Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ironing

Today I came across the video for the song by Mattafix entitled Living Darfur.

It touched me very deeply.

For one, the singer is obviously not African but dances in African style freely. He looks like I feel when I'm dancing around my house if no one is looking. Two, there video is full of shots of wide-open spaces in the desert, and I love wide-open desert spaces. Third, it presents the human side of Darfur: a region which we all associate with nothing but suffering and war is portrayed in this video with kids laughing, women playing, and men dancing. You should watch it!

There is one 2-second vignette which portrays a man using an antique-style iron heated in a fire (you know, the real kind) to press a white robe. He has a blanket spread out on the dusty ground in an outdoor space, and the robe is laid out on the blanket. He is working carefully, using his hot iron to make the white robe beautiful.

Ironing struck me in this moment as the ultimate expression of mankind's desire to find structure and beauty in the midst of a world we can't control. Some people even seem to iron in a search for meaning in life. If their clothes look professional, lovely and organised, then maybe life will be those things too.

Ironing is in the centre of what is probably my most vivid memory from an entire year living in the University City (the Medina), the student housing complex in Damascus, Syria. Ironing may be the clearest picture left from a year that I often refer to as the best year as my life...

One morning I woke up and was chatting with the girls in my room. Neither was a roommate, but one was a permanent guest and the other was staying with us for a few weeks. We made our tea and ate a simple breakfast, as we usually do. We were in no rush to go anywhere, as we rarely were. After a bit, we each got about getting ready for our day. For me, that meant going out to visit some friends and run some errands. For the permanent guest it meant cleaning the room and doing some shopping.

For our temporary guest, that meant doing nothing. She had no plans for the day. She might cook our dinner for us and she might visit a neighbour. But she might not. In fact, I think she was staying with us because she was hiding from someone else, so she certainly would not be going out.

So as the two of us washed our face, plucked our eyebrows, made our beds and chose our attire... she plugged in the iron. She had only one outfit, so she spread the blanket over her bed and lay that outfit on the bed. Somehow, at this point I was captivated, so I sat down and started to watch. I noticed that her hair was perfectly styled: even though she wore pyjamas and would not be going out that day, she had styled her hair the day before. It was straight in the back and curled at the ends. So there was this girl with perfect hair, wearing ratty pyjamas, laying out her only clothes on the bed to iron for apparently no reason.

We chatted as she ironed and whenever she'd look up to say something to me, I peered into her eyes, trying to figure out what her motivation was for pursuing order and structure in her appearance and her attire. Was it because she had time to spare? Was it because she wanted to impress someone on the hall? I saw nothing. In fact, her eyes looked empty, almost dead. It was like she was ironing her clothes because it was the only thing she could do to hold on to a tiny thread of life.

1 comment:

Katharine K. said...

Huh, this inspires me to be a bit more careful and thoughtful about the way I care for my things and present myself!

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