Friday, October 31, 2003

rain, rain, go away

I helped pick out a bouquet of flowers today.

As a single, random act in and of itself, buying flowers really isn’t all that hard. “Ooh, look, these are so pretty,” we said, and grabbed an armful of three different types. As the lady took apart the bunches of flowers and skillfully re-did them as one large bouquet, I idly wondered just how scandalized my gardening-obsessed father would be if he knew I couldn’t, for the life of me, name those flowers without their identifying tags. We remembered we needed a card, too, so we wandered over to the back of the store and stared in bewilderment at the choices available, flipping them open and reading them aloud, then impatiently shoving them back in the stacks. “What about this one?”…“Here’s one I like.”…“What do you think of this?”…“Nah…” Finally, we just grabbed the simplest and plainest card in the aisle, and ran.

We agonized over the message itself, muttering to one other, “I don’t know what to write!”, the pen changing hands as we stood in the parking lot, the car’s trunk a smooth writing surface for the card we stared at blankly.

We drove fast on freeways still drying from the morning’s rain, the roads / mountains / bridges / water passing by our windows in a blur, four close friends in a three-car-caravan, leaving behind us abandoned classes and cancelled appointments. Alone within my car, a sheet of lined paper with hastily scrawled directions lying across my lap, I glanced repeatedly at the bouquet resting on the seat next to me and wondered whether we had bought the right flowers, whether we had written the right words, whether mere flowers and words were enough. What should have been a 75-minute drive under normal conditions was compounded by some more rain, a little bit of hail, and the fact that we got lost once, too.

But none of that was the hard part.

The hard part was meeting her gaze levelly as she entered the room - was hugging her tight and whispering, “I’m so sorry about your mother” - was seeing her look so calm and collected when I can’t even begin to fathom the magnitude of the pain I know she feels inside. Later, I drove home with the beginnings of a headache, and alleviated it a bit by listening to the Burda, the moonroof tilted upward to let in cold air even though it was drizzling outside. Watching the miles of cars ahead of me crawl through rush-hour traffic, I thought of my mother and father and brother and sister, and how she has none of those now.

For the love of God, go let your mother know how important she is to you.


Thursday, October 30, 2003

if you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it
(a.k.a. corrupting the youth of tomorrow)

I was starting to feel old for a while this morning. And you know that never happens.

It happened this morning, while I was sitting on a little wooden chair reading to my cute preschool kids. We were making our way through a story about a farmer who planted what turned out to be the most enormous potato in the world. Problem was, he couldn’t dig it out of the ground on his own. I like interactive reading, so the kids were having major fun calling out the story sequence here: the mouse pulled on the cat, who pulled on the dog, who pulled on the daughter, who pulled on the wife, who pulled on the farmer, who pulled on the potato. And wouldn’t you know it, the potato finally came out! ::round of applause:: The townspeople dropped by, bringing salt and pepper and butter and forks and knives. They washed and baked the potato, cut it all up and ate it, and then stood around talking about how good it was. The last page of the story showed the farmer and his wife and daughter smiling widely at this happy ending, their thumbs and index fingers joined in a circle, their other four fingers slightly curved.

The preschoolers looked on in puzzlement. “So what did they think of the potato, you guys?” I asked. They scrunched up their faces and looked even more confused. I held up my right hand, my thumb and index finger joined together. They followed suit. “You’ve never seen this before? Really, no one? What do you think it means?” One little boy, staring at his own hand, hazarded a guess: “Really small?”

I started laughing. “You guys have never seen the A-okay sign before?” They shook their heads. “It means, A-okay, like, everything’s okay. Everything’s good. A-okay.” Of course, “A-okay” was the new favorite word for the rest of the hour. But, dude, I thought everyone knows the A-okay sign. Or am I really that old? Whoa. (Just for the record, I don’t use the A-okay sign in real life. Yeah, I guess that would be kinda old-school. Or not?)

And then, while all the girly-girls went off and played dress-up – with long aprons, feather boas, and enormous hats – and poured pretend-tea, I opted to play with the guys, as usual. I shoulda been a boy. Ha. We made paper airplanes, held matchbox car drag races on the classroom floor, and had some messy times with play-dough. I love play-dough. There’s nothing like sitting elbow-to-elbow and molding play-dough to make my day. Plus, all the boys presented me with play-dough hearts. Yes, I feel all special now.

As I was leaving, I leaned down to say good-bye to one of the boys. (Hair closely cropped, he looks like a cross between David Beckhham and Lance Armstrong. Seriously.) He looked me right in the eyes and advised gravely, “Be careful out there.” I just nodded seriously while struggling to keep a straight face.

Oh, and my morning at the preschool only confirmed a suspicion I’ve had all along: 4-year-olds think “underwear” is the funniest word in the whole entire world. They can – and will – chant the word for hours, laughing non-stop at the sheer ludicrousness.


Wednesday, October 29, 2003

what? what? what?

Just got done spending almost two hours checking out 115 tables worth of college/university reps extolling the virtues of their respective graduate school programs.

After all those questions descriptions conversations brochures pamphlets smiles quizzical glances handshakes endless filling-out of information cards, I have only two things to say:

- If I thought I was even anywhere remotely close to figuring things out, I was pretty damn wrong.
- And, you know what, forget next June; that fifth year is sounding pretty appealing all over again.

Graaaaaand, as Seher would say. Add in some intonations/inflections of sarcasm frustration dejection confusion annoyance bitterness tension chaos (did I mention confusion?), and there you have it, Yasminay the perpetually confoozid child. Great. So, Seher-woman, don't worry, you're not the only confused one out there.

Life is such a process sometimes. Geez.

