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?