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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!

Fourth of July – Collard Green Muslim Style

29 Jun

I love Fourth of July weekend. For the last two years we trekked out to a historic parade site and sat in the sweltering heat two hours in advance to get front row seats. Inevitably one of our kids spills something on us, and themselves, that is sticky, of course, and we sit in it beneath the piercing sun, attracting flies, waiting for that dang parade. The youngest of our young’uns gets too tired, but has no place to sleep so he starts flailing and having a panic attack in front of the other crowd-weary parade goers. That’s how much I like the Fourth of July. Sometimes you have to suffer for the things you like. My kids get first dibs on candy, loud fire trucks and period costumes. I wear my red, white and blue hijab (scarf) to get into an even more festive mood.

Here I am here, with my very Arab husband. Our, then, eight year old son took this photo.

I had to hunch over a tarp with a bunch of other women on the side of the road at a souk in Morocco to fish for that hijab. I paid two bucks for it and tucked it in my shopping bag next to the carrots and fresh zucchini. Not bad, huh?

This year we have different plans and I want to hurry up and tell you about them in these precious few moments while my kids punk their brains out on a Power Rangers special. Yes, that is what they are doing right now. For shame, I know!

My Yankee friend from Amish country; the one I wrote about in this post, gave us the bright idea to go camping. She’s a planner; I’m not so much. I would never have thought about reserving my camp site three months in advance! Thank God I did because the best sites fill up quickly.

I love camping. It makes me feel like a bedouin…one tethered to a hot shower, a ready to fire up BBQ pit, and a giant inner tube to coast on the lake.

Yup, that’s me and my brood…and yes we did go down to the tune of my daughter belting out her signature Collard Green holler.

I’m not one for primitive camping; at least not in this stage of my life. When I have to go potty I want to sit on a toilet that flushes and when I smell like funk, I like to take a hot shower, and when my stomach growls I like to sit in a comfy lawn chair and watch my husband BBQ something I marinated without having to rub sticks together to start a fire. Oh…and I almost forgot….when I’m tuckered out, I want to sleep on an air mattress at least. The earth doesn’t feel so tender when it’s kissing your hip bone. I’m a mother; I can’t afford to suffer through a sleepless night just for the heck of it. I have to save my reserves for middle-of-the-night vomit tours or coughing triathlons which may strike at any time.

Maybe one day I’ll try camping in the middle of nowhere but for now I prefer four-star outdoor accommodations. That doesn’t mean you have to stay at a KOA where your neighbor is likely to pop out of his RV and invite you to a bingo game (or at least the glossy brochures make it seem like that).  State and national parks offer great accommodations without cheesy add-ons. Our family is getting to know as many Maryland State parks as we can travel to this summer as participants in the fabulous Maryland Park Quest program. So far, we have hiked, scavenged, and/or swam at seven state parks and each one has stopped us in our tracks at several points to ponder, in our own ways, at the awe-inspring beauty of God’s creation.

Our family is thrilled for the opportunity to participate in the Park Quest and grateful for the dedication of all those whose work made it possible. We hope to make it a regular part of our summer plans into the future. Here are some snap-shots of our adventures to leave you with. I hope that your family has a memorable 2011 Fourth of July Celebration. It’s a fine time to enjoy the great outdoors. I’d love to hear about your adventures.

Maryland Gunpowder Falls State Park

Here I am trying to maintain my balance on the river rocks which I managed to do. What a fine metaphor for motherhood. I ought to stamp that on my morning coffee cup.

We ran into wild raspberry bushes at the Chesapeake Bay and munched on them until we had our fill:

The youngest of the young’uns likes to hitch-hike here:

….and here at Susquehanna State Park in Maryland.

There is never a dull moment outdoors. I never hear my kids say: “I’m bored!”

We love state parks with living museums which give you a chance to both hike and learn something fascinating about the people who once lived there and imagine if we were one of them instead of one of us.

The best part, by far, is the views which makes us wonder; if the earth is this beautiful what must heaven be like? Happy travels…from the mountains to the praire….from sea to shining sea!

‘Bald’ Peanuts

20 Jun

If you grew up in the South Eastern part of the United States, (what my daddy refers to as ‘God’s country’), you get all giddy at the sight of a pot-bellied man stirring a kettle of boiling peanuts by the road-side; if he is chewing tobacco and sporting overalls-all the better.

The kettle holds a salty, velvety, steaming tonic for the soul. I sometimes call them Collard-Green Caviar and they are pronounced, bald peanuts. The recipe is simple which I’ll share later, and involves simply: raw peanuts simmering for a few hours in salt.

