Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Previous Employment

Jack was something like a friend. His thick Brooklyn accent was always a welcome change to the British voices that always seemed to be mocking me in some way, gossiping about each other as they slipped in and out of the dreary apartment adopted by the British Library. They asked me about who had been in, who checked out what book and who hadn't paid their dues. I caught on to the social humiliation that comes along with not paying ones library dues and promptly crafted a very large sign listing names of those with delinquent fines and exactly how much they owed. Another sly move was for one member to pay the dues of another, initialing beside the name and putting a single line through it so it remained legible. I only bothered to remake the sign every few months because as much as I deplored public humiliation, I was a responsible librarian and determined not to let Margaret down. She was, after all the only member of the board that supported me taking up the position. She said I reminded her of herself. Always a good reason to hire someone. Fathers trust their daughters to men who are like them, and the library was Margaret's only child- she trusted me with it.

I knew I was going to be a good librarian. At least I had the wardrobe. The space only consisted of two rooms and was quiet and out of the way and I was pretty comfortable with alphabetical order. I never make my patrons feel like they have to justify their choice of reading material (it only encourages stealing / book-pants-ing). I never stole money or books, only book covers and postcards that fell out from between pages of them. None were from people I knew or addressed to people I knew, so I guiltlessly held on to them. None of them included anything more than short notes amounting to updates on the state of the weather.
Plus, I was a "great reader," or had accidentally began to masquerade as one. There was nothing worse to the Brits than to have an unacceptable answer to the ultimate judgement, "do you read?" It felt like a trick question at first, and took a few months for me to learn that this would make or break you. "Of course, I'm a librarian" was not enough. I had to cite books- my favorites, classics and what I was currently muddling through. And I had to keep up on what everyone else was reading so I could report to the others.

Jack came by every other Monday and sat in his usual spot with a stack of books he picked out in the first five minutes he was there on the table beside him, to sort through for the remainder of the three hours I was open. He almost always accidentally checked out a book he had already read, mostly because a lot of the books had been donated by him. He took a trip back to Manhattan every year to see his doctor. He never explained to me what was wrong with him, nor did he ever mention a family. When I announced that I was leaving Tangier to go back to school in the city he came to see me on a Wednesday before I left. He could hardly breathe as he was coming up the stairs and I could hear him panting before he made it to the top. It was labor. It sounded like labor. It sounded like lung cancer.

He had lent me a book of essays by Robert Fisk and we would talk about politics and the war. We talked about the exchange rate and New York. We talked about the election and he hated Hilary Clinton and called Obama "Osama" by accident, regularly. Most days he would come with Lucia, a blond Englishwoman in her seventies who dressed like she was in her twenties and had recently been dragged down rue de Fez by a motercycle after refusing to let go of her purse for a drive-by thief. Jack paid her dues for her because she was flat broke although she never looked like it. He never initialed the sheet so I never put her name on it. In the last months before I left he refused to pay and the two of them played a cat and mouse game, leaving messages with me and spying on each other. A month of this passed and I never saw Lucia again. I was pretty sure she wasn't much of a reader.

He said he came to say goodbye and at first only insinuated that he might never see me again. I gradually caught on and he gradually became less cryptic and eventually told me he was dying. He wasn't going to make it much longer. So when he said goodbye he was really saying goodbye. I said maybe I would see him again in Manhattan. He didn't answer me and changed the subject. He did this a lot and I assumed he hadn't heard the last thing I said. I think that is what happened here. I wasn't sure what was appropriate to do. A hug was out of the question and there was nothing between a hug and just saying goodbye from my seat behind the desk and plus my legs were mounted across the grill of the space heater that I hid under my desk because it was the middle of December and the walls were made of cement. When he finally decided to leave I locked the door and cried just a little bit, just in case I never saw him again, I knew I would remember that he said goodbye and that I cried.

The next time I saw Jack was a year later. He was walking through the Petit Socco slowly, in a bright purple gondora that reached just above his ankles. I had never seen him wear anything that didn't resemble safari gear. He looked like an old senile man who wandered out of the house in his pajamas. He took a front seat at Cafe Tingis just like he ordinarily would, ordered a coffee and smoked a cigarette. I know he looked directly at me but there was no recognition, but I refuse to believe it was because of my hijab or his adversity to it. I thought of going over to say hello, but what if he was actually senile and didn't remember me? I wasn't about to cry in the Petit Socco and I'm no good at seeing people outside of their normal state against their free will. This I knew, Jack was alive. He was smoking, purple and pining for Lucia.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


My new ipod shuffle is so inconspicuous it's the sort of thing I could crush up and put in my grandma's oatmeal, undetected. Something so small it hardly changes the taste of things. A tinge of bitterness followed by a clump of brown sugar makes it better. Can't even taste it.
It's September 14, 2010. Nine years ago I was in high school and my yearbook advisor was yelling at me for not capturing the faces of our students as they watched the news a few days before. At the time I agreed with him, Why didn't I take pictures? In retrospect, I can see that although I do frame everything that happens to me in life as a story to be written, 9/11 was too confusing to be thinking as a journalist.
And ten years later. It is hard to feel that we aren't moving backwards. Assuming that moving forward entails universally acknowledging that Islam is a religion, not a political ideology or a cult. At the same time, the definitions don't really matter, it's just words. And to hear the same people that were the first to defend Islam after the attacks, years later asking if it is inherently dangerous "by definition," is mostly because in 2001, many Americans didn't know enough about Islam to question if any of the things they didn't know about it weren't true. In our newly enlightened age, most of America now knows so many things that give them an excuse to talk, any one of which might warrant suspicion, hatred or book burning.
I am not a political person, although as a theory major I have to at least admit to being a political body. I am Muslim. I do know this for sure. I can't say that "killer fundamentalists" as I like to call them, are either Muslim or non-Muslim, the same way that I would choose to ignore anyone who claims that homosexuals or prostitutes can't be Muslims. The phrase, "who are we to judge?" should resonate with Muslims most of all, considering that it is the basis of our daily lives. We are not the judge. More importantly, there IS a judge.
I don't like to debate. I'm not quick on my feet. More of a monologue kind of girl. My voice was made for it. I am told it is soothing, and good at putting people to sleep. And debate has too much to do with vocabulary. Why pit words against each other? Let them be a family.
I recently heard a man who had sadly majored in 'Creativity" at Buff State refer to himself as "an ideas person." The walls of his bedroom were papered with interpretive maps of his brain. I am a "words-person." The term "Islamism" is baffling to me. It is redundant and reminds me of "exorcism." It is listed in Wikipedia under a special series on "Criticism of Islam." But in the same way that I can call it inappropriate, I would say that language is fluid enough that this word can mean anything to anyone, and language is playful enough that made-up words and titles are entitled to make fun of me. I like to think they're having a good time.
If not for the coining of this term to mean awful things, I might have at some point referred to myself as an "Islamist." Now, in such a situation I will have to resort to "Islamish." It reminds me of the trail of goo behind a snail.
Being Islamish is to agree to play the game where we pretend that we can take the proper noun of a religion and add "ist" to create a whole new genre of terrifying people, then to take the root word and add a little disclaimer- I believe in Islam, which is a way of life, and so as the world changes, so will my lifestyle. Not to be mistaken for Muslimish, because that is something different entirely and more reminiscent of a fictional Kosher dessert.
I know. Even the -ish is redundant. Isn't it liberating? You can never really know which things fall under the Ish category. It's like saying I am a student of X. As a student, I am a critic, and I am still learning. I am a student of Middle Eastern Politics today and in ten years I will be a small business owner. Ish involves room for more. A space that can be filled or left alone. An empty seat at the back of the plane. An empty seat at the front of the bus.
"Islamism" used to mean Islam. As we increasingly became confronted with what is also known as political Islam (if I have to be a political body, why doesn't he?) it was readopted. We.
That's right I said it.
Irrespective of my fondness for the third person plural, wanting to be part of something that you're part of, the We here is problematic. Is my We the same as your We?
I hear everyone talking about this Islamist threat, separating the Islamists from the Islams, the (m)islams. I agree, We as Americans should accept those moderate muslims as ones-of-us. But I won't put too much weight in the pronouns. It all depends on which room we decide to wander into at the party. I don't mind being a she or an it or a part of they. I know when I'm being talked about because no one stops talking when I walk into the room.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I discovered that my first home in Tangier looks exactly like the sanitorium in Halloween. Hotel MHrsa. I am going to live there again some day and be who I was then. It's as easy as that. Didn't you know that?
It would have been a great room for seventeen people on a roadtrip, but for just me on a crisp night in the middle of December and a creepy mustached concierge who wouldn't help me with my bags and the not so subtle noises from the room next to the communal bathroom, it was somewhat sinister. The bathroom was a hole in the floor in a closet with a lone lightbulb hanging from the ceiling making shadows of the spiders that looked like bigger, scarier spiders.

