for the ‘Life stories’ Category

Rebirth

Posted by Yacoob on December 6, 2011

First life
I was a latecomer to Islam. No – I didn’t convert into the religion. I was born a Muslim, but for most of my life growing up, I wasn’t really one – not the way I should have been, at least. I lacked the proper understanding, knowledge, and, most of all, commitment to the religion. As a result, much of my life was spent without real attachment to Islam – confined to merely ritualistic acts of worship I was expected to do, and not much interest beyond that.

As a child, I learnt Islam’s basics in madrassah, and my family acted as a good moral compass in guiding me through the racially and culturally diverse society that was South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. I had plenty of exposure to other religions – Hindu family friends, where I’d see their prayer lamps and idols; a Christian junior school, where every morning’s assembly included the Lord’s prayer; and my Jewish high school, where Jewish Studies was a compulsory subject for a couple of years.

I always had a conscience about Islam, and what my Creator expected of me as a Muslim. But without practical action, conscience can’t lead you very far. In school holidays, for Friday prayers, and on other religious occasions, I’d attend Islamic religious services, and hear the religious advice given by the imams and moulanas. I’d sometimes be inspired to want to be a better Muslim, but the feeling would fade a few hours later, and I’d continue as normal – not really thinking about my purpose in life or how I could be better to my fellow human beings.

Turnaround
That changed ten years ago, when I reached a turning point – a ‘spiritual awakening’ that

changed my entire focus and orientation in life. Such events are common in any religion – not just Islam. Anything could act as a catalyst – from a near death experience, loss of a loved one, a period of desperation, or any other event. Different people have different experiences, yet all end with the same result: a movement from a state of heedlessness to one of consciousness.

Over time, I came to learn more about Islam, and firmly believe in its truth – understanding the wisdom behind its acts of worship and social values, and its timeless message of pure monotheism, which was the message of every prophet, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). I came to understand how, as a comprehensive belief system, it links an individual to their Creator, without any intermediaries; guiding them to live in the way that would bring true happiness, inner peace, and success – both in life and in the realm beyond death.

Journey of a lifetime
A few weeks ago, I was honoured to perform the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah – the Hajj. As far as mandatory religious activities go, it’s one of the most important acts in Islam. It’s a journey that re-enacts the life of Prophet Abraham and his family, and draws millions each year – promising great reward from the Creator; and immense liberation, such that the pilgrim returns from the journey completely forgiven from every sin – spiritually, like a newborn baby.

It’s a journey of sacrifice, self-purification, and great humility. Pilgrims leave their families and comfortable homes to go all the way to the Holy Land, spending days and nights in a simple, unflattering tent – where the only physical comforts are a mattress, blanket, and pillow. They leave behind the ease of cars for a journey involving walking for miles and miles on dirty, congested roads, in huge crowds that they’d normally run away from. They shed the adornments of plush clothing to wear nothing but two white, unstitched pieces of cloth – wherein they’ll look exactly like everyone else, with nothing to distinguish between a king and a beggar. They go out to a flat, empty plain – in the middle of a desert – to stand in the scorching sun for a few hours, reciting a few words, pleading with their Creator, and crying their hearts out. And they walk around an ancient building, the first house of worship dedicated to the Creator, praising Him and supplicating for all that they desire.

Second chance
The experiences and lessons of Hajj are numerous, but for me, the most important result was the liberation I spoke of earlier – a second chance at life. A person who survives a near-fatal accident may relate, as could a reformed convict who leaves prison as a ‘new’ person.

After repentance on Hajj, the feeling of being completely forgiven – for every single sin you’ve ever committed – is truly amazing, and beyond words. It’s like a lightness of the soul – like there’s no longer this burden on your shoulders, and you literally feel pure and clean. Your mind feels more free, your spirit feels light, and you feel so much closer to your Creator. It’s really the most awesome feeling imaginable.

And it’s also empowering, because you now have this ‘clean slate’ – this second chance to start your life again, from a state of purity. And with that feeling, you’re more sensitive to every wrong you do. You can recognize it more easily, and you feel the need to repent or make up for it immediately – because now that you’re ‘clean’, you want to stay that way, and never let any spiritual ‘dirt’ pollute your heart again.

Naturally, it isn’t possible to remain on such a high for a sustained period. And in the few weeks since Hajj, such feelings of spiritual euphoria have decreased. But the effects of those feelings, and that experience, remain with me, and have hopefully benefitted me as I returned to my normal environment and responsibilities.

