Saturday, August 23, 2014

Some Truths

As salaam alaikum,

"The one thing we did right was the day we started to fight. Keep your eyes on that prize, hold on." - "Eyes on That Prize"

I don't usually get political. On this blog or anywhere else online, really. Definitely not Facebook. But one of my co-residents posted something about Ferguson, and how we should keep talking, and while I agree, more than just talking needs to be done.

More than just media showboating needs to be done.

I posted in the Facebook comment box that we have a militarized police force that has been in full force and growing since the 1980s institution of the War on Drugs. I told her to read The New Jim Crow, which I have to read in pieces because it makes me angry. I told her that post-civil rights is a fallacy. The Civil Rights movement didn't end, it died. It died with a lot of its key leaders who were assassinated, thanks in part to our own FBI. To this day, I don't understand how more people don't know about COINTELPRO. Even if there were only evidence linking the FBI to the death of one Black Panther (and I believe there is more evidence than that), isn't that bad enough?

The movement was posthumously declared over. There was still work to be done and Malcolm X had just found Islam and that shaped the way he saw the movement, Martin Luther King had more than just a dream, he was a man of ideas made tangible and wanted to move to overall social justice and poverty next. So many leaders and non-leaders, young people, killed, so many deaths without justice.

Post-civil rights movement is a fallacy and that's exactly how Michael Brown could be shot with his arms up, feet away from the police officer so many times into his poor body and left dead in a pool of his own blood on the streets of Ferguson for hours in the sun, like a dog.

Black life is not valued in this country, never has, and if we do nothing, never will. Some black people do not value black life. That's how my cousin was murdered and left for dead in a pool of his own blood while trying to go to work to provide for his young family. For a few dollar bills. And the killer has not been found. That's how another cousin killed in cold blood and will spend the rest of his life in prison. That's how Emmit Till and thousands of other black men had their bodies destroyed for sport. That's how Eric Garner was choked to death in public and that's how Michael Brown was shot and left for dead.

Left like a dog. Or worse than that, because someone would have handled the body of even a stray dog.

I could say so much more, but this is not the only issue out there right now. This summer was a hard Ramadan for many because of injustice and death so many places in the world, most notably in Gaza. I don't like to get political mainly because I don't have time, during my training, to be part of the grander solution. I don't have time to be well read and therefore the best spoken here, and I don't put my prose to its best use, which I do not believe is an online blog that few people read. I believe that is mobilizing people who have the tools and the drive to affect legislation.

My parents have also always feared my online presence, especially as a Muslimah, because long before we knew about NSA, my mother, as a former black nationalist, knew about the NSA. In the sense that she knew after 9/11 there were most certainly governmental bodies that had the power to tap into our lives as the NSA has. Call that some old NOI conspiracy theorizing, but it was true, and now folks acting shocked.

I could say so much more, but instead, I choose to end this entry with a series of truths. This goes beyond Ferguson. This goes beyond the other string of innocent black men that were killed before Michael Brown this year and were killed after. This is about Civil Rights.

1. The militarized police are here to stay and will continue to use excessive force unless meaningful and deep rooted legislative action happens to eradicate it, much of which is firmly based in the War on Drugs. Our legislative bodies have not been in a state to affect that type of change and won't be in the foreseeable future.

2. The 1960s were a horrendous decade, not only because so many people were killed, but because the government lied, step by step, over and over and over again.

3. The Civil Rights movement should not have been over when it was. There were many victories but the status quo is not a victory we can declare post-civil rights worthy by any stretch of the imagination.

4. As Affirmative Action programs have ended over the country over the last 10 years, the "playing field" is still far from "level," as long as predominantly black schools remain predominantly poor, meaning the majority of black kids get substandard education to inhibit college success.

5. SCOTUS knew exactly what they were doing in voting down the Voting Rights Act, and that "country has come so far" rhetoric was a cover. Poor blacks won't be counting marbles in a jar to get the vote but there will surely be other restrictive measures popping back up, and it won't be restricted to the South.

6. Speaking of the value of black life, some black people also do not value black life, this is true. The reality of white-on-white crime aside, black self-violence is apparent not only in crimes and murders committed but in our own music, our entertainment, our leisure. This must stop because, fair or not, there is a group of people who will not value our lives because they figure we also don't value our own. And we will continue to die in our own hands and in the hands of others, on the street, in pools of blood for hours, worse than dogs.