My kids don’t even know they are otherwise known as boiled peanuts. They’ll ask me: “Mama, could you make us some of your bald peanuts?”

I live up North now which is fresh out of pudgy men dripping sweat over vats of peanut-gold. Instead, people above the Carolinas are stocked with road side snow-cone shacks, featuring at least thirty flavor varieties; which I reckon is some kind of consolation. They are served by high-school girls- their locks tied up in ribbons, and their neon bikini strings roped round their slender necks.  They chew large wads of gum and smile defiantly despite whiteheads erupting from chins and foreheads. I love snow-cone princess, but they are simply no match for pot-bellied entrepreneurs operating out of their mud-crusted giddy-up trucks.

Several weeks ago, my dear friend from Winter Garden, who was my friend long before Facebook announced the fact, reminded me of those roadside boiled peanut stands. As a status update, one sunny day, I dutifully reported the good fortune of spending a peaceful afternoon on the back porch with my kids, accompanied by a pitcher of sweat tea and a whole vat of bald peanuts, which I had prepared during the morning and early afternoon.

Every now and then, a mercy-laden breeze would drift from yonder over our little plot of joy- bringing with it sweet perfumes of Spring, as if to say, you made it through another cold winter, it’s all sunshine and cricket songs, picnic baskets and long days, green grass and bare feet. It’s days like that which gave inspiration to Travis Tritt’s song: It’s a Great Day to Be Alive:  You know the sun’s still shinin’ when I close my eyes; they’re some hard times in the neighborhood but why can’t every day be just as good.

He should have written about boiled peanuts instead of rice.

I thanked Allah for the decent, simple pleasures of life, which cost just a trifle, and for the good health of all of us to enjoy them. Not long after, a bright, red cardinal and his muted, dust-colored bride swept over the lawn and pecked at the earth. I imagined them feasting on their own version of bald peanuts. 

I was giddy to share my good fortune with friends, via Facebook – many scattered far and wide over time zones and even continents. My good friend from Winter Garden, made a very fitting observation. She pitied me for resorting to boiling my peanuts on my own stove when:

We can get ours from fellow redneck sitting under an umbrella with a vat of boiled peanuts on a burner on the side of the road! When I first read your status I thought, she must be in Winter Garden:)

After that comment I wanted to click my bare feet three times and wake up under the fierce rays of the Florida sun, tucked under a potent shade tree, next to a boiled peanut stand. I was feeling sorry for myself that I had to get my green peanuts at the local Asian market, put them on a conveyor belt and take the change from a five foot tall Korean woman, which is about as far away from a collard green mascot as you can get! 

You never know what you’ll miss until you look around and realize that even if you start walking toward it, barefoot, until your feet crack and bleed, you wouldn’t get near enough.  Then you miss it with a crazed lonesomeness that won’t sway to any distraction, not even a majestic, brightly colored snow cone from a woman-child who can sing all the words to a Lady Gaga song.

I didn’t even know that bald peanuts are a collard green people’s delicacy until I moved North. Do ya’ll know who told me? It was a Yankee! Can you believe?! It’s true. A dear friend, raised up North, asked me if I’d ever eaten a boiled peanut.  I thought, well, sure hasn’t everybody?! She might as well have asked me if I’d ever eaten a boiled egg. Dogone, she awakened me to the reality that boiled peanuts are the pride of collard-green civilization.

She said a friend of hers, who grew up in the south, cooked her up a batch once and she loved them! That made me so stinkin’ jealous. I wanted to be the Collard Green ambassador to have introduced her to that charming, simple dish.

So, while I sulked over my childhood friend’s bragging rights, the thought occurred to me that at least I could profit from the thrill of finding an unsuspecting Yankee, and converting her to bald peanuts.

So, the next day, I simmered another pot. I already had the perfect candidate– a friend born and bred in Pennsylvania- a convert to Islam like me, whose mama and daddy were also born and bred, and many of their relatives before that, in Pennsylvania. She isn’t just from Pennsylvania, she’s from the middle of it – rolling hills and Amish-made quilts. You don’t get more Yankee than that! I could be close to certain that she had never eaten a boiled peanut. She’s also very adventurous, gutsy and inquisitive, so I could also be near certain she would oblige my request for just one bite.

Now, she’s not Southern, so she didn’t eat one and bust out with a declaration, like: Well, I declare, that is the tastiest thing I’ve ever had in my mouth!!!! Yankees don’t substitute exclamation points for periods as readily – hooting and hollering and letting everyone on the block know that they are having a good time and won’t ya’ll come over and join us!!!!

