Confirming what I already kinda knew

After what seems has been an entire year of dealing with non-emergency but nonetheless irritating health issues, perioral dermatitis (Vaseline is my BFF nowadays), persistent allergies, etc. (these etcetera I do not wish to share on a public blog), I finally have some answers!

I made a FB post about this earlier this evening somewhat in jest, but I suppose it’s kind of a sad thing…

I had the infamous allergy test done today and learned: I have a lot of allergies. And they’re not just “Back to School” allergies, as I once called them either.

I am allergic to the following:

  • Cats (already knew that, but now it’s official)
  • Dogs (more on this later)
  • Dust mites
  • Many types of trees (but not pine or willow. I can still talk to Grandmother Willow about John Smith)
  • Weed pollens (did you know that “Plaintain, English” is the name of a weed pollen?)
  • Grass Pollens
  • Molds

I did not have a food allergy test done. But I will tell you that I am allergic to raspberry-flavoured desserts, elaichi in my biryani, and green fings (i.e. cooked coriander).

With the exception of dogs, I could have guessed most of these. I’m a bit surprised that I’m allergic to trees though. Does that mean I will never meet Treebeard?

The biggest takeaway is that the Hanafi-Muslim fear I have of dogs is not just a Hanafi-Muslim fear! I’m actually allergic to dogs! So now when I see dogs (living in America, they are EVERYWHERE), I can just say that I’m allergic rather than try to justify the look of terror fear on my face.

Non-Muslim dog owner: But Rocky is so friendly! Ahhh, you’re a good boy, aren’t you?

Me: Oh, I know. He really likes me. He’s already licked me on three separate occasions. But it’s not that. So, like, I have to pray 5 times a day and need to keep my ablution for the day, because I am OCD when it comes to public restrooms. And according to my school of jurisprudence – but not all Muslims are this way – just South Asians and some Arabs, but also because I am super OCD, it’s mostly that, your dog’s saliva will break my ablution and I will be out all day and won’t be able to go home to do another ablution. You understand, right? 

I imagine that most people who read this post will be like, “Huh?” but that is okay. I happen to think this post might actually be one of my funniest.

And like all my jokes, I’m the only one who’s laughing :) But again, that is okay. This is a blog titled Cake & Cows. You signed up for this!

Thoughts on the recent U.S. immigration ban by a Canadian-born American Muslim woman

What is going on in this country? My U.S. citizenship could very well mean nothing soon enough. Perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic. I read an article today on how fascism develops and it always begins with denial. I don’t want to be in denial. Of course, I would hope that the two other branches of government do something to halt the erratic behaviour of the man who is currently serving as President in the country I live in. Sure, a temporary stay has been issued. But Trump, I’m sure, will have his staff do something on Monday (weekends are for relaxing, of course).

I’m not really thinking about what will happen to me. Right now, I’m furious at what’s going on in this country since Friday evening. Green card-holders (!) being denied entry, just because they happen to originally be from 1 of 7 Muslim-majority nations? I’m pretty sure that’s illegal. National security my a- donkey (I forgot that I don’t swear ;). If national security were really a concern, Saudi Arabia would be on that list. But hey, it’s not. Hmmm.

When I think about the U.S.’s not-so-secret alliance with Saudi Arabia, it turns me into a darned conspiracy theorist. In these moments, I like to tell myself I’m Canadian. It makes me feel better. It’s never been a better time to be a Canadian. But the fact of the matter is, I live in this country. And it’s distressing that the President of the country I choose to live in and his team are yet again using my religion this time to deny people their right to life. Because if you discriminate against another Muslim simply because of his or her faith, you ARE discriminating against me. And I take it personally.

Not only will this move, regardless of the legal battle and its results, embolden those who might actually threaten “national security,” it’s damned hypocritical. Don’t tell me this is the land of the free if you bomb every other country to death. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but my anger is not. You don’t get to sit on your high horse while you beat others with your polo stick. That was a horrible analogy, I know. But I hope my point is clear.

I attended an interfaith gathering today which, as you can imagine, addressed the fear surrounding today’s America. One of the questions that I felt passionate about was, “Are there any barriers facing you?” And I was like, “Yes, as a visible Muslim woman, I’m only useful if my opinion follows the carefully orchestrated narrative of what a Muslim ought to sound like. I have to prove my patriotism. I shouldn’t have to do that. Being able to criticize my government is the most fundamental right of an American.” Well, I was not as as eloquent when I said it. But that was my point.

As an American citizen, I have every right to express my opinions and call out whomever it may be on their discrimination and, which especially riles me, their hypocrisy. As a Canadian-born, I’ve never felt more American than I have today writing this.

Encounters with strangers

I have received a hug from 5 different people I’ve never met before in just 2 days. It’s amazing what a tiny little gesture can do.

I’m not one to be overtly friendly with strangers. There’s always the fear that people might be suspicious of me. When you’re a visibly Muslim woman living in a post-9/11 world, you learn to be especially cautious about everything you say or do in public. I can’t blame 9/11 entirely though. I’ve always been shy. But 9/11 sure kept me in my place.

I think I’ve gotten to the point in my life however where I just don’t care (as much) anymore about what people might say.

