I love watching Nigella Lawson cook up a storm. There’s just something about her and I will rather stay in on Saturday mornings to watch her cook then be anywhere else…even when she grosses me out with the eggs. I told Mother during an advertisement break that I could SO be a Muslim version of Nigella. Well, a less charming, slightly darker, maybe slightly shorter with much longer, curly hair version of her. But give me a tight black dress and I could try. Her life just fascinates me, and she is equally intriguing.
When I was a little girl, I could barely see anything. I used to sit too close to the television and I would squint to see the blackboard and the teacher in school. Mother took me to the Optometrist and it was established that I was short-sighted, that it was probably hereditary, and that I would need glasses. I can remember the first day I got my glasses. It was like I was seeing the world for the first time, at the age of 6. I looked up at the sky that night.
Azra: Oh Mummy, I can see the stars!!
Mother: My child, have you never seen the stars before?
Azra: No…but I can see them now…wow…And look at them, they’re so pretty!!
Mother: My poor child…
I no longer needed to sit right in front of the television to see anything. I could sit on the couch but habitually sat on the floor right in front of the TV anyway. My glasses always made me feel ugly, but I needed them to see, so I didn’t have much of a choice but to wear them. In school, I was a nerd because I was the only one wearing spectacles and at a later stage, I was promoted to “super-nerd” when I received my braces. The situation at home, coupled with the way I looked, played heavily on my emotions and made me very insecure and miserable. And of course, in this sick world we live in, there were some that took advantage of that insecurity by either verbally or physically abusing me. I was always quiet, and the “popular” girls would bully me, or make fun of me…sniggering like the little bitches that they were. I had a teacher in Standard 1 (Grade 3) who used to beat the crap out of me, leaving blue marks on my arms because I couldn’t remember that 2 x 2 = 4. Thankfully, that ended when Mother found out and stormed into her home, right hand extended, grabbed her by the neck, squeezed the life out of her and told her “If you EVER touch my child again, I’m going to fucking kill you bitch. Do you understand?”.
I can remember that I always watched other people…the “beautiful” people. I used to look at them and admire them, desperately wishing I was one of them. There was one teacher in Primary School, I think I must have been in Std 3 or 4 (Grade 5 or 6) and she had this long hair and she always looked stunning…perfectly groomed. I would watch her in the mornings from the top floor, wondering what her life was like.
It was in Std 3 that I stood up for myself. I can remember one of those little bitches telling me something offensive, and the look of her face when I told her to “Fuck Off”. It was as if I had slapped her. It was on that day that my spine grew and filled out with steel. It was the first day of my uprising, the day I snapped. I became so much more than just a “popular” girl after that and people respected me for the first time in my life.
And in between the bitches who called themselves friends, my miserable existence, the turmoil in what was supposed to be a sanctuary called home and my hatred of school, I managed to excel in academics, quite effortlessly at first. I still wished I was someone else. I still wished I was “beautiful”. I would become infatuated with people I admired. And there were so many over the years…everyone from Cindy Crawford to the pretty teachers and the “beautiful” girls at school. I would always wonder what life was like for them. I would wonder if people just loved them more because they were pretty…did they always get what they wanted because of the way they looked…their lives just seemed so much easier.
And in between the wondering, the admiration and the envy, I eventually grew up. My spectacles became contact lenses and my braces were removed, and even though things changed somewhat, I was always still looking at those “perfect” people…wondering why I was never “perfect”…and trying to figure out what I did wrong that I was never awarded the privilege. My personality grew in that time too and I was always laughing. I loved playing pranks on people, and I became more confident and somewhat popular too. I always drew people who were “different” and unique into my circle. At that time, I was in my final year at high school, searching for answers, trying to make sense of the world. My best friend was a Brazilian exchange student, Isabella, who would talk to me in Portuguese and I would reply in English. We had in depth conversations about life in her room at the school’s hostel. Together we found that problems don’t always lie with other people, and that self-evaluation was important and often necessary, and in between stalking a very athletic and delicious looking Jared, I found self-respect with her.