[Update: This evening, I went to a lecture that opened my eyes and made me think. I went out to dinner with an crazy group of friends who made me laugh 'til my stomach hurt - and you know that's the best type of laughter. The crescent moon out there is looking absolutely beautiful - go see. I feel better now, because insha'Allah I can handle this, too, just like everything else. And if I still decide to go ahead with a fifth year, big deal. Random ladies will still think I'm in high school, and the high school kid who bags my groceries every week will still persist in calling me "Ma'am." And one of these years, I'll figure out what I'm trying to do with my life. Meanwhile, blue raspberry slurpees are the key to happiness. Go buy yourself one, too. You know you wanna.]


Monday, October 27, 2003

ramadan mubarak to you all

For all my joking that my mental age is in the single digits (and, hey, it is, okay), all I really want is to be fourteen again.

I was still two weeks shy of my thirteenth birthday the year I traveled to Pakistan, in the midst of Ramadan, for what would ultimately become an eighteen-month stay. That first Ramadan in the village passed in nothing more than a jet-lagged stupor. We kids stubbornly slept through iftar, and then remained wide-awake following suhoor, bundled up in heavy quilts against the numbing late-February cold, tossing paper airplanes back and forth across the vast, dimly-lit room as a means of passing time. The daylight hours were spent staring shyly, uncertainly at an endless sea of curious faces, fellow villagers who came out to see this family from America.

I was fourteen by the time Ramadan rolled around the next year. The village had become home by then, and that’s the Ramadan I remember most clearly, the one I compare all others to, the one I seek to regain in terms of simplicity and spirituality. The months leading up to that Ramadan were interesting, to say the least. Mainly, I remember the hours spent in learning to read and write Urdu, and learning to recite the Qur’an in Arabic. I remember picking up Urdu with staggering fluency, surpassing my teacher’s and father’s and even my own expectations. And once I ran out of Naseem Hijazi novels and short story anthologies and magazines and poetry, I turned to Urdu hadith collections and translations of the Qur’an. I still recall reading my first set of hadith in Urdu, and the feeling of epiphany that came with it, the sense that I had finally grasped the essential nature of what it really meant to be Muslim, and what was expected of me now that I possessed that sacred knowledge.

During that second Ramadan, I completed the recitation of the Qur’an three times, in Arabic, supplemented with full translation, so that I could understand exactly what it was that I was reciting. But most of all, though, I remember the prayers. I had never been in a masjid, much less prayed in jama’at. That, unfortunately, just wasn’t done in the village. Instead, I used to pray taraweeh, the night prayers, in our long, narrow behtuk, lights dim and door closed, my tasbeeh carefully placed on the chair next to me, a small handful of date pits on the floor next to my prayer rug, to help me keep track of the raka’at. Some nights I’d pray out in the courtyard, on the marble slab created for that purpose. Either way, more often than not, the electricity would go out, and my mother would have forgotten to bring me a lantern, and so I’d be left to pray in utter darkness, which only served to enhance my prayer and make the experience more beautiful.

Six months later, I was back in the U.S. After a year or two, things began to change. I let them. Life got in the way. I somehow let that happen, too.

I sat in halaqa yesterday morning and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Everything I’ve been learning over the past several years, through conferences and lectures and halaqas, is stuff I already know. Or, actually, stuff I used to know, before I let myself lose that edge of clarity I once took for granted.

And that is the most frustrating thing of all, to know that if I stretch just a bit further, I could perhaps grasp that clarity once more, and to yet also know, at the same time, that I’m just not trying as hard enough as I have the potential to.

Last night, I went to pray the first taraweeh of the month in jama’at at the masjid, as I usually do now. I walked out of there nearly two hours later, with the soles of my feet aching from standing so long and my knees tingling from rug-burn, yet elated at having captured some of that closeness to God. Not every congregational prayer can do that for me. Mostly, I’ve found praying in jama’at to be distracting. What I usually need is solitude, to enhance my level of concentration.

This morning, I prayed fajr in solitude, hearing aids and lamps and overhead lights all switched off, door closed firmly against the rest of the house. I prayed surrounded by absolute silence and inky darkness, and at some point I could feel that sense of peace…not exactly flooding back – that would be too simple, now, wouldn’t it? – but more as if tentatively pressing back against the walls of the room, simply there if only I reached out, concentrated just enough.

Earlier today, driving up to school, I listened to Shaykh Ali Abdur-Rahman Al-Hudhaify’s recitation of Surahs Ya-Seen and Ar-Rahman. Reciting along easily, I was surprised, as always, by how I’ve unconsciously managed to memorize most of those Qur’anic chapters merely through sporadically listening to them on my more stressful days. And I wonder, if I’ve managed to do that much unconsciously, think of how much I could do if I just put my mind to it.

My goal for this Ramadan, then, is to regain at least some of that clarity and focus and discipline from the year I was fourteen, so that my prayers become less routine movements and rote memorization, and more personal conversations with God, just as they once used to be.

Whatever your own goals for Ramadan, I hope you find within you the strength and dedication and drive to fulfill your goals, and to maintain and implement those changes following Ramadan, too. May your fasting become a manifestation of patience. May He accept your repentance and make it sound and permanent, and grant you guidance and success in following the straight path. May He purify your intentions, accept your fasting and tears, forgive your sins, and bless you with mercy and peace during this month and throughout the year. Ameen.

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Friday, October 24, 2003

break time, naptime

Seeing as how I've recently been accused of doing nothing more than "pulling all nighters or driving around or munching munchies," I've decided to consider that a point well taken and therefore do nothing more than spend this weekend sleeping as much of my life away as possible. I know y'all must be so proud. Just try to keep the round of applause to a minimum, please.

