Culture Life

Why I am constantly drawn to lavender

I find that my most blissful moments remind me of the strong, calming scent of lavender. For one reason or another, I relate it to a lot of the more meaningful aspects of my life. To me, lavender is like a feeling; like the wind brushing up against your skin.

While I think that lavender is largely optimistic, I also find a certain sorrow that is comfortable, even humble, in its presence. I’ve come to appreciate it in every shape and form – the color, the flower, the scent. Its hard to place; not sweet or bitter, but rather musty. 

Lavender manages to incorporate itself into my life seemingly on a whim and in the most fleeting of moments. We have a peculiar relationship. I am stomach-knottingly anxious in the presence of many, especially when I first meet them. But, with some, I sense lavender, and I know that something great is about to happen. It is more of a feeling than anything else. Just talking to some people can be rejuvenating, and perhaps it is because our meeting reminds me of that warm, soft smell of a mid-spring day when the sun is bright and pure, and the entire day lies ahead.

Nowadays, when I am feeling an emotion that is simply beyond words, I say that I am overflowing with lavender. 

According to etymology, the English word “lavender” is derived from the Latin “lavare,” which translates to “to wash.” It is a necessary refinement – a cleanse. I am purified with every utterance of the word. 

Perhaps it’s not just me. In literature, lavender has been used significantly as a token of love. To me, it’s more like a notion of love at first sight. Shakespeare offers a bouquet of “hot lavender” in The Winter’s Tale. Cleopatra also roots lavender with love, as she is said to have used its sultry perfume to seduce both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Christians are also known to have used it as a repellent of evil. The plant is said to have been taken from the Garden of Eden and is sometimes found hanging in a cross shape above the doors of some Christian households as a means of protection. There are so many songs with the title lavender, my favorite being by The Beach Boys, and there have also been many poems written about it, too. Take, for example, this quote by an anonymous writer, “as rosemary is to the spirit, lavender is to the soul.” 

Lavender is swift, like a movement, carrying me in and out of perfectly imperfect moments. The vision of it is rather uplifting as well. It stands delicately tall among the rest, but it is not intimidating either. I adore its confrontation. In fact, I look forward to it. 

Love Life Stories

I always thought I was strong enough to survive on my own, but I was completely wrong

All this time, I believed I was a strong woman. Strong enough to survive on my own.

I’ve learned that life isn’t always a bowl of fresh cherries, sometimes we find rotten and moldy ones. Life is full of happiness, along with pain, heartbreak, and failures. And I managed to recover from all those moments of difficulties. It was tough, but I bounced back like a superball once I overcame them all. I even called myself a ‘comeback queen’, believing that I could handle anything that was coming.

A major source of strength came from the inspirational, motivational and self-help books I’ve been reading since I was 13. My encouragement came from the positive quotes I put on my vision board. I thought I knew how to handle anything, and even if I didn’t, I always pretended I did.

I started my first year of college with eagerness and determination. I made many new friends and people came to know me as a positive and wise woman. A lot of them asked for advice from me and I was more than happy to help them. It gave me great satisfaction to see them gain their strength back after listening to my counsel and guidance.

I had some life crises too, but I never told anyone about how I felt. I had friends, but I never went to them to pour my heart out or when I needed a shoulder to cry on. I never told anyone what was really inside my head. I believed I was strong enough and I could handle everything on my own.

Some people knew about difficulties I faced, but I refused their help and always told them, “I’m fine.” I pushed them all away because I help people, not the other way around.

That was how I wanted it to be.

I thought this showed how strong I was.

But soon I was proven wrong.

He was one of my friends in college. Of all my friends, there was someone different about him. He was the person I was most comfortable with. I had a lot of friends, but they weren’t close friends. Even in high school, people were friendly with me, but there were no real friendships.

Our friendship was different, and little did I know, he was better at helping people than me. He could always sense if I had a problem or something was troubling me. Unlike others, he didn’t offer to help right away.

He let me try to figure everything out by myself.

One day, he asked me to sit with him where there was no one around, and he told me he’d figured me out.

