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Words to the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation

12 Nov

Words to the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation:

On the Occasion of the Inter-Religious Family Dinner: November 11, 2017

I am so pleased to be here tonight representing my diverse faith community, and within it, the Islamic Society of Baltimore. Thank for this outreach to our community. It is a very kind gesture that will remain long in our hearts.

This occasion is ripe for reflecting on one of my favorite verses from the Qur’an, the text which Muslims believe God revealed through the Angel Gabriel.

O humankind! We have created you from a single male and female, and made you into tribes and families so that you may know one another. Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. Surely God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

O humankind! It says. Not O Muslims! O humankind. It addresses everyone on earth, not only the community of Muslims. I am being addressed along with all of the members of my human family.

We are connected by origin, by membership in the human race. Connection is a vital ingredient in a meaningful and pleasurable life. The need to connect socially is powerful. Our emotional and even our physical health depends on the quality of our human connections. In languages around the word we use the language of pain to identify social pain. So, we say, “He broke my heart.” Or “She hurt my feelings.” We are biologically “wired” to connect. I believe we limit well-being if we limit our connections to people who look like us and worship like us. We have the freedom to expand our connections to all of humankind!

Then the verse says: “created you from a single male and female,” which is our common ancestry in Adam and Even. Our Jewish sisters and brothers may refer to the Misnah, Sanhedrin 4:5 which states, “Furthermore, the first person was created alone for the sake of peace among men, so that no one could say to another, ‘My ancestor was greater than yours.”

When we view our individual selves on a continuum dating back to our first mother and father, the idea of racism, is dumb, even laughable. Thinking people will arrive at the rational conclusion that there is no pure race, no better people, no real hierarchy in the human family, beside the ones that we fabricate in our imaginations.  And this is intentional, because we come from one origin, one mother and one father.

So, there is no hierarchy. We are all the same, right? But no, we have evolved in a way that we are very different. We have differences and those differences are the inspiration for hatred, blood-shed and community-inflicted trauma. We niche out privileges based on color, class, culture, beliefs. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler, so much more peaceful if we were all exactly the same, if there wasn’t this overwhelming variety within us? It’s chaos, isn’t it? Why within our human family is there intentionally so much variety? What’s the point?!

This is a question that my eight-year-old son decided to ask me a few weeks ago, before my morning coffee. While I was all blurry-eyed, he asked:

“Why can’t we all just be the same. Why didn’t Allah create us all to be alike? It would be so much easier.”

He is a minority in a secular public school. Even though it is secular, in reality the special art projects and extended holidays cater to the cultural identities of Christian Americans. At school, our children make Christmas ornaments, Easter-themed spring decor, Valentine Day Cards, etc… Never Jewish dreidals or Ramadan Lanterns.  In fact, when a Jewish friend and I recently teamed up to point out this obvious fact, another PTA mom responded that it is important to celebrate the “prevailing cultures” holidays.

So, on Christmas ornament making day, my Jewish friend asked me to take her children for the day to play together. It happened to be a Friday and she gladly gave permission for her children to attend our Friday services in the Mosque. Two weeks before our daughters attended a youth group program in a synagogue where my daughter enjoyed an up close and personal reading of the Torah scroll and heard a beautiful recitation of it. We have to arrange these opportunities for our children, so that they will have an appreciation for their unique identities even if they are not celebrated by the “prevailing culture” as the mom phrased it.

In each instance, both at the synagogue and the mosque, our children were completely absorbed, looks of innocent fascination on them. They were totally in the moment, completely connected to the moment, to the people welcoming them, showing them: this is how we worship, this is what we say, this is how we sound, this is how we begin and how we end. The children were encountering and connecting to people. Connection.  The hearth of physical and emotional well-being.

We cannot truly know each other unless there is some mystery, some questions and discovery between us. We are species who, when living in a natural state are deeply curious, and able to be completely absorbed into the moment of discovery.

But then, how to convey that idea in simpler words to my child, in a way that he would accept my answer?

So, I said: “Well, Laith, I want you to imagine a world in which everyone is the same: same religion, same color, same culture, same language, all same. Same, same, same. If you want, close your eyes and imagine that kind of world.”

He paused.

“What is that world like, Laith? Do you want to live in that world?”

“No, he said, very determined. That world is boring. I don’t want to live there.”

“Then, aren’t we fortunate that God did not create us to live in such a boring world, that we have different foods and we can learn each other’s languages, and beliefs, admire each other’s clothes. That we get to know each other. That we get to connect through getting to know each other?”

“Yes! We’re lucky.” He smiled.

The third part of that verse I mentioned at the beginning: the noblest, most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. In other words, do good deeds. Actions speak louder than words.

It aligns with the Babylonian Talmud Gitten 61a: “Our Rabbis taught, ‘Give sustenance to the poor of the non-Jews along with the poor of the Jews. Visit the sick of the non-Jews along with the sick of the Jews. Bury the dead of the non-Jews along with the dead of the Jews – Because of the ways of peace.”