7. Regardless of the above, it is egregious to blame the victim, and every time a young black man is killed, the victim is blamed, it is justified based on circumstantial issues that really are not worth dying over. Like Trayvon and weed. Like Emmit Till and flirting with a white woman. The latter should sound as ridiculous as reasons to die as Michael Brown stealing candy and Eric Garner selling taxless cigarette singles, except even more so because it was carried out by law enforcement.

8. COINTELPRO is real and it's declassified. And just because its now declassified doesn't mean that our government wouldn't and hasn't had similar endeavors, so to speak.

9. We talk about how our healthcare system is broken, and it is, but moreso our penal system is broken, broken and costlier than the education of our children, which further feeds into the system. The disregarded black bodies that are not slaughtered spend some time in the penitentiary, if not the majority of their lives, most of them for petty drug offenses, spending time and tax payer money in a place that has no reformatory value and leave unable to make lives for themselves because of ex-con status.

10. Injustices such as these will continue to happen, in spite of peaceful protest and marching in Ferguson until our government takes thing seriously enough and do as they did during the movement and sign the needed changes into law.

I think 10 is a nice round number. There are probably others that I could include.

It's been more than a month since my grandfather passed, and I feel even more emboldened to try to take over where he left off before a stroke and an ICU stay in the 1970s changed him from the outspoken member of his local black nationalist organization to a quiet man whose memory of injustice often suffered in silence as he changed his focus to his growing family of grandchildren.

"The one thing we did wrong was stay in the wilderness a day too long."

Let's not let time pass after Ferguson, security set in, and we wander back to the wilderness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The First Death

Salaam,

My beloved grandfather died on Wednesday. We buried him today. I saw his body beforehand, and I smiled. It held him for so long, but it was so clear, looking at the frame, that this was just a shell, and not at all the man I've loved all 29 years of my life.

I am so happy that he died in his sleep and that he died at home, surrounded by family members. I am so happy that 9 of his 10 children, 30 of his 40 grandchildren and several of his 70 great-grandchildren were able to make it to the funeral, as well as most of his daughter-in-laws, his son-in-law (my father) and several community members.

He left behind my grandmother. They knew each other as children, for 82 years, and were married for 68 years, had 10 children, 40 grandchildren, over 70 great grand children and 3 great-great grandchildren. He converted from Christianity to eventually Islam with his family of 10 and was a founding leader of the Flint, MI Muslim community. He raised three of his grandchildren. Their home was a home for any and all of us when we needed it. I lived with my grandparents for about three months during the summer of 1995 and the winter of 1996 when my mother had medical problems.

My first memories of my grandfather were of the horsey rides on his knee, the string of lollipops he seemed to have an endless supply of, and his sugary coffee. My final memories of him, before his most recent decline, was of climbing up on a step ladder much less stable than he ought have, putting corn cobs in the feeder for the squirrels.

He had a unique way of telling stories, of mimicking people's voices, of making sounds, of playing with babies and making them laugh that is not duplicated on earth right now. He, along with my grandmother, loved children infinitely. They raised children from 1947 to 1998.

And between WWII, the auto plant and the conversion, there's so many stories that I do not know about Grandfather.



At first when he died, when I heard about it, it felt like a part of me died. It felt like a part of my mother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, it felt like a part of us all died. Like a part of my heart went away. Then, in a matter of minutes, I had a sense of peace and fullness because, even though we can't know know, I was reassured that my grandfather was in Jannah. And more than all of the Qur'an reading I've been doing this month by ajiza, I felt the mercy of God, right then.

It was one of the strongest moments of my faith, and it makes all of the tears that I shed either happy tears or tears of saudade. My grandfather was a staple in my life, like my sustenance, and life will never be the same without him here. And life is not as precious without him here. But I will strive each day towards God, may I be all that Grandfather desired of us, his legacy, his progeny, and even more than he could have imagined.

I love you, Grandfather, and that you are in Jannah makes it even more of a goal for me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

All I Want to Be

Salaam,

As another Ramadan approaches, I'm starting to become more reflective and introspective at a time that my incoming rotation will not allow me to be. I'll be on a surgery inpatient service for the duration of Ramadan. I just have to get in enough calories and hydrate enough during suhoor and before I begin my shifts at 5am, and I think I'll be fine, iA.

