Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Chase

I see these great vintage shops with beautiful and reasonably-priced dresses and I used to wonder why it never felt right to buy them or even to venture into the store.
But I figured it out.
I think most of the joy in getting dressed is in the chase. The looking for it and finding it and deciding what to make out of it and after lots of seam-ripping, coming out with some sort of finished product with crooked contrast stitching and asymmetrical curves. I usually wear it the next day and fifty percent of the time I realize after a few hours of wearing it that I got a little too excited the night before and while it was awesome in theory, that Liz Claiborne dress circa 1975 does, contrary to wishing and hoping, look really odd with a hijab.

And then there is the strange satisfaction of watching the slow decay of the clothes, where the seams rip open because I did not reinforce them or I tailored them so closely to a temporary measurement with no room for adjustments for winter weight.

Sometimes I face the strange situation of discovering something on the article of clothing that refers to the living body that was once in it, like a stain or mending or a nametag. One of my latest sweaters turned out to have what looks like a bloodstain, and in the shape of a bird or the type of dinosaur that flies. Sometimes I cannot resist googling the name on the nametag and then get super creeped out if they live close to Buffalo, as was the case here. What happened, Pete? A woodshop accident? Did you go and get yourself stabbed? Is this coffee? Because I am hoping this is coffee...
Those stay at the bottom of the projects pile. Except this one, where I decided to make a bird-shaped hole and fill it with something else, which probably also had birds on it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


When I was an intern in Tangier, my boss bought me a poster from the Turkish pavilion of the Venice Biennial which said in big block letters, DON'T COMPLAIN. She picked it out especially for me.
I had to leave it in my house in the Kasbah of Tangier, but I will picture it above my bed in Buffalo.

What would it feel like to spend one day without complaint?
Why do I look for reasons to laugh when I am supposed to concentrate?

On the nightly ride to the masjid with my brother we are both reading different prayers silently to ourselves on prayer beads. I used to be impressed that he could count the beads and control the steering wheel at the same time but it is actually not hard to do and I realized that after I started doing it myself. There are probably a lot of things like this that will remain impossible to me because I like knowing that everyone I meet knows how to do a bunch of things that I do not. Especially if it is someone I do not particularly like, it inspires me to remain respectful.

There are a lot of things I want to say to my brother when we spend time together because there is so little of it, but the car ride is the perfect length for 786 repetitions of a small prayer of Dhikr, remembrance. You whisper the words and count them with your fingers so your extremities are involved and it becomes an action of the whole body. It helps to concentrate.

Genessee is a long and quiet street but sometimes when we stop at a red light the car next to us is blasting music. We can whisper the prayers louder and emphasize the "s" sounds and try to make them ring out over the rhythm and bass but it is hardly worth it. My brother rolls up the windows to keep out the sound and it stays just as loud. I almost laugh out loud but he stays so serious that I try really hard to keep it to myself and keep saying my prayers under the thick layer of Rihanna.

We have been attending the prayers at one of the newer mosques in town- alhamdullilah there are a handful of them now, not just Parker St., like when I was growing up. So much of my Islam came from that blessed place- things I will never forget, and things I have long since forgotten. The first time I heard someone convert to Islam was after one of the evening lessons. the woman repeated the Shahada into the loud speaker and I leaned over to my friends and whispered- "My mom said that when a person converts, it's like they start over like a newborn baby!" And we all had wide, terrified eyes for a minute, then went back to trading stickers. And I was thinking I could not even imagine what that would be like and wishing I could do that, and plotting maybe converting and then converting back, then deciding that it was best to wait and see how the rest of my life generally went.

At Jamiah Masjid, I stifle a laugh during prayer when the little six and seven year old girls line up with us to pray, with their amira hijabs and tank tops and ruffled lace socks with monkey faces on them like the ones the elderly women in Tangier would wear. Sometimes they spontaneously break away from the line and begin to chase each other or run through the curtain partition to the men's side and then back again. The line is not supposed to be broken but we are not supposed to move, so I stand there uncomfortably and get distracted by the movement and try not to laugh at the children struggling to keep their oversized hijabs on their heads when they bend in prostration.

My own wardrobe is gradually finding its inner self somewhere between here and Narnia. My mother tries to give me ideas on how to look more normal, because she clearly does not get that there is just something in me that insists on looking at least a little bit ridiculous. It could be my woolly mammoth spirit animal, guiding me on how to roll with the punches, or make lemonade out of lemons, or whatever it is that he is doing. Probably just sleeping in the corner, knowing him. My mother also gave me a pep talk betraying that she actually does realize that we have the biggest noses we have ever seen and almost acknowledged that mine is her fault. We can agree that it is a lost cause and we don't complain about it out loud, but try and act casual and concentrate on trying to guess what is in that mysterious fourth of our field of vision blocked by little overlapping mountains like the ones in Doda village. And now the hijab shapes my head and the mound of roped off, tied up hair becomes the biggest mountain. It's all a very clear path upwards.

The two hundred scarves I collected from Casa Barata will finally go to a worthwhile cause instead of just making everyone think I have a hickey I am trying to hide or trying desperately to look French. It is all in preparation for Hajj, even though we are supposed to leave in 9 days and still don't have our visas. But one can only hope that things will fall into place and we will have the chance to get to Arafat and the chance to, as the Hajj is meant to, return home anew with a clean slate like a new-born baby.
Can you imagine?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Modest Hangups

There were five girls, mostly in their twenties, that wore niqab during Hajj, and four of them wore it regularly in their respective homes in America. The other was a doctor who was just planning on going back to work after taking time off to stay at home with her two children. She explained to me how she went from wearing regular clothes to wearing an abaya to wearing all black with black hijabs. My mother always warns me against this and says it makes me look scary, and I tell her that it is their fault if they get scared, and I say this knowing that no one is scared of me. I used to love being intimidating, but over the years my talents have dwindled and people tend to think I am a nice person and often approach me at the coffeeshop to chat about what I am reading or what I am wearing, or something they are irked about or something about the weather. Yesterday was the first snow and we all took pictures of it. I am excited to wear my new winter hat which is mostly fur and which seconds as a hijab since it covers all of my hair and even if part of my bangs peek out they look like part of the animal the hat came from. Not that I would consider that to be a proper hijab. It is more like "hijab!" written diagonally in pink cursive letters.

A proper hijab is perfect for Buffalo winters. Growing up here, I am no stranger to full face masks, which I first adopted in college, when I learned that I actually needed to reserve an extra twenty minutes before my morning Statistics class just to clean the ice off the car. In my experience, no matter what the context, the face underneath a facemask is a terrifying one.

The girls that wear niqab told me how at times when they are in public but there are only women around, someone will ask if they can just quickly see what their face looks like. They explained that generally, after a day of having cloth over their face, they look awful and unkempt and nothing like what you would want to look like in an unveiling, because for some reason, everyone expects you to be hiding some sort of toxic beauty under there.

And sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t.

