[I am slowly returning to writing again, and for that I have to blame J — who has somehow harassed me into agreeing to post snippets for the “3 Beautiful Things Thursday” category over at HijabMan.com — as well as everyone else who has been encouraging me to stop sharing my stories as mere Facebook updates and GChat statuses. So, hello, I’ve missed you! After so long, here we go again. -Yasmine]
1. VESPAS. The past week (or two) has seen a flurry of friends sharing with me photographs of the motor-scooters I love best, and it makes me smile every time. From Baji on her Barcelona travels, to M on the streets of DC, to Hashim traversing the internets and the Midwest, to Umar in the UK, the “Vespa” label in my Gmail account (yes, I have an entire label for vespa references!) has recently seen an unprecedented rise.
And I, who have photographed them in San Francisco and in Spain, am still always utterly charmed whenever I personally come across the familiar curved lines, or whenever an email appears in my inbox with the subject line, “So-&-so has shared a Flickr photo with you,” or whenever a friend tags me in a vespa photo on Facebook with a note that it made him/her think of me.
Vespas are smooth and shiny and pretty. Maybe if I stopped spending all my money on hot chocolate, I could save up for a vespa of my own.
2. MUSIC. During Ramadan, I focused on stillnes and silence, but in the last two weeks I’ve been catching up on music, and so my iPod currently features the following in heavy rotation these days: Neutral Milk Hotel, Talib Kweli, Pearl Jam, and Gil Scott-Heron (I am particularly enjoying shouting, “JOHANNESBURG!” out my open sunroof while driving). There is also Outlandish’s song to support relief efforts in Pakistan, via the Danish Red Cross; it made me cry.
And there was the Pakistani-Egyptian-Afghan wedding I attended last weekend, where I looked over to find my father quietly drumming his fingers on the tabletop in time to the Pukhto music. On the drive home, we listened to a cassette of songs by Sardar Ali Takkar, the mechanical engineer-turned-musician, my father’s favorite singer. “There’s the rabaab!” we shouted in unison at all the best parts.
Many of Takkar’s songs are based on the revolutionary poetry of Ghani Khan — who, in turn, is the son of Badshah Khan, known as “the Frontier Gandhi” and subject of one of my favorite books, A Man to Match His Mountains. The cassette in question is at least 20 years old; my father compiled it during my childhood, using two stereos placed side-by-side to record songs from one tape onto another. It contains most of my favorite Pukhto songs, even though I have no idea what they mean, and listening to my father translate for me this weekend, line by line, was a testament to his patience, his generosity, and his bottomless love for this language that is a summary of all that he is to the core. “God, why did you give me a heart and a mind, both? There is not enough room for two kings in this country,” Ghani Khan wrote in one inquisitive and mournful poem-turned-song.
“Do you like this song, Yasminay?” my father asked at the end of each one.
“I love it,” I said.
In a recent post, Amina Wadud writes about music in a passage I particularly liked:
Thatâ€™s the key, I think. The beauty. If music was supposed to be haram, then it should not have been so beautiful, so harmonious, so awesome. Music is its own affirmation. God made no mistake, but did give us yet again another grace.
3. “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” At a Robert Fisk program in Berkeley last night, a man seated nearby leaned over and asked me, “Are you French?” I laughed, and asked in complete befuddlement, “Do I look French!?”
“Possibly,” he said (he turned out to be Assyrian-Czech-Scottish). “You look like a mix of two things, and maybe one of them could be French.”
“No,” said the woman seated in between us, in a very definite tone (she turned out to be Iraqi), “she looks North African. Maybe Morrocan.”
“Maybe she’s French and Moroccan,” said the man. I laughed. Of all the ethnicities for which I have ever been mistaken, French has never played a role.
At the coffeeshop this afternoon, a White man standing in line behind me leaned over and said, “Assalamu alaikum!” I greeted him back with some slight surprise, and he queried, “Are you Egyptian?”
“Pakistani,” I said.
“I have Pakistani friends!” he said. “We have dinner at my home every Friday!”
I didn’t know whether to be confused or sad that I don’t look like his Pakistani friends.
And earlier this week, standing in the shade on the sidewalk after an hour spent lazing on sunny grass, I scrolled through emails on my phone — killing time before heading back to the office, of course — and a man with dreadlocks and a wide smile called out to me as he whizzed by on his bicycle, an unmistakable look of delight on his face, “Do you speak Arabic?” I looked up smiling. “Sorry, no.”
“Where are you from?” And even as I hesitated, he called back over his shoulder, “Pakistan?”
“Good guess!” I laughed in surprise after his retreating back, and yet his voice carried over from down the street now: “India?” Minutes later, I was still smiling — at his brashness and excitement in asking, at my confusion in replying, at his spot-on guess. And yet why could I not have said simply, “Here. I am from here. I’m from Berkeley.” My birth certificate says so, so it must be true. I, who have spent years wrestling with the idea of home and belonging, am still unsettled by this question every time — and yet, at the same time, I love the fact that I could be from anywhere and everywhere.
*NOTE1: Speaking of music, the title for this post comes from the song, Hello, Bonjour, by one of my favorite artists, Michael Franti. Go listen!
*NOTE2: Cross-posted at HijabMan.com