Archive | January, 2011


31 Jan

My very Arab husband was sick all weekend…the kind of sick that makes you want to drink a bottle of cough syrup and wake up a new man or woman, whenever the case may be.

He remained pathetic looking from Friday afternoon till now. I walked in on his sick room several times to find him staring at the bare wall, he appeared shell-shocked, but he held off going to urgent care because the co-pay is double the cost of a regular office visit. No surprise. The year I was pregnant with our first child, he also underwent emergency surgery- from his hospital bed he declared victory over the insurance company, “We got them!”  Sweet victory. 

Truth be told, he has rubbed off on me. I encouraged him to, “Take it like a man,” all weekend. After enduring three child labors, two of them natural, it’s hard to conjure sympathy, but I did muster a little.

Poor Baba, he was up very early this morning with chills and coughing something awful. He inched his way slowly to the edge of the couch, grimacing, with sound effects, and announced he was finally going to the doctor. 

“Baby, I said, chill out. I’ll call their office at 8 a.m. when they open and make an appointment for you. I’ll keep calling until they answer.”

He continued to get dressed, then shuffled to the door, outfitted with several layers and a hat that looked like it could sustain a burly man through a Siberian winter. My husband and all of my in-laws believe, as much as they do in God, that cold temperatures are responsible for 99.9% of illness, even stomach viruses. I’ve earned the reputation of a trailer trash mama for letting my kids sleep with the window cracked in the springtime. Once, I even found a doctor in Morocco to declare that viruses cause illness, not strictly cold weather, to which they simply replied, “wa’kha,” which, in the Moroccan Arabic dialect can take on a lot of meanings, but in this instance it was a polite way of communicating, “O.k., if that is what you want to believe.”

So, my husband stands there at the door, looking like he is going to harness his sled dogs to journey, and I remind him again: “Baby, please don’t be stubborn, you must make an appointment before going to the doctor; it’s called a same-day appointment.”  He has lived in America for going on 18 years and I wonder why I have to remind him of these facts. 

“Wa’kha,” he tells me.

“No, really,” I persist.

His last statement was: “It’s alright, they know me.”

“Wa’kha,” I retort.

When he left, I chuckled, assured that he would likely be seen within the hour.  An hour and a half later he calls me to say he is on the way to the pharmacy. The doctor thinks he has pneumonia and gave him four prescriptions.  He will go back for a check-up on Friday, presumably, without an appointment- God willing.

I would be shy to attempt walking in on a doctor that works by appointments; he is too set in his ways to attempt anything else. He genuinely thinks I am the one who is confused. How does the saying go? You can take the man out of Morocco but you can’t take…..

You know the rest. 

To all the doctors out there who have ever taken care of my very Arab husband, and who ever will in the future…thank you from the bottom of my collard green heart.


Mama Fatwa

30 Jan

It’s Sunday morning around 8:30, and I’m in bed playing possum; that means I’m awake but keep my eyes closed so my kids will not pester me.  I feel tiny cold toes nudging the back of my leg.  I turn around towards the agitator; it’s four-year-old Nelly, an inch from my face, smiling wide. She’s so proud to be the one to wake me up.  Her puppy breath goes into my nose. Ah! Aroma therapy.  

“Mama, can I have Rock Star Barbie for Eid?”

We celebrate two big religious holidays a year, Eid ul-fitr and Eid ul Adha.  The next Eid is not until the end of summer, but my kids are always compiling a list. This question is familiar. I remember telling her nada the first time after she discovered this Barbie at the Wal-mart.  I close my eyes to try possum, again, but I’ve already given up my position.

“Pleeeeeeeeease, Mama.”

Time for another Mama Fatwa, I sigh to myself.  A Mama Fatwa is when I single-handedly declare something haraam (forbidden), because I haven’t the energy or mental prowess to start a discussion behind the reasoning, or go find a real fatwa (Islamic legal ruling), to back up my edict. Muslims believe something is haraam because there is a reason why it’s bad for you (not just for kicks), so it’s important to have a discussion about that reason. Ordinarily… but in this instance, I haven’t had my coffee, and this child is asking me if she can spend her father’s hard-earned dollars on a grossly un-proportioned, skanky icon, who stands on her tip toes all the time.  

Actually, Nelly does own a Barbie but that particular model is a doctor; a doctor who wears skin-tight capris, but at least General Hospital Barbie is trying to be respectable. 

Here goes Mama Fatwa:  “No, it’s haraam.”

“But, Mamaaaaaa, I waaaaaant it.”

Mama Fatwa, not surprisingly, has failed to silence dissent. I move on to the second line of defense:  “Go ask your Ba-Ba,” which is what my Collard Green Muslim kids call their daddy. My husband doesn’t even have to give fatwas. He just says, “la,” which in Arabic means, no, and they give up. That’s his sparkly prize for being consistent most of the time.

