Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mehndi lagah ke rakhna

With my hands covered in mehndi, I write the first of this series of posts. My regular blog will go on a short hiatus so I can try to capture my brother-in-law Fahad's wedding and give you guys a look into the mysterious and amazing phenomenon  of south asian weddings.

This is my first BIG wedding where I have been a part of the family. To understand any desi wedding you have to know what hungama is. Think madness. Think chaos. And then dip it into chocolate and put some sprinkles on it. That is wedding hungama. 

Today was day one of the official hungama. I flew in from Buffalo late last night and this morning, my mom who had been sleeping over helped me attack the big task of packing for the wedding. Somehow I got four days of wedding outfits into a carry on. I probably deserve some sort of medal for this. 

Then all seven of us gathered in two cars and started our journey. I don't know if you have ever traveled with a group of seven people but you feel SO desi. You are thinking that everyone in the airport is staring at you and thinking you just stepped off some boat somewhere and you are probably right. I wanted to put a turban on Fahad and make him sing songs so everyone would know there was a wedding going on.

When we arrived to Dallas we had a huge party awaiting us and they showered us with flowers and candies. I loved this family already! We managed to settle ourselves into the hotel soon after that. At the hotel, there were delicious nuts, cookies, croissants and fruit baskets in all of our rooms. Also, there were some fresh flowers. Feraz and I decided that we could get used to living like this. 

We had a short time to settle in before we had to head over to Lubna's house for our first full introduction to the family at a dinner they were hosting. We arrived quite late since our flight didn't even get in til 8 or so. There was mehndi being put on all over and the house was decorated with yellows and greens. I went upstairs and met my new sister-in-law to be for the first time! She was getting her mehndi put on and the lady was going at an incredible pace! I think she finished the whole thing in two hours. There are times when the bride's mehndi can take all night to put on! 

We spent the evening getting to know the family and Lubna and eating lots of delicious foods. We all had henna put on our hands and afterwards all the women got together and sang traditional Indian wedding songs. As I have done since I was a young child, I sat along and mouthed random songs pretending I was singing along even though I had no clue what the song was. 

So, that is day one of four. Three more days of wedding fun left in Texas!! 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the hills that we climbed were just moments out of time

So, I am in Buffalo right now. What a beautiful and mystical town. I made some new friends here. We are all staying at the same B&B. We had some delicious scones and muffins with fresh fruit this morning. For dinner we found this fantastic little place with outdoor seating. The food wasn't anything to write home about but the conversation was on spot. It is so nice to meet new people that are so funny, witty and open.

After dinner we had a hankering for ice cream. One of our new friends had seen a ice cream place the day before. When we walked in Paula Abdul's Straight Up started to play. It was probably a top five moment of my life. After we finally made our ice cream selections we walked back towards the B&B. The sky looked like pink cotton candy puffs and along the street there was a young teenage boy and girl looking like they were falling in love for the first time on this July day.

It was perfect and I thank God for this moment and this day and all the circumstances that happened for me to be here to witness it.

I am sorry for all the cheesy posts on this blog. I will try to write more normally soon but for the time being I just feel like i am in one of those movies such as the science of sleep and the whole world has a bit of a fuzzy feel to it and each human interaction feels elevated and wonderful.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Standing in the light of your halo, got my angel now

I have been reading another blog where the writer has made a goal to read 100 books each year and on her blog she keeps a progress report of what or how much she reads. This has inspired me to set a reading goal for myself. I decided that starting on August 1 I will read 50 autobiographies in the next year. I picked autobiographies because they inspire me so much. I am amazed by the things people can accomplish and the power of the human spirit to survive. Autobiographies fill me with hope like donuts fill me with fat grams.  

Today I was at Borders and had some time to kill before my ride showed up. With no intention of actually starting to work towards my goal, I decided to scope out the autobiographies. My eyes fell upon Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou. In her introduction to this book she says, "I have one son, but I have many, many daughters all over the world. This book is for my daughters." 

I sat down in front of the shelf of books and started to read the first few pages. I was hooked right away. Maya Angelou is a poet. No matter what it is she writes, it is has a rhythm that invites you in and then holds you there. 

Without even realizing it I found myself in a comfy couch and for the next 166 pages I was completely immersed in Maya Angelou's stories and advice. The most touching pieces for me were the ones that discussed her relationship with her mother. In one story, Maya Angelou talks about how she became pregnant at the age of 16. She was uncomfortable and insecure in her already six foot frame that looked nothing like a woman to her. After ongoing propositions from a suitor she finally gave in, hoping the act would fledge her body into womanhood. She went to meet the boy at an arranged place and time, where she describes what were 20 clumsy minutes. 

She left the place without even remembering if they said goodbye. Nine months later she would give birth to her son. Her brother Bailey convinced her not to tell her mother until she finished high school so she could graduate. As soon as high school was over, she told her step-father through a note she left on his pillow. Terrified, she didn't sleep that night. The next morning he knocked on her door asking her to join him for breakfast. He added as a side bar that he had read her note. 

He helped her call her mother who came home immediately from her travels. Maya Angelou was 8 months and 1 week pregnant. Her mother asked if she knew who the boy was. She did. She asked Maya if she loved him. She didn't. "Then there is no use in ruining three lives," her mother said and told her she would support her fully. During the delivery, her mother who was a registered nurse, told her jokes and stories, waiting to say the punch lines at her most painful moments. 

Reading the story in Maya's words... from the fear that comes with becoming pregnant at such a young age to witnessing her mother's unconditional love brought me to tears. It is in the hardest and most difficult moments of our lives that we need to be able to turn to those who we love and not even have to open our eyes, not even have to take a deep breath and know that we can fall and they will catch us. To read about her mother's tremendous love for her in this incident and so many others was incredibly inspiring and moving. It made me want to be such a mother, such a friend and such a daughter. It helped me realize why Maya Angelou is so strong and so beautiful.

The other main theme that really inspired me in this book was Maya Angelou's message to live life with courage. In one section she thanks the lovers. She thanks them for being brave enough to be in love. She discusses what courage it takes to be in love with someone. I think it is so easy to love someone but to let someone love us- now that takes guts! It is so rare to find someone that loves you unconditionally and it is so commonplace to have been hurt and betrayed that it feels like a revolutionary act to trust someone to love you. 

And I don't think she was talking about the typical lovers. Quite frankly, when most people say they are in love, they are just insecure. They are with their partners merely because they like the feeling that someone loves them, or they are afraid to be alone. That is why dysfunctional relationships and co-dependencies are so common. People aren't loving each other, they are running or hiding. That is why you see so many girls, and sometimes guys abandon their friends and go into a hole where they count on their partner for everything. The foundation of their love is so weak that they jealously guard it, they run away from anything that might question it. People sometimes describe the beginning of a relationship as feeling like an addiction and that is profoundly sad.  

But to love someone in a healthy and trusting way, that takes courage. It takes trust in our selves and trust in the love both from us and from our partner. Maya Angelou did a great job of highlighting this and the general courage one must have in life. 

Overall, I would highly recommend reading this book. It is a fast and easy read and there are many great life lessons to take away from it. 

I am also looking for suggestions for what other books to read! I want to take one with me to Dallas and right now I am leaning towards Memoirs by Pablo Neruda because I have been in love with his writing lately. Also, there is a new biography about Albert Camus which looks very promising. Any other suggestions? What is the best autobiography you have read?

Book One: Letter to My Daughter
Read: 7/26/2009
Rating: 8/10

Words are verrrry. unnecessary. they can only do harm

(The painting that inspired the cover of the movie is  by Edward Greene Malbone and has three women who represent the past, present and future.)

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer… What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.

Tonight I revisited The Hours. What a brilliant, brilliant movie. I always thought that Corrina, Corrina was my favorite move and although it still holds a very special place in my heart, it is time for it to move over for The Hours. I know that this movie only tells one part of a much larger story so as I talk about it here, I do so recognizing and noting that this may not be the most cohesive reflection, but I wanted to write it right after watching the film. 
To look life in the face. Always to look life in the face. And to know it for what it is. At last to know it is. To love it for what it is.
The voice that Virgina Woolf had is one that has spoken to women for over three quarters of a century.  The 19th century female authors are some of my greatest heroes. Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin, Emily Dickenson, George Eliot, the Bronte sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte Gilman Perkins and so many more... these were the women that gave me my feminist education. They were revolutionaries simply for stating the basic truth of so many women’s lives. For putting into words, the debilitating depression that comes from a life restricted and bound. They challenged what was “natural” for a woman. They demanded a new space, a new language.
It would be wonderful to say you regretted it. It would be easy. But what does it mean to regret, what does it mean to regret when you have no choice. Its what you can bear. There it is. No one is going to forgive me. It was death. I chose life.
Today while we were driving in the car, I mentioned to Hena that I might have liked to have been a trophy wife in another life. She seemed surprised and asked, “And you were a women’s studies major?” But that is it, I told her. Women’s liberation is about women’s freedom to choose for themselves. To define on their own what life it is that makes them happy.  If we can free ourselves of the bonds of gender and socialization, we might discover a peace that so many in the world find so elusive. Feminism is not radical at all. It is an idea that every person would ascribe to if they sat down alone with themselves and asked one simple question. Do I want the freedom to just be myself? To be seen as a human being, as an individual without someone else's interpretation and limitation imposed on me? To simply be ourselves, men and women, independent of someone else’s construction, that is some sort of freedom. That is the only kind of freedom.
I would tell you that I wrestle alone in the dark, in the deep dark, and that only I can know. Only I can understand my condition. You live with the threat, you tell me you live with the threat of my extinction. I live with it too. 
This movie had so many lines that are more embedded in my brain than I ever realized. Watching it is like reading The Awakening for me. It is such a powerful reminder of the frailty and consistency of life. In the lives of these women, I can’t help but see the life of every woman, of every person. It is a story of longing for something more than this world. It is the struggle of trying to stay true to yourself while the whole world asks only that you be just like everybody else. It is reconciling living for yourself or living for the ones you love. Where does that line end and begin? When can we make a choice or take a step without seeing our parents, our families, and all the people we love? Should we ever?  
Always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.

Friday, July 24, 2009

It's cool to love your family

I just found these pictures on my computer. They are making me miss my family so much!

My mom reallly wanted to take this random picture on the side of the road so we pulled over.  I remember it was a beautiful day and my brother and I had just put candies in our mouth and our mom was telling us to try to hide it. Obviously I did a better job. :)

Attiya and I praying. I can't remember if I remember this one being taken or made up a memory. Haha. Attiya was only just learning. :) I like that I am wearing a bandana for my hijab. 

Our neighbor took this picture of us. It was a polaroid and I thought that was the most amazing thing ever. We used to play so much on this little patch of sidewalk. It is funny that I am holding Attiya b/c she kind of looks bigger than me. My brother has always looked like a little man.

Budget Costumes. Attiya got so scared right when she went out that she started crying and we had to bring her right back in. We didn't have such silly things in the village! ( I really loved that jacket. I wore it for about the next four years.)

I think this was an Eid morning one year after we had moved to the US. We always used to wake up early and eat kheer which is like rice pudding. I remember those plates so well. 

You know that it's cool it's cool to love your family
It's cool it's cool to love your family
It's cool it's cool to love your family
I know because I love them more and more 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Since then it's been a book you read in reverse

I am not going to post the regularly scheduled announcement for today to interject with this important message. This song is brilliant. The video is brilliant. Thank you to Courtney for sharing it with me and to google for teaching me how to embed it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Do you know I made him leave? Do you know he begged to stay?

Some days I feel so happy that I don't believe I can ever be sad again. 

Today the clouds outside are perfect.  I ate the most delicious mango, drank the smoothest coffee and felt warm raindrops on my face. It feels like the whole universe is conspiring to make everything work out alright. I am eager to pay it forward to anyone who is eager to receive it. For so many years I asked, "How can life be so cruel?" Now days I wonder, "How can life be so kind? How did I ever deserve this?" 

And soon, I know, life will humble me again but for the moment I am enjoying this perfect state. There is something in me that convinces me that there are only great things to come. That pain is easily conquered. That now all my dreams have come true, I can dig deep and find new dreams I haven't even realized. There is so much hope.

When I used to see young kids begging on the street, I wanted to hug them and kiss them. The beggers and the offensively rich, the business people and the street sellers, I loved them all. I love how incredibly ugly life can be and I love to see the ugliness in people because it helps me realize that that too is a part of our humaneness, and yet... yet, on most days, in most situations, most people rise above it. 

When I look at my family and Feraz and his family and my friends from high school, from the community, from OU, from law school, from Turkey, from every other path that I have ever been on, from the peripheral people to those I came to breathe, all I can see is layers upon layers of beauty, goodness and inspiration.

To all those beautiful people- thank you, thank you, thank you. There is a Malayan Proverb that rings so true right now, "One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind."

Click here for your daily dose of joy. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

And more, much more than this, I did it my way

If you want to know the state of a nation's economy, walk into your public library on a weekday afternoon. If it is anything like Canton, MI you will find it full of middle-aged people on the computers, browsing the aisles or just passing the time flipping magazines. The parking lot is full and in some strange way, it feels like you are at a carnival.
Michigan has the highest unemployment in the nation but still I see people smiling, opening doors and generally seeming ok. Despite the dismal reports, I am optimistic that the economy is improving. Reasons that my small world has led me to this conclusion: 

-My law firm has started sending us presents again. This gives me hope. And a sugar rush.
- I have seen people shopping in the non-sale sections at shopping malls. In grocery stores, the carts are looking more full and I notice non-essentials such as vegetables packed along with the essentials like Twinkies. 
-Restaurants are packed. If people are eating out, that means they can still afford to and that the teenagers of America still have jobs and teenagers spend all their money!

You might be one to look at Goldman Sachs recent rebound and get excited but such market trends are highly suspect. Instead, just take a look at your neighbors and the average person. Once they are convinced that this country is on the upswing, this country will be on the upswing. 

But moving on to more exciting topics. All this recent time spent at the public library takes me down memory lane...
I love to read. I have always loved to read. My best memories from my childhood are sitting in a big stuffed pink bunny rabbit with a pile of ten books next to me and reading until my parents dragged me away. I used to even read my book while riding on my bike around the neighborhood. I was hooked. There were the Goosebump books, the Sweet Valley Twins, Boxcar Children and the Babysitters Club. There was Ramona Quimby and a slew of other imaginary characters. Anais Nin said "I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live." I completely agree but when we are young, I think sometimes we read to escape to a world in which we can live.

Do you remember the summer reading programs at the library when you were a kid? I used to get so excited about them. I lived for the freebies they gave. And they gave them for reading!!! What a fantasy world we lived in. I coveted my bouncy ball or ice cream gift certificate. If you read the maximum amount of books you might be so lucky as to get a free book! I never had my own books as a kid and when I got one it was like a secret treasure. 

Welcome to 2009. Now days the library is giving out prizes like WII systems, iPod touches and a host of other techie toys that will assure kids are in front of the tv or lost in a set of head phones. It seems a bit counter intuitive but that didn't stop me from inquiring about the age limit for the program. Teens, you say? How about 19-year-olds? (Hey! I could pass...)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

You may feel you're done, but there's no such thing

My mom called me at 4:20 today. Being in the library I let the call go to voicemail. Soon there was that little light on the phone that indicates there is a new voicemail. A certain nagging feeling made me check the message even though I usually leave voicemails unchecked for weeks at a time.
The message began with my mom saying, "Sumeera, I have some bad news." Immediately, the panic struck, I thought of my dad, my sister and my brother. I thought about my numerous cousins, many of them young and prone to accidents. And as my mind tends to do, I ran through every worst case scenario in that millisecond. I could feel my heart in the bottom of my feet. 
But it wasn't anything like that. Instead, my mom told me that our neighbors house burned to the ground. And there was another type of sinking feeling. We knew that house well. For years, when my family went on our evening walks or even just stepped outside, we used to see it. It was a magnificent house with a wrap around deck, huge half circle staircase that led up to beautiful double doors. It had a little walkway the led up to the water and a perfectly manicured backyard. It was definitely one of my favorite houses and I often looked at it with longong, hoping to one day live in a house just like that.
But this house always seemed cursed. Over the years it would go on sale again and again. As other neighbors stayed in place, this house perpetually had a for sale sign. As soon as someone had moved in, they were moving out. My parents described the inside as glorious as the outside. It was perfectly decorated. The architecture was something to talk about. But still, no one stayed there for long.
When I talked ot my mom, the first thing I thought to ask was, "Were they crying?" My mom responded, "How can you cry when there are hundreds of people standing around you?" I can't imagine the grief you must feel to see almost all the things you have in this world gone in minutes like that. I can't imagine how invasive and exposed you must feel under that big sky as there are firefighters, reporters, policemen and neighbors standing all around and all you can see is your life crumbled before you. But my mom told me that eventually the tears did come, even the father broke down.  
They had left something in the microwave as they ran out to CVS to pick up something. That one small choice. To have a snack. To have something heated up when they returned. Maybe they forgot that it was in the microwave. Maybe they just hit an extra zero when setting the time. Maybe they thought of something someone had said to them and they were distracted for a second. Maybe that choice will haunt them for the rest of their life.
It isn't fair.
It is a small moment. It is an honest mistake. It is a giant, giant regret. But it doens't matter. And that is all there is to it. Some days, that is all there is to it.
Please keep this family in your prayers and good thoughts. May God make this trial easy for them and make something beautiful be born from it. Ameen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

it's darker than you know in those complicated shadows

When I was in Birmingham I borrowed Chocolat and Blackberry Wine from Feraz's cousin. In both of these books the author stresses that there is everyday magic. That life is not random and that each little thing we witness is leading to something better. In both her books and in many others I've read, there is talk about the winds changing. Although I have never fully understood this concept, today I felt it. 
It was one of those days that the magic grabbed me and forced me to see it.
While I was at the library waiting for Feraz to come pick me up so I could go home and pray, he sent me a text that said, "I will bring you a scarf and a kite." What great gifts these turned out to be!

I prayed under a tree, next to a pond and this simple act was so reviving. To fee the grass and dirt as you prostrate to God. It feels as though the world is giving you a hug.
The sky was full of pinks and purples and blues as the day descended and against this sky we flew the Besiktas kite that Feraz bought for three lira from a street vendor. There was something very inspiring about seeing our kite from Istanbul against the beautiful Michigan sky. There is something magical about running with a kite, letting it catch more and more air until you are sure that it must be dancing and you have to be careful to hold on to the string because you are so lost in it's dance. (If this sounds too hippie-ish, go fly a kite and you will know exactly what I mean!) 

Just when I thought the day couldn't get any better Feraz turned to be with a devilish look and said, "Let's get pizza!" On the plane ride home we fantasized about the different foods we had missed and that we would eat when we got home. Pizza was high on that list! I couldn't believe we had waited this long for it.
We sat in bed and ate mushroom pizza for the first time in so many months. My God. What a beautiful, beautiful thing. We both commented that there is no pizza in the world like Michigan pizza. We are simple folk. We love our Little Ceasars. And it loves us.
Then, we put on Knowing with Nicholas Cage. In Ann Arbor my friends and I used to rush to see the newest Nicholas Cage movie. When we heard he was making a new one, we would follow tabs online and countdown the days until it was coming out. There is something incredibly inspiring about the fact that Nicholas Cage makes movies. I mean, have you seen any of his movies? Have you seen how he acts in them? There must be a God if a man like Nicholas Cage has a job! 

I went to bed so thankful for how full and wonderful God has made life. No matter what good I do in this world, it will never be thanks enough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When we are weak, God is strong.

I hated being back in Ann Arbor. It made me feel awful in the worst ways. It made all the progress I made over the last four months go out the window in a matter of two days.

And so I am back in Canton and it feels like an incredible mercy. It feels like a hundred pounds have been taken off my back. It made me understand why people who come out of prison or out of rehab are supposed to find a new group of friends or a new place to go. At the end of the day, I am not going to negate the progress I've made as a person over the last few months. But I will admit that it is much easier to be a better, new and improved you when you are among new people and new places.

My new friends in Turkey helped me learn to be myself again and to get out of this cloud I had been in for so long. They helped me see that my real self was not an ugly and terrible person. I wrote this in my personal journal shortly after meeting one of my new friends, Remy:

"What a gracious love you give. The type only a stranger, only someone peripheral can offer. You know the best of me at this time. I could be your big sister. I could be your mentor. I envy you knowing me in this way. I wish I could know myself like this. With such a purity, with such a un-adultered love. Without the truth of my mistakes and shortfalls polluting every moment and every memory."

Forgiveness. This theme seems to be predominating my life these days. I've been so worried about forgiving others that I haven't left enough time to forgive myself. We all make mistakes. We make them every single hour of every single day.

One of my friends who recently came to visit in Turkey gave me a great little prayer book named The Abridged Al-Hizbul-Azam. I read this prayer today and it is one of my favorites and always gives me hope and strengthens my love for God.

"Oh Allah, you are my Lord; Nobody is worthy of worship besides you. You created me and I am your slave. I am honoring my pledge and my promise as much as I can. I beg your protection from the evil consequences of my misdeeds. I admit Your favours upon me and I also admit my sins. So forgive me, because none besides you has the power to forgive sins."


Saturday, July 11, 2009

All this talk of getting older, is bringing me down my friend

When I first got to Turkey, I remember going to the pharmacy to buy sunscreen and thinking, Ugh- I have to apply this nasty stuff to stave off the cruel bitch that is aging. As my body beings to display the physical manifestations of aging, I often think about growing older.

The truth is, all of us must grow older, but if we are lucky we also grow up. In law school I used to always hear people say, "This is just like high school." In the working world, I now hear people say, "People act like they are in grade school!" It seems like we are progressively going backwards! Slowly growing more immature as the years go by. 

The insecurities of our youth were placated by our parent's reassurances, and the excuses that come with being young. But as time passes, we have less ways of dealing with our insecurities. So, the insecurities frame the way we interact with people, they makes us too competitive in our jobs and catty with people we are threatened by. They make us doubt people's loyalties, and generally makes people lean towards being gossipy and dramatic. 

I love this quote from the televesion phenomenom, The Wonder Years:
“Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what's to come. But that night, I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be. Other days. New days. Days to come. The thing is, we didn't have to hate each other for getting older. We just had to forgive ourselves... for growing up.”

Sometimes we are so scared of growing up, because even with all the good that comes with it, there also comes a great deal of pain and much of that has to do with confronting the truth of our selves. 

I just moved back to Ann Arbor for a few weeks and moved in with some friends who were understandably living in a state of disarray. The house is turned upside down because everyone has been so caught up in finishing up law school and studying for the bar. Being the prissy pants I am becoming, I immediately decided we needed someone to come in and do a deep cleaning.

So, the cleaning lady is here right now, surveying the damage that has accumulated over continued neglect, laziness, and although it seemed like such a great mess when I first saw it, I could see her breaking down the problem areas in her head and making a plan of attack. 

If a house can get in this state in such a short time, then what about our selves? It makes sense that people seem to become more jaded and disillusioned as they age. Each year that we get older, we have one more year of messes that we haven't cleaned up, issues that we have neglected and seconds, minutes and hours in which we have been cruel to ourselves. Maybe growing up includes being brave enough to look at all that gunk that gets caught in the sink drain when you are doing the dishes and reaching in and throwing it out. 

I know that as I grow up, the world will get more and more beautiful. Virginia Woolf said, "You cannot find peace by avoiding life." With every time I roll up my sleeves, tell some honest truths, and let out a good cry, I know that I am helping to maintain myself, I know that I am confronting life now so it doesn't haunt me later. If this is what getting older can be, then I gladly welcome it.

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