It is the eve of Election Day 2016. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will battle it out at the polls tomorrow, and, like much of the world, I am flabbergasted: How did we get to this point?? I want to remember how many of us felt during this season 8 years ago, as we waited to see if we were successful in electing Barack Obama as President of the United States, and even 6 years ago, as we evaluated Obama halfway into his first term as President. I don’t foresee I’ll feel any of the same unbridled excitement tomorrow — just relief or horror, depending on the results. But I want to share the post below, long-buried in my Drafts folder, so that we could remember what hope & happiness felt like.
As Jane Eyre says, Reader, I married him. Or should I say, I married them? After all, we are three — I, my husband, and our daughter, little Lemon. There is much to write about our marriage, our new home, the life we are settling into together. I will get to all that in due time — after all, even my husband sends me textmessages pleading, “Update your blog!!!!!!” (with multiple exclamation points, no less, the blasphemer).
It’s July now; there are flowers everywhere, and the sun is bright and warm when I go for hikes on the trails outside my front door. Finally, I think — finally, this condo has become home; finally, I am able to walk the hills overlooking the water here without missing the apartment and water-views and marina I left behind in the weeks before the wedding in late January. I haven’t gone far — 25 miles is nothing, distance-wise. But as I wrote three years ago:
The East Bay is not the South Bay is not the North Bay is not the Peninsula is not the City. One can drive for an hour over half a dozen different interstates and highways and still be in the San Francisco Bay Area — and yet not feel at home in one part even while another part is familiar and comforting.
Regardless of its myriad geographies and communities, California as a whole is my favorite, though, and I am lucky to live here, and to not be asked to give this up.
It was a prescient statement, although I didn’t realize it then. When I met my now-husband a year after that post, I was relieved that we both agreed my California would be home. After I moved this past January from the apartment I had shared for almost 1.5 years with my best friend/cousin, Somayya, the only things I regretted were the fact that I was leaving that beautiful place behind, and also that — except for hundreds of photographs on my harddrive — I had neglected to properly document, in writing, my life during the time I lived there. So, this is an attempt to remedy that, and to explain why I found myself in tears during the most inexplicable moments in the weeks leading up to the wedding.
The tears — oh, those were interesting, especially from a woman who hates crying, particularly in front of other people. But there were tears at the post office, in the shower, while packing and loading and moving endless boxes, in my car while driving, and in between phone calls to various wedding vendors. Even as I excitedly looked forward to my wedding, and to the next chapter of this beautiful love story I had helped create and cultivate, I couldn’t help but mourn the apartment I was leaving behind. It took me weeks to understand that it was okay to mourn, and perfectly allowed. This was, after all, just the latest in a series of homes I have loved and left behind, only to eventually, blessedly, find yet another place to love. If I still falter when asked, “Where are you from?”, it’s because I now need both hands to count all the places my hearts expands to hold.
I am falling in love with where I live now (that is a story for another post), but there are things I will always miss about the 1.5 years in the last apartment, starting with the stunning sunset from our balcony, five floors up:
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
– from “Prayer,” by Carol Ann Duffy
In mid-July, home for the weekend at my parents’, I spent an entire Sunday helping my mother re-upholster our dining chairs. She regaled me with stories as we worked together, but her efforts at entertainment still didn’t make it the smoothest or lightest of projects. There were moments during the re-upholstering when I grew impatient at her stubbornness to fix things that couldn’t be fixed; moments when I was annoyed at the time-consuming task of ensuring the corners of each piece of fabric were perfectly folded without creases; moments I snapped at my mother and then was upset with myself.
By the end of the day, my hand was so sore from wielding the staple gun that I could barely fold my fingers into a fist. “Show me your hand,” said my mother, reaching out with hers. She took my hand into hers, pressed it lightly, and — since she’s been suffering from some minor health problems lately — I thought she was about to make me note yet again how hot or dry or arthritic her hands were in comparison to mine. Instead, she unexpected brought my hand closer and pressed a kiss into the center of my palm. “Make sure you rub lotion on it tonight,” she said, “and take some Tylenol.”
