15 July 2018
I write this in the name of and with the love of my Creator and Sustainer. My story may be shocking to many people. I am not a holy woman with lofty thoughts and ideals, but one full of holes through which you may glimpse the darkness of my past and the unsavoury road I sometimes travelled. I have shared little snapshots with you and have been afraid to venture into the recesses of my darker truth. My fear is that I will be judged and scorned and that I may inadvertently cause hurt, for which I ask forgiveness. My wish is that many people out there may take solace and hope from my story and find courage and direction even in the darkest hours of their lives…
I stood in the splendour of my spectacular wedding dress. It was designed and sewn by my granny and adorned with golden leaves that splayed across my torso like a gold encrusted beauty queen sash. Each leaf was hand-beaded by my aunt and the result was a unique splendid designer gown. My face beamed with youthful vigour, in anticipation of the exciting life that lay ahead of me. I was 22 years old. I was almost done with my law degree and getting married to the man of my dreams. I would never have imagined what awaited me.
I was divorced less than 2 years later. We started out as the golden couple at varsity, leaving many broken hearts of suiters who had ambitions of getting together with either of us. We were the poster couple. A few decades later, people still wonder what happened. We had a group of friends comprising other couples and we went everywhere together, even on holiday. A group of intellectual jazz loving party goers. One of them became a national editorial hero. Others excelled in their fields and generally became productive contributors to society I am told. In our heyday on campus, most of them also loved the partying, drinking lifestyle, which is not only a rite of passage in western culture, but characterised the political activist scene at the time. I have always been averse to alcohol and could never understand why one needed an altered mental state to have a good time, or to be yourself or whatever other reason lies behind the custom. To test my resistance and the prohibitions in Islam, I tried it at some point and confirmed my initial thoughts about the matter. Nonetheless, I was not going to impose my personal preferences on my friends even though I would not venture. It was not so comfortable for me when my husband started drinking. I objected as it disturbed me, and I began to think we may not everything in common as I thought. In my mind it was a phase and that at least we shared our values and belief system, or so I thought.
I was protected growing up and wasn’t allowed to go to parties and clubs, and I would sneak out of the house, to go to the occasional birthday parties of my high school friends and be part of the teen social scene. When I got married, suddenly, everything changed. My ex-husband wanted me in mini-skirts. I had always been a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl. A tom-boy of note. Not a dress did I own until I was almost 20. Yet there I was, in teeny weeny skirts at the behest of my new husband, going to clubs and partying away, with a group of friends. My father, who had recently returned in our lives after a long absence, tried to gently warn me of the dangers of the path I was embarking on. I half listened and continued regardless. For a while I felt free and loved the whimsical indulgence that came with youth. I was making up for the lost teenage years that were mostly spent in existential angst and heart break. No more heart break. No more tears and frustration. Just happiness with my new husband and our group of friends. Then things began to unravel.
My husband loved the lifestyle and my ‘prudish’ rejection of alcohol did not deter him. I traipsed along to every big event, party or holiday with the group. Initially I embraced it and enjoyed much of it. The glitz and glamour soon wore off. The group outings started to become less enthralling. Eventually we’d come home from a day at work and immediately get together with everyone else. There were real positives also. The women in the group played league softball in Bosmont, an affluent, then coloured suburb west of Johannesburg. It was one of the most enjoyable pastimes for me during that time, allowing me the chance to get back into my much-loved sporting activities. Even though we were not the best team, having received a few thrashings from the formidable proud all-lesbian team that held the championship title and some less formidable teams, we were reputed to have the prettiest girls in the league. Despite these pleasant pastimes, the partying groupie lifestyle began to take its toll. I smiled and pretended to love being with everyone all the time, pretended to like African Jazz, when in fact I didn’t. African Jazz was a part of the activist culture. It was almost sacrilegious for a political activist to not love Afro jazz, drink and partying during the eighties. We resisted oppression with commitment and aplomb, suffering teargas, arrests and protests. This united us in a way. A group of youngsters with a common purpose of fighting the heinous system that institutionalised racism and inequality. As much as my heart drew me to fight the injustice of Apartheid, try as I might I could not embrace the activist culture, so I pretended, just to fit in. I’d laugh when we were all at a resort and one of the gang would be throwing up in the plants and continue in a drunken stupor the entire time we were there. I’d pretend to love the scene at Jameson’s, the icon of activist entertainment in Jozie at the time. Atheism was a key component of the popular activist ideology at the time. It was almost shameful to admit that you were Muslim or Christian in those days. It was as if the Struggle was itself a religion that you swore allegiance to, and any rantings of religion were scoffed at. I was caught up in this culture and found myself hiding my religious beliefs for fear of reprisal and rejection. I recall a conversation at Varsity with one of my Marxist friends (part of the group), who questioned why Muslims followed the teachings of a prophet, including the way he dressed and behaved. I pointed out to him that he was doing exactly the same with Karl Marx, as he had previously mentioned to me how Marx was a decent dresser, not grungy like the revolutionaries of the day, and that he was an exemplary human being. He proceeded to justify how these two scenarios were completely ‘different’. His girlfriend (my cousin in-law and best friend at the time) visibly held her tongue but seemed to agree with his perspective. After that, I chose to hide my true beliefs and continued to try to meld in the world into which I had married.
Eventually though, I began to feel like I was married to a whole bunch of people who, although were beautiful and enchanting each in their own way, loved the things I didn’t, believed in different things, and lived in a way that I struggled to adjust to. Instead of accepting their life choices and appreciating their innate goodness and value, I found myself judging them constantly and at the same time fearing being judged by them. In retrospect, the fault lay with me in not being true to myself. While my ex-husband and our friends were living their truth, I was denying my own. I was desperate to find acceptance, and it would be a while before I even discovered my own truth.
My ex and I even had a party at our house in Mayfair and needless to say, the party was not complete without a bowl of alcohol, spiced with some punch. Although I never drank any of it, I felt like I was drowning in its wake. Something about that whole experience made me feel surreal. This was all happening in my own house. I didn’t even drink. I was not comfortable with this lifestyle. Why was I not doing anything about it? How much more of myself was I willing to compromise to fit in?
More next time God-willing.
With love and wishing you peace, always💚