A little less cake, but a lot more cows (that are alive)!

Hello, hello, hello, my readers!

There has been a change in my life that has to do with this blog, well, at least the title of this blog. And since I hate living two lives, I feel I must update whomever is reading to quell my conscience.

While my love for cake I hope shall never die, I am putting… attempting to put the love of its consumption on a temporary halt. The truth is: I eat too much dessert (both in terms of size and frequency). It’s gone from being a thing that is done occasionally to being something I’m okay with potentially partaking in at least once or even twice a day (the twice a day is not everyday or even frequent, but it’s happened more than once in the past few years). I think its origins were partly a natural reaction to my one-time disordered eating… but then it became disordered in the opposite direction!

As many of you know, I’m not one of those lucky naturally skinny people. I never have been and I probably never will be. Why that probably? I never will be. I sadly am not Benjamin Button, and my issues with weight are not going to get easier as I get older.

The truth is I’m not happy with how much weight I’ve gained in the past two years. Yes, I got married two years ago and that could explain why. But I am not blaming Mr. Rafia for this (and he should not blame me either!). It was mutual. I am new to cooking (I’m still learning) and we’ve had our fair share of eating out. I’m not going to stop eating out completely, but I have resolved to order salad if it’s an option. Most of the time, it usually is.

I know, I know, I know. I’m a food heretic. For years, I proclaimed I am not going to waste my money on salad. And even though salads ordered from outside are never as “healthy” as we like to think, they are definitely better than the other options. Besides, I realized sometimes the company of friends is more important than food.

That’s not to say I am cutting out cake completely (I did that before, didn’t go down well), but I also don’t have to eat it every time it’s available. I have to learn to accept my body for how it metabolizes and think about the damage that is done when I indulge at every whim.

Since I started this new plan (it’s not a diet) just this past Tuesday (Monday was the (cow)tipping point for me), I need to re-train my brain to make it believe that green things are good and that I really don’t need all that sugar.

It hasn’t been a full week yet, but I’m pretty proud of myself.

I went to my favourite place in Indy yesterday with a friend. I told myself I was not going to get cake – another friend told me that was cruel – but I really needed to test myself. In the end, I think I made a compromise. I wasn’t old-new Rafia who refused to order anything from the dessert menu; I ordered the smallest chocolate thing they had there (eating less cake does not mean I am giving up on my principles! Raspberries do NOT belong in a dessert). And I only had two bites! I brought the rest home and it’s still in the refrigerator. I have not touched it in at least 18 hours.

I know this is kinda silly, but you know what? This is a blog titled Cake & Cows for a reason.

Thank you for reading, if you made it to the end, and please wish me success in this very difficult endeavour.

Oh hey, I took a “detour” to visit my friends at the dairy barn on Friday. Cows make me happy. So to make up for the deficit of cake in my life, I will overcompensate with more cows :)

Because you are all dying to read the backstory of my visit…. These two cows were hiding in the barn when I first arrived. Then I heard some “Mooos.” I turned around and walked toward the gate. I started waving at them and proclaimed, “Hi cows. I came here for you.” I think they may have recognized me and slowly starting walking out. They probably came out to get a bit to eat, but they walked in my direction. I was like, “Yes, they love me. They really love me!” As soon as I started talking again, the cow on the left immediately showed her butt to me. But I did not take offense. Cow #2 continued to look at me for a while. When #1 was done giving me the cold shoulder, she began to walk toward the barn. #2, being the clear follower of the duo, proceeded to follow #1’s lead. But I didn’t take it personally. I knew she liked me.

It was a glorious day.

I think I can do this eat-less-cake thing. I have my cows.

Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone!

A few thoughts on community

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I’m often humbled by God bringing people into my life who truly care when I least expect it.

Just this morning, when I logged onto Facebook (I’m just as surprised as you all are – sometimes Facebook does accomplish that whole “bringing people together” mantra), I was humbled by the extent of this care and concern.

I suppose it’s no surprise that the place I’ve most often felt a sense of community has been online… or with people I have only known for a short while, relatively speaking.

I suppose it’s the chance to present who I am today and be shed of the past that has been ascribed to me, whether justified or not.

That’s not to say that I don’t feel a sense of community from people I’ve known my entire life. I’m blessed to have these individuals, truly.