In the weeks that followed, long after the soreness had faded, my fingertips remained chapped and peeling. My nails were chipped, and my skin was rough to the touch. My ummy’s simple, tender gesture made me think more deeply of hands, and how easily I take them for granted. Just as for many other families, hands are the touchstone of my family’s heritage, used for the holy triumvirate of food, work, and prayer. I am most reminded of this during Ramadan.
Munching on deliciously cold cubes and slices of fresh fruit during our pre-dawn suhoor meal the other morning, my father told the story of how, as a child, he was accustomed to eating roti, Pakistani flatbread, wrapped around pieces of cantaloupe and melon. And some days, the bread served as wrapper for slices of raw onions instead. For those who were poor, onions were an inexpensive substitute for a full-fledged meal. His mother used to say, “Pyaaz ey tha niyaaz ey” — onions are an offering from God, a blessing, and worthy of gratitude. With her hands, she prepared special meals for my father, her only child — makkai ni roti thay saron na saag (cornbread with mustard greens), parathhay dripping with oil instead of butter, because they couldn’t afford real butter (ironic, because they owned cows and sold milk and butter, but needed the money too much to keep any of the dairy products for themselves). I think of my patient, self-sacrificing grandfather, whose work-hardened hands toiled in the family fields every day, working alone because my grandmother insisted that their son, my father, attend school and become educated rather than being relegated to a lifetime of harsh physical labor.
My mother’s stories, too, are about hands: her mother, a seamstress for the entire neighborhood; her brother, who hauled rocks in a tile factory until his hands were raw and bloody; her father, who drove horse-carts and then, blind in his old age, must have had to acclimate himself to knowing things by touch rather than sight in his last years.
The morning of my father’s onion stories, I stood with both my parents for the post-suhoor prayer of intention for the coming day’s fast. We huddled together, hands cupped closely so that each touched the other’s hands, loudly reciting the du’a: “Wa bisawmi ghadinn nawaiytu min shahri Ramadan: I intend to keep the fast today in the month of Ramadan.” I was reminded of my childhood, when my siblings and I would join our hands together and then pile our hands over our dadâ€™s, much like those Russian dolls, one stacked inside the other, big to small, culminating in the tiniest one inside. A pile of hands, joined in du’a.
One of my earliest memories is of the 3 of us reciting duâ€™a with our father; I remember looking down at our hands and marveling how like a bowl each pair of hands seemed. Then I looked up and asked, “Daddy, why do we make our hands like bowls when we do du’a?” He opened his mouth to reply but, before he could speak, I answered my own question with childish eagerness, “Oh! I know! Itâ€™s so when Allah sends us blessings, they fly right down into the bowl so we can catch them easily and not lose them!” I donâ€™t remember my fatherâ€™s reply — he probably laughed and agreed with my explanation. But even now, every time I join my hands together in supplication, I still recall the excitement with which I processed that childhood epiphany: hands as bowls, fashioned to receive blessings from God.
One of my favorite lines of writing about hands and prayers comes from G. Willow Wilson’s essay for the New York Times, “Engagement in Cairo”:
“Itâ€™s a strange feeling, praying into your hands, filling the air between them with words. We think of divinity as something infinitely big, but it is also infinitely small â€” the condensation of your breath on your palms, the ridges in your fingertips, the warm space between your shoulder and the shoulder next to you.”
I think of all the hands I know: My father, who cradles geraniums and endlessly waters his vegetable garden, and asks for my help in creating constellations of criss-crossing strings to support the bougainvillea vines outside our front door. My sister, who uses paint to create masterpieces that spill warmth and vibrance into every home. My brother, who gestures widely and theatrically, whether on the stage or at the dinner table. My brother-in-law and my mother, who chop ingredients and mix spices and remove lids from pots to smell the fragrance of home-cooked food that fills our hearts as well as our stomachs. My friends, who hold and nurture babies, perform research experiments, highfive me, diagnose and soothe patients, hold me close on the rare occasions I cry.
And my hands? I’m not quite sure yet what they do. They write a lot (although not as often as they should) in precise, swooping (sometime angular and stabby) lines. They have taken photographs that I frame and proudly display on my walls. They type fast, and insist on correcting spelling mistakes that others would gloss over. They carry the to-do lists I scribble on my skin with permanent markers, and just recently made strawberry shortcake from scratch for the very first time. They know how to wield a staple gun, and caulk cracks in the walls, and hang paintings with the symmetrical, measurements-obsessed accuracy I inherited from my father. On the eve of my sister’s wedding, nearly two years ago, my hands helped hers in hemming silky Pakistani outfits by hand, when the sewing machine stopped working. I knew even then that that would be the sort of moment I would remember forever, once the hustle and bustle of wedding ceremonies and receptions had died down: our eyes tired, our hearts a little aggravated at this inconvenience, but our hands focused on carefully stitching wedding outfits in the middle of the night.
Y laughed at me last summer, “I’ve never seen a human being so intrigued by their own knuckles!” (This may or may not have been after I threatened to stab him with my sharp knuckles.) Actually, I’m most intrigued by my hands as a whole. They are, after all, the same hands that rested on my knees during prayers when I lived in Pakistan. So many things have changed about me in the seventeen years since, but my hands have remained the same: brown skin; raised, blue veins; short nails; light scars; and well, yes, sharp, bony knuckles. Every single time I look upon my hands in prayer, my mind rushes back to those prayers during hot summer afternoons and lantern-lit nights in the village. It comforts me to know they are still the same hands — if I could pray that way then, I still have it within me to pray like that now.
More than anything else, I associate my hands with prayer — which makes it all the more frustrating when I fall short in reaching out to and communicating with God. My prayers are both inward meditations and verbal invocations, often brief and spontaneous. But while I’ve been good about praying for others, I generally shy away from praying for myself. My hands, like the rest of me, are proud and strong and independent. I hate asking for assistance, whether carrying boxes up multiple flights of stairs or lugging groceries in from the car or asking God for favors.
So, while I try to keep God at the center of most of my actions and decisions, and while I like to think I am good at prayers thanking Him for all the blessings I have, I find myself lacking in other types of prayers, namely, those asking for help. Perhaps I over-think it (am I too arrogant, in believing it’s not necessary to ask because God will grant me what I wish for, anyway? Or am I too humble, in feeling I’m not worthy of making requests?). Perhaps I forget that God loves being asked for help, and that I should be humble enough to ask more often. I read somewhere once that Mahatma Gandhi had said prayer is a longing of the soul, a daily admission of one’s weakness. This is something I need to remember.
In these few remaining and most blessed days of Ramadan, I intend to use my hands for asking more for myself.
When He gives, He shows you His kindness; when He deprives, He shows you His power. And in all that, He is making Himself known to you and coming to you with His gentleness. […] When he loosens your tongue with a request, then know that He wants to give you something.
– from “The Hikam” by Ibn Ata’illah
Today is my 30th birthday. On this wonderfully sunny day that I’m enveloped in gratitude for the life I live, I’m most grateful for those who most helped shape me into the woman I am today — my parents. As I celebrate my birth and my blessings, I remind myself to celebrate my parents first and foremost, for starting it all. Below is something I wrote for their 35th wedding anniversary last year, and never posted.
An Open Love Letter to My Parents, on My 30th Birthday
(Originally written for their 35th wedding anniversary on 10 June 2010)
[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
Sorry for the radio silence at this end, buddy boys. The Grand Move of 2009 occurred last month, and the familia and I are still settling in – not to mention still busy clearing remnants of the last decade out of Casa420. Who knew that, once we relaxed our nomadic tendencies and allowed ourselves to become too complacent in one place, we’d manage to stockpile so much STUFF while we were at it?
My internetS at the new house is still on crack, so things are a little slow at this end, I know, I know. Stories and photos coming soon. Meanwhile, the above photo is from a few weeks ago. D came to visit the new house, and then we spent the afternoon in a neighboring city, catching up over applepie & vanillabean icecream (me) and salad (D), ducking in and out of the charming (read: expensive) little downtown boutiques, strolling through the farmers’ market and finding ourselves at the waterfront.
This, by the way, is still something I marvel at every day – that the North Bay Area is all about water, and that we, the landlocked agricultural Pukhtoons, have somehow ended up in a city where we spend our days gushing over the views of the bridge and the bay and the feel of the cool breeze that floats in over the water.
During the course of our aimless wanderings, D, ever the resourceful penny-pincher, talked me out of buying a(n amazingly rockstarish) $70 skirt by taking me to the candy shop instead. And I – well, I was so blinded by the colors and all the sugar at my disposal, that I completely forget to protest.
And you. Your turn now. What have you been doing?
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
My colleague ducks his head through the doorway this evening on his way out of work and calls out, “Bye, Jasmin!”
“You call me that again, and we are not going to be friends anymore,” I mutter sourly, without turning my eyes away from the computer screen.
His long-legged stride has already carried him halfway down the hall, but he hears me, and turns around to come back laughing. “Alright. Alright, Yasmine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“FINE,” I say.
The office slowly empties out, but I stay on for another two hours, working on an East Coast project so that the folks there can look at it first thing in the morning. It doesn’t hurt that my PC refuses to get with the Daylight Savings drama and switch forward one hour to the new time, instead obstinately changing back to the old time whenever I’m not looking. As a girl who is slightly obsessed with time and dates and documentation, I find this frustrating.
The PC tells me I’m an hour behind, the East Coast project makes me coordinate everything three hours ahead, and when I finally switch off the lights and lock the door and make my way down three flights of stairs, it’s still daylight outside. It’s highly disconcerting, the fact that it’s not dark anymore when I leave work. But the daylight makes it feel like there are more hours in the day, and I don’t mind this sort of trickery so much.
Outside the office, I pass a man I’ve seen before. He’s old and friendly and always nods politely when we cross paths. Today he smiles and says hello.
“Hi,” I say. “How are you?”
“There are 86,400 seconds in one day,” he says. “I just keep reminding myself to breathe through them all.”
I laugh. “That’s a good way to go.”
He peers at me closely. “Are you Pakistani?” he asks, and I blink, surprised. “Yes. And very few people manage to get that right on the first try!”
He leans in, asks in a confidential tone of voice, “How’s the situation over there?”
I pause, then shrug exaggeratedly. “Honestly, I don’t think the situation’s so great anywhere these days.”
He nods. “Just like here.”
I exited the train at my stop 40 minutes later, and the first thing I saw when I stepped onto the escalator and glanced to my right was the moon, hanging like white disk over Mt. Diablo.
I immediately thought of S, our personal superman, whose four-year-old text message is still saved in my phone: Look at the moon tonight, it looks hella beautiful.
In Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith, he writes about his wife, who belongs to “a brand of Sufi Islam” whose adherents stop to recite the Shahadah, the Islamic declaration of belief, when they see the moon. I remember reading that passage last week and realizing how long it’s been since I’ve even looked at the moon in a spiritual context. When I was little, our mother would gather us to her and have us peer out at the moon through our dining room windows, or herd us out onto the front porch, where we would raise our hands in prayer for the new moon.
When I lived in Pakistan as a teenager, our bebe (paternal grandmother) did the same in the courtyard of our village home. We stood outside one night when my father was briefly visiting from America; male voices drifted out the behtuk door while she and I stood out in the veyra. Bebe prayed in loudly mumbled whispers, and, when we had concluded by saying “Ameen” and passing our hands over our faces, she fondly relayed stories of my father as a child growing up in the very same house – stories my father would, as usual, later discount as Bebe‘s exaggeration and natural flair for storytelling.
The moon leads me all the way home, where I pull into the driveway and then turn around to park in my usual spot along our street without sidewalks, careful not to scrape my car against the low brick walls dividing the road from our side yard. I never forget to mention the bricks when giving people directions to our home: Continue for about half a mile on the narrow, winding road. Make a left up the hill, and we’re house number 420 on the left-hand side, the white house with all the red brick-work in front. More often than not, they ignore my directions in favor of commenting on my address instead: “420?! No way!” they laugh.
My parking spot is on a slope, and this is the home where, when I returned as a teenager, I first learned how to parallel park on a hill, using “Up, up, and away,” as my mantra, a line that I remembered easily only because it tied right back to Superman, whose comic books and television shows I grew up with, even during those 18 months in Pakistan. Turn your wheels away from the curb when parking uphill. Turn them towards the curb when downhill. Looking back through my review mirror, I see the moon behind me now.
Over dinner, we discuss moving – as we have been discussing for the past two months. And while part of me is wary yet resigned, another part of me is intrigued by the idea of change. I wouldn’t be my father’s daughter, if it were otherwise. And it is endearing, watching their excitement, hearing the energetic rise and fall of their voices as my mother dreams out loud of a fireplace and new kitchen cabinets and the daddy-o maps out decks and balconies and french-doors. Where we live now is my first home, our favorite home, but even still I’m amazed that Phase2 of our lives here has lasted so long. It’s been 10.5 years since our grand return, and don’t think the daddy-o’s nomadic tendencies haven’t been asserting themselves for a while now.
I have spent a lifetime stuttering when asked the “Where are you from?” question, only because my life has been comprised of shifting roads, different rooms, varying walls and windows. The people I have loved and lost – and found again, or ignored – are manifold. I resurrect old email threads only to unrepentantly archive them without answering the pleasantly surprised recipients, and wince through international phone calls, and let my blank gaze coldly skitter past unexpectedly familiar faces in shopping malls or coffeeshops or on BART platforms, choosing to ignore those people for whom I can’t find words anymore – or those to whom I’d never had much to say in the first place.
Houses may shift and the view outside my windows may change and my question to people may always be a confused, “Where do I know you from?”, but I soothe myself with the fact that the moon will always be there, that I have a good memory – an “uncanny” one, even, I’ve been told – for faces and dates and details, that the sunshine falls the same everywhere, that I can raise my hands in prayer wherever I go.
But the East Bay is not the South Bay is not the North Bay is not the Peninsula is not the City. One can drive for an hour over half a dozen different interstates and highways and still be in the San Francisco Bay Area – and yet not feel at home in one part even while another part is familiar and comforting.
Monday, 16 March 2009
I finished writing the bulk of this post in a coffeeshop in Sacramento, 75 miles from home. At one point, I looked up to see a girl I remembered from one of the high schools I had attended. Her blonde hair was now reddish-pink and her name didn’t come to mind right away, but I recognized the smile and the laugh and the slightly awkward knobby-kneed coltishness. I didn’t say hello. A few hours later, driving down H Street back towards 80 West, a man jogging along the sidewalk reminded me of a boy with whom I’d gone to school – but which city, and which of the seven schools I’ve attended, I had absolutely no idea.
On the way home, my sister and I stopped in the university town where we’d lived as teenagers, and where I’d returned for my undergrad. “Dude, I haven’t been back in years,” I said, as we exited the freeway.
“And how does it feel?” teased the sister.
“I’ll let you know when we drive through the streets.”
On a mission to “stop by the new masjid” before heading back to the Bay, our jaws collectively dropped when we drove down the main street and saw the new Islamic center. Inside and outside, it was beautiful, with an inspiring attention to detail. “This place must have been designed by engineers from the University,” I joked, referring to an event we had attended a couple of days before, at which the MC had deadpanned, “This program was put together by two engineers, so it’s going to run like clockwork.”
There was a blue dome. And small blue square tiles embedded in the entry areas, and the eight-pointed Islamic star integrated into the design, and lovely chandeliers and soft, light-blue carpeting. We couldn’t stop smiling. “We used to attend Sunday school at this masjid when we lived here,” my sister said to the president of the Islamic center, who noticed us wandering around the building and unlocked the doors for us.
“When was that?”
“’95 through ’98,” I said, and he smiled and asked what our parents’ names were. When we told him our father’s name, he nodded in recognition, although I don’t think he remembered the face to go with it.
There were yellow flip-flops waiting to welcome me when we slipped inside the marbled, clean and shiny women’s bathroom to make ablutions for the afternoon prayer. And when we stood shoulder-to-shoulder for Asr salah, my sister pointed out that, as travelers, we could technically pray the amended two cycles of prayer. The prayer of the traveler is allowed to be shortened.
“I’m praying the full four,” I said. “It feels like home.”
On the way out, we marveled again at the lights, the tiles, the shelves, the careful neatness with which everything was allocated a place.
“It gives me hope,” said my sister as we were driving away, “to know that there are people who pay attention to beauty and detail.”
Down the street was the Victorian house in which we had lived during those three years – the one with the bay windows. We drove by slowly. “It’s still gray and white!” I exclaimed. The brick walkways and geraniums have been replaced by grass, of which I highly approve. Ten years later after we left, the back deck is still the one we built, and the wrought-iron railing by the kitchen door is the same, as is the old, detached garage, and the city fire station directly across the street.
But not everything has remained unchanged. “Remember that tree the city planted for us?” I asked. “Is that the one?” I gestured towards a tall, sturdy tree at the side of the house.
“The city didn’t plant that,” said my sister. “We did.”
“Well, remember how it was all tiny and scrawny? And look at it now. It’s huge!”
I can never manage to tell people “where I’m from,” which is probably also why I never have a good answer for where I’m going. And more than any other word or concept, the idea of “home” has always tripped me up and stopped me in my tracks – and intrigued me the most.
There is nowhere to go. Everything is perfect, says one part of me.
The other says, Everywhere you go will be somewhere you’ve never been.
And if there is one thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of being the daughter of a man with nomadic tendencies, a man who so nonchalantly embraces change as “adventure,” it is this: The end is just the beginning, and every point in between.
At least 86,400 points, come to think of it, on any given day.
“I have homes everywhere, many I have not seen yet. Thatâ€™s perhaps why I am restless. I havenâ€™t seen all my homes.”
– John Steinbeck
It’s afternoon, and I’m sitting inside a coffeeshop, right beside the large window overlooking the street. I’ve been here for hours, watching the way the light shifts and feeling the sunshine and shadows spill across my table.
The two men sitting right outside my window seem to know nearly every other person who walks by, and I’m intrigued and a little bit jealous. It’s a mid-size city that they’ve managed to imbue with a small-town feel, just in the past couple of hours of sitting out at the sidewalk table. How do they know everyone, and seem to fit in here so seamlessly? Ten years back in this city (wow), and I have only one friend who lives here.
Note to self: Find some good food places around here, and stop hanging out in Berkeley so much.
Actually, ignore that part about Berkeley. Not happening.
Missed you much, Blogistan. Going through my Drafts folder now, and finishing up old, half-written posts I had never got around to publishing. Here’s one from last month; excuse the slightly disjointed nature of it. More are coming. I promise.
13 April 2008
We returned from sunny San Diego yesterday, only to find more than enough warmth in the Bay Area as well. I’ve been waking up these last couple of weeks to the scent of orange blossoms pouring through my open bedroom windows (from the tree in the courtyard outside my room), and I’d be hard-pressed to name a scent I love more than that of citrus. Lotions, perfumes, candles, leaves, even furniture polish and air freshener – always citrus.
It’s quiet without my mother puttering around the house. For now, I prefer it this way. She gets to spend a few weeks with family in the motherland, and I will have extra time to focus on, and actually do, the multitude of things I need to get done – or so I tell myself. I think back to the tense discussions – and silences – that preceded her departure. My father arguing that a country with now-regular suicide bombings and militant attacks was no place for her to be. My mother pointing out that her brother was sick, perhaps dying, even, and asking her to come.
“Do you understand how poor they are?” said my father. “They don’t need you there. They need money; that would be far more helpful to them right now.”
And my mother, sticking her ground for once, replying sharply, “Maybe if you had brothers or sisters, you would know what it’s like to want to be with them when they are so ill.” I can’t even conceive of how painful it must be, to lose one’s mother, brother, and sister, all within the span of just a few years. She wasn’t in Pakistan when her sister died, and regrets it still, I know.