He told me he could see that I was unhappy the whole time. He could see that I kept all my emotions bottled up inside me, all the pain, misery and disappointment. He could see that I faked it all the time. My happiness, my smile, and my laughs, were all a facade.

When he was done talking, I couldn’t help but cry.

It was the first time in years that I’d cried in front of someone. I just sat there, sobbing for God knows how long. He didn’t say anything. He just kept quiet, waiting for me until I was done.

I told him everything after I stopped crying. Everything that happened to me, all the issues I’d faced in the past few years. It took hours for me to finish telling him the story of my life and he just patiently listened. It felt good to have someone to listen. My shoulders felt lighter as if the weight of the world has been lifted off from them. All this time, I’d been carrying a burden and I didn’t realize it.

This time, I didn’t refuse his help.

We’ve been best friends ever since. I’ve realized that I never really a best friend. I never opened up to people, instead, I shoved them away so they couldn’t see my vulnerability, so no one could get close to me.

I’ve missed out on real friendship. But not anymore.

I started opening up more, not just with him but will all my friends. Putting my trust in them made me feel more connected. It was time to take off my armor and start embracing everything that I feared in my life. Fear was what motivated me, not strength.

I also realized that strength isn’t always about fighting – sometimes it’s about letting go. That’s why sharing what’s inside our heart and mind is helpful. A problem shared is a problem halved.

I understand now that seeking help is not the sign of weakness, in fact, it’s the opposite.

Gender & Identity Life

Survival in a time of trauma

When I think about the ways our bodies carry trauma, the ways we have survived, I am filled with love. I think of my aunt Aziza in Mogadishu who says even making tea is saving ourselves from war. It’s a warm, brown kind of healing. Does the tea help with the loneliness? With the hurt? She says that black pepper in tea burns all of the sorrow that makes a home in the throat.

Children, particularly daughters, carry a lot of generational hurt. And when this hurt is added to the daily traumas we endure, we become bodies of passed-down sorrow and sadness. We think that this sadness will swallow the entire room. We try to make it more manageable, smaller. We try to hide it. We say “No, no, I’m fine, I’m good,” even when the sadness arrives, threatening to take us under.

The reasons for this grief are never clear. It’s never so blatant, never so willing to reveal itself. And sometimes the body hides these reasons, in the curls of our hair, between fingers, under nails because to unearth where the grief is is to begin healing. Healing is painful – it threatens what we’ve known to be true, it threatens life, it disrupts & interrupts.

I often wonder about how much room we actually have to sit and contemplate our sorrow when we aren’t busy trying to survive. Mother says the day is short and grief can only be hot for so long. I ask her how much silence is sorrow. She says it’s painful to find where it hurts. Our entire house is left searching in dark alleys for what we’ve never seen.

We force the body to take on strength & this pretense harms us too. We are accused of strength even in spaces we call our own – our homes, in the arms of those who know our closest heart. We feign strength in dangerous ways, moulding the body into things it is not. Where did we learn to forget what made the body?

We speak to the ocean too, wondering how much of mother is in the water. I think about my mother’s mother Halima, god rest her soul, who spoke to the ocean in whispers: dotting herself around the Tanzanian coast throughout her life. Perhaps this feeling I have of my lungs being full of water comes from there. We’ll ask the ocean if Dar es Salaam still remembers us.

But usually, we want to ask about the bodies under the sea. I spoke to the ocean the night before last and I wanted to say: the red is showing in your blue. I wanted to say: it is exhausting to have to find the body over and over again. Sometimes, you do not even have the courtesy to return the bodies & we are left mourning air and tinted names. Do you not know of mercy? Have you not been taught? Grown waters like you should know better than to swallow others whole like that.

And we survive, we do, but the sadness has a different face every time: white hands cocked last week, red alarming eyes today. How does sadness keep finding the new body, the body that you carved for yourself out of  loss and loss and loss?

It took a long while before I was able to see that our truest existence doesn’t have to happen outside of sadness – it can happen in sadness, around sadness, in front of sadness.