Category Archives: Casa420 and Familia

Call me to the ocean, take me wandering through the street/’Cause I feel like going home

spoonful of suga
Spoonful of Suga, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Sorry for the radio silence at this end, buddy boys. The Grand Move of 2009 occurred last month, and the familia and I are still settling in – not to mention still busy clearing remnants of the last decade out of Casa420. Who knew that, once we relaxed our nomadic tendencies and allowed ourselves to become too complacent in one place, we’d manage to stockpile so much STUFF while we were at it?

My internetS at the new house is still on crack, so things are a little slow at this end, I know, I know. Stories and photos coming soon. Meanwhile, the above photo is from a few weeks ago. D came to visit the new house, and then we spent the afternoon in a neighboring city, catching up over applepie & vanillabean icecream (me) and salad (D), ducking in and out of the charming (read: expensive) little downtown boutiques, strolling through the farmers’ market and finding ourselves at the waterfront.

This, by the way, is still something I marvel at every day – that the North Bay Area is all about water, and that we, the landlocked agricultural Pukhtoons, have somehow ended up in a city where we spend our days gushing over the views of the bridge and the bay and the feel of the cool breeze that floats in over the water.

bridge

I’d forgotten how much I love bridges until my commute recently altered so that I have to pass over one twice a day again.

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During the course of our aimless wanderings, D, ever the resourceful penny-pincher, talked me out of buying a(n amazingly rockstarish) $70 skirt by taking me to the candy shop instead. And I – well, I was so blinded by the colors and all the sugar at my disposal, that I completely forget to protest.

And you. Your turn now. What have you been doing?

Let’s go to sleep in Paris, & wake up in Tokyo/Then we can land in the motherland

The better to stab you with
The better to stab you with, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

My colleague ducks his head through the doorway this evening on his way out of work and calls out, “Bye, Jasmin!”

“You call me that again, and we are not going to be friends anymore,” I mutter sourly, without turning my eyes away from the computer screen.

His long-legged stride has already carried him halfway down the hall, but he hears me, and turns around to come back laughing. “Alright. Alright, Yasmine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“FINE,” I say.

The office slowly empties out, but I stay on for another two hours, working on an East Coast project so that the folks there can look at it first thing in the morning. It doesn’t hurt that my PC refuses to get with the Daylight Savings drama and switch forward one hour to the new time, instead obstinately changing back to the old time whenever I’m not looking. As a girl who is slightly obsessed with time and dates and documentation, I find this frustrating.

The PC tells me I’m an hour behind, the East Coast project makes me coordinate everything three hours ahead, and when I finally switch off the lights and lock the door and make my way down three flights of stairs, it’s still daylight outside. It’s highly disconcerting, the fact that it’s not dark anymore when I leave work. But the daylight makes it feel like there are more hours in the day, and I don’t mind this sort of trickery so much.

Outside the office, I pass a man I’ve seen before. He’s old and friendly and always nods politely when we cross paths. Today he smiles and says hello.

“Hi,” I say. “How are you?”

“There are 86,400 seconds in one day,” he says. “I just keep reminding myself to breathe through them all.”

I laugh. “That’s a good way to go.”

He peers at me closely. “Are you Pakistani?” he asks, and I blink, surprised. “Yes. And very few people manage to get that right on the first try!”

He leans in, asks in a confidential tone of voice, “How’s the situation over there?”

I pause, then shrug exaggeratedly. “Honestly, I don’t think the situation’s so great anywhere these days.”

He nods. “Just like here.”

“Exactly.”

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85160097_a434c15242.jpg
Up the hill to home, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I exited the train at my stop 40 minutes later, and the first thing I saw when I stepped onto the escalator and glanced to my right was the moon, hanging like white disk over Mt. Diablo.

I immediately thought of S, our personal superman, whose four-year-old text message is still saved in my phone: Look at the moon tonight, it looks hella beautiful.

In Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith, he writes about his wife, who belongs to “a brand of Sufi Islam” whose adherents stop to recite the Shahadah, the Islamic declaration of belief, when they see the moon. I remember reading that passage last week and realizing how long it’s been since I’ve even looked at the moon in a spiritual context. When I was little, our mother would gather us to her and have us peer out at the moon through our dining room windows, or herd us out onto the front porch, where we would raise our hands in prayer for the new moon.

