Category Archives: Casa420 and Familia

Keep on rocking in the free world

I Voted - Election2008
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

It is the eve of Election Day 2016. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will battle it out at the polls tomorrow, and, like much of the world, I am flabbergasted: How did we get to this point?? I want to remember how many of us felt during this season 8 years ago, as we waited to see if we were successful in electing Barack Obama as President of the United States, and even 6 years ago, as we evaluated Obama halfway into his first term as President. I don’t foresee I’ll feel any of the same unbridled excitement tomorrow — just relief or horror, depending on the results. But I want to share the post below, long-buried in my Drafts folder, so that we could remember what hope & happiness felt like.

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When you’re up between the new skyline, the city lights and the warm sunshine

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As Jane Eyre says, Reader, I married him. Or should I say, I married them? After all, we are three — I, my husband, and our daughter, little Lemon. There is much to write about our marriage, our new home, the life we are settling into together. I will get to all that in due time — after all, even my husband sends me textmessages pleading, “Update your blog!!!!!!” (with multiple exclamation points, no less, the blasphemer).

It’s July now; there are flowers everywhere, and the sun is bright and warm when I go for hikes on the trails outside my front door. Finally, I think — finally, this condo has become home; finally, I am able to walk the hills overlooking the water here without missing the apartment and water-views and marina I left behind in the weeks before the wedding in late January. I haven’t gone far — 25 miles is nothing, distance-wise. But as I wrote three years ago:

The East Bay is not the South Bay is not the North Bay is not the Peninsula is not the City. One can drive for an hour over half a dozen different interstates and highways and still be in the San Francisco Bay Area — and yet not feel at home in one part even while another part is familiar and comforting.

Regardless of its myriad geographies and communities, California as a whole is my favorite, though, and I am lucky to live here, and to not be asked to give this up.

It was a prescient statement, although I didn’t realize it then. When I met my now-husband a year after that post, I was relieved that we both agreed my California would be home. After I moved this past January from the apartment I had shared for almost 1.5 years with my best friend/cousin, Somayya, the only things I regretted were the fact that I was leaving that beautiful place behind, and also that — except for hundreds of photographs on my harddrive — I had neglected to properly document, in writing, my life during the time I lived there. So, this is an attempt to remedy that, and to explain why I found myself in tears during the most inexplicable moments in the weeks leading up to the wedding.

The tears — oh, those were interesting, especially from a woman who hates crying, particularly in front of other people. But there were tears at the post office, in the shower, while packing and loading and moving endless boxes, in my car while driving, and in between phone calls to various wedding vendors. Even as I excitedly looked forward to my wedding, and to the next chapter of this beautiful love story I had helped create and cultivate, I couldn’t help but mourn the apartment I was leaving behind. It took me weeks to understand that it was okay to mourn, and perfectly allowed. This was, after all, just the latest in a series of homes I have loved and left behind, only to eventually, blessedly, find yet another place to love. If I still falter when asked, “Where are you from?”, it’s because I now need both hands to count all the places my hearts expands to hold.

I am falling in love with where I live now (that is a story for another post), but there are things I will always miss about the 1.5 years in the last apartment, starting with the stunning sunset from our balcony, five floors up:

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Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth enters our hearts

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Re-upholstered dining chairs at the PirateHouse, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
- from “Prayer,” by Carol Ann Duffy

In mid-July, home for the weekend at my parents’, I spent an entire Sunday helping my mother re-upholster our dining chairs. She regaled me with stories as we worked together, but her efforts at entertainment still didn’t make it the smoothest or lightest of projects. There were moments during the re-upholstering when I grew impatient at her stubbornness to fix things that couldn’t be fixed; moments when I was annoyed at the time-consuming task of ensuring the corners of each piece of fabric were perfectly folded without creases; moments I snapped at my mother and then was upset with myself.

By the end of the day, my hand was so sore from wielding the staple gun that I could barely fold my fingers into a fist. “Show me your hand,” said my mother, reaching out with hers. She took my hand into hers, pressed it lightly, and — since she’s been suffering from some minor health problems lately — I thought she was about to make me note yet again how hot or dry or arthritic her hands were in comparison to mine. Instead, she unexpected brought my hand closer and pressed a kiss into the center of my palm. “Make sure you rub lotion on it tonight,” she said, “and take some Tylenol.”

In the weeks that followed, long after the soreness had faded, my fingertips remained chapped and peeling. My nails were chipped, and my skin was rough to the touch. My ummy’s simple, tender gesture made me think more deeply of hands, and how easily I take them for granted. Just as for many other families, hands are the touchstone of my family’s heritage, used for the holy triumvirate of food, work, and prayer. I am most reminded of this during Ramadan.

Munching on deliciously cold cubes and slices of fresh fruit during our pre-dawn suhoor meal the other morning, my father told the story of how, as a child, he was accustomed to eating roti, Pakistani flatbread, wrapped around pieces of cantaloupe and melon. And some days, the bread served as wrapper for slices of raw onions instead. For those who were poor, onions were an inexpensive substitute for a full-fledged meal. His mother used to say, “Pyaaz ey tha niyaaz ey” — onions are an offering from God, a blessing, and worthy of gratitude. With her hands, she prepared special meals for my father, her only child — makkai ni roti thay saron na saag (cornbread with mustard greens), parathhay dripping with oil instead of butter, because they couldn’t afford real butter (ironic, because they owned cows and sold milk and butter, but needed the money too much to keep any of the dairy products for themselves). I think of my patient, self-sacrificing grandfather, whose work-hardened hands toiled in the family fields every day, working alone because my grandmother insisted that their son, my father, attend school and become educated rather than being relegated to a lifetime of harsh physical labor.

My mother’s stories, too, are about hands: her mother, a seamstress for the entire neighborhood; her brother, who hauled rocks in a tile factory until his hands were raw and bloody; her father, who drove horse-carts and then, blind in his old age, must have had to acclimate himself to knowing things by touch rather than sight in his last years.

The morning of my father’s onion stories, I stood with both my parents for the post-suhoor prayer of intention for the coming day’s fast. We huddled together, hands cupped closely so that each touched the other’s hands, loudly reciting the du’a: “Wa bisawmi ghadinn nawaiytu min shahri Ramadan: I intend to keep the fast today in the month of Ramadan.” I was reminded of my childhood, when my siblings and I would join our hands together and then pile our hands over our dad’s, much like those Russian dolls, one stacked inside the other, big to small, culminating in the tiniest one inside. A pile of hands, joined in du’a.

One of my earliest memories is of the 3 of us reciting du’a with our father; I remember looking down at our hands and marveling how like a bowl each pair of hands seemed. Then I looked up and asked, “Daddy, why do we make our hands like bowls when we do du’a?” He opened his mouth to reply but, before he could speak, I answered my own question with childish eagerness, “Oh! I know! It’s so when Allah sends us blessings, they fly right down into the bowl so we can catch them easily and not lose them!” I don’t remember my father’s reply — he probably laughed and agreed with my explanation. But even now, every time I join my hands together in supplication, I still recall the excitement with which I processed that childhood epiphany: hands as bowls, fashioned to receive blessings from God.

One of my favorite lines of writing about hands and prayers comes from G. Willow Wilson’s essay for the New York Times, “Engagement in Cairo”:

“It’s a strange feeling, praying into your hands, filling the air between them with words. We think of divinity as something infinitely big, but it is also infinitely small — the condensation of your breath on your palms, the ridges in your fingertips, the warm space between your shoulder and the shoulder next to you.”

