dirty shoes and doormats

Today I took my ayeyo out for a brief stroll in the beautiful Swedish spring weather. There’s something about spring that spells hope for me. The air feels alive. And the sun shines like it means it. Anyway, as we were walking, we were met by two middle-aged Somali women, one of whom abruptly stopped in front of my ayeyo – the other stood to the side. The lady who stopped seemed to know her.
She asked my ayeyo ‘Ma i taqaana?’( Do you know me?) And though my petite ayeyo has been tried with a lifetime of illnesses, I swear when I say that her mind is clearer than any youngster I know, I’m not exaggerating. And the corner of her mouth curved up, to form into a brief smile as she replied that of course she knows the lady, she’s so and so.
The lady clapped her hand in joyous surprise as she gave her friend a look that said
‘ can you believe this old woman remembers stuff?’.
There’s something that irks me about the way Somalis patronize old people and young kids. But that’s besides the point.
After exchanging a round of small talk, the middle-aged lady suddenly turned her face to take a sharp look at me, as if she just noticed that I was standing next to ayeyo, and asked
‘ ma ina cali baa?’ ( Are you the daughter of Ali?)
I have my mother’s signature looks that gives me away instantly.
I said ‘haa’ (yes). And what she said next took me aback;
‘oo maxaad saan ula balaaratay? Maxaad cuntay’
( Why did you become this big, what did you eat?) as her squinting and prying eyes looked me up and down. Her boorish words didn’t warrant a reply so I looked her in the eye and silently looked away. I wasn’t afraid of giving her an answer she deserves, but I didn’t even know her so I didn’t even want to acknowledge what she said.
She didn’t relent. She scrambled for something to save face with; she turned to my ayeyo and said in an explanatory tone
‘ waxaan u maleynayey inay aheyd tii wax dhashay’
( I thought it was the one who had the baby) referring to my younger sister who had the measurements of a supermodel with her 5’10 frame and envious body shape. Drive the knife deeper will you.
Ayeyo quipped back ‘ no, this one doesn’t have a baby. She’s not married.’
I glanced at her friend who stood silently on the side, to see if she was as shocked as I was at her rudeness? But she wasn’t. And the rude lady didn’t seem fazed by her intrusiveness. What world did these women come from that made it seem normal to be so unhinged? I tugged at ayeyo to signal that we should head back home. The afternoon sun was receding, and it was getting a bit chilly.
When they left I told my ayeyo ‘ma la yaabtay?’
( Did you become shocked?) at which she grinned, knowingly. My ayeyo says more with her facial expression than she speaks. We walked the rest of the way home in silence.
I noticed that it didn’t bother me. It was offensive, but it didn’t stir my emotions. Because I know that for someone to talk like that, they must be full of pain and problems. Normal people don’t go around saying shit like that. But had this been a year ago, it would have broken my spirits and would have set me oh so far back. It’s odd, how gradually change seeps into your being. A thought challenged here, an essay written there. Before you know it, you’ve thought yourself into a new person.
I thought to myself, if I hadn’t created my own world I would have died in other people’s worlds, paraphrasing something I had read. People project their insecurities and vices on others all the time. If I didn’t have a stable self-esteem, a sense of self, then I would have crumbled under the weight of all the negativity (no pun intended :p ).
Someone can come and destroy all the hard work you’ve done by a thoughtless word if you open yourself up to the opinion and approval of others.
I don’t need to explain to anyone why I gained weight, how I feel about that, or when I’m planning on losing it. Because one thing is for sure; feeling good about yourself is NOT tied to a number on the scale. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have thin girls hating their non-existent flab. I’ve battled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia ever since I was 12-13 because of what others said, because of what I saw in the magazines and on tv. I thought to be liked, I had to be perfect in every way. So even though I was slim, I hated my body. I hated it. There was never a moment where I felt ok. And it’s ironic that it took me gaining a whole lot of weight for that self-hate to come to the surface.
I relay this incident because I know that many girls and women suffer insecurities that leave a dent in their lives. If it’s not body size, it’s skin tone, it’s hair texture, it’s height, it’s the nose, the eyes, the hands, the waist, the hips, the neck. If not the physical aspect, then it’s how ‘lady-like’ are you, how hard-working are you, how good a manners do you have, how good a cook are you, are you married, are you able to have kids, are you able to balance the entire world on your shoulders–
When you open yourself up to the definitions and remarks of those who haven’t felt your pain, who haven’t witnessed the suffering that gave you the strength to carry on, the beautiful heart you have — even if it’s your own mother, then you basically say ‘ my own opinion doesn’t matter. I don’t matter until I am validated by others’. It’s this act of self-transgression that invites the transgression of others.
Don’t. YOU set your standards. YOU set your rules. YOU set your own boundaries. Teach people how to treat YOU. If they don’t respect it or try to mock you by saying that you’re too sensitive, cut them loose. Someone who doesn’t respect your wishes or boundaries is someone who doesn’t respect YOU. You don’t need that garbage in your life. You’re no dumpster mmkay?
The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.
— Anaïs Nin

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