Meanwhile, if you wish, y'all can entertain yourselves by coming up with interesting ideas and grand adventures I could be engaging in instead. Bear in mind that I'm actually going to be sleeping (for reals), so I won't be doing any of those things. But you gotta amuse yourself some way or another, so hey, why not. The more hilarious and weird the ideas, the better. Go for it.


Thursday, October 23, 2003

don’t underestimate me (too much)

A: I'm all up for equality, but women don’t wanna be equal, they just wanna rule the world
Yasmine: Oh is that so?
A: uh huh. I mean, do you go to get your car's oil changed? Or does daddy do it for you?
A: Do you even pump gas in your car?
Yasmine: I check it regularly myself. But yeah, I have a mechanic change it every few months or so
Yasmine: And yes, I check tire pressure myself too
Yasmine: And pump gas all on my own, every two days
A: I don’t believe
Yasmine: And I check water and coolant levels while I’m at it
Yasmine: And power steering fluid too
A: What’s the coolant color?
A: And what’s the color of the steering fluid?
Yasmine: The coolant is green. The steering fluid is pinkish
Yasmine: The oil is black
Yasmine: The water is clear. Any other questions, smartass?
A: What about transmission fluid?
A: Or brake fluid?
Yasmine: Hmm, now that’s a very good question
Yasmine: I gotta admit, I don't recall that one at the moment. Tsk.
A: Gotcha!
A: To tell you the truth, when you said that, I actually spilled my coffee, ‘cause you still got 2 out of 3
Yasmine: I only got 2 out of 3?
Yasmine: What else did I miss?
A: Everything
Yasmine: No, I got 3 right...oil, coolant, power steering fluid
A: But I’m still completely bafffled, and speechless
Yasmine: Well good, it's about time you shut up and stopped gloating
A: Oh boy, you were really looking to score
A: But that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything you can’t
Yasmine: True perhaps
Yasmine: So what color ARE the transmission and brake fluids?
A: They're both pinkish too
Yasmine: Well thanks for letting me know
Yasmine: I’ll be more prepared the next time I’m quizzed. Ha
A: Hey, I gotta ask, what’s the tire pressure? Average
Yasmine: Good Lord
Yasmine: What is this, an inquisition?
Yasmine: I don’t know if you’ve managed to grasp this, but it IS 3 A.M., geez
Yasmine: And I’ve just finished most of my paper. What little brain I have is hurting already
A: Well I still can’t grasp that you know all that you know
Yasmine: Mind boggling
A: Very much so
A: Not to mention, you just confused the living daylights out of a guy
Yasmine: I know, that takes skills, huh?
Yasmine: What, that whole thing about checking oil just threw you way off guard?
A: The whole coolant color threw me off
Yasmine: Well I thought everyone knew coolant is green
A: Hey, I was waiting for you to stumble just so I could laugh
Yasmine: Looks like joke's on you, nerd-o
Yasmine: And you forget, I'm the commuter child extraordinaire, remember? That’s why I know all these things
A: So? My sisters commuted to school for years too, remember? And they still had me or dad pump gas for them
Yasmine: Ehh, they’re SUCH girls
A: Man, I still can’t believe you made me spill my coffee
A: Hold on, I gotta go get more


Tuesday, October 21, 2003

"it's been a long day coming and long will it last/when it's last day leaving, and i'm helping it pass..."

Tonight, I have here at my elbow:
- One canister of Pringles
- Two bottles of cranberry-apple-raspberry juice
- Five assorted candy bars
Now let's see if that'll be enough to get me through the night.

Tomorrow, I have a midterm exam and a paper due, both of which I forgot about 'til now, because I'm oh-so-smart like that. Also tomorrow: Lunch with Somayya, my partner in crime, which has been motivation enough to keep me going for the past week.

And my stomach hurts from laughing. Earlier this evening, standing around in the kitchen, the siblings and I went through a huge stack of childhood photos.

Some conversational highlights:

Sister: Look, there's you right there.
Brother: No, that's you.
Sister: No, that's you!

Brother: Hey, look! Aps and I even had the same bangs!
[Aps=Apaji=oldest kid of the three=supposed role model=rebel child extraordinaire=me, myself, and I. Imagine that.]

Brother: Aww, look at me, singing my heart out!
Me: Uh, how come I don't remember that?
Sister: Singing? That's you onstage during your 4th grade spelling bee.

Upon viewing a photo in which I'm leaning over the brother, who's just chillin' in his little baby carriage:
Sister: Aww, you guys were so cute!
Me: Was that the time I tried to push your carriage off the front porch?
Brother: No, I think this was the part where you were trying to strangle me.

And this isn't even counting the numerous "Mafia Men" photos of our dad and uncles from the '70s, standing perfectly posed with arms akimbo and faces set in practiced boredom, looking all slick in their flares, huge sunglasses, drooping mustaches, and carefully maintained just-so hairdos. Whoa, the daddy-o was lookin' all retro back in the day. Man, I wish I had some flares like that.

Okay. Need to put the candy bars to good use, and get started on the work.
If you tell me that I can't/I will, I will, I'll try all night


Monday, October 20, 2003

“fathers, be good to your daughters/daughters will love like you do…”

We’ve just spent an hour of our lecture time watching a film called “Real Women Have Curves,” and another hour discussing our reactions to this movie about a Mexican family in Los Angeles, about a teenaged girl moving between two worlds. As usual, I throw out a few thoughts about identity as fluid and impermanent, self-chosen and constantly redefined depending on surroundings and context, and we have an interesting debate for some minutes. But most of all, we talk about cultural barriers, familial obligations, traditional values, ingrained expectations and responsibilities.