In Muslim circles, it’s a common cliché to say that Hajj really begins once you get home – meaning that Hajj itself is not the main challenge. The main challenge is what becomes your life’s mission after Hajj: to ‘live’ that Hajj by taking forward what you’ve learnt, and being that better person you were inspired to be.

I thank you for allowing me to share this account with you, and I hope that – regardless of your religious persuasion or belief system – you can take some benefit from these words, and that you yourself will have an experience of such magnitude in your life, if you haven’t already.

Note: This piece is a deviation from the current Hajj Chronicles series (part 2 of which is due this weekend insha-Allah). This one is a separate article, written for a non-muslim audience, which I hope to publish elsewhere at the appropriate time. As always, comments are welcome.

Image source: http://stevelummer.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/life-cycles/

Posted in Events, Hajj-related, Life stories | 5 Comments »

A little piece of heaven

Posted by Yacoob on October 5, 2011

I know I’d planned to not post anything while I’m away, but the opportunity came up, so I’d like to share some of the experience so far.

We’ve been in Madinah for about 24 hours now, and just this first day has made me feel like this is a piece of Jannah. Of course, quite literally, there is a piece of Jannah on the earth here – the rhodatul jannah – which is a piece of land, from this earth, that will be in Jannah.

But beyond that, there’s so much else that makes it feel like an other-worldly experience. People always talk about the calm, peace and tranquillity here, and I’ve definitely felt it – alhamdullilah. To be fair, we haven’t ventured far at all yet – just Masjid un-Nabawi (the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.’s mosque), the hotel, and a few streets around the area. But in this limited time and geographical range so far, what strikes me most is that this place in such an environment of Islam. The atmosphere is unlike anywhere I’ve been.

The radio station we heard in the bus, and the shops so far, contain no music. Just Quran and narrations of hadiths. It’s a contrast to other Arab countries, like Egypt, where the cultural influence means that music is just a normal part of life – be it Arab / eastern music, or other. It’s refreshing for me, because living in South Africa, and having been to other Western countries, music is ubiquitous. You can never escape it.

It seems like almost everyone here is geared towards worship – the visiting pilgrims, I mean; as well as the locals in the masjid. As I write this, it’s after maghrib in the masjid, and there are Quran classes going on for kids. Teachers and students sitting together in some places, with kids taking notes as the teacher teaches. Others are reading Quran. There are study circles – halaqahs – of adult men. Other people are making tasbeeh. Some make dua. Others are sleeping. Some are just talking to each other.

This is the ultimate environment of deen. It’s so perfect, and something that I think the heart yearns for. Like it’s so natural. Like this is home.

Since I’m in the male section, I can’t speak for the ladies section – so I don’t know what the experience is like there. But here, there are old men, young men, boys, and just a mix of all different ages. And different nationalities. It’s like the Ummah is here – so many different people. A lot of Turks; some Indians; many Malaysians and Indonesians. On the flight in, we had a large group from Thailand. And in the coming days, apparently, many more will be arriving.

It’s interesting to see how different nationalities identify themselves. The Turks all wear khakis. The Malaysian women – or some other country (not sure) – were wearing bright pink hjabs. Some Indonesians had bright markings on their clothing. And not a group of them are walking past – wearing what seems to be their traditional cultural clothing, which is very colourful.

I imagine Jannah is something like this. All different types of people in one place – all united by Islam – and all worshipping Allah in the various ways available. Alhamdullilah.

And the zam-zam water! It’s here – so abundantly. Anytime you want, you just go and get. It’s not only a thirst quencher, but also – as one of the sheikhs here said – ‘magic water’, in that it’s a cure for every sickness, and something that every person – each and every unique person – can drink with the intention of Allah using it to cure them of whatever they need cure from. As the hadith goes, it is what you intend it to be. Which is why it’s good to make specific  intentions / duas each time you drink. If you can get it back home, do so.

The other great thing is that you have to be early for salaah, or else you may not get a spot in the masjid. And coming so early is filled with blessings. Every moment in the masjid, while waiting for athaan, is an act of worship – even if you do nothing at all. There’s time to make extra salaahs, read Quran, make thikr, or just anything you want. And at salaah times, the imam takes his time to read – no rushing. And after salaah, the imam doesn’t make a congregational dua. You’re free to read whatever you want to – it’s not like home (and other places, probably), where the imam makes his thikr and dua over the speaker system, which means that you either follow along, or you go and do your own thing while still hearing him (which isn’t so easy if you need to concentrate). Here, you’re totally free to do whatever thikrs, or make whatever duas, you want.

Alhamdullilah – this has been an amazing journey so far – even without siteseeing, and even despite some difficulties of travel. It’s a journey that I wish for each and every person; and one that is possible for everyone – no matter what their circumstance; since Allah can grant it to whoever He wants.

May Allah take each and every one of us on this journey, and to this blessed city of Madinah – over and over again.

Posted in Hajj-related, Life stories, The other side of the world | 6 Comments »

The Final Goodbye

Posted by Yacoob on March 8, 2011

The end.

It’s been a long time coming, but it only hit me now – and it’s given me much to think about; with sadness and longing – because I’ve always been very sentimental about the past.

Let me explain: For the last 12 or so years, I’ve lived in Cape Town. But I was born and raised in Durban. It’s my home city – the place I grew up in, and where I got my education. The place of my childhood memories – those sunny Durban days where everything was so relaxed, and there was no responsibility and no worry. Just innocence…play….childhood.

But over the last 12 years, we’ve still had a family home in Durban. There was always a place to stay – a home of our own – when we went back. We never had to stay at our relatives’ homes, or live in hotels. We always had our own home there. A home filled with our furniture and belongings; old photographs; wall hangings; even our own atmosphere. It was home. It was my other home. And my heart was – and still is – so dearly attached to it.

Now that home is about to become history. We’ve sold it.

And while that doesn’t technically sever my ties with Durban (since I have so much family there still), to me, it is the end. Because if I go back now, it’ll be as a visitor. It won’t be to my home – my family home.

My memories of that particular home – which was in reality the fourth home I’d had in Durban in my life – begin when I finished university. We moved in at the end of that year, amidst boxes and boxes of stuff, lots of stress, and my personal sadness at saying goodbye to my previous home – the house I’d spent my teenage years and parts of early adult life in.

It was one of the saddest periods of my life, both for personal reasons, as well as the uncertainty of my future (I’d just graduated, but had no idea what I’d be doing the next year – for no job offers had come by that time).

And the sadness did continue for some years after that; although it was mixed with enjoyment – because that home was a place I’d go on holiday, and have no work to do. I loved that aspect of it. The feeling of being there in the festive season each December – when things were relaxed, people were on holiday, and there was usually a cricket Test match being played at Kingsmead (where, very often, bad light would stop play early).

The days and nights were hot and humid, and the nights often brought multitudes of lightning flashes – which I had never really noticed in my teenage years; but did notice now that I had an expansive view of part of the area.

I’d get to eat the foods I loved from Durban; I’d get to frequent the neighborhood I spent so many years in; I’d spend time with family; I’d get to go to Jumuah in the masjid I knew from my teenage years – but now being so much more spiritually mature compared to back then.

I’d get this awesome view from that home – looking out over the city and Indian Ocean; being able to see the golden lights of the harbor at night; the Bluff; and the hills on one side that concealed the area where I used to go to High School.

At night, the experience was both exhilarating and scary – looking out into the dark night at the city and ocean, and sky above – sometimes cloudy and overcast. I felt like I was up in those clouds – far from earth. If I closed my eyes, tilted my head up, then opened my eyes again, it was like there was no Earth below – there was only sky. Wide open, cold, vast, immense sky. It was at times like those when I felt so tremendously close to my Creator. Being physically removed from my usual home and life in Cape Town, I’d be in that place – at that window – able to reflect on so many things; and able to speak to my Lord in ways that were so unconstrained by the mental chains that would often drag me down in other environments.

It’s moments like those that I treasure so much. Moments that no material thing in the world could ever come close to. Moments that, nowadays, have become so few and far between.

And in one of those moments, I made a dua for the next time I’d be there: that, the next time I come to this home, I wanted to be married. Alhamdullilah – sure enough, the next time I went (2 years later), I was married, and my daughter was tucked safely in the womb, still in the early stages of her development.

But life has moved on so much since then, and things are so different. I have my own family now; and a whole life that’s so far away from Durban – both in time and physical space.

Still, though, my heart is tremendously attached to Durban. I love it dearly, and it’s always been – and always will be – a big part of me.

And it’s sad to say goodbye; but goodbyes are a part of life. I’m grateful to have had the life – the experiences – I had in Durban. And I hope those will be memories that I hang on to and treasure forever.