But also, as another Ramadan approaches, I reflect on all of the things I've wanted to be over the years, all of the things I want to be, and all of the things that I've tucked away, at least temporarily. One of them is a better Muslim. That definition has shifted over time and looks a bit different than it did 11 years ago when I fasted my first full Ramadan outside of my parent's home as an 18-year-old college freshman.

It looks different than it did when I was a new, 21-year-old hijabi.

It looks different than it did when I was a 24-year-old medical student, struggling with the fear that my first Muslim brother-crush, who was marrying someone else, was maybe the best, the last and the only chance I'd ever get at love.

It looks different than I did when I was 27, newly disillusioned with love and certain aspects of my religion and moving from east to west coast with hopes to realize my dream career.

I think that, more than any time in my life, my self-definition is fluid. That sounds wishy-washy. I mean that I realize that parts of who I am are continually evolving as I grow and learn. I do not expect to reach my destination and still have life left to live.

In essence, I will not attain "better Muslim" at once and then sit pretty for the rest of the time. It will be one of those life goals I will work toward until the end, whether that is the end of my life or the terminal decline of my cognition.

And while one could say that my Islam is all-encompassing of the most important things of my life, I also have other aspects of my life for which I recognize that I will not reach a destination before the end. These identities of mine are constantly growing and changing, and I thank God for that. It means I'm very much alive.

It also means I can't close my eyes and see where I want to be at any given time. I used to be able to close my eyes and see such vivid detail, from the color of my clothes to the height of my husband, to how many kids we'd have at our sides. With maturity these details have necessarily become more vague or are now nonexistent, replaced with an intangible placeholder named insha'Allah.

Because I couldn't have made up the last two years of my life when I was an 18-year-old freshman or a 21-year-old hijabi or a 24-year-old medical student.

And that removes the pressure I feel to be all that I want to be. I no longer feel pressure to be all of these things soon, as if it would never happen otherwise. I no longer feel pressure to be all of the things I want to be at once.

I no longer feel the urgency of being all the things I want to be. It's all insha'Allah, and for the first time in a couple of years, insha'Allah doesn't feel daunting to me.

I guess this is what it means to Submit.

There's so much that I am that I want to be as much of my life as I can, but I cannot, because of the earthly limits of space and time. I want to be all of these things, including a writer, an artist, a singer, a musician - a family physician, a public health practitioner, possibly a medical director - a mother, a wife, a daughter-in-law--while carrying with the things I already am--a Muslim, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, the list probably goes on. I want to be all of these things at once because I enjoy each of them, in each of them I find meaning and purpose, in each of them I express a little of myself, and to several of them I aspire absolutely.

And for the first time, I'm okay with the fact that there may be some things that I'll never be. I'm not despairing right now with the possibility of never bearing my own children, but maybe I'll adopt or foster. I may never publish a fiction piece, but I'll keep writing. I may never marry, but I'll love and nurture those who are in my life. Not saying that they would not be hard to come to terms with, but I'm accepting.

Whereas when I was a teen, when I saw the future, I saw black, bleak, dark--whereas when I was in my early 20s, I saw future as a series of detailed ideals with a backdrop of grave anxiety--I can't see the future now, as I never was able to, really, and I'm placing my trust in God, the best of planners, while moving forward prayerfully with my own purposeful plans in the meantime.

By God's grace, I will be able to be all I want to be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Angry

Salaam,

One day, I got angry. One of my younger cousins posted a picture of her boyfriend on Facebook.

That wasn't why I got angry. It was a cute picture and the guy reminded me of her dad, my first cousin. We often are attracted to men with certain traits like our fathers. That was not my concern.

My concern were all of these likes from family members who do not know this man from Adam. Some of the same baseless likes that my cousin got when she talked about how much she loved the man who, unbeknownst to much of the family, was beating her bloody.

Oh, because that's "black love."

I'm not hating on the entity, "black love." It's never something I specifically aspired to myself, pero bueno...

I was angry because I knew I couldn't post a similar picture of my SO without flack, hate, and promises of being disowned.

Because this isn't black love. This is interracial.

I hate the term swirling, so this is the last time you'll see me write it.

One of my cousins, in person, already asked me, "Why do you post all those pictures on your Facebook with all of those white people?"

I answered, "They are my co-workers." That satisfied him for a moment, but implicit in that question was probably...how about that one guy you seem to be standing close to in a lot of your pictures?

Taking pictures with all of those white people, indeed.

I could hear it now. "What's wrong with a black man?" "Oh, why are you with a *****." I don't even want to imagine the permutations.

And then, I probably scrolled down to another picture of someone with their loving in-laws, and I thought about how my SO was impressed that his mother behaved herself around me, though she's always worried about what people in the Old Country will think of her son being with a black woman.

And I just got angry. Angry then quickly tired.

I wish I could introduce this man to my family without drama. I wish they would welcome him like they welcomed my black cousins-in-law with open arms, call him cousin. I wish I could introduce him to my grandparents without at least one of those grandparents being pained. I wish I could include him in my family.

...that my father already doesn't like him is almost requisite, regardless of his race, hehe.

But I wish...man, I wish...

And I never aspired to black love, but I never aspired to be with a white man, either, precisely because of my family's racism and otherwise baggage that we have with our Nation of Islam roots. I figured if I were with another non-African brown person, they would be too confused to be racist. I'd still get off comments about I obviously haven't been with a black man, blah blah blah, but it'd be more tolerable. Maybe that one uncle wouldn't disown me.

But really...there are too many men in my family who will see it as somehow a personal affront if I don't end up with a black man. Like I'm making a commentary on their worth. No, I make no commentary. My relationship the living manifestation of exactly who desired to marry me. He who did not is not standing next to me right now.

So there.

So my SO won't be called cousin. We may not even have a wedding we can invite the rest of my family to. That makes me angry, but oh well. I love my family enough to recognize there's no changing them.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dissociative Moment

Salaam,

I just had a dissociative moment. I looked at my full name, first and last, on facebook and didn't recognize it as my name for a moment.

Because Nigerian names are so unfamiliar to most in the NW, and penned by my residency classmates, I've started going by Chi or sometimes Dr. Chi. Which is cute on several levels, yes, but that's not my name. My name is Chinyere. Everyone in medical school called me Chinyere, except the West Africans and my Romanian friend called me ChiChi on occasion.

Chinyere, ChiChi--those are my names. I refuse to use ChiChi in the professional standpoint, but I'm Chinyere.

Then, my SO's friends call me by my middle name because that's how he's introduced me for months before they met me, because he doesn't want them to butcher my name, but that's also disorienting...and then his mother calls me my middle name in Albanian...

And at the end of the day, I've been called other than Chinyere the entire time that I barely feel like Chinyere anymore.

And that's a weird feeling.

I call home, and my mother is more likely to call me one of my many nicknames with her (including, but not limited to Missy, Missy Moosey, Lucy, Lucinda, etc.). I can count on one hand the number of times my mother has actually called me Chinyere (well...maybe if I don't count Chinyere-bee-baby...for those who don't know how to pronounce my name, re-bee rhymes with baby).

My father...almost never calls me by my name unless he's locating me in the house or commanding me to do something. So the only correct way I know how to pronounce my name (because I even mispronounce my name to make it easier for English speakers) is in the context of a shout.

"CHIN-yere!"

I think the rest of the time, he calls me Nne Nne...or nothing.

Oh yeah, more nicknames from my mother - Chich (pron. Cheech...she never calls me ChiChi), Chichmeister...

Yeah, I guess my father doesn't have a ton of nicknames for me. I'm Nne Nne, my brother is Nna. Or Nne Nne Le and Nna Le. Or Nna Nka.

I really regret that I don't know Igbo.

So I spent a lot of my life either being called out of my name or having my name butchered by those around me. My friends always knew how to pronounce my name, though.

But after a full day of being called Chi and Dr. Chi (occasionally actually hearing my last name)...it's a weird, dissociative feeling. I feel like I used to be Chinyere, but now, I'm Chi.

That's it. I'm going to start using my full name again. No more, "Red team, this is Chi." It's back to, "Red team, this is Chinyere," when I'm on service.