It dawned on me yesterday that that might be exactly the reason why I’ve struggled with self-confidence my entire life. I’ve never given myself the time or space to truly own my opinions or viewpoints, because I was always thinking about other people’s opinions and viewpoints. But why are theirs more valid than mine? By silencing myself, I was implicitly acknowledging that people who don’t give a crap about me are more important than I am. I am all for respecting people, but I need to respect myself as well.

Like I told Mr. Rafia today, while recounting the story of just moments before when the manager of a boutique I had visited prayed for me and gave me a much-needed hug, I am done with being apologetic.

I know it’s easier said than done, but I am going to start.

Sometimes, a hug from a perfect stranger is just what you needed.

9/11 is the day I lost my grandmother

Fifteen years ago today, our world was changed forever. Though I had no personal connection to the victims or the perpetrators of that tragedy, as a Muslim woman living in America, I did not come out of the ordeal unscathed.

Thankfully, this country has made some progress – Muslim Americans finally feel empowered and safe enough to share their stories – but we have not come far enough.

The 9/11 story that I will be sharing with you today, however, won’t be adding to this narrative, at least not in the way you might think. Because despite everything that has happened – Muslim men facing surveillance simply because their beards don’t look like the one displayed on a box of “Just for Men,” or women’s headscarves being pulled off because some outsider feels the need to “liberate” them, and countless other horror stories – 9/11 doesn’t bring to my mind any of those injustices.

To me, September 11, 2001 is the day my grandmother died.

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, or Naanaami as I used to call her, was the only grandparent I had the privilege of meeting. Sadly, I only came to know that this was a privilege after she died.

I’ve thought about writing this story for a few years now, but I never had the heart to do it because I knew how painful it would be. Not just personally, but also for those who knew my grandmother. I do not wish to bring them any more pain than they have already suffered. But I need to write this. For myself mostly, but also for my grandmother, whom, even though she’s been gone for 15 years, I hope can forgive me.

I don’t have many vivid childhood memories of my grandmother. Growing up I didn’t understand why, but I spent a great deal of my adolescence being angry about it. I now attribute it largely to the fact that my grandmother belonged to a generation that believed sons are the ones who will take care of their parents in old age. After getting married, a daughter’s loyalty is expected to first be toward her in-laws. I don’t know if my grandmother fully accepted this sentiment, but cultural myths are hard to shake off when everyone around you tells you that’s just the way it is. Though my grandmother stayed with us at least once in my lifetime that I can remember, ours was never her permanent home.

After my family and I moved to Chicago in the late 90s, my grandmother’s health deteriorated and she was eventually put in a nursing home. My mom regularly visited her when she could – but her own bout with cancer made it difficult for her to do as much as she would have liked. I remember feeling forced to accompany my mom on some of those visits. As an irritable 13-year-old, it didn’t even cross my mind that my grandmother was nearing the end of her days. I could have used this chance to create a relationship I did not have when I was younger. Actually get to know her, talk to her.

But I didn’t. I used our language barrier as an excuse – my grandmother couldn’t speak English, and I could barely speak Urdu. All I could think of was the noxious smell of urine that pervaded the nursing home. I sat quietly during those visits, nodding when appropriate, while my mom did most of the talking. I couldn’t wait to get out of that place.

Now, I wish I could go back and tell my grandmother that I am sorry.

Naanami, I am sorry for not taking the time to understand how difficult your life was. You were widowed at an extremely young age. You had three little children to take care of. All of this in post-partition India where it was impossible for any woman to dream of being financially independent. You had to rely on the generosity of a few of your deceased husband’s family (God bless them) to take you and your children in. You later immigrated to a country whose primary language you could not understand. You inevitably faced that “clash of cultures” television pundits now make a mockery of. Did you have anyone you could vent to? You were deathly afraid of hospitals, because that is where you last saw your husband alive. Yet, you spent your final years in a nursing home. And I’m sure not all the nursing home staff were culturally sensitive to your needs and beliefs. I sincerely hope that they did not take advantage of you because you could not communicate to them in a language they understood.

But mostly, I want to go back and tell you Naanaami how sorry I am for being complicit. I know I was still a child when you died and probably wouldn’t have been able to do much to ease your suffering, but I also didn’t take the opportunity I did have when you were alive to show you how much you mean to me. Despite what your own society believed, you made it a priority that all your children – including your daughter, my mother – received an education. Vicariously, I’ve learned that despite not being able to go to school, you were probably the smartest and wisest woman I’ll ever know. Your reputation for being a generous, loving, and prudent woman, a woman of integrity and principle lives on.

You died on September 11, 2001, in a hospital in Naperville, Illinois, after suffering your second stroke, hundreds of miles away from the carnage that had been unleashed just a few hours earlier. And despite all that the world has witnessed since that fateful day, you’re still the only person I think of when I hear the date 9/11.

Each year, when the rest of the world mourns those who lost their lives at the hands of a few men who hijacked my religion way before they hijacked any plane, I mourn a tragedy much closer to home.

I can still see you Naanami, sitting there all alone in that nursing home cafeteria, wearing that teal blue jogging suit of yours, with your off-white headscarf tightly knotted at the base of your neck. You always sat there quietly with your head bowed down. What were you thinking? I wish I could go back and ask you.

Maybe, if I am fortunate enough to meet you in Heaven, I’ll get my second chance.