No, Yankees are a bit more sober which requires getting to know and translate their expressions into collard-green lingo. If a Yankee simply cracks a smile and head-nods in agreement – that is the same as a slew of exclamation points.

It didn’t take my good friend long to become addicted to bald peanuts. She even made a trip to the same Asian market that week to buy a batch and boil some at home for her husband. That was my first convert. I checked it off my list of things to do before I die.

It gets even better. A few days later I was at a gathering of Muslim women and an American friend of Syrian descent gave me two thumbs up on bald peanuts. How did she know about them? Well, of course, my Yankee friend told her. Afterward, she went out and bought herself a batch to boil for her visiting uncle and the rest of her family. They were all hooked too! Another friend, who grew up in New Orleans, in a large Palestinian family, was clueless about boiled peanuts so I dispatched some to her house as well.

I was beside myself; indeed, euphoric. I’d set out to convert one person and now I had lots more. It was a bald peanut revolution. How far could this go? I thought maybe I ought to open my own peanut stand. I’d be the first collard green lady in hijab to make Yankees swoon.

The night drew on and there was yet a lonesome woman at the gathering who had never tasted a bald peanut. She is a Uyghur Muslim raised in China, fluent in several languages; including, Chinese, Turkish and English. She’s a smart cookie is what I’m trying to say, and I like her plenty; not only for the fact that she’s been informed by leading a very fascinating life, but because she doesn’t take herself or others too seriously. In fact, I took an easy liking to her which is why it was so important to me that she adore the southern pastime of munching on bald peanuts.

When it comes to bald peanuts, companionship counts. It is a dish best shared with family and close friends, who don’t require small talk or pretension. This way, you can pop the whole peanut in your mouth and expertly extract the liquid, salty gold inside with awkward contortions of your mouth; then, just spit the shell back out- covered in the sheen of your own saliva, and open it to savor the tender peanut-pearls inside.

Digging into a bowl of bald peanuts makes you want to cut past all the fluff. The joy of rolling a soft peanut shell around your mouth is like soaking in an anti-venom for stress. It makes you feel settled down and nostalgic; you don’t want to have that vibration interrupted by the kind of person who’d likely throw a hissy fit over the temporary breach of hygiene and poise required to really savor this collard-green caviar.

When I presented this friend with a cup of boiled peanuts she wowed me by picking one up like she’d done it a thousand times and popping the whole thing in her mouth! Most newbies feel obliged to feign daintiness the first time, but she leapt directly into the spirit of eating bald peanuts, which confirmed my suspicion that I have good taste in people. There could not have been a better finale to my week-long stint of converting my corner of the world to collard –green goodness. The encore was that two weeks later, my Pennsylvania-Yankee friend came over. We sat on the back porch with our kids on a rare, lazy afternoon and devoured a whole stock pot of bald peanuts. We talked about everything and nothing, which is the best conversation for such an occasion. She challenged me to try a Pennsylvania whoopee pie to savor the flavor of her own people. I am waiting for her to cook me up a batch from her mom’s recipe (wink, wink if she is reading this). 

If you’re collard green, I challenge you to out-match my conversion rate so far. On the other hand if you want to know what all the fuss is about then try cooking up a batch. Here is the recipe. It’s as simple as this:

Step 1:

Get five bulging handfuls of fresh green peanuts;

Put em’ in a tall pot and cover with water like you plan to make soup;

Throw in a ½ cup of salt to start;

Turn the fire up high and wait for them to boil.

Step 2:

After they have boiled for 20 minutes or so, turn it down to medium heat and let them continue boiling.

Go invite someone over and think about how nice it will be to enjoy your bald peanuts with that person. Don’t forget to make a pitcher of sweet tea and cool in the refrigerator.

Step 3:

Turn the heat to low and let it marinate in its own broth. The peanuts will become saltier the longer they languish in the broth and will taste their best 5-6 hours after you started cooking them in the first place. Don’t add more salt until you are ready to eat. If it is not salty enough, add enough to taste and then simmer for another ten minutes.

Step 4: (optional)

Dig up a pair of overalls, tussle your hair to look haggard, make a quick homemade sign: ‘Boiled Peanuts 4 Sale,’ then stand on the road-side next to a pick-up truck. Don’t wave folks over; infact, act like you don’t care. A real Collard-Green mascot knows that he doesn’t have to pitch a bald peanut. It’s just that good. See if you get any takers and let me know.

I double dawg dare ya!