|Painting by Arna Baartz|
Several weeks ago on the news, we saw pictures of 40,000 people starving to death in Madaya, Syria. The elderly, women and children—all horribly emaciated. Their faces haunt me, especially the children’s. I have felt unbearably burnt out these last weeks so I decided to clean out our flat instead of working as I usually do during the weekend. My husband offered to help, but I declined. The deep cleaning was something I wanted to tackle myself for my own mental health—and, he had work to do downstairs that we frankly needed the income from.
My husband has lived here as a bachelor for 10 years, so the job was difficult and gross. I started with the kitchen. I found myself disgusted with our entire family. There was fat stuck in the far back recesses of every cabinet. Assorted stale food items and crumbs were nearly everywhere. My children’s biological father’s family is very wealthy, but I don’t see much in the way of child support, so they feel poor. My son interrupted me to complain that his apple had bruises on it and he didn’t want to eat it. I looked at him, exasperated and thought, do you have any idea how lucky we are?
I pride myself on being frugal. With four children—including 3 teenage boys—and a husband with a hollow leg, our food budget is always tight. There is never anything left over at the end of the month.
Recycling in Norway is not easy like it is in the U.S. When I looked at the items I put aside for Goodwill and the massive amounts of recycling to be carried down the hill with my son, I felt dismayed by how much we have. I felt embarrassed at how often I have not felt grateful these last years. As I worked, I became hungry. I started to think about what I might eat, and my mind shifted to Ramadan, which I stopped doing after six years of pregnancies and back-to-back extended years of breastfeeding. I have told myself that I am not my best self when I am fasting. I am grouchy and quick to anger. I thought again about the starving children in Syria and all the refugees from around the world left with absolutely nothing, and I felt angry with myself so I kept working with a growling stomach. The tears welled up in my eyes and I decided to stop for a while and write.
What sort of world is this where we have so much and so many others have so little?
What kind of love will these starving children with starving parents receive? Even if their small bodies can recover from this torture, will their souls? If I know in my heart that I am harsh with my children when I fast voluntarily, what kind of mother would I be if I were starving and had to care for a screaming, starving child? What kind of love is that? What brand of feminism allows us to turn our heads to our sisters and their children this way? What sort of religion? What vision of God/dess?
What can be done? At night I lie awake and think of every small thing I can think of. I will only shop at the Palestinian-owned International market or the Halal Algerian store instead of the large Norwegian chain that doesn’t need my money. I will cut every unnecessary fee and send it on. I will cut out the junk food… I have been cutting things out for 6-7 years.
I came to Norway with my children, 4 large suitcases and our carry-ons; nearly everything else we sold or gave away. We live in a small 800-square foot flat with one bathroom—and 2-4 of our children, depending on custody arrangements. I have not had a car or a cell phone for years. I walk nearly everywhere. I keep searching. I keep thinking. My mind doesn’t let me stop. I struggle with insomnia. I wear myself down. I grow tired, angry, depressed, and filled with despair. I wonder if there is a single rich white man anywhere in the world who has this problem.
Life is mostly luck. Where you are born, how much you have, which religion you will practice, who your parents are—and your propensity for happiness, depression, mental illness and addiction. Wealth, as I learned from a previous marriage, is also usually luck, and also comes with its own sort of misery and destruction.
Nawal El Saadawi says that “Patriarchy needs god to justify injustice.” I know this to be true in my own life. I cringe when I see the male pronouns for God. I stopped going to mosque and church because it became too painful for me to accept this lie in writing, song and speech every single week. While I appreciate that many people feel differently about this, for me it felt like a stab in the heart.
“Once we thoroughly understand how and why patriarchy acquired its power over us—the power of an entrenched mistake over the minds and lives of all people—once we understand and feel clearly that the fight of witch women is also the fight of earth’s people everywhere against mechanical subjugation and exploitation—once we reestablish the magic link between the individual psyche and the earth’s vital energy flow, between all-evolving matter and all-evolving spirit, and learn to encourage and teach others to do the same, in a loving return to what we always were—perhaps then, in the final time of crisis, the Serpent Goddess will shake herself loose from her deep exiled sleep in the earth’s belly. Perhaps the serpent of life’s flowing energy will begin to rise again, all luminous and of the earth, and the children of the Great Mother will rise up with it, and the universe will be our home again, as before. This flight is not an escape, but a return. The only way for human being to survive the end is to return to the beginning.”
–Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor
The first twenty years of my life were devoted to Christianity. The next twenty were largely devoted to Islam, but with much more detachment. Goddess willing, I now must decide where to focus the next twenty.
The birth of my daughter inspired a dream in me: that she would be able to devote her own life to no one or no creed but herself.
I hope that she will at least not give as much as I did to patriarchal religions that have done so little for women as a whole and so much collectively to destroy our spirits.