Posted in Life stories | 8 Comments »

Taxi memories

Posted by Yacoob on September 29, 2010

Though it wasn’t always comfortable – being cramped like a sardine into a minibus – I miss travelling by taxi. It was a great way to see a cross-section of society, and experience the constant risk of being pulled over by a traffic cop. That happened a few times. Once, the driver was arrested, so we all had to get out and wait for another taxi to come rescue us.

Travelling like that is also a front row seat in how to navigate traffic as if you own the road. It’s a talent that not many law-abiding drivers appreciate. But hey – as long as you arrive at your destination safely, you don’t dwell on your driver’s recklessness too long.

So if you get the opportunity – and it’s safe – take that ride. (Unless, of course, the taxis are on strike ;) )

Posted in Life stories, Something to see | 7 Comments »

Indulgence impulse

Posted by Yacoob on September 21, 2010

The following is a true story:

I pigged out last night – and I’m ashamed. After supper, I had a piece of Cadbury Fudge chocolate. The taste wasn’t what I was craving, so I had a marshmallow. That should have been enough – but it wasn’t.

The baby was being put to sleep, and there was still time before Esha.

A whisper came to my mind: ‘You hardly ever get time to just relax and read your book. Why don’t you do that now, and have a nice chocolate with it?’

I gave in.

I had a TV Bar while reading my book.

But still, the taste was not what I was looking for. Something was not being satisfied.

Another whisper: ‘Have something  else, and maybe you’ll get what you’re after.’

Then my wife came downstairs, and had her own TV Bar.

Another impulse came – telling me maybe her chocolate was what I was craving.

I tried to take some – but she didn’t let me have it. (She’s territorial about her chocolate – as am I.)

We talked a bit, and then she pulled out a lamington from her handbag (which doesn’t happen often). Our old neighbour had given it to her earlier that day.

Not wanting it to go to waste (or, really, not wanting her to have all of it) – I had some.

And I don’t think it satisfied me either.

Now, at that point, I’d eaten so much crap that I couldn’t possibly have more.

So then I went to the masjid for Esha, and there was a janazah. One thought that ran through my mind was:

“One day / night, that’s going to be me in that coffin. My soul will be leaving this world. And on the final Day, I’ll have to explain myself. As trivial as this indulgence seemed – how will I explain it? How can I justify having 4 different sweets in one night?”

The answer is simple: greed. I have an impulse to indulge – particularly in junk food.

Combine that with the whispers which come from those unseen (you know, the folks that have recently been released from their month-long incarceration) – and you have a solid trap to catch me.

So I resolved to be better the next day, insha-Allah.

I know not to give in to these desires. Actually, the desire for the taste – the craving – isn’t even strong at this point. (It gets stronger the further away I get from Ramadan). Yet I give in and indulge – out of habit.

And so, when I came home that night – right when I walked in – I again wanted something. My first instinct was to give in – until I remembered my intention to restrain myself.

The struggle has resumed. And I’m starting off from a point of weakness.

I really need to break this indulgence impulse. Perhaps I should brush my teeth right after supper?

Any other ideas?

Posted in Are you pondering what I'm pondering?, Life stories | 11 Comments »

Where the heart is

Posted by Yacoob on August 29, 2010

They say that home is where the heart is; and in my case, the saying certainly rings true. You see, this weekend, I’ll be moving homes, insha-Allah – and the impending move has inspired reflections on the homes I’ve had throughout my life.

As I think about the places I’ve lived, I realise that – for the most part – each home has really been where my heart is. I’m a “home body” – someone who loves their home and stays in it a lot. I’ve never been the kind of person to go out a lot; and given the choice, I’d rather be at home. It’s comfortable, relaxing, and I can enjoy myself just as much – most of the time – as I would by being ‘out’ (although going out also has its perks).

I’ve lived in 8 different homes over the course of my life, and each has a special place in my heart.

1. Babyhood

My first memories of ‘home’ are set in a small, one-bedroom flat in Durban. I think it was my parents’ first home away from their own parents (i.e. once they moved out on their own). The memories are vague and unclear – from climbing out of my cot in the middle of the night (into my parents’ bed – which was right next to the cot); to the TV shows we’d watch on a Monday night (such as The A-Team and Knight Rider); to having to be bribed with sweets in order to get eat my porridge or get my nails cut. (Which may explain why I grew up as a sweet addict ;).

