Americana, New York City Jams, Uncategorized

Halalapalooza

Being raised by an incredibly clean mother who regularly feeds the masses AND miraculously keeps a spotless kitchen, it was only to be expected that I would be incredibly dubious about all halal carts when I first moved to NYC.

(Regarding shifty Trini cell phone vendors named “Mack” who offer “special discounts” if I would only pay $300 in cash – not so much.)

My suspicion of food trucks, however, quickly changed when one day, one of the homeless guys in my new neighborhood noticed me taking a long, suspicious look at a halal cart. As I stood there next to him examining the menu, he recommended, “You gotta try the chicken and rice. It’s good – especially with white sauce and hot sauce.” I’ve followed his recommendation ever since (after a quick inspection and usually with a preference for lamb). I even have a favorite cart.

So although I feel wildly competitive on behalf of Hoda’s Halal after reading “The Halal Guys cashing in on street cred” in The New York Times  , I salute you, Halal Guys. You’re probably horrifying some Islamophobe right now, and truly, I love overhearing, “Yo, let’s go hit up some Halal.” 

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Uno más del monton

24 February 2011/21 Rabi’ul Awwal 1432

Dedication: To writing before I forget

It was my first time traveling by train from New York City to another state.

Penn Station was crowded, and I couldn’t figure out which gate I needed to go through in order to find my train.  I asked the tall, well-dressed man standing beside me for help.  He told me to watch the bulletin board for gate number announcements.  In any case, we had the same destination so he told me I could just follow him.

I called my husband, “I’ll call you when I arrive.  I’m okay.”  Then I called my parents to tell them the same.

I didn’t want to follow a (handsome) stranger, but I also did not want to get lost.  As everyone began moving, I kept my eye on him.  He looked over a few times–perhaps to check on me.  By the time I reached the train, I lost him but a station employee told me I was at the right place.  “You’ll find coach seats straight ahead.”

I found an empty seat by a window, placed my carry-on above me and sat down only to see the same man sitting across the aisle.  I smiled a bit embarrassed–inwardly saying, I wasn’t following you; I promise.  The man quietly moved and sat in one of the many empty seats behind me.

I was grateful.  I had work to do and lines to memorize.

I took out my dhikr beads.

A few moments later, another young man–this time carrying a guitar and large duffle bag–asked me if the seat next to me was taken.  I said, “No,”–silently hoping he wouldn’t be talkative and also wondering why he didn’t see all the other empty seats.

I continued my dhikr, looking out the window, taking notice of the train emerging from under the ground into the dreary urban light.

He must have tried his best to hold his breath but 20 minutes into the ride, he burst out–Do you believe in God?

His accent told me he was Latino.  He would later tell me he was from Nicaragua.

I said, “Yes.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Me, too!”

I finished my dhikr and then took out the stories in my folder, thinking, Dammit, he wants to have a God conversation.

He waited a few more moments.

“So what’s your religion?”

“I’m a Muslim.  My religion is Islam.”

I was about to turn to the stories again, when he said,

“I love God.  I’m just crazy.  I would go anywhere or do anything to find him.”

But he couldn’t find God in religion.  He tried.  He tried Christianity.  He tried Judaism.  He tried Buddhism.

“I want to read about Islam.”

Shit.  Now I have to give him book recommendations.

I looked up from my papers and turned my face toward him.  “Do you have a paper and pen?”

He bashfully said he did not have a pen but handed me a slip of paper.

I wrote down a few books.  I told him there are various translations of the Qur’an so I wrote down a couple.  I also wrote he should look up Rumi.  Then I handed the slip back to him.

I turned back to my stories.

…but I sensed, although he was trying his best to keep quiet, he was about to explode with questions.

So I said, “Would you like to read a story?”

“I love to read.  I like to learn about everything and anything.  If someone told me there was something great down a hole, I’d go in just to see for myself if it’s true.”

“Here’s a story about someone searching for God.”  Like you.

I handed him “My Son’s Wedding Feast.”

Several minutes later, he asked, “So, her son died, huh?”

I said yes.  He then told me he’s gone through a lot in his life.  He said he never knew his parents.  They abandoned him, he said.  But he could never imagine losing his kids.  In fact, he was on his way to visit his little daughter.  “She’s my world.”

I then told him, I have a story about a daughter and her father.  Would you like to read it?

I handed him “Knock at the Door.”  He read it.

He then said, “The world is crazy.  When I see something wrong, I just have to say something, you know?  The world is crazy.”

I asked for his slip of paper and wrote down the Autobiography of Malcolm X.  Then I handed it back to him.

“Sometimes, people think I look Arab.  Did you hear about those Muslim pirates who attacked a ship full of Bibles?”

I figured he read a tabloid version regarding the Somali pirates.

“No, not really.  Here’s another story.”

I handed him “Light on my Face.”

He paused in the middle–She’s MUSLIM?

Yes, of course.

“She got pregnant?!”

Yes.

“But, but Muslim women…you follow the rules!”

Muslim women are human.

He continued reading.  “Amir, huh?”

When he finished, his disposition changed.  He laughed to himself.  I now would say–bitterly.

“You know what we say?  We say, Uno más del monton.”

I wrote it down.  “Like this?”

“Yes.  You know Spanish?”

A little.  “What does it mean?”

“It means, Amir is one of many.  Like me.”

Then he told me his story.  He had two daughters.  One from a woman with whom he fell in love, got engaged and almost married.  “We separated, but I still took care of my girl.”

The second daughter was from a woman he didn’t love.  “We were just seeing each other.”  But she fell in love with him.

He said she tried to trap him by getting pregnant.

“I was so mad.  I left her.  But I thought, my parents did the same to me.  I never knew my parents.  Maybe that’s why they ran away, too?  They were scared.  I couldn’t do that to another child.  So I decided I have to be a man.  Take responsibility, you know?”

He was quiet after that.  No more questions.  His face became serious.

And the train stopped.

Destination arrived.

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They could be saints

30 March 2010/15 Rabi’ Al-Thani 1431

Akbar Uncle from the mosque was a loud-mouthed Pakistani man–most likely Punjabi–who knew better than everyone else.

He was obnoxiously opinionated. A large man over 6’4. A man of MANY words.

He dominated conversations to which he was not invited.

With a few businesses to boast of, he stood head held high and walked like a king.

When he entered the mosque, his presence–and booming voice which carried over to the women’s section—was unmistakable.

And he had a lovely wife.

Auntie was calm. Soft-spoken. A woman of few words. Sometimes English, sometimes Urdu.

She walked gently with her cane. She would sit on a chair in order to pray. Her shalwar kamees was always pressed and spotless. Her dupatta draped her head and chest the same way every time. Her thick glasses, through which she looked to read her Qur’an and recognize the faces around her, were always shined.

She gave soft kisses and pats on the head.

And her husband towered over her. She barely reached his chest.

Yet before her, Uncle bowed.

After some years, Auntie and Uncle moved away to be with their grandchildren. One day, a few years later, Uncle returned to the mosque.

Only this time, he walked with a cane, back bent. This time, when the uncles argued over the price of gas and the economy, or another conspiracy theory, he did not intervene with his own argument.

His once rounded face had thinned leaving his cheek bones showing. His gaze wandered aimlessly as he stood alone.

Someone said, “Is that you, Akbar?”

Smiling back meekly, he seemed to be at a loss for words.

“You’re back! How is your health, Akbar? Where have you been?”

Uncle looked up, his face contorted by the same pain that must have broken him and bent his back.

“Akbar, come have some lunch. Here, here’s a drink. How is Bhabi?”

“My wife?” he asked, eyes wide open as if startled by a memory. “My wife…I think it’s been a month now?”

He placed both hands over the knob of his cane.

“She had a heart attack…God bless her soul…”

A month later, we gathered to recite Qur’an for his soul.

 

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Thinking in Public

IMG_5897I was always about not casting judgment; about giving everyone the benefit of the doubt because they each have their own story; about listening carefully and embracing my ignorance; about traveling and taking things in without making definitive statements; about never naming names.

This decade, however, will be the decade of judgment — because when fools think in public as experts, its foolish for people with expertise to remain silent.

Also, the following quote was included in the template. I decided not to delete it. Welcome.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton