3 Beautiful Things, the “We’re in Your Corner” Edition

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Sit together in yellow silence; Berkeley, CA, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[Cross-posted at HijabMan.com.]

3beautifulthings:

1. SORRY. Recently, I learned a humbling — and very important — lesson from a friend: to apologize for things said or acts committed in anger, even if the anger was justified. There is not much to add to this, but I will say that I — who thought I’d come such a long way since my inability to apologize years ago — still have much to learn. If I have learned in the last several years to listen more to my conscience and refine my sense of compassion and appeasement, I have also learned just how trigger-quickly I can lapse into cold, cutting commentary without regard for how words burn at the other end. I am remembering now other conversations of this past year, and how the outcomes may have been different if I’d been gentler — not only with the person(s) at the other end, but also with myself. In an effort to prove my own strength and independence, my own will and rightness, I do myself a disservice in times like these. There is beauty in humility, and it takes strength to acknowledge (and embrace or amend) one’s weaknesses and shortcomings, and pride is not pretty. (Note to self: Don’t be this guy.)

2. LAUGHTER. No matter the level of stress at work, there is always at least one moment of levity during each day. Sometimes, I find myself twirling ’round and around on the twirly-chair at my desk, lobbing sarcastic and hilarious jabs at my coworkers before throwing my head back in laughter so loud it can be heard all the way down the hall. At such moments, I think to myself, “I would miss this.” Particularly now that we have disbanded a bit. Our organization recently relocated, and my “department” has been displaced from the spacious office we all shared to a building where we each now have our own, separate cubicles. There is more privacy — but also less, at the same time.

AH paused sadly by my desk the other morning and asked with his best hang-dog expression, “Can you move into my cubicle? I miss you.” I laughed at him, of course, but then I realized it’d been far too many days since we exchanged our ubiquitous highfives, and I was tempted to pick up my laptop and go back to a shared workspace. That was, of course, before I remembered how AH borrows my favorite pens to jot down notes whenever he’s on the phone, and then promptly loses them; throws whiteboard markers at me whenever I tease him too much; swipes my food when I’m not looking; makes me re-send him emails he never bothered to open the first time around; and asks rhetorical questions like, “You know what we should do, Yasmine?” and then ignores my cranky, “No, I don’t, tell me,” and launches into grand plans and ambitious projects that we will have time for only in 57 years — and I decided my own quiet little cubicle was probably good enough. I might even be able to finally nap under my desk without anyone noticing.

3. HELLO, I SEE YOU. (i) I stepped out for lunch at one of the local cafes recently, and found that I recognized no one there. This was problematic only because Julie’s used to be such a vibrant source of community for me, not only when my sister was an undergrad at Berkeley and I visited her on campus all the time, but also during all those post-Friday prayer lunches with friends, and during the iftar dinners that Julie’s hosted for Cal students during the month of Ramadan. But the students who frequent the place have changed, and so has the management of the cafe, not to mention part of the menu.

I consoled myself by ordereing my usual chicken-with-basil stirfry (that hasn’t changed), and found a small table in a corner of the courtyard, where I sat quietly, scrolled through my phone, gave every indication of not caring that I knew no one, and wished the afternoon were longer so I wouldn’t have to go back to work so soon. But within just a few minutes, there was F at my side, with a wave and a highfive and a “How are you?” — and even as my eyes lit up in surprise and I smiled back widely, so happy to see him, and even before I could open my mouth to reply with my automatic, “I’m doing lovely! How are you?” — he added after eyeing me during just a minuscule pause, “A little bit stressed?”

“I didn’t realize it was so obvious,” I said, chagrined, and made a mental note to work on my poker face. F pulled up a chair, asked incisive questions, listened patiently as I talked around mouthfuls of food — and offered options that I found myself scribbling down on the closest sheet of paper. I left Julie’s smiling, realizing anew (because I have to be reminded of this over and over) that it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes, to give voice to one’s anxieties, and to discuss strategies with others.

(ii) After missing two separate classes of grad school in two weeks, I dragged myself to campus, sitting silently through most of the discussions (guess who was behind on the readings?) yet inwardly excited to be back in the midst of such thought-provoking conversations. Most of us are working professionals, balancing a full-time graduate program with full-time jobs. We are usually on campus only for classes, and even a month-and-a-half into fall semester, I know that I, at least, have not spent any length of time building meaningful relationships with my classmates outside our weekly gatherings. So, it was all the more touching when, at 930pm as we rose from our chairs and began slinging our bags over our shoulders in preparation for sliding exhaustedly out the door, A turned to me and said simply, “I’m so happy that you’re here. I missed you!” It’s no wonder I texted a friend a month ago with, “Status: I just got out of class. I LOVE school. And I mean that as non-sarcastically as possible.”