One of the younger girls told me about her teacher, who was being harassed by a man about her niqab, yelling at her that she must be hideous under that veil and that is why she wore it. This woman just so happened to be beautiful. So she lifted her veil and challenged him: “Call me ugly again.” Clearly this woman was an inspiring figure for the girl, but to me it sounded like a story of defeat on the part of the woman, that she allowed that man to make her angry enough to unveil herself and share her secret. But I get it. And what I mean by that is, I cannot pass any judgement because I have no way to relate to the woman in that story at all.

The girls told me I should wear niqab because my eyes are “captivating,” and I explained that everyone’s eyes are captivating, I think it's something about their being wet all the time. They look like little alive creatures all by themselves. And also, that what I should be wearing is the opposite of a niqab because all that a niqab would do is to cover the ugly part of my face. They didn’t have a response to that and I didn’t push the point, but I did wear the niqab for a day under some very special circumstances, and it really didn’t make me look like I was hiding a toxic beauty. I looked tired and old and scary, and kept forgetting to lift it when I took sips from my waterbottle. I am not sure the girls understood that I was doing it just for that day, not forever. They asked me how it felt and I said it felt fine.

Winter in Buffalo is a great time for some heartwarming, creative headgear. I was planning to devise a variety of different animal-inspired methods of cover. But I am sure there must be something haram about that, so maybe I should just concentrate on looking like a normal human...says a tiny part of me.

In cases like this, when I have not learned any set ruling to declare something haram, but it feels like there is something haramy about it, I try to find a balance.  In the land of my brain, the balance between dressing like a normal human and dressing like an animal is obvious- winter headgear is to be inspired by mythical creatures.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


In honor of stegosaurus month, I have decided to re-evaluate the kind of person I am and the kind of person I want to be. I think the best way for anyone to to do this is to ruminate for hours on what a horrible person you are, and then feel really bad about it for a long time. This is the only way to completely come to terms with your douchebagery. One misstep and you might go through life thinking that you are a good person. Do not be fooled.

The first step is to control one's anger. They say that if you can do this for forty days, it becomes a real part of you, the same way doing anything for forty days straight forms a habit.
This means you, Stego. Why are you always screaming?

The second is to ask for forgiveness, in which one's douchebagery comes in handy. Go on. Do it.

The third would be controlling desires. Not all of us have a second brain down there, Stego. Stop rubbing it in my face.

So no, I won't marry you. And I won't move to Colorado. You punctured my heart with your tail spikes and I didn't see the wisdom in it then.
Now my heart has spikes and a second brain, and can defend itself better than if it was wrapped in barbed wire.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


As soon as my mother and I got home from our summer in Kashmir I was going through an old drawer of special things so I could add to it, and I found an old 3-D viewfinder with slides of the Hajj. I can’t remember where I got it but it is one of the most beautiful things in the drawer, along with my 3-D viewfinder of dinosaurs, and my illustrated book about birds. It was not until a few weeks later that my father announced that he would be taking my mother for the Hajj and my brother suggested that I go with them and I agreed that I should go because I had a dream about it a few months before, and also several daydreams after I found that old viewfinder.

We left for Medina on October 24th, 2011 and completed the pilgrimage on November 7th, 2011.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

(more) dress patterns

A late bloomer, I took the plunge. My lion's mane had a good, shameful run out on the streets and I can't say it brought me anything but trouble so I guess it's good riddance. But it is there, just hiding.

I am used to wearing costume-like attire and named them all: pirate-outfit, clown dress, Alice-in-Wonderland, sailor 1-3, tina turner, french maid, old maid, librarian 1-17, bee, gramma, grampa 1-3. Years ago I invested in a mannequin which my mother tried to dispose of in parts, one leg at a time.

The hijab names sound sort of like ice cream flavors or OPI shades of nailpolish. Palestinian servant girl, post-Hammam Tanjawia, Erika Badu, nun, rebellious nun, Chiquita Banana lady, Persian tween, bloods, crips, turban, gramma, fabric braid, Amelia Earhart. towelhead, cancer patient, etc.

If anyone can, I think I can have fun with this. And in anticipation of any curious minds of distant relations, people are way nicer to me now. Maybe I used to be unapproachable and now an extra barrier from the world is somehow inviting people in. A barrier against my hair and also against my old costume-outfits. I am hyper-aware that anyone that knows me is sure it is a passing phase or a desperate attempt at an escape from moral bankruptcy, so it makes the most sense to add this to my list of personas and see how many people I can alienate.

The key to "in with the new" is out with the old, so there will soon be lots of dresses nailed to my wall. I did this my freshman year of college but with baby clothes, but its unfortunate resemblance to a shrine for a dead baby forced me to disassemble it in favor of Bjork posters.

May we all be open to purging old habits! Thinking up new ones! Sewing new pants to accommodate a new sense of comportment and then step into them one leg at a time. Let them be pants with ships on them!

With some mending and elongating I am confident that I can successfully hijabify my old costumes at least in time for Halloween to try them out, except that inshaAllah I will be across the world by then and far far away from where I am now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I never wrote my post Ramadan thoughts because then it would mean it was over. A blessed month is time for house cleaning. I rearranged my lists of things to do that I have not done and reorganized my boots according to the probability of slipping and falling in preparation for November snow.
Buffalo is brilliantly autumnal and jobless and when the sun sets its like a hole-punch. Days are spent at a local coffee-shop that constantly reminds me that it is not the Hungarian Pastry shop. In the old episodes of Law & Order they place the scenes in actual shops in recognizable intersections in the city, so now I feel free to drop the names of my favorite places in my writing. I like to think it also proves that I am real.

Ideas about routes and streets and places have been blowing off steam around the corner and I'm starting to round them up from off the bathroom floor. I think they are all just sleeping but some of them look like they might be dead. They are blueish and don't move when I poke them.
These are ideas about places I've had and emphasizing that I feel displaced from them and probably replaced by another introverted foreigner who wanders the streets and befriends cafe waiters. They are an easy target because they always work in the same place and I always know where to find them, and I have never been one so I can't gauge how creepy it is. The recent place where I used to take up space is still there, maybe two sizes too small for me now.

I wear my old dresses as A-line shirts.
I packed away all my stockings.
I look at all the books on my shelf and can't help but wish that all those spines that say SPACE were books about blacks holes and meteorites and not just theories about spaces written by dead white guys.

It is a form of worship to study the stars. From my rooftop I can watch them as I try and get work done at night to make up for the mid-month slump that arrives with the days that it is recommended to fast.
Foggy-headed and curious, asking why we are where we are in life and why the stars look like they are blinking like they are watching me too.

But under the stars we feel more clarity, knowing our names are written up there somewhere,
along with our loves and losses and lives in general. Everything is decided.

Pluto is tired and the stars are looking back at me, and God knows that if I can pull off the old wardrobe, I can pull off the new. And He knew that if I can pull off the nose, I can wear a hijab without causing a commotion.
But I cannot promise I won't stop traffic.
Because I already promised so many people that I would stop traffic.

