Category Archives: Hit the Road

I wake up every mornin’ and I’m steppin’ out the door

Change of plans: On a plane to Spain, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Months ago, when Maryam headed off to Egypt to study Arabic for a year at the AUC, we promised her we’d go stalk her in Cairo. She taunted us with “Maryam is in Cairo” gstatus messages (this screenshot is from late September), and finally, around October or so, Aisha and I decided we needed to get serious about this. “How’s the job hunt going?” Aisha kept asking me. “Don’t forget, you need money so we can go to Cairo in December or January!”

I emailed Maryam: “Please for to arrange a camel to pick me up from the airport, thanks.”

Her reply: “I’ve got a caravan of camels booked to pick you all up from the airport at 6pm, don’t be late.”

Jokes notwithstanding, I never expected any of this would really happen until the afternoon – a mere 2.5 weeks ago – when Aisha took my breath away by delivering the following late-breaking news, completely out of the blue, “Yasmine, Maryam’s actually going to be traveling around North Africa and Portugal and Spain during her winter break. Let’s go to Spain.” I stared at her, wide-eyed, at a loss for words. At random moments throughout the rest of the day, I just kept jumping up and down and shaking my fists in the air in a gesture of SUCCESS!

So. Spain it is. There will be four of us, and we will fly into and out of Madrid. In between, there’s a week in Spain (Madrid, Cordoba, Seville, Granada) and another week in Morocco (Tangier, Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh). Beautiful Barcelona that I keep hearing so much about deserves another trip of its own, another time.

I’ve wanted to go to Spain ever since I was 13-14 years old, when I used to sit around in the behtuk reading Naseem Hijazi‘s overly romanticized historical fiction in Urdu – re-reading the books so many times that the delicate pages would fall away from the spine and I’d have to continually glue them back in. To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. The only reason I’ve barely even talked about it to friends and family is because I still can’t believe it’s happening.

“But why would anyone want to go to Spain?” asks my father incredulously.
“For the history and culture!” I shoot back.
“History and culture? Why don’t you go to Saudi Arabia, then?”

And: “Why Morocco? It looks just like Rawalpindi, of all places.”

And then there’s my sweet mother, to whom I explained that Spain is in Europe.
“Europe,” she said slowly. “Are you going to be near London? You should stop by and visit [the relatives] in Bradford, too.”

“Ummy, I’m not going to England. I’m going to Spain. It’s a completely different country.”

She continued anxiously: “They’re going to be so upset that you didn’t stop by. Maybe you should fly into the Manchester airport.”

“But I’m not going to Manchester or Bradford! I’m going to SPAIN AND MOROCCO.”

Because I myself really know nothing about Spain and Morocco, I turned to the rockstars who do. Zana, Shaista, Lil Baji, and and A proved to be rocking in that department. Brimful directed me to her lovely musings on three weeks in Spain last year, and Baji re-posted her travelogue for me. Between the two of them, I had enough articulate, amusing, and invaluable writing to occupy my train commute for a day.

And an email that – if things had been otherwise – should have been a part of that exuberant ‘We’re from Barcelona’-subjectlined GMail thread:

Dear Imran,
I’m going to Spain! I never would have thought it’d actually happen so soon. If you were around, you probably would have been the first person I’d have emailed for recommendations. Like, where’s a good spot to sit and write in silence? And how can I ensure that my attempts at photography even do justice to the country and its beauty? And where can I find the best tortilla espanola? Someday, we shall compare notes.
fi amanillah,

H requested I remain on the lookout for hot Spanish and Moroccan men for her. Somayya demanded presents. The sister asked if she could sleep in my room while I’m away. And J offered nothing but flattery:

Don’t fall in love and get married to some bali star over there in the Mediterranean, okay!
Also, avoid natives who propose in the first 3 minutes of meeting you, because there will be many!


So, my internetS buddies, I shall eat bajillions of tortilla espanolas for you all. Meanwhile, you can help me out with a couple of questions I’ve been taking a poll on:

1. Laptop or no laptop? (Carrying around a laptop would be annoying, and worrying about it getting lost or stolen would be nerve-wracking, but the idea of no regular access to GMail – and okay, okay, flickr – for two weeks is already making me twitchy.)

2. Carry-on or check-in? (I hate the idea of checking-in my bag and having the airlines potentially lose it. But carry-ons come with TSA liquid restrictions and drama. I shake my fist!)

I leave this Monday morning, by the way. It shall be grand.

(Also, I’ve not even begun packing yet.)

On the side of the highway, baby/Our road is long

This is my favorite picture, even though it's fuzzy and out of focus
Blurry San Francisco, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Beautiful things:
Bumper stickers I’ve noticed lately, which have made me laugh –


EAT BEEF. The West wasn’t won on salad.


And my personal favorite – NIRWANA – which reminded me of when my favorite crackhead, Somayya, first moved from Pakistan to the U.S. as a five year old. As a fobby little kindergartener, she became famous for uttering lines such as, “I am vearing a west today and I live in Vest Sacramento.” Also, the very first English word she spoke was “cupcake.” See, this is why we’re friends, even though we’re related by default.

Three beautiful things: The transportation edition

Overhead Heading home
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[From October 11, 2006]

– It takes me two hours to get to work in the morning, because two big rigs collided on the Sunol Grade on Interstate 880 and spilled oil across the freeway. Impatiently listening to the AM radio to pick up on any traffic updates, I hear the newscasters discussing their colleague’s fascination with my favorite cookies: “Every week, he bursts into a new realm of snickerdoodledom.”

– In the afternoon, I stop by Macy’s for a quick errand, opt for street parking rather than the garage, and discover, to my delight, that there are still 42 minutes left on my parking meter. (This, of course, means I spend way too much time doing extra girly things like checking out earrings, spritzing on perfume, and buying my favorite lipgloss.)

– GMail IM from Z: “Yesterday on BART, a little 4 year old girl said, ‘I have pigtails and you don’t!'”

880 South toward San Jose

In light of my recent post on personalized license plates, these plates, which I saw on my way to work this morning, are the best ones ever:


Raa dhey.
Get it?
For those who don’t, raa dhey, in various South Asian languages, translates to something like, Make way. And the driver – Desi, of course – was speeding along and switching lanes in such a haphazard, helter-skelter manner that one would think he was back in the motherland.

Every state line, there’s a new set of laws

License plates I’ve recently seen and enjoyed while commuting:

– OH B 1
– SOMONEY [on quite a dilapidated-looking Honda Civic]

Also, I saw a freeway exit sign for a street called “Pasatiempo” on the way back from Santa Cruz a couple of weekends ago. Such a light, airy word. It’s stuck in my head, and I find myself mentally repeating it over and over at inopportune moments: Pasatiempo

I just roll through town and my window’s got a view

Driving home, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Generally, I will be the first to admit I’m a horrible friend. I rarely manage to pick up my phone when it’s ringing, and then it takes me a week (or two?) to return calls. I don’t respond to emails in a timely manner. I’m always right, and you’re always wrong. Those are just a few examples.

I think I have a few redeeming qualities, though. First and foremost, I can be counted on to do or say stupid things, so that you remember it – and remind me as well as the rest of the world of it – for years. Like the time I retorted, “I wake up looking cute!” Or the time, during freshman year of college, I loudly (and quite justifiably, I believe) cussed Somayya out in the middle of general chemistry, in a lecture hall filled with hundreds of students. Or the time that – check this, this is a crazy story – driving to school one morning, I stopped for gas halfway, only to realize I had literally no money on me. And neither enough gas to get to school (thirty miles to the east) nor enough to get back home (thirty miles to the west). So, basically, I was stranded. After a few minutes of “Oh, shit!”, I frantically called Somayya to brainstorm what I should so. Thankfully, brainstorming was not required; she drove thirty miles to come rescue my sorry ass, and enough gas was pumped into my car to not only get me to school, but also back home that evening.

Basically, if nothing else, you should keep me around for amusement purposes. I’ll have lots of stupid stories to tell my grandchildren someday.

I got so sidetracked on my stupidity, I almost forgot to mention that my second redeeming quality in terms of friendship is that I will drive to the end of the earth, to have lunch with you. As long as I have gas money, of course. Lunch money, I’m not so concerned about; that part always has a way of working out.

Last Wednesday, I drove sixty miles to have lunch with some friends. Oh, I also had to return books to both the Women’s Resources & Research Center and the University library, but we’ll ignore that part. After all, I’d kept those books seven months past their due date. Returning books is just a convenient excuse to have lunch, as far as I’m concerned.

[For the bookworms amongst you, who are curious about such things, here are the two books I loved enough to have kept more than half a year past their due date, plus the third book that I had simply forgotten was still in my possession:

1 – A Life Removed: Hunting for Refuge in the Modern World (Rose George)
2 – Peace Begins Here: Palestinians & Israelis Listening to Each Other (Thich Nhat Hanh)
3 – Her Mother’s Ashes 2: More Stories by South Asian Women in Canada & the United States (edited by Nurjehan Aziz)

You should definitely read the first two.]

When I returned the last book and apologized profusely to B at the WRRC for keeping it so long, she blinked and said, “Don’t tell me you drove all the way up from the Bay Area just to bring this back!”

“Well, kind of,” I grinned.

She looked horrified.

“Don’t worry!” I laughed. “I’m sure I’ll find a few other things to occupy myself with while I’m here!”

And I did, indeed. A few minutes later, I found the Lovely L Lady, and in no time I was lunching it up with L and surprise guests H#2 and Somayya. After that, a free hour, wherein L and I headed over to Borders. You know you’ve got a good friend, when her idea of hanging out includes bookstore trips. While L found a chair, I wandered aimlessly around the store and then settled down on the floor in a pool of sunshine by the front windows, with a copy of East West Woman magazine [Sheetal Sheth‘s on the cover! And there’s an interview with VH1’s Aamer Haleem, whom L – who is Sudanese – instantly recognized while this Desi girl didn’t] and Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man? in hand.

Then I was off to Sacramento to stop by and stalk some old co-workers. I managed to find a parking spot on Q St., and had a quick moment of nostalgia for all the times my co-workers and I used to fight over the 2-hour zones along that specific block. The ecstatic greetings I got from everyone were both beautiful and mind-boggling. (They: Where have you BEEN?!, I: They really LIKE me?!). I was there long enough to gush over Z’s stylin’ hair, tease K about how tall he had grown in my absence, make fun of H#3’s hair, laugh at A’s bluntness (“I called you?”), and coordinate future plans to hang out with my girls (first week of March!). Perfect.

Half an hour later, I rushed to meet up with my buddy S at Cosi in downtown Sacramento, its only California location. I nearly walked right by him without recognizing him, because he had just gotten off work and was still dressed in his button-down shirt, dress slacks, and a tie. A TIE! “Lookit you lookin’ all spiffy!” I crowed.

I love hanging out with S, simply because he is, to put it mildly, on crack. Anjum will back me up here. I was supposed to do a second lunch with him, but I wasn’t really hungry by that point, so we stopped by Cosi to get some light food and sit around. I ordered a mint-flavored arctic latte, and then nearly picked a fight with S at the register because he busted out with his card and insisted on paying for both of us. Now, to be honest, I have absolutely no shame about letting friends cover my meals when I’m feeling broke. But when I do have money, I’m highly stubborn about paying my own way.

“Aww, let him pay!” said the girl at the register, who thought he was a sweet kid.

“No!” I said. “Take the damn five dollars, S.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” he said to me, handing his credit card to the girl.

I rolled my eyes. “You’re a day late and, also, I don’t care about Valentine’s Day. Here’s your five dollars, buddy.” I practically had to throw the bill at him, and then escaped to the huge red armchairs in the corner.

I tried to convince S to come visit the Bay next week. I even picked a day for him, a day he’s off from work.

“Oh, wait, I can’t come; I have work the next day!” he whined.


“So I can’t come to the Bay, then. I’m working the next day.”

“Child, that’s why I’m asking you to come on the day that you’re off from work!”

“But I’m working the next day!”

At this point, I figured out he was just trying to give me a hard time. I felt like throwing something at him, but I pointed out reasonably, “It’s not like you’re going to be doing anything important on your day off, anyway. What’re you gonna do, sit around and watch movies on your laptop?”

“Basically,” he laughed. “I do that at work all the time.”

“What, watch movies on the computer?”


“And no one notices?!”

“No, I just minimize the movie screen when someone walks by.”

“Dude, you need to calm down with that, seriously.”

He gave me a scornful look, and uttered the best lines of the entire day: “What are they gonna do? Fire me?! You can’t fire me. I’m Employee of the Month, b*tches!”

I collapsed in laughter. While he continued muttering about his “Employee of the Month, b*tches!” status, I promised I’d photoshop him something about that convincing argument of his. [Check it, here!] I also added, “You’d better calm down, buddy, the month’s almost over.”

“What’re they gonna do? Fire me?”

“Yeah, ’cause you’re Employee of the Month, b*tches!”

Ahhh, it was a good day.

After gathering my laughing self up out of the huge red armchair, I bid goodbye to S and hightailed it back to the Lovely L Lady’s place, where I modeled for and played with her shiny, new digital camera. And, then, time to head home! And, man, you can be sure all those miles (that’s nothing!) were damn well worth it.

So… Anyone wanna do lunch?

Change views, not channels

When they said ‘palm trees,’ they really weren’t kidding, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[The “Change views, not channels” post title is inspired by those smug little San Diego-advertising billboards that I used to pass on my way to Sacramento everyday.]

Like everything else I’ve ever written, this is long overdue, so I figured I might as well get this Thanksgiving-roadtrip-to-San-Diego update out of the way so I can write about other things. However, I can’t conceive of this being really interesting to anyone, so if you get bored you might as well skip the words and jump right to the whole entire set of pictures. And that was only some of them. Yeah, I know.

Alright, here goes my (probably unsuccessful, I can tell you that already) attempt at conciseness…

First of all, why San Diego?

I talk about my father a lot on this weblog – mainly about his obsessions with gardening, shopping at Costco, and trying to convince me to go to law suckool so we can finally have a lawyer in the family. I believe I may have neglected to mention the fact that my father is also an avid cook, “avid” being keyword for “experimental.” His favorite phrase to use while cooking is, “Special recipe.” His style of cooking can best be described as “everything but the kitchen sink.” He’s lucky that everything he cooks tastes wonderful.

One of my father’s other obsessions revolves around someday owning and running a restaurant. In this fantasy, he will be the main gourmet chef, and I have a feeling the rest of us will be relegated to lowly kitchen help, like chopping the vegetables. Much like what happens when he decides to take over the kitchen on some weekends.

My father scrutinizes food daily at the table, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner: “This,” he’ll pronounce, “will be a great addition to our restaurant, don’t you think so?” As if there is no doubt that there will indeed be a restaurant. “When we open our restaurant, we’ll call this…aloo omelette…and people will line up at the door to get a taste of our food.”

In typical Yasminay-style, I’m making a short story too long. Let’s wrap this up:

So, one evening about a month ago, the daddy-o was cooking dinner and raving about the latest edible masterpiece he had whipped up. “We need to move to a college town,” he decided. “The college students will never be able to get enough of this kind of food! That way, we can make sure we always stay in business.”

“Mm-hmm,” I said noncommittally. I decided not to point out the fact that there was no way in hell any of us were moving anywhere again for a while. Whenever the daddy-o is feeling high-spirited and exuberant, he is just as easily brought down by comments he finds deliberately antagonizing from those who refuse to share his enthusiasm. This usually, all too easily, escalates into bad temper at both ends. It is best to be silent sometimes, even at the risk of being labeled indifferent.

“Houston,” continued my father. “I think we should move to Houston. There’s a good college town!”

I decided silence was not an option any longer, even though I knew this was a theoretical conversation. “Houston?!” I said. “Who wants to move to Houston? Dude, if you’re looking for college towns, we might as well move to San Diego. They have a bajillion colleges there. Plus, they have nice weather, too.”

“San Diego! That’s an idea! And,” he added mockingly, “they have plenty of warm weather and you won’t have to wear your sweaters all the time.” The daddy-o finds my obsession with sweaters slightly amusing and mostly mentally unstable. Much like everyone else I know. Shut up.

The conversation petered out eventually, but later when we were throwing around ideas of what sort of roadtrip to take for this year’s Thanksgiving break (roadtrips are becoming tradition now), the daddy-o brought up San Diego, and that was that.

Alright, so here’s how it went:

Day 1: Thursday, 24 November 2005

Driving down to Los Angeles, where we would spend the first night. All I really remember is, lots of stops for gas. Also, being shocked at gas prices near Bakersfield: $2.85/gallon? Good Lord. The sister and I were slightly annoyed because the Daddy-o thought it was a terrible idea for us to even consider buying an ice cream bar at one of the gas station convenience stores. FINE! we fumed in true little-kids fashion, and decided to gorge ourselves on all the leftover Halloween candy that my sister had wisely brought along. Good lookin’ out, buddy. This is my favorite photo from that gas station.