When I lived in Pakistan as a teenager, our bebe (paternal grandmother) did the same in the courtyard of our village home. We stood outside one night when my father was briefly visiting from America; male voices drifted out the behtuk door while she and I stood out in the veyra. Bebe prayed in loudly mumbled whispers, and, when we had concluded by saying “Ameen” and passing our hands over our faces, she fondly relayed stories of my father as a child growing up in the very same house – stories my father would, as usual, later discount as Bebe‘s exaggeration and natural flair for storytelling.

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brick courtyard at Casa420
Brick courtyard at Casa420, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

The moon leads me all the way home, where I pull into the driveway and then turn around to park in my usual spot along our street without sidewalks, careful not to scrape my car against the low brick walls dividing the road from our side yard. I never forget to mention the bricks when giving people directions to our home: Continue for about half a mile on the narrow, winding road. Make a left up the hill, and we’re house number 420 on the left-hand side, the white house with all the red brick-work in front. More often than not, they ignore my directions in favor of commenting on my address instead: “420?! No way!” they laugh.

My parking spot is on a slope, and this is the home where, when I returned as a teenager, I first learned how to parallel park on a hill, using “Up, up, and away,” as my mantra, a line that I remembered easily only because it tied right back to Superman, whose comic books and television shows I grew up with, even during those 18 months in Pakistan. Turn your wheels away from the curb when parking uphill. Turn them towards the curb when downhill. Looking back through my review mirror, I see the moon behind me now.

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california is the center of the WORLD
California is the center of the WORLD, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Over dinner, we discuss moving – as we have been discussing for the past two months. And while part of me is wary yet resigned, another part of me is intrigued by the idea of change. I wouldn’t be my father’s daughter, if it were otherwise. And it is endearing, watching their excitement, hearing the energetic rise and fall of their voices as my mother dreams out loud of a fireplace and new kitchen cabinets and the daddy-o maps out decks and balconies and french-doors. Where we live now is my first home, our favorite home, but even still I’m amazed that Phase2 of our lives here has lasted so long. It’s been 10.5 years since our grand return, and don’t think the daddy-o’s nomadic tendencies haven’t been asserting themselves for a while now.

I have spent a lifetime stuttering when asked the “Where are you from?” question, only because my life has been comprised of shifting roads, different rooms, varying walls and windows. The people I have loved and lost – and found again, or ignored – are manifold. I resurrect old email threads only to unrepentantly archive them without answering the pleasantly surprised recipients, and wince through international phone calls, and let my blank gaze coldly skitter past unexpectedly familiar faces in shopping malls or coffeeshops or on BART platforms, choosing to ignore those people for whom I can’t find words anymore – or those to whom I’d never had much to say in the first place.

Houses may shift and the view outside my windows may change and my question to people may always be a confused, “Where do I know you from?”, but I soothe myself with the fact that the moon will always be there, that I have a good memory – an “uncanny” one, even, I’ve been told – for faces and dates and details, that the sunshine falls the same everywhere, that I can raise my hands in prayer wherever I go.

But 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.

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supplication in sanfrancisco
Supplication in San Francisco, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Monday, 16 March 2009

I finished writing the bulk of this post in a coffeeshop in Sacramento, 75 miles from home. At one point, I looked up to see a girl I remembered from one of the high schools I had attended. Her blonde hair was now reddish-pink and her name didn’t come to mind right away, but I recognized the smile and the laugh and the slightly awkward knobby-kneed coltishness. I didn’t say hello. A few hours later, driving down H Street back towards 80 West, a man jogging along the sidewalk reminded me of a boy with whom I’d gone to school – but which city, and which of the seven schools I’ve attended, I had absolutely no idea.

On the way home, my sister and I stopped in the university town where we’d lived as teenagers, and where I’d returned for my undergrad. “Dude, I haven’t been back in years,” I said, as we exited the freeway.

“And how does it feel?” teased the sister.

“I’ll let you know when we drive through the streets.”

On a mission to “stop by the new masjid” before heading back to the Bay, our jaws collectively dropped when we drove down the main street and saw the new Islamic center. Inside and outside, it was beautiful, with an inspiring attention to detail. “This place must have been designed by engineers from the University,” I joked, referring to an event we had attended a couple of days before, at which the MC had deadpanned, “This program was put together by two engineers, so it’s going to run like clockwork.”

There was a blue dome. And small blue square tiles embedded in the entry areas, and the eight-pointed Islamic star integrated into the design, and lovely chandeliers and soft, light-blue carpeting. We couldn’t stop smiling. “We used to attend Sunday school at this masjid when we lived here,” my sister said to the president of the Islamic center, who noticed us wandering around the building and unlocked the doors for us.