In other words, we are all in this together. We all have shared interests. And right now, in America, we are at a heightened awareness of the need to celebrate our shared interests as religious minorities in our country.

Since last year’s election and even before, during the campaign, hate crimes and hate speech against Jews and Muslims skyrocketed.

We are witnessing a sharp rise in Nazi symbols, this year the White House intentionally omitted mention of Jewish victims in the President’s Holocaust Remembrance Day message. On the very same day, Trump issued a ban on refugees and anyone from seven majority-Muslim countries. Wearing a public symbol of the Jewish or Muslim faith, for example, my hijab or a Jewish man’s kippa, makes one a walking target for hundreds of organized hate groups, operating and gaining legitimacy.

Jews and Muslims are coming together to do good like never before. This year dozens of rabbis were arrested outside of Trump Towers while protesting the ban against Muslim refugees, and Muslims raised $100,000 to restore Jewish cemeteries which were destroyed by vandals in the wake of the hateful political rhetoric which brought Trump to an electoral election win.

We are sharing our common interests as citizens who are religious minorities in America and we are doing an even bigger job of making America arrive at a “more perfect Union.” We are always perfecting it. And it has always fallen on minorities to do the heavy lifting of advancing the human and civil rights, which are embodied in our Bill of Rights. Through our adherence to our respective religious texts and our consequent fellowship with one another we are making the ideals of our Nation’s founding, live and breathe instead of sleep as lofty words in a museum.

On behalf of my Muslim community at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. Thank you for this invitation. Thank you for this uniting gesture. We are sisters and brothers to one another, in common ancestry and purpose.

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Expired Love Letters

26 Sep

I write love letters on small squares of thin paper. Sometimes they return home to me, sauce-stained, ink letters bloated beneath water marks. Sometimes the words don’t come back at all. They cling, wet, around another child’s half-finished milk carton in the trash bin. They lie in landfills of coffee grinds and discarded diapers from squalling, rash-angst babies, who have suckled on the deflated breasts of yawning mothers.

I stand by my children’s sandwiches in the early morning, crust sliced clean off, thrown to the tail-wagging, salivating dog. He gobbles it in one leap and paces the floor while I twiddle my pen between middle and index fingers, thinking, softening, aching, even, a little.

No matter what I write, it won’t inject the tide of this…

‘I love you.’

And I don’t care where that message ends up as long as it travels first through their hearts today. I love you!

I write that and a few other words, less important, then tuck the paper swiftly into their lunches. I want my children to read the letters when we are not face-to-face. I don’t want to watch them actually reading it at this very moment. Though, before it has happened, I see my children silently grinning on the words in the noisy, echoing lunchroom, here, while they are just stretched out and pajama footed on the living room rug, picking up the lint – swollen and sleepy-eyed – asking me, what is for breakfast?

God, it hurts, it soothes – how much I feel this thin piece of paper.

It has been four days since I wrote one. Four school days of absence –only plump grapes and slippery carrot sticks. No love letter, because I do not write them every day. Only on some days.

The youngest child flashes high the last letter, like a ticket to the fair, then sweeps it down on the kitchen counter to rest.

“This one is expired,” he informs, with a straight, sober expression.

We walk to school. My daughter races off ahead to be in time for safety patrol duty. The one with the expired love letter tucks his hand beneath mine. We will walk like this under the wooded canopy all the way until the edge, on the top of the hill where other children can maybe see. Then, he will gently, but quickly let-go.

I stand there as a night owl, still and brooding. My eyes follow him until he is gone. And even after, I stay while the dog slaps my thigh with his pounding, impatient tail.

I turn to go back and my feet step over the soft, freshly mulched playground where the workers discuss how to dig out and replace a deeply entrenched border edging. I pass them, head nod, and push my tongue to the roof of my mouth to hold the tear quiet in the crease of my eye.

I imagine all of my children as grown and engaged in whatever purpose they must pursue someday. How many expired love-letters till then?

My town can be loved, but cannot be loving.

13 Nov

I grew up in a small Florida town where Mexican children and their parents worked in our orange groves. Teachers hollered, No Spanish in the lunch line! In this town we called the place that African-Americans lived the ‘quarters.’ They sneered on Martin Luther King Day: Oughta’ celebrate the day he was shot! Once, we waited in a long line to watch a re-mastered “Gone with the Wind” at the movie theater – a few ladies dressed as plantation owners and they were admired.

In this town I heard that slavery wasn’t as bad as ‘they fuss about.’ And a white woman who marries a black man is white trash; her children will be ugly and laughed at. African-Americans are gorillas for jokes – lots of jokes behind their backs.

In this town, we worshiped blonde Jesus and laughed at the notion of black Jesus, because of course, that’s not true…haahaa! There was ‘thank God’ no law to make us worship in the same church, so given the choice, of course, we did not. They said black people were generally ungrateful because they never appreciated that they would have been forsaken in Africa – living in huts, wearing animal skins, without church.

We were not racists. We knew ‘good black people,’ watched Oprah, gave charity, and loved Aretha Franklin. We were patient, Christian, and kind, though under siege – plagued with integrated schools, affirmative action, and political correctness.

I grew up in this town like thousands of other towns; you also grew up there.

A town that can be loved, but cannot be loving.

The election of a KKK-endorsed candidate should not surprise me. But, it does. Thanks to Facebook I’m aware that many childhood friends voted for Trump. Years of sharing photos, announcing milestones and oozing ‘likes’ did not rally me to Trump, nor humanize my biracial family to them. The safety and psychological well-being of other children, not like theirs, meant nothing in the end. People from my town voted for a candidate whose platform specifically targets the emotional and physical health of other families. I fervently disagreed with them and they fervently disagreed that I had any reason to be concerned in the first place.

One childhood friend posted an announcement from evangelist Franklin Graham:

Hundreds of thousands of Christians from across the United States have been praying. This year they came out to every state capitol to pray for this election and for the future of America. Prayer groups were started. Families prayed. Churches prayed. Then Christians prayed. Then Christians went to the polls, and God showed up.

God showed up for a sexual predator – a seventy-year-old man who giggles about walking in on young girls changing at a beauty pageant, and brags about his own sexual assaults. God showed up for a man with a record of discriminating against African-Americans. God showed up for a man who makes fun of Jewish people and stated that he would have Muslims register just like Jews leading up to the Holocaust. God showed up for a man who makes fun of disabled people. God showed up for the same man that has a white supremacist fan club.

If God showed up for that man, because of these small-town prayers, then I think a lot of people around the world would be terrified to know it. No one in my town is capable of racism or sexism because those evils are defined so narrowly, the devil himself is a saint.

That is my town. It may greatly disturb other people to know that I still love it. You can love a place that can never love you back. My town is my flesh and my memory, though it is not my writhing conscious. It is my heavy heart, but it is not my thirst. It is my tears, but it is not my yearning. My yearning is to the common bond of sister and brotherhood.

My town is too fragile to yearn. It has been broken by the burden of its own generational rage. If it does not change, if it does not open itself to returning love, it will destroy itself. Like Pharaoh’s town, it will be suffocated by its own oppressive hate.

Some people are trying to figure out how this election outcome happened. They scramble for explanations. But we know because we grew up there, that not much has changed. I can hear the town in my ear. My childhood ear.

Jesus loves the little children of the world/Amazing grace how sweet though art! /For the Bible tells me so/Love thy neighbor/Lord, have mercy!

And then,

Pride always cometh before the fall.

Their voices make me cry. I do not think that they can hear their own words. Their tongues speak, but their hearts do not know. They do not cry for the others. They shout ‘victory, victory!’ They cannot feel pain beyond rage.

My town can be loved, but cannot be loving.

We Lovers

8 Aug

He shoved a body board into our overstuffed vehicle and closed it with a Spartan rush. If he flinched for even a millisecond and the van belched, torrents of non-essential camping gear would tumble to the hot pavement. One day my husband and I will master the art of simple living. We will leave behind the extra (just in case) towels, (not sure if that can be fixed) lantern, and assortment of breakfast options. Once we’ve evolved into that sort of species we likely won’t have kids arguing over seating priority and sleeping bag assignments. We’ll revert to a small sedan into which we’ll sling an over-the-shoulder tent for two. And we’ll make camping reservations on Thursday night instead of two months in advance because we’ll be spontaneous, like that pulsating flash of a firefly suspended in the blended hue of night, as it turns from a blushed day into a dark ripple.

Irreverently, I sat in the passenger’s wing greedily fixated on my e-reader instead of kick-starting the family excursion with a sing-song or road game. And besides marinating the chicken and packing a few things, I hadn’t done a whole heck of a lot to make this plan go down, as I usually would. My husband did most of the packing without any, I’m at my wits end!!, fanfare. He just did it. Nineteen years of marriage, reassuringly whispering a subtle tune into the sore heart: some moments don’t insist on an explanation; they belong with the inexplicable.  My lover says.

But if explanations needed to be given, well then, suffice it to say that I hadn’t been feeling myself – perched on that glorious, ruptured fault line nearing middle-age, and not on a wholly tragic scale. Metamorphosis takes more than a few still hours. It is as rare as an eclipse, but more drowsy like a humming melody down a winding summer trail. The soul bursts out to meet it, to brace itself for that much anticipated awe-glittered moment, but in that covey of expectation, flaring outside of time’s capsule, appears a quivered slice of lightening. It startles like a rapid hush consuming a clamoring crowd. In that space, kneeling alone, jagged stones are hurled from all shadowy directions — stones born from every muffled, young trauma that I ever endured– giving breathe to the most violent sadness and yearning scream that was never heard, nor held, nor soothed.

Who will hold this for me?! Who is strong enough?! The answer swoops down like a steadfast, speckled falcon on its unsuspecting prey, hard and enduring: No one, but you!

But, damn if I’m not happier in that exhaling sublime space than I can ever remember being in my entire life. More content than ever imagined in this lyrical landscape of soulful existence in which nothing is settled because it’s all crisply new. In that space where everything is perfectly the same and yet deliciously different — a swaying old song played on a new instrument.

Our campsite came into view after a few wrong turns and mean glares at a GPS system gone awry. We tumbled out to survey our home for the weekend. A shady, gravel pad tilted awkwardly to give us the shining view of the neighboring campsite, inhabited by a young couple whose SMART car fit all of their essential belongings. At sprinting intervals our eyes caught their loafing, wilderness adventures, and their eyes caught ours. A new camping pastime we’d all collectively and bashfully discovered. Neither couple could resist noticing the other, like curious characters peeking into a fairyland mirror, a magical model, which lets its users glimpse in fast-forward and reverse. And the glimpses gave rise to sputtering commentary.

Ah, see that’s the little generator I was telling you about? $300, but keeps it all running.

When we’re old, we’ll sit up for as long as we want in hammocks like those. Ha! Never mind, we’ll probably have grand-kids to push us along by then.

Everyone is wearing tattoos these days and beards are back.

He’s splintering the wood.

Wearing a fat towel on her head the whole time, not even tryin’ to impress! A nice rut, but still a rut. Done that. Yeah, I’m totally inappropriate. But seriously, when they leave it will be like the campsite TV turned off. Bummer. (laughter)

My wife, crazy (more laughter).

Two kids in diapers, three a.m. pediatrician visits, fevers, finding good schools, if they have the kid track on play. Had fun, but glad that’s over for us.

Our kids ran in and out, oblivious, gobbled up helpings of hot barbecue and chips. Warm globs of marshmallow crusted around their eager mouths. They smelled of ketchup stains and the potent lingering smoke of sulky campfires. As typical, their emotions grazed – they fell happily into our familiar laps, arms around our necks, kissing cheeks, giggling, then suddenly sad over some perceived injustice or pushing out a betwixt rebuttal to our game-plan. Over and over their alternations worked like chiming bells echoing into our hearts, sometimes grating, and at other times like flushed warm light, washing us.

The fire mesmerized with its sporadic ear-pleasing crackles shot from ruminating heat. From time to time my husband doused it in lighter fuel, producing scorching high crescendos to cheerful, approving claps: “Do it again, Baba. Do it!”

In the closed canopy of wooded night, lanterns alighted faces. Our kids along with their co-traveling friends in the same loop, bedecked themselves with ring-stacks of glow sticks, saturating their spry bodies. We saw them, their neon formations– running and hooting loudly as intergalactic tribesmen, which startled us into laughter, a momentary rush of reason-less joy that we shared with our young neighbors. The only moment we willfully acknowledged, at once, suspended – two sets of eyes locking with two others, whispering into the phantasmal mirror, Is that you? The gleeful unexpected occasion to indulge all of the otherwise monotonous tasks: eggs cooking, pan scrubbing, bed making, hunched over coffee, nose blowing, paper reading, paper shifting, phone scrolling, teeth brushing, sleep snoring, adjusting positions on the mattress that we brought home together on that drizzling dreary day…adjusting assuredly into the nesting, warm nook of the other lover’s curled body, arms wrapping to bring the other in, like a harbor crying ‘home’ for only one voyager.

We sat back down in our folding chairs, by now closer to the dissipating fire. A glowing heat concentrated into the belly of wilting logs, its scalding orange brightness worked into embers, sighing wispy white ashes into the absorbing black night. A lull between us. Soft, full bodied silence. The silence that speaks so eloquently, and more precisely than spoken words, because it has the capacity to listen. Silence on the page that if someone else picked up, they would see blankness – nothing – nothing spoken, but from which your lover reads volumes, recognizes you easily. Though blindfolded, could pick you out of a crowded mute room by your hand, out of that suffocating hovel into sublime airy togetherness, alone. Your lover sits near you just to be near. You travel your way. Your lover travels too, though, not the same road. No one, but you! Still, together in ruptured silence, your lover is there, over soul eclipses and un-glittering, monotonous joy.

Mamahood is…

27 Mar

Mamahood is a lot of trial and flotsam error.

It is…

hindsight

wild and weird

sober monotony with psychedelic pauses

crying in an awkward place because you didn’t have the luxury of doing it sooner.

Take, for example –

Last January on a sunny snow-day my kids declared that we never do anything fun! They wanted to go sledding. I grew up in pitiful warm Decembers, drooling over Charlie Brown Christmas Specials. It doesn’t take much to twist my arm.

The whole family loaded into our flashy mini-van and set out for the local community college on a high perch overlooking an ideal sledding hill. The perch is very wide, distinguished by a steep climb on the left which I call Frikin’ Scary, and the gentler, less steep face which I call the Charlie Brown.

I like the later – this is the section for toddlers in football helmets, swaddled by middle-aged over protective mothers. Meanwhile Frikin’ Scary is where you find college kids, open containers, and the occasional torn condom wrapper.

An adventure seekers cornucopia!

Two years ago I got the nerve to slide down Frikin’ Scary and realized that sledding can actually be painful – not at all like Charlie Brown. It felt like I had become our flashy mini-van, hitting every pothole, going sixty. So, when my 14-year old pleaded with me,

“Mama, PLEASE, go sledding with me over there!,”

I abruptly said,

“Heeeeck no!”

Unfortunately, he inherited my obnoxious ability to repeat a request until it starts to sound reasonable.

Now, before I go on, I should let you know that I’ve been on lots of guilt trips in my career. I know that most moms are frequent flyers. It starts with choosing the right brand of pre-natal vitamins and never really ends. Teenagers are expert at choosing the right moment to take us for a guilt flight. They zero in like a fox tracking a furry bunny rabbit and then WHAM, pounce.

“Mama,” he said putting a hand on my shoulder and looking softly into my eyes, “Please go with me. You never do anything fun with me.”

WHAM!

Pretty soon I was huddled on the top of Freakin’ Scary in an over-priced bright green, plastic saucer purchased at Sports Authority the day before a historic blizzard blew into our town. I scooted myself off the brink of no return. Half way down my plastic green Sputnik drifted into a snowboarding ramp, fashioned by an inebriated, thrill-seeking college kid who can afford to bust his tail because he doesn’t need to drive through the mommy-line five days a week. Neither does he need to lift a 60-pack flatbed of juice boxes from the Costco shelf while commandeering a double-wide cart stocked with more boxes of frozen salmon, Go-Gurts, Marvel underwear, a giant patio umbrella, and a lifetime supply of post-it notes!

ZOOM!

I flew up into the air not like Wonder Women, and for the landing instinctively stretched out my right arm, which would have worked just fine if I was Elastigirl Mom from The Incredibles. But, no, I’m Ordinary Mom just flying on another guilt trip.

So, instead of SWOOSH, the impact went more like SWACK! I hit the hard-packed snow on my left side and slid down further on my face which bled and eventually scabbed, giving me the appearance of a battered Muslim woman. Oh dear.

When I stopped sliding, it occurred to me that I was hurt as indicated by the dizziness, nausea, and my arm felt like a cocktail of fire and apathy. It was a dangling exclamation mark.

It was a Charlie Brown Christmas Special meets Chainsaw Massacre.

Fast forward seven weeks later and I’ve got my hijab tucked under a shower cap about to be stabbed three times in the shoulder for a necessary procedure called Shoulder Arthroscopy.

The anesthesiologist tells me to sit back and relax. Yeah right! I’d rather be at home watching Charlie Brown with my kids. She puts a Top-Gun mask over my face. I’m about to fly. Yee-ay!

She tells me:

“I’m going to put something in your IV. Some people like this sensation. Some people don’t.”

Alright. This should be interesting.

I don’t like it at all. It makes the room spin. It makes me feel, OH MY LORD, like the time two years ago I was living in Morocco and nearly died from gas inhalation because I had come from the land of personal-injury attorneys and product-recall posters.

I thought I’d never see my kids again.

BLANK. BLACKNESS.

Next thing I know a sweet voice calls out to me,

“You are all finished.”

Her voice is like honeysuckle when it first wafers into the warm air. Not at all like the nurse in Morocco who sat for a half hour telling me every gory detail of every story she had known wherein the person doesn’t escape gas inhalation.

Then, I start to cry, cry, CRY.

Cry because I’m alive.

Cry because I’m going to see my kids again.

Cry because I know precisely what it feels like to brace for death and I can’t un-know that now. Ever.

It’s not even minutely about the bucket list. It’s about the kids. The plea to go on for them. The horror that they will go on alone. Their father’s sadness.

Cry for the guilt because I was helpless to protect my little boy who stayed behind with me. He jumped up and down hyper from the effects of the silent, scentless gas crying “Mama, Mama!” Then his eyes rolled back and he dropped unconscious and pale while I screamed. My own equilibrium slipped. I could not open the window. I could not find the key, then, I couldn’t manage to force it into the lock. The building was empty. Why wasn’t anyone coming? No one could hear me.  “Look at Mama! Look at me, dammit! Look!! Open your eyes!!” I eventually dragged him down three flights of stairs in my own stupor, begging God for another chance. He will die. Begging. Begging.”I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! Please look at me!!!”

Even under the haze of lingering anesthesia I am too ashamed to tell that part.

Why?

Cry like I should have cried for a few weeks when it happened.

Cry…cry….like I am not actually surrounded by a room full of strangers wearing a surgical shower cap and a pair of blue dog-print courtesy socks.

