Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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Into the stretch…

We’re well into the last ten days of Ramadan, more like the last week of it in fact, and yup, I’m wondering where the month went!

It flew right by!

And now the work in earnest begins.

Nobody knows the importance of tradition and celebrating your festivals as much as a kid growing up poor without Christmas.

I hated coming back from the Christmas holidays because I’d get regaled with a list of all the toys the other kids got for Christmas, and inevitably they’d ask me, “What did you get?” And I’d reply in a monotone, “We don’t celebrate Christmas.”

And then when Eid came around, and I finally did get a gift (we didn’t really do birthdays) it was ever only ‘one’ gift. Growing up I never had the experience of being deluged with gifts!

Never even had the experience of unwrapping a ‘pretty’ gift. My parents wrapped the one gift we received in newspaper. “What does it matter? You’re going to rip it anyway.”

And I could hardly brag about one gift to the kids at school.

I think any kid does need to have bragging rights, or else, the parents need to be proactive and speak to the kids fervently about how material possessions don’t indicate the worth of a person.

My father’s motto growing up was, “Poverty is my pride.” He claimed he was quoting the Prophet (peace be upon him) but I have, to this day, never found such a quote.

Instead of showering stuff on us, my parents spent a LOT of time with us, telling us stories of their growing up, and morality tales that would be considered ‘old fashioned’ these days, but they softened our hearts and yes, they taught us morals.

And every day my father would read us a section of Quran. He forced us to sit there as he painstakingly read it in English, and my mother taught us to read it in Arabic.

I was always a clunky Arabic reader. Still am.

Always got frustrated when you were supposed to join a letter (actually it was a shamsi letter–long story, it’s about the rules of reading the Quran)  to the next one on the next line, but you didn’t figure that out till you got to the next line.

But ever since I took a few preliminary courses on Arabic as a language and learned some of the basics of Arabic grammar (like the pronouns are attached to the subject! So cool!) I find that when I’m reading Quranic Arabic now I can actually pick out references and words and figure out what’s being referred to even before I access the translation.

I can even do this while listening to the recitation! Which is also cool! And gives you a totally different feel for the poetry of the Quran.

I’m trying to finish reading the entire Quran by the end of Ramadan, and I have a long way to go.

Plus I’m starting to make preparations for Eid.

Imagine cooking up a storm while you can’t taste or eat anything and that pretty much sums up the preparations for Eid.

I’ve already bought most of the gifts. I’m still in the process of assessing some of the things I bought and I need to wrap them, although most of it is done.

But now comes the baking!

Chocolate cake with mocha icing, pineapple tarts, LOADS AND LOADS of pineapple tarts! Pecan bars (my mother in law’s favourites!) lemon squares, chocolate chip cookies (to send to my nephew who’s stranded in Minneapolis).

And then to put a lot of these goodies into packages for our neighbors and some close family members.

The funny thing is I’ve learned that some mothers just don’t bother.

And I can’t imagine.

How do you not cook and bake up a storm for Eid?

Without the work involved, I think festivals just wouldn’t be that special.

It’s like with a newborn baby, I’m sure part of the bonding process involves how very difficult it is to take care of a newborn!

When you have to work so hard that first smile, the first baby giggle, is just such a HUGE payoff!

And same when the kids come downstairs sniffing the air because it’s filled with the aroma of pineapple jam bubbling on the stove!

So that my daughters say that it’s the SMELL of Eid!

And even as I’m rolling the pastry for every single pineapple tart, and dobbing the teaspoon of jam in the middle, I’m thinking of how happy the people who I’ll be giving them to, will be.

How it’s a neighborly thing to do, share some of our festivities with them.

And I also think of God, whom I’m trying to please with this bit of culinary good will, and the baking becomes a form of worship, believe it or not.

But tonight I got a sort of gift of my own.

It came in the form of an email from a student who apparently saw my presentation over ten years ago.

This was at Nelson Mandela Park Public School.

For those who are not familiar with this school, it’s in Regent Park, and if the name of that notorious area of Toronto doesn’t ring a bell, just think of one of the poorest schools in one of the biggest public housing projects in North America.

When I first started out I’d often go mostly to the poor schools because these schools had large Muslim populations. By the way, Regent Park has turned around as a community.

A lot of the biggest slum highrises have been torn down and there’s been so much investment into the community that it’s become one of the most vibrant communities in Toronto.

There is still a LOT of crime and drugs, though, and when I went there, it was way before it turned around into a sort of yuppie haven.