But I grew up thinking “family” was all that I ever needed.

Recently, I’ve realized that having known someone your entire life doesn’t necessarily mean that they really understand what you’re going through right now. And that’s okay. I think I’m finally learning to accept this.

But being able to connect in some ways with people that I’ve never met or have only known for a short while makes me feel a) that there’s nothing wrong with me per se and b) the vastness of God’s creation, in this case, human creation.

Breaking out of my bubble has been the most beautiful thing in my life. It’s not been easy, but the people I’ve met have given me a sense of hope and reinforced my commitment to the following Qur’anic verse:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (49:13)

A great way to start my Friday! :)

A blog post about nothing and yet everything!

It’s been a busy week. I went to Atlanta for the first time last Thursday for The American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute (didn’t have time to pretend to be Scarlett O’Hara as Savannah is a 4 hour drive, but I did pass the Margaret Mitchell house two times! Notwithstanding Mitchell, the film adaptation was a running theme of my childhood due to my older sister’s obsession in the late 90s. SHE WAS OBSESSED, I tell you), I dressed up as a cow on Halloween (just for work; I’ve never been trick-or-treating or have been involved in that process. Since I wasn’t allowed to go as a child, I never wanted to pass out candy later to those spoiled little kids that did. Also, strangers ringing the doorbell is scary), I launched the first issue of the Journal on Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society that I’ve been working on since August, and the two-day Board meeting where I was scheduled to present (I ended up not saying much) concluded yesterday afternoon.

(BTW, I’m sorry for all the parenthetical notes in the above paragraph and I guess for this one too. I have these little tangents always running in my head and since I have no intention of making my blog post as long as a thesis, I must defer to parenthetical notes. I don’t think WordPress allows the use of footnotes, unfortunately. Thanks for reading my tangents. It means a lot. I find my tangents to be the best part of my blog)

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I have to admit: the udders hanging out like that kinda felt haraaaaam, but hey, I’m fully covered! And if that turns you on, that’s on you, buddy!

And yet, here I am blogging on a Saturday morning, wearing my cow costume/night-suit because a) I can’t sleep after the rooster cockle-doodle-doos (i.e. the alarm for fajr) and b) I need a break from work-type things.

Oh but hey, the countdown to my 31st birthday has officially begun today. Each year, I start counting down 3 months before. Some might say that I’m too old for this, but I say, “Birthdays are fun!” I love when I actually have a valid reason to eat cake (I get it, the food police need to die, but I eat way too much cake for my own good). Also, everyone’s usually much nicer to me, wishing me that I have an amazing day and telling me to eat lots of cake. So, it’s just great!

Honestly, people who think they’re “too old” for birthdays are just being pretentious and illogical. You’re not too old. You’re perfectly the right age as long as you are ALIVE. Birthdays don’t stop after 21! If you’re gonna use that argument, find a better word or phrase! {end angry rant against imaginary people}

Also, I don’t fear getting old. I look forward to it. Of course, I’m at the age where the body is not quite at the point where it really begins the inevitable process of deterioration (I can, however, start to blame my metabolism – and I will). I may feel differently when I’m 40 or 50. But I honestly hope that I can accept whatever changes come with age. I just look at old people and I’m in awe. Not only are y’all way cuter than the rest of us, you’re also so wise and funny and you finally have earned the right to say whatever the heck you want (well, maybe not everything) and we love it. I love it, anyway.

Where was I?

I don’t know. I’ve been up for a while and have yet to eat. BREAKFAST TIME. Catch y’all later.

On the importance of memoirs

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Photo Credit: Amazon

I just finished reading Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage last night.

For those of you familiar with Leila Ahmed, you’re probably thinking “Oh no!” or “Right on!” For those unfamiliar, Leila Ahmed is a controversial figure within Islamic Studies scholarship. Or maybe just with Muslims. I don’t know. I honestly haven’t really read too much of her work. Maybe I should. I feel her views may have evolved.

In any case, I first encountered her work as a freshman in the midst of writing my very first research paper (we didn’t do that in high school – have things changed since then?). At the time, I didn’t wear the headscarf, but was still interested in the topic of Women in Islam. Leila Ahmed came up as THE scholar in this field and I basically used her arguments to justify my feelings on hijab at the time (i.e. it is not required).