Now this man is highly skilled and exceedingly comforting as he patiently listens to my entire saga, but in all likelihood, he wants to go home to his wife and kids because it’s Friday and I’m his last case of the day.

I imagine him hollering: We got a crier on AISLE EIGHT!! Clean up!!!!

I try desperately to access my verbal filter and dust it off. It’s there, but I can’t seem to locate it in the haze of opioids. I berate myself and try to stop crying, but I just can’t. No filter whatsoever. I can’t stop.

Where is my husband? Why doesn’t he waltz in here, see me crying, and try to cure it with a ripped-off line from the “Lion King”?! Like the time I cried after nursing my last child, and after a deep pause, he said: “It’s the circle of life.” To which I replied, “What the $%$&!??!”

Now, my husband is the best guy –  very courteous to details if ever I fall sick, still, he has this fingernails-on-chalkboard habit of offering generic comfort,

which in turn ticks me off,

which in turn makes me forget why I was crying in the first place.

Later, at my follow-up appointment, this good-guy physician consoles me with a hilarious story about the time he woke up from anesthesia and grabbed his doctor from the collar because of the pain. A friend consoles me about the time she woke up and asked if her husband “had sold all the goats.” I had a good laugh, but none of their stories actually took the sting out of bearing my soul to a Friday afternoon surgical suite.

After several weeks of hindsight (and an hour-long stint hiding from my unsuspecting kids at home in the back row seat of our van, avoiding bodily contact with a newly discovered chewing gum wad, while desperately falling over the edge, into the ear of my long time friend –  telling all the untold), I thought to myself – it’s a good thing. 

It happened for a reason. I got a two-for-one! I really needed that cry. Why not in a surgical shower cap with a little spit running down my chin? The whole hilarious spin and re-telling of it started to take the sting out of that pain. The suffering out of the pit of my stomach. The guilt off my chest.

Mamahood is wild and weird…

….pleasure and pain.

…honeysuckle and sadness.

Deep.

‘The Livin’ Is Easy’

31 May

One of the first songs I taught my eldest son is the old jazzy tune, Summertime. I’d call up family and friends ‘one last time’ just for a good excuse to listen to him sing.

I love the sultry carelessness of summertime so much that on an overcast winter day I may be found in my kitchen, slaving over a pot of something warm, yet remembering and singing:

     Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high. O! your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good lookin,’ so hush little baby don’t cry.

I’m thinking of long, hot days nestled under the shade of an umbrella, good book in hand, watching my babies spread out in the sand.

There shall be sweet tea and boiled peanuts. There shall be warm, starry nights laying on our backs amidst the black-eyed susans and honeysuckle blooms. There shall be wispy moths frittering over campfire infernos, and slumber parties in pitched tents.

There shall be creeping, slithering things to make us hollar, run and laugh all in the span of twenty seconds.

There shall be sand in between our toes and in the hard to reach places in our van. There shall be long walks on both curvy mountain trails and endless coasts. There shall be fire engine-red tomatoes at farmer’s markets and 31 flavor sno-cone stands. There shall be sweet, sanguine watermelon juice dripping from little chins, and pooling into amber dark navels.

 Standing under the sun’s radiant canopy, there shall be just a few words spoken to try to express that feeling – how good it is, how grateful we are, to be here.

And if you would count the favors of Allah you will never be able to number them. Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate. Qur’an, Chapter An-Nahl (The Bee), Verse 18.

May your summertime be filled with easy livin.’

Spend Of The Good Things

24 Jan

The weekend before last my children were psyched to watch a performance by Baba Ali. Had I known how much I was about to laugh I would have been just as fired up. If you can attend one of his live performances, don’t miss out.  For my Florida friends, he is scheduled to perform on January 28th in Orlando. Here is the flyer.

My friend and fellow-faster, Nuriman, who directs a boy’s youth group in our area arranged the boys to meet and greet Baba Ali “back stage.”

How often do you meet someone in person who matches up to the positive impression you had beforehand? Baba Ali is that kind of person- the real deal. He is just as nice and down to earth face-to-face as he is on camera. 

That night my family learned about the organization which hosted the event, known as Helping Hands for Relief and Development (HHRD). Its logo bears the statement, “Muslims for Humanity.” In this way, it is shares the ambitious goal of Islamic Relief Worldwide, another worthy cause. HHRD works in the U.S., Japan, Haiti, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, and many more areas in the world.

It carries a stellar four-star rating by Charity Navigator. HHRD has created a matching gift program that operates with over sixty companies who will match their employees’ donations. I discovered that HHRD, among its varied relief programs, provides skill development for women, to empower them to provide a sustainable quality of life for their children. HHRD provides physical therapy and artificial limbs to patients in disaster areas. Also, through HHRD you can sponser an orphan for only $1/day.  The organization not only looks after the child’s physical well-being but holistically provides for her education, protects her legal rights and even provides for social uplifting through extracurricular activities.