“When was that?”

“’95 through ’98,” I said, and he smiled and asked what our parents’ names were. When we told him our father’s name, he nodded in recognition, although I don’t think he remembered the face to go with it.

There were yellow flip-flops waiting to welcome me when we slipped inside the marbled, clean and shiny women’s bathroom to make ablutions for the afternoon prayer. And when we stood shoulder-to-shoulder for Asr salah, my sister pointed out that, as travelers, we could technically pray the amended two cycles of prayer. The prayer of the traveler is allowed to be shortened.

“I’m praying the full four,” I said. “It feels like home.”

On the way out, we marveled again at the lights, the tiles, the shelves, the careful neatness with which everything was allocated a place.

“It gives me hope,” said my sister as we were driving away, “to know that there are people who pay attention to beauty and detail.”

Down the street was the Victorian house in which we had lived during those three years – the one with the bay windows. We drove by slowly. “It’s still gray and white!” I exclaimed. The brick walkways and geraniums have been replaced by grass, of which I highly approve. Ten years later after we left, the back deck is still the one we built, and the wrought-iron railing by the kitchen door is the same, as is the old, detached garage, and the city fire station directly across the street.

But not everything has remained unchanged. “Remember that tree the city planted for us?” I asked. “Is that the one?” I gestured towards a tall, sturdy tree at the side of the house.

“The city didn’t plant that,” said my sister. “We did.”

“Well, remember how it was all tiny and scrawny? And look at it now. It’s huge!”

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new paths & pathfinding
Stick to the new: New paths & pathfinding, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I can never manage to tell people “where I’m from,” which is probably also why I never have a good answer for where I’m going. And more than any other word or concept, the idea of “home” has always tripped me up and stopped me in my tracks – and intrigued me the most.

There is nowhere to go. Everything is perfect, says one part of me.

The other says, Everywhere you go will be somewhere you’ve never been.

And if there is one thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of being the daughter of a man with nomadic tendencies, a man who so nonchalantly embraces change as “adventure,” it is this: The end is just the beginning, and every point in between.

At least 86,400 points, come to think of it, on any given day.

“I have homes everywhere, many I have not seen yet. That’s perhaps why I am restless. I haven’t seen all my homes.”
- John Steinbeck

Nobody said it would be easy now/we live in a lucky town

Basically, I have a slight obsession with bright colors and leading lines
Public library, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

It’s afternoon, and I’m sitting inside a coffeeshop, right beside the large window overlooking the street. I’ve been here for hours, watching the way the light shifts and feeling the sunshine and shadows spill across my table.

The two men sitting right outside my window seem to know nearly every other person who walks by, and I’m intrigued and a little bit jealous. It’s a mid-size city that they’ve managed to imbue with a small-town feel, just in the past couple of hours of sitting out at the sidewalk table. How do they know everyone, and seem to fit in here so seamlessly? Ten years back in this city (wow), and I have only one friend who lives here.

Note to self: Find some good food places around here, and stop hanging out in Berkeley so much.

Actually, ignore that part about Berkeley. Not happening.

Scent of lime

I want a vespa the color of tangerines
I want a vespa the color of tangerines, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Missed you much, Blogistan. Going through my Drafts folder now, and finishing up old, half-written posts I had never got around to publishing. Here’s one from last month; excuse the slightly disjointed nature of it. More are coming. I promise.

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13 April 2008

We returned from sunny San Diego yesterday, only to find more than enough warmth in the Bay Area as well. I’ve been waking up these last couple of weeks to the scent of orange blossoms pouring through my open bedroom windows (from the tree in the courtyard outside my room), and I’d be hard-pressed to name a scent I love more than that of citrus. Lotions, perfumes, candles, leaves, even furniture polish and air freshener – always citrus.

It’s quiet without my mother puttering around the house. For now, I prefer it this way. She gets to spend a few weeks with family in the motherland, and I will have extra time to focus on, and actually do, the multitude of things I need to get done – or so I tell myself. I think back to the tense discussions – and silences – that preceded her departure. My father arguing that a country with now-regular suicide bombings and militant attacks was no place for her to be. My mother pointing out that her brother was sick, perhaps dying, even, and asking her to come.

“Do you understand how poor they are?” said my father. “They don’t need you there. They need money; that would be far more helpful to them right now.”

And my mother, sticking her ground for once, replying sharply, “Maybe if you had brothers or sisters, you would know what it’s like to want to be with them when they are so ill.” I can’t even conceive of how painful it must be, to lose one’s mother, brother, and sister, all within the span of just a few years. She wasn’t in Pakistan when her sister died, and regrets it still, I know.