Friday, August 26, 2011

all of the things

When I blink it looks like taking pictures with an old camera where the shutter closes each time, or what it looked like when I had my pupils dilated. It must be the light from the month of Ramadan. I can't remember feeling it before because I wasn't paying attention. Purging distractions should be mandatory.

I have been going to a new mosque for Taraweh prayers this year, down near the airport. It used to be a church and then that church converted to Islam a few years ago. It happened to already be facing the Kibla so the rugs did not have to be placed diagonally, and face the wall directly.

 I have always been distracted by the designs on prayer rugs, which generally look like magic carpets. I collected some wild ones while I was in Brooklyn- most of them have a picture of the Kaaba. Even on the ones with random geometrical designs, I manage to find some sort of image that distracts me. The one I have at home has a screaming man. The one in the masjid has a waffle. My brother found an eagle. It is not recommended to close your eyes when you pray and if you do, you should open them every once in a while. So my eyelids flutter and I take a stream of photographs in my head of Mecca and waffles and eagles and a screaming man.

At home I have three prayer rugs layered over a blanket. Women receive the same award for praying at home, (in the "masjid of their home") as men do for going to the masjid, and for staying there overnight for a spiritual retreat. Mine will be in my own room, which I have deemed Dar-ul-Shifa, the house of healing, complete with a sewing machine, typewriters, tea light candles and a ship lamp. I had to inspect every corner and get rid of all of the pictures of faces, so the room is full with thrift store picture frames turned upside down as though I got into a fight with someone and don't want to have to look at pictures of the two of us together smiling next to a waterfall.

When we go down in sajda (prostration), if I keep my eyes open, my hands next to my head make the floor look like a butterfly. So I keep them closed, then remember to open, then closed. So I have one picture of a butterfly. Twenty raqas of Taraweh prayer means forty butterflies. Identical ones with different shutter speeds. And for every extra prayer I pray I get to make four more.

There are only ten or twelve women that come to the night prayer and they bring colorful sheets to cover the rugs so our foreheads can touch something soft. They are mostly pink and have flowers in them. I found a small man in the flowers.

There is always at least one small girl wearing a tiny djelleba and headscarf, or wearing a t-shirt and capri pants and a tiny headscarf, and they go back and forth between praying and running around the empty space because ten women don't take up too much space. Long black djellebas and abayas overlap from the fan blowing on them and when we sit down the woman next to me sits on mine so I can't get up until she does, and since the Imam is on the other side of a partition, most of the women take their time before they get up.

Dhikr is remembrance of God and we repeat short prayers in phrases as a way of keeping our thoughts away from worldly things or from getting distracted by the eagle in the carpet. If you have a Sheikh, he may give you instructions for what to recite daily and you do this every day for the rest of your life. I like the idea of this and so I wanted to construct my own wird, the same way I came up with a special major in college. Except I soon realized that there is a reason ordinary people do not come up with their own wirds and we need to respect and seek knowledge, and so I'm adopting the one that the rest of my family does and hoping that if I do this I will be more like them and that I will do this every day for the rest of my life.
These are big promises. But these are holy days and holy nights and sometimes I am not even sure what to do with myself, so we read the Qur'an and recite our prayers while baking bread and embroiding dinosaurs, and always making the intention for Allah. Because Allah likes bread, and I think He loves dinosaurs.

As a sidenote, the month of Ramadan is also Stegosaurus month in Dar-ul-Shifa.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

To Come, to go.

Almost mid-Ramadan 2011, it is a time for reflection. Computers and sarcastic writing seems inappropriate for this blessed month. But to come, I will travel back in time and write about my incredible trip to Kashmir this summer to conduct an oral history project for a forthcoming Kashmir Public Library. We are blessed that someone has taken this initiative and I personally am blessed to be a part of it.
A time for prayer, devotion and repentance,
Ramadan Mubarak w nshoufk mn b'3ad.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


I received a comment on my post about the Chasewood block party that my words were extremely offensive to my neighbors, and I am writing this as an apology. A lot of what I write is meant to be a joke, and I know I tend to present the world in an ugly way, and the comment made me really think about how I sometimes go overboard in being cynical, overly critical and rude.
Writing about the block party was not meant to criticize the effort to have a block party, but the only reason I posted anything about it is because our family felt really bad and embarrassed that we had to interrupt the entire party with our stream of cars and everyone had to move the tables and chairs, especially since we had been notified in advance that there would be a block party. My mother wanted to say hello, especially to our newer neighbors who, since the block party, she has specifically told me have been particularly friendly. She is shy and didn't go, but we don't think anyone would have had a problem with her or her hijab, and they never have in the thirty four years that we have been living here.

And as an American, I have nothing against the posting of the American flag on the lamppost, and I'm sorry that my tone insinuated that I did. When I was on Fulbright, I did my best to represent America with pride.

Chasewood Lane is very close to my heart, and was an amazing place to grow up. I remember running down the street in a towel because I was invited to one of the houses in the double-digits to go swimming, and how the couple next door used to hang Easter eggs filled with candy on the tree in front of our house because their children were already grown. And how our neighbors helped us when the tree in our backyard was struck by lightning and set our pool on fire. I remember how countless families on the street bought girl scout cookies from me even though they probably had to buy them from tons of other girls. And I remember eating popsicles and collecting caterpillars a few houses down because we didn't have a willowtree, swinging on other people's swingsets, and playing in the treehouses down the block. And these are just my random memories of how other families have been hospitable, friendly and thoughtful, I know the other members of my family have their own.

So I am offering this apology, it has been a year since I wrote about the block party but I hope that anyone who was offended will have an opportunity to read this. I agree that I was being extremely facetious, and I hope it doesn't reflect on anyone's opinion of the rest of my family. Neither my parents nor any of my siblings would ever say anything disrespectful about anyone in our community. I hope that my neighbors can accept my apology, and that I can have the opportunity to thank them in person for actually making the effort to bring our neighborhood together for the first time I can remember since the Fox Hunt Farms phonebook, from which this map is taken, from 1984, the year I was born.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


It's hard to know where home is.
We took the high road over the mountains through Kishtawar to get back to Srinagar. There was snow on the mountains and horses drinking water from small puddles. I took pictures of all of the sheep. They were either sleeping or running away from me and many of them looked genuinely offended that I caught them off guard.

Whenever we go through Kishtawar my parents have to visit the shrine or they have bad dreams. We stay in the same bungalow every time and sit and have salt tea and pastries. In the shrines there is a small closed room with what I assume are the coffins of the saints, and we give our salaams and pray for them. There are tiny colored rags on a large stick and around other places in the room that represent prayers of people that pass through, like a wig of wishes. I did not wish for anything but there are a lot of things I could have wished for.

I wish I could learn about ships and dinosaurs and birds and planets. In Doda the sky looks like a planetarium. I wish I could spend time studying the stars, those tiny hole punches in the sky piercing through dark matter, maybe halfway between the earth and the spiritual realm. My brother says shooting stars are huge balls of fire aiming for the djinn hovering over the earth trying to overhear the angels talking about us and that's how fortune tellers know what is going to happen. Like a video game. I like this theory and so I believe in it.

I can see myself building a house here. With a swingset just like this.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

One Hundred Billion of them

243 postcards in real color for Georges Perec

Many years ago I decided that I need to marry a mathematician some day, then forgot about it.
Back in '97 I was doing some sort of project about biology and poetry which led to an obsession with Rachel Carson and to a conversation with my math teacher where she explained her conviction that MATH IS POETRY. It made sense if you focus on the rhythm of the words instead of the rhythm of Mrs. White's stomps across the Math extra help office which we could hear from the other end of the hall because our high school was a social experiment of the '70s and had no walls.

A section of "Life A User's Manual" is a description of 243 postcards for Italo Calvino. Perec writes like a catalogue with lists and lipograms, because he was also an archivist. I have decided to be inspired.

One hundred million million poems on index cards,
dirty from being handled by the postal service and read by the postal workers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cotton Djinn

I went over to my cousin's house for dinner with my mother and she decided to stay over. I was wearing a red dupata and almost escaped Mom's emphatic cries for my protection in the dark from creatures of the night. I was already out the door when I heard her yelling yelling djinn! djinn! djinn! djinn! running towards me with her arms out trying to cover over the red headscarf I was wearing with the black headscarf scarf of my sister.

The last time we were in Kishtawar she taught me that the creatures that live beneath the ground are attracted by water and the cold and the color red. And probably by cold red water. While walking home from one house to another in the dark, we were taught not to wear bright colors. But since we only ever go to Kishtawar for weddings we usually had to cover ourselves in black cloaks or abayas like we were hiding from animals that could sense the heat in the warmth of the color. I wonder if it is because they are made of fire.

I was taught this and I believe it but I am careless about it. By force of habit, I ducked away from my mother's attempt at being superstitious and motherly, but regretted it immediately on the creepy drive home and subsequent walk up the lane. I had a sinking feeling. And chose the wrong night to read the story that made note of the time when the killer hit the girl over the head with a frying pan from behind. I looked at the clock at that moment, knowing it was not going to be 11:11, but also wondering if maybe it was 11:11. And it was. But it has been over two years now since I read that tory and so far it has been nothing but fear that hits me over the head from behind.

Tomorrow we are shifting from one house to another, a mint green house, the same color as the one that burned down in the same place before I was born. It is likely the reason that mint green is the best wall color ever.
This is a room we have stayed in before, with a history of housing djinn.  I was taught that sometimes the members of this creepy non-human race settle in empty houses before a new family moves in and then refuse to leave, and sometimes a house is built on a plot of land where djinn families with little djinn children are already living underground. They were minding their own business until provoked- not that I am justifying the mischief of these mysterious creatures, capable of producing that terrifying feeling that your blankets are pushing down on you and shadowy figures are standing beside your bed. Vivid, sinister dreams keep you up all night and steal your breath.

I hung my white slip on the wardrobe handle in front of the rotating fan and every fifteen second it looks like Casper the friendly ghost floating around me. A friendly ghost protecting me. I dreamt of a mint green house and did the math of how many walls I have painted that color, or small rooms in apartments I moved into because they were already that color. When I feel the sheets move and the walls shift I hear my mother yelling djinn! djinn! djinn! djinn!
I think I have enough walls to build an empty house to start a family in.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A List of Things

Ironic that "the girl with the project" about preserving Kashmiri language is the girl in the room that doesn't speak or understand it. G--- and I play for the same team- the introverted outsider who would rather spend her money on traveling than on jewelry. (Except for the obvious clip-on exceptions). She had a deep and rumbly voice like hard water running over something grainy and gradually disappearing. She kept referring to her Kashmiri skills or lackthereof as a "disaster." My mother often refers to me as a disaster, and so I immediately felt somewhat of a kindred spirit with this strange woman.
I was interviewing her at the Women's College in a large carpeted room with awful acoustics so the recording will probably never be heard. It was obvious that she was respected or possibly feared by the others, but didn't relate well with other people on a general level. Throughout the interview she would go on tangents about her faulty pronunciation of Kashmiri and pull someone into the conversation so she could make fun of herself out loud and get a laugh. She would ask whoever was closest how to say something or someone would correct something she said without her asking them to.
I asked her if there was something she had always wanted to do but never got a chance. She said of course, and listed faraway things she would do in faraway countries. I always follow up this question with a question about the children, as a way of assuaging regret with the hope that the kids can have what they did not. But she had already told me that she has no children, so the list of unfulfilled dreams was left just hanging there.

I paused the recording whenever she asked me to and she maneuvered my enormous headphones over her dupata so she could listen to it over again. She was smiling and laughed at herself and it was obvious that she felt ok about it. She kept silently looking into my eyes with a somber expression and said we should hang out some time.  It was the "I can see myself in you" sort of look. I get those from older women a lot. And not only because I dress like an old woman, but maybe something about my hopefulness and willingness to let the wind take me in whatever direction it feels like, understanding that there will be a lot of tumbling involved.

We sat down for chai and she gave me a wild, intense look and said "If I could, I would spend all my money on a car and gas and drive from my continent to your continent! ... but no! You're only eighteen!"
She sounded very sure of this, but I had not lied to her about my age. There was no opportunity to do so. But it was likely because I was clearly not married and in Kashmir, youth is the most obvious reason for this deficiency. But it then occurred to me that maybe she was not married.
"Okay. When you learn how to drive, then we can plan."

I thought about whether I would want to do any of the things she had mentioned earlier. Shop in London. Eat cake in Paris. Drive a fast car. Ride a camel in the desert. Spend all of her money on traveling. It seemed like I had done most of the things she had listed. I wonder if she would add 'get married' or 'have children' to that list. Because I would rather do those things than continue tumbling around the world under strange circumstances.

Before she said goodbye she wistfully gave me the look again, which I now understand as the 'you have a list of things, go do them!" look. And I agree. And I'm doing one of those things right now. And as long as I still look like I am 18, I don't mind spending another month stealing cherries and recording stories.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Methodology / Elephant Butt

In the process of interviewing, there is short and long. I like long because it reminds me of when we were kids and shared a room, my brother and I used to collect chewed up gum and stretch it from one wall to the other wall and stick our artwork to it like a clothesline. It always managed to stay up at least long enough for someone else to see it.

But the short is unavoidable. Always waiting in the shadows, stumpylike.
Today I interviewed three women in a row and couldn't get more than ten minutes out of any of them and a lot of the time they were just talking to each other about my questions instead of answering them. They did not want to be in a room alone with me even though I am not a frightening person until you get to know me. They were waiting in line like three women in a row waiting for a dentist appointment because my cousin told them they had to do it, like how people tell you that you have to go to the dentist and it makes your life shorter because you have to go every six months and it never feels like it has been a whole six months.
I had to make a 'stumpy interviews' folder on my desktop. I keep it in a dark corner and refuse to give it a color until it shows some initiative.