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

We’re all going to the end of the line: Open letters to my fellow commuters

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Public transport is ROCKING, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

ZB suggested one evening in Toronto that I should create a weblog-category based around BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), so that everyone can read all my stories of being hit on while using public transportation. The idea made me laugh, but I’ve taken it under consideration and created a “Travels & Travails category”—the latter because public transit is nothing if not drama sometimes, no matter how much I love it and no matter how much amusement it provides. (Seriously, does your public transportation of choice have ice cream carts? [And why was I not on the train that day?] Do you get to observe men having their goatees braided on the train? In short, I love the stories.)

Meanwhile, I present to you a (for now) short series of open letters to my fellow commuters—

Dear People Who Still Don’t Understand Right vs. Left:

A long, long time ago, Yaser referenced people like you in a short post filled with rage directed at those who don’t seem to understand the seemingly simple concept of “Stand right, walk left” on escalators. Seriously, people, get with the program. I hate having to elbow you when I’m trying to get to wherever I need to go. I like walking, and you’re in my way.

Even in airports, I eschew those moving walkways in favor of actually walking all the way across the airport to my gate. I wish you would do the same. And if you don’t want to, that’s fine, just please open up the pathway for me, so I can get by, dammit.

Plus, the sooner I get to Berkeley, the more time I have to swing by and grab a hot chocolate with extra whipped cream before heading into the office. Every single minute makes a difference—and, as Adnan established recently in Toronto, American minutes are longer than Canadian minutes. Stand right!

Dear Man with the Drama of Which I Wish I Knew More:

You provided my intriguing, one-sided BART conversation of the day, as you talked to an unknown person on your cell phone while riding the train from downtown Berkeley to MacArthur: “I just wanted to say, I was…I was happy that you pressed charges. Don’t hang up!” [Other person hangs up. Man pulls the phone away from his ear and stares blankly at it.]

That was such a cliff-hanger. It’s not fair. I demand details!

Dear People Who Always Want to Sit:

Stand up! If you’re on a bus or train and refuse to give up your seat to the elderly, the disabled, the pregnant, or those who otherwise look like they have a priority over you to the seats: You’re an asshole.

I have no other words for you.

PS: I hate it when you see such people boarding the bus or train and shift your glance away or clamp your headphones even more tightly over your ears, as if to imply that if you can’t see or hear them, they don’t exist and then you really don’t have to get up. That makes you even more an asshole.

That is all.

Dear Man Who Propositioned Me on the Train:

First of all, buddy boy, it’s a little early in the morning for such drama, isn’t it? There I am, transferring onto the Richmond train at MacArthur, heading into downtown Berkeley. There you are, already seated, looking like a young, solid, clean-cut guy, dressed nicely in a button-down and slacks, wearing glasses and those newsboy caps I like so much. You’ve got a stack of papers in your lap and you’re diligently marking them up and making edits, so I figure you must be a teacher or something. I end up sitting in the row behind you, you turn around just as the train begins moving, and the following conversation ensues:

Man: “Excuse me, does this train take you to Berkeley?”

Yasmine: “Yes, the Ashby stop is next, and then North Berkeley, and then downtown.”

Man: [Laughs.] “Oh, okay. I thought for a second I might’ve gotten on the wrong train.”

Yasmine: [Smiling politely.] “No, you’re okay.”

Man: “So. Are you seeing anyone?”

Yasmine: “No.”

Man: [Jaw drops.] “What!” [Gives me the once-over---as well as he can, anyway, with a train seat between us.] “How is that possible!”

Yasmine: [Trying not to laugh.] “You know, I ask myself that question once in a while, too.”

Man: “Will you go out with me sometime?”

Yasmine: “No.”

Man:Why?”

Yasmine: “Umm. I’m not interested in a relationship at the moment.” With random men on BART, I mean. Even if they wear those newsboy caps that I like so much.

Man: “Oh, well, I didn’t mean anything about a relationship.”

Yasmine: “In that case, I’m definitely not interested.”

I’m glad my decisiveness on that issue finally shut you up long enough for me to get back to my book. Seriously, though, yaara, does this really work for you? Hitting on women on BART, I mean? You should take some pointers from this guy, perhaps. I mean, he may have rambled on about gypsies and Egyptians, but at least he finally wore thin my defenses enough for me to smile quite genuinely at him, in the end.

PS: Thanks for providing so much amusement for our fellow passengers. Do you understand how many smirks I had to walk past when exiting the train?

