Bilkish Vahed

The Allure of Individuality


I’m weird. I don’t like facials.

Which is why I only have them irregularly. But the air in Johannesburg is so dry this time of the year that my skin feels tight, sore, sensitive – exactly in need of lashings of creams and oils and pampering.

I walked into the therapy room with freshly washed hair and self, and after ministrations, sudsy latherings, mask painting, swirling rich serum applications, intermittent shoulder rubs, I emerged with skin plumped and hair dripping in creams!

That’s it. That’s when I’m freaked out. Walking out the salon looking freakish, feeling awful. My daughter said – ignore the sticky-strange hair, just don’t wash you face, give the creams time to penetrate deeply.

Purgatory, I thought. I’ve arrived in purgatory!

The Fragility of Self Care

On Thursday morning I woke up at 3.30am, was picked up at 4.45am and brought to the airport in time to catch a 6.30am flight. When I arrived at the airport, it was buzzing, just like it usually is at this time of morning. 

Incredible, I think to myself, how we all succumb to this insane way of working – routinely waking up in the dead of night, cutting short the vital renewal that each nights sleep brings, in order to touch down in another city at the top of the hour, to begin a new work day!

But everyone does it. And when everyone is doing it, then the behaviour becomes acceptable, the status quo is established. Like sheep we all follow and ignore the discomfort that we routinely feel.

Travelling throws me off balance in many ways  – it affects my sleep, what I eat, when and how much I eat, opportunity to move my body regularly, keep my circulation happy, blah blah. When I discuss with colleagues my travel discomforts, I’m met with glazed eyes. If they feel any “offness,” discomforts of their own, a painkiller here or there is the answer.  

But I make too much of this story of travel. The thing that really puzzles me is how out of touch so many of us are with our own needs. And if we get a whiff of them, how crippled we feel about finding a way to tell all concerned – bosses, lovers, friends, family – about what we want, and also what we cannot deliver in the relationship.

In bewilderment, we either occasionally throw our toys out of the cot like angry children, or numb ourselves with too much food, or too much sleep, or drugs. But mostly, mostly we swallow our discomforts and unmet needs in a forest of silence.

Without caring for ourselves, and negotiating the delicate balance of relationships, we all too easily slip into shadows of our vibrant selves. Do you stay sharp to your own needs?

Wobbles & Sparks

If there’s an art to living, then I’ve not got the hang of it. Over five decades of living, and still I wobble and flay and slip slide along – with my share of dark days. Days mired by a feeling of lacklustre mediocrity. Why bother, I ask fruitlessly, feeling like the breathing dead?

Yet often enough, I’m surprised by moments of exquisite lucidity. 

Usually in the morning shower, sudden bursts of energy and ideas and tantalizing desire. I want to do this, I think to myself – I’m going to! I’m going to make that happen and have fun along the way. Then off I am on a new stream of energy, filled with excitement and hope and fresh focus.

If the dark patches did not give way to the new sparks, if the downward curve was not followed by something else, living would be intolerable.

The Double Bind of High Heels


If, every day, I could slip my feet into beautifully made shoes with elegant 6cm heels, I would. I’d walk in them through the mall, to work, to café’s, on the sidewalks – everywhere. But I don’t. Because I can’t. 

Because I can only tolerate them for an evening out, or a day here or there. Anything more, makes me ache and hurt. Sleek they make me feel, but sore. That still doesn’t stop me lusting after the day that some genius gets it right and designs a chic and sharp high heel so beautifully balanced and structured that I buy a dozen pairs for every day, and more.

Until that day though, my allegiance is with the #KuToo (a play on kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain) protest movement in Japan, against the mandatory wearing of high heels by women in the workplace. What torture to be forced into heels every day.

High heels, they say, can be traced back to 15thcentury Persia, where soldiers wore them to secure their feet in stirrups. Later when the trend reached Europe, aristocratic men (who performed no manual labour) wore them to appear “taller and more formidable,” I read. Formidable? Fancy that!

A Hollow Man

A rambunctious beginning to my Friday!

I went to a new dentist this morning with a tooth that needs attention. There’s no pain, no discomfort, but some fixing needed. Since moving to Joburg, I’ve been looking to connect with a new practitioner.

A smiling gentleman ushered me into his chair. Knock knock knock his metal instrument prodded the tooth. “No pain?” he asked. “No,” I said. “Nothing yet, but you’ll have to get a crown on that one, it’s all down hill from here.” 

A hot flicker under my skin.

“And have you booked an appointment with the hygienist yet?” “No,” I said.  “It’s imperative, you know, before the gums become compromised.” “Look, look,” he said shoving a mirror at me. 

I looked. Pressure was building in my chest. This man felt off.

“Has nobody told you that your bite needs attention?” His dark eyes peered at me over steel rimmed spectacles. “You mean orthodontics?” I asked quizzically. “At my age?” “Absolutely,” he said rushing off to grab a skeletal model with perfect rows of teeth. “You see this is how a bite should look… yours though…”

A switch flipped. 

I hate this man, I thought. Then I felt the shock of it. How could I hate someone who I’d only just met? A “health-expert-doctor”, to boot. But I did! 

I hated his rough-shodding. His imposition, his professional dictates, his bullying! That’s it! Slithering amidst his “professional-expert advice-armour” was harassment and fleecing. In his white room, I was captive.

When the end came, I rushed out and away. What else to do?

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