While I was giddy for my kids to meet Baba Ali, at the same moment, somewhere in the world there are single mothers who cannot find work to feed their children; there are mothers whose children have lost legs and need prosthetics; there are mothers who are not even alive to care for their children.

I have to reconcile with the notion that I am not somehow worthy to be set apart from all of these tragedies. I have to sober to the fact that just because these tears do not gather at my own doorstep, still, they gather. They are  jagged, painful, heavy tears that a mother or her child is enduring at this moment.

At a stop light yesterday I idled near a Toys-R-Us. The sign said “Store Closing. Everything 40% Off.” I thought about my oldest son’s lego collection, that truck my three year old asked for, the doll clothes that my daughter keeps reminding me to buy. The parking lot was packed. My heart palpitated a little thinking about all the good deals inside and about how happy my babies would be to get a surprise (for a fraction of the cost). Maybe I could get even give them something ordinarily out of budget? I’m always inching to get that “good-mama” badge.

Then, I sighed thinking of my kids, with a basement full of toys, and friends, and warm, home-cooked meals at a family table every night. My kids have plenty, and then some.

And if you would count the favors of Allah you will  never be able to number them, Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate. An-Nahl (The Bee), verse 18.

The real challenge is to remember the children who are not sitting at my table or any other table for that matter and to do something, without delay, as easy as making an online donate.

O you who believe! Spend of the good things which you have earned, and of that which We have brought out of the earth for you. And seek not the bad [with intent] to spend of it [in charity]; and know that Allah is Rich, and Worthy of Praise. Al-Baqarah (The Cow), verse 267.

Much Love,

Danette

Sick as a Dawg

6 Jan

I hate malls and I try never to go to them. I prefer to be outdoors and when I have to shop I enjoy the thrill of finding a cry-good deal at a thrift store. Malls take all the gritty, scavenging-fun out of shopping. If I have to be indoors I’d prefer it to feel more like outdoors. Plus, when I shop at thrift stores and my three-year-old picks up a nifty Goodwrench tool box filled with lots of kiddified tools and begs me for it, that will only set me back two bucks.

My dear friend who also prefers thrifting to strolling the malls invited me to have morning coffee at a cafe in the mall. My intial reaction was: No thank you. Then, she said on Thursdays the kids get a free carousel ride. You don’t have to twist my arm. My babies would squeel for that. So, I went but didn’t last long at the cafe because I had my kids with me, of course. What was I thinking?! I regret that I did not get to chat longer with a very nice fellow-mom who my friend introduced me to. My kids wanted to speed right to the carousel, which is where we journeyed just after watching a free magic show which was actually corny, except for the dove trick at the end. These mall people work really hard to get moms to spend money during the weekday. I’d like to sit in on one of their strategy meetings with a bullhorn.

The Carousel was a hit, naturally, and very crowded which made it even more fun.

Pure fun

I couldn’t very well take the kids home after a carousel ride. I needed a tapering activity. I hadn’t been to one of those rubbery, foam play places in the mall in several years, and my cousin recently reminded me how nice it is to read something while the kids play. I didn’t have anything to read, but I thought the kids would get a kick out of  it, so away we went. I did make a stop over at Claire’s Boutique to get a couple of hairbows for my daughter. I’m such a sucker!

Oh my gosh! The “park” was crowded. I’ve never seen so many children in such a small space. In less than a half hour I saw five kids get whacked in the face by five other kids, followed by their bashful parents admonishing them, and then a thousand apologies. One accompanying dad was trying very diligently to look cross and study something on his Blackberry. It must be hard to be surrounded by so much estrogen and still feel like a macho man. My kids lasted only a short time before leading me out by the hand.

Within a few hours my youngest came down with a stomach virus, followed by his sister that evening, and followed by me at 3:45 a.m. I kid you not- I ate collard greens and kale, again, last night for dinner, and it all came back up. I love my husband, he always holds my head up and my hair back, but I didn’t appreciate him telling me something along the lines of, “gross.” That is what Collard Green people call being sick as a dawg.

I think the worst is over. I’m blaming it on the mall’s cootie kiddie park and I vouch never to return to one, at least not in the winter months.

The kids sprung back after the last vomit tour. I’m still recuperating with a cup of herbal tea. May Allah (SWT) make it an expiation for my sins and bring me to a full recovery.

Hibernating Ramadan

6 Aug

The month of Ramadan is here when Muslims, the world over, fast from sun up to sun down. We end the month with a big celebration known as Eid-ul Fitr. Here are some wonderful images from the Boston Globe which features Muslims around the world initiating this occassion.

What is so important about the month of Ramadan? It is the month when Muslims believe the Qur’an was first revealed in the form of a recitation by the Angel Gabriel (Gibril, in Arabic) to the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). Here is a more eloquent statement on the reason why Muslims fast by Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

In my own words, we fast simply to become closer to God. In doing so, we draw closer to the source of mercy and love; therefore, as a family we draw closer to one another. This becomes evident in so many small ways. This evening while I recited Qur’an, my soon to be 10-year-old son was getting dressed in his jellabiya (traditional clothes for attending the mosque). I saw him from the corner of my eye. His last gesture before he walked out of the room was to lean down and give me a kiss on the cheek. “Bye, Mama,” he said. Such simple, loving gestures make a mother feel like she is sitting on a river of gold.

During Ramadan we find that the chore to constantly grind calories and fill up our schedule with limit-less activities, when put aside, helps us focus more acutely on the purpose of our life in this world and of our desire to be in much closer proximity to our Creator in the afterlife.

We hibernate during Ramadan to find, hopefully, the spiritual sustenance to give us energy for the year ahead. Ramadan comes about 11 days earlier every year on the lunar calender; how wonderful that this year it comes just before the school year descends.

In Ramadan it is encouraged not to spend the whole day excessively planning and thinking about collard greens, fried chicken and mash potatoes, and how good a glass of sweet tea would feel in our dry mouths. However, there is a period of the day given wholly to preparing a special Ramadan meal, to enjoy at sundown, known as the iftaar. My Collard Green-Arab kids love this part. We often huddle in the kitchen together and whip up comfort foods that we want to share together. Even though the little kids are not fasting, they anticipate this shared meal as much as if they were fasting.

I don’t cook many Southern comfort foods. I turn out a variety of Moroccan holiday meals passed down through the generations. I want our children to grow up with special memories of the Ramadan table and since the Moroccans have been perfecting that craft for a few hundred years, why re-create the wheel. Plus, this bonds my children even more to their Moroccan culture and identity which they weave with their Collard-Green roots.

Regardless of culture, Muslims the world-over traditionally break their fast with dates, because that was the tradition of the Prophet Muhammed and his companions. These are the lovely medjool dates, plentiful in California. We bought 11 lbs and we will likely need to purchase more before Ramadan is over. Forget about those dried, pitted dates at the local grocery store chain. These are so much better.

Here is what I’ve been preparing it the gluten-addict category which is my favorite Ramadan food-group.

This will become batbout – a Moroccan flat bread that is cooked on the stove. Mmmmm…..

You have to try this with strawberry preserves and butter. If you like cornbread you will love this and the texture is especially heavenly.

This will become Melloui, a Moroccan crepe-like pancake, which is traditionally served with butter and honey instead of syrup.

That sheen on my hand is straight-up oil and butter. This stuff is not for the Jazzercise queens. It’s ridiculously fattening and yummy! You must not die before eating melloui.

I wish I could insert the sizzling sound it makes while cooking. The kids keep asking: “Is it iftaar time yet?!” They can hardly resist.

Gosh, and I must mention krachel. It is a sesame and anise sweet roll scented with orange flower water. Our kids love preparing the dough and it gives my kneading hands a rest for a few minutes.

 Oddly, it resembles a hamburger bun, which is what I thought it was the first time I saw it and started preparing it for the Ramadan table. The deliriously delicious recipe for these rolls can be found on about.com where Christine Benlafquih reveals traditional recipes passed down from mother to daughter.

Even though Ramadan is a month of abstaining from our regular routine, which includes breakfast and lunch; it is really a month of indulgence; indulging our inner earning to be closer to God and closer to one another. The meals we prepare and anticipate in those moments before the Ramadan meal is served are opportunities to slow down and savor the company of one another and eventually the flavorful delights we have given up all day long for the sake of quenching our higher thirst for God’s favor and closeness to His mercy.

Kids on Nature

26 Jul

Since I last posted our family has been super busy with all the outdoor adventures that make summer so great. I’ve also whipped up another website to satiate my blogging appetite.

Collard Green Muslim isn’t going anywhere, but I don’t have as much time as I would like to update it with more musings and memories. What I would like to do is regularly update ya’ll on something I’m very passionate about (doesn’t that sound so professional and philanthropic?)

No!!!!! Don’t go away! I know what ya’ll are thinking: dang-it, did she just say, ‘something I’m passionate about???’ That sounds boring. Is she going to ask me for money to save endangered ladybugs in the rainforest??? I’d like to pay money to send my old lady to the rainforest instead. That’s what I’m passionate about!!!!

Alright, maybe I didn’t choose the right word. Let me try again: What I would like to do is regularly update ya’ll on something I think ya’ll will get a kick out of; so if you follow me here at Collard Green Muslim you’ll want to hop on over to www.kidsonnature.com.

I’m going to be a little more smarty-pants over at Kids on Nature because I know a thing or two about giving your kids an outdoor childhood… and what I don’t know, I hope you’ll teach me. I’ve got as much to share as I’ve got to learn about how to help my kids, and the kids in your life, want to venture more outdoors and work to conserve mama earth for future generations.

Purty please subscribe to www.kidsonnature.com and with a cherry on top go on over to http://www.facebook.com/kidsonnature and say you “like” it.

Till next time….eat your collards, call your mama, and behave yourself!