Category Archives: (3)BeautifulThings

3 Beautiful Things, the “Monday Morning in the City” Edition

one. A mother in dress clothes sat cross-legged on the floor of the train this morning, reading a children’s storybook to her young son in a stroller, and every one of us in the front half of that carriage was blatantly eavesdropping.

two. A (homeless?) man was playing the saxophone directly in front of a hotel on Market Street this morning. The hotel manager was exhorting him — politely but pleadingly in a low voice — to move to a different location. The saxophone man looked down, simply shook his head once, and continued his beautiful, haunting music. We passers-by watched, listened, and kept glancing back as we walked by. I felt badly for both of them, two men simply doing their job and trying to get through the day, but I hope the saxophone man is still there in front of the hotel, serenading San Francisco guests and pedestrians.

three. I ducked into Walgreen’s on my way to work with a dying phone battery, and stepped out two minutes later with a micro-USB charger that cost only $5 and is ORANGE. It makes me happy to see the sunshine-y color snaking across my desk.

It’s only 8am, and I think this day is just going to get better, inshaAllah.

(Just like old times: Tagging Sara I, Javed, Aisha for the 3beautifulthings reference, and Baji for the orange!)

3 Beautiful Things, the “We’re in Your Corner” Edition

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Sit together in yellow silence; Berkeley, CA, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[Cross-posted at HijabMan.com.]

3beautifulthings:

1. SORRY. Recently, I learned a humbling — and very important — lesson from a friend: to apologize for things said or acts committed in anger, even if the anger was justified. There is not much to add to this, but I will say that I — who thought I’d come such a long way since my inability to apologize years ago — still have much to learn. If I have learned in the last several years to listen more to my conscience and refine my sense of compassion and appeasement, I have also learned just how trigger-quickly I can lapse into cold, cutting commentary without regard for how words burn at the other end. I am remembering now other conversations of this past year, and how the outcomes may have been different if I’d been gentler — not only with the person(s) at the other end, but also with myself. In an effort to prove my own strength and independence, my own will and rightness, I do myself a disservice in times like these. There is beauty in humility, and it takes strength to acknowledge (and embrace or amend) one’s weaknesses and shortcomings, and pride is not pretty. (Note to self: Don’t be this guy.)

2. LAUGHTER. No matter the level of stress at work, there is always at least one moment of levity during each day. Sometimes, I find myself twirling ’round and around on the twirly-chair at my desk, lobbing sarcastic and hilarious jabs at my coworkers before throwing my head back in laughter so loud it can be heard all the way down the hall. At such moments, I think to myself, “I would miss this.” Particularly now that we have disbanded a bit. Our organization recently relocated, and my “department” has been displaced from the spacious office we all shared to a building where we each now have our own, separate cubicles. There is more privacy — but also less, at the same time.

AH paused sadly by my desk the other morning and asked with his best hang-dog expression, “Can you move into my cubicle? I miss you.” I laughed at him, of course, but then I realized it’d been far too many days since we exchanged our ubiquitous highfives, and I was tempted to pick up my laptop and go back to a shared workspace. That was, of course, before I remembered how AH borrows my favorite pens to jot down notes whenever he’s on the phone, and then promptly loses them; throws whiteboard markers at me whenever I tease him too much; swipes my food when I’m not looking; makes me re-send him emails he never bothered to open the first time around; and asks rhetorical questions like, “You know what we should do, Yasmine?” and then ignores my cranky, “No, I don’t, tell me,” and launches into grand plans and ambitious projects that we will have time for only in 57 years — and I decided my own quiet little cubicle was probably good enough. I might even be able to finally nap under my desk without anyone noticing.

3. HELLO, I SEE YOU. (i) I stepped out for lunch at one of the local cafes recently, and found that I recognized no one there. This was problematic only because Julie’s used to be such a vibrant source of community for me, not only when my sister was an undergrad at Berkeley and I visited her on campus all the time, but also during all those post-Friday prayer lunches with friends, and during the iftar dinners that Julie’s hosted for Cal students during the month of Ramadan. But the students who frequent the place have changed, and so has the management of the cafe, not to mention part of the menu.