2. Childhood

Next up, probably before I started school, we built this huge house in the same area – which was filled with hills and valleys, and what seemed like never-ending sunshine. The house was massive to me, and the way it was structured made it somewhat exciting yet at the same time scary (especially at night). Those were probably my favourite childhood years – whose memories are overwhelmingly filled with peace, warmth, and a feeling of safety. We had a big garden in the back, and someone had told me that under one of the paved parts, there was an Anaconda. (Probably my older brother – he liked to scare me). I was always scared of that area – worried that the massive snake would awake one day. It never did (obviously – since it wasn’t even real!), but we did have a snake come up a plumbing pipe once – into the bathroom. That was scary – and I’ve always been terrified of snakes and reptiles. But that fear didn’t stop my cousin and I, who, one time, threw stones at a chameleon that was on the wall between our house and the neighbour. (We had massive lizards in and around that house). We didn’t realise that the stones were hitting the neighbours’ roof / wall – and we said nothing when she came out wondering what was going on.

3. Adolescence

A few years before High School, we moved again – to a house in a formerly white neighbourhood It was classified as such under Apartheid, and when the seller found out our race, I think he tried to pull out of the deal or something (I don’t know the details).

The place was very convenient in terms of schools, shopping, and facilities in the area. For me, the best part of that period and home was the outside activities. We’d spend hours and hours playing in the yard – cricket, soccer, and even tennis (though the space wasn’t big enough). And there was a field near by – which we played cricket matches on; as well as tennis courts, which we spent many, many hours on. One time, we played until after sunset – we tried to squeeze as much game time as we could before we couldn’t see anymore. I knew it was time to go when I was chased by a bat (there were fruit bats, I think, in the trees around there). I ran so hard from that thing, and decided if it got near my, I was going to swot it with my tennis racquet. Thankfully, I never had to deal with that eventuality.

It was also the house that I became a victim of crime in. My father and I were nearly hijacked in our garage one afternoon – but the hijackers failed in their attempt, though they did manage to fire a few shots (one of which hit the window directly above me). It was a life-changing experience for my father, and for me, one which should have been deeply traumatic – but I don’t think the trauma lasted very long. It did bring about a home visit from my school headmaster, and as he was leaving, my dog bit his bum…which was the most amusing part for me (though it probably wasn’t pleasant for him).

Even though I only lived there 8 years (followed by another 4 visiting in the holidays), that home left the biggest impression on me. To this day, in my sleep, most of my dreams that involve a home are set in that house.

I didn’t want to let it go – I thought we’d always keep it, and I’d live there as an adult too.

4. Moving away

After school, I moved to Cape Town – and lived with my brother, who was also studying here. The flat we stayed in was right next to the railway line; and it was small – yet big enough for me. The bathroom wasn’t my favourite place, though – it was kind of gross, and I was glad when – a year later – my mother decided to renovate it.

That first year at varsity was intense. I had independence, yet I was also terribly home sick. And my brother and I didn’t have the most stable relationship at the time – so we fought a lot (as one of the neighbours would attest to).

For that year, and a few that followed, I was adamant that I would not remain in Cape Town after varsity. It was not my home – and I didn’t want to stay there.

The flat was also near my university, so I’d walk to and from varsity each day. And when I had tests or exams in the late afternoon, I’d walk home in the dark – alongside a canal at one point; scared that someone was going to jump out and murder me.

But the place was fine, and I had fun there.

5. The view

In third year, we moved to a bigger flat – still in the area, but nearer the university. It was physically higher up – closer to the mountain – so the view was awesome. If you’ve seen some of my pictures from the earlier years of this blog, you’ll get an idea of it. We had the mountain on one side, and on the other side, a vast lookout of suburbs and another mountain range in the distance. The latter side was also the position the sun rose from, and I was inspired by many a sunrise in those peaceful, beautiful mornings.

This was the home that played host to the biggest changes in my life; and the place I spent so much time in – growing from the child I was (since I still considered myself a child – even in varsity) to the adult I became. While the biggest changes were happening, I decided to remain in Cape Town after varsity was over. Durban no longer held much for me – even though I was (and still am) very attached to it. My life was different now, and I wanted to stay where I was – physically – because it felt like the right place to be.

This home was a place that was incredibly peaceful outside, yet the place where I had some of my most inwardly turbulent moments. I learnt so much in my time there, and I still treasure the place – because it’s an integral part of my history – through all the ups and downs that I experienced in those 6 plus years.

6. An even better view

Right after I finished varsity, my beloved Durban home – the house which I was so attached to – was sold, and the replacement home was a flat with an incredible view of the city and ocean. I was there when we moved over to the flat, and even though I liked the place – I was yearning to come back home, to Cape Town. This Durban flat, however, had a familiarity to it. It felt like our very first house (number 2 on the list, above) – both in its look and feel.