I walk out of the classroom with a quiet girl I don’t know very well. We don’t have to be anywhere at the moment, so we sit outside on the benches, in the sunshine, and talk some more about the movie. “That girl from the movie kind of reminded me of myself,” she says softly. “You know that scene near the end when she’s so happy and grateful, and she goes to give her father a hug, but he just looks at her, and she gets embarrassed and steps back again? That reminded me of me and my dad.”

I nod to show I’m listening, to gently prod her to continue, if she wishes. But even though we’re sitting next to each other, bodies half-turned to face each other, she refuses to look me in the eye. Instead, even as I gaze at her steadily, she’s alternately looking over my shoulder or at the ground. Generally, I get slightly irritated when people don’t look at me while I’m talking, and I can’t not look at people while they’re talking to me. But I understand that there are times when people are sometimes far more comfortable not making eye contact, and this seems to be one of them.

She tells me of how her father came up to visit over the weekend. At the end of the day, as he was about to leave, her roommates hugged him goodbye. He was surprised, yet smilingly accepted the hugs. When his daughter stepped forward though, he just nodded gruffly in her general direction, shoved his hands in his pockets, and turned to leave. He walked out the door in a flurry of waves and goodbyes from her roommates, while she stood there feeling small and insignificant and rejected.

She’s telling me her story calmly, unemotionally, and I’m wondering how I should respond. Before I can figure that out though, her voice breaks, and she bursts into tears.

Tears always make me panic. I don’t cry easily myself, and I really don’t know how to deal with people who cry. Especially strangers. After a moment of shock, I just put my arms around her. And while she cries her heart out for hugs she never had, I sit there and think of my own family.

I think of going out for ice cream on Thursday afternoons during childhood, and eating breakfast in the hallway on weekend mornings. Of frisbee matches and table soccer tournaments, bedtime stories about the Prophets and Pukhto lullabies passed down from my grandmother. Of my mother, who always stands out on the porch to smilingly wave goodbye, and my father, who calls me while we’re both on the road to wish me a beautiful day. I still remember the Sunday morning when my sister and I got in the car to head off to our halaqa. We were slowly reversing down the driveway when our dad knocked on the driver’s side window. We stopped the car, and he silently got into the backseat, sitting there with his arms crossed over his chest, his face set in unyielding lines. “Well, hello there, Daddy,” I laughed. “Did you want a ride to somewhere?” There was no answering trace of amusement in his face though, as he looked at us and said sternly, “You never know what could happen today. Don’t you ever, ever leave for somewhere without telling me and your mother goodbye and saying, ‘I love you.’”

I think of how hugs are second-nature to us, a given in my family.

I remember how a friend once scrunched up her nose and remarked, “You know, there’s something a little bit off about your family, but I just can’t put my finger on it.” I laughed and pressed her to put it into words, so that she finally said, “I got it. You guys are like the perfect ‘50s family. It’s almost disgusting.”

[We’re not really perfect, though. Please don’t jump to conclusions.]

I look at this girl, and I honestly don’t know what to say to her. She wipes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “Tell me about your family,” she says. For the first time, she’s really looking at me, and I find myself wishing she’d just look over my shoulder again, because maybe it’d be easier for me to speak that way.

I carefully pick through my thoughts and memories, but the words just stick in my throat. I’m sitting there utterly terrified of juxtaposing my own memories on hers, of belittling her childhood through comparison with mine, of accidentally saying something that will completely negate any positive memories she does associate with her family. “We say ‘I love you’ a lot,” I say finally, trying to sound objective, reflective, matter-of-fact instead of boastful or judgmental.

After all, what right do I have to boast or judge anyway? Much of what I have been blessed with, I fail to acknowledge or reciprocate as well as I could, or should.

And who’s to say my experiences are the quintessence of what love should be? There are many other ways of showing, proving one's love. Why must there be merely a “this way” or “that way”? There’s always an in-between way, too, a middle path. There is black and there is white, sure. But there is also gray, and even gray has several shades, a veritable muted rainbow in itself.

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Saturday, October 18, 2003

"oh no, I've said too much/I haven’t said enough…"

I am sitting in the café’s patio, alone, surrounded by mosaic tiles and empty wrought-iron furniture, late afternoon sunlight slanting across my table, classical music streaming from the speakers.

Just this morning, exasperated at running out of lined paper during my lecture and having misplaced my favorite pen, I walked over to the campus bookstore to remedy the situation. I bought two legal pads and a beautiful pen – a needle tip, 0.5mm ballpoint pen with blue liquid gel ink. Sitting in the patio now, I congratulate myself on a good purchase. I am in love with my new pen, enjoying the ease with which my angular handwriting spills out and across the pages. Having spent far too many of the past days in front of computer screens, pounding away at keyboards, typing out academic papers, I now revel in writing that is completely unrelated to lecture notes.

I have filled three pages of the legal pad when the door between the café and patio suddenly flies open, and out emerges a man in his 60s, precariously balancing a slice of cake, a steaming cup of coffee, and the day’s newspaper. He bustles over to the table next to mine, seats himself, and raises his coffee cup to his mouth, boldly staring at me over the rim. My sense of peace is shot, no matter how hard I try to ignore him.

He makes a great show of noisily unfolding his newspaper and shaking it out, then solemnly peruses the headlines. “Let’s see if there’s been anything good going on in the world!” he exclaims to no one in particular, and yet the comment is quite obviously directed at me, because there is no one else there. My view that he is addressing me is justified, for only a half-second later he pointedly looks over at me, laughing at his ironic joke. I smile wryly in response and busy myself once more with writing, but it is not meant to be.

