Archive | February, 2011

As Seen On TV Muslims

24 Feb

Did ya’ll ever watch the movie, Not Without My Daughter? I saw it in my first year of high school. It’s a Cowboys & Muslims adventure.

The Muslim is played by Alfred Molina, a British actor of Spanish/Italian descent. The cowgirl stars in that famous commercial about how Once-Monthly Boniva armed her against postmenopausal osteoporosis. I loved her collard green performance in Steel Magnolias. Did you know Sally Field is from California? Yup. I looked up her bio and saw photos of her on the beach, as a girl called Gidget, and then swathed as The Flying Nun. I assumed she really was collard green.  Maybe it’s in her bloodline. How the heck did she play Norma Rae so convincingly?  I was less shocked to learn that Vivien Leigh, who starred as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, was British. After all, Scarlett O’Hara was, essentially, a rich fuss with a southern accent and a survival instinct. A finely chiseled English actress can pull that off… but, Norma Rae? It’s tormenting.

Anyway, Not Without My Daughter is the story of an American mother who gets a genius idea to marry a Muslim immigrant who had lived in the U.S. for twenty years practicing medicine. He’s cute and cuddly in America, oh sure, but not long after the family arrives in his home-country of Iran he takes off his Care Bear mask. The husband is embraced by his extended family- all bearing allegiance to black cloaks and furry eyebrows. Then, it’s one scene after another of him beating her while they look on menacingly. Finally, the American mother smartly orchestrates a plan to smuggle herself and her daughter to an American embassy and escape the whole tribe of meanie-Muslims.

Just before the credits roll, she looks haggard and defeated. Then, suddenly, she catches sight of our Red, White and Blue, waving in the distance. That’s my cue to burst into a slobbery cry of relief. I feel safe (fortressed), warm (drowsy), and fuzzy (slightly paralyzed). The cowgirl escaped the Muslims, into the arms of Lady Liberty. The End.

Dimmers release… time to go home…bright theatre lights pop… gotta’ take the dog outside to pee…tears go stale…my breath tastes like salty, orange saturated fat…the music stops… dang, I wanna’ brush my teeth!…ushers sweep under my feet…I need some sleep. Tomorrow is a new day! Yee-haaaw!

We never find out what happens next -whether they live happily ever after. That is not the point. The point is to scare the crap out of you. It worked! I watched it in the ninth grade and renewed my solemn oath to marry Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise. I was pretty sure they were not Muslim.

Not Without My Daughter was filmed in the U.S. and Israel, and was allegedly based on a true story. Twenty years after the film’s debut, Finnish documentary makers dug up documents and eye-witness accounts which sharply contradicted the battered mother’s account. That film is called Without My Daughter. It tells the story of an Iranian father swindled out of his fortune and separated from his daughter by his sinister ex-wife.

As a woman’s woman, I just can’t wrap my mind around that version. I believe her. I hope when she made it back to the U.S. she returned to the support of an empathetic group of good girlfriends- not shallow, gossiping wenches. My motto is: It takes a village to raise a strong woman. It takes a village to keep her strong.  It takes a village to help her find a job and a pit-bull attorney, when her rodent of a husband becomes infatuated with his agile secretary – florescent fingernail polish and all! I BELIEVE ANITA HILL!!

Do ya’ll catch my drift?

I’m relieved for any woman in that position and I admire her courage. You don’t have to watch Oprah to know that abusers will become more manipulative and aggressive when the marriage is about to end, and they confront a loss of control. The abuser will try to regain control with more intimidation and violence. If he can put her in a situation where she is more vulnerable, say another country, where she doesn’t speak the language, he will.

This phenomenon, tragically, happens on U.S. soil as well, involving American jerks and foreign wives. The women, some of them mail-order brides, find themselves in violent situations out of their element, and they do not know who to trust or what resources are available. Not until relatively recently did The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) put into place aggressive legal protections to address this crisis. Now, a woman in the U.S. who would otherwise depend on an abusive spouse to obtain legal status, and access the court system, can go to a safe haven and receive help. The law will turn on the abuser, instead of on the abused. There are non-profit attorneys who work, almost exclusively, helping victims under VAWA; which illustrates how severe is the problem.

If the husband and wife are citizens of different countries, it becomes even more problematic when there is no equivalent of VAWA, and even worse, when the laws favor the husband over the wife. It is insincere to deny that some Muslim-majority countries do interpret Islamic family law to hail to the chief to the detriment of women and their children.

Now, don’t go winding your head and saying to yourself, uh-huh. I said some countries. Let’s not forget, there are Muslim-majority nations where women have been elected to serve as the head of state, whereas we have yet to reach that milestone. Yes We Can(not) Elect a Woman for President.

Sorry, ya’ll, I had to go there. It has a ring to it.

Many Muslim-majority countries, like Morocco, have initiated significant legal reforms in family law over the past decade, though it has a way to go for those reforms to gain acceptance in the hearts of people. A middle class couple I know in Morocco were married for only two years; the marriage did not produce children, yet the husband had to cough up a one-time alimony payment. His wife was self-sufficient and worked full time; however, the payment was required because she convinced the judge that her husband was el-cheapo. The Islamic family law court decided the case according to a Shari’ah principle, which applies to women, and can be roughly paraphrased as: My money is my money… and your money… is my money!

Under Islamic law, a woman is entitled to all of her earnings and inheritance, and she is entitled to support from her husband, regardless of her financial status. Anything she contributes to the household is deemed charity.

In Not Without My Daughter, the only part I have a hard time believing is that her husband was so archetypal before he reunited with his Muslim family and into the womb of his Islamic faith. You also don’t have to watch Oprah to know that all abusers are not Muslim, but some Muslims are abusers. That’s an important distinction. Sadly, abusers are ubiquitous. Evil does not confine itself to geographical borders or religious communities. Life is more complicated than that; although, the film leads us to believe that, but for, the injection of Islam and Muslims, the couple would have lived happily ever after- in a ranch house near the post office and convenient to several outlet malls.

Doesn’t it seem more plausible that the mother knew to some degree that her long-time doctor/husband was on the arrogant side with a mean temper, and harbored a skewed way of looking at the world? It seems more plausible to me that only after facing up to the complete desperation of her situation in Iran, did she find the strength to leave the marriage. Sometimes women don’t know how strong they are until they find a very good reason to dust off their long lost courage and make it work again. Not wanting to choose between living in abuse forever and giving up one’s daughter is a very good reason to dust off- no matter the risk involved.

If the story had been about a mother who willingly went to Iran with a long-time husband, in a rocky relationship, in the hope that someday he would change, then it would have been another movie entirely. Instead of good versus evil, Cowboys versus Muslims, it would have been a complex story, and it would have evoked complex feelings.

The cowgirl would not have been digested as the sterile protagonist that everyone wants to pay to watch, whilst inhaling a vat of buttered popcorn. Instead, she would have been the mama who made a really crappy decision to place herself, and worst of all her daughter, in a familiar and abusive situation, but in an unfamiliar context. She would have thrust herself into a pit in which she did not have the immediate resources to climb out. A woman smart enough to figure out how to steer her camel to Turkey, had enough sense to know that she had nothin’ from the start, except a plane ticket to Iran and a very shrewd, arrogant husband. No support system. No language skills. No grain of geo-political understanding. No contact to help her navigate the judicial process. No GPS! She’s flat broke with a kid to worry about. No one put her on that plane except her own two feet, in a pair of plastic Payless Shoes.

However, the fact is, she did pull herself and her daughter out. She screwed up big time, but she sat herself down. She rested her pounding heart. She thought real hard. She made up her mind. She put herself last and her daughter first. She looked around. She scavenged for recruits. She winked. She enlisted confidence. She won sympathy. She walked barefoot. She risked her life. She did what she had to do.

That takes intelligence, guts and self-sacrifice. It would have made her a convincing protagonist, in my view. Why didn’t they make the film about real people? Why are bad guys, too often, tied to geographic borders? Can’t the bad guy be rotten by virtue of being human? Can’t he be rotten because he never waged battle against his foul heart, or detached from a cycle of abuse; instead, he fed his parasitic traits?

If we acknowledge that abusers don’t speak a particular language or follow a common dogma, then we have a collective responsibility to solve the problem, and heal the trauma of domestic violence – we are in global partnership towards a shared goal to solve a global blight. We are engaged instead of detached.

Complexity makes sense of the world. Do ya’ll agree?

That’s how I see things now, but when I saw the movie, I had never met a Muslim in living flesh, and you wouldn’t have found me standing in line to meet one after watching all those Kung-Fu scenes. I didn’t know how someone would go about meeting a Muslim, As Seen On TV, but if the case should arise, I would keep the conversation to short, plain statements. Although I’d never talked to a real Muslim, I had met a lot of them on TV. I knew that they came in three varieties:

1) Madder than a one-legged rooster at a butt-kickin’ contest;

2) Even madder; and,

3) Ready to die mad.

 In middle school, just before arriving at Not Without My Daughter, TV treated me to other films featuring non-descript Muslims threatening to rampage and plunder. I was glued to the news for several days straight while we went to real-live war with a whole nation of Muslims. They called it Desert Storm. I didn’t see many of their faces, but I did watch a lot of flashes in a night sky airing “live.” I figured they were somewhere there, safe in their homes, waiting for the commercials to come on and the fireworks to stop.

Fast forward to my early twenties and I was packing my bags to go meet my As Seen On TV Muslim in-laws for the first time in Morocco. Folks were worried about me, but they didn’t feel like they could just come out and say: Listen, stupid, don’t go there unless you want to get the stupid knocked out of you! Instead, they would ask me nonchalantly, without looking me square in the eyes: “Did you, by chance, see that movie, Not Without My Daughter?”

Identical to the movie, my in-laws met me at the airport with a big bouquet of flowers. I’m talking big! You could have put it on the Sunday Easter alter. That’s where the similarities end. My mother-in-law had on a bright, turquoise dress and she was kissing me ten times on each cheek. My appearance fit in with some of the women my age, although most did not wear an Islamic headscarf, called a hijab. No one cared who wore what. Everyone just wanted to eat, and we ate well. My grandmother won’t appreciate me saying this, so pretty please don’t tell her, but they gave southern hospitality some stiff competition.

No one asked me if I would like to try an As Seen On TV Muslim wife-beating ceremony. Imagine that! Everyone was happy. I had such a good experience, that I returned again and again, staying months at a time- both with my in-laws and on my own. No one ever tried to make me stay against my will, least of all my husband. They were probably glad to get their spare bedroom back.

On my first trip, they sent me home with a flowing velvet, purple dress which I wore to my homecoming. I asked my daddy if he liked it, and he said I looked like a skinny, white version of Aretha Franklin. I took that as a compliment (minus the skinny, white part), because he owned every greatest hit cassette that she ever made. I’d memorized most of her songs early on, just from riding around with my him as Ms. Franklin schooled me in “R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” Even if I had married an As Seen On TV Muslim he wouldn’t have tried any of that Kung-Fu on me, unless he wanted to meet my inner-Aretha.

People looked relieved to see me and I passed around some of the homemade cookies my mother-in-law baked. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune of sharing my experience with a lot of other ladies, Muslim and non-Muslims alike. Our stories are all paralleled by a common theme- ordinary folks in extraordinary moments, marked by lots of food and lots of love. I cherish all of my visits even if none of them would ever make it to the set of a Lifetime original movie. I had to travel far to see for myself that As Seen On TV Muslims are played by British actors. They’re not so easy to find in real life.

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My Daddy is Better Than Your Daddy

11 Feb

One question I get a lot is: what did your parents say when you told them you converted to Islam? I usually get this question from non-collard green people (a.k.a Yankees). A southern person doesn’t have to ask how my family reacted. A southern person just knows – with a lot of hollering and cursing. My daddy is real collard green because that is exactly what he did.  

Collard green people don’t hang around like flies on the sweet tea pitcher and discuss it from all angles. Heck no!  If you tell a collard green daddy you got a mind to stop being protestant, he will shoot up from his recliner like he’s watching college football, and his team just lost a touchdown. Then, he’s going to holler: Oh hell no!…and…No, they just didn’t!…and…What the hell just happened?!”

That is exactly how my daddy reacted when I told him I was a bona fide Muslim.

Then he stormed off and didn’t talk to me for a while. One day, out of the blue, he showed up at my grandmother’s house where I was visiting and said: “Get in the truck, let’s go for a ride!” and of course I did. That was that. We talked about the weather and we’ve been talking ever since.

That’s my daddy…and he’s better than your daddy, so don’t forget it! Keep reading and even you’ll be convinced.

Before I do, I want to confess something smarty-pants about myself, which is that I can read collard green minds. I acquired this genius after a series of encounters with nice collard green folks who said one sweet thing to my face and an entirely different thing behind my back. I became good at translating collard green facial expressions and body language.

When I became a Muslim, and started wearing a headscarf, it was only natural for some folks to think I’d gone….well, crazy. They’d hug my neck and say: “How are you? It’s so good to see you again. You look as pretty as ever,” Later, my sister or friend would call me up on the phone and say: “Do you know what that ugly woman just said about you?!”

I’m not pointing a finger at the judgmental people in my hometown because I love them all from the bottom of my collard green heart, even if they do think I’m a little crazy. Besides, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I know where I come from and I’m grateful. A small southern town needs a nice-sized crowd of judgmental people or it’s not even worth calling home. Judgmental people are part of the back-bone of what makes southern towns so quintessentially fabulous. Southern people are also incredibly generous. Don’t let me forget to tell you sometime about when people from my home town came out, all smiling, in dozens of cars and a bus-load, to attend an inter-faith gathering after I extended an invitation on behalf of the Muslim community. My grandmother was one of the first to walk through the door of the mosque.

If it interests you, I’ve compiled an excerpt of transcripts, compiled from reading all those collard green minds. Here is what some folks said to themselves when they saw me for the first time wearing a Muslim headscarf.

That is just crazy!

What the hell is wrong with that girl? Doesn’t she know she grew up in Winter Garden?

That is the funniest Halloween costume I have ever seen in April…she’s a trip. I oughta’ call her when October rolls around and invite her to my party.

Golly, that precious girl is already gearing up for the Nativity Scene. If there were more Christians like her in the world, we’d be better off!

I don’t know much, but I can guaran-dawn-tee ya’ ….that girl is crazy!

I can’t wait to go home and call up what’s-her-face, and we’re going to have a good time hollering about how crazy that girl is.

Oh Lawd! I’ve got to rush home and call up what’s-her-face and pray for that crazy girl.

Did I drink too much last night, or did crazy just walk in the door?

Come to think of it – her parents are kinda’ crazy.

Her poor parents – how’d she turn out so dawn crazy?!

Here’s the reality. I’d be crazy to ball up all my convictions, like a wad of trash, and throw them away with the coffee grinds and melon rinds. I’d be crazy to believe something to the core of my collard green heart, and then tell people something different. I’d be delusional and even worse…I’d be a stinkin’ liar.

I never sat down with my daddy to endure a deep, subdued conversation, wherein I eloquently expressed all my yearning and belief. I never needed to convince him to love me for who I am. That’s for other fathers. My daddy’s heart is too wise. He might have hollered, but at the end of the day he expects me to “get real,” and he never leaves me guessing. He tells me how proud he is of me- in case he thinks I might have forgotten. If you think otherwise, he’ll tell you too!

He’s not just better than your daddy today – he’s always been that way. Growing up I didn’t know anyone more fun than my father. He used to hitch up a wide wagon to a tractor, fill it with hay and candy, and take all of our friends through the orange groves. When I grew up, he painted his favorite tractor orange and blue for his favorite college football team – the Gators. The first time I ever went on a hay ride outside of the orange grove it was at an official fall festival up north. I nearly fell asleep. I didn’t know hay rides could be boring, and even worse – slow. That would have been a sacrilegious ride in my daddy’s book. I had chest pains that afternoon from missing him so much. My father would have ripped and roared all around the grove and over its protruding tree roots. He would have made up scary ghost stories and told jokes while the stray branches lashed us in the face. The ride would not have ended until everyone was wetting their pants, crying and laughing, and begging for him to keep riding.

He made our home a carnival. Sometimes on Sundays he would cook up bushels of blue crab; he let me help him clean out the guts which I was always honored to do, and secretly devastated when he forgot to ask. We would sit around the kitchen table with hammers and pliers, and mine for crab meat all day long, while my daddy fussed that we were wasting the best parts. He’d act out funny demonstrations on how to extract the crab’s flesh, with sound effects; then, he’d dip it in hot butter and tell us to “eat up.” People from our town liked to stop by and talk to my daddy. He would pull up a chair, or two, or three or four, and make sure they had plenty to eat, drink, and talk about.

My father can make blue crab taste like it ought to be illegal, but did you know- he also made big, fat gooey cinnamon rolls?

He never had a son until I turned thirteen, so he gave me the honorarium. He let me tag along on trips to the hardware store with him where he’d brag about what a good student I was to everyone standing still. Someone always ended up telling me what I already knew, but I loved to hear -that my daddy was one of a kind…”a real good man.” I’d ride around with him all day and he made sure the car was supplied with all the things my mom would never let me put past my lips -sticky candies and ice-cold Coca-Cola.

Under strict supervision, he taught me how to shoot a rifle which I never knew would feel like a mad mule kicking me in the shoulder. He forgot to warn me. His targets were cans of Mountain Dew. I shot the heck out of them, but when quail hunting season came around, he bought me a very fancy sling shot and warned me not to touch a rifle, for fear that I might get hurt. When I asked him how come he was always on the grill cooking for the guys and never out in the deep woods with his rifle hunting, he confessed that he didn’t like the feeling he got from shooting a bird. I felt so relieved and in awe. I wanted to jump up, hug him around his neck and never let go. I wish I had of done that.

My father, like most collard green daddies, considers that owning a rifle goes along with being a grown man; but you know, when my mom wanted my sister and I to have braces for our teeth, he didn’t have anything to sell to pay for it…so he sold his gun. I went to school with sparkling new braces to match the other gangly, rich kids, and ever since I have never been shy to smile wide.

We didn’t need an expensive jungle gym in our backyard because my daddy always found the perfect tree to rope a tire swing, and I don’t remember him ever telling us he was too tired to whirl us around the world “just more time!” Once, he swung up a tire swing high over the creek and I managed to get myself stuck dangling over the middle.  I was too scared to get down, so I waited for my daddy to come rescue me, which he did.

When I was close to the age of sixteen, he somehow got hold of an old truck that didn’t have a roof or any window- just the steel frame. He taught me how to drive in the orange grove, with him in the passenger seat. Once I got nervous and couldn’t focus my mind well enough to hit the brake pedal. I put us right through a large branch, but he was quick enough to find the brake with his own foot. We were stuck there in the tree, both rising our breaths like crazed bulls out of shock. I turned to look at him but I couldn’t see his face because the tree branch was smack-dab between us. I could only hear his fiery voice hollering: “What the hell were you thinking?!” to which I replied, “I dunno.” He didn’t give up on me, though. Then, after I turned sixteen he bought me a car with money my parents barely had to spend.

My father was the most fun daddy I knew, but he wasn’t always just for laughs. He knew what to say and how to say it when the ground was sinking. When my favorite dog Maggie died, he met me at the bus stop after school, unannounced, and said, “Get in the truck…let’s go for a ride,” and of course I did. He took me out to the middle of the orange grove where no one could hear me weep, and told me that Maggie was buried. I cried so hard; my body was shaking, but he held me up and told me to get it all out; that it was safe to cry. When I dried my tears we went back down to the house and never spoke about it again.

I cried but he never did. Once, after we got in the car from attending the funeral of his childhood friend, I looked in his rear view mirror to see his reflection in the glass. He had on a pair of black Ray-Bans and I caught the sight of a single tear trickle down his right cheek. I didn’t say anything, but I watched it make its way to the tip of his chin, and then disappear. I thought I had just witnessed a lunar eclipse.

If you could stay put to listen, I could tell you a lot of stories about my collard green daddy, but I imagine you have to get to your next rodeo. One thing I feel obliged to say before you go is that I haven’t always realized how much better my daddy really is than your daddy. Hard to believe, I know, but I’m hard-headed. I feel very bad about that, but since I have hard-headed kids, they may do the same, and you know what they say about pay backs.

If you think your daddy is better than mine (which I highly doubt), don’t be hard-headed. If you are able to, you ought to call him right this instant, and say it out loud, even if he makes light of it and cracks a joke- which is what my collard green daddy will surely do.

The Occasional Wedding Ring

9 Feb

I knew my husband for thirty long days before we married. He had a hard time dealing with commitment, but I was patient. He owned $230 in his bank account and a ten-year old Honda on the afternoon we exchanged vows. I am high maintenance, so I held out for a man with money. I was nineteen and no fool; I wasn’t going to be a bridesmaid forever.

Three years after taking the plunge, I picked out my wedding band at a mountain-side souk in Morocco. I posed as a stoic Berber fiancé to get a good price from an Arab jeweler, flanked by my mother in-law on one side, her sister-in-law on the other, and my husband behind me.

It was the best performance of my life — I didn’t say a word.

The ring has one row of platinum between two rows of 24 ct. gold, but it has a tiny wreath of fake diamonds along one of the grooves. I tried to buy a band without glitter, but every shop I visited, doing my best silent impersonation, was stocked with fake diamonds.

It was too big for my finger and I was about to have it sized down in Morocco, when a round Arab woman with plump, tawny lips, punctuated by a luring indent on the top crest, pulled me aside. She pinched my upper arm and said that “Insha’Allah,” (God willing) I would have babies soon and fatten up. If I sized the ring down I would have to wear it around my neck forever. She delivered her wide-eyed warning, without flinching- all the while holding onto my arm in a tight grip, in the same place that she pinched.

Four seasons later my son was born and required two surgeries before the age of one; I was also a law student and stayed so busy that I forgot to eat. I lost weight and the ring started flying off my finger every time I made a flamboyant gesture, which was often.

I had to take the band off and wear it around my neck on a gold chain, which years before held a crucifix in its place. A non-Muslim friend once told me I ought to take that cross and get it melted down for money. I wouldn’t wear it, but I’d as soon as given away my possessions than melt it for money. My mother had given it to me one year for my birthday.

Not long after, one of the sparkles on my wedding band plunked right out of its socket. It was revolting when a few months later a similar sparkle followed. I started to despise that ring. It was an eye-sore, and reminded me of one of the ugliest signs in my hometown, which belonged to a gas station.

I loved that store as much as I eventually loathed its sign. It doubled as a video-rental store. If we wanted to see the Karate Kid, our parents rented it from the gas station. I remember the thrill of watching a movie on our very own television with microwave popcorn from Jimmy’s Thriftway. At some point, that gas station erected a rectangular sign, smack dab on its forehead, outlined by a dozen or more balloon-sized fluorescent lights. It looked like a lighted make-up mirror for a grizzly giant in pursuit of an apocalyptic eyebrow waxing. Whenever a few of the lights fizzled, the sign went partially blind – just like my wedding ring.

On a return trip to Morocco, I tried to rehabilitate my ring by carrying it to a jeweler who only smashed another sparkle in the bare socket, and consequentially, made pockmarks in the gold. It was pitiful, but I continued to swing it around my neck. Occasionally, I would harangue myself over sporting a disfigured wedding band and swear it off for good. If ever I argued with my husband that band became symbolic for whatever that was the matter.

On another occasion I might be out and admire another woman’s sharply etched, glittering wedding or engagement ring, tailored to her delicate manicured finger. Then, my memories came back of our afternoon rummaging gold shops in Morocco, my acting stint, and the intense presence of the woman wishing me a full life, literally, surrounded by lots of babies. I’d go dig up the disfigured ring, put it on and feel happy. It looked on my finger as flotsam as it always had, or even worse because more of the sparkles went missing.

Lately I’ve been keeping it in a jewelry box between the beaded necklace my son made for me in kindergarten and my North Carolinian great grandmother’s wedding band, which I want to have restored. I don’t remember the last time I wore my disfigured ring.

A few days ago, I was driving down a one-lane road, thinking of what was in my refrigerator that I could improvise for dinner. My three kids were lost in some imaginings; I caught each of their gazes at the previous stop light, looking out at the dirt-tinged snow, on the margin of the asphalt, dissolving into puddles of running streams.

My four year old daughter’s small voice perked up.

“Mama, where is your ring?” she asked.

“What ring?”

“The one for marrying. The one you used to wear,” she said.

“It’s put away. God willing, I’ll go home and dig it up again.”

Twelve Rolls of Toilet Paper

6 Feb

I wrote down these events about four years ago when my daughter was just a baby. I was staying in Casablanca, Morocco. I am reminded of it every time our home runs out of toilet paper.

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I went to Metro this afternoon after putting on my daughter’s last diaper. Most products for daily living are sold off of donkey carts, and in small neighborhood shops, called hanouts, but I discovered that all the brands they sell give my girl diaper rash. Metro is akin to Sam’s Club or Cosco, where stuff is sold in bulk, and you have to pay for the privilege of shopping there.  

Morocco caught onto this good ole’ fashioned, American pass-time. If pretentious country clubs are not up your alley, these big boxes have the solution. For the cost of filling up your minivan with a tank of gas, you can treat yourself to walking up and down twenty-five air conditioned aisles, while tasting the free hors d’oeuvre all year long. For only spare change, you can top it off with a giant cup of Coca Cola, a hot dog, and then savor one of their tall, soft-serve ice cream cones. 

So, I took off on foot, with my daughter in a stroller, to walk to the Metro because I haven’t got a car in this city. I went strictly to buy one package of diapers. However, being the un-corrupted card-carrying member that I am, and self-appointed ambassador of the American consumer, I picked up a slew of other unrelated items: a bottle of ketchup, some floss, a pair of house shoes and a chrome kitchen gadget…oh, and a 12-roll package of toilet paper (on sale of course!). 

At the check-out it dawned on me that since it’s a privilege to be a member of this fine establishment, no one was going to bag my purchases; in fact, there are no bags. Crap! I felt ashamed for turning out to be such a sorry ambassador. I ought to have a shiny minivan to open its hatch and load my new possessions. All I had was the basket of my daughter’s stroller. The twelve rolls of toilet paper had nowhere but to balance a-top its canopy. I exited, and then headed for the main stretch of road. Then, I realized I looked plain stupid walking around with twelve rolls of toilet paper, and still feeling the sting of representing my culture so poorly – having showed up at the big-box with no minivan- I flipped course to take a back-road with fewer on-lookers. 

In my awkward haste, I turned down an unfamiliar road and got myself completely lost. I ended up in an upscale villa-neighborhood that gave the appearance of new construction with its fresh paint, clean curbs, and desolate presence. My eyes caught disheveled wreaths of roses spilling over the concrete walled-barriers which separated the vintage dust of Casablanca from whoever lives inside. Only the tops of the villas were clearly visible from the street, like a blonde angel on a Christmas tree. I could make out some face details of the fortresses, which shined through the iron gates.    

Outside of the walls, were human faces –those of gardeners and construction workers, giving me long stares marked by confusion. I wondered what would be an appropriate response: “Me and my toilet paper are pleased to meet you. How do you do?”  There were no other pedestrians and I was feeling lonesome. I decided to straighten my posture and look straight ahead as if to say – I am proud to be sporting a product as essential and hygienic as toilet paper!  

My thoughts, thankfully, were interrupted by the call to prayer from the mosque nearby. I cleared my cramped mind and continued on my way reciting the well-known and oft-repeated affirmation, La Illaha Ilala (There is only one God). As I neared a wide corner to turn left, I spotted a gardener turning his direction toward Mecca- the location where Muslims believe Abraham, and his son Ishmael, rebuilt the first house of worship, originally constructed by Adam (peace be upon them). By the time I rounded the corner, the gardener was prostrating on the grass before God, thereby performing one of his five daily prayers.  I was starting to break a sweat and the tranquil sight of his still prostration reminded me of God’s mercy. I said to myself, eventually we will make it home, God willing, so why not enjoy the journey, twelve rolls of toilet paper and all.  

Just then, my baby girl decided to do the opposite– she stirred in her seat and let out a siren-cry.  After a few more strides she was in an all-out uproar.  I hoisted the stroller up the steep curb, took refuge under a canopy of green leaves, billowing over a high gate, and set her free. She was hiccupping-mad at me, and my decision to relax turned into a stabbing pang of guilt for having gotten us so lost. I stashed the toilet paper into her seat, traded baby to hip, and started re-tracing my steps in a hideous-looking gait. I remembered the Turkish proverb – Whenever you travel down a wrong road, don’t be afraid to turn around and go back.   

I could finally spot Metro’s sign in the distance.  I made silent prayers for a taxi — hard to come by wherever expensive homes and cars are the norm. Then, a small, red taxi approached. “He’ll never stop,” I murmured as I waved him down. He already had a passenger and stopping for me would have required letting me take the time to unload my groceries and fold up my stroller, then find a place for it, my baby girl, and myself. In Morocco, as in the world over, time is money. 

He stopped and my first words where: “Shoukran, Shoukran Beezef!” (Thank you, thank you very much!). I thought that this taxi driver is either a Good Samaritan or desperate for a buck.  He offered a warm smile, set against a heavy five o’ clock shadow and drooping eyes with dark circles. He told me to take my time. A Good Samaritan, it turned out.  

My daughter stopped whimpering as soon as I took a seat and looked up at me in what I imagined was a sigh of relief. After a few blocks he let the passenger out and turned his attention to the baby.  

“Zweena,” he remarked, which means that I have a sweet-looking daughter. 

“Shoukran,” I said. 

We continued our conversation in Darija, which is the dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco. 

“I have two children,” he said, “a son, fifteen and a daughter, ten… and you know, my wife is pregnant!” He had a genuine, contagious smile. 

“Al-hamd-dulilah,” (all praise is due to God), I replied. 

“Can you believe? I have a son, fifteen, and a daughter, ten, and now my wife is pregnant?!” 

“Al-hamd-dulilah,” I repeated. At this point he had not caught on or at least did not make a point to catch on to the fact that Darija is not my native tongue.  

“Would you like to see the sonogram? She just went to have the sonogram taken. Do you know that they said the baby is a boy?!  Now I have two sons!”  

“Al-hamd-dulilah,” again, as I bounced my baby on my lap.   

“Would you like to see the sonogram?  I have the images with me?” 

 I nodded my head. 

He started driving the red Fiat with his knee, and then lifted the prayer rug on his dashboard, to produce the beloved images from a cloth bag, as if delivering the baby boy, himself. The car swerved in and around traffic, horns translating their driver’s grievances, into a monotonous, hypnotic blur.   

Ya Rabb! (O Lord!) I gripped the seat in front. It is a serious task to drive in Casablanca, with its lack of traffic signals and drivers un-willing to yield to the distinction of painted-on lanes.  Indeed, solid lines are regarded as a suggestion in Morocco and easily passed over like a hideous comment.  I hoped the proud father could multi-task. Finally he produced the images and returned his left hand to the wheel, while holding up the images with his right hand to the sun.  

“See! My son! He’s there!,” he pointed to a view of the baby’s head.  He rattled the image and I could feel the excitement liberating back.  My daughter caught on – waving her arms and legs in unison.  

“Really?! Can you believe that my son is fifteen and my daughter is ten and I am going to be a father again?!,” he reiterated and then paused before continuing. “But after this, BARAKA! (enough).  BARAKA!,” he repeated, and swiped his arm across the empty passenger seat at his side, as if an umpire calling time-out. 

“And you? How old are your children?” 

At this point I had to admit that I am an ijnabe – that is, I am a foreigner, to explain the stuttered Darija and heavy accent I was about to unleash. 

“Ah! Good, Good! Al-HAMD-ulilah,” he replied. 

“I have one son, who is five and my daughter, here, seven months.” I informed him, and then told him their names. 

He responded, in kind: “My son’s name is Anas and my daughter’s name is Assiya.”  

“Ah! very nice,” I returned. “So, you are Abu-Anas (father of Anas).” 

“Yes, I am,” he perked up, clearly delighted by the honorarium.  

By this time he maneuvered us safely onto Route Barree which leads directly to my apartment.  

“What is the name of this new son?” I asked.  

“I do not have one yet. What do you think? What is a good name?” In the rear-view mirror I saw his expression turn discriminating as he waited for my response.  

“Sami,” I offered, thinking of my adorable nephew with blondish curls who lives in another city.  

He was not convinced.  

“Yussuf,” I spat out.  

Still, he was not convinced. We were almost to my apartment and our departure.  I was desperate for a contender. 

“How about Yunus?!,” thinking of one of my husband’s favorite names.  

He re-adjusted ceremoniously in his seat, and his heavy eyelids tightened.  

“Yunus! excellent! That will be his name. It rhymes. Anas, Assiya, Yunus – ssssss,  sssssss, ssssssss, you see?!”    

“I see.” 

“Shoukran!,” he replied, and I understood it was not for the business, but for the name.  

After I paid him the customary rate on the meter, he idled the car and helped me extract all of my belongings, including my daughter.  

We exchanged hearty waves as he rolled off to his next customer. I hesitated a minute at my door until I could no longer follow the tail-pipe of his red Fiat in the distance. I hoped the name would stick, and at the same time thought how silly it is to hope such a thing. 

 Still, it is a tender thought – two strangers meet by circumstance and a name is born.

Stupid is Not a Character Trait.

4 Feb

Looking back on some of the things I’ve done in my life, in the quest to try new things, makes me laugh and feel good that stupid is not a character trait. Most of it involves culinary gaffes. I come by it honestly; I think the gene mutation started with my mom. This particular mutation compels a girl to start living off the collard green grid.

Once, my mom decided to cook an exotic dish. She ripped out the recipe from a glossy magazine, which promised mouth-watering Thai inspired, “Peanut Chicken.” She worked on that dish for several hours one Saturday. Imagine dry chicken breasts dipped in crunchy peanut butter; that was the flavor. You can bet she didn’t follow the recipe. My mom was an original Jazzercize queen in purple warm-ups. She was always looking for ways to make something low-calorie. In the kitchen, she committed mostly heresy and this isn’t back-biting because she would be the first to fess up. She is reformed now, so there is a silver lining. Her kitchen ran in sharp contrast to her chicken-fried, Georgia, mama-in-law, and her own Southern Living-inspired, North Carolina mother, who loves to cook fancy cheese grits with gruyere. Both my grandmothers moved to Florida to marry. The only thing I don’t remember my mom toning down was our vegetables – they were always cooked in fat-back. 

That Saturday we tried to eat the, so-called, “Thai chicken,” but my sister’s gag reflux kicked in and I think my mom ordered us out of the kitchen at spatula-point. The only ingredient that could have made it possible to swallow her dish would have been a gallon of cold milk. My mom’s best friend came over and ate the chicken, instead. Looking back I know what a good friend she had; if you can find someone to eat your nasty experiments and smile, you have a true soul mate. The same goes for a husband or wife.

I’ve done some very stupid things in the kitchen. Later, I gained a dear friend from Marrakesh, who gave me many self-less cooking lessons; until then, I was at the mercy of English-language, Moroccan cookbooks. I wanted desperately to bring the flavors of my husband’s hometown to our dinner table. My very Arab husband endured many Moroccan-inspired dishes before I ever figured out how to make it taste down home. I hope all the food he digested, with a grin, counts for something on the Day of Judgment. He was a good sport. I wish back then that I would have had a resource like this – check out Christine Benlafquih’s recipes on about.com. I’ve followed many of them, verbatim, and they are delicious (and stupid-proof).

The thing about a lot of Moroccan cookbooks is that they are fusion-inspired, which is not at all helpful when you want to keep it real. It’s like a Japanese girl married to a boy from Alabama, trying to cook collard greens, by sauteing them in extra virgin olive oil, as per the cookbooks instructions. It might be a healthy choice, but that’s about all. Her husband will digest those greens like a foreign object and say, “thank you,” if he’s smart. Poor girl, she’ll know, and then she’ll be back out there, again, hustling to find the resources to capture that down-home flavor.

While I’m on the subject, even though I’m no relationship expert (just ask my very Arab husband), one secret of success for a bi-cultural marriage is acquiring a taste, or at least a fondness, for the flavors of your spouse’s hometown. That sounds easy, but it’s a work-in-progress that will consume at least the first five years of your matrimony. Once you start to share common taste buds, and you’ve toiled thick-skinned, through the jungle to accomplish that, then you will both transcend any remaining, pesky communication barriers. Shared dishes never fail to convey the most subtle affections. It is more than food; you are serving up a steaming plate of nostalgia, from which you will both become nourished. Maybe the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. My husband can testify that the same is true for a woman’s heart. He can make finger-lickin’ barbecue (beef) ribs rival any southern picnic spread. If you make those strides, together, you will combine with a quality of love and companionship that can endure life’s tidal waves, where you might have otherwise been tossed to far-apart islands, to live in the bewilderment of what might have been. I think that’s along the lines of what Robert Frost meant by, ‘The Road Less Traveled.’ 

Anyway, back to my culinary gaffes. Needing to rely strictly on recipes tended to bring out the stupid in me. I was reminded of this last Monday when my daughter’s co-op homeschool science teacher – (here is her informative and fun blog) -sent home an assignment to make rock candy using a styrofoam cup, colored sugar-water, and a wooden stick. Her instructions stated to put the liquid in a warm, dry place to form the crystals. The first time I ever tried a recipe, which instructed me to keep the contents in a warm place, it turned out very badly. 

Before I took care of young’uns all day, I had a lot of time on my hands to do stupid stuff. Yes, thank God stupid is not a character trait! My inspiration was my North Carolina grandmother’s lament ringing in my ears. In my last year of high school she’d always say to me at breakfast: “What are you going to do when you get married one day?  How are you going to survive? I hope you know you are gonna have to marry a chef if ya’ll want to survive,” and then she’d hand me my toast, maybe even bacon, and scrambled eggs. My husband worked in a kitchen when I met him, cooking food. I had to prove to myself that I was capable.

Well, one day I set out to defy all odds by making fresh bread from scratch, armed with a festive-looking cookbook from the library. Listen, folks, if you want to become a home-cook, start with something like a milk-shake. Don’t graduate yourself to making fresh bread. Read on and you’ll see why.

I went to a local mom n’ pop grocer to buy all of the necessary ingredients. It was a southern college town, and this store was a local hot spot for all sorts. There were patchouli-scented hippies in dreadlocks and long arm-pit hair, buying herbs, and carrying happy, wide-eyed babies, nestled inside homemade slings. Next, there were old ladies in Sag Harbor sweaters and blue hair, flirting with the babies, while picking up batches of fresh collard greens and fat back. Last, there was me, sporting a matronly polyester-blend head scarf- that I probably picked up at an Islamic conference somewhere from a kind brother, wearing a shalwar kameez and henna-dyed beard, heartily congratulating me on my new-found faith while throwing in a free prayer-book.

I remember wandering around those hippies and blue-haired ladies, on a mission to find this ingredient called “yeast.” Apparently, yeast was required to make fresh bread, a commodity that I had only eaten fresh as buttermilk biscuits and I’d never made them on my own; though, my dearly beloved, North Carolina, grandmother told me at least a dozen times how she’d won the County Fair’s prize for “Best Buttermilk Biscuits.” I was determined to make fresh bread the Moroccan way; they prepare it from various types of flour, then shape it into a round disc, like mountain bread. They eat it with every meal, except cous-cous. If you want to become a Moroccan cook, at some point, you are going to have to tackle bread-making.

I found myself in the last aisle; on the left were all types of flours separated into plastic bins. The customer scooped out however much they required, weighed, and then labeled it before paying at the cash register. I came upon a bin labeled, “nutritional yeast.” Oh great!, I said to myself, yeast is even nutritional. I scooped up a whole bunch of it with visions of making fresh bread every day and probably skipped to the closest cashier; I was tickled with myself at finding real live yeast.

So, I got home and thumped that cookbook on the table, then opened the page, dog-eared, for fresh bread. It said to start with preparing your yeast by mixing it with some warm milk, sugar, and water, and then wait for it to rise. I waited…and waited. I’d read almost every other recipe in the book but the yeast would not bubble up like the book said it must. Thus, began my love-hate relationship with dough that endured for seven long years. I said to myself, oh heck- forget it!, and just threw the concoction into the flour mixture I had already measured out. Next, I added the required amount of water to begin kneading. I was sweating all over at the end. Making bread is a workout. Instead of Jazzercize, my mother could have been making bread for us all those years. It did not feel at all like the book said it should feel to the touch – which is elastic, shiny and springs back easily when you poke it with your finger. No matter, I shaped it into a pseudo-circle and laid it on a square pan to rise.

An hour went by and my dough was sad-looking, and not at all like the cookbook photo, which was making me feel very jealous. I traced my finger back over the recipe and returned to the part where it said to rise the bread in a warm place. There’s the trouble, I re-assured myself, this home is too cold, though it was the middle of summer. Why don’t I turn on the shower to the hottest setting? That’ll make it real steamy. My bread just needs a warm, spa treatment, and then surely she’ll rise and I’ll cook her. Clearly, I had no concern for the cost of heating. Not long after, my husband came home to find me all dressed, yet steam is rising in a continuous flow through the bottom crack of the bathroom door.

“What are you doing?,” he asked.

“I’m making bread, duh!” 

The only thing worse than doing something stupid is being caught red-handed doing something stupid. I don’t remember whether he laughed, or hung his head, or checked my head for a fever. I was too disappointed at the un-realized dream of fresh bread to notice his reaction. I also don’t remember what we ate for dinner that night. In those days my husband cooked a lot of good grub for us, and I prepared whatever simple dishes my grandma could tutor me to cook over the phone.

After that day, I found out that yeast, to make bread, is not called nutritional yeast which is thin and flaky. It is sold as brownish granules. I’m glad I did not let stupid get in the way of my aspirations. Now, we eat fresh bread every week and I can prepare a lot more than just round, stinkin’ loaves. I could feed an army with a carton of yeast and flour, if duty called. In fact, I make so much bread, I buy flour in industrial quantities. The only tragedy is that its shape is always on the funky side – not quite Moroccan, so it’s a good thing I have my collard green roots to pull me up.

I was going to say something else on the subject of bread-making, but its 10:40 p.m. and my four-year-old daughter just got out of bed to see if I’m still breathing. I told her to go back, that “I’m off the clock,” but she won’t listen. I’ll probably only have time tomorrow during my hectic day to give this one fast proof-read over. I’ve got plenty more culinary adventures to share. I hope you will stay tuned and that my kids laugh about this one day. I want them to know that, baby, I really have come a long, very long way.

Freedom- Write it Down!

2 Feb

This story happened a few weeks ago, and I re-told it recently to our Cub Scout den leader’s wife, when we ran into each other during a late-afternoon of sledding. I am reminded of it everytime I tune into the news to learn about the latest developments in Egypt, where masses have come out of their homes as far as the eye can see, sacrificing their lives in pursuit of change. For three decades Egyptians have been ruled by the same man, Hosni Mubarak; he claims to win by a landslide every election cycle. After Tunisia ousted its dictator, “Ben Ali,” Egyptians rose up, likewise, to achieve a pivotal shift from dictatoral rule to free and fair elections. 

I think back to all the times I have voted since turning eighteen years of age. I am always ecstatic when my candidate wins, but never so much that I want that politician to hang around for three decades. You don’t have to be a political junkie to be in tune to the developments in Egypt, or a political scientist to dissect the root of the mass uprising. If you have ever triumphantly worn an oval-shaped sticker, with its two simple words, ‘I voted,’ on election day, then you are already an expert on the situation in Egypt, and you can easily relate to their struggle. The Egyptians want their children to inherit a choice; they have demonstrated that they are willing to be bludgeoned, whipped and die to pass on that right. I was touched by this message, wherein people from the world-over assure Egyptians that, “I support peace…I support freedom.” Our daily prayers go out to the families in their earnest struggle for peace and freedom; may they taste freedom’s sweetness and build on the enduring roots of its nectar. 

My story goes back to one recent afternoon when my eldest son began work on an achievement towards his Cub Scout bear rank.  Here is my boy, all dressed up minus his handkerchief, which we misplaced that night -oops! I took this picture on the night a local bike shop volunteered to give the den a lesson on bike safety and care. 

The achievement required writing an essay on what makes America special.  He sat at the writing table for a long time contorting his mouth, while making repetitions of scribbling and erasing, to the point that I imagined his paper as an embattled fortress.  I felt blissfully proud of my boy for concentrating a great deal of lead and thought into a worthy subject. Finally, he announced: “The End.” I dropped what I was doing and perked up, to bestow my undivided attention.

He sensed my great expectations and cleared his throat, in preparation for a worthy performance. Perhaps, he imagined a half-hour turn on the Wii in exchange for a stellar reading. He inhaled deeply, then began reading an essay about how America is special because of its awesome parks, varied restaurants, sporting events and a few other un-memorable perks. I was horrified; too horrified, in fact, to respond verbally. 

