Tuesday, December 28, 2004

one drop of rain that's me and all the rest is you

Zulkifli Mohamad Nor, 42, cries in his home in Penang after describing how tsunami waves killed five of his seven children in Pasir Panjang, a popular vacation spot in Penang.

There are now literally millions of stories like this one.

Several weblogs have listed links you may use to send relief to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in South and Southeast Asia. Below are just a few of them. Please click on the following links to access the posts in question, and donate generously.

As Sister Scorpion pointed out, if you have a computer, and access to an internet connection, then you can well afford to contribute to relief efforts.

Tsunami Help Blog
Karrva Karela
ProPoor Blog
Waiter Rant
Run like the Wind


Monday, December 27, 2004

the eye of the storm meets the eye of the mind, sending it spinning

At the gas station late this afternoon, I swiped my debit card at the gas pump and shoved the nozzle into my car to fill up the tank. I was in the process of unlocking the doors to wait inside my car, out of the rain, while the gas finished pumping, when I heard a tentative voice behind me say, "Ma'am?"

I turned, already amused. Recent conversations with my co-workers have enlightened me to the fact that I get mistaken for seventeen more often than not, and no one calls me "Ma'am," except sometimes the boy around my own age who bags my groceries at the local Safeway, something that never fails to make me laugh. Perhaps its the hijab, or the fact that too much of my wardrobe consists of black.

I looked expectantly at the boys in the small, shabby car parked on the other side of my gas pump, stepping across the divider as they leaned out their windows towards me. They couldn't have been much older than me. "We were wondering if you could help us out with gas," they said. "We've been waiting here for a long time."

I had just driven over from the post office, where I had made out a money order for $165 and mailed it out. Yes, it had put a big, fat dent in my paycheck, but the very fact I could afford to do so spoke volumes about the difference between me and these boys.

"Our car got stolen on Christmas, and we just got it back." They pointed out the cracks in the windshield, now covered with pieces of tape, tracing the lines with their fingers. I nodded, reminded of the Ray Bradbury short story I had lain in bed reading until late last night, entitled "The Beggar on O'Connell Bridge," which everyone should read, by the way.

"Hang on a sec," I said, and stepped back to my own car, where I flipped through my wallet for cash. Returning to their car, I handed the bills through the window. "Is that going to be enough? Are you traveling to somewhere?"

"Chico," said one of them. "We're supposed to meet family there."

"Oh, okay," I said, wincing slightly. I remember Chico from when I was little: Butte County, cliffs, red rocks and bluffs. Just past a small town called Paradise.

They peered at me anxiously. "Is that far?"

"It's up north," I replied. "I'm not sure exactly how far, but it's a few hours away, I think."

They glanced at each other, and their faces fell.

"Okay," they said. "Thank you."

"Drive carefully," I said. "Be safe." The mantra my friends have unanimously adopted from one another, words they always say to me when they know I'm about to hit the road.

My pump clicked, releasing the automatic catch on the nozzle, the gas tank now full. It was my cue to go. I didn't notice until I had almost turned back to my own pump that there was a young woman also in the car with them, wrapped in blankets in the backseat, staring expressionlessly out the window.

I ended up spending $31.57 on just over fifteen gallons of gas for my car. The guys in the next car smiled and raised their hands in thanks as I drove away from the pump.

I furiously calculated it in my head while driving away: My car does about 25 miles/gallon so, if I used that as a standard and gas was selling at $2.01/gallon today, I had given them enough for several gallons, but was it enough to get them to where they needed to go? Halfway to the grocery store (yes, again), I realized Chico was about 150 miles north, and they would have needed at least half a tank to get there. I cursed myself for not having given them more. In my rush to be helpful, to give them something, anything, I hadn't given them nearly enough.

For godssake, I've been driving around town with my gas needle pointing to "Empty" for an entire week, the orange light flashing in warning every few minutes. It's been my own personal form of amusement, since I've been on break from school for a week now, to see how long I could go without filling my car up with gas. With all the gas I saved on my own car during the week, I could have just used my debit card to fill up their tank instead.

I wandered through the produce section of my local grocery store, bantering with the young clerk who asked me, by name, how I was doing that day. "I love how everyone knows my name around here!" I laughed, and he joked, "Yes, well, you've made VIP status, you know." They know me because they know my brother, who works there as well, but his comment was a startling, sobering reminder of the Zaytuna dinner I attended in the South Bay last week, where one of the speakers asked us to re-think the weight of material possessions and social hierarchies in our daily lives. Do we work only so that one day we, too, can achieve VIP status? So that we, too, can buy luxury cars and large houses and be photographed in the company of rich and powerful people?

Who do we want to be, and who are the people we are standing next to? And are we standing next to the right people?

There was a feeling of déjà vu as I walked out of the grocery store with my $35 worth of purchases, sighing inwardly at the nonstop torrents of rain. Only as I was placing the bags of groceries in the trunk of my car did I remember the Salvation Army man from this time last year.

"We've been waiting here for a long time."

I wondered how long exactly they had been waiting, the desperately polite boys and the silent girl with the blanket in their dilapidated car in a gas station where I had been parked in front of a Mercedes SUV and right across from a freakin' Jaguar. Down the street from the post office where I had had to outmaneuver Porsches and Hummers in a cutthroat search for a parking spot. A few blocks down again from the bustling downtown area that boasts a Tiffany&Co. jewelry store. For godssake, there's a freakin' Tiffany store in my hometown now (the height of ostentation, if you ask me), and yet, if you make the effort to look, you can still find homeless people that talk to themselves on the street corners here, and boys that beg for gas money because the gas-guzzling SUV and sports car owners are too preoccupied with their own VIP status and shiny automobiles.

But only if you make the effort to look.

Would it have hurt the people in this city to have looked? They could well afford to.

But what am I doing, how much am I doing, am I myself doing enough?

