Category Archives: Bibliothek

An unexpected light

Waiting, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Sometimes, I run away and lie around in the park all afternoon, reading books and listening to music and taking photographs. Sometimes, I even skip around on my jump-rope (but I discovered early on that that works better on concrete than on grass), and my new goal in life is to buy hula-hoops. Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that if I could get back into hula-hooping – as I did when I was a kid – I’d be much more coordinated and comfortable in moving my body, and then I’d even learn how to dance. It’d be amazing!

Last week, I did cartwheels in the park for the first time since childhood. Needless to say, I completely sucked (that part about extending your legs in the air is kinda tricky), but I couldn’t stop laughing along with Princess Pretty Pants and Beanay, and I didn’t even feel ridiculous for attempting something at which I knew I would fail. That’s progress.

(PPP captured all the laughter and cheering and my attempted cartwheels on camera, and they just might be coming your way soon via facebook-video, if we’re friends over there on that addictive, timesuck of a social-networking site. Also, via wikipedia, I found a nice little tutorial on cartwheeling. You didn’t doubt me, did you, when I mentioned “reading something on wikipedia once”? I look up everything.)

An Unexpected Light

Speaking of parks and lounging around and reading on the grass, I just posted this on flickr, and then I remember how much you Blogistan folks love books, too, so I’m sharing this here as well:

I’m currently almost done reading Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, quite possibly one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s nonfiction (as are most of the books I like).

An Unexpected Light is poignant, and unexpectedly funny, and perceptive. There are lots of references to chapli kabob and chai and Pathans and Sufi parables and open-armed unconditional hospitality, for those of you who are fans of such things. (As well as an equal number of references to guns and landmines and destruction and the mujahideen and Taliban and meddling/useless foreign nations, for that matter.)

What struck me most as I was reading this was Elliot’s respect and compassion for the Afghans. "He just has so much love and compassion for the people," I told [K] recently. "I love how he writes about them. Everyone is handsome or beautiful to him, I noticed. He never mentions people being ugly." Yet the Afghans are never exoticized or Other-ized here. Elliot sees them as dignified and beautiful, inside and out, because, for him, they are first and foremost profoundly human.

I don’t often make book recommendations (to each his own, eh?), and I’m too lazy to write books reviews.

But you should read this one.

That is all.


K and I had a lovely conversation about this book weeks (months?) ago, and it made me so happy to know someone else had read it. You can check out an excerpt of the Prologue on amazon.

(Also, don’t give me drama about those folded-over pages. I always dog-ear book pages while reading! Sacrilegious, I know.)

It’s not as easy as willing it all to be right

"What are you doing?" asked my friend, after I had finished praying and was still kneeling on the floor.
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I’m so tired of constantly feeling so tired – I don’t sleep enough, I fall asleep holding books I once could have finished reading in a single day, I sleep crookedly, and my neck has been aching for over a week. Also, there’s that drama that enters my head once in a while: “Am I doing constructive things with my life? Let’s switch it up again!” Clearly, I am my father’s daughter, bored too easily and always wanting change. And yet, too much standing still while questioning my next step, mired once again in indecisiveness and lack of direction.

It’s too easy to get lost in progress, or lack thereof, so here are three beautiful things to remember from last week:


Poetry reading by Mohja Kahf at the Arab Cultural & Community Center in San Francisco last Monday. It was a wonderful evening, not in the least because I got to see the beautiful ladies, Momo and Baraka, again. And also because Mohja Kahf is hilarious, and that must have been the first time I laughed so much at a poetry reading. She writes candidly about topics such as sexuality and motherhood in a way that’s quite refreshing, as is her take on historical figures that become more approachable and human through her poetry – Asiya, the Pharaoh’s wife, sitting with her husband at a table of Neo-Cons; Asiya written up in the tabloids, dismissed as “crazy.” I picked up copies of Mohja’s poetry collection, E-Mails from Scheherazad, as well as her new novel, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and asked if she could sign my sister’s copy of E-Mails from Scheherazad: “I’ve been specifically instructed to tell you that you’re her favorite poet.”