I remember the presentation to the grade eight class at Nelson Mandela Park very well!

I went in and did my Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile presentation.

Which contains kind of early versions of my Wanting Mor presentation and includes themes of suicide and racism.

Some of the kids who came in were huge and scary! These were black gangster type of boys with doo-rags on their heads and their jeans swung low back in the style of the day.

They dipped in a strange sort of stride as they walked in and sat down, and I thought how I wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley.

But I started talking about my experiences and by the end of it, they were pumping their fists in the air, ‘whooping’ for me, and some of the biggest scariest of them even came up to me afterwards and asked me to sign the jerseys they were wearing. (I’d never heard of that till then.)

I met some of the teachers who’d been there in the presentation at other schools later and they remembered me. One of them even told me that I’d been VERY good! I told her thanks. And then she looked at me like I didn’t get it and said as much. “No, you don’t get it. Those same kids had made other presenters cry!”

And then I went cold.

I thought wow!

Well, last night I received this email from a Muslim girl named Namarig who’d been in the audience. She gave me permission to share it publicly:

Assalama laikum,

 I remember I was in grade 8 when you came to my class at Nelson Mandela Park Public Schol. I was so proud and so inspired to see a muslim woman sitting there, reading us a book. I looked around and felt that I can be something one day.

 Years later (I cannot believe how long it’s been) I am a registered nurse working with the homeless population.

 JazakeAllahu khair! I don’t think you will ever realize how significant it is to meet you as a child.

 

Subhan Allah!

You can’t imagine what it feels like to receive such an email! Especially when you’ve always wanted to work with the homeless and needy and you do give charity but always felt that your talents were better served as a writer–and yet you always felt guilty not doing more hands on work with the vulnerable.

To think that I inspired this girl to go and do this kind of work!!!

Just wow! Subhan Allah!

Because I just know that the way God tallies things, I’m going to get rewarded, even just a little, for any good that I inspired her to do!

So yup! I’m hearing ‘kaching, kaching’ in my cash register of good deeds for the hereafter!

And what with all the Quran I’m reading and all the goodies I’m baking and all the duas I’m making for those unfortunate in Gaza and Egypt and Syria and Myanmar and Ukraine, and everywhere else in the world where there is turmoil, bloodshed and strife (I have to keep my duas open that way for fear of leaving anyone out!) my heart is feeling pretty full!

Like the joy is swelling up like a tide or something!

The bad people cannot thwart the plan of God!

They keep trying but they just can’t.

God is all powerful! And justice will be served in this world or in the next.

God did not create us for amusement, but to serve Him and we will all, whether we like it or not, whether we even believe in Him or not, we will all be accountable on the day of Judgment!

And this Ramadan has helped, insha Allah, bring me closer than ever to Him.

 

Half way through already!

Subhan Allah, the time goes so fast!

I’m down here typing this blog post while I wait for the time to break my fast. Got about half an hour left and I’m feeling pretty good alhamdu lillah.

Went by one of my daughters and my grandkiddies were all there. After giving me a big hug, my five year old grandson pinched his nose.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Do I smell?”

He nodded.

“But I’m not stinky.”

“Your breath.”

Oh, of course! I’m fasting! And his mother scolded him for being rude, but I told her not to and I told him that I can’t help it. I’m fasting. But he’s too young to understand yet.

Ran my errands.

Tired, a bit of a headache because I’m thirsty and my mouth is dry, but honestly, you have to look at all the carnage that is going on all around the world and really we have nothing to complain about!

My heart just breaks for Gaza.

The Jews did not deserve the suffering they endured during the Holocaust, and the Palestinians don’t deserve the suffering they’re going through either. Nor do the Rohinga in Myanmar, nor the Uighur in China, nor the Syrians, oh the Syrians! And nor do the Ukrainians! Or the Africans!

And I think the biggest lesson we should have learned from the Holocaust is that the idea that a people are considered measly enough to be exterminated while the world looks on and does nothing, is horrible! We should never, ever, be lulled into the idea that oppression in any form is justified. That “they just do that over there”.

So much bloodshed, so much heartache and we’re all fixated on soccer!

Well the Germans won, and good for them.

They certainly worked for it.

It’s funny what you can do when you put your mind to it, even when you’re fasting.

Yesterday I drove about two hours, to do a storytelling presentation in Waterloo. It was a hot day! And storytelling is physically exerting even when you’re not fasting. And not drinking on top of a hot day and an hour of telling…wasn’t sure how I’d handle it.

In fact there are times when I’m telling that I can feel that my vocal chords are getting strained. And when they do, my voice loses its timbre, it gets squeaky and I start doing that dry cough.

Not good!

Well, it turned out that the storytelling tent was next to the ‘workshop’ tent. The organizer warned me that they’d been holding all kinds of workshops in there the day before, including Arabian dance with loud music and drums.

As we were waiting for my time to start, an ominous sign.

People walking by with big, and I’m talking, HUGE, drums!

Yup.

They started their drumming workshop just as I started my stories.

The audience started out very small! About five people, three of them kids. And I had to shout into the microphone to be heard over the drums.

But I got two stories done, and then things toned down, and by being so loud, I’d actually attracted a number of people who’d been walking by towards the parking lot. They sat down and listened, and by the time I was done, I had an audience of twenty to thirty people.

Of course in that situation people come and people go. They’ll wait till you finish a story and they’ll just grab the kids and leave, and you simply can’t take it personally.

Often it’s about logistics, nap time, snack time, bathroom, etc.

At the very end there was five minutes to kill and I don’t know a story that takes five minutes, and since most of the audience were adult by then, I told them the idea behind Wanting Mor.

Then my time was up.

And as I was packing up my books and stuff, a lady who’d joined the audience, asked if she could buy a copy of Wanting Mor. Of course, I replied.

Then she told me that I’d ‘caught’ her as she was going to her car, and that she simply had to sit down and hear my stories.

I ‘caught’ her.

The idea makes me smile.

Hope she enjoys the book!

Came home with my voice a bit strained, and very very thirsty!!!! But feeling pretty good over all and thinking hey, I’m stronger than I thought I was!

I survived storytelling in Ramadan!

 

One Week Down…

I went to an iftar dinner on Saturday night.

Funny how the topic of weight loss so often comes up during Ramadan.

You’d think with the long days and the not eating that you’d lose a lot of weight during Ramadan.

In fact some people gain.

All the fancy dinner parties.

At this party on Saturday night this rather slim lady started complaining about the way her tummy pooched out a bit. Okay, when she sat, yes, it pooched a bit, but she was by no means fat!

And then another lady who’s down right skinny said, “Oh yes, I’ve gained so much…blah blah blah.”

It actually made me feel rather annoyed.

It’s happened at other times too.

I remember going to a school overseas and the librarian who’d invited me had had two kids, so again, there was the tiniest pooch in her tummy. And she was going on and on with this stick thin lady about how they needed to lose weight.

This in front of someone who really does try and has failed repeatedly to shed pounds!

And who is yes, I’ll admit it, I’ll come right out and say it, FAT!

So I’m listening to these skinny people talking and I’m thinking if they’re so disgusted with their teeny tiny pooch, what does that say about me?

And yet it seems to be a womanly past time to complain about weight.

I confess to doing it too when I was younger and dumber.

Now I’d give a lot to be the size I was back when I was complaining!

Honestly it’s depressing.

And when I’m depressed I just want to say, “Hang it! Let’s eat!”

But these days I don’t and still the weight doesn’t want to leave.

sigh

It’s one of my biggest struggles.

We haven’t been doing the fancy dinner party/iftar thing for a long time.

We spend the nights of Ramadan eating mostly simple food and keeping mostly to ourselves. Praying, reading Quran, contemplating God, that kind of stuff.

My husband has set up a KIVA group called Helping Hands International.

We’re planning on helping a thousand people with micro-finance interest free loans. Finally got a royalty check for The Roses in My Carpets. It took a while to earn out the advance they’d paid me and I made my first loan through KIVA. I plan to make two more by the end of Ramadan, insha Allah.

I’m going to focus on educational projects, helping people pay for educating their kids.

Oh doesn’t it feel good when I click on that ‘donate now’ button.

I urge everyone reading to follow suit. Give yourself the gift of knowing you’ve helped someone out!

And remember, it’s a loan and KIVA loan recipients have a something like 99% repayment rate and you can always get your money back or (which is better) donate it to someone else who needs help!

On another note I got a strange phone call on Saturday morning. A lady was planning one of those iftars and she asked if I’d come and do some storytelling for the kids.

I thought to myself, “It feels weird.”

And yet she was willing to pay my normal rate.

I told her I didn’t feel good about it. That I presented to larger groups.

Now I’m thinking that I should do it in the future. And perhaps just donate whatever money they give me to KIVA.

Then it wouldn’t feel like I’m cheapening what I do.

Wish I had kept her number.

Oh well.

Coming to this decision will come in handy for future engagements insha Allah.

Well it’s 5:20 a.m. and time to get ready to go to the gym. I exercise while I’m still hydrated and then come home and take a nap till noon. The days are long! By the time I wake up I still have about nine hours of the fast remaining.

Oh well.

Fasting is for God’s sake and He says He will reward it.

It’s not about losing weight, although really, that would be nice.

Over and out.

 

 

 

Oh how quickly the year has passed.

Mind you it does come ten days earlier than the Gregorian calendar.

It’s funny with Ramadan, I always approach it with a mixture of dread and excitement. And yet, when it arrives there’s such a blessing of peace!

It’s like no other time!

Reminds me of the days I spent on Hajj.

Despite the drama and the effort, Hajj is where I learned to really connect to God during my prayers.

I mean I thought I had connected to Him before, but nope, on Hajj it was at a completely different level, and there are many times when I’m praying that I re-feel that connection, but during the month of Ramadan, it’s so much more pronounced.

There is every reason to feel apprehensive about the month, especially this year. It started a week after the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year, so these are just about the longest fasts we get.

It takes about 35 years to run through the cycle of the solar year, so ever 35 years this happens, that Ramadan is at its longest. So basically this is the ‘worst’ it will get.

It means myself and my family wake at 3:15 am to eat our meal of suhoor, and then start fasting around 3:55 am which is the beginning of dawn.

And it’s so cute how moments before the time to begin starts, you’ll hear the birds outside begin their dawn chirping. There are some hadith that say they pray Fajr in their own way.

Yesterday was our first fast, today is the second, and yes, yesterday was difficult.

Missed my coffee like anything! (I’m down to a cup a day.) Got a slight headache of caffeine withdrawal as a result of it.

And there were moments when the day dragged on, but you know what?

There is a LOT of joy in realizing that hey, this is as hard as it’s going to get. And alhamdu lillah, by the grace of Allah, I can survive.

Time will pass regardless. No matter how long the fasting goes, the day will pass.

We can endure it.

And just watch…the month will fly!

On another note, my son said something interesting to me the other day.

He’s the only child I still have at home.

He was referring to my husband and my lifestyle as being kind of dull.

We don’t party.

We hardly even visit people.

Mostly our kids and family.

He didn’t come out and say it but he implied that we were kind of ‘boring’.

Of course my son is young.

And looking at it from his point of view, our life would seem kind of non-eventful. I guess he doesn’t realize how super stimulating it is to go to storytelling festivals and get up on stage and try to tell stories that keep the audiences engaged.

He doesn’t see that aspect of my life.

He only sees me at home, in the aftermath.

And he doesn’t see the journey I spend, yeah, basically every day with my characters and their ups and downs, and the trials of trying to make their stories work.

I have more than enough excitement in my life, more than enough drama so that I consider home time, down time.

But still, I guess it bothered me to be considered ‘boring’ by my son, so I said to him the other day, “You know there’s a difference between ‘boring’ and ‘peaceful’. Our life isn’t boring. It’s peaceful.”

And then I explained that young people might not be able to see the difference, but when you get older, you really do appreciate it when life has no unexpected wrenches thrown into it. And you’re working towards a goal and everything is going well, on an even keel.

When you have been blessed with more than enough, and you have the self-awareness to recognize that and the wherewithal to appreciate it, it can be very peaceful and you can find comfort in that.

It was a teachable moment. One he might not fully appreciate till he gets to our age insha Allah.

Recently I was watching an appearance of Bill Maher on some show or another, and he said something absolutely ridiculous. He said it would be so much better to ban religion and allow drugs.

And I’m just old enough to remember when he actually said he believed in God.

And for a moment I could almost imagine what a life without faith must be like. It would be like living half a life.

*shudder*

And then last night I was watching Oprah’s Master Class (it really is worth watching! I always learn something.) and she had on Barbara Walters who I don’t personally think is the brightest bulb on the shelf but she did talk about the social barriers she faced as a woman in a world of male-dominated news, and boy could I relate. The most interesting moment was when she was talking about her time as co-anchor with Harry Reasoner who was completely hostile and condescending towards her! One night she was just about to go on when she opened up the mail and most of it was horrible and denigrating, and then she got a telegram. And the telegram was a short note that said, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” And it was signed by John Wayne!

And I thought Wow! Yeah! That would do it!

And of course she went on to prevail.

They showed clips of her dealing with Harry Reasoner, and oh boy, could I relate! Been there, and I’m still there at times!