I drove slowly through the curving, winding roads to my home on the hill, in a quiet, beautiful neighborhood where it is not uncommon to find houses selling for anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million. I often fail to notice the affluence in the neighborhood itself because I spent the naive years of my childhood here, in our comparatively modest house, and then returned to the same neighborhood after several years away. Six years later, my eyes are still clouded by my childhood memories here. It's difficult for me to understand how these simple ranch houses, built in the 1950s, are worth so much now, and even harder yet to acknowledge that I've learned to accept the wealth in this city, even if I do roll my eyes at it continually.

I may be annoyed at the people of my hometown right now, but I've always tried to be harsher with myself, because at least I know the context and blessings of my own life, even if I can only speculate at other peoples'. This evening, my father bought me an absolutely gorgeous desk for my room because he feels I spend too many late nights studying on campus and driving home exhausted. I came home again and ate a hot dinner with my family, people I am blessed to have in my life even though they drive me insane. Tomorrow I go back to work in downtown Sacramento, earning a relatively competitive paycheck for a college student, filling up my gas tank whenever I need.

I thought of yesterday, stopping for dinner in the wine country of Napa Valley, in Calistoga, CA, to be exact – home to mineral water, spas, mud baths, and, yes, lots of rich people – on the last leg of our roadtrip while heading back home to the Bay. I absently munched on french fries, absorbed in the flashing headlines on the television across the room as the grim-faced news anchors discussed the heartbreaking casualties as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in South and Southeast Asia. Someone working there saw the dismayed expressions on our faces and turned up the volume on the TV so that we could better hear the news. I translated for my mother ("Thousands of people died, Ummy. In Indonesia and Sri Lanka and India and Thailand and even Somalia and…"), giving her specific numbers as they flashed across the screen. "Ten thousand people, Ummy!"

The death toll is at over fifty thousand now.

I watched the faces of the people on the television screen. They looked dazed and broken, shell-shocked and shattered. What do you do when your world literally falls down in ruins around you?

And what am I doing, how much am I doing, am I myself doing enough?

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from Ray Bradbury’s The Beggar on O'Connell Bridge

The snow was falling fast now, erasing the lamps and the statues in the shadows of the lamps below.

"How do you tell the difference between them?" I asked. "How can you tell which is honest, which isn't?"

"The fact is," said the manager quietly, "you can’t. There's no difference between them. […] So what does it prove? You cannot stare them down or look away from them. You cannot run and hide from them. You can only give to them all. If you start drawing lines, someone gets hurt."


A moment later, going down in the haunted night elevator, I found the new tweed cap in my hand.

Coatless, in my shirtsleeves, I stepped out into the night.

I gave the cap to the first man who came. I never knew if it fit. What money I had in my pockets was soon gone.

Then, left alone, shivering, I happened to glance up. I stood, I froze, blinking up through the drift, the drift, the silent drift of blinding snow. I saw the high hotel windows, the lights, the shadows.

What's it like up there? I thought. Are fires lit? Is it warm as breath? Who are all those people? Are they drinking? Are they happy?

Do they even know I'm HERE?


and who is he, mr. rand mcnally?

About a week after we returned from our Thanksgiving break roadtrip to Santa Barbara, my father remarked, "You know, I think we should go on a trip again soon."

"Oh?" I said. "Are the nomadic tendencies kicking in again?"

"Not really," he admitted sheepishly, "It's just that I kinda liked your guys' music." I let out a shout of laughter and yelled into our bedroom, "Bean, did you hear that?!"

On Christmas day, we packed the car again and headed back out to Highway 1 along the coast, but northward this time. We passed creeks and lakes and drove along the ocean itself, endless water that looked like sheets of glass tinted by a vast expanse of sky.

The daddy-o gave us the hysterical inside scoop on many of the small hill towns we passed by. Apparently, many of these are hippie towns that songwriters referenced in songs back in the day ("Hippie from Olema" – the tongue-in-cheek take on "Okie from Muskogee" – anyone?) where people supposedly used to grow marijuana. Passing by a horse ranch in the hills, the daddy-o said confidentially, "That's how he got rich, you know. Selling horses. It's all a front. His real business is drugs." Daddy translated Farsi songs for us, while we all made smartass comments about the towns we passed.

Re. "Olema – Population: 55":
Me: "Get ready, you guys. Population in the double digits!"
Daddy-o: "This is the one town where the elevation is higher than the population."
Re. the cow attempting to chew its way through a wire fence:
Daddy-o (suffering from caffeine withdrawals): "Well, he must have found some coffee on the other side of the fence."
Bean, jokingly: "Or marijuana!"
Later, my father looked down at the ocean to his left. "My bebe," he murmured, "used to say to me when I was little, 'At this time of evening, even the oceans come to a standstill, and yet you are still working.'"

I was reminded of a line from my Muir Woods post from last year: Miles out from the cliff, the clear bay met the unclouded sky, and it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.

The mountains and ocean stayed consistent, while the eucalyptus tress were eventually replaced by redwoods, majestic in their own right, but my childhood – and the lines of trees behind my house – taught me to love the eucalyptus ones above all.

We stopped in Gualala for the night (the daddy-o kept referring to it as Gul-i-Lala, with the Pukhtu accent on the very last syllable: Lala, we kept repeating in amusement. At the hotel that night, we turned on the wall heater (yes!) and settled down on the beds to channel surf, because this, of course, is apparently what children who were denied adequate access to television while growing up do when they go on roadtrips through the northern portion of the state. They watch cable TV to make up for all those empty, traumatic years. Right.

Horror of horrors, we got caught up on the Lifetime channel and three movies that were each two hours long, and didn't go to sleep til 1 a.m. "Keep your eyes glued to the screen!" the daddy-o kept sarcastically instructing us. "Forget 'glued,' I'm keeping my eyes rolled," I said dryly the first time around, but by the time he repeated it for the tenth time, my response had upgraded to, "Oh, I am!" Oh, the depths to which I have sunk! Disgustingly fascinating, what can I say.

So what did the Lifetime channel teach me? Babies can get switched at birth in hospitals in a case of "Mistaken Identity." And being too nonchalant and trusting with your social security number and credit card information will likely lead to "Identity Theft." (I'm paranoid now, thankyouverymuch.) And not only that! But even poor, downtrodden, disadvantaged teenagers can go from "Homeless to Harvard"! The end.

The next morning, we stopped at Café LaLa for some quick breakfast munchies before we hit the road again. How could I not fall in love with a café that had comfortable armchairs and bookshelves with a sign instructing, "BRING US MORE BOOKS! TRADE OR BORROW"? And how could I not love the girl at the counter, Laurel, who asked me, "Would you like extra chocolate in your hot chocolate?"

She was so helpful and good-humored that when I introduced myself and she said in response to my name, "I'm sorry, say that again. Is it like 'Jasmin'?", I didn't roll my eyes or do my infamous "evil death glare" with one raised eyebrow like I normally do, but only laughed and replied, "Yes, but with the ethnic twist." She gave us coffee on the house – "It's on me," she winked, gesturing towards the coffeepot – and did an excited little dance around the counter as she told us about her sister who works at the Whale Watch Inn in Anchor Bay and will be expecting a baby in May.

The rest of the day was endless rain and curving roads. As official navigator once again, I snuggled on the passenger seat with the thick fuzzy blanket, ate apple pie with my fingers, congratulated myself on learning to read the highway maps, and watched the roads, slick with rain.

On the way home, I mispronounced all the French names of the wineries throughout the Napa Valley. Where's my lovely L lady when I need her? Pinot, pinwa, what?

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Saturday, December 25, 2004

we are hella paranoid, yes we are

I could almost swear that the girl who cashed my paycheck for me at the Bank of America in my hometown yesterday morning waved, "Bye, Yaz!" to me as I turned away from her counter on my way out. Neither her name nor her face were even vaguely familiar. The ironic thing is, the number of people in my hometown who are apt to calling me "Yaz" has always been significantly low (i.e. three people?) compared to the number of people in the college town where I go to school, or even all the people who've picked it up online. [Read the first paragraph of this post for more info.]

Anyway, how the hell did she know to call me "Yaz"?

Okay, so either I misheard her or I'm paranoid or both of the above.

clean up on aisle three

I love Safeway. I love it so much that I have no qualms about linking my favorite grocery store in a weblog post. One of the things I love about the place is that it takes exactly four minutes to get there. In case you didn't know already, I have grocery shopping down to a refined art. I've had no choice but to learn to do so, because in my family we go grocery shopping seemingly every three days or so, and I'm talking about excursions involving entire grocery lists here, not even just one or two items at a time. My mother sees half a bottle of milk in the fridge in the afternoon and becomes convinced it won't see the light of morning. This is just the way my mother is, but perhaps there is an element of truth to that paranoia, considering the fact that some of us bake so many chocolate chip cookies that one has no choice but to consume endless quantities of milk in conjunction with the cookies, which, in this household, are readily viewed as acceptable forms of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and every meal in between.

I prefer to think of grocery shopping as a tyrannical act. My mother hands me (or dictates) the grocery list, but my shopping methods and choices are absolute and inviolable. We do things my way.

I list as examples, for your edification and entertainment, the following highlights from my grocery shopping trip yesterday:

- Chocolate chip cookie dough? Forget the cookie dough. I'm buying brownie mix. Chocolate fudge brownies, and it even comes with a frosting packet. And, look! It's two-for-$5! That means I can buy a box of walnut brownies mix for the daddy-o, who demands nuts in every dessert.

- Wait, fine, let's get both the cookie dough and the brownie mixes. Ingenious! Somewhere, there is a sigh of relief. The universe is re-aligned on its axis, to run the true course of dessert-lovers everywhere. Give yourself a pat on the back.

- Sourdough bread? We already have enough at home, contrary to whatever my mother may think. Therefore, forget that, too. 100% crushed whole wheat bread is where it's at! And, look! It's on a buy-one-get-one-free deal! Ironically enough, our father raised us to love wheat bread and now wrinkles his nose at it himself, thus the constant requests for sourdough bread.

- Avocadoes are not on the list, but I buy them anyway. I'm on a goal to engage in some sandwich-making frenzy over winter break, thankyouverymuch. Whoever has not tried avocado and cheese sandwiches is not living life. Yes, there is such a combination! Get with it, people.

- Red bell peppers? I do not like them in my salad. So I will not be buying them. End of (nonexistent) discussion. Green bell peppers are cool. Got it. Cross them both off the list. Next?

- Strawberry jam? Raspberry jam? Where did these come from? As far as our family is concerned, there is only one kind of jam, and it is blackberry jam! Seedless is preferable, but it doesn't really matter. Forgot those other fruits; blackberry it is. (Meanwhile, I also waste a few precious minutes rolling my eyes at the peanut butter and jelly combinations – "SMUCKER'S Goober Grape Peanut Butter & Jelly Stripes"? Who the holy freakin smoley would want to eat anything partially named "goober"?)

- Tomato sauce? Let's buy real tomatoes instead, even if they're more expensive. Tomatoes will go well in my upcoming avocado-and-cheese sandwiches. Yes, this whole thing is about ME, obviously. You'll have to deal with it.

- Fudge cake? Oooh. This is a hard one to resist. Hmm. Two batches of brownies (for $5 total) versus a $12 fudge cake. Brownies win, hands down. Let's face it, the fun of licking the bowl during brownie-baking is one important factor in the decision-making process.

Anyway. You get the idea, I'm sure.

Also, in case you were wondering –

Calories? What calories? We don't count no stinkin' calories in this household. Well, at least 4/5 of us don't. But the other 1/5 bakes enough chocolate chip cookies to make up for her momentary weaknesses. Ultimately, we are just not "CHOLESTEROPHOBIC" people, to semi-steal a word from some others of us.

The best part of the grocery shopping experience, though, was when I got home and had to practically crawl into the trunk of my car to extricate the two bottles of 2% reduced-fat milk* that had lodged themselves into the far recesses of my trunk. That's what I get for living on a hill and driving like a speed demon on the curves around here.