And so, the battle raged for weeks – the daddy-o stubbornly declaring he was looking out for the ummy’s health and safety. The ummy being fierce about her intention to go one minute, then meekly backing down the next. And I, angry at having to be the inadvertent go-between for two people who just couldn’t seem to communicate properly, but mainly angry at my father for always professing to use arguments of logic and practicality yet failing to understand that some things are beyond logic.

“She hasn’t been back in six years; at least let her go and spend a proper amount of time with her family.”

“What are you, her lawyer?” the daddy-o tossed at me one day.

Yes,” I said. “Since you don’t seem to think she can make independent decisions, I’m going to keep arguing for her.”

“Why do you always make me out to be the bad guy?”

If it had been my parents or my siblings, I would have gone in a heartbeat. I told him so. Why couldn’t he see that? Of all people, he was the one who taught me that family comes before everything, that whenever something happens concerning my family – whether happiness or sorrow – I’m supposed to drop everything else and GO.

He and I were not on speaking terms for much of the last few weeks. He thought I was being impertinent and illogical, not properly thinking through the logistics and safety of ummy’s visit to the motherland. I thought he would being his usual “My way or the highway” damn stubborn self. “Fucking ridiculous,” I raged to the sister and Somayya. Meanwhile, the ummy teetered between hope and despair for weeks, wondering if she would make it to Pakistan, and even if she did, would her brother still be alive?

Even after her passport photos were taken and the application submitted for renewal, even after the new passport was sent back via express delivery and arrived on our front porch less than two weeks later, there was no guarantee she was actually going until the daddy-o sent me a casual, concise email saying her roundtrip flight (he insisted it had to be roundtrip, not open-ended; this was another thing we fought about) was booked, and could I drive down to Fremont to pick up the tickets sometime that week?

I was more than happy to.

And I was happy for her when she finally left from SFO a few days ago. “Thay un sharaab dewun ne, tha thu akkhi, ‘Nay!’ ” called out the brother in Hindko. And if they give you alcohol, just say NO! It was his advice on how to respond to solicitous flight attendants. It was also the last thing she heard before walking away, and the timing was impeccable; he managed to turn her tears to laughter.

So, the ummy is finally gone. And the tension, too, is gone from the house. The daddy-o is outside in the yard right now, probably humming Pukhto songs as he fixes the sprinkler system.
Continue reading

On the verge of something wonderful

pearlsbeforeswine-travel.gif
From Pearls Before Swine

I’m in the midst of making lists and running errands, and my brother just sent me a text-message:

Keep the twenty dollars, I’m taking your sunglasses. :) muahaha!

He’s referring to the orange-brown aviator sunglasses that the Lovely L Lady convinced to buy (for eight dollars, for the record) from an accessories stand on Durant, in Berkeley. It’s always difficult for me to find sunglasses I like, but it made me smile to know we have the same taste, and so I’m letting him keep them. While oversized on my face, they fit him perfectly.

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I fly out tomorrow night for my Hindku-speaking love N‘s wedding in Ottawa, where I get to meet the rockstar Maha on Sunday, too! And then, a quick swing by DC to stalk the DC contingent of the All-Star Crackstar Squad, Baji and SI and 2Scoops, for a couple of days.

It shall be grand – except for that little thing called WINTER in Places Where it Snows. My little California self cannot bear to wear shoes (or boots!) for prolonged periods of time, and so this entire trip worries me a bit. But, I figure if I can manage to survive December in Ottawa and DC, I can do anything.

Meanwhile, if you have any tips and tricks for How to Be a Rockstar & Navigate Cold Places Without Catching Hypothermia, please do let me know. I need all the help I can get. So far, my little post-it list contains things like:

-Socks
-Black BOOTS
-Green shoes
-Red shoes
-Thermals
-Scarves
-Black coat

Of, course, I could always go with Hashim‘s advice: Personally, yaar, just stay indoors when you are there.

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I am looking out the front window while typing this post. A UPS truck just parked at the foot of our driveway. A man got down from the truck, reached over the black wrought-iron gate, picked a persimmon or two off our brilliantly-colored tree, then got back in the truck and drove away. My neighborhood makes me smile so much, and so do my parents, who have cultivated this open-handed generosity for decades, so that all who pass by know they are welcome to the ripe fruit off our trees, without needing to formally ask.

It’s so beautifully sunny here. Lovely California, what ever will I do without you for nearly a week?