I’m planning on telling myself that every time it gets to be a bit overwhelming: “Don’t let the bastards get  you down!”

I know that might be a strange note to end a blog post on Ramadan with, and yet, it seems appropriate.

Ramadan is always a time of recharging for me.

It’s a time of turning my schedule topsy-turvy and focusing even more than I already do, on my work and family.

God is kind.

I have so much to be thankful for alhamdu lillah!

And fasting all day with the knowledge that there’s more than enough food to break that fast with, is a luxury that not everyone can lay claim to.

I pray for all those who are struggling. All those who are under attack. May God have mercy on them and give them relief!

 

 

 

Lionel Richie’s advice…

Never try and consciously write a ‘bestseller’, or a ‘hit’.

He says don’t do it, you can’t. Just write something good.

And it’s so true.

Bestsellers and hits come by chance. You just have to hit the right note at a time when people are hungry for it, and there’s no predicting that!

I was watching his session on Oprah’s master class program. It’s an interesting program. I think my favourite was Maya Angelou’s show.

It was also interesting when he talked about the crash so many of his contemporaries underwent. (Michael Jackson among them.)

He got a polyp on his vocal chords at the time, and the surgery he had to undergo meant he left the business for a while, and he credits that with saving him.

He was talking about the accoutrements of success and he said ‘can you survive them?’

Interesting.

I remember seeing an interview with that American Idol winner Fantasia, and how she said that after she won and with all the success she achieved at one point she was ready to kill herself.

And that makes me remember the ayat of the Quran that said that God doles out success in measure to some people or else it would become overwhelming.

I know for sure that the fact that I didn’t get where I am today, over night, was really really good!

I’ve had just enough success to keep going and enough defeat to keep my hungry!

With summer here I’ve got time to write, and I’m working on projects that are a lot of fun!

And yet I found myself trying to write a ‘bestseller’.

And the old man critic, in his rocking chair, in the back of my mind has been super vocal as a result! “Who do you think you are??? You’re getting mighty full of yourself aren’t you???”

I told him, nope, not trying to write a bestseller any more! Just seeing where the story takes me, that’s all.

He’s grunted some comment I couldn’t quite hear and went back to rocking back and forth, back and forth.

Yup, that’s the way I like him.

Grudgingly silent.

I think I’ll give him a name.

Nah, maybe not. That gives him way too much power.

He’s simply old man critic in the rocking chair. And the thing about rocking chairs is that they might keep you busy but you don’t go anywhere.

Ramadan is almost here.

Can’t believe another year has gone by so quickly!

The days are almost as long as they can get and for the next three years, yup, the fasting will be hard with the solstice falling just before during or after the month of Ramadan.

And yet I’m looking forward to it.

A chance to recharge.

A chance to read the Quran in Arabic and English and reacquaint myself with the beauty that grounds me.

Oh subhanallah!

 

Oops…

Isn’t it funny when you make a joke and then people actually act like you’re serious?

Had to pop by a school in the west end where I had some business left over and I had the pleasure of speaking to the secretary and principal and librarian.

I am SO fortunate to meet such nice people!

And far from just being an office administrator, many times the school secretaries I’ve met are more like Office managers and are integral cogs in the running of the school, all the way from applying bandages and ice packs to signing cheques and attending presentations because they’re curious too!

This office administrator had two grown boys but the way she talked about literature made me glow inside!

She said books like The Giving Tree lasted forever, and she asked to take a look at Big Red Lollipop. And just the way she leafed through the pages…I could tell she loved books as much as I do.

She had read about me in the New York Times and the Toronto Star, she had read about my book Big Red Lollipop and she said how she was sad that she hadn’t been able to attend my session.

Long story short, we finished up the business and as I was getting ready to leave she said she might just buy the copy of Big Red Lollipop even though her boys were in their teens.

I ended up signing it for her son ‘Matthew’ because ‘Robert’ always gets everything.

And then we were talking about the honour I’d received and I made a joke of it, saying that no matter how big I got, I’d never forget the ‘little people’.

And the principal, the librarian and the secretary, all three of them were nodding, “Yes! Please remember us!”

And I thought “Good grief! They thought I was being serious!”

What I should have done was tell them right out that I was joking!

But I was too taken aback.

Don’t you just wish your life could have a ‘rewind’ button, or a ‘pause’ so that you could think of the best way to handle a situation?

I do.

I always think of what I should have said afterwards.

It was a special moment.

And if I do get rich and famous one day, I think I will think back to that moment and insha Allah, it will help keep my head from floating away on me!

