São Paulo Bus Stop Musings

Eu não falo Portuguese
Conversations held at the mercy of Google translate
Experiment she says,
And I understand she means taste,
So I indulge

Being schooled on Ethiopia
By a Haitian in Brazil…
Only in this world

Respect revenged with disrespect
Waving to a stranger
Who returns the courtesy with uncalled for cat calls
That henceforth go ignored

Inappropriate words
You let pass you by
Perhaps because lost in translation
But perhaps more so because
You never know what sets off the schizophrenia

Deceiving façade
Dancing waters
Layered gardens
Green walls
Hanging pots

Befriended by a couple in their 20s
Enchanted by rooftop views
Italy and Brazil meet in Ireland
To learn English…
Only in this world

Drug stores on every corner
Arts spill into the streets here
Color and commentary guide

Too many languages competing in my head
You have to chew your words here
Trabalho as art
Living is art
Art is living


Don’t Capture, Live

My battery dies on me. As I often have a backup, I reach for it – only to realize I don’t have it on me. My second instinct is to reach for my phone, which has a pretty decent camera and is much easier to lug around! My phone is dead as well.

I start to get antsy. So many images/moments/monuments that I want to immortalize on film (is it technically film any more?), and I can’t. Or perhaps I can.

Perhaps I can just relax and be present. Enjoy and breathe in all the sights — immortalize them in my memory.

As you can tell, I have mixed feelings about photography. On the one hand, I love it. I picture a frame in my head long before I reach for the camera. I can envision the photo before the click. I want to freeze laughter, natural moments and small but precious beauties, and feel that photography allows me to do so. I love looking back at old photos of people and eras who are no longer. Sometimes photos (accompanied by stories) are the only way for us to relive or experience or get to know those people and the moments and lives they’ve lived. 

On the other hand, I sometimes feel I’m so focused on capturing the moment that I miss it. I miss fully and profoundly experiencing it, without something between me and the object or event to be experienced.

As technology advances, and especially with the advent of various online mediums (including Snapchat which I refuse to catch on to) and selfies (which I pray people will have enough of and get over), many of us have stopped living without our gadgets. Or perhaps more accurately, with our gadgets, we’ve stopped living. We’re obsessed with documenting our lives — frame by frame — so much so that I wonder if we’re living them any longer.

Having said all this, I write this as I sit on the 41st floor of Edificio Italia, which I have no doubt has one of the most (if not THE most) incredible panoramic view of São Paulo. I’ve witnessed the day wind down, the sun dip, the city lights slowly turn on as the sky darkens….the imagery itself is sufficient poetry.

Ofcourse I’m dying to capture all this beauty, and wish I could, and have even attempted all manner of tricks to revive my battery. I also understand, however, the message the universe is trying to get through to me.

Some moments and views are meant to be lived, not captured.

Hide & Seek

The sun plays hide and seek
Hiding behind cloud’s shadows
Frustrated clouds burst into tears

The sun’s playful ‘peekaboo’
Puts an abrupt stop to the sporadic tears

Both oblivious to the effect of their childish play on the crowd below,
Bewildered by the psychsofrenic nature of events.

The sky smiles at the sight,
Flashing its colorful teeth

30 Years, 30 Lessons

It was perhaps apt that the big 30 was ushered in on three continents. Celebrated simply but beautifully surrounded by loved ones.

Here are some lessons that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to be goofy and have fun. If it’s pretending to be the tickle monster with a set of 4 year old twins or 8 year old munchkins, do it. Chase them, tickle them and savor their uncontained laughter that emenates deep from their bellies. You’ll find that soon you will also be echoing their laughter. Watch cartoons. Play. Unapologetically. These are the moments that make you younger and bring out the kid in you. Don’t be afraid to experience them.

2. Have a bucket list. Write down the things you think are even far fetched and impossible. You’ll be surprised how the universe conspires to make your intentions come to pass. Especially when you speak (and write) them loudly to the universe.

3. The best time is often now. Don’t leave things for later or tomorrow. There’s a Hareri saying which I’m sure is echoed elsewhere that says, ‘later is the brother of never’ or something along those lines…later or tomorrow either don’t happen or are consumed by 101 other things

4. Breathe Beauty. By this I mean that one must seek and appreciate beauty in ordinary spaces and moments. Beauty is not perfection. It simply is. We must be awake to it. It’s all around us. It’s the rays of the sun streaming into a room and resting on someone’s face…it’s the petals of a bright flower…it’s a full or partial moon that seems to light up the sky…it’s a pattern on a dress…or a colorful street…or laughter

5. I’ve realized how happy it makes me to see (teenage) kids who respect, love, appreciate and honor their parents. As parents, we must treat our kids as though they are responsible members of the family whose viewpoints are sought, heard and acknowledged. As children, we must never dismiss the difficulty of being a parent, making decisions that are unpopular and living every day for the betterment of family. Keep family ties – there’s nothing like family.

6. There are friendships that are so deep and pure and real that they turn into family. Don’t take them for granted. They don’t come along often. Treasure them and feed and care for them. They are often what keep you sane.

