Saturday, November 29, 2003

the blue sky is blue, like blue bubblegum

Someone once accused me of overusing the word “beautiful.” I didn't ask for further clarification, so I’m not quite sure what exactly she meant by “overusing,” unless she thought that I throw around the word “beautiful” so much that some of its meaning chips off. But I don’t know how that’s possible, and so I disagree with her, and I pity those who can’t find beauty even if it’s staring them in the face.

There is no such thing as too much beautiful. The beauty is everywhere. I just acknowledge it and appreciate it. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, I say.

Maybe my friend was jaded. Or perhaps she was just being realistic. Either is valid and understandable. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always know enough about the state of the world to have a suitably articulate and intellectual discussion about it, and I’ll also be the first to admit that that’s a sad thing indeed. I don’t know as much as I should about international policies and political economy, about foreign relations and humanitarian issues, and yet even I know enough to be quite aware that the world is a jacked-up place, that not everyone has access to beauty as I do. And I constantly wonder what I could do to fix that, I really do. It’s just that the link between thinking and acting is, for me, all too often a tenuous one.

But I don’t think there’s anything whatsoever wrong with being easily amused though, or reveling in the beautiful moments that come my way, moments that I don’t choose, but which choose me instead. I cling to the beautiful, and that’s what keeps me happy and sane. If anything about my mentality and mindset could ever be characterized as “sane,” that is.

So these are my beautiful moments:

Beautiful is the four-year-old boy with blonde hair and gray eyes, who watched me secretly for several minutes at the public library before walking up to me, aiming the full measure of his gap-toothed grin my way, and whispering loudly, “Assalaamu alaikum!”

Beautiful is the sound of silence, on the days I listen hard enough.

Beautiful is my pajama-clad father, wandering around the house with his endless cups of coffee, singing the Beatles and Pashto songs while my mother smiles indulgently.

Beautiful means miracle-bubble bottles and 94-pack of crayons as birthday presents, bead bracelets and construction-paper hats, and all the other little things that remind me of kindergarten.

Beautiful is the peace found in the University arboretum, on a bench behind the School of Law.

Beautiful means nonchalantly ordering french fries at the most expensive Italian restaurant in town, and amusedly watching the waiter widen his eyes in uncontained horror.

Beautiful means road trips with friends, empty freeways late at night, mix CDs that cradle a memory within each track.

Beautiful is my sister’s wide smile and my brother’s rib-crushing bear-hugs, and the way laughter comes so easily to all of us.

Beautiful means the stars in the sky, the deer on our street, my father’s firm belief that a walk in the gardens is a perfect cure for a horrid day.

Beautiful is my friend, Jason, overawed and visibly shaken after witnessing a shahadah, because it brought back memories of his own conversion a year ago.

Beautiful means driving over a bridge and turning my head to look down and marvel at the bay.

Beautiful means the fuzzy blue socks I wear around the house, even though my family laughs at me for always being cold.

Beautiful are the hills and mountains which serve as a personal reminder that I’m almost home.

Beautiful is my learned ability to constantly redefine the word “home,” to appreciate the merits of change, to laugh at my faults yet silently attempt to change them.

Beautiful is the expression on my tutees' faces when they’ve grasped a difficult calculus concept.

Beautiful means stretching out on a window-seat up on the third floor of the University library, the huge branches of the courtyard tree serving as my towering neighbor on the other side of the glass, so that I feel as if I’m enclosed within my very own tree-house.

Beautiful means being conscious of God’s presence with a clarity that increases daily.

Beautiful is a rain-drenched, flower-filled wheelbarrow; a toddler’s chubby arms around my neck; the sound of leaves blowing across the road.

Beautiful means time well-spent with friends, means laughing too loud and so hard that my stomach aches and my eyes water and I almost fall out of my chair.

You still reading? I could go on ‘til my fingers fell off from all this typing, and it still wouldn’t be enough.

Tell me what you find beautiful.


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Eid mubarak!
Or, "Akhtar de mubarak sha," as we say in Pukhtu.
Here's hoping you all have an absolutely beautiful day, insha'Allah.