 

Apparently universities offer courses in Diaspora these days.

Quite frankly I didn’t even know what a diaspora was a few years ago! And for those of you who might not be familiar with the term either, let’s just say it’s when a community spreads out. Like African diaspora is how the Africans were spread out over North America and the Caribbean, brought as slaves. But there’s an Indian disapora as well. It’s really all over the world and yup, I’m part of it.

I went to a graduation party for the daughter of an old friend today and I met a university professor who teaches about that and what she called ‘anti-oppression’. Basically these were socialization courses which taught people to recognize the oppressive things they think of other groups.

It was really interesting talking to this lady. She had been my friend’s daughter’s teacher, and it was very unusual that she actually started crying while she spoke of the young graduate.

We were chatting away, and she told me about an incident that occurred.

It’s one of those things that when it happens you think, No! It’s too shocking really! People can’t be that ignorant in this day and age!

And yet…

Like in 2000 when I approached my old elementary school in Dundas, the little town in which I grew up, with an excellent educational opportunity.

I had applied to the Ontario Arts Council for a program called Artists in the Schools. It was a subsidized program where I basically worked in a school enriching the arts’ education of a group of kids for five days, and all the school had to cover was $60 per day!

For a total of $300 a school could have a legitimate artist come in and work with the kids for FIVE DAYS!!!

That’s a steal!

I charge $300 for one hour these days!!!

Well, I had to do one of the grants outside the greater Toronto area so I approached my old school in Dundas and offered them the grant. The principal replied, “Oh, we don’t need that multicultural stuff here.”

This was only fourteen years ago!

Whenever I tell people that story they literally gasp!

Especially people in the arts or teachers!

Well, this professor told me a story that had happened to her a few months ago, and it made me gasp!

Because it makes even less sense than mine does.

This university professor was running late one day, to go visit a friend who’d had a baby. So she popped into a bookstore and asked the proprietor if she could recommend a book with a lady in a hijab in it.

You know what the proprietor said? (She was one of two partners who owned the store.) She told the lady, “Can I just kick you now?”

Meaning that she wanted to kick her because she’d requested a book with a woman in hijab in it.

I gasped.

Wow.

Just wow.

I mean this is an incident where a person is SELLING books! And a customer is asking for something and she’s being racist about it.

Even if she’s a racist, doesn’t she want to make a sale?

I mean who asks a customer if they can kick them???

And then it got me thinking.

You go into any bookstore in Canada and you won’t find my books there. You’ll find any books denigrating Islam and Muslims, you’ll see “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other such garbage, but you won’t find good positive stories that happen to be about Muslims.

You won’t even find Big Red Lollipop!

I thought they’d at least carry that one, seeing it’s so popular that a New York newspaper referred to it in the same breath as Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, as modern classics.

And we Canadians tend to be smug and think we’re so much more open-minded than our American counterparts.

I don’t know.

I’m just feeling really disgusted right now.

Give me a bit of time, and I’ll get over it, insha Allah.

My natural optimistic state will return, insha Allah.

For a long time I’ve felt that Americans ‘get’ me better than Canadians.

For sure in some ways my books have been more successful down there. Wanting Mor was up for eight American honors and only four small Canadian ones, so there you go.

But oh well.

What can you do?

Nothing, nada, zip.

Just keep on writing the best I can.

I do think that eventually they just have to notice!

Or not.

But quitting…

nope,

it isn’t an option.

Yesterday I went down to Kitchener to be part of the Coalition of Muslim Women of Kitchener event.

Did some storytelling a few years ago for them, and they were so sweet! And they asked so nicely, that even though I’m pretty tired and feel a bit burned out by the hectic schedule I’ve been running, I said yes.

It was a rainy day!

They had done something very interesting! Inside the Kitchener city hall, in the foyer, where I had presented last time, they had a live theatre event where local amateur actresses were in character as some accomplished Muslim women of history. They had one lady, dressed in a white ghararah (it’s a type of dress), portraying Fatima Jinnah, the wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern day Pakistan. And they had others too. Interesting concept.

So a lot of the bazaar and my storytelling was set up outside in the courtyard.

Started raining in the middle of my stories. Had to pull the sofa and cushions in under the tent but things were still getting wet.

And then I was supposed to sit at the “Meet the Author” table for the rest of the event, about four hours.

I think I should have told the planning committee that was too long.

But still, with the weather and everything it was really surprising how good the turnout was!

Loads of people, and not just Muslims, came out for the event!

