Category Archives: Salaam Namaste

City days: River, culture, speech, sense of first space and the right place

I thought this was the question I most despised...
Near MACLA, downtown San Jose, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I was taking BART into San Francisco one Sunday a few weeks ago when a young man got on the train at the MacArthur station and glanced curiously at me for much longer than I was comfortable with as he made his way down the aisle.

A few minutes later, I heard someone call out, “Excuse me!” I looked over my shoulder, as did several people in my vicinity. It was the aforementioned young man. The train was packed, so he was forced to stand in the aisle, a few rows behind me, from where he delivered his bombshell question to me: “Excuse me, what language do you speak?” Everyone’s head expectantly swiveled my way, waiting for an answer.

Being asked, “Where are you from?” generally annoys me. But I hadn’t known until that morning that being asked, “What language do you speak?” could make me so furious. Was he serious? I wanted to ask, “What the f*ck do you think I speak?”

Thrown off guard, I stared over my shoulder at the guy, mentally calculating my possible responses – my totally b.s. Pukhtu, my fluent Hindku, my ever-dwindling repertoire of German, my passably conversant Urdu. But then, still angry, I responded as coldly as I could: “English.”

“Yeah? Well, I just wanted to say that…” – here, he paused to swing his arm around his head and torso – “your style is really beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I said shortly.

“Where is that kind of style from?”

Guess,” I snapped, and turned around to face the front, eyes forward, jaw tight. Apparently, a red&white wrap-around spring dress from Forever21, and flared jeans, and dangly earrings and flip-flops, and, oh yes, the headwrap, are all exotic items that have no space or sense of belonging in American fashion.

I understand that I look different, and that this will raise curiosity wherever I go. I understand, too, that some people are genuinely interested in learning about others. But I have a right to be angry about how such interest is sometimes articulated, and the manner in which such questions are sometimes posed. Really, I was fuming over being asked – point-blank and in a completely rude manner (how is it okay to make that the very first question you ask anyone?) – about what language I spoke.

Goddammit, I’m surrounded by effin’ MORONS.

I comforted myself with the thought that at least he didn’t tell me how great my English was.

Several people got off the train at the next stop, and, next thing I knew, Mr. Smooth & Charming had found a seat in the row diagonally across from mine. “Hey,” he whispered loudly.

I ignored a couple of the Heys, but I didn’t have a book with which to pretend to distract myself, and, up and down the train, people’s heads started swinging back and forth from me to the guy, so finally I turned my head, eyebrow raised challengingly.

“So, you’re not going to tell me where you’re from?” he asked in a wheedling tone, sounding a bit hurt, as if I were doing him a great disservice.

“No,” I said, spitefully spitting out clipped responses. “You just keep guessing over there.”

I turned around again. A minute later, he ventured, “Are you Gypsy?”

No.” I didn’t even bother turning around, but could still feel him staring.

“They’re the oldest race, you know.”

I sighed, raised my eyebrow again, tried to give every indication of being uninterested, but couldn’t help asking, “Who? The Gypsies?”

“No. The Egyptians.”

“I’m not Egyptian, either,” I said.

I felt like I was actively participating in a guessing game, in Twenty Questions or something, and the ridiculousness of the situation (and, perhaps, of my antisocial – even defensive? – reaction) started to hit me. Everyone on our side of the car was silently watching our childish exchange. I tried to suppress a smile, and he must have noticed my face softening, because that’s when he made his smooth and charming move: “You’re very beautiful, you know.”

“Ha. Uhh, thanks.” And I was trying not to laugh, because somehow, in his cocky yet completely bumbling way, Mr. Trying Too Hard To Be Smooth reminded me very much of my co-worker from my old Sacramento job, and I couldn’t wait to get off the train and call H#3 and say, “Guess what idiot on BART just reminded me of you?”

I turned my head to the left to look out the window. From my right, Mr. Smooth added loudly, “Your beauty will never fade.”

Mein Gott, can we get to the city already? This is killin’ me.

A young mother of two, sitting in the seat across from me – and directly in front of Mr. Smooth – smiled. Most of the other people seated in our vicinity smirked as well.

“Did you know that?” he repeated loudly. “Your beauty will – ”

“Yeah,” I said hurriedly. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“When?” he challenged.

“What?”

“When will you keep it in mind?”

Forever,” deadpanned the man behind me. I started laughing, and so did he, and Mr. Smooth, shameless flirt that he was, smiled winningly, as if his charm had finally achieved victory over my cold war. I was still chuckling a few moments later when we reached the Powell St. station, and something about laughter as a letting down of the guard put me in a good enough mood again that I even saluted Mr. Smooth as I stepped off the train, calling out behind me, “Have a good one!”
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I hope my proposition to be your friend will not be an exemption

Is it just me, or is this sign disturbing?
“Not that I’m a handwriting expert or anything but that handwriting looks kinda needy,” originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

I came across the above Urdu sign last fall while wandering around with friends on the infamous-amongst-Desis Devon Street in Chicago. My buddy, Zana, calls the sign “dodgy.” The translation reads: “Girl needed for computer work.”

Speaking of dodginess, Somayya forwarded me the following email a couple of mornings ago, adding, without any prompting from my end, “You can certainly post this on your blog and we can all get a good laugh out of it. HAHA.” While she was sincerely confused as to how the…uhh, GIRL…got ahold of her email address, the note is hilarious, regardless. I present, unedited for your enjoyment, Vick from Russia:

Hi,

I got your contact from the cyberspace on my search for a sincere man who is marriage minded and have value for love and friendship and recognized the significant of having a good and sincere relationship, so I saw your profile on zackvision.com and decided to contact you and I hope my proposition to be your friend will not be an exemption.

Well I am Vick Mazur as you may know me and I am from Russia, which my father is from Russia and my mother is from Liberia but at present I live and work in the Republic of Benin in a Charity Organization but I am a very good girl from a good family, my hobbies are playing basketball, reading the bible, working hard and watching movies. I dislike people that lies and dishonest things, i am not too fat and not too thin, i am average in height, i do not smoke nor drink, white in complexion with blonde hair and a nice eye ball and i am also a easy going lady but i will leave that for you to to judge when we start this friendship and I hope you are satisfy with this little details about me and I will also pray to God to make our friendship last longer without regretting knowing each others.

Please I will like to stop for now, kindly tell me more about yourself, your profession and country so as to march one more step towards forever, honest and sincere friendship and I will send you my picture when I hear from you.

You can also reply me at my yahoo email address: [ ]

Yours truly,
Vick.

The sun must come

flickr beach collage via H_A
All photos originally uploaded by yaznotjaz; collage created last summer by Hashim_A, rockstar (and tea-lover. gross!) extraordinaire. Photos may be individually viewed in the Muir Beach photoset.

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Tomorrow is the sister’s birthday, and in ten days it’s mine – and I’m so horrible at this birthday business, mine or anyone else’s. Last year, all I wanted for my birthday was sunshine. This is a predictable wish, and it worked out quite well in 2006. I already know how I’m going to spend the last day of my birthday month, this year. It’s the first day that I’ve got to figure out.

Today, I spent the morning at the dealership, learning that a 30,000 mile service and new brake pads and rotors on my car would cost a whopping grand total of $810+tax. Tomorrow morning, I should make them give me a spiffy rental car to make up for it. Spiffy cars can make up for a lot of things. That’s why people buy red sports cars when they go through mid-life crises. Me, I’m going to go through a quarter-life crisis. Perhaps, I might as well have an identity crisis, too, while I’m at it. It’ll be like this morning, when the lovely gentleman who was driving me back home from the dealership asked, “So, where are you from?” And I raised an eyebrow and responded coolly, “Oh, the Bay Area, mainly. But I also grew up living in Sacramento and a few other places.”

“Oh,” he said, and I smiled at him. There was silence for another minute, until he ventured again, politely, “I meant, where are you from originally?” I mentally threw up my hands in defeat, and replied, “Pakistan.”

“Oh, that’s nice!” he said, delighted.
“Yes, it is.”

After this morning’s car-related dramas, I’ve spent the rest of the day at work, because, unlike the rest of America, I’m not off for President’s Day. That sound you hear? That’s the sound of Yasmine unsheathing her stabbing paraphernalia – because, as Hamza asks, “What fun is life without stabbing paraphernalia?” But, seriously, what is this drama about working on a national holiday? It’s disgusting. Almost enough to make a kid contemplate unemployment. I should be sitting outside in the sunshine, looking at the fourteen plastic grocery bags filled with tangerines that we picked this weekend, eating breakfast in the courtyard – all the things my parents were doing this morning when I called home to ask the daddy-o about advice related to my car.

Instead, I’ve spent the day indoors, ostensibly project-planning, but also day-dreaming about sunshine and beaches and warm water and the day my hands will turn brown again, because, as the sister exclaimed over dinner last week, “You’re so white!”

That’s it. When spring is here for sure and the weather stays consistently warm, I’m heading down to Santa Cruz for some sunshine and sand.

How to balance work and play

How to balance work and play
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

My new business cards came in at work today, and the first thing my friend A (he of the Halloween GMail chats) said was:

A: Think of all the guys you can now meet at ISNA* conferences.
A: “Salaams brother…here’s my card…fax me your biodata.” **

*ISNA = Islamic Society of North America’s annual convention, held in Chicago. (Here are a few photos I took when I was there for the first time, in Sept. 2006.)
** Biodata: For those of you who aren’t South Asian and in the know, check this and this.

Oh, and next time I go to ISNA, I’ll let the world know in advance, so we can hang out. I promise I won’t give you my business card.

You gotta let me make my choice alone before my food gets cold

Hi, I like taking pictures of my food
Eliza’s, at California & Divisadero in San Francisco, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

This is just to let you know I’m alive and well and constantly complaining to friends who apprehensively fear for my safety – not to mention my soul – about this winter weather business. (My favorite whine of the week: “Winter is stupid. What was God thinking?”) Shut up, I know I live in California, but it’s freakin’ cold ’round here, take my word for it.

All I’ve been doing these last few weeks is eating, sleeping, lying on my couch watching Season One of Grey’s Anatomy (I am so behind the times; they’re actually on Season Three now, apparently), and making plans left and right to hang out with friends who support me in my predictably last-minute whims involving get-togethers and food sessions.

Speaking of food: A couple of days ago, having skipped breakfast (I can just see 2Scoops, my self-appointed Nutritionist Extraordinaire, shaking his head over there in sunny San Diego), I continually whined to B while at work about how hungry I was. Lunchtime came and went, and I hadn’t even left my desk to go and eat. I think we’ve all realized by now that my eating habits while at work are disgraceful, to say the least, but even I’ve got to admit that there are days when I need what the rest of the world calls real food. Even the thought of the mint chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles, which I brought in the day before and which were now sitting abandoned in the workplace kitchen, just wasn’t doing it for me.

Finally, at 3.45pm, I pushed my chair away from the desk, announced, “I’m going to go find some food!” and walked out to my car. While pulling away from the curb, I called the closeby Desi [South Asian] restaurant. “Hi, I’d like to order two samosas and a naan, to go.”

I could swear I heard a muffled laugh from the guy at the other end of the line. “Is that all?”

“Yes, that’s it. About how long will it take for the food to be ready?”

“Less than fifteen minutes. What’s the name?”

“Yasmine.”

When I walked into the restaurant ten minutes later, a guy called out, “Are you Yasmine?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry, we only had enough vegetables left for one samosa,” he said apologetically,

“Oh.” I stood stock-still, thinking, “One samosa and one naan? Geez, what the hell kind of real meal is THAT? The one day I even bother.”

Out loud, I said, “One samosa is fine. I do get a naan, though, right?”

The guy smiled. “Yes, the naan is all ready.”

I swear I go to this place just for the naan. I had barely settled back into my car before I tore into the bread, freshly-baked and piping-hot. Curiously, I opened the styrofoam container containing the other half of my order. Inside were two samosas. TWO.

I let out a confused, “What the hell?” before I realized that “one samosa” means one order, which actually means two samosas. Suitably enlightened, I closed the container and continued munching on the naan. I had already eaten more than half of it by the time I got back to the office, where B greeted me with, “It’s past 4. I can’t believe you’re eating lunch now, when we’re leaving at 5.30 anyway.”

Good lookin’ out, because by the time I met the lovely rehes for dinner at 7pm, I was still far too full to properly enjoy our Desi/Thai meal. Anyone who can give me good Thai food recommendations is a rockstar in my book (I am extremely wary about Thai food; what I’ve grown up eating as savory food – i.e. vegetables, etc. – should not taste sugary sweet, as far as I’m concerned). rehes and I need to hang out more regularly. I trust her recommendations.

By the way, did you know that Desi restaurants have spiffy-looking websites now? Man, we’re coming on up in the world these days. Never mind the fact that any Desi restaurant describing its food as “seductive and enticing” makes me giggle.