Omigosh! Today I was invited to do some entertaining at the Islamic Society of North America (Canada) conference.

So I dragged myself down to Mississauga.

Before my gig in the children’s program I took a breath and went through the bazaar and the weirdest thing! I met Farkhanda!

I’d been thinking of her for ages!

When I was in my teens or late twenties, can’t remember, one of the ladies in the community had a little daughter named Farkhanda. I was drawn to the name because it was difficult and many syllabled, like mine.

So when I wrote a story about a boy and his sister coming to Canada I called the little girl Farkhanda, after that little girl.

Um, she’s not so little any more! She had a twenty year old daughter who was helping her man her booth in the bazaar-selling everything from gumballs to hand-made soap!

After a bit of lunch I was just about ready to tackle a bunch of hyperactive kids from about one year of age to about ten.

Yeah, try telling stories to such a disparate group and keeping their attention!

One of the kids kept asking if they were allowed to go to the bouncy castle yet.

I did NOT have high expectations, and yet the kids hung in there with me. There were definitely some of them still listening by the end of Big Red Lollipop, even with the interruption of parents coming to pick up the kids.

Babysitting/child programs at Islamic conferences are usually a disaster. I can’t imagine a more horrible task then taking care of Muslim kids–trying to keep them entertained and out of their parents hair!

Afterwards I was hungry! And after showing me where the green room was one of the volunteers guided me up to the area where the speakers could get some chow.

And on the way I noticed how the crowd had swelled! The halls were packed, and the young lady who was escorting me named Falak, who was acting like a personal assistant, told me it was because they’d come to see Nouman Ali Khan.

The dining area consisted of three round tables in a largish kitchen. Around one of the tables sat about five different men. There were no women seated at the tables. I think I remember hearing Falak whisper again something about Nouman Ali Khan.

At first I grabbed my food and was ready to sit down at the other table, then I don’t know what possessed me but I went over to the mens’ table and asked, “Is it okay if I join you?”

Of course they said yes, what else could they say?

And Falak sat down beside me too.

Like a used car salesman, I handed out my business cards, and right in front of Nouman Ali Khan (who was sitting across from me) I asked Falak, “So where’s Nouman Ali Khan?”

Falak nodded at the gentleman, but he pointed at another guy and they all laughed.

I should be used to committing faux pas by now!

But alas I’m not.

And I attempted to make conversation, but every topic I introduced fell flat. So after a while I did the smart thing and shut my big mouth.

And somehow Falak started talking. At least she had something in common with these gentlemen. She’d spent time in Texas too and she started talking about Lubbock where she’d grown up, and for a bit we discussed the topography of Texas.

From her own admission later, Falak sounded so much like a ‘fan girl’. I’m assuming that’s young people talk for a gushing fan.

I was not a gushing fan at all.

In fact I kept trying to find out what Nouman did. Why he was such a big deal at the conference, kind of thing.

I asked a stupid question like, “So, do you work at a university or something?”

And he mumbled something about the Bayyinah institute, apparently it’s a big deal, but ignorance is bliss, and I really had no idea who I was talking to!

It wasn’t until I mentioned an idea I have to write a story about the after effects of the Boston bombing on Muslim kids that Brother Nouman finally showed some interest. He liked my idea and then I got to tell him about how frustrating it has been that the Muslim community in North America knows virtually nothing about my work as an author.

And the discussion started.

I swear I did NOT talk with my mouth full, but still, when you’re eating and talking untoward events are liable to happen.

To my absolute horror, a little speck of rice flew out of my mouth during one of my more emphatic statements to lie upon the shiny burgundy table cloth in between us. Both our gazes had followed and then fixated on the trajectory. Omigosh! I felt my face get hot and I said, “Oh dear! Excuse me! I shouldn’t be talking while I’m eating.” And I quickly scooped up the speck of rice and got rid of it.

It figures something like that would happen to me!

If there’s any possibility of my embarrassing myself, it will happen!

And yet part of me thought, ‘Geez it’s not the end of the world! It’s not like no other person has ever had specks fly out of their mouths! Could happen to anyone!”

He didn’t even seem grossed out at all but that might have just  been an expression of his impeccable manners. But anyway, it really seemed as if he was interested in my work.

I asked him he wanted to see some, I had books in the trunk of my car. And he said yes so I left him a copy of Wanting Mor, Big Red Lollipop and The Roses in My Carpets.

I didn’t actually feel that embarrassed until afterwards, when Falak told me in urgent whispers how weird sitting down with those men had been! Apparently the other volunteers kept giving her the eye! (I didn’t notice) And Falak kept talking about famous this guy really is! And how BOLD I’d been!

She said that if he liked my books, he could spread the word all across the Muslim community in North America–he’s THAT influential!

That was about when the magnitude of what I had done really hit me.

I must have come across like I was packed with chutzpah or something. And yet what’s the big deal? I really did want to know more about him and the other speakers sitting there. I was networking! There was no physical contact. It was all straight forward, no flirtatiousness at all! I’m just not like that!

And yet, when I told one of the other volunteers about it she was a lot more sanguine about it. She said to me that he had probably found it humbling and even refreshing. That he was probably used to people being intimidated in his presence and practically genuflecting, and here I was completely oblivious.

And I thought back to the times when people had treated me with awe–it’s happened a few times–and how weirded out it made me feel. And I thought yeah, I preferred people to just treat me normal too.

And coming to this realization made me feel a lot better.

Oh, I ended up telling The Clever Wife during the entertainment portion of the program, and I think it went over well!

p.s. You might want to read this khutba (sermon) of his

I did and it was quite impressive!

(Gak! It makes me feel even more silly now!)

p.p.s. One young guy came up to me and said I reminded me of his mom. Really? I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “She’s such a tank!”

“A tank???” I asked.

“Oh yeah! You remind me so much of her!” And then he went on to say how parents weren’t really being respected and all that, but I didn’t really hear that much. I kept picturing me with caterpillar tracks and decked out in camouflage! Yikes!

And I wondered vaguely if he was referring to my and his mother’s size, but no, from the way he was talking I could tell it was nothing about that.

Not sure if I really want to know. But I did think it was hilarious!