And so, the battle raged for weeks – the daddy-o stubbornly declaring he was looking out for the ummy’s health and safety. The ummy being fierce about her intention to go one minute, then meekly backing down the next. And I, angry at having to be the inadvertent go-between for two people who just couldn’t seem to communicate properly, but mainly angry at my father for always professing to use arguments of logic and practicality yet failing to understand that some things are beyond logic.
“She hasn’t been back in six years; at least let her go and spend a proper amount of time with her family.”
“What are you, her lawyer?” the daddy-o tossed at me one day.
“Yes,” I said. “Since you don’t seem to think she can make independent decisions, I’m going to keep arguing for her.”
“Why do you always make me out to be the bad guy?”
If it had been my parents or my siblings, I would have gone in a heartbeat. I told him so. Why couldn’t he see that? Of all people, he was the one who taught me that family comes before everything, that whenever something happens concerning my family – whether happiness or sorrow – I’m supposed to drop everything else and GO.
He and I were not on speaking terms for much of the last few weeks. He thought I was being impertinent and illogical, not properly thinking through the logistics and safety of ummy’s visit to the motherland. I thought he would being his usual “My way or the highway” damn stubborn self. “Fucking ridiculous,” I raged to the sister and Somayya. Meanwhile, the ummy teetered between hope and despair for weeks, wondering if she would make it to Pakistan, and even if she did, would her brother still be alive?
Even after her passport photos were taken and the application submitted for renewal, even after the new passport was sent back via express delivery and arrived on our front porch less than two weeks later, there was no guarantee she was actually going until the daddy-o sent me a casual, concise email saying her roundtrip flight (he insisted it had to be roundtrip, not open-ended; this was another thing we fought about) was booked, and could I drive down to Fremont to pick up the tickets sometime that week?
I was more than happy to.
And I was happy for her when she finally left from SFO a few days ago. “Thay un sharaab dewun ne, tha thu akkhi, ‘Nay!’ ” called out the brother in Hindko. And if they give you alcohol, just say NO! It was his advice on how to respond to solicitous flight attendants. It was also the last thing she heard before walking away, and the timing was impeccable; he managed to turn her tears to laughter.
So, the ummy is finally gone. And the tension, too, is gone from the house. The daddy-o is outside in the yard right now, probably humming Pukhto songs as he fixes the sprinkler system.
Continue reading Scent of lime
From Pearls Before Swine
I’m in the midst of making lists and running errands, and my brother just sent me a text-message:
Keep the twenty dollars, I’m taking your sunglasses. :) muahaha!
He’s referring to the orange-brown aviator sunglasses that the Lovely L Lady convinced to buy (for eight dollars, for the record) from an accessories stand on Durant, in Berkeley. It’s always difficult for me to find sunglasses I like, but it made me smile to know we have the same taste, and so I’m letting him keep them. While oversized on my face, they fit him perfectly.
I fly out tomorrow night for my Hindku-speaking love N‘s wedding in Ottawa, where I get to meet the rockstar Maha on Sunday, too! And then, a quick swing by DC to stalk the DC contingent of the All-Star Crackstar Squad, Baji and SI and 2Scoops, for a couple of days.
It shall be grand – except for that little thing called WINTER in Places Where it Snows. My little California self cannot bear to wear shoes (or boots!) for prolonged periods of time, and so this entire trip worries me a bit. But, I figure if I can manage to survive December in Ottawa and DC, I can do anything.
Meanwhile, if you have any tips and tricks for How to Be a Rockstar & Navigate Cold Places Without Catching Hypothermia, please do let me know. I need all the help I can get. So far, my little post-it list contains things like:
Of, course, I could always go with Hashim‘s advice: Personally, yaar, just stay indoors when you are there.
I am looking out the front window while typing this post. A UPS truck just parked at the foot of our driveway. A man got down from the truck, reached over the black wrought-iron gate, picked a persimmon or two off our brilliantly-colored tree, then got back in the truck and drove away. My neighborhood makes me smile so much, and so do my parents, who have cultivated this open-handed generosity for decades, so that all who pass by know they are welcome to the ripe fruit off our trees, without needing to formally ask.
It’s so beautifully sunny here. Lovely California, what ever will I do without you for nearly a week?