It might seem like a nostalgic longing for the time- a first arrival in a new city- but I think I do actually want to stay in that hotel again. It's like the horror films. I know how creepy it is but I also know it is relatively safe. And familiar at least in my memory and reconstructed imagination of it. Plus I want an excuse to say skeevies.

A passer-by at Cafe Aroma recommended a book to me that reminded him of the book I was reading. I have given in to the fact that I will probably have a lot of conversations with strangers so long as I decide to do my work here. The last guy came over to my table to tell me how impressed he was that everything on me coordinated perfectly. "I'm fascinated. I mean, just the amount of time that must have taken you!"
I looked up the book. The author seems to generally argue that urban space is divided into places and non-places. He counted the metro and the supermarket as non-places. Transient spaces that engender no sense of belonging. I suppose a one night stand with a hotel would fall on this side of the line.
It is clear this man has never had a one night stand with a building or a room, but it appears he has had a love affair with a city. If only he knew how much could happen in a super-market! And entire languages can be learned on the train. And I could assert the place-ness of hotel MHrsa with my hands tied, which hopefully they won't be. It feels like mine in its status as a historical landmark in my personal timeline. Maybe there's more to his ideas than that, but I'll pass regardless.

As I embark on a journey of thick description, I am looking forward to indulging in the small details of the local. I can write about the patterns of the cracks in the pavement without shame! Perec asks "how do you know your city?" and gives a set of directions for how to do it, specifically how to get it down on paper. I'm good at paper and following directions. I don't get lost on purpose because I don't need to. I'll keep a pencil to the ground to trace a line so you know how to find me. And at the very least it will make for a good set of instructions for an embroidered representation of the city shaped like a pelvis or a dress fitted around the pelvis.

Friday, August 13, 2010


As an avid Madonna fan and with two older sisters, I became obsessed with fashion at an early age. This quickly led to a subconscious act of "costuming." I've had my ups and downs. In third grade I was addicted to a glamourous pair of velvet stirrups that in retrospect, yes, were absolutely fabulous. This was, however, soon after followed with borrowing my sister's heels and my mother's blazer and sauntering into class to find that I was wearing almost exactly the same outfit as my homeroom teacher. Not even the cool teacher- the other one.
Years later, yes, I probably own an identical pair of white pumps, but generally choose more carefully and opt for a rotation of sailor, farmer, shepherd's wife and "French."

This eventually led to the lure of disguise in general. The infamous veil. Wigs. Girdles. Sunglasses. People that buy the entire outfit including the shoes on the mannequin in the storefront window. Things acting in the place of what they aren't, or speaking for someone else. By naming ourselves that thing, what's the difference?
A name is a name.

An earring is an earring.
At fifteen I got my nose pierced and convinced my mother it was an attempt to be more cultural. The school promptly kept up with the times and decided that nose rings, along with earrings, must be removed for gym class. My mother generally agreed with me that this requirement was unnecessary for my intellectual development and had given me a stack of notes for whenever Ms. K would invent a new sport that involved boys coming into contact with girls. The stack of notes came complete with her signature so that I wouldn't have to wake her up at 7am with a pen in hand. "Pssst! Mom! I think we're swimming today!" I composed concise and vaguely threatening excuses, including,- For religious reasons, my daughter cannot participate in (- insert imaginary sport name -) today. Then I would put in my nose ring and look for some heels.

I didn't feel bad about this flawless plan of ours because she would usually just have me sign things for her anyway. It wasn't forgery if there was verbal consent for one thing to pretend to be another by disguising itself as the thing it was supposed to be. Supposedly.

I got my ears pierced when I was eight. Before that I used stick-ons. Most days one of them would fall off and I developed a habit of reaching up to both of my ears every couple of hours to make sure they were still both there. This habit, though compulsive, comes in handy ten years later in the world of clip-on earrings. Costume jewelry in general. My nose is still pierced but I'm saving it for a ridiculously oversized giant gold hoop ring with little bells on it in case I ever get married, keeping my word to remain cultural.

I only wear clip on earrings simply because they are more beautiful and go better with my wardrobe. They look just like the real thing. Transforming clip-ons to their true/false nature of being "real" earrings is my new plan B for becoming a useful member of society. Part B.a) Devise a way to wear earrings with hijab.

Plan A: Chief of Fashion Police.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hum kya chahte, azaadi!

Shouting through speakerphones. Azaadi!

July 22, 2010, “More than a hundred thousand people marched peacefully to the UN office in Srinagar. They burned effigies, chanted ‘Azadi, azadi’ (‘freedom’) and appealed to India to leave Kashmir. The movement was not crushed. It was merely ignored. Nothing changed. Now a new generation of Kashmiri youth is on the march.”
European Parliamentary Delegation said that “Kashmir is the most beautiful prison of the world.”

In the worst violence to hit Indian-occupied Kashmir in over two years, the curfew continues, more people are dying every day, and demonstrators are still protesting.

Friday, July 16, 2010


The first thing I did when I got to Amman was call my mother to complain to her that this "jilbab phenomenon" everyone was raving about- yeah, guess what- TRY WEARING IT IN THE WIND! I elongated and punctuated the words "in-the-wiiind," to capture my subject. Half the girls here are wearing niqab although they don't wear it at home, as a sign of respect and accommodation to the situation. I respect that completely, but it is still odd to hear them complain about it. "Sometimes the niqab gets caught in my mouth as I'm breathing" etc.

They have adopted it, dealt with it, complain about it, and it usually blows off their face as we walk to school anyway. I realized within hours that it only upset me because I didn't want to hear women complaining about it, I wanted to hear all the tales of glory and joy that come following an open and visible spiritual transformation. But if a girl is complaining about her hijab, it is because it is, at the end of the day, an article of clothing. And clothes can get annoying. I should equate it with someone else complaining that their heels are killing them, they can hardly sit down with their dress on, or even at the most simple level, in an effort to look cute on a chilly spring night, they are just so cold.

When you wear a jilbab, you feel religious. My form of burqa was sunglasses because honestly, I have asthma and my nose is not attracting anyone anytime soon. There I was in the barely bearable summer heat of the city walking up hills at noon, with all that fluttering and exposing of curves, and it felt so hypocritical. I was embarrassed every time I passed by a man and was still honked and whistled at. I didn't pay as much attention to whether men were paying attention to me- (largely because the women here are so ridiculously beautiful. YES frustrated Muslim unmarried men: if you want beautiful children, here's your ticket).

It only took a few days get used to the niqabs all around me at school, because it's not that difficult to read people by their eyes alone. My point: Tyra, as the queen of smizing, you would be an amazing niqabi. But I can guess what she might say. Probably something similar to what one of my dear sisters said before she became Muslim - "what's with all these poor women wrapped up like burritos? Giiiiiiiiiirl?"
"Women parading around looking like batman" is another one of my favorites.
Wait, I can be a superhero?

I have to admit, sometimes illusions of grandeur are tempting. I can tell when people are intimidated by me and I can tell when they are intimidated by my mother, who acts as though she can see straight through you and wears a jilbab and headscarf. The headscarf is mostly a constant reminder to "be good," which is a kick in the butt that I honestly need from time to time. There there's always Vanity smurf, who I grew up with, and always wondered about. Almost every time I looked in the mirror I wondered if I was admiring myself, when really most of the time I was seeing images of my mother and how similar we look and completely terrifying myself. For me to adopt hijab because I am scared of hell is fine with me. For me to adopt it because I want to make a stand is fine as well. To adopt it just because I can feel something tugging down at me saying 'this is it,' is fine with me too, if I think it will contribute to making me a better Muslim. Whatever reason we start to wear hijab, it is part of God's trajectory for us to get to where we are supposed to be.

I will admit, my intellectual attraction to the ideas of Saba Mahmood in Politics of Piety did had a huge effect on me, not that it was written as an invitation in disguise for young confused Muslim women to go out and wear the veil and see how it changes them from the outside-in.

