3 Beautiful Things, the “I Don’t Need a Passport to Walk on this Earth” Edition

A vespa the color of tangerines; Madrid, Spain, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[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:

That’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

24 thoughts on “3 Beautiful Things, the “I Don’t Need a Passport to Walk on this Earth” Edition

  1. baji, i love YOU the most. i half-knew you would be the first one here, and it makes me so happy to have your comment come in within mere minutes of posting! thank you for the lovely welcome back =)

  2. Yayyyyy!!!
    i am so so glad that you are back to writing. Actually today I mentioned about your blog to Riaz on his recent facebook pic. You should check . It has chappals and mentioning of not combing hairS

  3. And she writes. Beautifully. After all this time. And all is right with the world again :)

    Seriously- so glad to see you back and blogging! Missed ya!!!!!! :D

  4. I love this post and am so glad you’re back to blogging! Please keep it up. I will try to do the same. Love the idea of 3 beautiful things and I may steal it, since I could use some focus on positivity rather than all the crazy things going on in the world.

    P.S. We should get Daddy to make us copies of that Takkar tape! =) Maybe I could record it on my Mac while it’s playing and we can get it that way…? Will have to try it!

  5. Ayesha, i saw your comment on Riaz’s fb! made me laugh. am glad there’s someone else out there who hates combing hairS just as much as i do ;)

    Aisha, you give me too much credit! i feared this post would be jumbled/all over the place, but i needed to start somewhere. in fearing that my “return” post wouldn’t be up to my own standards, i ended up writing nothing here for over a year. =/ thank you so much for the welcome-back!

    Yaser, i’ve missed you, and am so honored i get to be part of YOUR 3beautifulthings list! and it’s NOT my “annual post,” i promise! hahahaha i’m going to be good about this.

    Bean, please blog more — i miss your writing so much, too, since i don’t see you as often anymore =/ and i know things are crazy, but focus on the HAPPY stuff! because i know you have that, too =) love the idea of somehow recording the Takkar tape — let’s figure out how to make this happen!

  6. Uzair, thank you so much! i have an email response i need to send your way re. the “stories from pakistan” site — so sorry for the delay! also, Maha clicked “like” on my Rober Fisk event link on fb the other day, and i commented in reply, “maha, i wish you and uzi were here to join me for this.” SEE! totally thought of you all along. Fisk was AMAZING — funny and talkative and engaging — but unfortunately the a/v setup kinda sucked and so it was a bit hard to hear =/ am going to see if i can find an online recording of the program. i had a front-row seat to hear him speak in chicago 4 years ago, and was totally blown away by his speaking style then, too: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yaznotjaz/tags/robertfisk/

    Peter, it’s been so long, and i’ve missed the community here. so glad you still had me linked in your googlereader. thank you! it’s good to be back, and to see you all still here welcoming me =)

    Preeti, hello, beautiful! you’re such a flatterer, but i love it ;) thank you for sticking around so long and putting up with me! now that i’ve got the nerve-wracking “return” post out of the way, the floodgates are officially open — there’ll be lots more writing, i hope!

  7. It’s my first visit to your blog (linked from hijabman) & I loved this post. I’m South African of Indian origin, living in Egypt. I get mistaken for being Egyptian in Egypt, or Arab in different countries. Occasionally someone will correctly guess Indian

  8. Regarding “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” one would never have such a conversation in London and if it happened it would freak people out. Although I once got into a similar conversation for a few brief moments at the PEN International Writers Conference.

  9. bb_aisha, welcome! so glad you stopped by, and i hope you’ll come back. between south africa, india, and egypt, i’m sure you must have so many funny and interesting stories of your own! =)

    hashim, i cannot BELIEVE you AC-TU-ALLY commented on my veblog! yes, you have a signed print, yes, it was an amazing piece of mail, and i do believe you complimented it as being one of my “best.” (high praise from you, you skeptical cynic ;)) and it actually took 93 weeks.

    kashmala, thank you so much, beautiful. it’s so lovely to see your familiar name ’round here again =) have missed you, too.

    rehan, i don’t understand why such convos would never happen in london. in such a diverse, cosmopolitan city, are people not curious as to where their fellow citypeople may be originally “from”? or is it because once you’re in london, you’re considered to be FROM london, and the end?

  10. Think The Waste Land. There is a social problem in London of too much diversity, every citizen is a cog to the mill going round and round. We work ridiculous hours so that we come home, eat, sleep and go to work the next day. We’ve also seen an unreal flux of migrants in recent years that has, if anything, worsened the problem.

  11. Asalamualaikum and Welcome back! I thought we’d lost you forever. Glad you’re back writing, and hope you’re enjoying life as ever.

  12. rehan, this sounds so much like amreeka, too, though — seriously:
    We work ridiculous hours so that we come home, eat, sleep and go to work the next day.

    hussain, o mein gott, it’s so good to see YOU here, too! i’m not lost forever, and i’m glad you’re not as well =) alhamdulillah, all’s well — and more posts are coming. please keep commenting!

  13. Yes, but I’ve been to “amreeka.” Everyone was so hyper and hippy happy compared to London where we’re like zombies:

    Unreal City,
    Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
    A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
    I had not thought death had undone so many.
    Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
    And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

  14. Since we’re focusing on threes here, my 3 favorite things in this post: your dad, Amina Wadud and Pearl Jam.

    Oh, and you. So, let’s just make that 4.

    Welcome back, my friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *