Saturday, July 20, 2013

Day one: it is 848am & I think I may die of hunger.
Even the cat food smells scrumptious. If the pseudo hunger doesn't take me out then the thirst certainly will. For suhoor (pre dawn meal, basically breakfast but very early) I had Oatmeal with ginger & cranberries and made a bit of a well in the middle with real butter and sugar in the raw. It was decadent. I want more. I was planning to get a nice food porn picture of it but somehow it hurried itself into my mouth and before I could stop it, the sweet grains & berries were in my belly happily nourishing me. I am missing my coffee. I weaned myself off the caffeine weeks ago, or rather rearranged the timing of my habit. What I miss is the ritual. This time of day I sit, sipping on sweet, hot, Arabic coffee with a smidgen of cream in it (sacrilege, I know).

I am just now starting my fast, 9 days late. I had the pleasure of being attacked by 3 kidney stones the
night before Ramadan. I am still trying to find the wisdom and goodness in that. I was so prepared for Ramadan this year. I had spreadsheets, plans, schedules. I had already ready the first 3 Surahs of the Quran. I had my goals all written out. I was in total Ramadan OCD mode. I had taken the class that Seekers Guidance offers each year on Ramadan. I know the class by heart now but I take it anyway because each year I end up discovering some new thing. I was ready. I was going to own Ramadan. Instead, my body owned me, or rather my creator owned me. Maybe that is the wisdom in it. Maybe Allah knocked me down off the Ramadan bullet train I was on. Maybe I was supposed to slow down. I am unsure. I had been feeling ill for a week or so, but not really ill just icky. I had some aches and pains but nothing abnormal for a woman of child baring age. (grrr) Then on Monday evening I suddenly had much worse pain. I was heading out the door to go eat dinner and then go to the beach to try and see the moon. I was excited. I took a class. I knew how this was done. I was ready. Then BLAM! A pain so severe I can not compare it to anything I have ever experienced and I have felt pain before. A pain so severe it made me vomit instantly. I ended up at the emergency room and my friends ended up carrying on with plans. I felt so alone. I was there in the ER all by myself, unable to walk, vomiting in public and bellowing like a crazy person. I was humiliated and lonely. There was no one there to comfort me and tell me I was in fact not dying. There was no one there to question the nurses about the long wait. There was no one there to hold my hijab back while I puked. The pain got worse by the minute and finally it was either my turn or my bellowing had gotten intolerable and I was wheeled back into a room. I was given pain medication and suddenly felt like I could probably run a marathon or two. I took to Facebook to feel sorry for myself because I was alone. I was home by morning, medicated and asleep.
Ramadan arrived while I was knocked out. I was no longer pumped up, I was sad. I had missed it. Sure Ramadan is a month long but I had plans. I made spreadsheets. I was ready. There was no way I could fast in this condition. I know that illness is a perfectly legit reason not to fast, in fact it would have been haram for me to fast because my body has rights over me and I can not do things to my body that would cause it undue harm. I do not get sick often, though the last year or so I have been sick more than in my whole life. I have had colds and allergies but never something like this and I was alone.

There is nothing worse than being sick, drugged and feverish and having to get up in the 100 degree heat, get on a bus and get groceries and cat food.

Ramadan is a time of year when friends and family come together. You eat together every night, you speak more often and you take more concern with those around you. Islam in general puts great emphasis on friendships and relationships with family. Having just broken up with my best friend I knew Ramadan was going to be especially lonely. Ramadan usually is a rather lonely time for me. My fathers side is Muslim but they have all passed away. My mothers side is Christian and they do not care to hear anything about my faith & I am not close with any of them except my mother. So the happy, boisterous Ramadans of childhood are long gone. I have gotten somewhat used to being alone. The Muslim community in my city is very disorganized and we have no Imam. We have very few activities and even the ones we do have I am not able to attend. The mosque is a 2hour bus ride each way and it just does not work out. My Muslim friends live out of state or over seas. We talk via Skype and text but it is not the same as having someone next to you. It is very hard to fast when you are home alone all day. I am pretty sure I heard the coconut cream pie in my fridge talk to me about a hour ago. It was telling me "Oh come on, eat me, you know how good I taste. All my creamy, sweet, coconutty goodness, I am just what you need. No one is hear, no one will know. I won't tell if you won't tell" ...

Aside from the unscrupulous pie that tries to persuade me, I am prone to depression and sometimes feel like there is just no point in all this. Those moments are fleeting but they are there none the less. I have to remind myself that I do not fast during Ramadan because of the ritual or the people in my life, or lack there of. I fast because I am submitting my desires and my will to that of my creator and training my ego to recognize those even less fortunate than me.

My way of rising above the fact that I am alone during a month long holiday designed to bring people together is to get OCD about it and plan it out, have a routine and maximize my benefits. Allah has told us that if we say we love him and submit to him we will be tested. I should know this by now but I am rather daft. I made goals, I made a statement. I said I was going to do this and that. I had plans. I was ready. Allah dealt me a swift blow to let me know who the best of planners is: Him, always Him. He sent me a test. I made these lofty goals and Allah took away the first third of Ramadan and left me with the last two thirds to accomplish my goals. Challenge accepted.

Goal #1 To pray the 5 daily prayers on time. This has always been hard for me. It is hard for me to do anything on time. I am home alone all day and night, there are no constraints on my time. I am free to do whatever, whenever and yet I pray late every single time. It is not planned. I have 10 adhan alarms. I always end up trying to do 50 things before I pray when what I should be doing is just praying on time and organizing my closet later. It is funny how you always remember you need to do random tasks like scrape out the oven or organize your pantry right when it is time to pray.

Goal #2 Read the entire Quran 3 times this year. During Ramadan Muslims are supposed to read the entire Quran once. Ramadan is the month the Quran was first revealed. I planned to read it once in the first 20 days and twice in the last 10 days. I still have time. #rockymode

Goal #3 Pray at least 8 rakah of taraweeh prayers every other night. Taraweeh prayers are done in the evening and the actions are basically the same as the regular 5 daily prayers but different portions of Quran are recited and supplications are made. The prayers are optional but beneficial.

Goal #4 Stand the night in prayer at least one night of the last 10 nights of Ramadan. Laylatal Qadr (night of power) is the night the Quran was revealed and this night holds many blessings, the main one being that if you stand this entire night in prayer all your sins are forgiven. The thing is we have no idea when this night is. We know it is in the last 10 nights and most likely in the last 5 nights and that it is most likely an odd numbered night. The 27th and 29th nights are considered to be the most likely possibility but any of the 10 are possible. We have no idea which ones it is so standing all 10 nights is the best way to be sure you got it. Doing this is not required, however it is, obviously, strongly encouraged.

Goal #5 Memorize at least 2 separate portions of Quran. I have not yet decided which. It can be just one verse or an entire chapter. I am awaiting inspiration.

Goals #6 To walk away from empty and idle conversation or arguments. This is a huge one! This is something very hard for me any time of the year but during Ramadan this waste of time is forbidden.

Goal #7 I will not sleep all day and stay awake all night as this totally defeats the entire purpose of fasting and in fact means I am not fasting at all. This is a common trend among Muslims and it is not cool. I am a night owl by nature. I thrive at night. I am nocturnal. I get stuff done at night. Napping is OK and in fact both science and Islam agree that a nap in the afternoon and sleep broken up into two chunks of time is actually more beneficial to the brain than one chunk of sleep time. This will be hard to do without coffee.

......I just went and smelled the pitcher of iced coffee I have in the fridge. I feel like a crazy person but that coffee smelled like pure bliss. Only 9 more hours until that dark enchantress is flowing in my veins...

I was so bummed that I did not get to implement my plans the way I had wanted to. The 9 days I lost I will have to make up again. I can make them up in cooler months with shorter days. This is part of Allah's mercy. I also take comfort that in my sickness and the insane amount of pain I went through there is forgiveness of sins. Alhamdulillah! I am faced with so many opportunities all at once for my sins to be forgiven and I am worried about my spreadsheets! #priorities

I will survive this. This is only day one and it has only been 6.5 hours. I am not withering away. I had plans. I was ready. Those plans are still doable, inshaAllah.

Posted by Amunati On 12:56 PM No comments READ FULL POST

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

An immigrants dreams, realized.
The Statue of Liberty is the one thing that, for me, is the American icon. Every immigrant longs to see that lady, her torch held high, welcoming them. Her inscription reads:

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

~The new Colossus by Emma Lazarus~

 You see this American icon, our statute, our Lady Liberty is begging for those who long for freedom and a chance to create your own destiny to come to her and breathe free. My father took me to the see the Statue of Liberty when I was a small child. I do not remember much about actually seeing her, but I do remember my fathers tears. I remember him telling me that he was happy that I was going to have a life so incredibly different than his. I had no idea what he meant then, but I sure do now. My father lived and died a refugee, his entire life dictated by visa's and embassy documents. America right now is once again going through this debate over immigration. This has been a problem since day one. There has always been backlash against those who arrived 5 seconds later than those already here. This country would be nothing without its vibrant immigrants that went through hell to get here, that toiled and petitioned and gave up their entire lives to come here. So this Independence day let us show some respect for those new Americans in our communities. Let us welcome those huddled masses to our teeming shore and realize that they just want what we already have. If you have never been to a swearing in ceremony for people becoming American citizens, I really suggest you go. I have been to many in my lifetime and every time it brings such emotion. I look out into the crowd of faces hailing from all the corners of our world and each one standing tall, proud, tears flow, hand on heart and almost unable to recite the words that deem them Americans.

I am the daughter of immigrants. First generation. Most of my family does not live in America.  Most of my family lives under occupation and repressive regimes. Most of my family does not have a right to even speak against their rulers, let alone vote them into or out of office.

My birth mothers parents came here from Greece after World War II, seeking what everyone seeks when they come to America: that dream. My father came here to attend university and start a life. He knew the only chance he had at any semblance of a normal life was to come to America. His American dream was cut short for reasons that are an entire other story. Growing up surrounded by immigrants I learned the value of this thing called freedom. I was born here. I was born on a cold winters day, at 5:25 in the evening, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, in Brooklyn, New York. I tell people that when they tell me to go back where I came from. Go back to Brooklyn? Sure! No problem! B.K. represent! As the daughter of immigrants I struggled my whole life with this duality. I am both fully American and fully Arab. My homeland is and always will be Palestine, but my country is and always will be America. I have had many chances to live in various countries. I have family in about 15 different countries. I could go live with any one of them. I choose to stay here, in this land of dreams.

When you grow up with immigrants, and you watch your loved ones over seas fighting for simple rights you take for granted, you learn the value and the luck of your place of birth. I was born knowing I had the right to vote. I was born knowing I could own land, sell that land, own and operate my own business, get an
education, legally be required to attend school, and that my pursuit of happiness was not a lofty ideal but a given right. I did not have to fight for any of these rights, those before me had already done that. I am ever grateful for their struggles and sacrifices.

Yes, Islam gives me all these rights, but sadly Muslim rulers do not, specially not to a woman. I remember the 4th of July as a kid and the fireworks scared me to death. I also remember my father jumping out of his skin at every boom because it sounded just like the bombs dropped on his home growing up. I remember my father teaching me the song 'This land is your land' and telling me that this country was mine, that I belong here and to never let anyone tell me different. When you are born here and your family for generations back is from here, you tend to take for granted what value that holds.

American Foreign Policy
America is not perfect, not by far. She has many issues, problems and has committed many sins. America was founded on the graves of its indigenous peoples and built on the backs of slaves and I never forget this. I am not happy about many of America's policies and invasions of lands. It is hard to love my country when she drops bombs on my homeland, when missiles and bullets with "Made in America" written on them pierce the flesh of my loved ones. I have the right to complain about America. I have the right to dislike her choices, to be angry with her, to fight against her policies and to keep her in line with the values spelled out in her laws and to fight to keep those laws just and fair. That is a right many take for granted or simply do not even recognize at all. Criticizing America is not unpatriotic, if it was then not one of the founding fathers was patriotic.

For all that I dislike there is so much I do like. I love apple pie. I love New York City. I love our landscapes, beaches and national parks. I love being able to do what I want, when I want and not have some security or secret police follow me around. I love being able to choose for myself what religion to have, what education I want and being able to form and voice my own opinions. I love being able to buy whatever my mind can imagine, at 3am. I love the diversity of America. America was built on diversity. The founding ideals of this country was religious freedom, separation of church and state and openness to all peoples. I love that I can get Cuban, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Japanese and Indian food in almost any American city.

I love that the first two countries to establish diplomacy and trade with America were Morocco and
Egypt. Without this support this country would never have been able to build anything or survive those first years as a fledgling nation. I love that there is so much Islamic history right here in America. The state of California is named after the word caliph which means leader in Arabic. I love that Muslims came to this country long before that poor excuse for a navigator Christopher Columbus ever dreamed it possible. I love the fact that for the most part we obey traffic laws in this country. When the light turns red, we stop. When the light turns green, we go. This is unheard of in many other places. I love that we can buy a cup of coffee that is bigger than the human stomach. I love that whatever your opinions, ideals, morals, religion or lifestyle you can find other like minded people to commune with. I love that I can sit in a coffee shop all day and talk mad ish about America and still walk home with next to no fear of being detained. I love that I get go to the Bahamas for less than $50. I love being a consumer. I love voting for my president. I love that America finally has decent animal cruelty laws that give animals right to humane treatment, other countries do not have such laws and it is ugly. I love that, in America, I am able to just be, to just exist. As a Palestinian this something I do not have the right to do in my homeland. I watch my friends and family in Egypt fighting in the streets for basic needs and am so thankful. I watched this program and this Muslim woman born in Kuwait was becoming an American citizen. She was so excited because for the first time in her life she was going to have the right to vote. Islam gave women the right to vote 1400 yrs ago. Muslim men have taken that right away from us, but America gave it back to us.

You can watch this program "Lidia Celebrates America" by clicking here. I highly recommend watching it. It will give you an appreciation for the diversity of this nation of ours and for the struggles people go through to get here. They are not coming here with some covert agenda, they are coming here to survive, to escape persecution, for freedom of religion (or from religion), for opportunities in education and careers unthinkable in the lands they were born in.

I fight against the increasingly Islamophobic, xenophobic trend that this country is going towards. I am not blind to the drones that assassinate people without due process. I am not blind to the evil wars we have fought for no good reason, in which I have lost friends and family on both sides of. I am not blind to the fact that this country, the land of the free, has more people incarcerated than any country on this earth. I am not blind to the fact that as a Muslim, Arab and activist I am subject to search and seizure, arrest and maybe even jail time if I stand up too loudly for what I believe in. I know all of this. Even with all of this I would rather live here, in America, than anywhere else. Maybe I am choosing the devil I know over the devil I only know a little bit, but this is home. When America is right I stand beside her and defend her, and when she is wrong I stand up and fight against it. That is my right and my duty as an American, to be the system of checks and balances.

Despite my deep love for this country, my country, I have never really been accepted here, not fully. I am not a white Christian, there for I do not belong, I am a visitor, I am unwelcome. Yet, my love for this country runs just as strong and maybe even stronger because I know the value of this American dream. I am American by birth and proudly so. I love that my passport does not say 'refugee' on it, as it would if it were any other passport because that is what I would be if it were not for America. Palestinians are always refugees. My father was a refugee and died a refugee. My mothers family were all refugees. I have something they did not have. I have a country. I am a citizen. I belong. My passport, birth certificate, social security card and drivers license all say that I belong here, it is my birth right. I am living the dream my family wishes they could be living. I am fully Palestinian. I am fully Egyptian. I am fully Muslim. I am fully a woman.

I am a damn proud American.
Posted by Amunati On 10:46 PM No comments READ FULL POST

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I wrote this descriptive essay a couple years ago for a creative writing class. I revisited it today while remembering growing up with my father. 

Sweet mint tea

My father’s house in Cairo, Egypt has always had a special place in my heart. It is the place I always felt most at home, the most myself. My memories of him are all tied to that house. The memories are so plentiful and consuming that sometimes I just sit and close my eyes and play them in my mind. The summers and holidays spent there were some of the best times in my childhood, with cousins and grandparents, aunts and uncles all surrounding me. 

Box full of magic
 I always felt so at ease there, able to really be me without having to explain it to someone. I was surrounded by history and culture and it was all mine. I close my eyes and I see my father sitting in his chair reading, pretending not to notice the constant incessant arguing of my obnoxious brother and me. I can hear my sisters playing and laughing in innocent girlish splendor. Perhaps the sweetest of memories is of my grandmother in the kitchen, begging me to come learn how to cook. I can hear her saying “habibti you will never find a husband if you cannot feed him”. I always obliged her and she carefully taught me everything she knew. The old house danced with the exotic essence my grandmothers cooking. I would take the lessons learned from my grandmother and on Saturday mornings my dad and I would listen to Bob Marley, talk about the world and its problems as we cooked a massive, fancy breakfast for everyone. His lively laughter remains so vibrant in my mind that I swear I still hear it echoing in the halls sometimes. We would always pray together as a family for the 5 regular prayers and even now every time I hear the call to prayer it instantly places me in my father’s house and I hear his voice calling my name to come join him. The sound of my dad’s music or the call to prayer conjures up smells, sounds and feelings so distinctly real for me.   We always had extra people show up at mealtimes and the big wooden front door didn’t even have a lock let alone a key. People would knock and walk right in the door, whether they were a neighbor or a relative. The smell of cumin, cinnamon and rose water lofted from the house like a gas, luring people in.

Ornate Middle Eastern tile work
The house itself was old, seemingly ancient to me as a child. The terra cotta colored stone stucco and red roof were so typically Mediterranean. I can smell the history that leaks from every mysterious crack and lurks in every crowded corner. The ornate colorful tile and indigenous wood work always amazed me with its elegant intricacies. Each piece of tile had been laid by my grandfather’s youthful hands with pride at being able to afford such a home for his new doe eyed bride. The furnishings were not purchased at a big box retailer, but rather hand made by diligent, skilled, local merchants we knew and whose kids were my friends. Everything had a story of how it was purchased after much manly haggling and negotiating on its worth. Photographs of family covered the walls and tops of tables. Some of the pictures were as old as photography itself and others as recent as the previous holiday. It was an eclectic mixture that showed our big family’s entire history, so far as we knew it. 

A bowl of Jamsine
My room was seemingly simple. It was all white, yet had a precious innocence.  White stucco walls, a white wooden canopy bed with a white quilt, white desk, white dresser and white framed mirror, a white ceiling fan kept it cool on hot sticky Sahara nights. The furniture may have been white but it was far from plain. It had detailed hand carved scroll work on all the edges with the faintest tracing of gold paint on the edges. The afternoon sun would catch this gold trim and cast a shimmering glaze over the room. The windows were a century old and opened up onto the garden below, allowing the night blooming jasmine to lull me to sleep. The scent was so intrusive that I would awake in the morning in a jasmine cloud, and my hair and skin would carry the sweet scent all day long. I felt like a princess in this room. It was so distinguished and it had been all my aunts’ rooms, even the room my aunt had been brought into this world in.  I had one picture on the wall. This was a photograph of my grandmother as a teenager a short time before she married my grandfather and first inhabited that very room.
Posted by Amunati On 3:29 PM No comments READ FULL POST

It has been 8 years & 162 days since my father passed away
but who's counting ... 

I will start in the beginning ...

My father was born March 8th, 1960 in the village of Silwan in Jerusalem, Palestine. According to my grandparents his coming into this world was uneventful, he arrived how all babies arrive. My grandmother did always say that he was a quite baby and sensitive child. He was born into hell.
Silwan, Wadi Hilwe with Al Aqsa & Dome of the Rock
He was born a refugee even though he was born in his country in the same home his father and his fathers father had been born in. He was the oldest of 7 children and he out lived all but one of them. Palestine loves her people so much she calls them back to her soil as quickly as they spring forth. Like many young people, then and now, he came to the USA for school. He had already finished high school and a majority of his undergrad work by the time he was around 18 and arrived in New York City fresh off the boat into a world utterly foreign to him. He was not alone, he had cousins here. He started school pre med and met a girl that blew his mind. He fell in love right away and got married, much to the displeasure of his parents. They were not opposed to her they just wanted him to finish school first. Her parents on the other hand were disgusted and furious. They were immigrants themselves, from Greece. They hated him, his culture, his religion, his personality, and whatever else they could conjure up. The girl was unrelenting and married him anyway. Her parents disowned her, something she never let him forget. They got busy doing things young couples do. Nine months later I arrived on a bitter cold winters evening. They debated over what to name me and how I would be raised. My mother was Christian and my father was Muslim. My mom had no real connection to her faith and my father was insistent that I would be Muslim. He won. My mom wanted to name me Olivia because it means olive tree and it would poetically tie my two cultures together. My dad wanted to name me Aminah because it was a solid Muslim name. He won. My dad was 19 years old and in college. Now that I am an adult I understand his plight. I can not imagine having been married with a kid and in school at 19. I was barely able to remember to drag my lazy ass to class.

Baba was a hippie, a Sufi, a revolutionary, a pot head and he loved his baby girl. He called me many things, but Aminah was rarely one of them. He used to call me helwa because I was always asking for sweets. He would often call me 'his little Fatima' and I hated it. My name was not Fatima. He always said that I was to him as Fatima was to the Prophet Mohammed. I just called him baba.

Baba always had friends over. Our apartment in Brooklyn was always full of people and food. Everyone loved him, I can not remember a time he ever had a problem with anyone. I often accompanied him to class and sat outside the door, on a bench. The halls of Columbia University are rife with childhood memories. My dad taught me things early. I was already reading and writing by the time I entered kindergarten. I remember starting preschool at a Greek Orthodox church and the nuns were hideously mean. On a particular day we were learning to write our names. I boasted that I already knew how. So the teacher told me to write it on the board. I wrote out my name in perfect Arabic. She laughed at me and said it was just scribbles and that I should not tell lies. I began to cry thinking my dad had tricked me or this cow was jealous of my penmanship. I told her she was a liar and that my dad had taught me. I learned that day that calling a nun a liar is never a good idea. She beat my fingers with the metal end of a ruler til they bled. I got home that day and could not move my fingers. My dad was furious. He took me to school the next morning and had a sit down with the headmaster. I learned what curse words were that day and that my dad could be very scary. I never went back to that school, I never even got my crayons and pencils from my desk. I went to a different school where creativity and weirdness was embraced, a Montessori school.

Baba and I had a separation from about the age of 6 to the age of 12. The reasons are for another story. When we were reunited it felt like the no time had passed. He had moved on and remarried and been widowed and remarried again. Having children from each marriage. He had also left Palestine and moved to his mothers home town of Cairo. I grew up alone and surrounded by people who did not know me or understand me. That day in the airport in Cairo when I saw him running towards me was the greatest day of my life. I saw my eyes, and my nose, my smile and hair, we shared all the same features. He scooped me into his arms and tears flooded our faces. From that moment on there would be only love between us.

Baba was so wise and patient. He was the father of many girls. He was the best father I could have
imagined. He was not forceful. He taught us religion but never forced it on us in any way. He was funny, oh was he funny. We would laugh for hours on end. He made time for me. I was much older than my siblings (except for my brother) and me and him went way back. We shared something special. I knew him better than anyone else. We had dates. He would take me to dinner and movie. We would go for long walks along the Nile and talk about life. He taught me how to dance then told me I was never to do it. He allowed me freedom. His house was what he called a "free zone". In his home we could express ourselves however we saw fit so long as it was just us. We could curse, yell, stomp around, but outside or in front of people we were to behave with dignity. Every Saturday morning we would listen to music while we made a big breakfast for the family. To this day when I listen to Bob Marley I think of cooking eggs. Baba was in love with Bob Marley. "Bob Marley is the truth, habibti", he would say to me.

My dad never yelled. He never hit us. He rarely punished us. If we did something wrong he would sit us down and talk to us about it. That was more torture than a punishment, trust me. The last thing you want to do after having done something wrong is to sit down and talk about it. He would make us think it through and explain why it was wrong to do whatever it was we had done. He often made us write papers about it. I have a box full of essays I wrote over the years, almost all of them are about why it is not OK to punch my brother, trip my brother, steal from my brother, snitch on my brother or steal his clothes while he was in the shower.

I only remember being punished one time and I deserved it. I was about 15 going on 35. Me, Baba and my brother had been out running errands all day. He had bought my brother new Nikes and some jeans and Cassettes. I was always jealous of my siblings because I only got to see Baba in the summer or a holiday. My brother and I were always fighting (hence the big box of essays). That day my brother was being obnoxious and we kept bickering. We ended up in a market and I found a jewelry box I liked. It was a tourist trinket, a wooden box with mother of pearl mosaic all over it. It cost about $5. I told my dad that I wanted it. He abruptly said no. No? He never told me no. I got whatever I wanted and suddenly my stupid brother was getting all this and all I wanted was this $5 box, I was devastated. My dad was simply frustrated, he had warned us several times that day that he had had enough.

We got home and everyone was there, of course, ready to eat. My grandparents were visiting along with uncles and cousins, the typical Arab dinner. We walked in and started to take off our shoes, as is the custom. I stopped because my brother was bragging about his stupid new shoes. I am American bro, your Nikes don't mean shit to me! So I left my shoes on and stomped through the foyer and started up the stairs. Baba was right behind me. He said something about me being rude and to take my shoes off and come greet my grandparents. I turned to him at the top of the stairs and did a hand gesture that all Arabs know you never, ever, ever do in front of your father, let alone do it to him.

I ground my shoes into the floor, leaving scuff marks and stormed off to my room, slamming the door. That door swung open no sooner than I had slammed it. Baba was angry. He was calm, too calm, creepy calm. Why was he whispering? He told me to meet him in the kitchen in 5 minutes.

I was certain that I was going to die. I was going to be brutally murdered and the whole family was going to watch.

I had to make the descent down the stairs, which was much less glorious than my ascent had been. I was barefoot because I am stubborn, not crazy. I walked slow and steady, no sudden movements. My whole family was watching me, in shock. This kind of behavior was strictly American, I knew it and they knew it. This was not how a good Palestinian girl behaves.

I made it to the kitchen with my life still intact to find Baba sitting at the table, slowing sucking a cigarette. He never smoked in the house, I had driven him to this! The guilt was so thick and he had not even spoke yet. I sat down, head down, swearing that I would not cry, I was too strong to let him see me cry. He spoke slow and steady, like he was trying to hold himself back from snapping my neck. He said 'you will clean every inch of floor in this house and you will not eat until you are finished'. This was a big house, and we had a maid soooo ... what the hell... He did not care. He told me that I was to learn to respect the home I was allowed to live in and respect the people in it. He handed me a bucket and a sponge that seemed way too small for this daunting task. 

I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor as my family ate and socialized. They would walk across my clean floor and I would have to do it all over again and I was starting to get the point. I finished by dawn and fell asleep on the roof, exhausted, with bruised knees.
I woke up to my dad kissing my forehead. Whew! I had lived to tell my tale! He handed me two paper bags. The first bag was small and I looked inside and it was a piping hot piece of Kenafeh, my favorite dessert. The second bag was large and heavy. I took out what was inside and it was a big wooden jewelry box, with mother of pearl mosaic all over it. I looked at the top of the box and saw my name spelled out in Arabic. He had special ordered it for me weeks ago and was saving it for my birthday. I cried and he told me 'you see habibti sometimes no just means not right now'.  I love that man!

It was a dark, cold winters day in January 2005 when I got the call that would change my life forever. I was already upset, having just broken up with my fiance. I had called Baba to talk about it and we talked for about a hour. He said he had a headache and was going to go take a nap. Twelve hours later my phone rang. I answered to hear my step mother crying and saying 'hayati I am so sorry but he passed away, your father is dead'. Tears came from my eyes so fast that blood vessels burst, my legs stopped working and speech was impossible. I said it was impossible, I had just talked to him, he was young, the picture of good health. She said that it had been a blood clot in his brain and that he was gone before he hit the floor. That mental image has stayed with me....

I was numb. I had no idea how I was supposed to react. I was in America, a world away. I was not around grieving family and friends. My family and friends here, most of them had never even met him. There was to be a funeral and my family begged me to come. I missed the flight twice.  I sat there watching the plane take off and unable to face what awaited me at its destination. I had not gone to my brothers funeral the year before or my grandparents. I was present at my fiance's funeral only by force. I knew death too well. I called to say I was not coming, don't buy any more tickets. A thousand tickets on a thousand planes could not get me there. I had no desire what so ever to see that. I stayed here. I have never went to his grave and have no idea where he is even buried. It does not matter. I have never even been back to Cairo since then. I left Cairo with hugs from him and the rest of my family, a home, an identity. I refused to return with nothing and no one. Cairo used to be home, and now it is just a city like any other city, except this city is full of my dead relatives.

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Baba was a great man. Baba was in no rush to marry me off like many Arab fathers. He wanted me to wait and finish school, partly because of his own troubles. He wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be, to find myself and become something. There is no one in this world that could measure up to him. I will never find a husband as great, it just is not possible. Baba was a perfect mix of east and west.

A thousand blessings fell from his smile and his approval rocked my world. The mere thought of his disappointment caused anxiety and shame. He was my best friend, my confidant. I had something special and I knew it. My dad was a super hero. He loved women. He taught me to love myself and those around me. He taught me to love nature and animals and science. He made pancakes in the shape of hearts just to cheer me up. He knew how to do my hair and did it well. He was always happy to wield a flat iron and tame the African kinks he had given me, all the while telling me my curls were special. He cried the day I told him I was certain that Islam was the truth. Scratch that, he sobbed like a baby. He spent hours doing dhikr and taught me its value. He made it impossible to not love myself because he loved me. He showed me exactly what a good man is. He personified dignity, trustworthiness and was so very handsome.

If you are blessed to have your father in this world then show him you care. Take the opportunity to love him and bless him before the chance slips away. There is not a day that I do think of Baba and talk about him. He dances around my memories like a dervish. I can hear his voice, smell him, and when I close my eyes I can see that infectious smile.

He was gone too soon ... 

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un - Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return

Posted by Amunati On 10:56 AM No comments READ FULL POST

Sunday, June 9, 2013

So we have all been there... that moment when we realize someone we love is creating chaos in our lives.

What do we do about it? Do we continue in the relationship even if it is slowly killing us? Do we end it? Do we get angry at what could/should have been? Do we learn a lesson and just move on?
I hate to admit this but I am an adult, repeat that and I will deny it. Being an adult means owning your ish, and owning your happiness. I have grown up a lot in the last 15 years. I have been an adult for 15 years ...I need a moment to absorb that .... *deep breathes* I did not start out being an awesome adult. I started out being a colossally effed up adult. I entered adulthood from a very messed up childhood rampant with emotional issues and complexes...
I entered a series of rather odd, very unhealthy relationships, not unlike most young adults. At my core I am an anthropologist, even if that degree got me nothing but student loan debt. I love to study people, what they do, why they do it and what they believe. This played a part in my relationships and still does to some extent. I stayed in relationships because I have an uncanny ability to understand people. It is my curse. I can put myself in their shoes and see why they do what they do, even if I do not agree with it I can at least understand their process. This leads to me making excuses for bad behavior. I learned that you just can not excuse all bad behavior. There has to be some accountability. After a string of bad decisions that lead to bad relationships that lead to a world of hurt and depression I finally woke up and decided to start cleaning house.

I stopped allowing people to treat me any kind of way and get away with it. I started respecting myself and demanding those around me do the same. I started presenting myself the way I wanted to be seen, as strong, fearless, intelligent, bad ass, and too damned good to take your ish. I started to realize that friendships should be two way streets, there needs to be give and take and I was no longer going to be the one doing all the giving.
I stopped collecting people like specimens in jars. I started realizing that hoarding people is a toxic way to live life. 
I have no regrets. I do not regret not a one of those relationships. I do not see them as failures but as lessons learned. There were some doozies, some mind boggling clusterfu*ks and some mediocre wastes of times. I think it is important for people to go through this stage in life. It is sometimes important to have a bad relationship so we recognize them in the future and so we recognize the good ones. There are a lot of good ones.

Toxic people infect those around them with their brand of toxicity. This happens on a subconscious level for the most part (unless they are bat crap crazy, but that is another post) and it is unintentional. You become who your friends are. My mother used to say this all the time and as with most craziness that comes from her I rolled my eyes at the ludicrosity (yea, it's a word) and thought to myself 'this chic is nuts'. Turns out, as with EVERYTHING, my mom was totally right. (repeat that and I will deny it) Those we surround ourselves with inevitably influence our thought processes, the way we dress, the way we talk, what we find funny, the food we eat and how we practice our religion or lack there of. Even those of us who pride ourselves in hard core individualism and a super hero like ability to fend off peer pressure are still influenced by what our friends do, think and say.
There is a hadith of the Prophet Mohammed that says: A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so be careful whom you befriend.
As I grew up and life became more real, my needs changed and became more real. Like most young adults I reached a point where my faith became the predominant factor in my life and as a result it dictated not only how I treated my friends but how I chose them. My faith is very important to me. It if difficult to keep faith in this world when those around have none. When you have a friend beside you that enjoins you to the good and discouraged you from the bad, there is no better resource you can have than that! In Islam we are taught that spouses are a garment one to the other, and I believe that friendships should be no different. A garment of good quality protects your from the elements, keeps you safe, gives you modesty, keeps your secrets and honors your privacy, and it also adorns you, makes you beautiful, appealing and can give you a sense of honor. Likewise a bad garment of low quality will not give you protection, will reveal your privacy, not cover your modesty and will not give you a sense of honor but rather a sense of shame and heart ache. Who would want anything less than the best quality? If we choose our friends wisely they will be as the best made garment this world has to offer. 
Islam also teaches us that the believer is a mirror to the believer. Think of what a mirror does: it reflects back to you the truth, it shows you not only your errors and faults but your beauty. A mirror is honest with you, shows you what is good and what is bad about you. I think some of us have either been or had the kind of friends that are more like those funky fun house mirrors that distort the image, they make us appear to be something we are not because they are not being good, true mirrors.  
I realized that I want people in my life who were good mirrors, that would be honest with me and honest about me, that saw me for the beautiful person I am. I want only relationships which benefit me. I want friends who remind me of my duty to Allah, who bring me closer to my faith and make me a better person for having been in their company. I do not want relationships full of drama, disrespect, indecency, dishonor, neglect, and toxicity. 
Toxic relationships cause stress and stress is a major factor in overall health. Stress increases the chance of a heart attack, nervous breakdown and high blood pressure. Why would I keep someone in my life that is causing me not only mental and emotional turmoil but physical turmoil as well? To keep people around who cause us discomfort is ludicrosity to the 10,000th degree. (used in a sentence twice, so it's a word)
The influence a person has on us is sometimes very subtle we do not even realize it until we have our
hind sight goggles on and are out of the rubble looking back. Other times the influence people have on us is so crystal clear and obvious that it is banging us on the head with a big iron mallet saying "I am bad for you, do not keep me around" and yet we ignore it and soldier on. At some point I started to realize that letting people go does not mean I do not love them. You can love someone without allowing them to be in your daily life. Be the master of your own domain! You have to love yourself enough to do what is best for you, no matter what. There are several people that I love dearly, had great times with and they were close friends but things change, people and their needs change and that is OK. I am quick to recognize a shift in the dynamic of a relationship and react accordingly. I do not stick around where I am not appreciated or wanted. Why force yourself on people?

"The Day that the wrong-doer will bite at his hands, he will say, "Oh! would that I had taken a straight path with the Messenger! Ah! woe is me! Would that I had never taken such a one for a friend! He did lead me astray from the Message of Allah after it had come to me! Ah! the Evil One is but a traitor to man!" ~ Qur’an 25:27-29

Close friends, that Day, will be enemies to each other, except for the righteous .” Qur’an 43:67 

There will come a day when we will wish we had been better in our relationships and had better relationships and it will be too late to do anything about it. 
This is what has influenced me to take control of the people I allow into my hoola hoop. There simply is not much room and to be in it you have be someone of quality, of honor, honesty and grit. I need to know I can trust you. I need to know that my words when said to you, remain with you and do not end up across town coming out of the mouth of someone else. I need to know that I am safe with you, that you recognize my weaknesses and do not abuse them. I need to know that I can believe what you are saying to me, without doubts or second guessing.
Abu Bakr was a trusted and most beloved companion of the Prophet. The Prophet had a reputation as being a very honest, trust worthy person and Abu Bakr knew this better than anyone. When the Prophet first got his call of prophet hood, he was mocked, and insulted because of it. It was a crazy thing he was saying and people doubted him. Someone came to his best friend in the world, Abu Bakr and told him of the things Mohammed (SAS) was saying, and the reaction of Abu Bakr is priceless. Abu Bakr did not react with shock, or malice. He did not question it, he did not second guess it and he did not even go to Mohammed himself to confirm it. He simply said "If Mohammed said it then it is the truth" and then he said "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet'. 
What an awesome friend! He changed his entire life because he knew the worth and the true nature of his friend. I want that kind of relationship with everyone in my life, that they see me that way and I want to see them that way. Once I am lied to once I can maybe make some excuses and let it go but once I am lied to twice I lose all respect for that person. Lying to me or, even worse, about me is the number one way to show me that you do not respect me, or yourself. You do not lie to people you respect and it is hard to respect those who do not reciprocate. The relationship becomes toxic and infection starts to fester. 
People often see my cut throat decision to excise people from my life as being cold hearted. I do not agree. I do not do it willy nilly. I do not cast people away simply because they displeased me. However, I do not allow abuse in my life from anyone, no matter what. I do not stick around to allow the disregard for my well being, my affections or my time to continue. Once I realize the pattern has started I may try to remedy it but I have come to learn that those remedies are no different than the worthless patches on a busted airbed, they are temporary at best and once even the slightest pressure is applied they blow up on your ass and you hit the floor hard. 
I think it is important to clean house once in a while. Sweep away those people who do not contribute to your life. There is nothing better than a wonderfully compatible companion and nothing worse than one who is just... not. There is no need to be mean about it or become angry about it, it just is what it is. Remember that this person once meant the world to you. There was a time when you valued every thought they had and every word they said
Respect the relationship for what it was but recognize it for what it no longer is. 

It does hurt, because you are faced with erasing someone from your life who once had a big part in it, who occupied your time. But there is no need to feel guilty about it, if you feel it follow it. Your instincts are real. I read something a few weeks ago that really struck a cord with me: "Sometimes people try to expose what is bad in you because they can not handle what is good in you". Such a true sentiment! I know that I am sometimes a bit too honest and sometimes people do not take kindly to that. I am not a monster and I do know when to keep my mouth shut but I also do not blow smoke up peoples arse. I keep it real. I tell you what is up for real and sometimes people just can not handle that because they are ready for that level of truth. I know because I have friends who are that way with me and sometimes they hit me with some truth and it's like whoa! hold up! It can be very hard to be faced with that mirror reflecting to you the reality you refuse to accept. 

Just make sure they are reflecting not deflecting or projecting.

I also realize that its possible to grow into and out of relationships. A relationship may start out great and then fizzle out and time passes and you may find yourself once again being beneficial to one another. Everyone is at a different stage in life. At each of those stages you and they will have different needs and wants when it comes to what kind of people you have in your life. There are times when I have a lot more patience to overlook bad behavior and that usually corresponds to things going well in my life. When I have a bunch of my own junk going on I lack the time and patience to also pile on the drama of a dysfunctional relationship so it usually gets axed. 

For my thoughts on friendship see here: All hype & no reward

I am still learning to not allow toxic people to infect me. I will often wake up and wonder 'how in the hell did you slither in here' and have to start downsizing again. I long for a day when these lessons are finally done being learned, when I have mastered the art of relationships and am able to balance that fine line between kindred soul and abusive jerk. 
I recently ended a friendship that had lasted a couple years but had only been super close for the last couple months before it ended. I realized we got super close when they suddenly needed the company, not because they cared about me or knew me and appreciated me. I was being used. Admitting that hurt a lot because I had invested a lot of time and emotion and I did not want to admit that it was a flop. They are at a different place in their journey than I am and we were no longer beneficial to each other. The quality had gone down the drain and so it was just over. 
It broke my heart, truly. But damn it I am a defiant flower and I will be OK. Broken hearts do heal and I learned more life lessons, yet again.

Posted by Amunati On 2:16 PM No comments READ FULL POST