She posited a motivation for wearing the veil in the idea that religious practice can change one's religious comportment. I was surprised to read about this new perspective from within academia (or anything new regarding Muslim women), although it is similar to what our Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us about fake it til you make it. It inspired me to try. I know a headscarf does not equal a law abiding Muslim, but at the point where I am at in my spirituality, it can't hurt?

This concept is much more well articulated by Janan Delgato in her article in response to a NYT article. Delgato writes, our need to "dismiss once and for all the ill-conceived notion of universality of desire; Not all women find fulfillment and happiness in the same life choices... A second step is not to insult each other’s intelligence. Muslim women have not been brainwashed into Islam, nor are we waiting for anyone’s help to awaken from our supposed 'false-consciousness.' Islam is our informed choice."
I have read these articles so many times, and it is generally always the same debate, except that lately there is legislation at stake around the world and protests for mosques to be built here in the US. Didn't we get over this?

What can we say? We believe in our religion. It is a personal choice. The experience is different for everyone I know. At this point I can take a breath and relax with a cold and lemony fizzy drink on our rusty lawnchair and say, I'm doing this for you, God. Let's both hope for the best. Let's make some honey. The halal way.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Black Sheep

I might call myself the black sheep, all shifty eyed and wandering from the flock, but we all wear black all the time anyway. Didn't whoever made that rule understand that women always look better in black anyway?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The girls met for fruit and fruit juice at apartment B and we had an interesting conversation about what it means to be Muslim. One thing that has really struck me about my present company, although we don't have the same taste in music or heel size, we have really meaningful conversations that actually make me retreat to my room and think twice about.

What do you have to be to call yourself Muslim?
Two days ago while waiting to get the mandatory HIV test in order to extend the Jordanian visitors visa, I read a paragraph in a book on Shafi' Fiqh about it, which was both cryptically and comfortably vague. I think a lot of us (American Muslims, "regular" Muslims) are asked on a regular basis, and some of us can think of an answer on the spot but I've never been good at improv. But I don't have an issue with being rehearsed. It means you have practiced. And religion is practice. And practice makes perfect.

Why do I need to explain myself? I think (I am a Muslim) therefore I am (a Muslim.)
Ya Jam3a! Sm3a! That was the sound of me thinking. Wait, Musim women can think? Let's rethink this...

(Variation of Q.1) So what does it mean to be Muslim? The list of questions I have prepared are the ones I need to ask myself and others, which in the modern world of course requires a voice recorder. I went to Radio Shack yesterday to try and find one but since I have already lost three in the past three years I'm starting to feel like I might not be meant to have one. Also, there is a feeling amongst the girls here that most people don't really care what other people think, they just want to make sure you don't get lost. This may be because I have a tendency to wander off.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I can only remember my first days in Fez because
a) they were ridiculous
b) I started writing from day one.

Amman Street fashion: I can't say I'm impressed with anything so far except for the widespread meticulous attention to personal hygiene. We were told at orientation to "try not to be weird." I don't think this rang any alarm bells in anyone except me, judging from the lack of darting, shifty eyes.

It's always fun to see other people's first impressions of a city that you love. I don't think I was ever outright mean to anyone who looked like they did not love Tangier enough, but I probably had little respect for them. Here in Amman I have a newfound appreciation for these pitiful wanderers, especially after taking up this new project of "trying not to be weird."

Upon embarking on an unfamiliar place, like a new house or the nursing home your son is about to commit you to, they say to have a list of questions prepared. I have local resources here, but no idea what to ask these gems. This is why I will never succeed in journalism. I never know where to start. Aren't you supposed to start from the beginning? Same reason I failed at philosophy. How could I read Derrida if I hadn't read Heidegger if I hadn't read Hegel etc. In the end I had to assume Derrida was the origin of what I believed about literary theory. Funny, because in the end, even that bastard didn't believe in origins.
In its own language, a lack of a beginning only served to reinforce my faith in God.

Given my penchant for origins, I figured I would start at wst-al-medina. or at least that's what I heard the taxi driver call it (city center?). There are tons of western-style cafes with beautiful Jordanian girls with tatoos on their forheads saying "don't even think about trying to find a husband in this country srsly you don't even have your nails done."

I now know that this must be one of my many random gaps in common knowledge, but hijabis smoke sheesha in Jordan. The most baffling thing about this to me is the combination of smoke and fruit. How can so many people enjoy this ridiculously habit? Maybe this is how atheists feel about us God-fearing believers. Or like how I feel about people that listen to the Pixies.