*DISCLAIMER: I'll have you know that the reason we buy 2% reduced-fat milk (Grade A pasteurized homogenized with vitamins A & D!) is not because it's healthy, but just because it tastes better. The same goes for the choice of wheat bread over white bread. That's right! The end.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

We missed u mucho

Guest post by The Lovely L Lady, 12/2004

yea i m at it again, eventhough i warned yasminay that with all these fake updates she would not be up for blog awards anymore- she didnt seem to care about that and i value life so i thought i could compromise the quality of this blog if it could save my life... ah hem *nervously* so just bear with me...and who knows i read in newsweek today that if u want to be a journalist, blogging is perfect training, and since it had been decided with yasminay that the topic of this blog will be my laziness/vegging/lack of "realistic" perspective on life- and since she missed out on the clowning session yesterday (started by my sis, with Somayya and Z's active participation, well not so much Z) maybe writing this post is good for me, u guys can be the lab rats ( i m not trying in any way to be insulting to the audience here)

So like i said (and rest assured i would never say that in a real written piece, i mean not that i dont take this blogguesting thing seriously but c'mon if yaz gets a break at my expense she can cut me some slack) the kids were all on my case yesterday for trying to hire my sister to do the research and fill out grad school applications and basically fix my life, although really she doesnt need me to hire her, she s always on task, takes the "concerned big sis" position very seriously *remembers mothers pacifying words* well points well taken its all good...but still *grrr* hehe but Yaz understands me, she'd be a great big sis (Bean would second that), she'd just be cool about everything, she'd even be okay with plan 2 : following her around, plan 1 being grad school of course OMGAWD we re graduating in june, ok i m not bitter anymore, really all i m thinking about right now is being done, and i know yaz is also blocking everything else out, see great minds think alike er however the saying goes, just had a fob moment of doubt...so anyway yesterday was muy fun, i wish yaz were there when we made a short, i repeat very short stop at the mall dont fret- bc the kids decided to try to spend money they didnt have and go "uummm excuse me, i think there's been a mistake, where is the 90% off rack?" Comedy. And Soms having to make the hot sauce bc i cant even make hot sauce, yea i know pretty sad... And me just now matching Z's voice to Elmo's (another fob moment, i m not that familiar with sesame st) but yea she really does sound like him!!! U ever notice that Yaz? So there u have it, i m bored half the time if the kids doesnt come visit, but Yaz prefers to reeeaad, and do the vegging on her own. *humph* haha but anyway my lame, not leaving the house, checking emails 10 000 x a day and just chillaxin days will soon be over and we can both get back to pretending to study, getting jamba juice and run around actin a fool...

uhhh please disregard the lack of punctuation, clarity above hehe and Peace Out!


Monday, December 20, 2004

i've been sailing around so long


So the final exams are over.
And the term papers are over, too.
(The last of the latter was supposed to be 4-5 pages and turned out to be 9 or so; skillful use of 1.5-spacing instead of double-spacing, and lots of pseudo-subtle margin adjustment, did the trick, I think. Shhh, don't tell.)

(I can't quite believe it just yet, so please excuse excessive use of the caps-lock key, and randomly embedded hyphens and parentheses, and the multiple exclamation points. I'll be back to my grammatically-obsessive-compulsiveness after the requisite 14 or so hours of sleep.)

So far today, after finishing my last paper this afternoon, I've celebrated by eating ice cream and waffles and chocolate bars. I also stretched out on the living room couch and laughed at some Indian movie (there goes my two-desi-films-a-year quota) because, really, was the lead actress lounging in a bathtub in the middle of the ocean? What was that all about? People in the know (i.e. those of you whose desi-film-quota far exceeds mine), you are hereby instructed to explain.

Anyway, I'm done with napping on the floor, staying up all night every night, downing energy drinks like no other, exhaustedly slurring my words during the day, and procrastinating my life away. For now.

And now, I sleep.

p.s. A huge blue-slurpee-filled thank you! to all you rockstars who constantly checked up on me and asked how my work was going and nagged me about getting stuff done. Okay, so guilt trips do kinda sorta work. Maybe.

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Friday, December 17, 2004

vat dis is?

Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I'm a total loser when it comes to gracefully accepting compliments. Seriously, I absolutely suck at it. So I was hella surprised and flattered, and even a little speechless, to find that this blog has been nominated for the Asia Blog Awards 2004, under Best Pakistani Blog. So, uhh, thank you to whichever rockstar nominated this crazy place! I do appreciate it, really.

I wouldn't have even known about the nomination if I hadn't been clicking links off of other peoples' blogs instead of studying for my last final exam. I recognize quite a few of the blogs on the page, so make sure you head over and vote for them, because winning this thing isn't really a priority for me. Just the fact that I'm listed on there is already like, Whoa.

(I've slept a grand total of 3 hours in the past 2 days and I haven't even had breakfast yet, so get off me; I'm allowed to not be articulate. Unarticulate? Inarticulate? Nonarticulate? Vatever, buddy boy.)

Anyway, go vote for the coolest blogs of your choice. You can vote in each of the categories once per day until December 31st (am I the only one who thinks this is a funky system?). Cheating is not cool, so play nicely. The end.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

we are all made of stars

brutella (11:09:24 AM): when i think pizza, i think cheese
brutella (11:09:28 AM): when i think yaz, i think crack
crackfiendserene (11:09:35 AM): dude, thanks!
crackfiendserene (11:09:37 AM): i'm flattered
crackfiendserene (11:09:38 AM): seriously
crackfiendserene (11:09:39 AM): hahaha

Thanks again, crazy child. And you better watch out, because diversity training is coming soon to a city near you. Well, after I pack my suitcase and finish running off to China with Chai. And I've also promised S we can move to Jamaica, land of endless sunshine. Sunshine is sounding mighty nice these days, when this week has so far seemed all gray instead of the yellow I'd prefer it to be. Tell me some stories. Or crackhead thoughts. Or crazy comments. Or hilarious things that made your day. Something to take the gray away.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

you've got to get yourself together

I hit a milestone today, kids.

That's right – I drank the first ever cup of hot coffee in my whole entire life. Okay, so it was chocolate-flavored, but I still think that counts, especially if it took me 23 years to get to the point where I could move beyond frappuccinos or frozen mochas (and even those I've only gotten around to trying in the past year or so). Somayya even commended me for not making any faces. The real deal coffee woke me up long enough to finish studying for our final and, more importantly, stay awake during the final itself. Yes, I have dozed off during final exams before. Really, why're you so surprised?

Now, I'm planning on eating as many Doritos and chocolate chip cookies, and drinking as many energy drinks, as it takes for me to stay up tonight and finish one of the two remaining Papers From Hell by tomorrow morning, because, really, this is getting out of control. Sidenote to Somayya: Please note that I referred to drinking energy drinks, not eating them, like I supposedly "ate a glass of cranberry juice this morning." Conversing with me when I'm sleep-deprived must be such an interesting experience. Oh, and thanks for all the 100%-sugar candy, buddy.

By the way, I didn't know there was a such thing as sugar-free chocolate chip cookies. Who in their right freakin mind invented that?


Sunday, December 12, 2004

california....knows how to party. we keep it rockin!

So yesterday, my lovely L-lady finally returned from her THREE MONTHS in Washington DC, and I'm so gleeful about this, you don't even understand. I hugged the crazy child nonstop, and told her that from now on she goes where I go, to which she made some smartass comment about keeping her on a leash. Little does she know I am seriously looking into this. So now I have someone to hug and hold hands with and practice my fake fobby desi accent on (a non-desi person, mind you), and you can bet I worked on this all day yesterday.

I wish I had gotten a pic of the look on L's face as she came down the escalator at the Sacramento Airport, but my reflexes weren't quick enough. It's the "Ew, you guys are gross, how come yall are here without me even knowing about it?" look, and it was seriously funny beyond words. We weren't even watching for faces, come to think of it, because we were so focused on peoples' feet as they were coming down the escalator. Somayya started it, with her whole "Look out for L's feet, everybody! I'd know L's feet anywhere. No, those aren't hers" spiel. But we surprised the crazy lady good, because she totally hadn't been expecting us to be there.

Oh, and I can't forget how we walked from the airport's Terminal B to Terminal A, criss-crossing parking lots, streets, center dividers, and even a random wall that just happened to be in our way. Serious criminal activity, peoples. L made some laughing comment about how we looked like escaped convicts. I even had an orange bag. I don't know how the heck Baji and Najm reached the conclusion that L is not a crazy Cali crackhead like the rest of us here (SHE FOOLED YOU! You guys need to rethink this, seriously), because I have photographic evidence to prove that L was the first one to shrug and start running along the wall. Then she jumped down and crossed the street to Terminal A and stood there laughing at us while we finished crossing over with a What the hell was THAT? expression on our faces.

Anyway, someone had to be taking pictures, since my good friend just spent 3 months in DC and has...what was that you say? TWO pictures?...to show for it. Her so-called '90s camera doesn't even have a roll of film in it. I checked yesterday.

Other than that, I'm hella giddy to have L back, even though she's disgustingly excited to be back on our campus soon and I think anyone who expresses excitement about school while I'm in the middle of term papers and final exams is just plain gross. It'll be nice to see her in person on a regular basis though, instead of reading her anonymous smartass comments on blogs and having those heartbreaking "COME HOME!" sessions on AIM. (L's breaking the habit slowly though, much to my amusement. As we were leaving her house last night, she suggested, "Get online when you get home. I know yall got studying to do, so I won't IM you, but you can go ahead and sign online anyway.")

A huge, massive, french fries- and slurpee-filled shout-out to the DC gang - Baji, T-bhai, Lil Baji, and Najm - for making time for and hanging out with L over the past few months. I am grateful beyond words. You guys are all the bestest. The end! <--[Official Yasminay Stamp of Approval, just for Najm man.]

Oh! And another huge thank you to Baji for the "United Nations mix CD on crack," which I am totally enjoying. It's almost exactly 60 minutes, perfect length for my commute. Baji, can you email me a track listing, please? It's important to know the crackheads I'm singing along to.

Let's show these fools how we do it on this west side
'Cause you and I know it's the best side

That's right! 'Cuz we know "it's all good, from Diego to the Bay." Okay okay, so this song is getting way too addicting for my own good. Someone make me stop already. Where's my alternative rock, is what I want to know.


Friday, December 10, 2004

we don’t talk about the little things that we do without/when that whole mad season comes around

Just in case you were wondering – which you probably weren't, but I'm telling you anyway, so pay attention – this weblog may now also be accessed though www.ramblingmonologues.com.
And I am not at liberty to further elaborate on this. So, the end.

Meanwhile, how 'bout you wander around and practice saying "dotcom" in a fobby desi accent, because I could really use some laughs right about now.

And if you’re not amused at the prospect of repeatedly saying "dotcom" in a fobby desi accent, then you:

- are not desi/South Asian
- do not know any desi/South Asian people
- do not feel ridiculously claustrophobic in a roomful of desis
- do not appreciate the hilarity that ensues when desi people make fun of themselves
- do not have a cool cousin who bought you a large order of french fries yesterday without you even asking. To reiterate: a LARGE order of fries.
- did not consume an energy drink on an empty stomach on your way up to school early this morning on three hours of sleep
- did not curse said energy drink because you had to go pee every half hour or so once you got to the computer lab at the library
- don't want to point out that this is the first time in two years of blogging that you have used the word "pee" in a post
- don't find this ridiculously funny, for some reason
- don’t think I’m funny
- are not funny yourself, because I said so, so there, the end!
- don’t find it ironic that you're constantly talking about endings when you're such a procrastinator you barely start anything in the first place
- did not curse some more for downing that energy drink on empty stomach, since the result was panicky feelings, shortness of breath, and butterflies in your stomach for the whole entire rest of the day, mainly while you were trying to write your papers
- did not silently talk to yourself: "Take deep breaths, crazy child. What the hell is wrong with you? Get yourself together already."
- did not decide that reminding yourself to breathe takes way too much effort
- did not jokingly call a (desi) co-worker "annoying" yesterday, whereupon he spitefully refused to help you with a question later that afternoon because "annoying people don’t know the answer to that."
- did not laugh and roll your eyes and tell said co-worker to get over his self-pity already and go hang up photos of his new wife in his cubicle, whereupon he decided to speak to you only in Punjabi and ignore your attempts at steering the conversation back towards English
- did not hold a real actual conversation with said (desi) co-worker in which he spoke Punjabi and you responded in Hindku
- do not think that driving in the early morning fog is a beautiful experience
- did not write five papers of various lengths this week, with two more left to go
- did not realize until this morning that one of those research papers you had due today was supposed to be closer to ten pages rather than the five you thought
- did not almost change your entire research topic at the last minute because of that
- are clearly so not with it
- don't think that being with it is overrated
- do not have a teaching assistant who smiled and offered you two pieces (to reiterate: TWO!) of homemade baklava when you rushed over to her office to turn in your other ten-page paper this afternoon
- did not smile at random people on the road today because you recognized their personal license plates and/or cars from other days of commuting and got all excited
- couldn't find the barbecue beans at the market, only to finally realize they were sitting way up on the highest shelf
- joked, "I can never find things if they're placed above my eye level," and were disappointed when the girl at the register didn't so much as crack a smile
- clearly are not funny, so get over it already
- did not attempt to sneak hot chocolate (with whipped cream!) into the library, and almost quite successfully, too, if your sorry nerdy bookworm self had not turned at the last minute to grab a newspaper off the stand while you were at it
- did not have the (desi) security guard tsk at you and take you aside to say, "Now, if you had just tried that in the evening, I would have let it go…"
- did not drink your hot chocolate (with whipped cream!) outside while standing in the rain, and enjoy every single minute of it
- did not miss H because of the fact that whenever he was stressed out during finals week, you used to go print out the list of Duas For Studying for him, and then print out a stack for everyone else while you were at it, which meant you yourself actually used to utilize the duas, too
- did not eat only…umm…three?...real meals this week
- did not gasp in wonder at hills that turned green overnight
- don't have your arms and legs majorly aching because you’ve been taking one- to two-hour naps on the floor of your bedroom during the past week
- didn't laugh out loud during the drive home while mentally composing this list
- would like to point out that this list really has nothing whatsoever to do with your inclination (or lack thereof) to repeatedly say "dotcom" in a fobby desi accent
- are clearly not easily amused enough for your own good
- are still a rockstar anyway, because I said so, so there, the end.

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Sunday, December 05, 2004

borders, boundaries, blockades

and it's the way that we will forgive ourselves
and it's the way that we will for no one else

- Josh Kelly, Amen

I call my friend Z one morning to tell her that I am skipping all my classes and instead studying at the cafe of her favorite Borders Bookstore here in the East Bay, and that she is more than welcome to join me any time during the day. She shows up half an hour later with some apples and carrot sticks for us to munch on – I peer ambivalently at her choice of food, having already started on a candy bar – and greetings of, "Heyy, beautiful lady!"

"Okay, stop," I mutter, and hug her tightly. Z graduated from our university in June, and I've barely seen her since. When I last saw her at the end of Ramadan, she urged me to call her up to hang out sometime. "I'm in the Bay all the time now!" she said excitedly. "Alright, will do," I replied, but, later, thinking about the conversation, I realized, Wait, but I'm never there. Even though I live in the Bay, yes I know. But I've known Z since our second year of college, and there are very few people I make an active effort to stay in touch with. Z is one of those rare friends, and I had immediately thought of her when I planned my stakeout at Borders the evening before.

She has her laptop, envelopes and manila folders, and paperwork related to her ongoing graduate school admissions process. I've got my pile of books, lecture notes, and the only CD I ever listen to whenever I'm studying, Norah Jones' Come Away With Me, because that's really the only non-distracting, background-sort-of-music I own.

An hour or so into our study session, as we shift around in our chairs and start becoming distracted by book posters and the cafe menu, Z looks across the table at me and says with practiced casualness, "So Yasmine, I have a question for you. We never have this conversation, you know, so I figured I should ask today." I squint suspiciously. "What conversation?"

She smiles knowingly, and I suddenly occupy myself with flipping through the pages of my book in exaggerated concentration. "Okay. So I have reading to do. Thomas More and the Utopians and their attitude towards boundless human happiness. And religion. Dude, this book is hella cool. I wonder if More was an undercover Muslim, you think?"

She is undeterred by my attempts at intellectual distraction. "Fine, here, I'll write it down for you," she says, smirking while I shake my head and go back to my notes. She hastily scribbles down a few lines and shoves the slip of paper across the table. I glance at it and roll my eyes. "God, why are you so predictable? Why do we need to talk about boys? Do you know how gorgeously simple and drama-free my life is just because I can't be bothered to have conversations like this?"

"Come on," she presses. "Let's talk. Not like any of them are worthy of you anyway, but what are you looking for in a guy?"

"Um," I say. "The guy version of me?" We both burst out laughing, and I explain, "No, wait, I have to tell you this story—" So I tell her about the morning Somayya and I were driving somewhere, having a conversation slightly similar to this one, and Somayya looked across at me and said, "You know what, Yazzo, I've decided what I need is a boy version of you." "Me, too!" I exclaimed, but she corrected me: "No, what you need is a boy version of me," whereupon we giggled hysterically the rest of the way to our destination.