Monday, November 24, 2003

‘cause it’s me, and my life/it’s my life, it’s my life

I got a letter in the mail a few days ago. I had been expecting it but not watching for it, waiting patiently but not wondering unduly. After a while, I even forgot that it was supposed to be coming.

But I came home the other night to find an envelope lying across my bed. The front bore the name and address of my university, and the name of the college. I already knew what it was all about, of course. Funny, I thought, how even the letters asking for registration fees and tuition payments are far more formal-looking than this one. I had expected more from this one, you see. I tore a strip down the right-hand side of the envelope and flipped open the letter itself, which was unprepossessing in appearance, to say the least. The elegant university seal at the top was nice. The stamped signature at the bottom of the page – belonging to the associate dean of the college – was not so nice. I mean, please, how difficult must it be to get a real live signature using a real ink pen on these things? Someone could have at least had the heart to fake a signature, but using a pen. It’s not as if I would have known the difference anyway. And the paper. Good Lord, the paper! So flimsy, I could almost see right through it, even though I wasn’t holding it up against the light. Even the paper we buy for our household printers/copier/fax usage is much better quality. The largest university in the UC system…please don’t tell me they can’t afford quality stationary for such monumental notices. My fees just increased by 30%, so I know they can.

The letter starts off:
Dear Yasmine:

Your petition to change your major from Neurobiology, Physiology, & Behavior to Human Development has been:

X Approved and filed with the Registrar.
_ Denied because of insufficient scholarship.
_ Held, pending an appointment with the undersigned Associate Dean.
_ Other:
Nice. Alhamdulillah. ‘Bout time, peoples. ‘Bout time, Yasminay. The funny thing is, though, that I was being facetious when I called it a “monumental notice.” I feel I’ve mentally been a Human Development major for so long that a piece of paper doesn’t really make all that much difference to me. Actually, I’ve mentally been a non-NPB major, pre-med or otherwise, for so long that it’s almost ludicrous to receive a formal notice confirming it. A couple weeks ago, I got a letter stating something along the lines of, “Please stop by the Division of BioSci and make an appointment to see an advisor soon. We are concerned that you have not been fulfilling the requirements for your NPB major.” I laughed, and said with mock incredulity, No way? ‘Bout time you figured it out, and tossed the letter into the trash bin.

If I had thought of this letter as important, I would have mentioned it to my family as well. But I didn’t, and so I tucked it away in my bag and didn’t even bring it up. The other night, though, I made an offhand explanatory remark about my change of major while conversing with a guest. My sister’s jaw dropped, and she sputtered, “You didn’t even tell us!” “Get over it,” I said impatiently. “Daddy!” she called across a roomful of guests, “did you know Apaji got her major changed?” I rolled my eyes. The daddy-o raised his eyebrows inquisitively and retorted, “Which one?” I laughed, and so did the guests, though they really had no idea what it was all about. It’s a family joke – with some basis, I might add – that my major changes every quarter. My father finds my academic vacillation extremely amusing, which is a good thing, since he’s the one paying my enormous tuition in full.

But hey, at least, I can finally stop responding to the inevitable, “So what do you study?” questions with the long-suffering, “Well, technically, I’m a pre-med Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior major, but…” Too many explanations and stories and details and exclamations involved in that. Fine, I admit it: This makes life easier. Sort of. But not really.


Thursday, November 20, 2003

slip of the tongue

I called up a local mechanic early this morning because my car's brakes needed to be looked at. When the guy answered the phone, instead of asking if the shop was open already for customers, I accidentally said, “Hi. I was just wondering if you’re awake already.” It took him what seemed like an entire minute to stop laughing. Fine, I admit it, I cracked up, too. It was inexplicably funny at the time, okay.

I don't sleep, I'm weird. I sleep just enough, and I'm still weird. I love how I amuse myself. But hey, evidently I amuse other people, too. So that makes it all right.

What made you laugh today?