There are ashtrays everywhere but it appears men go out of their way to smoke only where there are no ashtrays. Like the very small enclosed places where I buy my batteries. And we all go home smelling like fruity smoke. It's a lose-lose.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Open Letter

Okay Jordan, I get it, we're not the best of friends. I am not particularly charmed by your Western ways and not your "Oriental" ways either. Let's make a deal. Disorient. We can be like the Black Eyed Peas and get confused and then get ashamed and then censor ourselves on the radio.

There is a honey store named after me but with an extra F. I am always either a brand of honey in a non-politically threatening country or a pharmacy in the middle of Iraq.
"Al-ShiFFA" Honey.
Everytime I see it it's like just seeing a giant F!

There is a scar on my foot the shape of Africa. To the dot. If playing connect the dots. Jordan, you gave it to me.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Isn't that what we're all asking? I spent six JDs to get driven around Amman to find some landmarks for my new map. (Dinos aren't inspiring me as they should in the embroidery department lately). I saw three Starbucks. Cultural centers. Shopping malls. Traffic circles. Most things looked like government buildings. Up near Shari'ah Mango I found a beautiful little crack in a wall with a view of the city like little post-it notes layered over each other on my wall when I have eight thousand things to do. I don't know how many thousands of people are in Amman. I can't even identify the prominent physical features of the local residents. I still don't know which traffic circle I live closest to. And most importantly I need to find something to do between the hours of 3:30 - 6 am. (While the gym is technically a two bedroom apartment that I have the key to, it is "closed" then).

To be clear, Amman is more like stacks of the post-its that Dad gets free from the pharmaceutical companies. Those are all one color. Guess which color.


I am becoming the kind of woman that takes pride in her home.
This morning I cleaned the kitchen floor tiles with a sponge that may as well have been a toothbrush. The garbage leaked yellow and someone had dragged it across the floor. I got on my knees to clean that disgusting mess and when my hand grazed past the water cooler I felt a tingle. When I reached back behind the cooler I felt a jolt like sizzling streak up my arm and the loud humming noise of the cooler stopped and the machine turned off.

I think I stole the powers of the water cooler.
I am either going to die or I now have the power to heat, cool and dispense water at will. I am becoming one of the X-men.

It is enough to have Amman outside of my windows. I can calmly take care of my own things inside, unaware of the world out there and who those people are and what the signs say. Along with my heart, I think I left the knot in my stomach in Tangier. There is something about this city that is just interesting enough to keep me content and just boring enough that spending a day at the apartment cleaning, cooking  NPRing, writing, reading, working, googling miscellaneous questions, instant cappuccino and serious arabic homework multitasking, doesn't feel inappropriate. In fact, I have as of late been feeling particularly munaasiba. There is no imaginary street kid tugging at my sleeve asking me for a euro and beckoning me towards the Kasbah.

It is safe to say that my relationship with cities can be self-destructive. Of course Tangier was the love of my life, and that held a certain kind of pressure. It was a destructive relationship. But I know I'll be back. Because they always come back.

And it was too tempting to play a part. It was like they wrote it just for me like directors do for Penalope Cruz. I didn't know exactly what I was getting at, but I had some help from my friends. The help is what dragged me down in the end. You are, in the end, just like the company you keep.

Everything feels brown and simple and I am enjoying the simplicity of it. I have only been here for a week but I can imagine never leaving and not feeling bad about it. If I stayed, it would be because this is the type of place God wants us to live. This is a desert.

I joined a gym. It might break me if I wasn't one of the X-men. Took a walk down to Souk-Al Medinah, a small shopping area a short walk from Hay Alkharabsheh and bought single pieces of fruit from a few of the vendors. I bought a titleless film for a dollar starring Miley Cyrus.

This time last week I was in Budapest. The women don't usually go to the mosque in Jordan unless there is a women's area and they don't reappropriate it on Fridays to accommodate the men. I could get all dressed for it and look for one. I could keep a set of clothes with me in my purse just in case I'm out of place. Which is usually a safe bet.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


He huffed and he puffed and he blew your house down.

It took me an hour to convince the personnel at the Ferihegy airport that they weren't allowed to lock me in the airport overnight. A boy who looked like the alienesque guy from SNL gave me a voucher for a cab after watching me cry for ten minutes. Everyone outside the airport doors seemed genuinely disturbed and the crying upset them.
I was escorted to the nearest hotel which turned out to be fully booked with a drunken wedding party. The second place had a room for me with a little black box hanging precariously in the corner, occasionally playing English music videos.
The alleycats looked like albinos.

The cats in Amman look relatively healthy and there aren't many. When I look out my bedroom window I can convince myself I'm in Tangier. The building across the street is encased in three tiers of curved wall like the one that says Tanger Danger across from the Cervantes. Except this one is a parking garage and I'm pretty sure they sell heroin out of the back windows of the one inTangier.
The sky behind it fades into white at the horizon so the hill looks like it was cut out of a magazine and glued on.

We prayed at three different masjids on a tour of Amman today. We drove through mountains. They could have been sand dunes. If I were in a better mood I might describe them as compiled mounds of diarrhea. Everything here is the same color.
My polaroid is lost in my lost luggage. I brought my last five packs of film that expired last year and travelled through as many airport security lines as I have, except they had to be huddled up in the corner of my carry-on trying to stay quiet like battered children hiding in the attic. I can see them wincing in the past tense.

The film is damaged enough that ninety percent of the pictures are sepia toned brown squares and ten percent are vague outlines pushing through a sepia toned cloud. I like these. I like them enough that I keep these packs of expired film with me and make sure they are hand-checked at security and wrap my polaroid in shawls and towels so I can pack them for faraway countries to return with eighteen brown squares representative of that country in sepia tone.

It's called the white city but really everything is brown. What I mean is, nine times out of ten I can take a picture of something and that thing will be brown. There is wisdom in the losing of it. I would have been driven to look for flashes of color or starkly contrasting objects. I wouldn't have noticed much else. Plus, what's the fun in a picture that doesn't know how to lie?
I have another camera back home and I'll save the film for October when the berries ripen in the backyard.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


There is always a folder on my desktop called "PROJECTS." It's more encouraging than anything realistic, like a folder titled "YOU ARE DOING THINGS."
In 2005 I took a mother-daughter bonding trip to Kashmir with the intention of 1) studying for the GRE and 2) doing "a project."

Project is my favorite word, because it can mean anything. I think of newbies all the time. Science experiments (spurred from Madeleine L'Engle), diaramas (based on nostalgic memories of looking out my parent's bedroom window and wondering, "what's out there...?"), recordings of people that make me wish I didn't have the memory of a goldfish, and self-improvement efforts that in being projects at all make me feel good about myself to the point where I don't have to follow through.

My project in Kashmir in 2005 was to write a meaningful piece on the plight of Kashmiris, accompanied by photographs. I did not come prepared with a list of questions. I assumed I knew what I was supposed to want to know. I asked all the right questions to all the right people. After all I had nothing else to do but drink tea and read Salmon Rushdie. In the end, my aunt who teaches English and could articulate it with all the nuances I was missing, informed me that I didn't really get it. People needed food and jobs. As for Azadi, people hardly talked about it anymore.

Not the case today. Some people say Kashmir is not a war-zone because we don't resort to violence, we adopt non-violent protest. Others, including the Indian media, only refer to the stone-throwing by young boys as the proof that Kashmir needs to be tightly secured. Based on what my own family has had to endure, I'm not sure I can ever say that Kashmir is not a warzone, and my information is not based on articles in the newspaper, its just based on what my family says. Which is biased based on experience, versus being biased based on the particular books or articles one reads.

All I can do is break it into pieces.What is the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? How can we approach the general lack of education about Kashmir and Godwilling it will not resort to the possibility of a parallel to why most Americans now know what Islam is? How do we know what to believe from anyone when there are so many conspiracy theories? I know these aren't the questions that kids my age schooled in international relations or foreign policy would ask, but since I decided to spend five years reading the literary theories of dead white men (and the occasional woman), these are my questions.

I tried to interview my mother yesterday, a list of questions prepared, as we sat through our noon-day yukney (lamb with milk curry and every possible amazing spice you can imagine) bliss. She kept contradicting herself or asking why I cared or asking how should she know?

I don't read all the articles. They all contradict each other. But I talk to my family. I suppose this goes hand in hand with my obsession with oral histories- wanting to record what real people are going through, not just considering the official signings and dealings of complex political situations. I am not saying that this information is not important, but it's just not what I'm interested in. I remember reading about the Muduwannah reform in Morocco a few years ago, and there were countless documentaries on how the actual change in law was 1) protested by many 2) not implemented 3) many didn't even know that there had been any changes.

When it comes to daily life, sometimes the actual law is not what governs the experience of the people. I was curious, so I did what I am totally mediocre at, and asked someone about it.

These are small excerpts- [I "re-spelled" some of this person's words to make them more clear, mostly making it less slang and more understandable to those unfamiliar with English slang spelling. Most things I left as they were.]

"It's almost a month since all this started and our chief minister is holdng an all party meetng tmrw.....guess he was sleepn tll now. The only thng he did waz called in army...to impose curfew."

(Which is still going on).

"...ppl say indians say we kashmiris want to merge wid pakistan but its not true - most of the ppl in kashmir want a autonomous state...evn ppl posting on facebook r under surveilence now..."

I told my mother about my conversations with my family. She doesn't know what facebook is or how I even communicate with them through email, and especially, why I am asking questions about the current conditions. But as things get worse I think she is catching on. For now I am no official reporter, I can only report the situation on the ground as told to me by my family.

Meanwhile mom says, "This is hardship they have to go through. Kya karan? It's not up to us."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Moroccan: Juz Wahid.

In the spring of 2001 my mother's knee replacement surgery left her heavily drugged on Lortab and other colorful round pills she kept in an Ibuprofin bottle re-labeled MOTHER by my father on a piece of scotch tape in slanty illegible doctor handwriting. He writes over each letter a few times to make it more clear but actually it looks like the words are vibrating.
I was living with two Spaniards on the other side of the world working Tuesdays and Thursdays as a librarian for the British Council of Tangier. The Brits let me work there even though I am American and most of them never bothered to learn my name even thought they sat in the chair across from me for the full three hours of my shift confiding in me with restless skeletons in the closet or samples of their fiction-writing. They called me "the Moroccan."

I would call to my mother late at night from the Cinematheque when it was still early in New York, to keep up on things. I wanted to know who was getting married and who had died and how they died and who had to perform the burial cerimony. Our Kashmiri community was growing again and was probably bigger than it was at its peak, around the time I was born. Most of the older kids moved away and we didn't really know the new additions that well and didn't know who any of the kids belonged to when they were running around our house at dinner parties breaking things and hiding people's shoes.

When the pain was more acute, my mother would admit her relief at the gradual lack of her social obligations, or even having to adhere to social graces. At some point between '99 and '02 she started to refer to the Kashmiri dinner parties that had formed our social lives until we reached high school as "those weird gatherings." We stopped hosting them. It had been a tradition since the small beginnings of a community in in our small town, and back then we mostly talked about the war. The men would gather in one room and smoke and argue, and the women would drink tea in the next room and make tea for their husbands and talk about their husbands. The kids would set up an assembly line in the basement and make friendship bracelets to sell at the yearly Islamic Convention for the KKK : "Kashmir Kids Klub." We were young.

Most families arrived in the neighborhood between '75 and '80 and all had stories about the blizzard, mostly getting trapped at the hospital or getting trapped at home without their husbands and with two little kids and they didn't speak English yet. She says it was terrifying then but now we can laugh about it, thinking of her there at home confused and frantic and probably cold and taking care of the kids. She likes to tell the story about a different woman who once put laundry detergent in the dishwasher and her kitchen overflowed with bubbles. My mother is one of the only women in the community that is not a practicing physician. We enjoyed having her at home when we were growing up and now my older brother insists on marrying a girl who will do the same for him and for his children, and I am regularly encouraged to practice hosting tea parties for my impending fate since I am not a doctor and clearly going nowhere.

I managed to stay close enough to my mother to warrant calling her every couple of days from Tangier. After the surgery the conversations became mostly one-sided, as though she were sitting alone at home all day and the only time she had a chance to speak to anyone but "cat" was when I called her. The only times I didn't call was when we took trips across the strait to Spain. I can't even imagine how much she would worry if she pictured me on that rocky boat floating from the lips of Morocco to the little lips of Spain, munching on a frozen cheese "sandweesh," watching the waves redirect the boat mid-smooch.