Balik Kampung Tanam Avocado: A trans woman returns to Taiping
by JULYA OUI.
This was how it was towards the end of my stay in the big city. I felt it coming to a close before I even saw it. I lost my job, and my security went straight out the window. My soul mate had to go back to his hometown for personal reasons and that marked the conclusion of our chapter. I was exhausted with the circumstances that were making sink holes in my life. I could have stayed in KL to try and make it work but I had enough. I just wanted to crawl back into my cubbyhole and hibernate. And so I packed up my things and headed back to Taiping. I had no idea what I was going to do and I thought maybe after pulling myself together I will go back to the city.
When I transitioned into womanhood in 2002 I thought life would be a bed of roses but I forgot about the thorns. I was exhilarated for a few years feeling like I could have danced all night and party all day. I had a good job, I had great friends, I had colleagues who supported me, and about that time I also found my queer family with Seksualiti Merdeka. It was the best time of my life being with people who shared a common bond. Every time we met it was like a brand new day smothered with hugs and kisses. But that too came to an end when we went our separate ways.
I didn’t realize how bad it was until I woke up as an unemployed transwoman in her late forties with a bank account that did not warrant me a safe passage through life. More doors were closed to me than any windows were opened. I tried to get back in but reality did not only hit me but threw a punch and sent me flying.
I was numbed
From having a queer family I had to come back to my immediate family. From having friends all over the city I came back to none. From living with my soul mate I came back to being alone.
It was strange and difficult for my parents and me at the beginning. There was a lot of getting used to from both sides. Although I had plans to go back to the city I tried to make the best of it in my hometown for now. I don’t drive. I don’t go out much. And I became a recluse in the only domain I am safe within.
For a while, I tried to fit in. Some people who could tell who I was took that opportunity to let me know I wasn’t welcomed. It was hard enough as it is and things just seemed to get harder. I wasn’t in the pink of health and I had nothing that could sustain me except for a few freelance writing jobs. But I was only doing very minimal writing at best.
The initial joy of getting published had been exhilarating. Yet a big part of me still felt empty from following the rules of life. I did what everyone else did but now that I was out of the circle I felt ostracized.
I was home again
It was the feeling of being impoverished (in more ways than one) that got me started to reconnect with myself. In the city there was always some kind of distraction to take me away from exercising but now I had all the time in the world to do it. And in Taiping time slows down for some reason.
One of the things I did to find my momentum again was to cycle every morning. I enjoy it tremendously because it reminded me of my childhood. During my time everyone cycled. We had mini bikes, choppers, and all kinds of accessories to doll up out bicycles. I felt free and easy even though I was still searching for myself then. It was always breathtaking to cycle around the Lake Gardens. Every moment had its own beauty be it hot weather or rainy season. I began feeling I was home again.
It was also a time when I started juicing to re-energize the body I had taken for granted. A time for personal reflection with suria namaskar, meditation, self healing, and deep breathing. A time I learned how to get dirt under my nails and not worry about they looked. If someone had told me that I would be propagating seeds and cuttings, digging into soil and handling worms, harvesting produce from my garden, and gathering leftovers for composting someday I would have died — not laughing. It was the last thing I would ever do. Dirt, worms, smelly refuse; not my kind of pastime.
I feel grounded
You could say what started it all was an avocado seed. I found out how easy it was to root an avocado and so I did. As it grew, I transplanted it into the ground and it continued growing. The chances of it fruiting were very slim. And the wait could take as long as ten years. But I did it anyway. While waiting for a miracle of the avocado tree I joined a gardening group and carried on planting vegetables and flowers. And in the process of doing all these I also got more writing jobs and started writing tales I would like to tell. My soul mate found his way back into my life and I re-established contacts with some friends who are in Taiping.
In a way I have created a garden literally and figuratively in my home. Just being in it calms me down and gives me a sense of belonging. I feel grounded. I am one with mother earth. I can go on for days without speaking to anyone. Oh wait, that’s not entirely true. I talk to my plants, thank them for giving me the leaves and fruits for my salad, the tea that I make, and the juice that I blend. I also talk to the old faithful dog and tell her I will always be there for her as she is for me.
It was a time I learned about compassion for animals, for plants, and for everything alive. It was a time for me to rediscover who I am for real. I am a loner. I am a room person. I am a dreamer. I am a writer of all things curious. I am a gardener at heart. Most of all I am my own person who needs no definition. I used to have a lot of needs in the city but now I have almost none. In the city I used to shop once a week, now I shop maybe once a year. I used to eat a lot to fill a quota, now I eat in small portions. I may be out of rhythm with the world but I am in sync with my universe.
Listening to the call
These days my avocado tree is large enough for me to sit in its shade. I sit there appreciate the little things in life. Listening to the call of the resident Kingfisher, peaceful doves, orioles, and many other avifaunas while I look at the flowering tree with pride. It took only about four years for it to begin fruiting.
I don’t know if there is anything else better. Knowing life for what it is, nothing lasts forever. Life is a femme fatale or homme fatale who crosses your path, ravages you, and then leaves you hungry for more. Life is a bunch of lost souls searching for a freakshow to belong to.
When we are so caught up in the whirlwind of events we forget even the simplest of things. We look for answers in exotic lands, faraway galaxies, and unreachable places but we still feel helpless in a world that is spinning out of control.
Sometimes all we need to do is to take the first step, plant a seed, and just wait.
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Julya Oui lives in the City of Everlasting Peace. She is an unknown gardener who loves writing.