Monday, November 17, 2003

one for me, one for you

I figured my mother needed a change of scenery, so last Friday I drove her up to Sacramento to visit the psycho soap-opera-drama familia, also affectionately known as the relatives. After all, there's only so many times one can wander around the yard and talk to the rose bushes and geraniums, you know. Actually, that's my dad's line of expertise. But the daddy-o is also a social butterfly who spends literally hours on the telephone and enjoys telling his life story to total strangers he meets in the sprinkler-system aisle at Home Depot. My momma, on the other hand, is just a shy butterfly, and I decided she needed to get out of the house, and away from the isolation she sometimes feels, living as we do in the Bay and an hour away from close friends and family.

We took with us a box of pomegranates from our tree to dispense as a gift amongst the families (there are four). When we came home in the evening, we brought back with us two melons and a carton of homemade potato salad. (Sidenote: Damn, Somayya, that stuff was GOOD!)

Saturday, we decided to go harass the relatives again, and the daddy-o bought a box of dates for everyone there. We decided to leave just before iftar, so that we could make it back to the Bay in time for taraweeh. This, of course, made all the aunts extremely sad, because their primary goal in life is to feed everyone as much as they possibly can. So the fun part was, each of the four aunts put together a "care-package" for us to eat on the road, once iftar-time hit. We drove home loaded with dates, fruit, lasagna, kabob, samosas, french fries!, and bread. Not to mention, a bottle of water, two bottles of coke, and a jug of orange juice. And real glasses to drink out of. That one still makes me laugh. And they even gave us little containers of ketchup and chutney. Simply ingenius!

A while back, we had given our neighbors some pomegranates and persimmons from our trees, too. On Sunday, the across-the-street neighbors stopped by to thank us, and to rave about the pomegranates, which they had also shared with another neighbor down the street - "We were eating them as if it were candy!" They brought a plateful of dates (because they had "heard that tradition has it, Muhammad used to break his fast with dates") and a container of hot lentil soup, thick with tomatoes, carrots, potatoes!, and tiny grains of unidentifiable-but-yummy rice. Perfect for this annoying cough-and-cold-combination I've got going on. Such nice people. I still remember that when they moved in the house across the street, years ago, their son and my brother hit it off, since they were the same age. They were also the most annoying little brats ever, and I'm not exaggerating by any stretch. Somehow, my brother grew up to become an art and film aficionado who makes exaggerated funny faces, delivers hilariously impeccable imitations of people, and can tell you anything and everything about seemingly every single movie listed on The Internet Movie Database, whether it's good, bad, or ugly. And the neighbor boy grew up to become a thoroughly likeable guy, and is now away at college at UCLA. And even after so many years of marriage, his parents are still madly in love. You can tell by the way they look at each other. It's so cute, masha'Allah.

Later in the day, the lady from next-door stopped by with a thank-you gesture in the form of walnuts and a bag of Fuji apples, both of which my dad actually loves. My family is always amused by the fact that, even four years after moving in, the couple next-door still has a constant stream of construction and remodeling going on. But we patiently bear the loud noise and the heavy-duty trucks that perpetually block our driveway, because every year around Christmas-time, she brings us a tin of English toffee without fail, and we have become obsessed with her English toffee, we admit it. I just can't wait until December already.

Bartering is so much fun, didn't I tell you?


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

680 to the 80 to the 113

February 2001: During my freshman year of college, driving home late one night, I got pulled over on a dark, empty stretch of freeway for going 85 miles per hour. “In a rush to get somewhere?” asked the highway patrolman, face set in implacable lines. I was so rattled and nervous that I blurted out, “I was just in a hurry to get home.” He raised his eyebrows skeptically, and I was moved to clarify, defensively, “It’s been a long day, and I’m just looking forward to getting home as soon as possible.”

He asked me where I was coming from. I gave him the name of my university, and watched his face light up. “They have one of the top medical schools in the country!” he exclaimed. I cautiously nodded in agreement. That was back when the thought of attending medical school still held magical appeal for me, and I wondered whether the influential name of my university could get me out of a speeding ticket, too. But, much too soon, his face closed up, reverted to its uncompromising highway patrolman look, and he gruffly ordered me to sign my name on the dotted line. “Try to slow down,” he warned. “You were going 85 mph in a 65 mph zone.”

September 2001: I was driving through the college town where I go to school when a police car turned onto the street right behind me. I was traveling at 35 mph, the posted speed limit, so I had nothing to worry about. Then the freak of nature started tailgating me, so I nervously sped up, and the tailgating continued. By the time he switched on his flashing lights, I wasn’t nervous anymore; I was just pissed off. I glared as we both pulled over and he sauntered over to my car. “Do you make a habit of tailgating people for eight blocks before you decide to pull them over for speeding?” I snapped. He smirked through my open window and replied innocently, “I wasn’t tailgating you.” He ticketed me for going 45 mph in a 35 mph zone. As we drove away, I remember my friend, D, objecting from the backseat, “It’s because of the way you were dressed, I know it! It was because of your hijab!” “Shut up, D,” I said irritably. But, really, I should have contested that one; I just couldn’t be bothered to do so at the time.

This morning: Forty miles from home, I raced through a curve and sufficiently intimidated the Hummer in front of me into switching lanes. That’s right, sucka! I gloated silently. If you can’t handle the fast lane, get outta my way! I thought that was pretty slick: I made a Hummer move out of my lane! Therefore, I’m so cool. My arrogance was extremely short-lived, however, because five seconds later a highway patrol car came out of nowhere, red and blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. Damn, here we go again, I thought.

This guy turned out to be the nicest, most sympathetic highway patrolman yet. Not that that really helped me, though. “Can’t you just let me off with a warning?” I pleaded. He smiled benignly, but shook his head quite firmly. “You were following that Hummer pretty aggressively,” he said. “I’m really giving you a break here, by not issuing you a separate citation for that, too.” I decided to just give up at that point. So now I have a yellow citation marking me for going “75+ mph” in a 65 mph zone. Actually, I’d had my cruise control set at 80 mph ever since I hit the freeway, but, really, who’s counting? And, you know, I’m starting to think my debate skills are worthless. Sure, they help me excel academically, but what good are they if I can’t even effectively argue my way out of a speeding ticket? That’s just plain messed up.

So, yeah, I guess I spoke much too soon the other day.

“Yasminay!” cried my father with delight as I walked in through the door tonight. “How was your day?”
“Oh, it was wonderful,” I replied breezily, “except for the part where I got a speeding ticket.”

He took the news so much better than I had expected. He didn’t so much as bat an eyelash, and I didn’t receive the frosty lecture I had been anticipating. Praise the Lord. Two years ago, I got stern warnings and unsympathetic ultimatums about what would happen if I ever got another speeding ticket during my college career. Either my dad has mellowed out since then, or all those du’as I tensely recited on the way home tonight did the trick. I like to think it’s the latter. Then again, I didn’t mention the Hummer. But I love my daddy-o, I really do. I’m still constantly surprised the parents haven’t decided to give me away to the Salvation Army. Really, I would have, long ago.

I find it interesting that I have yet to receive a speeding ticket in the Bay Area. Perhaps it’s because we’re all aggressive drivers here, relentlessly in a hurry and on the go. And I can’t help it if I’m a speeeed freeeeak – I’ve got places to go, things to do, people to see, too. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Traffic school coming up, I guess. I’m semi-excited about that, actually. My last traffic school instructor was so hilarious, my stomach ached from laughing. And that’s really the best kind of laughter in the world, you know. I gotta hunt up her number again, even though I remember her last words to me, two years ago, were, “I better not have to see you in here again!”

Anyway, moral of today’s story: Hummers are evil, evil machines. Yes, they are, and you know it.


Friday, November 07, 2003

multiple choice

Felt like updating, but I'm majorly exhausted, as evidenced by the fact that I made it to Taraweeh at the masjid for the first time in a week, and then kept dozing off while standing in prayer. Terrible, isn't it?