Z laughs at our collective epiphany, but I can tell I won't get away with any more delaying tactics. I sigh. "Okay. Someone who's Muslim, obviously, because that's very important to me. And I guess, basically, someone who's a student of knowledge." I laugh at the expression on her face, knowing instinctively that she's thinking of mullahs and madrassahs. "No, nothing hardcore, don't worry. I mean… Okay, it's kinda like this: Someone who's constantly trying to figure out who he is and how to improve himself and what the hell he's supposed to be doing with his life, and how God fits into all that. That's all part of the process of seeking knowledge too, right there. Just a certain, active way of looking at the world. Oh, and of course he has to be insanely weird and crackheaded like me, otherwise it's never gonna work out. Does that all kinda make sense?"

"Of course it does. See, that wasn't very painful, was it?" She pauses for a moment, ignoring me as I belligerently retort, "Yes, it was!"
"It's funny," she says. "You're looking for someone who very much identifies as Muslim, and I'm looking for someone who's not practicing at all. Maybe not even Muslim at all."

"Why's that?" I ask, somewhat stunned.

We sit there at Borders while she tells me her stories, much of which I knew already, but not the painful depth of it. Her hands are cold, so very cold, so I cover them with my own, and we sit there across from one another with our hands bent together and piled in the middle of the table. Her voice is casual and straightforward – deliberately so, I know – but her eyes are overly bright with pain and unshed tears.

She tells me what it has been like for her, growing up as the only child of a Bengali Christian mother and a Pakistani Muslim father. A mother who swallowed her own pain and taught her daughter the steps of making ablution, explained the intricacies of Muslim prayer, guided her through fasting during Ramadan, and drove her to and from Arabic lessons so Z could read the Quran on her own. And a father who, when Z asked, "Don't we as Muslims have a responsibility and obligation to learn about other religious traditions so we can better understand and explain our own?" sternly, expressly forbade her to do so, yet neither practiced himself nor made any basic effort to teach her about Islam either.

Knowing that her culture is important to her, I ask whether she feels more of a connection to South Asian Christians rather than to South Asian Muslims. She shrugs slightly. "Maybe a little bit, but it's always the same thing: the Christians don't understand the Muslim side of me, and the Muslims don't understand the Christian influence in my life."

"Look at it this way," she says. "Look at yourself, for example. You come across as very confident. You walk into a room knowing exactly who you are. You're Yasmine, and you're Muslim and Pakistani and American. I, on the other hand, can't say any of that so easily. All I know is, I'm Z, and…and that's all."

"You know my car, right?" she asks. I nod. "That car used to be my mother's, and she gave it to me when I started college. She had a bumper sticker on the back that said, in big letters, FEAR GOD, and a short, relevant verse from the Bible underneath. That's all, nothing more." She tells me about the time she rounded the corner into a university parking lot one day, only to find a group of Muslim male acquaintances gathered around her car, examining the bumper sticker and asking one another, "Hey, whose car is that?" "Wait, that belongs to Z, right?" "Oh yeah, her mom's a kaffir, isn't she?"

I flinch.

Z, to give her inner strength due credit, choked back her hurt, smiled coldly at the students and made the requisite small talk while pretending she hadn't heard any of the previous comments. "But, Yasmine," she says now, her hands still cold under mine, "I wanted to fit in so badly that as soon as they turned and left, I ripped off that bumper sticker and I broke my mother's heart that day."

There were raised eyebrows and whispers within their Muslim community when Z's mother recently gathered up her faith and courage and once more began attending church regularly, after so many years of not doing so. At social gatherings, the Muslim women politely ask one another, "Where is Z's mother?" and the answers will range from "Oh, she had a prior commitment," to "Oh, she wasn't feeling very well today," but what no one will admit is that she was not invited in the first place.

And then, as Z reminds me, there was the Muslim graduation picnic held this past June, co-sponsored by the Muslim Students Association from the university and the Muslim community members within the city itself. It was an event well attended not only by Muslims, but also by many non-Muslim university officials and administrators, community leaders including those involved in city council and interfaith activities, and community members including passersby who randomly decided to stop by on the spur of the moment. I was humbled and honored to see such amazing, supportive presence from the non-Muslim community, especially when several of them stood up to warmly proclaim that they were there to show solidarity with us Muslims.

I thought everything was going well, until a former MSA president reached the part in his speech where he began firmly cautioning the Muslim students present against "emulating the kuffar."

I learned later that evening that Z left the picnic soon afterward, in tears, hurt beyond words to hear such harsh condemnation of the so-called "kuffar," a category which obviously includes her own mother, the woman who, while admittedly non-Muslim, had raised Z to be far more aware of Islam and its religious traditions than her Muslim father ever had. Sick and disheartened, Somayya and I repeatedly asked each other, "What the hell was he thinking?" for days afterward as well. It was painful and disappointing to hear such rhetoric from someone I had held in such high esteem as an exemplary brother in Islam, and I lost a massive amount of respect that day for, ironically, someone whose work on interfaith councils I had always very much admired.

"It comes back to the conversation we started with," Z says. "I refuse to marry anyone who disrespects my mother simply because she's not Muslim. Who's to say that non-Muslim men aren't more tolerant and open-hearted than any of the narrow-minded Muslim men I've met so far? Why wouldn't I want to emulate my mother? How would you feel, Yasmine, if you were married to a non-Muslim man and you had to teach your children about his religion at the expense of your own?"

"I think it would break my heart everyday," I say in a small voice.

Sitting as we are with our piled hands and miserable faces in the middle of the Borders cafe, we probably incite some curious glances from fellow cafe patrons, but I don't know, because all I can see is through the tears in my eyes is the sadness on her face. "I can't even begin to imagine," I say, "what a huge heart your mother must have."

And there is more, but I think this is already more than enough. I hesitate to post even this, mainly because Z doesn't know about my weblog, and her stories are not mine to tell and share. And also because I feel I may just be preaching to the choir, so to speak, because as bloggers most of us are already in the habit of choosing our words carefully, painstakingly.