And one of the most interesting and innovative booths these women had put up was a ‘hijab’ booth, where any woman could come and try on a hijab, put it on in a stylish way, and they’d get to keep the pretty scarf they chose.

I was sitting at the table and this lady in a sort of white suit was walking past, and I guess I was staring because the hijab just looked so nice on her. She smiled at me and said, “Doesn’t it look lovely?”

I nodded enthusiastically! Then realized she was probably not Muslim.

It was funny because after a while you couldn’t even tell, which women were Muslim and which weren’t because some of the Muslim women weren’t wearing it and some of the non Muslim women were.

It felt, hmmm, this might sound kind of corny, but it kind of felt like a sisterhood of solidarity.

And then I wandered into the council chambers where there was a lecture going on by a prominent scholar Ingrid Matteson. She’s a convert to Islam who lives in the Kitchener Waterloo area and who’s had the distinction of leading the Islamic Society of North America (the organization). In her role she’s met presidents and all kinds of dignitaries. She talked about being invited to go on Bill Maher’s program but she thought it wasn’t the right venue to have a civil discussion.

Well she was talking and I came in on the tail end of the discussion, during the question and answer period and inevitably, the topic had turned to hijab!

*grooooaaaan*!

A middle aged gentleman asked a question. He said, “If that lady over there were to wear a t-shirt that said she supported the conservative agenda and…” here he mentioned a controversial conservative politician but somehow I can’t remember who it was, and then he continued, “…and if her t-shirt said she supported getting rid of all public education or something like that, she would be inviting comments and discussion because of it. How is the hijab any different?”

And Ingrid answered beautifully! She said how non-Muslims and some government entities like Quebec and France, saw the hijab as a ‘symbol’. But that most Muslim women, the vast majority, didn’t think of the hijab in that way whatsoever. We see it as clothing!

Yes, the colors you wear and the styles you wear are an expression of yourself, but the hijab is really just part of a woman’s clothing, and to us it is inappropriate to comment on it, just as it would be inappropriate to comment on the length of a woman’s skirt.

Then Ingrid said how a young girl might be wearing shorts for various reasons. Maybe it’s hot and she wants to be comfortable, but she’s not wearing them so that people will make comments about her legs. And it’s the same thing for Muslim women. And she was absolutely right!

And so there is a dichotomy there.

Muslim women don’t wear hijab to have strangers comment on it. They just wear it to cover themselves and as a form of modesty. Then she asked the audience how many Muslim women had received comments or questions about their hijab, and like the rest of the Muslim women there, I put up my hand.

But something clicked right then.

It might seem obvious to other people, but it never occurred to me. Of course Ingrid was right. They think the hijab is some sort of symbol or provocative political/religious in-your-face sort of SYMBOL!

No wonder they’re so hostile to it!

They think it’s superfluous!

And maybe we’re being obnoxious by wearing it.

Wow!

Just wow!

It doesn’t help that Muslims as a community are so inconsistent about it. Both my sisters didn’t and never do wear it (except to pray).

So they must think it’s optional.

Well, in some ways it is optional in that there isn’t supposed to be any sort of compulsion in religious matters. You’re supposed to obey/submit voluntarily. You’re still a Muslim if you don’t wear hijab, but you’re not obeying God’s command, so how well you’re practicing Islam is debatable.

I wear hijab because I absolutely believe that God, not any man, has asked me to.

It is one of my garments. As essential as my pants or dress for me to feel clothed.

It’s not anything political.

It’s not a symbol.

It’s a piece of cloth.

That’s all.

Just ignore it.

Listen to my words when I’m telling a story or doing a presentation.

That’s all.

And the great thing is, I can tell, that after a while, the kids and even adults, are often so into what I’m saying that yes, they do indeed forget about it.

;o)

 

 

A few weeks ago I was invited to tell during the entertainment session of the ISNA convention. That’s the Islamic Society of North America (Canada branch).

Had a great time, went well, but got home and  hubby asked which story I told. When I told him one of them was Dajan Tigh, he said, “Oh no! Not that one again!”

And I felt chagrin.

It’s so easy to fall back on comfortable stories and not stretch into something new!

So I’ve been doing some research. Breaking out some of my short story collections and leafing through them to find some new and exciting stories to tell.

I’ve really become fond of What Should I do? What Shouldn’t I do? a Persian folktale that is about a donkey and a lion. I also really like the Persian folktales about the jackal.

But I thought I should branch out and see what other folktales I could find from the South Asian region. Met an afficionado, with his own private folktale collection recently and he lent me a volume of Bangladesh folktales.