“What, Mama?” he asked genuinely confused.

My son clearly had not benefited from a solid, proselytizing southern education; otherwise he would have written an entirely different essay. By the time I reached the age of nine I had endured a good many pep-talks on God, Country, and Football.

“America is not a four-star resort, child,” I cried. 

“Huh?,” he replied, which made it obvious that he was not pulling one over on me. He was sincere, which is even worse than being a prankster. I said to myself, surely, he is a smart boy that is simply fatigued.  He needs a gentle nudge. 

“Think hard, son, isn’t there something else you would like to write about?  America is special because….”

I scanned for the flickering of the faintest spark in his eyes. Meanwhile, I was sinking further into self-loathing and I was ready to kindle a fire to burn myself at the stake.  How could my collard green first born, and son of a hard-working immigrant, be so sincere in his representation of America as a vacation destination?!

As we both marinated in the silence, I mentally scanned for avenues to exculpate myself. My son has been privy to plenty of pep talks on God and Country. The mosque is made up, partly, of the African-American descendents of former slaves and civil rights activists, who give witness to their sacrifices in the pursuit of making our Constitution live and breathe, as opposed to starchly proclaim the inalienable rights of all (wo)men. 

We are also witness to the struggle that innocent, modern-day Muslim-Americans have endured at the hands of political and legal manuvears that dictate guilt by association. It is also made up of Muslim immigrants who speak of discovering the enduring values and beauty of their Islamic faith in America, and proclaim time and again that those values are consistent with their American way of life. They say this is due to an open exchange of ideas and the access to worship freely; which includes, the right to deliver and receive un-censored sermons. By contrast, in too many Muslim countries, a government ministry must approve Friday sermons, known as a khutbas, before they can be delivered to the congregation. In Tunisia, before the spark of freedom ignited there, plain-clothes police turned citizens into authorities if they appeared to pray too often.  

The Muslim-American community is one that has maintained its undying love for America, even if that love has not always been reciprocated. As for football, there is plenty of that playing out on the front and side lawns of every mosque we have ever had the privilege to attend. It is not a utopia, but my son has certainly been exposed to a version of the God and Country mantra that I grew up hearing in the south. 

So, I asked myself again, why does my child freely articulate his love for country in relationship to its tangible offerings? Does he understand that the overriding intrinsic asset, known as freedom, cannot be assured? It is dependent on the will and sacrifice of the people who determine its course. Does he understand that it is not constant? It ebbs and flows. Even within the same society, it fluctuates, yet survives so long as the people are persistent to the extent that they love and need to freely make choices as much as they love and need to breathe. I wanted to get to the bottom of these questions in my son’s mind, if they existed at all.

“Because….umm….I dunno, Mama,” my boy replied, then adjusted into a more comfortable position in the green chair at his writing table, thereby signaling to me the white flag, and resigning himself to one of my fire and brimstone talks.   

“What about the freedom to do all of those things you describe, son? You can pray where you want to pray, eat where you want to eat, work where you choose, study however you like, run for office, vote, and….”

“Mama,” my child interrupted in a low voice.

“What?!”

“Uh…Mama…but, I can’t do any of those things. I’m just a kid.”

“Well, one day you will be a grown-up and have freedom…so write it down!  Freedom!  Write it!”  I gave my marching orders but was too far gone to laugh at the irony. 

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, clearly relieved, and began to write about freedom.

He wrote a lovely, coerced essay about freedom.  I’m such a proud Collard Green Muslim mama. 

Mothers and fathers in Egypt are sacrificing their lives as they rally for the right to make a choice – they have been gassed, beaten, and killed -all in the pursuit of that intangible asset which gives oxygen to every other element that develops and maintains a prosperous nation. Perhaps, twenty years from now, there will be an Egyptian mama at her wit’s end, telling her son or daughter to:  “Write it down – freedom!” 

Muslims are instructed by the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, when he stated: “None of you truly believe until you want for your brother what you want for yourself.” I’d like to send the people of Egypt, from all backgrounds and beliefs, a message: I want for your children, what I want for my own. I, too, support peace and freedom. 

My earnest prayer is that the children of Egypt grasp and preserve that intangible asset, which none of the senses can concretely discern, yet which the self instinctively recognizes as animate and organic.

High Talker

1 Feb

If you followed my blog yesterday, you may recall that I described myself in Spartan-esque glory. I said something about having a hard time waging sympathy for my husband who was sick. This was on account of having pushed out three offspring- two of them by natural labor, which is the ancient method of begging your midwife to either kill you or give you drugs during the last stretch of labor, while she coaches you to victory. Midwives rock! 

The part about natural labor is true, and I’d do it again, but one thing you should know about me is that I’m of the southern variety known as high-talker, but only with the best intentions. You see, I actually believed those things about myself yesterday morning, when all my wits were intact. Since then, I have succumbed to the evil legion of influenza, which hath no mercy, and I am begging for sympathy. Truth be told, I have no desire  to stylize myself as invincible – that is a hideous predicament of the male species…which is, actually, kind of cute and comforting.  

Here I lay, while Dora The Explorer teaches my other two offspring how to speak Spanish via Netflix re-runs. My husband is currently away at work with our first-born. He had to carry our son to the pediatrician this afternoon, then had no choice but to take him back to his office to get a lot of work accomplished. Yesterday, the boy’s shoulder got dislocated. While attending a home school co-op class, next to the mosque, he and another child were imitating luchadores, leading up to the injury.

Fortunately, there was a qualified expert in attendance, a doctor-mom, who knows how to remain calm in the midst of another freaked-out mom. I was running back and forth from the front porch, communicating with his pediatrician, whose receptionist was asking me repeatedly, and lethargically, to phonetically spell our boy’s very Arab last name. Thank God my doctor-friend knew what to do. She saved the day. Our son went to the doctor this afternoon to see about an X-ray. Now, we are looking at a future appointment with an orthopedic specialist. Yeah! All-in-all, though, it looks like he is going to be fine and he is not in any pain.

So, I’m home in bed, eating yesterday’s words and pitifully suffering. I am calling my very Arab husband ever so often to impress upon him my delicate condition. I’ve also asked him to rush home to rescue me, which does not look like he will anytime soon. 

This message is for you, very Arab husband, from your high-talker, collard green Muslim wife:

If you happen to read this, I think you should come home right away and bring a caravan-load of sympathy. Could you also make me some hot chicken soup (with sage and a lemon on the side), plus a warm crusty French baguette?  I think I might be dying. Thanks!