Dear Pissed-Off Girl:

Your loud, disgruntled phone conversations all the way from the Pleasant Hill to the MacArthur BART stations (“I can’t believe that shit!”) kept making me laugh. Also, I kind of envy your lack of concern for all the head-turning you caused amongst your fellow commuters every time you screeched into your cell.

One more thing: How did you manage to get full-reception for the entire ride? I barely get a single bar, if I’m lucky, which makes me disgruntled because all I want to do on BART is send my friends textmessages about strange characters like you whom I keep encountering.

Dear Man with the Business Suit & BlackBerry:

I was so glad you were there when it came time to board the Fremont train and the man with the curly white hair and thick Italian accent shouted behind me, over the din of the rapidly-approaching train, “Excuse me! Downtown San Francisco?”

I looked helplessly at the Fremont sign, trying to recall BART-line configurations in my head, but then you came along, BlackBerry at your ear, and said, “Yes, you transfer at MacArthur.”

“MacArthur? Which train?” asked our friend.

“This one. I’m going that way, too,” you said soothingly. “Come.”

We all boarded together, and you—phone still in hand—pointed out to him all the relevant stops on the colorful map hanging across the carriage. When we got off with the mad crush of people at MacArthur, I craned my neck over the crowd, and saw you, tall and steady, shepherding him across the platform to the waiting San Francisco/SFO Airport train. I smiled to myself and ran down the escalator and back up another flight of stairs to catch my Pittsburg/Bay Point train on the next platform, all the while thinking about how awesome you were.

Dear Sweet Man with the BlackBerry:
I think I’m in love with you.
Marry me?

But I don’t want to write a love song for the world

post office errands
Post office errands, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

3 Beautiful Things, the downtown Berkeley post office edition

I. One morning, I was at the post office and somehow got into a conversation about languages with the woman at the counter who was helping me with my express-mail packages. And she told me that her now-29years-old grandson, almost 30, asked when he was 5 and they went out to dinner and saw a family who was communicating in sign language: “Mama Rita, are they speaking Spanish?”

And I, who have dreamed for years about one day learning to sign, couldn’t help but smile for reasons she probably wouldn’t have even guessed.

II. Another day, my co-worker and I ended up at the post office during our noon lunch-break, when, of course, the entire rest of the world who works in downtown Berkeley had the same brilliant idea. It was busy and crowded, our flimsy little ticket had the number 90 printed on it, and there were already 30 people in line ahead of us.

“God, I hate the post office,” I grumbled to R as the inexpressive employees at each window called people up one number at a time. There’s a reason why some consider visiting this post office to be equivalent to time and space travel to the Eastern Bloc, circa 1970.

“73…74…75…”
No one got up, but people shuffled their feet impatiently.

“76…77…78…”
No one moved.

“79…”

“80!” shouted a man sitting on one of the benches against the wall, waving his numbered ticket in the air.

“80!” said the woman at the window.

The entire building erupted in whistles, cheers, and applause as the man raised his fists in success and victory-walked to the window.

Everyone around me was smiling as we watched the lucky man swagger across the room, and I was laughing so hard I could feel my face turning red. “This is why I…freakin’ love…Berkeley!” I gasped to R.

“It’s like they called the winning number, and he won the lottery!” she exclaimed.

III. One afternoon, just as I settled on a bench with yet another numbered ticket, I felt a light punch on my shoulder, and turned around to find Nipun at the post office. I gawked. I know he and Guri live in Berkeley, but to run into him outside our usual context of Silicon Valley was mind-boggling.

“What are you doing here?!” we both exclaimed.

In the midst of catching up, I told him about the organization for which I now work, and how it’s an exciting time to be at the place, since it’s going through some great projects and transformations. “So they brought in Yaznotjaz to handle it, eh?” he grinned.

“Yeah! And, dude, I’ve already got half the staff saying ‘rockstar’ and giving highfives!”

We talked about the Wednesdays, and I mentioned we’d just moved, which is another reason to add to my list of reasons for having missed months worth of the beautifully soothing Wednesdays.

He squinted at me uncertainly. “Who’s ‘we’?”

I laughed. “The parents and I, that’s all. No, there’s no one exciting in the ‘we’ usage.”

He looked disappointed, and I laughed again. “Find me a rockstar, and there’ll be a ‘we’!”

“Should I put the word out in the community? I’ll have to blog about this, you know.”

I left the post office still giggling, and when I slowly strolled down the block back to my office, I sighted a pistachio-colored vespa – my latest favorite – parked in front of the building, and decided the day couldn’t get any better.

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

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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?