7. Learn to spend time alone. No matter what kind of person you are, whether ambivalent, introverted or extroverted – this is important. Learn to be ok with silence when there’s no loud company or loud music or chatter to distract you from listening to and getting to know and be at peace with yourself. If we’re uncomfortable with ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to be?

8. Go with your first instinct. Don’t second guess yourself. This is true even when the contradicting voice is external and not internal. You’ll be happy you weren’t easily swayed later on.

9. Similar to the previous one, don’t be afraid to counter the dominant or mainstream. Don’t necessarily rebel for the sake of being different but understand that being different, holding an opinion that doesn’t feature very prominently is ok. Don’t change who you are or what you think based on the crowd you happen to be or find yourself with.

10. Someone’s always watching. Your words, your actions are being recorded and observed. Even when you least expect it and by those you least anticipate to be watching. Sometimes by young kids whose thinking and values are being shaped. Act and speak in a way that you would stand by at any time. This goes for your digital footprint as well.

11. Be conscious. Whether you believe it or not, your existence on this earth has an effect. Whether that effect is on the environment, or on a community or a family. You matter. Make your existence count. Make sure that at the very least, you have left the world a bit better than you found it. That could be as simple as not throwing trash on the streets. Or trampling on plants. Or harassing animals. Make sure that if those streets, or plants or animals could tell tales about you, it’s that you walked and existed on this earth with respect. Karma is real.

12. Make time to spend time with the elderly. They were born in a very different generation and have rich stories for days. There’s so much his and her stories captured in their brains and etched in their memories that one can’t get from books. Or anywhere else for that matter.

13. Perhaps back to #1 and #12, spend time with kids. They come with a different energy and bubbly enthusiasm that’s not dampened by life and jadedness. In the same vein, don’t be the one to dampen kids imaginations. It will serve them in the future and reduce limitations they put on themselves.

14. Love yourself. All of you. Flaws and all. Understand that you’re a work in progress, and you must work on those things that are in your power to change. But in the meantime, love, respect and appreciate who you are.

15. Enjoy the present. And the journey. Celebrate the small steps and the milestones.

16. Don’t get stuck on plan a. Life often throws you surprises … and what you think is certain is not. Learn to be flexible like bamboo, which means that you’ll bend rather than break.

17. Don’t ever forget your infallibility. And your mortality. And who is really in control. It will keep you grounded and humble. Although this shouldn’t be an excuse for a laissez-faire attitude on life.

18. There’s a time for patience and a time for impatience. Learn to know the difference.

19. Impossible is nothing. Don’t be afraid to dream. And dream big. But don’t stop there. You must be ready to execute and wake up in order to realize those dreams. As a friend once reminded me, impossible itself is telling us, ‘I’m possible’.

20. God is the ultimate judge. We mustn’t condemn or critique others’ actions for we know not what is in store for us. Let us focus on improving ourselves first and foremost and that in itself is a big contribution to society.

21. Don’t underestimate the power of faith. At times it is the one thing that gets us through the night or a difficult situation.

22. Love. Deeply. Don’t be afraid of pouring your love into another. It has the power to transform and doesn’t drain your reserves.

23. Don’t underestimate the power and medicinal properties of laughter. It’s good for the soul and keeps one radiant and young. It reduces stress and adds spice to life.

24. Don’t give power to ludicrousity. If such a word exists. Don’t feed, react to or dignify nonsense.

25. Put the Almighty first, always. Stand by your faith, unapologetically.

26. Be curious. Yes they tell us that curiosity killed the cat. We don’t often hear the second part of that, ‘satisfaction brought it back’. Curiosity leads to exploring, learning and discovering.

27. Take on challenges. It leads to tremendous growth but also makes one realize just what one is capable of.

28. Feed and cater to your creative juices. Read, write, draw, imagine. Beautiful things can be created through this process.

29. The monster is often bigger in our minds than it is in real life, if it even exists. The sooner we face it, the sooner we realize it’s not spooky or insurmountable.

30. And one last one for good measure. Your best benchmark is previous versions of yourself. May we always strive today to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow to be better than today.

Disclaimer: you may have read these lessons elsewhere, or at least something similar and so am not claiming they’re original…perhaps some are lessons I’ve been told or read about and implemented along the way…but all are lessons I find to have worked in my life…hope you benefit from being reminded of them.

Natural Remedies

Her body was racked with coughs. She felt aches in parts of her body she didn’t know existed. Her symptoms waxed and waned. She’d feel congested one moment, the other beset by a runny nose. Her head would throb, the pulse quickened with every cough which scratched her throat and made her chest feel heavy.

She treated her illness in the best way she knew how. Lemon ginger teas. Black seed oils. Basking herself in the steam of eucalyptus oil. Six cloves of garlic – cut up into tiny pieces and swallowed with milk to edge the pieces down her throat. Vix rubbed across her chest.

She did everything possible to avoid going to the doctor. She knew it would be a long wait, which she dreaded – especially in her current condition. She also knew that they’d most likely tell her it was the flu and with all flus, the best medicine was fluids and rest. Which she already knew. So why drag her tired, aching body out of bed, disrupt the rest they asked her to get and wait around in a cold, sterile, depressing waiting room for a doctor to tell her what she already knew? Plus, they’d probably end up giving her 4-5 different medicines she was sure were being pushed by pharmaceutical companies. Medicine her body didn’t really need.

She brought her a big spoon of honey. In this household, and many others, honey was the cure for all. Particularly coughs and colds. She didn’t want to insult the bees but she knew her body had never warmed up to the idea of honey, unless in small doses with kita. Regardless she couldn’t get out of it. Her only point of negotiation was to take it with a slice of lemon. She squeezed the juice into her mouth trying desperately to lessen the taste of the honey, cancelling the too sweet taste with the bitter of the lemon. The nausea kicked in right away. Reminded her of childhood days when a spoon of honey early in the morning was a dreaded rite before leaving for school. On days where colds and coughs had decided to reside in her body, the honey was mixed with warm orange juice or worse yet warm milk. It almost prolonged the ordeal. Rather than suffer and be done with a spoonful, she was forced to taste the honey with every gulp until the glass was empty. Sometimes she held her nose to avoid tasting the contents… often to no avail. She ended up throwing up, unable to stomach what she had just been forced to swallow.

It was never politically correct to dislike honey, particularly as bees and their products have a special place in Islam. It’s a wonder that something sweet and with so many medicinal purposes is produced by hard working bees.  Having acknowledged this however, she was sure she was allergic to honey. Just as she was allergic to bees. Well, more accurately to bee stings. It was a shame, both for her intense allergic reaction to bee stings and her dislike and possible allergy to honey that the home she grew up in was also home to bee hives.  Six of them. This meant bees were always about and fresh honey on the comb readily available.

She would get stung frequently.  Every time, the area of her skin where she got stung would turn the color of tomatoes, swelling two to three times it’s original size. She would break out in hives, feeling the urge to scratch her skin raw. She felt as though she was on fire with no air to breathe.   She was rushed to the clinic to get an injection but her symptoms were so severe that each additional minute before the contents of the injection met her bloodstream felt like torture. She must’ve mirrored outwardly what she felt internally for after that, injections were kept at home. She craved those injections, if only to be able to breathe again. Freely.


Addis Streets


They stood in the middle of the street nonchalant/ unbothered that a car was coming their way at high speed. Perhaps it was defiance. Or indifference. Or masochism. I wasn’t quite sure which. My grandma’s words rang true: ‘back in the day, pedestrians used to be fearful of cars. Today, it’s the cars that fear pedestrians’. I swerved to the right of them. They stood still, unfazed, not even bothering to look my way.

It’s funny how the people on the streets stand timidly in disbelief at a zebra crossing when a car stops for them. Perhaps they’re not used to cars making way. And yet in the same breath cross streets and jump over barriers on highways where cars are coming and going at high speeds. The first I would’ve imagined is because they fear for their lives and are too used to cars having no mercy for pedestrians and oblivious or disregarding the fact that a zebra crossing is meant to give pedestrians the right of way. The second however makes me think the exact opposite. That people are reckless and don’t value their lives much. Is this a reflection of how bad things are in this city? That people are willing to lose it all on the streets? That perhaps the streets are where they assert control, making up for the other aspects of their lives where they feel powerless? Is it a defiance of all those wealthy enough to own a car in a country where cars have been inflated 2-300%?

I’m sorry


Sorry for all the times I can’t protect you from the cruelty and ugly of this world
For all the times your heart breaks in two, or more pieces
For the times you have to deal with both broken people and systems
For all the injustice you’ll encounter with no means of redress
For all the times you’ll have to confront petty and down right dirty with grace

For all the times you will be put down
To the extent you begin to doubt your own worth
For all the times you’re under appreciated, under valued, under loved, under cared for
For all the times you’re not treated like the queen you are
The quiet beauty who’s soul and spirit radiates from within lighting up another when allowed to breathe
The anbessa ye anbessa lij who doesn’t yet acknowledge her intellectual prowess

I’m sorry
But especially sorry if all this makes you feel any less of yourself

A Litany for Survival

By Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak
we are afraid our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive






Living museum of a
World upside down
We’ll just get lost
Amidst more than
368 narrow streets
82 mosques

We’ll find ourselves
Between the five gates
Of the walled city,
On the street of reconciliation
Megera wa weger
And make up

There’s no black & white in this city
Colors, in all hues and textures
Decorate walls, homes, baskets & clothes
And proceed to pour out into markets and streets

Lucid 112 year old
Exemplifies power of
Persuasion and persistence
Breaking spontaneously into prayer and song

Understanding (her)story
Female Emirs
Tadin binti Maya
Dil Wambara
Running an autonomous empire
Before it was fashionable to do so

Posing in hareri attire
Feeding friends of the city;
hyenas & falcons
Hilbet merekh


By Semiha Abdulmelik

That time of day
When everything moves
When street noises sound
When light shines
Filters gently into my soul
Like you

Happy Birthday Laylu. I couldn’t put it better than your aunt, Sems.

Love you to the moon and back habibti.

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