“So, where are you from?” he asks.
I look over and raise an eyebrow. “Are you asking for my ethnicity, nationality, or hometown?”
Originally,” he says. “Originally, where are you from?”
“Pakistan,” I answer.
“What’s it like, the part where you’re from?” he asks interestedly, so I tell him a little bit about my village and the times I’ve spent there, about the simplicity inherent in that way of life.
“Huh,” he answers. “So are you planning on retiring there in forty years?”
My tone of response is not self-deprecating as I had meant it, but instead more defensive than I had intended. “I can barely plan ahead four days at a time,” I answer sharply. “Forty years is beyond my capabilities at the moment.”
He throws his head back and shouts with laughter. “Good answer,” he says. “Very good answer.” I relax a little, and analyze his appearance.

His crown of gray hair sticks up in tufts, as do his thick arching eyebrows. He has a deep laugh that shakes his entire body. When he makes an emphatic point, he raises those eyebrows and opens his blue eyes wide in mock surprise, flashing a slightly malicious grin. He reminds me very, very much of the actor Jack Nicholson, and, to be honest, I find that fact somewhat intimidating.

“There are two categories of non-Americans,” he remarks. “Either they want to come to the U.S. and live here, or they want to blow it up instead.” He pauses. “I don’t get it,” he says. “Why they want to blow us up, I mean. You know what I think? I think those that can’t make it to here are jealous of those who do, so they decide to try and blow us up. Simple as that!”

Inwardly, I wince at his logic – or lack thereof – and his naïveté. The U.S. is disliked abroad for many reasons, but I doubt petty jealousy was truly a motivating or defining factor in such unpleasant and heartbreaking incidents as those of September 11th.

Before I can respond to the absurdity of his previous statement, he’s already on a roll. He throws rapid-fire questions and comments at me, bringing up Iraq, Iran, Turkey, the Arab nations, Wahhabis, Afghanistan, democratic versus secular versus fundamentalist forms of government, and, of course, Osama bin Laden, the “most fucked up of them all.” While I try to tackle one subject, he leaps ahead to another as easily as children skip between hopscotch squares on sidewalk pavements. He never lets me finish an idea, interrupting me before I can complete a sentence, before I can wrap up my thoughts. He does this deliberately, I know.

Public speaking has always come easily to me: debates, presentations, workshops, speeches, statements. During such times, the words flow effortlessly, it seems. Yet public speaking situations also have the added convenience of a previously prepared statement, of an argument perfected ahead of time. In this case, however, I find myself fumbling, stumbling, searching for the right combination of words, trying to keep up with him as he continually jumps from one topic to another. It seems to me more an inquisition than a conversation. I feel a mix of defensiveness and a suspicion of being put on the spot.

Finally, I realize that I’m trying to say far too much, much too fast. So I slow down. I pause often, to gather my thoughts and lend them a semblance of coherence and authority. When he attempts once more to aggressively interrupt me in mid-sentence, I raise my voice slightly and steamroll right over his, so that he falters, lets me continue, and actually pays attention to what I am trying to say.

He brings up the issue of immigrants and the third-world countries that many of them leave behind. “The U.S. is full of immigrants,” he says thoughtfully. “They’re the best and brightest of the countries they come from, there’s no denying that. The problem is, once they get here, they choose to spend the rest of their lives here, and meanwhile, all the dumb-asses back home are fucking everything up. Their countries need the smart ones to actually return.” He looks at me inquisitively. “What are you planning on doing to help your country? They need a lot of help over there, you know.” Before I can answer, he has already moved on. “So why did you decide to come to the U.S.? And how long have you been here for?”

“My whole life, basically,” I say. “I was born here.”
“Oh, so you’re an American, then!” he says. This surprises him. There follows a moment of silence. I can almost see the wheels turning behind his eyes, in his mind, as he scrabbles around to reclassify me, redefine me. He had jumped to conclusions, his pigeonhole definition didn’t work out, I caught him off guard, and now he must start all over, it seems. “Hmm. So you’re not even an immigrant at all! You’re not even Pakistani, then. You’re just American.”

Surprisingly, I find myself resenting this, which is ironic if I remember how, after September 11th, I put special emphasis on the fact that I was just as much an American as everyone else around here. Yet I’ve never been “just [anything].” Each part of who I am, each facet of my identity, is shaped by a multitude of experiences and interactions, thoughts and encounters. I’ve worked hard to become who I am today, and “just American” does not even come close to encompassing all that I am. I resent his blatant dismissal of my roots, my heritage, the long eighteen months I spent learning my language and dialect and culture and traditions, the way I try to integrate all these into my life even today. He must see something of this in my face, for he hastily backtracks: “Well, I guess that makes you Pakistani American, then. A second-generation immigrant.”

Interestingly enough, it is only at the end of our conversation that he asks, “Are you Muslim?”
“Yes,” I say, no hesitation here.
“So you practice the Islamic faith.”
There is a long stretch of silence as he looks at me broodingly, unblinkingly, a steady gaze from a stranger I’ll never see again, most likely. I force myself to return his stare firmly, unflinchingly.
“You’re different from what I imagined Muslims are like,” he says finally.

On his way back inside, he wishes me good luck in my future studies, adding, “Don’t forget to think about what you’re going to do to change the world!” He grins maliciously again. “After all, you inherited all this shit from my generation, and your father’s. And from our fathers. It’s up to you guys to clean it all up now.”

I raise an eyebrow at his terminology, but nod my head thoughtfully, reassuringly. He turns back for a second, serious once more. “So you’re Muslim, huh?” Before I can answer, he nods contemplatively. “Good for you. I bet you can change the world.” Then the door slams shut behind him.