I’d periodically go back to visit Durban, and stay there – marvelling, every time, at the sheer awesomeness of that view. I spent precious moments alone, at the window at night, looking out over the city – pondering, praying, and enjoying being so close to the sky; close enough that the birds were up on that level; close enough that helicopters were probably only 20 metres away when they came past; and close enough that – when I looked at the night sky on an overcast kind of night – I was struck with both terror at the thought of flying (kind of like Peter Pan) alone up there, and awe at how magnificent that big canvas above our planet really is.

7. Solitude

The year after varsity, I had an internship with a company based in Pretoria. I had to spend a few months at their headquarters – studying / training in the field I was specialising in. The area was a suburban – a very white, Afrikaner kind of place; where pretty much the only non-white people I saw were gardeners and domestic workers.

I stayed in a guest house for those 4 and a bit months, and it was incredibly difficult at first – being so alone. But it strengthened my relationship with my Creator; and I grew to love the solitude of being totally alone – away from parents and family and anyone I knew. I had a little balcony that looked out over some of the other suburbs; and at night, there seemed to be so many more stars above than any other place I’d lived before.

At some points, I worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life – doing my assignments on weekends, and studying in the afternoons when I got home. I don’t think I’ve ever worked that intensely – for a sustained period – up till now. It helped me discover my capabilities in terms of what I can do when I’m driven to get things done.

I also indulged myself in those days and nights – planning to stay up to watch a TV show on a certain night of the week, together with my ice cream (I discovered Cookies n Cream flavour over there…I love it J) – yet I’d be so tired that most weeks I’d just fall asleep while the show was on.

I was sad to leave that place – but also happy to get back to my real home, and my real life.

8. The here and now

All of this brings me to my present home – which I dearly love. I’ve detailed how I came to live here in another post – so I won’t dwell on that part of the story here.

Some might consider this place small, but it’s never felt small to me. It’s always been spacious enough – I never felt cramped or confined. And I never felt this was a step down compared to any of the places I’ve lived before.

I had the huge realisation just now is that I’ll never have this again – this first home with my wife. This place is tremendously special because it was our first real home (i.e. after moving out from my parents’ place) – the one that was all our own; where we adjusted to living independently, to doing things as a couple in our own space – free of parents and family members. Where we could do things the way we wanted – have our home and habits exactly as we pleased, for the first time (though the ‘habits’ bit isn’t all good – because we’re rather untidy).

I think of old couples who sit and reminisce about their early days. Their first homes. Their struggles in the early months and years of marriage.

And for us, this home has been the setting for all of that. When we look back, years or decades from now insha-Allah, this place – this home – will be the one that we remember as our starting point. We had our fun here; and we also had our fights here too. We grew closer together as a couple here. We bonded over things worldly and spiritual here – including our first Ramadan together. We found out about our precious little one here – that Sunday morning before Fajr, when the 2 lines on the pregnancy test changed our lies forever. She grew, in this home, from being a tiny bean to a foetus, to a newborn, to the toddler that she is now.

I could go on and on – such is the vastness of precious memories we have in this home – but I’ll have to stop myself, both due to time constraints, and because I don’t want to bore you, the reader.

I think it’ll be a sad day, when we finally leave. When we say goodbye to our precious, first home.

But they say that change is the only constant in life, and we must move forward – which is why we’re set to move to the new place this weekend, insha-Allah. (Maybe I’ll write about that separately – if anyone’s still interested in the “Accommodating Adventures” series).

From all of these thoughts – all of these memories of homes past and present – I derive a great deal of thankfulness. Thankful that I’ve always had good homes –in terms of physical structures, the environments they’ve been in, and the way I’ve felt about them. So many people are forced to live in homes that, psychologically, are harmful to them. Whether they have to deal with unsafe neighbourhoods outside, or abusive relationships within their homes, or whatever else that makes their homes places of anxiety – rather than places of rest. They don’t have peace. They probably don’t find comfort in their homes. And they probably wish they could be someplace else.

I’m thankful to my parents for all they’ve done to give me these homes. And I’m thankful to my wife, for all she’s done to make my home one of love, comfort, and goodness. But most of all, I’m thankful to Allah – for blessing me with all of this (both homes and the people who shaped them); for making sure that, wherever I’ve lived, home really has been where my heart is.