Read the first one and got ABSOLUTELY AND COMPLETELY DISGUSTED!

Imagine a story about a seven brothers and one sister, and one of the brothers makes a vow that he will marry whichever girl eats the first pomegranate from this tree he plants, only it turns out to be his sister!

So he vows he has to marry her and he starts fasting till he gets his way. So the whole family is urging the sister to relent, and she refuses and goes and drowns herself in the river.

Yeah, so far, so good. I’d do that too!

But then somehow she doesn’t drown after all but lives in an oyster shell way at the bottom. And some fisherman’s wife finds it, and sells it to the queen, and every night the queen notices this beautiful maiden coming out at night to sweep the floors.

Huh?

You can obviously tell the story was transcribed by a man!!!

Anyway, long story short, queen and king adopt the girl and they go looking for a young suitor for her and end up with her brother!

Blech!

What do I get from the story?

That the boy’s vow of marrying her, trumps the girl’s vow of not!

No wonder some cultures have sunk so low!

It’s turned me off completely! But perhaps there’s a gem in that collection somewhere but I suspect not.

That was the first story in the collection. And if it’s that weird…just imagine where the others go!

I guess some folktales really deserve to be forgotten!

Never fails…

Just when you get some time off…some health problem surfaces!

You get a cold, or allergies or the flu or something starts aching.

Been dealing with some stuff over the past few days, not fun, and yet it feels really good to get back to some projects!

I really can’t believe that half the year is practically over already.

I guess so much of my life revolves around the school year and by the end of May, you see the grade threes towering like they’ve grown a foot! And forget about the grade sixes!

They grow up so fast!

Did that project with the grade 3-5′s at that school and something is leaving me feeling very restless and dissatisfied.

Not sure what it is but perhaps it’s Facebook.

It seems to be part of my regular morning routine now and I have no idea how it became such a necessity.

My technosavvy son in law, the one who fixes all my computer glitches, and whose wisdom I’ve come to rely on, warned me about Facebook.
He said that it had been found to cause depression in people and I wonder if that’s not what I’m feeling.

It’s really strange to be reading about the accomplishments about so many people, the way they wave them around like brightly colored flags, and you do your ‘liking’ and maybe you even put in a comment, and then it feels like a let down.

And then you can’t help but compare yourself, and up till then you were thinking you’re doing so well, but the VOLUME isn’t there.

You don’t have the shout outs and the likes and the comments back and you think huh?

It’s so very artificial.

And bothersome.

One thing I’d decided to do from the very beginning was NEVER EVER play any of the games!

I have successfully weened myself from Spider Solitaire, I really don’t need to get addicted to something else, thank you very much!

I don’t know, I just find this society we live in is so obnoxious in the way that if you don’t blow your own horn people assume you have nothing to celebrate.

And yet real confidence doesn’t need to advertise.

I remember a schmoozing event I went to way back where I had the intention of going around and meeting all the people I could. Introducing myself and handing out my cards! Goodness I was so gauche!

And then I was talking to a friend of mine who works as an executive assistant. She always had dreams of being an author but her parents were immigrants and couldn’t see it happening so she suffered from a lot of confidence issues. But she was a pretty good executive assistant and she spoke about her husband who was at some event. Now he was some sort of electrical contractor. Very quiet. While they were at this business event, some brash young guy comes up and starts shaking hands and introducing himself and loudly talking up his accomplishments.

As soon as he left, the guy her husband was talking to asked him, “So what do  you do?”

He told him about his electrical business, and then he asked him for his card and he gave it to him and  yes, he’s the one who got the job.

Confidence isn’t loud and flag wavy, it can be pretty quiet actually.

There’s a time to shine.

I’m just looking at my life and thinking, Alhamdu lillah, I’m doing pretty well!

Whenever you can make a comfortable living doing what you love…

I mean who can complain?

You can always find someone better off and you can always find someone worse off.

Now if I can just appease that old man critic at the back of my mind. He’s been very vociferous! Keeps telling me I’ll never write anything good again!

And I’ve always found the best way to shut him up is to not even ‘try’ to write something good. Just to write something ‘sellable’. That’s how I always shut him up in the past.

But the funny thing is, get a bit of success under your belt and it gets really intimidating!

You just have to ignore it. Each story just has to stand on its own.

*sigh*

Easier said than done, but I’m working on it.

Feel like I’m in the midst of a learning curve.

Not easy.

Not always fun.

But there’s no choice but to keep on.