I need lots of sleep, and you all could use some constructive breaks from my psycho randomness, I'm sure. So, speaking of masjids, Javed has put together a survey entitled "Muslim Women and the Mosque." The survey's pretty self-explanatory, but you could also check out his post here.

So, ladies: Take the survey.
Ladies and gentlemen alike: Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences on the matter, either in my comment box or Javed's, or both. His is more reliable though, seriously.
I'd post some of my own observations on the subject, but all this yawning is hampering my attempts at coherent writing. My jaw's about to pop, I swear. I'll get to commenting about this tomorrow, insha'Allah.
Good night, y'all.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

bartering is the way to go

For iftar today, I ate a kit-kat bar and three mini Reese’s peanut butter cups. But wait, don’t worry, there’s still more left. I have here at my elbow: one king-sized Snickers bar, two mini Snickers, five mini Reese’s peanut butter cups, and a pack of Mambos (they taste just like Starbursts). Yes, this is my life as the weird college student who’s all-too-often stuck inside the computer lab typing up papers while turning down the free iftar (real food!) held at the local masjid down the street. I mean, who in their right mind would make conscious decisions like that?

What I really want right about now is a slice (or two or three) of pizza, and a cold water bottle, but I’ve just rummaged through my wallet, and considering the fact that I have merely $0.71 in there, that’s a pretty ambitious goal at the moment. Darnit, I shoulda cashed in my paycheck this morning.

I’m supposed to be working on a paper. Instead, I’m contemplating what I consider a brilliant idea (these epiphanies always occur when I’m supposed to be immersed in academic pursuits, you notice?). In the spirit of interactive weblogging, let’s have a bartering session. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of bartering: I give you something, you give me something of comparable value in return. So nice and simple. It’s still practiced in many parts of the world, you know.

So, let’s trade. I’ll give you all my candy bars. I’ll even walk around the corner and down the hall and get you a blue raspberry slurpee, because that I can afford on $0.71. Ooh, I even have some cashews. And a mini-stapler, lots of highlighters, and a couple of legal pads. If y’all are nice, I may even give away my headphones and my beloved TI-83 graphing calculator (dead battery included). But that’s stretching it. Or not. Depends entirely on you.

In return, what do I get?
Y’all can barter with each other, too.
How ‘bout it?

[Apologies to all those of you reading this while fasting. I know how you feel, I really do. I’ll brace myself for hate-mail, but meanwhile join in on the fun, okay?]

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Monday, November 03, 2003

who, me?

I've just managed to sneak hot chocolate (with whipped cream!) into the computer lab, which, let me tell you, is no small feat, considering the fact that the hawk-eyed computer room consultants stare at me suspiciously every time I nonchalantly saunter in and out. I find the level of observation they direct my way inexplicable and strange, unless of course it means I'm smirking far too much for their comfort. I can't help it; keeping a straight face when I find something amusing is just beyond me, and sneaking in hot chocolate is amusingly clever, if I do say so myself. One of these days, though, I've got to work on acquiring that deadpan, blank-faced look. I'm terrible at relating funny stories or incidents aloud, because most of the time I'll start laughing in the middle of the story, and my audience/victim of the moment has to sit there all (im)patiently while I hold my stomach and nearly fall off my chair laughing. My delivery is usually all off. Meanwhile, I guess I'd be wary and watchful, too, if I kept running into someone who smirked half as much as I do, and was as inherently sarcastic as I am. Ooh, two more goals to work on for Ramadan. Grand.

So what rebel-child stunts have you all been up to lately? Share the stories, spread the craziness, give me some ideas to implement in the future. Sharing is caring, and all that jazz. Uhh, I mean, Yaz.


Sunday, November 02, 2003

and, finally, we get with the times

I'm in love.

With my brand-new high-speed wireless cable internet connection.
I'd marry it if I could, yes I would.

And all this in the midst of Ramadan, too.
Lord, grant me the strength and discipline to refrain from trivialities and time-wasting.

Meanwhile, I've figured out how to network all the computers.
This seems kinda hacker-ish, I say. Oooh...