I think of all the hands I know: My father, who cradles geraniums and endlessly waters his vegetable garden, and asks for my help in creating constellations of criss-crossing strings to support the bougainvillea vines outside our front door. My sister, who uses paint to create masterpieces that spill warmth and vibrance into every home. My brother, who gestures widely and theatrically, whether on the stage or at the dinner table. My brother-in-law and my mother, who chop ingredients and mix spices and remove lids from pots to smell the fragrance of home-cooked food that fills our hearts as well as our stomachs. My friends, who hold and nurture babies, perform research experiments, highfive me, diagnose and soothe patients, hold me close on the rare occasions I cry.

And my hands? I’m not quite sure yet what they do. They write a lot (although not as often as they should) in precise, swooping (sometime angular and stabby) lines. They have taken photographs that I frame and proudly display on my walls. They type fast, and insist on correcting spelling mistakes that others would gloss over. They carry the to-do lists I scribble on my skin with permanent markers, and just recently made strawberry shortcake from scratch for the very first time. They know how to wield a staple gun, and caulk cracks in the walls, and hang paintings with the symmetrical, measurements-obsessed accuracy I inherited from my father. On the eve of my sister’s wedding, nearly two years ago, my hands helped hers in hemming silky Pakistani outfits by hand, when the sewing machine stopped working. I knew even then that that would be the sort of moment I would remember forever, once the hustle and bustle of wedding ceremonies and receptions had died down: our eyes tired, our hearts a little aggravated at this inconvenience, but our hands focused on carefully stitching wedding outfits in the middle of the night.

Y laughed at me last summer, “I’ve never seen a human being so intrigued by their own knuckles!” (This may or may not have been after I threatened to stab him with my sharp knuckles.) Actually, I’m most intrigued by my hands as a whole. They are, after all, the same hands that rested on my knees during prayers when I lived in Pakistan. So many things have changed about me in the seventeen years since, but my hands have remained the same: brown skin; raised, blue veins; short nails; light scars; and well, yes, sharp, bony knuckles. Every single time I look upon my hands in prayer, my mind rushes back to those prayers during hot summer afternoons and lantern-lit nights in the village. It comforts me to know they are still the same hands — if I could pray that way then, I still have it within me to pray like that now.

More than anything else, I associate my hands with prayer — which makes it all the more frustrating when I fall short in reaching out to and communicating with God. My prayers are both inward meditations and verbal invocations, often brief and spontaneous. But while I’ve been good about praying for others, I generally shy away from praying for myself. My hands, like the rest of me, are proud and strong and independent. I hate asking for assistance, whether carrying boxes up multiple flights of stairs or lugging groceries in from the car or asking God for favors.

So, while I try to keep God at the center of most of my actions and decisions, and while I like to think I am good at prayers thanking Him for all the blessings I have, I find myself lacking in other types of prayers, namely, those asking for help. Perhaps I over-think it (am I too arrogant, in believing it’s not necessary to ask because God will grant me what I wish for, anyway? Or am I too humble, in feeling I’m not worthy of making requests?). Perhaps I forget that God loves being asked for help, and that I should be humble enough to ask more often. I read somewhere once that Mahatma Gandhi had said prayer is a longing of the soul, a daily admission of one’s weakness. This is something I need to remember.

In these few remaining and most blessed days of Ramadan, I intend to use my hands for asking more for myself.

When He gives, He shows you His kindness; when He deprives, He shows you His power. And in all that, He is making Himself known to you and coming to you with His gentleness. [...] When he loosens your tongue with a request, then know that He wants to give you something.
- from “The Hikam” by Ibn Ata’illah

An Open Love Letter to My Parents, on the Occasion of My 30th Birthday

Table for two at the teahouse in Cordoba
Table for two at the teahouse in Cordoba, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz

Today is my 30th birthday. On this wonderfully sunny day that I’m enveloped in gratitude for the life I live, I’m most grateful for those who most helped shape me into the woman I am today — my parents. As I celebrate my birth and my blessings, I remind myself to celebrate my parents first and foremost, for starting it all. Below is something I wrote for their 35th wedding anniversary last year, and never posted.

An Open Love Letter to My Parents, on My 30th Birthday
(Originally written for their 35th wedding anniversary on 10 June 2010)

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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