We are Islam walking.
Never forget that.

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Friday, October 17, 2003

"waiting on me when/i come home..."

So far, eight missed calls on my cell phone.
Who are these people? More importantly, why don't they leave messages after the beep?
How hard could it be, eh?


Thursday, October 16, 2003

it's all love (sometimes not, but mostly yes)

[Phone coversation, this morning:]

D: Hey, rebel child.
Me: Hey, nerd. Where you at?
D: On campus. You here, too?
Me: Aww, damn.
D: Why, what's up?
Me: I'm studying in the library and it's hella cold up in here. I was hoping you could bring me a sweater or light jacket of yours from home.
D: Stop worrying about the cold. Block it out and study. Use your mental powers. Remember all those concentration techniques we learned in HDE 103?
Me: Well, excuse me for not having great powers of concentration like you.
D: Hey, don't try to get all sarcastic with me. I'll kick your ass.
Me: Shut up, I'm more violent than you are. And why are you even the first person I thought of calling? You're no use to me.
D: Well, it's not like you're any good either. Except you understand physics, and you can parallel park. Oh, yeah, and you cook, too.
Me: Ha, well it's more than you'll ever do, freak of nature.
D: I don't even eat chicken. So who cares anyway.

[40 minutes later, in my car:]

Me: Leave my radio alone, woman. There's a CD in there, see?
D: Ohh. I thought that was on the radio. Who are these people? And how do I find the hip-hop station on here?
Me: That's the Goo Goo Dolls. And there is no hip-hop station.
D: How can you not have a hip-hop station? Geez.
Me: You know, I have twelve pre-set FM stations on there, okay? So pick one of them. None of them is hip-hop, though.
D: You don't even listen to the same music as me. What kind of friend are you?
Me: Shut up and get over it.
D: You really are missing out, you know.
D: ::grumble grumble grumble::


Tuesday, October 14, 2003

even vampire children need respite, sometime

When I fall asleep during lecture, do not wake me up.

When I shrug into my sweater - mentally kicking whoever raised the air conditioning unit to such a high level - and then sink down into my seat with a long-standing, comfortable disregard for good posture, don't you dare so much as blink.

When I put my pen aside and close my eyes and begin to tune out the professor, don't look at me smugly, critically, and roll your own eyes. Oh, I saw you, even with my eyes closed. I'm slick like that.

And when I finally doze off and begin dreaming of miraculously cancelled midterm exams, term paper extensions, and much-needed holidays, don't nudge my foot repeatedly until I open my eyes and stare at you. And don't smile widely at me and explain sweetly, "I just thought that'd be a better idea than poking you until you woke up."

Because I will narrow my eyes and glare at you as rudely as only I know how, with an utter disregard for your supposed helpfulness.

This is the sort of behavior I don't take lightly from even my friends. And I don't even know you. Furthermore, I don't care if you look affronted and hurt at my plainly obvious lack of gratitude.

I mean, really, what did you expect me to do, thank you?
That's what you get for waking me up.


Monday, October 13, 2003

what is this dude on?

What the heck kind of professor gives his class a handout with the following reading assignment? –

- Skip from the bottom of page 74 to the middle of page 78, from the middle of 89 through the top of 90, and from the bottom of 104 to the middle of 111.
- Page 98, middle: Skip from here to page 103, top.
- Page 84, end of first paragraph: Cross out “…also known…4 and 5…”
- Page 85, Figure 3.5: Cross out two vertical lines above the “O” in the upper left.
- Page 91: third paragraph
- Page 95: first new paragraph
- p.s. Part of the third quote on page 34 is very weird!
Personally, I don't think this guy even has any real inkling of what constitutes “weird.” (I, on the other hand, as we have all established by now, am a walking example of weirdness. Weirdness exemplified, that's me.)

Oh, and the abbreviation for this course is PSC 130. It's been three weeks since the beginning of the quarter, but everytime I look at my schedule, I wonder what I was thinking when I registered for a political science course. Then I go to class and remember that PSC = psychology.

Yes, I am a genius.
I know it.

[Speaking of geniuses, someone should have reminded me that today was Columbus Day - and that Columbus Day is an "observed" holiday. I wasted forty miles worth of gas on pointless errands to and from the bank and post office, which were conveniently closed for the day. Grand. Columbus, Sholumbus. Who cares, anyway?]


Saturday, October 11, 2003

[Acknowledgement for this post must go to Somayya, without whose generosity and understanding I would not have made it to yesterday's program, who has successfully put me on several guilt trips over the past week and who has, yes, been quite justified in doing so, but who (I hope) understood why I had to be here and not there - and who loves me anyway, which is always more than I ever deserve.]

Friday, 10 October 2003: Unity Halaqa at Zaytuna Institute

[Subhan’Allah, Zaytuna is such a beautiful place. Somehow, I always feel that the time spent there cleanses my heart and soul. And who’s to say it doesn’t? The soothing environment, the interactions with other Muslims seeking the same sense of peace, our sheer proximity to such a wonderful resource for knowledge, are all instrumental in furthering and strengthening imaan.]

The lecture began. Calmed by the sea of strange faces and familiar smiles, the intimate sense of brotherhood and the cushioned seats, we were all listening intently, some of us busily scribbling away in notebooks or on hastily-gathered sheaves of paper, others simply leaning forward on the edges of their seats with hands clasped and brows furrowed. Absorption and fascination were evident on every face as he expounded on the Arabic concept of futuwwa, or chivalry. The virtue that is usually associated with youth, he informed us. That spirit of courage and self-sacrifice, the willingness to forego one’s needs to help someone else, the bravery required to stand up and challenge.

