Imagine spending hours in an overcrowded unventilated room. No matter where you turn, your nose itches with confusion after involuntarily inhaling a mix of perfumed sweat, cigarettes, and incense. Doesn’t sound appealing, right? Well, that’s how I felt at times when I was living in Yemen. Yet now, I am saddened by the fact that I hadn’t appreciated the genius of the tufruta until now.
Every afternoon, no matter how hard they worked that day or how much work they still have, women take time off to relax. They dress up and perfume their bodies. Then they meet their friends either at a public occasion like a wedding, birth celebration, engagement etc or at a smaller and more intimate gathering at a close friend’s diwan. They chew qat, listen to music, dance, discuss politics, compare notes on their sex lives, or seek advice on troubling matters.
When the yellow sun hits the mountain peaks, a blue and bright shadow frames the room. In that hour, before day transforms into night, the minds races and the hour of Suleiman brings with it the most intense of conversations. This is the hour when deep friendships are born when women share and express their inner struggles and the hour when women dance to mend their unspoken pain.
When I witnessed this in Yemen during a time of armed conflict I finally understood Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem:
“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”
Yemeni women take time off daily to laugh, to smile, to dance even in the midst of war. I wish more women around the world would embrace this. Maybe Yemeni women should conduct ‘tufruta awareness raising’ workshops to train Western women on how to conduct daily self-care. Any donors willing to take on this project?
Today is (French) Mother’s day, and my wish is to teach her this invaluable skill – even if I haven’t mastered it. Maybe it won’t always take this exact form, maybe self-care to her will mean taking a moment every day to write in her journal. Whichever way she does this, the most important thing is to learn to be gentle with herself and learn to live in this world despite its horrors.
If she’ll take only one thing from her Yemeni culture, I hope that it’s the willingness and appreciation for communal self-care. I hope my baby girl is brave enough to be vulnerable to share her fears and pains, and also her joys.
I don’t know when she’ll get to attend a tufruta herself, but I decided that if I cant take her to Yemen because of the war, I’ll bring the tufruta to her. We’ll embrace this culture of ‘chilling’. To commence the act, we’ll first perfume the room with bukhoor. We’ll then dress up, and let the incense soak our bodies, hair, and clothes. We’ll crouch near the floor on our home-made majlis, clap along to the music of Abu Bakr Salem, Ayoub Tarish, or Najiba Abdullah – and chew qat (I know it’s illegal in France – so this might be her first lesson in the occasional need to break the law).
I hope she drinks this world, sips it slowly, breaths the music, and tastes the grass because to truly live in today’s world is an act of resistance.
Bonne fête des mamans!