Category Archives: Salaam Namaste

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

madridvespa500.jpg
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

So in the morning when I’m waitin’/for the sun to rise

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Tangier, Morocco, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Those of you who don’t follow my Rockstar Links & Things over at tumblr (and why do you not?, is the question) are missing out on some lovely reminiscing going on today, so I thought I’d cross-post for you here.

If you click here, you can hear the Adhan [Islamic call to prayer] as recited by Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens. Someone named aberjona posted it to tumblr with the following comment:

Awoke to this this morning. If I lived closer to the mosque I might feel differently at 5 am, but echoing over the wet rooftops, this sounds divine. Especially when I consider what other sounds Brooklyn manages to produce—anywhere, anytime.

bagcoffee responded with:

Atlantic Ave is one of the strangest and most amazing places in Brooklyn, if not just in downtown Brooklyn. It’s not just the ever-present Muslim community who populate the shops, sidewalks, and mosque. It’s the mix of everything and the ‘if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss it’ environments of city. When the mosque broadcasts the call to prayer, everything just stops and you remember your in a city that’s not just full of your expectations and experiences. There is something here that’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than your selfish desire.

I don’t think you can say you’ve lived in Brooklyn (or at least visited) and not heard the call to prayer at least once. It’s something stirring and more moving than anything else you can conceive of in this city.

And lawful:

Living in Egypt this becomes almost background noise, but sitting at the Pyramids at sunset and listening to it spread across Cairo and Giza was amazing. Same effect sitting on the walls of old Jerusalem on a Friday as the western part of the city starts to go silent and the Azhan starts to rouse the eastern.

Okay, now I’m homesick.

And I chimed in:

you all made me smile so much with your comments/reflections on the adhan. thank you. =)

even my little village in pakistan, where i lived for 18 months as a teenager, was filled with a dozen different mosques, and 5 times a day the call to prayer would come at you from all the corners of the village and reverberate throughout the neighborhoods. it was beautiful. when i visited morocco a few months ago, it was the same way, and i felt homesick all over again, too.

And writinggirl2writingwoman:

when i first converted, i lived in a city with a decent Muslim population and the adhan was called and could be heard in the houses. it was so beautiful and wonderful to me. i miss being surrounded by Muslims, not only for the loss of hearing the adhan (well, okay, i have it on my computer but that’s just not the same) but for so many reasons. the adhan exemplifies that brother/sisterhood to me, calling everyone to the prayer where we are all equal and stand & bow together before our Lord. i think of the story of Bilal, the first one to hold the job of making the call to prayer, and i can imagine what it must have been like in Medina as the “new” Muslims gathered together.

Fes, Morocco
Fes, Morocco, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Yeh watan hai hamara

I’m en route to Toronto for the RIS conference, wasting time in Charlotte, NC, during my little (5 hours long!!!! multiple exclamation points!!!!) layover, thanks to a delayed flight. Canada, why must all travel to/from your frozen tundra drive me insane?

Meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto has been killed in Pakistan. Blogistan is already on it (SepiaMutiny also links to Getty’s image archive of the event).

I can’t even pretend to know what this means for Pakistan, but it’s unsettling news nonetheless.

[PS: Thanks to HijabMan for the news. Such a HERO about keeping me good company when I'm stranded at airports.]

I’m so tired, I’m so tired/I wish I was the moon tonight

Orange you glad the sunshine waited for you?
Sunshine-y orange, to cheer me up on rainy days like today, by yaznotjaz

Sometimes when I am bored or tired or stressed, I hit “compose” on a new email window and type nonsense. Like this one at work today:

This is one example of the ways in which we can collaborate on projects based around shared issues and common concerns. There are a multitude of ways in which we can work together to further the scope of such efforts across the Bay Area. This decreases significant misunderstandings and combines our emerging efforts with existing ones, so as not to ‘reinvent the wheel.’ What is wonderful to witness is the emergence of a new movement that finalizes the —

What the hell that means, I have absolutely no idea. It’s not supposed to make sense. It’s a complete free-flow thing, so get off me.

Today was a typical Monday – the kind of day that makes you disgusted that the week has only just begun, with no end in sight. I’m still trying to catch up on the hundreds of work-related emails that piled up while I was off on vacation, gallivanting around in the cold [more photos to add, and I will write about the trip, too, I promise], so I rescheduled this morning’s meeting to tomorrow instead, and breathed a sigh of relief. And then I remembered a conference call I have on Wednesday. I don’t understand why we can’t just conduct business through text-messaging, dammit. Is that really too much to ask?

These days are all about drama and stress, but it shall all be over by early January. Or, at least, that’s the way it plays out in my head. For some reason, Desi music cheers me up, so I was good to go after a lunch break spent listening to Kawan, Ali Zafar’s Sajania, Do Anjaane Ajnabi [from the Vivah soundtrack], and this one, which I know only as Track05. Anyone familiar with who that is? [I'm the only person I know who is so "Ehh, vatewer" about YouTube; I rarely ever click over to the website when people share links with me, and I can't believe I just spent so much time looking up all those songs for you all. Geez freakin' louise, yaars.]

Speaking of lunch, I bought a sandwich from the deli at the grocery store (and two jars of gelatin-free marshmallow cream! and cinnamon rolls with frosting!) and then, after waiting in line for an interminable amount of time while impatiently shuffling my feet, I realized that I had already paid for my items. I’m losing it, yaars. LOSING IT.

I came back to the office to find a package from someone I had met at a conference in Chicago, back in October. He sent me dark roast Ugandan coffee, organic and fair trade – “Not Just a Cup, But a Just Cup” – from the Thanksgiving Coffee Company. They are rockstars, and you should buy coffee from them. I love the wonderfully-written, conversational bio of the CEO, Paul Katzeff, here [you have to keep clicking through; there are several pages]. The coffee they sent me is called Mirembe Kawomera:

Mirembe Kawomera (mir´em bay cow o mare´a) means “delicious peace” in the Ugandan language Luganda. It is the name of a Ugandan cooperative of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian coffee farmers.

You can read more about the coffee cooperative on their own website, where Paul also shares the story of how the Thanksgiving Coffee Company agreed to become the buyer/roaster for Mirembe Kawomera:

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I was the recipient of this call because 40 coffee roasters heard this story and declined to purchase before tasting samples. They were focusing on the product so they missed the story. For me the story was inspiring at minimum. People of faith finding hope through coffee. Choosing cooperation in a world torn up by intolerance. I said, “OK, I’ll buy it.” “How many sacks do you want?” she asked. I could hear in her voice her plea, her compassion, her fear, her innocence, and her dedication, all born from what was much much more than the experience of the starry-eyed girl I had assumed she was when I first picked up the phone.
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On the plane I remember thinking how 40 coffee roasters had to miss the significance of what these people had done and were doing in order for Thanksgiving Coffee to get this opportunity to support what in our time could become one of the greatest stories ever told – and through the selling of the coffee, to strengthen and build a cooperative that could become a shining light of beauty for all to see and be inspired by.

On July 12, 2005 the coffee arrived in the US after six weeks “on the water.” An arrival sample was sent to us. We “cupped it” and it is good, real good, and it fills my heart with hope.

Did I mention you should support this effort? Buy some coffee, rockstars.

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Update: I asked a friend, who knows his Desi songs, about the Track05 referenced above. Because he likes to push his luck in not getting fired from work, he downloaded the song right then and there, and checked it out for me. Verdict: “It’s a remix of Channa Ve, sung by Kunal Ganjawala, but originally a Pakistani song.” So, there you have it. Get yer own YouTube links!