A few minutes into the speech, I felt a hesitant hand on my shoulder and turned to see the lady beside me - a middle-aged Pakistani woman seated next to a young girl I took to be her daughter - wearing an expression of bafflement as she gestured toward the front and whispered, "Who is he?"

"That’s Imam Zaid Shakir," I explained. "Ahh, shukriyya," she said, showing no evident signs of recognition even upon hearing his name. She simply nodded politely, and turned back to face the front of the room. I watched her profile for a moment, admittedly surprised that she didn’t know who he was. And then I was ashamed of myself for being surprised. After all, there was a time, not so long ago, when I myself hadn’t known who Imam Zaid Shakir was, either. I have only hazy memories of hearing him for the first time at the 2001 Zaytuna Conference. Then I heard him speak once more during the beginning of this year, and again at our event just a few weeks ago. And last night.

And yet? "Oh, look, there’s Imam Zaid," we say casually. And, "Yeah, Shaykh Hamza’s gonna be there." And, "Oh, hey, did you make it to Ustadh Suhaib’s lecture the other night?" As if we’re on a first-name basis with our Bay Area scholars. Shameless name-droppers, all of us.

Last night, thinking about the lady and my own reaction to her question, I was reminded once more of brother Ali Shayan’s observation that we have a tendency to take our access to such scholars, and their presence in our community, for granted.

Following some convoluted train of thought I don’t recall, I reflected on those who consistently participate in halaqas and masjid- or Islamic center-related events, who belong to MSAs, who help organize fundraisers/conferences/lectures, who travel to speak to fellow believers, who take part in rallies and demonstrations, who stumble and sometimes even fall yet remember to turn to Him during their times of need, who take active roles, who volunteer or intern, who profess to be practicing believers, who seek knowledge for His sake alone...

And I wondered – Are we doing enough?
- To get the word out, to teach others what we have learned, to refer them to someone else who knows more, to pass on knowledge we ourselves possess, to be active participants in society, to make our votes count, to speak out, to share, to listen, to implement what we know and to teach others how to do the same, to challenge, to smile confidently and fearlessly in the face of suspicious frowns, to disprove stereotypes, to speak the truth, to protest, to demonstrate by personal example, to practice what we preach, to take a stand, to tear down walls, to be assertive, to refuse to blend in, to show compassion, to work for what we believe in, to willingly step forward -

What are we doing? What am I doing?


Thursday, October 09, 2003

i want a wide-brimmed panama hat!

Waiting to buy stamps at the post office, I smiled – briefly, impersonally, or so I thought – over my shoulder at the tall elderly gentleman who appeared in line behind me, then turned back to face the front.

His voice, rusty and deep, came from behind me: “You have a very nice smile,” and I turned back just in time to see his two index fingers drawing a curve in the air, somewhat reminiscent of a concert conductor, each finger swooping outward from the middle of his mouth to his earlobes, signifying, I suppose, that my own smile stretched as widely.

“Thank you,” I said in surprise.
Under the Panama hat, a colorful scarf jauntily wrapped around its crown, his wise old eyes crinkled with an answering smile. “You know why?” he asked.
“No; why?”

“It’s because you have happy thoughts.” And he beamed with approval.

I don’t know how it is that, through no fault of my own, I always manage to solicit random remarks from total strangers, but that encounter was sufficiently amusing that I couldn’t help smiling the whole rest of the day.

::happy thought::

Pass it on.


Tuesday, October 07, 2003

at this rate, who needs the gym anyway?

For once, just once, I'd like to go to the College of Letters & Science office without them sending me all the way across campus to the Division of Biological Sciences instead. They always, always, do this to me. And my legs hurt now, man.

You know what I need? One of those little golf carts. That way, I could just zip across campus and back. It'd look exactly like that mini-cart we saw on one of our halaqa trips. I gotta scan the photo and post it for y'all. It's hilarious. But, yes, a golf cart would be wonderful. Maybe I'd even get a discount on parking permit rates. And while other students hastily park and lock their bikes and race the rest of the way to class, I'd just zoom right up to the front entrance of my building, park, and lazily wander in. It'd be great, yo.

[Update: The infamous go-cart (or whatever it's called.) It belonged to a state park ranger. This was even cooler and more hilarious than the sign warning: "Do not climb bridge." You know you want one, too. You see the cookie tin over on the front seat?]

My new favorite places to study this quarter:
1. School of Medicine library
2. School of Medicine cafe
3. Benches in the University arboretum, behind the School of Law. (And there's a duck pond there!)
I like to think of it as being productive and actually getting my work done instead of sleeping on the comfy chairs in the main library. My dad, on the other hand, calls it undercover research into my supposedly vested interest in medicine and law. He's still stuck on this idea of me going into law.

Watching the med students is fun, though. Scrubs look way cool, too. Too bad that's not nearly enough incentive for me to remain pre-med.

And in other news, I have discovered that there actually is exactly one person in the whole entire world who is quite capable of successfully giving me guilt trips.

Dammit, Somayya.


Sunday, October 05, 2003

candles, cake, and the crazy family

My daddy-o had his birthday today.

Whenever we were little and his birthday came around, we used to ask how old he was, and he’d answer soberly, but with eyes twinkling, “I’m twenty-seven now.” And we’d giggle and protest, “Noo, you’re not! How old are you really?”

Twenty-seven is his favorite age. “Why twenty-seven?” we still ask curiously, even now, from time to time. The answer invariably remains the same: “Because your mother and I got married that year! And I was young and handsome, and I had all my hair back then.” And here he always self-deprecatingly pats his bald spot with both hands, while we laugh and roll our eyes, Ohh Daddy.

In deference to his reluctance to grow older, we celebrated his 27 ½ th birthday last year. That way, he could go up in small increments. This year, we decided to try something a little different. Instead of twenty-seven, we figured, why not go backwards a little? So we went to the bakery and, after the usual hemming and hawing, picked out a cake for him. The lady at the bakery stared at us blankly when we asked her to decorate the cake with, Happy 26th Birthday, Daddy! I explained, “What can I say, we do things kinda backwards in my family,” and she started laughing, too.

The best part was watching him cut the cake. (After he had blown out the candles, of course.) A beautiful rectangular cake, and the crazy man, instead of cutting square pieces like normal people do, instead eyed the cake gleefully and began cutting triangular pieces.

My sister rolled her eyes and shook her head in mock disapproval, then glanced across at me and laughed, “So this is where you get your non-conformity from!”

Yes, it’s hereditary; that’s exactly where I get it from.

In case you were wondering.


Thursday, October 02, 2003

break? what break? (or maybe it should be called: money? what money?)

Welcome to Fall Quarter 2003. Start preparing yourselves for more ramblings about my seventeen credits course-load (bearable), my paid internship (time-consuming yet exciting), and the fact that I may not be tutoring calculus this quarter as usual (very, very sad, and no, I am not being sarcastic, sheesh). So not only does fall quarter mean getting used to driving long distances all over again (one week in, and I have a back-ache and sense of exhaustion I can’t seem to shake off), putting up with the annoying valet guys at the university parking garage, evening classes (what was I thinking?) and irregular dinners (surprise, surprise), it also has a lot to do with money. Mon-ayyyy. You know you like money. Just admit it. It’s good for some stuff. Just gotta have the right intentions though, insha’Allah.

One week into the quarter, and I still have $29.27 in my wallet. Let’s see how long this lasts. Cleaning out my bag today, I found a stash of wrinkled-up receipts. Here’s a run-down on where my money came from and went to, based on last Monday alone:
- Quick cash as a result of selling back two textbooks from summer session: $24 (rip-off!)
- Paycheck I had forgotten about for proctoring almost two months ago: $30
- Bank deposit slip for scholarship (finally, man): $3,000
- Fall ’03 registration fees: $2,594.37 (up by 30%, as of this quarter. Grand.)
- Books for only two of my courses: $207.76 (Five other books still on hold.)
- Slurpee #1 (cherry-flavored): $0.75
- Random school supplies and things: $40.40
- Parking permit for Fall ’03: $121
- Lunch with Friend #1: $5.14 (Oh, and she gave me all her french fries. Such a nice child, masha’Allah. I ate all mine, too, of course.)
- Slurpee #2 (BLUE RASPBERRY!): $1.00
- Two books from the off-campus bookstore’s comparative literature section: $20.31 (No, I am not taking a comp lit course. And, traumatically enough, slurpee #2 melted at this point, because the bookstore had a “No Food or Drink Allowed” policy; therefore, I had to leave my slurpee at the counter, along with my bag. ::shakes fist in annoyance::)
- Dinner with Friend #2: $6.25
- Chocolate ice cream (happy now?): $1.25
- Gas: $28.26
I should just set up a lemonade stand to raise some money. With a big ol’ sign reading, Help a Kid Out, Yo. For Educational Expenditures Only! No one in their right mind can resist kids with lemonade stands. You know it.

The other day I was at a shopping plaza and was waylaid/sidetracked/accosted by a self-proclaimed professional photographer. Ehh, okay, maybe not technically waylaid/sidetracked/accosted, but whatever the term is for people who are trying their utmost to convince you to buy something you really, truly (cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die) have no intention whatsoever of buying.

Somehow, this guy wanders up to me and starts chattering away in such a nonstop fashion that I can barely get a word in edgewise, much less convey my disinterest in whatever he’s selling. Finally, I just give up and resort to smiling politely, shifting my weight from one foot to another, praying my eyes aren’t glazing over with weariness.

He tells me that I’m an attractive young lady and I should have his granddaughter, a professional artist, paint my portrait. She’s sitting right over there, see? come look. See, doesn’t she paint beautifully? And he thinks I should be painted in pastel, because pastel is a softer and more realistic medium, and I really should take advantage of this opportunity and have a portrait painted, because I’m very attractive and twenty years down the line [when I’m ugly, I presume] I’ll look back and wish I had taken advantage of this offer. And, no, he isn’t flattering me, because he’s a professional photographer, remember? and he’s photographed all sorts of pretty girls, so he should know. See, look at this photograph of his granddaughter on her wedding day. Wasn’t she beautiful? He took that photo, and he’s very glad he did so, because she looked so much more beautiful then (even though she’s still attractive, he adds hastily). And, look here, here’s a brochure with price listings, and I should hold on to it and take it home with me, and think it over, and his granddaughter will give me a call, but remember, there’s really no need to think it over too much. I should really get this done today, and here, now he wants to introduce me to his granddaughter the portrait painter, who patiently interrupts her work to smile quickly, confusedly, while he chatters on and asks her whether I’m not an attractive young lady.

And, good lord, she now somehow has my cell phone number, and I don’t even want a pastel portrait in the first place, especially not if it costs $180.

If I had so much money that I could afford to throw it away on pastel portraits, I’d buy myself my very own personal blue raspberry slurpee machine instead. Heck, I’d buy everyone a blue raspberry slurpee machine. You know you want one. Just admit it. And then I’d take over the world and make sure that no one (and I do mean no one) ever enforced those annoying “No Food or Drink Allowed” policies.

And that’s a promise.

Vote for me.

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hills of flame

I stepped out onto the front porch this morning, and realized the world smells like autumn now.

Like crispy red-orange leaves and smoky bonfires.