I am partially to blame.
Six minutes in, I was asking "woman-3" about important people in her life and she told me that she had lost both her father and her only sibling, a younger sister, and she had meant everything to her. It is the sort of thing that is hard to respond to in any situation. let alone during an interview being conducted in a language that I do not speak and only just barely understand. I let it linger for a few seconds and then awkwardly moved on like a little animated slug who is not very sure of himself and who has no friends.

The first woman answered all of my questions as if she was scolding me loudly and eventually changed places with a different woman who clearly did not want to be interviewed and most of our conversation was about how much she did not want to take part in my project and the trajectory of how it would fail.

It is hard to know what to shoot for. We pushed through sixty minutes today and every time I woke up from my inappropriate corner-slumber the guy was looking at me as he spoke into the microphone about his life and times as a painter of traditional Kashmiri paper mache. He was annoyed that I did not understand anything he was saying but happy to be captured on record for posterity. He still smiled at me as we were leaving and let me take a picture of his paint-covered yellow hand.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I was picking cherries when I saw a pretty cool bird. He had a mohawk. I bet he's in a band and his name is three letters long. I bet he's addicted to meth.
His feathers are like plaid and are lighter than his face. When he eats worms it looks like he's seizing. His head is vibrating. He attracts the attention of local cats and also my attention.
The cherries aren't ripe but I like the way it tastes. There are roses in the vegetable garden growing against the fence and they poke through the diamond shaped holes like scented magenta polkadots like when tennis balls get stuck in the fence around the tennis court because you hit it too hard just for fun or you were trying to hit someone.
I have a job but I don't get paid so I steal their cherries and call it even. And then I eat them.
We live on a compound because we are a family unit.
Don't I look like I belong here?

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I'm used to getting stared at when I travel to faraway places, and true to form, in Srinagar I sometimes feel like the alien in the market, mostly because the clothes we commissioned to our tailor have yet to be completed. While my western jean-wearing ways make me feel like a tween, my misunderstood sense of fashion has spilled over into my Kashmiri wardrobe. My grandma chic has (d)evolved into simply grandma. I can only hope that my tendency to wear age-inappropriate clothes will not lead to a profound loss of dignity at an old age, trying to squeeze my way into something magenta.

We have had the same tailor ever since I was a little fat kid, despite his many flaws. I won't name names, but two sleeves of noticeably different lengths is not okay unless it was during my asymmetrical phase, when people would go out of the way to tell me they didn't like my outfit. Despite his lack of skills, his small business evolved into what is now known as Fancy Tailors. My family insists on remaining loyal, and my mother reminds me that "we're the ones who made him fancy."

As an honorary foreigner, it only makes sense that I am treated as a foreign object stuck in a small space where I do not belong. My only defense for not learning Kashmiri is that Arabic is the language most beloved to Allah and I decided to learn that instead. So far it works.
The last person we interviewed claimed that the reason I would never learn Kashmiri was because I was wearing jeans. Maybe he is right. But it makes me appreciate Morocco even more and the gift it gave me, to be able to enter a foreign place and make it familiar. For now I will start with a small space, learn the streetnames and the schedules of public transportation. The beginnings of belonging to a city.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


The pollen is floating all over the air into the sky like summer snowflakes and then settle on the grass eventually. My mother caught one and said it felt like a cottonball. The roses are in bloom and planted beside the snowball trees that I think grow cherries.
I suppose I'm seeing Buffalo.
I had a seemingly unending crazy dream last night that I was there with all of my cousins from Kashmir. We owned a cat and a pig and I was in charge of feeding and cleaning up and I loved them both.
I was thinking how I had to leave for Casa Barata at 2pm to pick up some things I saw the week before but decided to sleep on. It took me a few hours to realize I wasn't in Tangier anymore and wondered why I would be confused about that. At one point in the dream I wrote and directed a play about elves. It was pretty good.
The craziest part was that I woke up thinking I was in Kashmir for the first time in six years about to start a recording project in a language I do not speak and barely understand.
I am amazed at what I can come up with in my dreams.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Dear Perec,

I am taking a quilting class at the local nursing home. The women are all so jolly and wear puffy sweaters and white sneakers and look like Mrs. Claus and I can tell that I make them uncomfortable. The room is the same room we sat in one morning in fifth grade when our teachers ganged up on us and as a team forced us to interact with terrifying elderly "folks" so we could ask them about their lives. We were in pairs and I was partnered up with a girl I hate and the old woman we were talking to hated her too, and so we bonded a little, subtly. She would recount thirty second memories about restaurants in Connecticut, where she was from, or from the war, I'm not sure which one. She ended most of these memories with something like, "but you wouldn't know you girls are so young, things were different then."
I used to have girl scout meetings in the same nursing home. I guess they like to have a youthful presence to make people feel bad about how old they are. This particular place was built like a maze and it was difficult to navigate my way to the meeting room. On a day I will never forget, I was just about there, but then reoriented in a much more frightening direction by an elderly women chasing after me screaming frantically "give me back my sweater! You took my sweater!" I didn't know it then, but this was all a foreshadowing of what was to come. Not only would I dedicate my life to recording the memories of the elderly, but I would spend years dressing like a grandma and wearing old lady sweaters and costume jewelry.
As for the sweater I was accused of stealing, I am probably wearing it now. If it isn't hers, likely a replica, the same flowers in the same place.

THE GROSSEST THING EVER, brought to you by me.

Having spent two years as a struggling student in Toronto and two more in NYC, I have had more than an appropriate share of having to deal with mice. In Toronto I spent many nights listening to a colony of busy creatures building a small city beneath my floorboards and had to just assume they were also fashioning a beautiful blue ball gown, just for me, the single girl upstairs.
In NYC, the little guy really made himself at home and felt like family after I one day reached into a bag of Milano cookies and felt the terrifying warmth of a warm rodent body. Years later in Harlem I was almost accustomed to seeing plastic bags skittering across the floor.

I would call my mother so I could have company while I tried to sweep them away, and as with any unwelcome creature, she taught me that "our home is their home," and encouraged me to try to figure out how to casually throw the mice out the window instead of causing them any direct, visible harm that I would later have to have nightmares about.

Alhamdullilah, we have never had a mouse in our house here in Buffalo, other than the time that Cat (the name of our cat) brought one home in his mouth with such pride in his eyes, as cats do. I have been away for a while, but one of the first things my mother showed me when I got home from Tangier was two dollar bills that apparently the mice have been feasting on just outside the garage. She let them have them for a while, then decided she wanted them back, and casually brought them in and left them on the kitchen table. I am completely aware that this is the grossest thing I have ever scanned in my life, but even stranger than my feeling compelled to scan a small pile of half-chewed US currency is that my mother's reason for showing me the chewed up money is because she thinks it is sad that we did not remember to feed the mice, to make sure they were okay throughout the cold Buffalo winter. Because our home is their home.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

pretty stable

I got to the circus near the train station and inside a big blue tent there was a trapeze artist without a net and rows of very small children, and I was terrified.
Mademoiselle Fatima seemed completely comfortable on the trapeze bar and not in a good way, but in the way they try to terrify you at the circus.

