Live From Seattle: Space Muslims! [A Tall Glass Of Shame][Best of FaN]
I love this story from my past, and over the last year I have to say this is my favorite blog post. These women haunt my memories of Seattle and every time I have returned, I think about them and wonder where they are today…
Every year around this time when the sun starts to change it’s angle and the days of Summer start to fade away, I get really sentimental about the past. Maybe Fall inspires in me that need to reflect on the days of my youth and make peace with the strange memories that abound. Here in LA, as we have no real visible seasonal shift, it makes me miss Seattle really bad. The leaves on the ground and that musty damp air that invades the city after Summer shuts down is what I crave, so forgive me for getting all nostalgic this week but I’m going to share with you a quick strange story.
Back in Seattle, there were these fascinating women that resided in Capitol Hill lovingly nicknamed: “The Space Muslims.” You could often find this duo of homeless African American women on the corner of Pine and Broadway surrounded by all sort of strange possessions. They dressed in wraps and scarves sometimes even adorning themselves with belly dancing bells and charms. Most often you would see people gawk at them but just walk on by silently. It was like they were living a homeless life of performance art.
They would sometimes set up camp in front of the Broadway Performance Hall at Seattle Central Community College which was just down the street from where I lived. Every time the bus would hit that corner inevitably I would see them sprawled out across a large square area in the front of the school. Among their array of collected items were drapes of multi-colored fabric, and simple tarps to keep away the rain. Nestled under you would notice these amazing hand-crafted boxes that resembled shrines. I later found out these were created for and devoted to Kali: the goddess of creation and destruction. These women had a story and I was dying to know what it was.
While taking a non-fiction writing class in college, these women captivated my attention enough for me to interview them for a paper I had been assigned. I have since lost the paper I wrote, but it was a simple matter of fact re-telling of their life story and basic belief systems. See, these women were a living metaphor. Approximately 5 years before I met them, the first woman I met (and the only one allowed to speak to anyone according to her) had lost her son. She admitted, “I kind of lost it there for a while, but now I have been shown my true path.”
It went something like this: Her son had been in the “wrong place at the wrong time” and according to her was framed for killing a small girl on their block in the central district of Seattle. He landed in jail and quickly started sucking funds from this woman’s bank account to pay for his legal fees. Since she knew she needed some spiritual guidance, she went to her local church to commune with Christ. While praying, she felt nothing in return. She was confused and felt abandoned by her God. She started to get angry at him for ignoring her in her time of crisis, and started to wish ill will toward the man that truly did this crime. She flat out wanted the man who put her son in jail, DEAD. At this moment she saw the spiritual being of Kali come to her. She described it as an almost in a ghost-like presence. She had never even heard of Kali before, and needed a quick tutorial from the goddess herself to straighten things out. She said, “Here was where she warned me: BEWARE what you wish of Kali as she giveth and taketh away!” Kali had promised to grant one wish inside this poor woman’s heart, but forewarned her that whatever she wished must be a definitive, heartfelt need! She said she “didn’t want any part in….. ” but it was too late, Kali said “Your wish is granted.” She knew somehow her heart had asked Kali to destroy the man that put her son in jail, the man that truly committed the crime he was innocent of wherever he may be.
The next morning she awoke to gunfire outside her building. There was a man lying dead in the street, but the police had told her that it appeared he had been shot from the inside out. Kali had done the first part of their deal, but now she wondered how she would pay Kali back for the deed. That night, according to her, she was supposed to win the lottery. Kali had switched the tickets so the person behind her ended up a millionaire, and she got nothing. I had never heard someone say something this strange before and with such conviction.
She proceeded to tell me how from that point on the case quickly went to trial and her son depleted her bank account to pay for his lawyer. The final blow to her was when her son was sentenced to death, and she realized Kali would be coming for her next. She returned to the church and sent Kali a message: “If you leave me alone, I will burden my soul for you daily. As long as you stay out of my body, I will carry you in spirit as my punishment.” She gave away all her personal effects, sold her home, put what money that brought her into a bank account to only be used for food and started to create shrines to Kali out of scraps she would find walking the streets. These physical boxes would become her burden to bear, moving them from place to place wherever she went like a Gypsy with no wagon.
I asked about the other woman who had joined her, and she said she just showed up one day and had not talked since. Together they created a new family, sharing the physical burden of Kali daily. Basically these women were a little crazy, but it is a beautiful and strange metaphor they have chosen their lives to reflect. To protect their souls inside, they had to strip themselves of everything outside their body and carry their spiritual foe around on their backs so the evil won’t be tempted to dig within.
When I met them, they had about 8 shrines total. Each shrine was made of a wheeled cart, or dolly with plexiglass domes that contained images and figures all gold and black. I would see them constantly at Kinko’s down the street making copies of more figures and pieces for their shrines. Every time these women moved, it took about 6 trips back and forth to move all of their creations and they were constantly adding more. Can you imagine that life? Eventually they were gifted a van somehow, and when I returned to ask about it she assured me it could not be a residence for them, as it was just one more shrine she was working on. She had sprayed the van gold and added symbols and shapes like the Eye of Horus which she chose as a protection measure. I have included a picture of it here.
I spent a few hours chatting with this woman I had seen so many times before on the streets of Seattle and was so glad I stopped to find out her story. I told her what nickname she had been given around Seattle and she was aware of it. She actually kind of liked it, she said “It gives us some mystique.” I replied, “Honey, with all these gold boxes and that crazy Van the last thing you need is more mystique!” I miss seeing those girls around Seattle, and wish I had taken more than just the picture you see here. The last time I was in Seattle I didn’t see a trace of them around. Maybe I was just imagining it all?…
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