The Beggar


The Beggar is God’s friend

And when the beggar knocks
Beware:
The one who scoffs
at those in great despair
Will find God’s wrath
Descend upon their path
Wreaking great havoc
Where they once lay
In sleep
As if
In Peace.

For Peace is love and harmony
Kindness and generosity
Not merely in the things we see
But in our hearts
Our minds and
Our humanity.

Can sleep bring Peace
When rights are wronged?
Can Peace be real
When vice is strong?
Can good men sleep
When harm is done –
By their own acts or
Inaction?

Not all beggars appear in rags
Not all are destitute, filling bags
Wives too can beg
For love that’s lost,

For some sign that

They’re not just ghosts
Of past selves
Sold to servitude
Or trapped in timeless platitudes.
They beg for love that they have spent
With passion and servility.
They beg for compassion and dignity
For reinstatement
Of their humanity.

How God must rage at
The audacity
Of men who sleep
Through their calamity.

And still…
Wives pray for God’s Mercy
To reign over their Family.

Revealing the Mask:
I wrote this poem a while ago after visiting the Saartjie Baartman Center for Abused Women in Cape Town, South Africa. I had taken my students on a visit there after discussions on Saartjie Baartman’s story. Aside from gaining an insight into how women in general (and African women in particular) have been viewed historically, they were also keen to get a sense of the havens available to women in abusive relationships today.

It was a somber and moving visit. I went away pondering what the social worker had shared: The women sheltered at the center often had no other options for safety. Despite some coming from comfortable middle class families, most of the women’s  relatives were often detached from the reality of the abuse they faced. Perhaps this is connected to the stigma and perceived humiliation that women fear exposing themselves to by sharing fully the extent of their abuse. Perhaps it is symptomatic of the desensitized society we live in. It was also tragic to note how great a percentage of women sought the sanctuary of the center secretly when their husbands had fallen asleep or gone off to work, how very few would press charges and how many would call those same husbands to fetch them and briskly take them home.

I realise that this behaviour is tied up in the complex psychology of abuse victims, but can’t help believing that despite their own miserable circumstance, women’s inherent protective instinct over those they love is unshakable. I returned home frustrated and saddened  not only by the unchanging history, but by the present reality for far too many women begging to be safe and loved, and the complacency of our society on the matter.

 

Written for prompts from Three Word Wednesday and We Write Poems

The Woman behind the Veil…


This painting, The Woman behind the Veil,  is one of my favourites. Many Muslims and others, aren’t always sure whether the “veil” refers to the face covering  or the head covering. In this painting it is both. The ink and bleach rendition is inspired by the controversy that the veil has caused in the world of late. In France the veil is banned in public and in Spain there is a debate about  whether to follow suit. This debate extends from government caucus groups to university classrooms but, interestingly enough, does not include women who veil…what value could they possibly add to the discussion?

But the painting is titled The Woman behind the Veil. Despite the  intrigue, the mystique and the controversy created by the veil, it’s the woman that I want to focus on.

So often, veiled women are boxed by men and other women in so many different ways. Generally she is seen as oppressed,  inhibited, restricted…probably by her father or husband. To many, she is not seen as very intelligent, but she can probably cook well. She must be very conservative and unimaginative – why else does she resist fashion trends? And she’s probably subservient, voiceless and weak…or she would “free”  herself, surely.  You don’t see her strutting her stuff on the beach or the catwalk so she can’t have great self esteem. For Muslim women who don’t wear the veil, she is often regarded as holier-than-thou, righteous.

Although this is changing very slowly, as we enjoy an age of televised veiled women marching for freedom in Palestine, protesting in Tahrir Square and speaking from university podiums, I still find that there are many people who avoid eye-contact with veiled women in the streets – especially those dressed in black- in the same way that they avoid really seeing disabled people, beggars and the homeless. As if there is something alien about them. What is it about them that begs invisibility?

What is it we don’t want to see?

And if we got beyond our tainted glasses, gave up our assumptions and got curious, what would we ask The Woman behind the Veil? It’s her I’m interested in. Aren’t you?

What does she do? What is she passionate about? What makes her laugh? What does her heart yearn for? Where has she travelled? What does she dream of? What cause does she fiercely champion? Who does she vote for? What are her fears? Who are her friends? Why does she wear the veil? There’s so much to be curious about…And what of the world she’s looking out at?  How does she see it?

At a recent conference I attended, Fadil Soloman, a well known interfaith facilitator, posed these questions in a different way through a visual comparison.

            

What if we looked at veiled Muslim women as we look at the most honoured of  women in Christianity…would that make a difference? Would we see them as women who love God, women who serve their communities, women who change the world?