Then there was a horse and tiger segment and it was almost as painful as back in the day when I interned at Marineland to record the breathing patterns of Orca whales.
Killer whales are huge and the tank was about the size of the Juniors section of a Macy's and at the shows they flipped around and swam around in circles and puffed water at the audience then went to sleep looking sad.
At the Moroccan circus the horses ran around in circles and "neighed" / cried for five minutes and then went back to the stable while a seven to ten year-old girl in a white ball gown gently tamed doves to an instrumental version of a Celine Dion top 40 hit and to the crunch of popcorn and the crying of children remembering the fire-eater. And the clowns.

As we left my friends took photos and I tried to talk to one of the acrobats. He was by a set of pretty pink stables with tiny horses inside and he tried to explain to me that the they were fine and they were used to it, in the same way that Dr. Ramshaw justified to me that while we might contest the orcas being caged in such an unnatural SeaWorldish habitat, work is work. And since the animals grew up there, given their nature, they were grateful to be fed regularly and doing pretty okay.
I still don't agree with this, and I don't think he agrees with himself either, but it allowed him to do his research without feeling like a jerk.

I was terrified at the circus along with many of the children, but serendipitously, very soon after had the chance to spend the day with a circus family. For the second time I realized that as much as they bring lifelong fear to some, they do truly believe that they are filling most spectators with joy. Everyone has to make their own way, and realistically I know nothing about the lives of the performers, or the whales or the horses or their tamers. At least compared to me, they all seemed pretty stable.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

We want everything old, but with a new Toilet.

P'Hel hekeda. Walakin mukhtalifa. (Just like that. Except different.)

Buying personal items in Tangier is an adventure, but generally mashi munaasaba. Somehow, it is always male shopkeepers and the kind of boys that whistle at girls that happen to be running the place and run it like the old Indian men at the bridal shops in New Dehli, disheveling all of the perfectly folded cloth for the slight chance that you might want to buy the hot pink sequinned sari that they haven't been able to sell since 1989.
I try to be discreet but the man kept picking out what he thought I would like with a band of onlookers watching the process. He seemed to think he knew me. Blue standard. White with cat and mouse cartoon characters. Orange.
I eventually decided on brown stockings that I saw on a mannequin, and as it turned out, it was the only pair and led to the shopkeeper somewhat violently pulling down the stockings of the mannequin so as to sell them to me. I looked around and couldn't help feeling inappropriate. She was fully nude from the waist down. And it was me who was responsible.

I am making an effort to not say "pHal hekda" and mime instead of trying to remember vocabulary. It has been a hard road. Also trying not to speak muppet Beeker-derija. Now that I keep hearing my voice recorded, it is just too embarrassing. I can edit out of my final product with Audacity but I can't edit it out of my life. People are being more honest with me about my unreasonable behavior and I should probably listen.

The girls at Eric's Hamburger made me feel like I should interview more teenage girls, but also be prepared for them to make fun of me. Seventeen year old Sanaa kept telling me my Arabic was sweet and Haluwa but that I was talking so much she just couldn't keep up. I think one person asking another person if they are drunk is a useless gesture, so I didn't, and I probably didn't want to know anyway. They were sweet girls but obviously on some sort of mission for the night that I could hardly stomach after half of Eric's "quality hot dog" with cheese. I said mtsharafiin, it was nice to meet them, and they replied in unision, "mutsharafiin???" as if to say, wait, where are you going? It was cute, but I was pretty sure their night was going to end like a scene out of "Marock" and I had business to attend to.

The night ended with a plate of midnight french fries at the playa, after convincing the waiter I was interviewing that 555 sounded like a really bad idea, even from across the street. We chatted about the international zone of Tangier and the he explained why people preferred Cafe Central to his previous employer, the Cafe Tingis next door. "They want everything to be original, just with a new bathroom."
It was true. Is that why I stopped going to Tingis? I know I prefer it.
Is that what Tangier is going for? Sounds like a best seller.

"pHal hekda, walakin, mukhtalafa."
or at least, "everything old, but with a new toilet."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

CLOWN CARS, room for three.

STABILITY: degree to which fabric resists pulling out of shape

Yousef Clown was in my taxi this morning. I was coming from the market and almost melted and it would have been impossible to not take a taxi. I found one and just as we were about to escape the chaos of the Souk Barra he ran up to the window and asked to go to some place I have never heard of but was somewhat on the same trek as mine. Yousef Clown didn't see me. The driver was reluctant to let him in and I wanted to loudly whisper or gesticulate in the rear view mirror or kick the back of his seat to communicate, No! Please! KanKaystobarni!

But he could not hear my silent cries. In addition to the surprise 70 degree weather in what would be considered chilly-autumn- boots, I felt like I was melting with the thought that he had come in the taxi because he saw me there and came to reprimand me for some lingering, unfulfilled social obligation related to clowning. But I was resolved that it couldn't be. After sleeping on it, I decided that I was being too judgmental of clowns. I quietly imagined a television series in which clowns are a common race along with regular mortals, deprived of their basic rights. I would play the special clown that was both clown and magician - the best parts of a child's birthday party. And you would play the evil clown from "IT" except secretly good inside.

He didn't follow me out of the cab even though I had to wait for change, and I am sure he didn't recognize me- the runaway. These small interactions tend to play out like little stories. There is a minor chance it is just my mind constantly reshaping events into tiny narratives. I was always awful at interpreting the moral of the story. There was something the author was trying to say and I could never "get it." Eventually I decided it was fine, because there was no such thing as "getting it" as long as you got that you could never get it. And the author was absent anyway. And lots of dead white men wrote about that sort of thing and lots of other dead white men agreed with them later and I wrote some papers about it and it all made sense to me then.

After years of such a fine education, I think about these small things and how they unfold, and I know that actually God is unfolding them, and I can only hope I'm getting it. I like to think the best of people, and I like to think the best of clowns.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I talk to myself the most.

It might be that every sheet of paper I borrow from Cafe de Paris burns another bridge. I had to get up three times today to ask for another wrqa. One of the things I say the most here is "ghallat dyalee" - it's my fault. Maybe I never learned how to be polite or maybe I'm just telling myself that to make excuses for things I know I shouldn't do.

I have chosen to ignore the difference between K (singular second person) and Koum (plural second person), and it gets me into linguistic fowda. Whenever I come back to Tangier I get gifts for cafes and other establishments that I frequent/haunt and almost every time the random waiter I give it to assumes it's for him and himself alone. And all the other waiters get offended and I get a funny feeling in my stomach when I do things like ask for pieces of paper. Apparently gifts are an efficient way to burn bridges.

I've been reading a book comprised of quotes from Imam Al-Ghazali. I read the first half of the book like a textbook, but the sort of textbook where you highlight everything because all of it is important and in the end the pages are 90% flourescent yellow with red ink in the margins and you get really embarrassed when someone asks to borrow it.

Page 3 and Lesson 1 : knowledge without action is insanity and action without knowledge is vanity.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Yes, it has officially happened. I was offered a job as a clown. The offer induced laughter, then excitement, and eventually terror.

I was chatting with the shoeshiner, who tends to stop and say hello, gesturing at the seat across from me to ask if he can sit there while he waits for customers. I always say yes but usually add - "but I do have a lot of work to do, sooo..." He sits down anyway and makes a mouth-zipping gesture and promises to be quiet.

A group of four was sitting beside us and kept looking over as though they wanted to ask for something. I smiled, we got to talking, and I said something about how "kanhbb tanja bzzef bzzef walakin makaynshi khdma. WALU." (i love tanja soooo much but there's no work. NOOO WORK). I say this sentence at least ten times a day.

"Join us!" they cried jovially.
I asked "Shnoo khdma dyalkoum?" (where do you work?)
"Shnoo??" (in my usual squeaky 'shnoo' voice)

The shoeshiner, who was annoyed for the entire conversation and definitely did not want to take part, finally rolled his eyes and translated:"Clowns. They are clowns," as though we had just lost a round of charades.
I'm not sure what sound or face I made, but both of sheer disbelief and delight.

I fear clowns just as much as the next guy, but it was some sort of twisted reflex. And since no one was wearing their gear at the time, I felt pretty okay. So we all chatted and I learned some clownish vocabulary in derija (Fessi derija mind you). Perhaps their invitation was in jest, but they appeared in earnest when they asked if I would want to join them as their "woman clown," and then asked me to at least come see them perform at a local Moroccan school the next day. Of course, OF COURSE, I said yes. Who can say no to a clown?

The next day we all piled into a shady white van. When we arrived, the children were all lined up, waiving their tickets to the show in the air, entering one by one. After everyone was in or being kicked out, and before I could assemble myself, the music started pumping and the kids were singing along with a terrifyingly dressed Moroccan clown who, although a man, had perfect control over the swaying of his hips. I eventually recognized that it was the shorter of the two boys that seemed so ordinary at the cafe the day before. I sat through the show which mostly consisted of him yelling "khyba!" (bad) at the kids, and they accusing him of being "khyba!" back. (This sort of exchange is typical with kids here. They love it.) At one point he jumped onto the benches and started running around frantically. There is no way he didn't step on at least one kid. All in all, a good show. I wondered if a tasteful clown dress of only mint green and black would any less insane. I'm sure it could be considered couture some day. Besides, who are any of us to say what is and is not clownish?

We gathered equipment, got back in the van and things started to feel uncomfortable and not entirely real. We headed back to the cafe where the woman was trying to make plans with me for the next day. The shoeshiner was there and took me aside and warned me, very seriously, not to trust these people. "They want something from you." And he walked away looking like a worried father. I felt slightly suspicious of their hospitality but hey, it's Morocco. It's normal. The more you are able to trust people, you learn things you would ordinarily never get to know. This has always been my philosophy, and I am consistently being warned about it, but you can't change a hardened woman.

Things got quiet and I gradually began to notice that all of them kept making eye contact with each other silently and then the woman would ask me a question either involving making plans or where I lived. She made at least four attempts to figure out exactly which street I lived on. I hoped that maybe she was just an impolite woman, and quickly called a friend for backup, just in case, to make sure I didn't get captured by this Insane Clown Posse. Things were feeling sinister. They sensed my fear and started to loo like they were going to either boil me in a pot and eat me or chop me up and sell me for parts. Or just sell me whole.

My friends showed up, immediately agreed that this was not a good situation, and we left just after I promised the woman that we would go to the hammam the next day. My friends made me promise not to go because they both agreed that they were definitely planning something for me and it was not the hammam. BUT THEY WERE CLOWNS! I ask myself, is that a reason to trust them, or a reason to think they might capture me or sell me into white slavery. To their defense, they are from Fez. (And yes, that was another jab at Fez and how awful it is.)

Various members of the ICP traveling show called me from different numbers thirteen times the next day, and I didn't answer. They left for Fez the following day and I figure I'm rid of the temptation of seeing them again and facing the possibility of capture.

But O, to be a clown! Even just for a day.
No one would be able to notice how big my nose is, hiding under that big red ball.
Enough reason to be a clown.
Did I lose my chance?
I'll sleep on it.
They return to Tanja in one week.

Monday, March 21, 2011


The roosters are confused. They starting crowing for Fajr prayer but then they keep going until almost 3pm. It's frustrating but as Imam Al-Ghazali taught me in a present from my father, "Dear Beloved Son," 'the voice of the cock" is one of three exalted voices, I'm assuming because it wakes us up to pray.
My regular hairdresser mildly fondled me today. Not so much fondle as offered to scratch my back like a loving mother and I couldn't resist, as the fate of my hair was in her hands. I'm not sure if I can go back. I suppose I can live with stick straight hair. The young girls in the neighborhood giggle and pet my hair when I walk by. Little do they realize I would kill for those crazy Moroccan curls.
The cats sound like birds and a woman outside my window is repeatedly yelling at her husband to buy cream cheese over the sound of the call to Asr prayer. The boys outside are kicking the football against the wall of the house and the rooster is still crowing. The neighbors daughter is throwing pebbles onto my balcony and there is nothing I can do to stop her.
These are the sights and sounds of the city today.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


EASE: a way of sewing a large piece of fabric into a smaller space without resulting in gathers or puckers.

What was that book that said the sign of a good woman is that she has a clean home?
What was I thinking about dreaming of?
Dreams are overlapping with reality. I can't tell them apart.
One sign of a bad women is when her maid resents her. I tell myself that the reason she makes extra unnecessary noise when I sleep late is because I don't save plastic bags and that makes it difficult to collect trash like a normal person. Then I say that in my dreams I wrote something brilliant but was too tired to get out of bed to write it down. These are the nice things you tell yourself when everyone tells you that you seem "constantly angry" when you pride yourself on having won the "nicest girl in school" award three years in a row at Country Parkway Elementary. So I try to do nice things. And look out for old people about to trip and fall so I can rescue them.

We have a classic home video of my brother, my father and me, circa 1987-ish where I wander around the patio making duck noises while my father asks my five-year old brother what he wants to be when he grown up.
He said:
"First, I'll learn to fly the ai'plain, then I'll fly the helicopta."
Dad: "what about your studies?"
Brother: " the my boooooks....then fly the ai'plane.

He was also well known to answer : "I wanna be a Maaaaan." Buffalo accent included.

So, these are my goals for the YEAR:
-fly the airplane
-read my booooks
-be a good woman

Goals for the WEEK:
-burn no bridges
-make no enemies
-clean my room

Goals for TODAY:
-don't trip on a crack in the cobbled streets with my new heels.
-in honor of my father's birthday, read the book that he gave to me, "Dear Beloved Son."

Goals forever: lead a simple life.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I built a room for you in my heart

It has a garden and everything.


LOOPING: connect the beginning to the end to allow for continuous repetition.

How to say "nausea" in Derija? I hate having to mime it out. It reminds me of those months when my sister was having morning sickness, and my two year old nephew would walk around hunched over imitating someone throwing up.

It's my first day in heels. So far I'm doing okay. I reroute when I know I'm approaching a "problem area" - the saggy arms of a muddy park where the heels sink in; full hips followed by confusing and surprising slopes; the cracks in the skin of the sidewalks that only I seem to trip on; of course, the endless hills of the city (the unmentionabls). I know exactly which spots to avoid and will take my chances after enduring three months of Buffalo snow-weather, when dreaming of a sunny Tangier got me through the sludge. Now I'm dreaming of the sweaters that could have kept me warm in the wind of the beaches of the Atlantic.

If I manage to not trip and fall, I am positive that I will either fall asleep or vomit in public because espresso puts me to sleep and because I have been drinking the local tap water. Can I really be expected to spend $2.00 a day on bottled water? $60 / month? With that much money I could buy a whole pair of jeans that won't fit me. Plus, the more contaminated things I consume, the more ready I will be for an eventual trip to Kashmir. Incidentally this approach already proves that I have already started to get comfortable with the infamous Kashmiri logic. Somehow all of its unexpected twists and turns always reminds me of those looping straws from Fantasy Island (an amusement park, not a strip club). I guess along those lines it also reminds me of a faulty roller coaster. In either case, I'm looking forward to making loops out of straight lines and disregarding the linearity of cause and effect until it makes no sense at all and I will say it like I believe it and then repeat it until I believe in it. It is what we were born to do.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


It's not that Tangier doesn't inspire me, because it always will. But even the idea of being "inspired" is somewhat alien. After two years in NYC I seem more concerned with people rather than places because I keep personifying the city.
There is a man who makes maps based on the haunts of William Burroughs in Tangier. He draws maps of the city based solely on where he used to go. It is what it is, but I'm excited for soundwalks. It is never entirely possible to document the spirit of a city, but a combination of sound and visuals and oral history can preserve different facets of the community and also support my self-indulgence in making and tracing maps as art projects.

A city is a character, not to be confused with having character, or what my mother means when she says in her Kashmiri accent, "he is just a character. Just a character."
So, a map of sound is sort of like following someone around and recording what they say. Or recording their breathing noises and other sounds a body makes. But that sounds gross so I'll say it the first way.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Is Tangier abusing me in the night?
The harassment has changed.
Today a local midget called me a cheetah. A West African man called me a "meanie."

Living at the Andalusia has treated me okay except for waking up with random bruises. One above my left eyebrow that will definitely leave a scar and looks like I've been branded. The other is a huge purple bruise above my left hip in the shape of Africa.

Tangier is upset with me but she'll get over it. This was never meant to be forever. Breakups are painful. And she is a psychopath.

Friday, February 4, 2011

compartment 1

I missed my train by a few seconds. Fatimah was upset and I told her that Allah just didn't want me on that train. I was already remembering that I forgot to buy a notebook or a pen for the five hour train ride, when a man with a bag came into the station cafe and put little notebooks with pens attached on everyone's table, then came back around to see who wanted to buy one. Ten dirhams. And a three color pen! Allah clearly wants me to use this time to reflect on things and to use my red pen to edit out the bad stuff.

In the Casa Voyageurs Cafe, everyone is only paying attention to the news on TV, even those of us that only understand the pictures.

TRAIN 1, Compartment 1: the mission begins. One crying baby, her parents and a young couple. I smiled at the baby which turned out to be a deadly mistake. She was more of a cookie monster than a baby. They all immediately started talking about the crisis in Egypt- I understood the vocabulary but not the content. They were arguing politely and finally agreed to disagree. Eventually we all caught on that the younger guy didn't really speak derija, and the conversation switched to English. I tried to audio record and also accidentally filmed my hand making a cheese sandwich and then holding it for a long time. I didn't talk much because I didn't know enough about the situation to comment because I only understood the pictures.
The cookie monster was inappropriately caressing us all and the only thing that kept her quiet was scribbling in this notebook. She eventually resorted to singing everyone to sleep and I gave the "I-did-my-part" look and wouldn't look up.

I'm realizing that even after a year and a half my writing style hasn't changed at all. Maybe Tanja hasn't either.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


It's a new year and inshallah each new year will continue to bring a visit to our beloved Tanja. Everything is wet and clean from the rain. The ocean stays the same. I've stopped caring about scrapes and bruises because they help me remember things, so I appropriately only brought slippery boots and summer clothes so I have an excuse to carry around a blanket in my oversized purse and spend hours in cafes inappropriately cuddling with it.

Themes for the coming months:
-bias: run against the grain
-basting: sew a temporary stitch to hold things in place
-butting: bring two edges together to touch but not overlap
-beeswax: keep the threads from breaking

-"back to basics": avoiding men who might want to marry you and simultaneously try to find someone to marry you;
while the romantic and cinematic side of you wants to return to the Muneria where everything is blue, in the spirit of new beginnings, go to the hotel across the street instead;
sit closer to the fire in the public oven to keep warm in the winter;
make a bun in your hair and hide a microphone in your hijab;
Do your job.

I don't need to give up all of my old haunts or habits, but I feel older and less preoccupied with constantly having new adventures because it is no longer my job to do so. I am here to listen and work.
And eat. And pray. And not-love Tangier all over again.
He's broken up with me too many times.
But can we at least still be friends?

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Sitting in the back hall of the only mosque of suburban Buffalo, with all the women and kids and babies and candy, I re-lived the old days. Not the really old days, when we sat in the Buffalo Darul Uloom, constructed from the remnants of a long-since attended church, and not Parker, as we lovingly refer to the little house on Parker St. which served as the only Masjid in Buffalo for most of our lives, but the "newer-old days," of sitting in the back row at Heim mosque with all the other Muslims living closer to suburbia than the weird part of downtown where the other two masjids were located. It used to be the random Kashmiri aunties who would dramatically rise up from their front row seats to yell at the small children for screaming during khuthba (sermon), but on this Eid there was a handful of 8-12 year old children walking in turn through each isle with a handmade sign that read "PLEASE BE SILENT! KHUTHBA IS ALSO PART OF PRAYER!"

A sandwich board may have been more effective, and cuter, and may have won over some sympathy. This attempt at a solution was generally disturbing the crowd and keeping us all from hearing what was actually being said in this lecture. So once again, I have no idea what the Imam talked about today, but I do know a sheep died in our names and I can only hope it will bring us some sense of peace this year.