I switch gears.

“What are you going to get Mama for Eid?”

She is quiet for a long time, so long that I almost fall back asleep for real. 

“I’m gonna get you a chocolate hijab!,” she yells, amplifying her puppy breath.

Hijab is the name of the scarf I wear on my purty head which makes me kinda-sort-of resemble Biblical characters from the stories my Sunday school teacher read us at the Methodist church. I say kinda-sort-of, because I don’t recall any of them sporting loose khaki pants or jeans.

“What’s a chocolate hijab?”  I would really like to know.

“It’s a hijab mixed with chocolate.”  Nelly is wearing that wide smile again; she’s so proud to have thunk it.

I do my best cookie monster impersonation, “Mmmmmm, me like cho-co-late hijab….I’m going to eat it….ummmm-aam-um-aaam, yummy.”

“No, Mamaaaaa, don’t eat it!,” Nelly pleads.

There is another long silence.

“I’ll make you a vanilla hijab. But don’t eat it, o.k., Mama? Promise you won’t eat it. I want you to wear it.”

“O.K., I won’t eat it. I’ll wear it.”

Sunday mornings rock.   


29 Jan


That is how I woke up, on the morning of my first visit, after arriving in my husband’s home town of Oued-Zem, Morocco.

The voice grew more intense, then furious, and downright shrill.


And then again…


Not exactly a  melodic call to prayer; the third time got me out of bed.  Because I was in my very early twenties, and college educated to boot, I was knowledgeable on a range of subjects.  I knew, therefore, that jihad meant ‘violent holy war.’  I looked out the screen-less open window from the second floor bedroom, onto the alley below. There weren’t any blood-thirsty, shouting men or American flags on fire, just a grown woman in flip-flops.  Her hair was tied up in a bandanna and she was holding a bucket of shallow, murky water. My husband, who was half asleep, mumbled from his side of the bed, that Jihad was her eight-year-old daughter’s name. By the sound of her mama’s voice, I thought that wherever Jihad was headed to, she ought to keep on going. In the south that kind of hollering means a butt-whipping is on the horizon. 

I put my head back down on the sheep-fur pillow and thought to myself, what kind of a mama would name her daughter, Jihad?  A southern mama would never name her little girl, Violent Holy War.   Then, I tried to go back to sleep, but laying in beads of my own salty sweat, I gave up.

Many mornings I woke up, sweating, to this mama’s pleading for “Jihaaaad!”  That girl was always running off when she ought to be doing something helpful around the house. I imagined her at a creek somewhere, like Lulu creek where I grew up. 

Come to find out, Jihad’s mama did not name her Violent Holy War. In the Arabic language, jihad, means struggle.  However, not the kind of struggle you endure when you are determined to open a can of baked beans without a can opener, and end up in the crowded ER, smelling like brown crud, with a three inch bloody slice in the palm of your hand. 

Jihad is the kind of struggle against one’s lower desires. These lower desires stem from nurturing the ego (nafs), as opposed to a relationship with God (Allah), built on the firm understanding and experience of God as One, without partners (tawhid).   To wage jihad, as it is traditionally understood, is a commitment to achieving one’s personal goals; so, it is a sweet struggle toward contentment on earth and everlasting peace. Jihad, I came to understand, is a wise choice for a baby girl, whose mother wants her to mature into a young lady desiring of self-sacrifice, over the fleeting pleasure of running off to some God-forsaken place- that only leads to a butt-whipping in the end. 

When the marginalized and outnumbered Muslim nation of the Prophet Muhammed’s time (peace be upon him) returned from an early battle, after fighting off a siege, launched by the pagan Arabs of Mecca, there is a statement, some attribute to him, wherein he cautioned the believers:

“We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad,” meaning, the struggle against the ego which leads to disequilibrium and eventual ruin. A good article on this subject is by Seyyed Hossein Nassr and is found here.

Last spring when I was in Oued-Zem, a woman stood in the same alley at dusk, where that mama in flip-flops woke me up with the sound of her daughter’s name every morning.  The woman smiled at me, and a quick dimple appeared just above her full, smooth cheek and below the corner of her mahogany-colored eye, where a teardrop might otherwise be.  She looked at me as if she knew me from a dream I once lived.  

“This is Jihad,” my sister-in-law said. 

She was carrying her baby brother on her high, bony hip, and she was on the way to the corner store to pick up some things for her mother.  Jihad had just graduated from high school and was planning to attend the University. I struggled to find words to complete all the niceties a southern girl is bred to afford, when she meets someone again, especially a young woman all grown up. 

The streets were full of  chatter that evening, but their voices sounded in my ear as a low-pitched muffle. The alley was still. I longed to have the silence interrupted by the endless call of “Jihaaaad!,” ringing in my ears.