Also: Stopping for lunch and prayer at Fort Tejon State Historic Park. A nice young man apologetically approached us in the middle of our lunch to say that their Pathfinder had a flat tire but the tow truck guy was unable to unlock the tire. He noticed we were driving a QX4; perhaps our tire-lock rod would work, and could they please borrow it for a few minutes? “Sure,” said the Daddy-o, adding in amusement, “As long as you know where it would be, because I don’t know.” Apparently we have all these tools and things attached to the bottom of the passenger seat. Amazing.

The tire-lock worked, the flat was replaced with a spare tire, and not only did the guy and his family thank us about ten thousand times, they also gifted us with tin of cookies and waved a lot as they were driving away. Rocking!

What else… Made it to our hotel in Los Angeles, and I was in pain because my ears were popping from driving through the mountains, so I took a nap on the couch after unsuccessful, frustrating attempts to hook my dad’s laptop up to the hotel’s wireless network. I woke up to find him playing Solitaire/FreeCell on his laptop, an addiction I thought he had kicked, years back when he used to stay up ’til late, late at night, engrossed in the game on his computer.

Later in the evening, we had dinner at a desi [South Asian] restaurant called Bismillah in Buena Park. Eating out with the parents is always tricky, because my father doesn’t believe in ordering whatever one can cook at home (he once refused to let me order spaghetti at an Italian restaurant), which also does away with the desi food option most of the time, whereas my mother is wary of eating anything other than what we eat at home. What a process.

Day 2: Friday, 25 November 2005

Woke up to this in LA. Yes, I was hella annoyed. But the fog (and some of the smog) started to clear away as we hit the road and the day got warmer, which cheered me up.

We were aiming to make it to Jummah [Friday congregational prayers] at the Islamic Center of San Diego (ICSD), and stressing it a bit because we thought we were running a bit late. But we turned out to be early. The ICSD is absolutely gorgeous. I wandered around stealthily taking pictures for a few minutes while waiting for the prayer to begin; this was my favorite, because it made me smile: warm fuzzy feelings!

We settled down for prayer, and I got sidetracked making funny faces at the little boy next to me, who couldn’t have been more than two years old. He reminded me of Matteo, the toddler I used to work with as part of my Human Development lab practicum back at university. If my weekly Jummahs in Oakland have taught me anything, it’s that I’m all too easily distracted by adorable little babies at the masjid. But I managed to drag my attention away from the Matteo-lookalike to listen carefully for once, and I’m glad I did, because the imam gave a beautiful khutbah [sermon] on gratitude. I sat there remembering my friend S’s Thanksgiving voicemessage from the day before: “I don’t know if you celebrate Thanksgiving but, hey, we have things to be thankful for: We’re alive and kicking!” It was a lovely reminder, and I’m blessed to have the friends that I do.

Here was the funniest and most random (as far as I’m concerned) part of my Jummah:

Walking out of the masjid, dawdling a bit behind my mother and sister, squinting at the sun in my eyes, and hearing someone call out from my right: “Can’t say salaam?”

The world always comes full-circle, doesn’t it? It’s extremely fitting that after almost exactly a year to the day that we missed meeting up with 2Scoops while he was at Jummah in the East Bay and we were Thanksgiving-roadtripping it to Santa Barbara, we instead run into him at Jummah prayers in San Diego. Very slick indeed. I always had a suspicion my life goes around in circles, but this just confirmed it.

Apparently the way to make my father’s eyes light up and to get him to like you enough to give you his business card is to mention two words: BUSINESS and LAW. Preferably in the same sentence. Way to go, buddy.

Next up: Trying to figure out what to eat, and where to eat, for lunch. [My dad still laughs, remembering the words of one of the San Diego guys (a friend of 2Scoops’, I believe): “If you’re looking for good Afghan food, you’ll have to eat it at someone’s house.”] Finally, we gave up and settled on french fries. Yay! Then we hit up Balboa Park. Those San Diego people are so smart: they put all their tourist attractions in one single location, so confused people like us don’t have to waste time wondering what the hell to do with ourselves. We checked out pretty buildings, the Japanese Friendship Garden [did you seriously think we could go anywhere without my parents checking out the gardens somewhere?], various other places, and, finally, the San Diego Museum of Art, which was totally drool-worthy.

Too bad I couldn’t take photos inside the museum, because the galleries and exhibitions were gorgeous. We spent almost two hours in there, finally dragging ourselves away past sunset, and still only managed to get through Galleries #1-5. Out of twenty. Yeah, you read that right. The “Selected Masterworks of Indian Painting” was enough to keep the parents occupied, while I was mesmerized by the “Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self” exhibit. Right up my alley.

We spent the night in San Diego, and not only did the manager lady, Annie, 1) have a rocking Scottish accent [I especially loved the way she pronounced “laptop,” and couldn’t stop mentally repeating it to myself for days afterward], and 2) advise us to eat dinner at an awesome Italian place down the road, but she also 3) helped us connect the daddy-o’s laptop to the wireless network, thereby earning our never-ending gratitude forever and ever, amen. It was to be the only internet connection we’d have for the three days we were on the road, and we were all twitching to fulfill our various online addictions: weblogs (me), Facebook (the sister), email (everyone).

Day 3: Saturday, 26 November 2005

We checked out of our hotel, stalked the ICSD for some more pictures, picked up lunch from Jamillah Garden, and hit the road back north.

The daddy-o, regarding San Diego’s maze of well-connected freeways: “These people just won’t let you get lost. It’s terrible!” He broke it down easily for me, the navigational amateur-rapidly-turning-pro: “They call all their big roads freeways,” citing Balboa Avenue – which is apparently also called 274 – as an example.

He didn’t like Interstate-8 though. Somewhere around there, he started singing, to the tune of “‘Tis the Season to be Jolly”: “8 is a screwed-up freeway, la la la la la la la…” Good times.

Leaving San Diego:

Sister: “Daddy, are you going eighty?!”
Dad, unrepentantly: “Yes, is that a problem?”
Sister: “Yeah.”
Dad: Why does that bother you? You’re the one who said you wanted to get home in at least an hour.” [Laughter at the exaggeration.]

Driving north, I decided Southern Californians put a lot of creativity into their street names. Some of them are really beautiful. Check:

Via de la Valle
Street of Copper Lanterns
Ava Magdalena
Bluebird Canyon
Boat Canyon Drive
Morning Canyon

And there was a town with the lovely name of Lemon Grove. Oh, and there’s bougainvillaea everywhere! Absolutely gorgeous. The daddy-o and his inner gardener couldn’t stop marveling at it.

The parents especially liked the Cardiff and Solana Beach areas of San Diego. “Let’s retire and move somewhere around here,” suggested my father.

“Yes,” said my mother, “but maybe closer to where that masjid was.” My ummy was really liking the masjid.

Around Carlsbad, my father started getting antsy: “Southern California is so boring. All you see is palm trees and U-Haul trucks.”

But then we stopped for coffee, milkshakes, and smoothies at Orange Inn in Laguna Beach, which made for some cool pictures and refreshed tummies, and all was well.

We made it home late Saturday night. I fumbled my way out of the backseat blankets and the daddy-o’s sports coat and tumbled out of the car onto the driveway, where it was so cold that my ears almost froze and fell off my head and I decided this was unacceptable and I’d have to move to sunny Southern California after all.

The end.

The ties that bind

The week before last, my mother and I spent two separate days visiting various relatives and family friends, which is a lot of time considering the fact that, since we kids have grown up, we’ve fallen out of our weekly visiting-the-relatives habit. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I do start missing all those crazy people after a while.

While driving up to see the relatives, my mother and I listened to the “Rough Guide to the Music of Pakistan” mix CD that my brother had compiled for our father a while back. At one track, my mother started at the singer’s distinctively deep voice and exclaimed, “That’s Amitabh Bachchan!”

I glanced at her in amusement. “He sings, too?”
“Yes! Don’t you remember how he sang all those songs in the movie we saw?”
She and I had just watched an Amitabh Bachchan movie the day before, and she still had it on her mind: “Yaadiya, us na putthar jeh moyiay, thi ke kuch karneya? [Remember, when his son died, all that he did?]”
“That was in the movie, Ummy. I don’t think he really sang all those songs. Or this one either.”
“Well, it sounds just like him.”

Visiting the relatives is all about the food. Well, sometimes. There are very few people whose food I enjoy eating; that would be my parents’, my own and my sister’s, and Somayya and her mother’s. Well fortified with kabob, halwa, samosas, and a parathha or two at the behest of Somayya’s ummy, we continued on our way to visit other family members.

[Speaking of Somayya’s ummy, I spent the majority of one of those days hanging out with her, and all I gotta say is, If you were ever wondering where Somayya gets her crazy crackheadedness from, look no further than her mother.]

I love ’em all, but they drive me crazy. As always, conversations invariably centered around my education, the way I dress, my career aspirations (“Umm, no, I’m not going to medical school; why did you think so?”), my car, and, uh, the way I dress. Basically, the usual. Not that they could say anything bad about my car though, because I’ve had it for a month now and it still has the new car smell. Take that! My mother laughed, relaying to my uncle the story of how Somayya’s mother, upon hearing about my new car purchase, had remarked in amusement, “Oh, so it’s black just like that one sweater Yasmine always wears?” Actually, that sweater I always wear is dark gray, thankyouverymuch, but vatever. I am obsessed with sweaters, seriously.

My uncle chuckled at this story and said dismissively, “We are old-fashioned. Our kids, they know what they’re doing when it comes to car colors and clothes and things. We should just leave these decisions to them.” My uncle is a rockstar. The end.

Reminder to myself: Ramadan is coming up, and I need to focus on thinking before I speak. After all, targeting the relatives with sentences like “I don’t even answer my own phone; why should I answer yours?” and “Why are you giving us food to take home with us? Don’t. No one will eat it” sound about forty-seven times more rude and obnoxious in Hindku.

[I hung out a lot with my nieces and nephews – both the really and the fake-ly related ones – during those visits. You can see some cute little kids here.]

Na laram gham

Driving back to my corner of the Bay Area this afternoon after dropping HijabMan off at the Oakland Airport, I merged onto the familiar Hwy-24 from 880, and, as the road curved down and then up again, the fog and gloom suddenly gave way to sunshine, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in my car. I turned up the volume on my Red Hot Chili Peppers CD, pushed the button to slide open the sunroof, and held my right hand out through the sunroof for the next two miles. I hadn’t done that for a while. It was the kind of perfect moment that you may not necessarily remember later, but you realize how beautifully, simply perfect it is at the time.

I remembered a moment like this from last winter – a different CD and a different car (my father’s SUV), but the sunroof had been open then, too, the stereo had been turned high and I had smiled widely at the unexpected sunshine and fellow drivers stuck in afternoon traffic beside me, and the thought that had come unbidden to mind then, as now, was in Pukhtu: Na laram gham. I have no worries. Because the things I really need in order to be happy are simple, I suppose, as they were today: sunshine and warmth, loud music, the taste of mid-morning ice cream still fresh on my tongue, an encompassing view of the mountains I love, and laughter echoing in my ears from a few hours spent in Berkeley with friends, in this case, Somayya and HijabMan.

Last November, I had been driving home after dropping my father off at the Oakland Airport, and, while I’m usually his chauffeur of choice when he leaves on/returns from business trips through Oakland, that had been no business trip. That time, he had been flying down to Southern California for his former colleague and longtime friend Mr. R’s wedding in Long Beach.

My father had driven to the airport while I lounged in the passenger seat and kept a watchful eye on the speedometer. “Daddy, you’re going ninety miles per hour!” I exclaimed at one point, whereupon he slowed down and joking replied, “Now, wouldn’t that be some way for me to go and die? Ninety miles per hour in a freeway smash-up!”

“That’s not funny,” I had snapped. “Bean and I spend just as much time on the road as you do, and we probably have the same chance of getting into a car accident. I don’t think that’s amusing; do you?” He was suitably chastened, and I felt bad for my snappishness, so I changed the subject and we spent the rest of the drive reminiscing about my father’s friendship with Mr. R.

Mr. R is Hungarian-American, and we all loved him as children, even though he had a tendency to mistake my voice for my brother’s whenever I answered his phone calls. He had an old, wise, and complacent cat named Heidi, and a dog named Lampoush. When my family moved back to the Bay Area several years ago and we children reunited with Mr. R, we were heartbroken to learn that Lampoush was gone, replaced by another, albeit just as friendly, dog named Bundi. But we recovered soon enough, after Bundi came to dinner with Mr. R one evening. The dog’s high spirits had us in gales of laughter as he ran in lively circles throughout our dining room and courtyard, his tail wagging incessantly behind him.

My childhood memories, which revolve mainly around frisbee and table soccer, are filled with images of Mr. R hunched over the foosball table, trying to maneuver the ball without spinning the handles, even though spinning was shamelessly allowed in my family. He would follow a particularly intent shot with an “aieee!”-sounding grunt, and we kids would giggle and chorus, “‘Aieee!’ means ‘ouch!’ in our language!” In the summer, he would invite friends to his home in Belmont and we would tag along with our father. While the men played softball, we three would munch on pizza and occupy ourselves with the exuberant Lampoush and unruffled Heidi.

The fall that we returned from our eighteen months in Pakistan, we kids sat disconsolately on the sidewalk in front of our school one afternoon after our father had apparently forgotten to pick us up. Close to an hour after school had let out, an unfamiliar long, shiny black SUV pulled into the parking lot with Mr. R at the wheel and our father waving out the passenger-side window, and we jumped up in delight, all resentfulness abandoned. My father and Mr. R were laughing like gleeful kids themselves, and I remember envying their easy banter. They looked so physically different – my father with his slight stature and his dark hair and beard, and the ruddy-complexioned, reddishbrown-haired Mr. R who looks like he was probably a football jock in his younger days – but their ease and camaraderie with one another highlighted a deep, long-lasting friendship that has spanned decades.

When Mr. R called to invite my father to his wedding last winter, my father had been characteristically silent about his decision for a few days. And while I had been admittedly surprised that he would consider flying down solo to Southern California for a wedding that the rest of the family couldn’t accompany him to, there had really been no question of his not going. It was obvious that he would go. To do otherwise would be unthinkable.

Driving home in last November’s sunshine in my father’s SUV after dropping him off at the airport, I realized that that’s the kind of friends I want – the kind who, if they were to say, “Come visit, even though you’re a bajillion miles away and I know you have a life and all,” I’d think nothing of promptly saying, “Hell yeah!” and dropping everything and going.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly what HijabMan recently did for Somayya and me. Thanks, buddy. It was good times.


After picking my mother up from our relatives’ in Sacramento last week, she and I settled into my car for the hour-long drive home. After the usual impatient verbal tussles (“Why is the seatbelt always messed up in your passenger seat?” “It’s because you always twist it the wrong way whenever you use it, Ummy.” “I don’t twist it. I just pull it in the direction I need to fasten it.” “Ummy, you’re pulling it too much.”), I glanced out the window and noticed the moon, hanging unusually low in the sky like a large orange-red globe.

“Look at the moon, Ummy!” We both ducked our heads and peered at the moon through the side windows.

Long after I had pulled away from the curb in front of my relatives’ house and we continued home along the freeways, I would periodically glance at the moon out of the corner of my eye and exclaim, “Look at the moon, Ummy!”

“Very pretty,” she would agree with a smile. “It looks like it’s traveling right along with us.”

If my father were there, he would have predictably followed my mother’s comment with a reference to “hamsafar,” an Urdu word meaning “fellow traveler” or “traveling companion.” I was reminded of the PIA (Pakistan Internation Airlines) inflight magazine entitled Humsafar, which I had first noticed on our trip to Pakistan when I was eight and which had resulted in my father’s etymological explanations.

Appropriately enough, my mother and I spent the drive home listening to songs by a woman named Mahjabeen (literally: moon-face moon-forehead, beautiful forehead; basically: having a face as beautiful as the moon), a name that strikes a deeply personal, emotional chord with this family. The songs were performed in what seemed to be a mixture of both Pukhtu and Hindku, helpfully translated line-by-line by my mother, who would repeat each line after the singer, then turn to me and translate. My initial exasperation soon gave way to amusement at hearing my mother continually translate the Hindku lines into…Hindku, the dialect I speak fluently and use to communicate with her.

In a gorgeously fitting end to the day, I received, just a few minutes after arriving home, a text message from a friend exhorting me to “Look at da moon tonight it looks hella beautiful.”