Posted in Life stories | 1 Comment »

Accommodating adventures: Part 2

Posted by Yacoob on July 21, 2010

“The others”

(Part 1 of the story is here)

Our first year in the new place was awesome. It was a perfect home for us: great location, excellent and active mosques close by, peaceful and safe neighbourhood, and close enough to our families – but still far away for us to have our own privacy and independence.

There were hiccups at the beginning, though. When we moved in, we found that the place had a lot of work to be done. From the bathroom cabinet to door handles, and most especially windows – many of which were not functional. In fact, the bathroom window – which was permanently open because it couldn’t close – caused the most trouble.

My wife is terrified of bees. And, early in our stay, it seemed to be bee season. Many early mornings, we’d hear them outside the bathroom window. And, sometimes, we’d see them gathering outside there – probably drawn to the light (which we needed on to see anything). On a few occasions, some got in and I had to spray them with our best friend: Doom (which you may remember from The Night Visitor. Anyway, one time, it got so bad that we had to go further. We had to take our towels and jam them in the window – so that the bees couldn’t come in.

All of this happened because our very busy agent just couldn’t get someone to come and do the repairs (there always seemed to be some reason or delay). In the end, we had to get our own handyman to do most of the work – and the landlord obviously paid. (To the agent’s credit, the on-site handyman did do some of the work – but he wasn’t deemed skilled enough to do the major stuff).

Anyway, about a year after we moved in, with my wife now pregnant, we thought it best to look for a new home. The only problem, really, was that we were on the 3rd floor – which meant a lot of stairs (there’s no lift); something we thought could be dangerous during the pregnancy and once the baby arrived.

Coupled with that, we had new neighbours downstairs. They were a family of youngsters – brothers and sister – living without their parents. They had this freedom and independence to live as they pleased, and do what they wanted. From what I remember, three were at university / college, and the other was still in high school.

Now, as we found out, the walls are not very soundproof here. We hadn’t really noticed in our first year, because the downstairs neighbours weren’t really noisy.

But these new neighbours were quite the opposite. They spoke very loudly, blasted their music and TV, and slammed their front door constantly (since people were in and out a lot). And they never seemed to sleep – or at least, someone always seemed to be awake in there. At almost all hours of the night.

On many occasions, I’d find myself calling the security guard to tell them to keep the noise down. And, numerous times, I’d have to go down myself: sometimes after 10pm, a few times after midnight, and once at 5 in the morning – to ask them to keep their noise down.

Early in their stay, they got a visit from the police one night – so bad was their behaviour. They were drunk, and one of them – who, I think, was being particularly rude – had to be locked up somewhere on the premises by the complex’s supervisor (due to underage drinking). Another time, not long after, they got another visit from the police –presumably for the same reason.

Anyway, no matter what we tried, they would just never calm down and be decent neighbours. Their behaviour completely lacked consideration for other human beings. They seemed to think this was their own little city, and they could do whatever they want, make as much noise as they want, and disregard or ignore every warning or complaint about them.

My highly irritable wife (with the irritation induced by their noise) often had to fall asleep listening to her mp3 player – just so she wouldn’t hear them.

It wasn’t that they were necessarily ‘bad’ people. I think it’s just that they were young, away from their parents, and given freedom which – obviously – they were not mature enough to handle yet. With every freedom comes responsibility. And when living in a community, you have the responsibility to be considerate of your neighbours. Clearly, they either didn’t know about this – or they just weren’t mature enough to accept it.

Anyway, needless to say, their behaviour made us more eager to move somewhere else.

But we were having no success. We saw one place, a separate entrance, which seemed promising at first. We walked in to the main house – where we had an appointment with the landlady – and we were impressed. It was an eloquent, fancy house, which made us think that the separate entrance would also be nice.

It wasn’t. It was a decent size, but rather dingy – and not a place we saw ourselves staying in.

At this time, our agent (the quirky old man from part 1) was looking for a new place for us – but he didn’t have anything. We realised we couldn’t rely on him – despite the optimism he seemed to portray when he spoke of finding us alternate accommodation.

(On a sidenote, there’s a lesson in that which I’d like to relay: don’t rely on agents. I learnt this about employment agents a few years ago, and it seems the same applies to property agents. It’s fine to use their services, and even to hope that they can get you what you need. But never rely on them…don’t depend on them. In reality, your search – whether it’s for a home or a job – is your own; it’s your responsibility; so don’t let yourself think that someone else is going to do it for you. After all, agents can only work with what’s available to them – whether that be properties or jobs).

We also did our drive-around thing again – but this time scouting for places to rent. We drove around the area we wanted to stay in, looking for suitable complexes, and found quite a few. We took down managing agent numbers, then called them – but alas, there was nothing for us.

Anyway, back to the people downstairs: their landlord was well aware of the problems with them. Other neighbours had also complained; but he didn’t have sufficient legal cause to evict them. Fortunately for us (and everyone else in the block), they were a bit behind on their rent – so he wanted to wait for them to fall far enough behind that he could evict them.

But he was beaten to it. One Monday night, they brought a truck, put their furniture in, and disappeared – never to be seen again. They hadn’t told their landlord, and had only mentioned to the security guard that they were going away for a while – and may be back the following month.

Thankfully, they never came back. And we hope, for their sake as well as their future neighbours, that they’ll grow up and learn how to co-exist peacefully with others – without being a menace to the people that live around them.

Meanwhile, our search came to an end: we decided to stay put, and make the best of what we had, even if the stairs were going to make life difficult.

Although it might have been disappointing to not find a new place, I was pleased. I was always reluctant to leave our home – such was my attachment to it, and the fact that I like my comfort zone.

So, we stayed on; made the second room into a nursery, and looked forward to the next stage of our lives.

But, months later, things were to change again….

(To be continued)

Posted in Life stories | 4 Comments »

Accommodating adventures: Part 1

Posted by Yacoob on July 16, 2010

“A place called home”

When we first got married, my wife and I lived alone – in the same flat – my family’s – I’d been living in (alone) prior to marriage. However, that was only temporary, because events transpired weeks later and we were soon looking to move into another place.

Initially, we were looking to buy. And this is where the adventures begin.

One rainy Sunday afternoon – for Sunday is the day of property shows in this part of the world – we set off on our quest. Our strategy was to find areas we wanted to live in, then drive around looking for agency signs. It seemed a bit ludicrous to do this in the pouring rain, but we didn’t really mind. After all, what’s a bit of wet weather when you’re scouting for your future home?

We saw many “For Sale” signs, yet only visited one: a townhouse that was conveniently located (for us). We called the agent – well before showtime, we now know – but she kindly came early just to meet us there. We went in, saw it, and liked it – but the joke came when she told us the price: it was roughly triple the price we were looking for.

Disappointment for the agent; and funny for us. We still call that place “Our townhouse”…

After more events, we found that buying was not the way to go. We began to look for a place to rent. And this led to more memorable experiences.

We saw a separate entrance, which was reasonably priced, but felt a bit claustrophobic. We didn’t want to feel closed in like that – and it doesn’t seem a good idea to share someone’s home space, as separate entrances commonly do.

The worst of them all was a decent flat – on the inside – located on an extremely busy corner in a bustling community. With a butchery downstairs, fruit sellers, street vendors, and various other shops – not to mention major security risks (rumours of criminal elements living in the complex) – it was far from suitable. We declined.

Then came our saviour – the agent, a kind old man who was a bit quirky, who seemed to have many, many properties and an ever-burgeoning client base. He first showed us a bachelor flat that was being refurbished. Clearly meant for a young, single person, it had a massive space for an entertainment system, and no actual ‘rooms’ to speak of, other than the bathroom (it was all open plan). It seemed promising, but we waited to see what else he could offer.

Next, he took us to a nice-looking security complex; which contained townhouses (some double storey, some single). The first flat there was a duplex: run down, dirty, with awful red walls and gross-looking carpets. We were desperate, so we didn’t rule it out.

Then we saw a 3rd floor flat in the same complex. From probably the moment we walked in, my wife had an instinct, a feeling, that this was it. The place had awesome views, very neat built-in furniture, and a lovely, cosy feel to it. We liked it, and were almost certain we wanted it.

But I’d made another appointment, to see a granny flat also in the area, the next morning. I went, with my parents this time, and eventually got in (the landlord was busy so we had to wait a while to get in). We went in, saw one big bedroom – with the current tenants (and their dog) still there – a small kitchen, and a bathroom; again, all open plan. I think we must have been in there less than 2 minutes before we swiftly walked out. It was a joke. No way would we want to live there.

As we were driving away, the landlady called to ask where we were. We hadn’t even waited to meet her – since it was so out of the question. We told her it wasn’t for us.

And so, after sorting out some details, we chose our home – the one my wife fell in love with soon after going in.

More than a month later, we moved in. And this has been, up to now, our beloved home – which we began our life together in, and treasure up to this day.

However, as time progressed, circumstances arose that caused us to not stay so loyal to it…

To be continued… (Part 2 is here)

Posted in Life stories | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

 
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