I consoled myself by ordereing my usual chicken-with-basil stirfry (that hasn’t changed), and found a small table in a corner of the courtyard, where I sat quietly, scrolled through my phone, gave every indication of not caring that I knew no one, and wished the afternoon were longer so I wouldn’t have to go back to work so soon. But within just a few minutes, there was F at my side, with a wave and a highfive and a “How are you?” — and even as my eyes lit up in surprise and I smiled back widely, so happy to see him, and even before I could open my mouth to reply with my automatic, “I’m doing lovely! How are you?” — he added after eyeing me during just a minuscule pause, “A little bit stressed?”

“I didn’t realize it was so obvious,” I said, chagrined, and made a mental note to work on my poker face. F pulled up a chair, asked incisive questions, listened patiently as I talked around mouthfuls of food — and offered options that I found myself scribbling down on the closest sheet of paper. I left Julie’s smiling, realizing anew (because I have to be reminded of this over and over) that it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes, to give voice to one’s anxieties, and to discuss strategies with others.

(ii) After missing two separate classes of grad school in two weeks, I dragged myself to campus, sitting silently through most of the discussions (guess who was behind on the readings?) yet inwardly excited to be back in the midst of such thought-provoking conversations. Most of us are working professionals, balancing a full-time graduate program with full-time jobs. We are usually on campus only for classes, and even a month-and-a-half into fall semester, I know that I, at least, have not spent any length of time building meaningful relationships with my classmates outside our weekly gatherings. So, it was all the more touching when, at 930pm as we rose from our chairs and began slinging our bags over our shoulders in preparation for sliding exhaustedly out the door, A turned to me and said simply, “I’m so happy that you’re here. I missed you!” It’s no wonder I texted a friend a month ago with, “Status: I just got out of class. I LOVE school. And I mean that as non-sarcastically as possible.”

3 Beautiful Things, the “I Don’t Need a Passport to Walk on this Earth” Edition

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A vespa the color of tangerines; Madrid, Spain, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[I am slowly returning to writing again, and for that I have to blame J --- who has somehow harassed me into agreeing to post snippets for the "3 Beautiful Things Thursday" category over at HijabMan.com --- as well as everyone else who has been encouraging me to stop sharing my stories as mere Facebook updates and GChat statuses. So, hello, I've missed you! After so long, here we go again. -Yasmine]

3beautifulthings:

1. VESPAS. The past week (or two) has seen a flurry of friends sharing with me photographs of the motor-scooters I love best, and it makes me smile every time. From Baji on her Barcelona travels, to M on the streets of DC, to Hashim traversing the internets and the Midwest, to Umar in the UK, the “Vespa” label in my Gmail account (yes, I have an entire label for vespa references!) has recently seen an unprecedented rise.

And I, who have photographed them in San Francisco and in Spain, am still always utterly charmed whenever I personally come across the familiar curved lines, or whenever an email appears in my inbox with the subject line, “So-&-so has shared a Flickr photo with you,” or whenever a friend tags me in a vespa photo on Facebook with a note that it made him/her think of me.

Vespas are smooth and shiny and pretty. Maybe if I stopped spending all my money on hot chocolate, I could save up for a vespa of my own.

2. MUSIC. During Ramadan, I focused on stillnes and silence, but in the last two weeks I’ve been catching up on music, and so my iPod currently features the following in heavy rotation these days: Neutral Milk Hotel, Talib Kweli, Pearl Jam, and Gil Scott-Heron (I am particularly enjoying shouting, “JOHANNESBURG!” out my open sunroof while driving). There is also Outlandish’s song to support relief efforts in Pakistan, via the Danish Red Cross; it made me cry.

And there was the Pakistani-Egyptian-Afghan wedding I attended last weekend, where I looked over to find my father quietly drumming his fingers on the tabletop in time to the Pukhto music. On the drive home, we listened to a cassette of songs by Sardar Ali Takkar, the mechanical engineer-turned-musician, my father’s favorite singer. “There’s the rabaab!” we shouted in unison at all the best parts.

Many of Takkar’s songs are based on the revolutionary poetry of Ghani Khan — who, in turn, is the son of Badshah Khan, known as “the Frontier Gandhi” and subject of one of my favorite books, A Man to Match His Mountains. The cassette in question is at least 20 years old; my father compiled it during my childhood, using two stereos placed side-by-side to record songs from one tape onto another. It contains most of my favorite Pukhto songs, even though I have no idea what they mean, and listening to my father translate for me this weekend, line by line, was a testament to his patience, his generosity, and his bottomless love for this language that is a summary of all that he is to the core. “God, why did you give me a heart and a mind, both? There is not enough room for two kings in this country,” Ghani Khan wrote in one inquisitive and mournful poem-turned-song.

“Do you like this song, Yasminay?” my father asked at the end of each one.

“I love it,” I said.

In a recent post, Amina Wadud writes about music in a passage I particularly liked:

That’s the key, I think. The beauty. If music was supposed to be haram, then it should not have been so beautiful, so harmonious, so awesome. Music is its own affirmation. God made no mistake, but did give us yet again another grace.

3. “WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” At a Robert Fisk program in Berkeley last night, a man seated nearby leaned over and asked me, “Are you French?” I laughed, and asked in complete befuddlement, “Do I look French!?”

“Possibly,” he said (he turned out to be Assyrian-Czech-Scottish). “You look like a mix of two things, and maybe one of them could be French.”

“No,” said the woman seated in between us, in a very definite tone (she turned out to be Iraqi), “she looks North African. Maybe Morrocan.”

“Maybe she’s French and Moroccan,” said the man. I laughed. Of all the ethnicities for which I have ever been mistaken, French has never played a role.

At the coffeeshop this afternoon, a White man standing in line behind me leaned over and said, “Assalamu alaikum!” I greeted him back with some slight surprise, and he queried, “Are you Egyptian?”
“Pakistani,” I said.
“I have Pakistani friends!” he said. “We have dinner at my home every Friday!”

I didn’t know whether to be confused or sad that I don’t look like his Pakistani friends.

And earlier this week, standing in the shade on the sidewalk after an hour spent lazing on sunny grass, I scrolled through emails on my phone — killing time before heading back to the office, of course — and a man with dreadlocks and a wide smile called out to me as he whizzed by on his bicycle, an unmistakable look of delight on his face, “Do you speak Arabic?” I looked up smiling. “Sorry, no.”

“Where are you from?” And even as I hesitated, he called back over his shoulder, “Pakistan?”

“Good guess!” I laughed in surprise after his retreating back, and yet his voice carried over from down the street now: “India?” Minutes later, I was still smiling — at his brashness and excitement in asking, at my confusion in replying, at his spot-on guess. And yet why could I not have said simply, “Here. I am from here. I’m from Berkeley.” My birth certificate says so, so it must be true. I, who have spent years wrestling with the idea of home and belonging, am still unsettled by this question every time — and yet, at the same time, I love the fact that I could be from anywhere and everywhere.

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*NOTE1: Speaking of music, the title for this post comes from the song, Hello, Bonjour, by one of my favorite artists, Michael Franti. Go listen!

*NOTE2: Cross-posted at HijabMan.com

But I don’t want to write a love song for the world

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Post office errands, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

3 Beautiful Things, the downtown Berkeley post office edition

I. One morning, I was at the post office and somehow got into a conversation about languages with the woman at the counter who was helping me with my express-mail packages. And she told me that her now-29years-old grandson, almost 30, asked when he was 5 and they went out to dinner and saw a family who was communicating in sign language: “Mama Rita, are they speaking Spanish?”

And I, who have dreamed for years about one day learning to sign, couldn’t help but smile for reasons she probably wouldn’t have even guessed.

II. Another day, my co-worker and I ended up at the post office during our noon lunch-break, when, of course, the entire rest of the world who works in downtown Berkeley had the same brilliant idea. It was busy and crowded, our flimsy little ticket had the number 90 printed on it, and there were already 30 people in line ahead of us.

“God, I hate the post office,” I grumbled to R as the inexpressive employees at each window called people up one number at a time. There’s a reason why some consider visiting this post office to be equivalent to time and space travel to the Eastern Bloc, circa 1970.