But I write this because I hate the word "kaffir," and I hate how it comes so easily to some Muslims even as it makes me flinch, and I hate that we contemptuously turn away the very same people we accuse of not understanding us, without giving them a fair chance to know who we are, without granting them credit for making the beautiful effort of shared human spirit and outreach that we ourselves as Muslims rarely make a point of with other communities. Who the hell are we to be critical then, when we accuse others of stereotyping us and disliking us and being ignorant of who we are, of the vastness of our humanity and traditions, and of what Islam in its pure beauty truly stands for? And I guess what I'm really just trying to figure out is –

When did we ourselves become so damn self-righteous and judgmental?

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Friday, December 03, 2004

fulfilling the daily "sunshine colors" quota

I've just finished eating two yellow waffles off a yellow plate painted with yellow-orange flowers. I can already tell it's gonna be a good day.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

the open road for the travelers’ souls

I fell asleep last Wednesday night to the sound of my father asking, "Who wants to go to Santa Barbara tomorrow?" When we woke up the next morning, it was Thanksgiving Day and Santa Barbara was almost four hundred miles to the south. We showered, dressed, and packed in record time, far more efficiently than we’ve ever prepared for any visit to the relatives’ in Sacramento, and that’s only an hour away.

I will be the first to admit that I have an obsession with mountains, but this time even I couldn’t help but keep my face practically glued to the car window mainly in the direction of the ocean instead. Following the twists and turns of Highway 1 as we made our way down the California coast, mountains to our left and vast expanse of water to our right, we took endless photos and filmed the sea and otherwise thoroughly behaved like giddy, overawed tourists. Something in the (salt)water, I guess.

I was somehow accorded the position of official navigator, which brought back some déjà vu feelings of the summer when I was nine and we drove from California to Toronto, Canada, me reading The Wizard of Oz while propped up on pillows on the backseat as we laughingly renamed obscure Midwestern towns after imaginary relatives of the infamous Oz. Then, as now, I stared in bewilderment at the map, tracing my finger along the red, yellow, and blue lines, trying to unravel the junctions and interchanges with the tip of my finger, squinting at highways and interstates and the point at which one would meet another. This time, at least, all we had to do was follow all the signs labeled "South" (and, on the way home, those labeled "North"), so thankfully I didn’t make any damaging navigational suggestions or decisions.

In the hotel room the first night, I made a predictable beeline straight for the wall heater, where I stood for several minutes gleefully warming up my hands, and was finally dragged away only to watch Spiderman on TV. Later, I lay on the couch, reading Ray Bradbury’s short stories, while Bean listened to Josh Kelly and studiously flipped through her two-feet-thick, bajillion-pound biology textbook.

In San Simeon, our father kept raising his eyebrows at the hordes of tourists there to check out Hearst Castle, muttering, "Foreigners!" under his breath with mock superiority and outrage, while we laughed and retorted, "Look who’s talking, Daddy!"

Roadside billboard advertisements that made me laugh:

(1) "Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ"
(2) "BUELLERTON: HOME OF SPLIT PEA SOUP – Everything For the Traveler"

I hope the humor in these is self-explanatory. Or maybe I’m just far too easily amused.

I had a cough and cold, so I spent much of the trip listening to my father say things like, "Yasminay, did you take your Vitamin C tablets? Take two right now. Right NOW. And this is YOUR water bottle, okay? The one with the blue label. I’m putting it in THIS cup-holder. Make sure you don’t drink from mine. Don’t make me sick. What about Sudafed? Have you been taking Sudafed? Take two right now. When’s the last time you took some Vitamin C? THIS one is YOUR water bottle, Yasminay, don’t forget now." I’m five years old, in case you ever doubted it, really.

Bean filmed me singing the chorus lines to various songs, including Jagjit and Chitra Singh’s Kaghaz Ki Kashti, Sardar Ali Takar’s La Kha Wakhte De, and random songs from the Beatles (like Hey, Jude). And, just to clarify, this portion of the family video is not available for public perusal, sorry. Actually, even I haven’t seen it yet either, come to think of it. Sadly, the Haroon Bacha tape is currently down, so we missed out on old family favorites such as O Zarojaanay and Bibi Shirinay. We all agreed that our father’s version of Yellow Submarine is better.

The best part, hands down, was praying on the beach, and later on one of the turnoffs for a narrow mountain road where you could look down over the side of the cliff and see the beach and the ocean below. Gorgeous.

Our father translated the Pukhtu lyrics for us while singing along to all the songs, and approvingly drummed his fingers against the steering wheel when Bean played her sitar fusion CD. He also became suitably enthusiastic at our suggestion of listening to the Beatles. In the late evening of the second day, highly bitter at the fact that he couldn’t find an NPR station signal along the coast, the Daddy-o finally resorted to singing along with the oldies station on the radio. "Don't you know who this is?" he bellowed towards the backseat where I was laughing at him. "This is Bob Dylan!" "Bean!" I hissed at my drowsy sister, as our father continued loudly accompanying other artists on the radio, "Is this normal?"

And, of course, no discussion of my Thanksgiving weekend is complete without mentioning missed connections with 2Scoops, Audioblogger Extraordinaire [link is from the November 23, 2004 audiopost on Chai’s blog] from Southern California, who was in the SF Bay Area this weekend. On Friday, we were still driving down to Santa Barbara while he left me a voicemessage saying he was going to Jummah (congregational prayer) at SRVIC. Bean and I just stared at each other and moaned, "That’s our masjid!" Yeah, so the one day we’re not there. Geez louise. The next day, Bean and I were at a Unity Halaqa in San Jose while 2Scoops was also in the city, but we couldn’t coordinate a meeting because of our convoluted scheduling conflicts and stuff. So hey, next time you’re in the Bay, 2Scoops, we need to grab some ice cream and continue that list of all our mutual friends and acquaintances. Small world, man. It’s amazing.

Also, I ate a lot of french fries over break. And cranberry juice. And ice cream, too, of course (two scoops of double fudge chocolate in Santa Barabara, yeeeuhhh boyyeee). I knew you all would be proud.

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