“Ooh, instructed,” she laughed. “Should I add some exclamation points to my signature?” And so, she did.

While I was waiting in line for the books, one of the women on the ACCC staff asked, “Do you write poetry?”

“No,” I said hurriedly, thinking she had confused me for RC, one of our rockstar Muslimah spoken word poets here in the Bay. (It wouldn’t be the first time; I think it’s the headwrap that confuses people.)

“You should,” she said. “We’re trying to organize some more poetry events here at the ACCC, and we’d love for more young people to participate.” She wrote down her name and email address for me.

I remembered how, the week before at the Poetry for the People reading at UC Berkeley, D had asked the same question, “Do you write poetry, too?”

“Ehh, no,” I said. “I only write maybe one poem a year, when I’m forced to.”

“But they’re always such good poems!” interjected my sister.

The day after the Mohja Kahf reading, my buddy A harassed me about my refusal to participate in the open mic at Blue Monkey, too: “Only losers don’t do poetry readings at an open mic.”

So now, apparently, I need to write more often.


Writing travels the world: Maliha’s beautiful essay, Necessary silence of being made its way to me not only via Blogistan, but also through an email listserve I’m subscribed to. I emailed her to let her know, and received the following reply:

I’ve been lurking around your site and wish you, missy, will take a break from all the messy and beautiful chaos around you, to write a bit more. But with spring weather finally here, and the greys and storms dissipated, I totally don’t blame you for sweeping specks of sun rays rather than blog.

So, there we go, another reminder to write more often, from the beautiful lady who excels at it. It’s too bad that, as I explained to Maliha, writing these days means, for me, too many incomplete posts saved as drafts, and too many scribbled bullet-points in my little moleskine notebook that need to be turned into real posts. And, yet, my buddy Z exclaims: “How did you blog so soon after the last one? How do you have enough material?” It’s not for lack of stories, clearly.


Explanation of the photo that accompanies this post: Ayesha my love and I canceled our dinner plans last Thursday, so I was left with a free evening, and was actually rather looking forward to being able to go straight home from work.

But then: “Come over to my place for dinner!” said R.

“Who else is going to be there?” I asked warily. I was not in the mood to socialize with people.

“Me!” said the co-worker-in-crime, B.


“Just us,” assured R.

“It’s not some fancy-schmancy thing, is it?” I asked. ” ‘Cause I won’t be able to stand it.”

“Not at all!”

So, I went over to her apartment in Fremont after work. We had dinner, and then it was time for maghrib, the evening prayer. There was no awkward questioning: Will you be praying? Will you not? Should we wait for you? Instead, it was all so matter-of-fact: Here’s a rug; the bathroom’s at the end of the hall; I have an extra scarf, if you need it. I appreciated the straightforwardness – needed it, in fact.

R pulled out a prayer rug for me to use – it was short and narrow and golden-yellow, the perfect size for my frame, and something about the beauty of it moved me nearly to tears as I was praying. When I sat cross-legged afterward, hands raised in supplication, my knees jutted over the sides of the slender rug. It had been so long since I had prayed (much less, regularly), and there was something bittersweet – ridiculous and yet so fitting – about the fact that a yellow sunshine-colored rug made me want to pray more often.

“What are you doing?” asked R, after I had finished praying and was still kneeling on the floor.

“Taking pictures of your rug,” I said.


“Because it’s so pretty!”

“And what are you going to do with the pictures?” she asked, puzzled.

I almost replied, Put them up on flickr for the world to see, but said instead, “I’ll look at them!”

She rolled her eyes, picked up the prayer rug off the floor, folded it swiftly, and placed it on top of my purse. “Here. You can have it. Now you can look at it all the time.”

I hadn’t expected this, but I was too giddy with quiet delight to politely question her decision with, Are you SURE?

We sat around afterward, drinking mint tea (okay, I just experimentally sipped a little bit of it; “Will you be offended if I don’t drink this?” I asked R and her roommate L, but they assured me they would not be). “That’s fresh mint from Zaytuna,” L said proudly.

I nearly choked on laughter. “Were you skulking around Zaytuna, picking mint leaves in the dark?” Indeed, she had been. She also shared stories of living in Kuwait and Los Angeles. B and I were fascinated by her Kuwaiti/Lebanese/Hungarian heritage, so L brought out her laptop and began showing us photos.

“Dude,” I said, “these are beautiful pictures. You really need to get a flickr account and upload these.”

“I do have flickr!” she said. Oh, internet, how I love you. L went back to her room, and returned with her camera. She and I sat there scrolling through her photos, while R and B just shook their heads – especially when I started taking photos of the tea-glasses again.

B made fun of us: “Yasmine’s going to come to work one day and say, ‘I quit! I’m leaving to become a professional photographer!’ ”

She needs to stop giving me ideas.

Three Things: The Home Edition

Chukairiyaan, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

1. Waking up at 8am, realizing it’s a Saturday, and burrowing back under the warm covers to sleep in until 10:30. Washing my face, and then promptly sitting down at the computer. I check emails and weblogs while my mother pulls up a chair beside me and flips through catalogues and coupon books. We discuss an impending visit to IKEA (she’s never been!), and she tells me The Sister is on a newfound campaign to add a cat to our household. A cat would be nice, says my mother wistfully. She fondly recalls our previous next-door neighbor’s cat, Daisy, who used to keep my mother company in the garden.

2. I wash and condition my hair, then actually take the time to comb it out, too – albeit abruptly, top to bottom rather than the other way around, so that my impatient tugs result in lots of gnarled hair in the wastebasket. Still, it got combed. Since I’m a firm adherent of the “I don’t believe in combing my hair” philosophy, today’s effort is highly newsworthy and must be mentioned, especially considering I have conversations about hair quite rarely anyway (my favorite conversation is still that latter one, with a four-year-old, no less). I then sit in a pool of sunshine on the living room floor, willing my hair to dry while reading the last few chapters of John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, a book I love but have never reread since finishing it in one evening for my tenth-grade English class, eight years ago. In one passage that makes me smile, Gene says:

After the lights went out the special quality of my silence let [Phineas] know I was saying [prayers], and he kept quiet for approximately three minutes. Then he began to talk; he never went to sleep without talking first and he seemed to feel that prayers lasting more than three minutes were showing off. God was always unoccupied in Finny’s universe, ready to lend an ear any time at all. Anyone who failed to get his message through in three minutes, as I sometimes failed to do when trying to impress him, Phineas, with my sanctity, wasn’t trying.

3. Lazily sitting around the dining room table after we’ve just finished dinner, The Sister looks around at each of us individually and asks, wide-eyed, “Anyone want chocolate cake?” I laugh at her excitement, and she adds, “I’ve been looking forward to this all day!” Our mother, ever the practical one, advises that we save the dessert-consumption for after taraweeh [the nightly congregational prayers held during Ramadan], but the daddy-o – never one to refuse dessert – overrules that suggestion with an authoritative, “Well, in that case, we can have two! – one dessert now, and another one when we get back from taraweeh.” A quick peek into the refrigerator makes me laugh at all the choices available to us: apple-caramel-pecan cake, chocolate ganache torte, apple pie, chocolate-orange sticks, and, in the freezer, two pints of ice cream, one of which (my new favorite: Ben&Jerry’s American Pie) merited an excited email from me to fellow ice cream fan 2Scoops months ago, raving about how it was “basically exactly what it sounds like – apple pie with ice cream!” Just for 2Scoops, I would like to add that the American Pie ice cream is still SPECTACULARICIOUS.

May you inherit a world of light and love

Those of you who’ve been following along know that Baji is my (and everyone else’s) favorite robot monkey pirate. And, guess what! A wee one by the name of Mr. Mini Monkey Pirate has recently swooped down and crashed the (boat)party. Run along and wish Baji congratulations on the latest edibly adorable addition to her familia. May he grow up to own many bookcases [the best prayer I can think of for the son of a fellow bibliophile]. And may he read books, not eat them or stab them with his pirate sword.

Hundreds of pages, pages, pages forward

THIS…is the fastest way to my heart, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Last Friday, I managed to drag my friend A along with me to Oakland, where I usually pray Jummah salah [the Friday congregational prayer]. I kept extolling the virtues of this favorite masjid of mine, until she reminded me that she had gone there with me once before.

“Really?” I said. “I don’t remember.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there before.”

Really? When?

This, of course, was the mystery.

Only after we had entered the masjid and settled in for the always lovely, humorous, and inspiring khutbah [sermon] from my favorite imam did I recall that A had come to Jummah with me during the summer of last year. And that afterward, a group of us had gone out to lunch at Berkeley’s Naan ‘n’ Curry restaurant [not the usual one we frequent on Telegraph, but the new - and subpar - one that had opened on College Ave.].

M, who is Iraqi, had offhandedly mentioned that he didn’t enjoy desi food, or didn’t eat it all that often, or something like that.

“But you should have said something!” I said. “We didn’t have to eat here!”

“It’s tradition,” he said simply.

I couldn’t argue with that.

Sitting in the masjid last Friday, I couldn’t help but laugh inwardly at another memory from two summers ago: the post-conference meeting for organizers/volunteers, held at the Telegraph Naan ‘n’ Curry. At the end, W insisted on paying for everyone’s meal, and went up to the register and did so, whereupon M leapt out of his chair in an effort to stuff some bills from his pocket into W’s hands. W fending him off, dodging him, the two of them running through the interior of the restaurant, skidding around tables and chairs and other customers, strangers who looked on perplexedly while the rest of us held our stomachs in aching laughter. It was good times.

After last Friday’s Jummah salah, it was time for lunch in Berkeley. Another tradition. I parked my car, and A and I made our way up Telegraph Avenue. We passed by Moe’s Books on the way, and couldn’t resist ducking inside. We went up to the third floor to look at the books on sale ($5-8 FOR BRAND-NEW BOOKS!), and I laughingly recounted to A the story of the last time I had been there, with HijabMan and my sister in September. We had all lost track of one another in the bookstore while pursuing our own literary interests. Finally, HijabMan had texted me with, “I’m on 3rd floor. East religions,” and my sister and I had gone upstairs to find him agonizing over the piles of books he had been tempted to buy.

A and I went to lunch, then walked back down Telegraph to my car. In front of Cody’s Books, someone had set up a table with the above “BOOKS AND EVERYTHING ELSE: 25 CENTS” sign. Books lined the sidewalk in neat rows. I had to stop. The lovely A stood by, waiting patiently while I jabbered on and on excitedly and picked out books. All ELEVEN of them.

I don’t know where I’m going to put these, and, more importantly, I don’t know when I’ll even get around to reading them. But I wanted them.

Here’s what I got:

- Anthem, by Ayn Rand
- The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald
- Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter
- 9 Plays by Black Women, edited by Margaret B. Wilkerson
- Seven Short Novel Masterpieces, edited by Leo Hamalian, et al
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt
- The Man Who Moved the World: The Life & Work of Mohamed Amin, by Bob Smith with Salim Amin
- The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse, edited by Oscar Williams
- The Canterbury Tales, by Chaucer
- The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
- A Pocket Book of Modern Verse, edited by Oscar Williams

After I had gleefully dropped my quarters into the blue plastic mug and we began walking away, I looked back again, and gasped, “Oh my GOD, there’s MORE!” There, at the edge of the sidewalk, was a row I hadn’t seen.

Ah, well. Next time then.