Throughout my years as a Psych Undergrad student at what is now called the University of Johannesburg, my search for self continued. My fascination with the beautiful people didn’t end though and I was always intrigued by the young up-coming Hollywood crowd. Up until 1999, I can’t remember much of teen Hollywood. And then all of a sudden, out of no where, there was a revival of teen pop with Britney and Christina and movies like “Ten things I hate about You”, “She’s all That”, the “American Pie” sequels and “Never Been Kissed”. All of a sudden the nerd who rises to fame became the mantra in Hollywood and they made everything about School and College/University seem so cool.
But I was a loner through my days as an Undergrad and often spent my days on the rooftops at C-Les or D-Les, contemplating life and watching various Boeing aircraft, trying to guess their destinations, wondering where they were off to and what life was like for those people.
My years in London showed me what I’m made of…struggling through the daily grind with no family, initially no friends, moving from one house to another, moving from one job to another…until I found my niche. My keen individualistic cheap fashion sense manifested and I met some “beautiful” people along the way, but they seemed to become more real to me. I eventually began to meet people who looked at me with the same admiration, calling me “beautiful” despite my protests. I can remember sitting in the tube one morning, on my way to Heathrow Airport, and there was this stunning Asian lady dressed in a chic black dress with her stilettos, coat, perfectly groomed hair and daughter in tow, who looked around the age of 4. She sat across from me and I remember admiring her beauty and confidence, and feeling ugly and frumpy in my tracksuit, but I smiled at her and her daughter, expressing my awe and admiration. She smiled back and after a few minutes, before she disembarked at one of the platforms, told me that she thought I was beautiful. I was surprised and told her “”No, you’re the one, you’re the one that’s beautiful”…
I’ve experienced many similar episodes since then. I always see the eyes, looking at me with admiration…I see those little girls, walking with their parents, their eyes fixated on my clothes and my jewelry and my shoes. I see the look in many different faces…from little girls to school kids, teenage cousins to colleagues, strangers and even some of my friends. Some of them reach out to touch me, my face or my clothes, touching my hair and my skin. I see the same expression I’ve always had on my own face, the same awe that once existed in my own eyes and I always think to myself, if they only knew…if they only knew what it took to get me to this point. If they only knew what I had to go through. If they only knew that my life was nothing wonderful and still isn’t. If they only knew how I suffered for years on end. If they only knew how much strength and courage it took for me to get here…how I had to pick myself up time and time again so that I could be who I am today. If they only knew the lessons that I had to learn. If they only knew how hard I had to work for everything I have…if they only knew…
I haven’t stopped admiring the beauty in people, and I don’t begrudge them their fortunes either. Just last week, while leaning against the wall in the pool at the gym, my arms resting on the platform, I witnessed beauty in motion. I had done a couple of laps in the pool and was waiting to catch my breath with Tweets beside me in another lane, when this graceful creature dived in and crossed several lanes to get to an empty one. I am a relatively good swimmer, but she was positively lithe…gliding through the water like a fish in the sea. When she surfaced, she caught me watching her and I smiled, dispelling any misconceptions and conveying my honest and sincere admiration. She smiled back at me with two dimples on her cheeks.
Azra: Why wasn’t I born white and stunning with dimples and why can’t I swim like that?
Tweets: Hun, you can’t have all that and still go to Jannah (Heaven).
Azra: The Russian Muslim Olympic swimmers can!
Tweets: If it’s any consolation, you do have a slight dent in your cheek when you smile…
These days I can still admire beauty from near and far, without longing to be someone or something else. And on days like today, when I'm daft and forget to pack my shoes and walk around with my lace/chiffon/sequined dress thingy with my gym trainers/tekkies/sneakers on, I just laugh at myself. I am the sum of my experiences and there is no one else I’d rather be. Sometimes, I still wish I looked like Megan Fox or Catherine Zeta Jones minus the Michael Douglas. But I know now who I am and my purpose here on earth. I’m not searching anymore…I’m no longer trying to find meaning in this life. I’m not seeking some divine enlightenment, some free pass to self-appreciation and self-love. I’m already there, I have found the answers. Now if only I could find Mr. Right.
Azra: I feel very uncomfortable when people tell me I’m beautiful, especially men, it makes me feel like they want something from me.
Mother: So what if a guy told you you’re ugly? What would you say?
Azra: I’d tell him, voetsek (fuck off) your mother’s ugly.
Mother: (laughs) You’re never happy.