Things obviously have changed since then.

Fast forward almost five years later, I felt regret and almost disgust for having taken the self-righteous and arrogant position I once had (I don’t blame Leila for this, this was all on me). For now, I had begun to don the headscarf.

So, when I came across Leila Ahmed’s memoir at Half Price Books a few months ago, I was at once intrigued and a bit hesitant. Did I want to subject myself to more orientalist drivel (I just love that phrase, btw)? But the synopsis (can it even be called a synopsis if it’s a memoir?) mentioned things like Arab nationalism and identity that I thought to myself, “Hey, it’s only $3.50.” I don’t have to buy into everything she says. So I bought the book.

And then read it (well, I read two books in between, because like I said, I was hesitant). But I have to say: since perhaps A Suitable Boy, I haven’t read a book that has caused me to ponder on so many topics on such a visceral level: manufactured nationalism (because it always is), women, feeling “home,” the “liberating” West, interfaith relations in a more pristine time, etc. I didn’t agree with everything Leila wrote, but I do appreciate her telling of history.

Whatever you think of Nasser (he’s the most prominent political figure in this memoir, Leila having grown up in Egypt in the middle of the 20th century – but you can substitute him for almost anyone), depending on what side you are on, the history book you are reading only tells you one side. We like to think of history as objective, factual, empirical in a way. But Leila’s recalling reminded me that there are many more perspectives than we are privy to. I particularly appreciated how Leila herself added many times throughout that her own memory might not have captured all that was going on. And that too reminded me of the importance of memoirs.

As someone who writes about her life with one-time plans to write a memoir, I realized that even if I don’t live an extraordinary life in the sense that I will never be recorded in “history,” that does not mean that my personal experiences don’t have something unique and needed to offer to those interested in the entirety of the human experience. As my last post almost abruptly touched on: What is it like to be a young woman who loses all that weight after the “entire world”* essentially made her feel that her weight was all that mattered? That story, as I’ve lived with for the past 8 years, does not come with a nicely packaged conclusion after that “after” shot.

But that’s not all. What is it like to be a young woman observing hijab in a world (or country) where some people feel that shariah law is going to take over the entire world? What is it like to be a Muslim from India and to be proud of this fact and yet also be concerned about what the right-wing hateful political establishment is doing to your Muslim brothers and sisters still living in the desh?

These are but some of the narratives constantly playing in my mind — and only I can weave them together in the way that I would.

In a world where individuals increasingly feel that there’s nothing we can do, that there are forces more powerful (and sinister, in many cases!) than we moving and shaping the trajectory of our lives, memoirs reminds us that our thoughts and our feelings are still within our control, and that they still matter… to at least someone.

*Remember that my telling will be subjective. But that’s fine.

“Weight loss” will never fully be a thing of my past

Various times during the day, I hate my body.

Not because it doesn’t do what it’s meant to. But because my stomach is not quite as thin as it ought to be, my thighs clap together when I walk, my underarms jiggle when I don’t want them to. My skin is not acne-free or even-toned. My hair is too thin; it’s lacks bounce or that nice symmetrical flip…

It’s easy to look at the meticulously planned images of the women I see everyday and assume that I too must look like this.

But I don’t… and never will.

I’d really like to lose those 10-15 pounds I’ve gained since getting married. But I am not willing to go on a diet like I did in the past to be the weight that I once was. I’m not quite comfortable with accepting the way I currently look, but I also don’t want to significantly change the way I live my life either. Is 35 minutes of cardio 4 x a week enough? Should I be doing more? Should I eat less? Why do I let weekend eating (mentally) derail me during the weekday? Should I stop eating real desserts like I did that one year?

I don’t know. I keep coming back to this same topic, year after year (only because it’s in my thoughts, day after day). I don’t think I will ever truly stop obsessing about my weight. Maybe it’s a good thing to have it on my radar, so that I don’t let myself get back to where I once was. But why can’t I just have neutral thoughts about my body? To be able to use a mirror like a normal person (if such a thing exists).

Sometimes I think I’m being ungrateful for thinking this way. Other times I think I’ve already taken a ride down that slippery slope.

No matter what I do, “Fat Rafia” seems to follow me everywhere, haunting me wherever I go. Others may not see it, but she’s never left me. And perhaps never will.