“73…74…75…”
No one got up, but people shuffled their feet impatiently.

“76…77…78…”
No one moved.

“79…”

“80!” shouted a man sitting on one of the benches against the wall, waving his numbered ticket in the air.

“80!” said the woman at the window.

The entire building erupted in whistles, cheers, and applause as the man raised his fists in success and victory-walked to the window.

Everyone around me was smiling as we watched the lucky man swagger across the room, and I was laughing so hard I could feel my face turning red. “This is why I…freakin’ love…Berkeley!” I gasped to R.

“It’s like they called the winning number, and he won the lottery!” she exclaimed.

III. One afternoon, just as I settled on a bench with yet another numbered ticket, I felt a light punch on my shoulder, and turned around to find Nipun at the post office. I gawked. I know he and Guri live in Berkeley, but to run into him outside our usual context of Silicon Valley was mind-boggling.

“What are you doing here?!” we both exclaimed.

In the midst of catching up, I told him about the organization for which I now work, and how it’s an exciting time to be at the place, since it’s going through some great projects and transformations. “So they brought in Yaznotjaz to handle it, eh?” he grinned.

“Yeah! And, dude, I’ve already got half the staff saying ‘rockstar’ and giving highfives!”

We talked about the Wednesdays, and I mentioned we’d just moved, which is another reason to add to my list of reasons for having missed months worth of the beautifully soothing Wednesdays.

He squinted at me uncertainly. “Who’s ‘we’?”

I laughed. “The parents and I, that’s all. No, there’s no one exciting in the ‘we’ usage.”

He looked disappointed, and I laughed again. “Find me a rockstar, and there’ll be a ‘we’!”

“Should I put the word out in the community? I’ll have to blog about this, you know.”

I left the post office still giggling, and when I slowly strolled down the block back to my office, I sighted a pistachio-colored vespa – my latest favorite – parked in front of the building, and decided the day couldn’t get any better.

We don’t care about the young folks/talkin’ bout the young style

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We were waiting for you, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

TODAY:

one. Went to the post office, and was surprised – in a delighted way – that the smile on the man at the post office reminds me of my friend A‘s.

two. When it came time to pick up my drink order, the guy at the coffeeshop called me out by name, even though I’ve been there only once before in my life.

three. Also at the coffeeshop this afternoon, I made new friends with a woman who was working on a drawing. The conversation meandered through a series of topics that included bookstores, drawing and photography, theater, earrings, and our respective love-hate relationships with email and phone. I haven’t taken an art class or drawn anything in eight years, and yet, once upon a time, I wanted to be an illustrator of books. I’m grateful to that woman for inspiring me to sign up for a drawing class sometime soon.

four. Saw the full moon hanging breathtakingly large and low in the sky this evening, and was reminded of my rockstar buddy S, and how he once texted me with, “Look at the moon tonight. It looks hella beautiful.”

five. Composed a long, ramblingmonologue-style email to a friend who “listens well,” and felt so relaxed and happy after I pressed the Send button.

six. Emailed H about her friend who teaches swimming. This was supposed to be the summer I learned how to swim, but somehow that didn’t happen. (Even the yellow post-it on my laptop’s Dashboard says, in all-caps: LEARN HOW TO SWIM THIS YEAR. This is how strongly I felt about this goal, back in February.) It’s fall already now, but there’s still some sunshine I could make good use of. H, in turn, emailed her friend and cc:ed me on the note; I’m excited to see what comes of this. Finally, I will learn how to swim! And maybe dance! And cartwheel while fully extending my legs! [That video is finally up on facebook, for those of you who need to know such things.]

seven. The sister sent over a beautiful email that cheered me up so much and pretty much made my day.

eight. A tall stranger at the grocery store noticed me balefully eyeing boxes of cereal stacked all the way up on the top shelf. As I placed a foot on the bottom shelf and stretched up my arm, he reached up easily and pulled down a box for me. I laughed and thanked him, and thought to myself about how rocking it would be to have a tall personal assistant follow me around all day and pick up things that are placed above my eye-level.