Because I love my name, and I feel the most me with it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Learning to Be Alone

Salaam,

Now that I've been stably in a relationship for nearly two years, I've gone back and read some of those pieces aimed specifically at single people that I couldn't palate the while I was single. Most of the time, I am usually dismayed that I was not able to arrive at the level of sheer self-contentment that the articles recommend. Happily partnered and not desirous of single status, though intellectually feeling that this time around, I could handle it, I wondered how much of my partnership was just for the sake of not being alone. I began to wonder if I would keep looking if I had arrived at a place where I was as content with solitude as these pieces recommend single people to be.

One of the pieces of advice that these articles often cite is that one needs to learn how to be alone, in general. Not just be single, but learn how to be content with one's own company.

And I thought about how bad I was at doing that even while still single. It wasn't that I was constantly yearning for a significant other to fill a space. But my space was constantly filled--with phone calls to my family and friends and visits from friends. The time that I actually spent alone was very meticulously filled with necessary studying while I was in school and writing projects or casual reading when I had free time. I usually exercised alone as well. But I didn't think I enjoyed this time alone--it was just a matter of course.

I enjoy hot showers after sweaty workouts, for example, but showering is something that one necessarily does alone the grand majority of times--I assume this is true even for married women.

But then, it happened. After a week of staycation and getting my life in my apartment organized for the first time since the first few months that I had moved in, I was organized enough to seek out samba class. I found one that I wanted to check out, finished my rotation duties and headed over to the class. I had a good dance and workout, walked home, cooled down and then jumped into the shower to wash the paint off of my feet (I danced barefoot on a raggedy, painted dance floor in a small cultural center in the International District) and in general enjoy the hot spray on my body.

Then, lotioned and deodorized, I sat on my futon and adjusted the temperature in my place by placing the window fan in the window, turning on the only lamp that survived the move from Boston in the corner, and settling down to write a little.

And I probably let one of those this-is-the-life sighs escape my lips before I realized...

Here I am, alone, in my own space, completely content with being alone right now, with the trajectory of the day, with how I plan to conclude my evening, with the fact that I can sit down and write.

It took me two years of a stable relationship to learn to be alone.

When my apartment was filled with papers that needed organizing, laundry to be sorted and washed and put away, dishes caked in grease that didn't come off with one round of dishwashing (but always with a clean bathroom!), I did not enjoy my time here. I spent most of the time in my bed, the only relatively clear spot in my place, with the blinds drawn because...if I have a night shift, I sometimes sleep during the day, so the goal of the bedroom is darkness. I spent most of my days at my SO's place, because he has a house, actually, and is a minimalist so has very little clutter. My house became a cluttered sleeping den with a refrigerator I was afraid to open.

Now, with all of my educational papers organized into binders and files, all of the junk mail that I had let accumulate over two years shreaded and recycled, the kitchen clean and ready for the next meal, my dining room apetizing, my reading corner restored with my papasan chair open and inviting...I have no need to be anywhere else. My space is less than 600 square feet, but I now can do almost everything I want in here. I can practice my samba moves in the living room with my small stereo system with sub woofer. I can experiment with different recipes and eat them at my dining room table or my now pristine bar area at the sink. I can curl up with a good book or medical journal and read in my reading corner. I can take a nap on my futon.

Or, like now, I can sit with my legs crossed and my laptop on my lap and write whatever comes to mind.

And my room, small and functional, can be reserved for what I always meant it to be for: sleep! Fresh sheets, organized closet and dresser drawers, dusted nightstand with my Qur'an, alarm clock and personal effects there at the side. It's back to being my bedroom again, and not a glorified dorm room of yore.

In med school more than in college, my dorm room bed was a place to eat, study, watch television, read and sleep. And repeat. And sometimes cry.

And there are so many other things that I occasionally do when I'm here, like long hair-care days. I recently spent 9 hours twisting my hair, and could spend a similar amount of time doing my next henna rinse and deep conditioning routine. And of course, there's the singing and the documentary-watching.

And this is just inside of my apartment! There's a whole world of things outside of the apartment that I enjoy doing solo - my samba classes, my workouts, shopping, eating what I want without being policed.

Not that I don't love doing things with my SO. Not at all. But there are definitely things that I did when my time was all my own that I miss now because I'm trying to balance a busy work schedule with future family time, so to speak.

That's when I wondered whether these self-help blurbs for singles are written by people who are happily partnered. Because it sounds a lot like my happily married mother's advice when I was a young, yearning girl. "One day, you'll look back at this time and be repentant," is the only thing missing from the learn to be alone injunction. 

Because that's what I wish I could tell my single self now and what I'll know in the future. This time that you're spending doing whatever the hell you want is priceless. Don't sell it short for the sake of a relationship. Enjoy it. Soak in it. You may not have it again.

Especially since I have baby fever at all times, I don't feel like I'm going to get to enjoy too much of my future married life non-pregnant or mothering, insha'Allah.

So if I don't take advantage of the last of my alone time now, gone could be the days of my concurrent samba dancing, jazz club singing (!!), personal training, exercising, hair henna glossing, two strand twisting, journal writing, MPB singing all the while doctoring self.

Ahhh...I get it.

But I did not arrive at this place when I was perpetually single. I didn't know what it was like to divide my time. I had time to do all of those things but I also had time to be lonely, devastated and disillusioned. That space is now filled and is overflowing into my alone time.

So now, I know how to be alone. Yes. Great.

No, but actually, great! It just gives me hope that my success in a relationship was not dependent on my being completely happy single. In fact, part of the impetus that keeps any two of us together as disparate human beings is anything from a preference against to a fear of being alone. So that's okay.

But I didn't need to have the single thing perfect before leaving that stage of my life.

...and the fact still remains, if nothing much is going on, I'm going to end up calling my mother, preferentially, anyway.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Parents' Radical Marriage

Salaam,

On September 15, 1983, surrounded by my maternal grandparents and my Uncle Junior, my parents were married at city hall in Flint. My mother wore a modest, lavender dress, my grandmother's favorite color, and my father wore what I wager was one of the few suits he had at the time. My mother would later tell me that the reason why they married at city hall and that she wore a regular dress was because she knew her father was poor and she did not want to burden him with an expensive wedding, or any wedding at all, apparently.

However, it was also convenient, in the marriage of a Muslim woman to a Christian man, that their ceremony was not at all religious. There was no broom jumping, there was no palm wine. My grandfather did not give his youngest daughter away and my Uncles Donald and Temple were not there to see their youngest brother take a wife. And that's the way my parents wanted it. They often cite my brother's autism for the reason they keep to themselves but I have a feeling they've always been low-key.

And characteristic of the rest of their marriage, my mother's family ignored her requests for little fanfare and threw them a surprise reception after they married. My parents, who sounded very much like hipsters of their time, were gracious and excepted the reception as my father accepted his new family.

My father would travel back to Nigeria the next month and return in April of 1984, just in time to conceive me. He would not travel back to Nigeria in my lifetime.



Pictures from this day are in the front of my favorite photo album in my parents' house. It was my favorite as a child because it was the one where I saw the realization of my birth. It began with pictures of my parents marriage, the reception, my parents in their first apartment and soon transitioned to my mother, several weeks pregnant, her baby shower, and then my newborn pictures. As a child, I loved looking at baby pictures of myself. I was a really cute baby. But I always looked at the album in chronological order, including the three or four pictures in city hall of my parents, exchanging vows, my father accidentally placing the ring on the incorrect finger and my mother laughing, and the kiss with my grandparents clasping their hands and smiling in the background.



Already, their marriage was not typical. It was not in a religious sanctuary, a term my mother would use to describe one of the reasons she and my father chose each other. They didn't need a religious sanctuary to practice their respective faiths, she maintained. She remains un-mosqued as she has been my entire life, praying five times a day alone in the house's prayer room. My father is several years returned to church after never having set foot during all the time I lived at home and through my college years.

It was not surrounded by family and closest friends. It was surrounded by just enough of my mother's family to serve as witnesses--and my Uncle Junior, who, as my senior uncle on my mother's side, has attended nearly every major event in my life, from my birth to my graduation from college.

It was not traditional. My father, who was not raised in Nigerian traditions and couldn't explain them to me if I asked, did not dress in traditional Nigerian clothes on his big day and would not dress that way in the United States for another 30 years. My mother did not wear white. There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen. My mother had no engagement ring when she donned her wedding band. And that was it. Married.

But it was also radical. The Muslim daughter of Muslim parents married a Christian man, with the open approval of her parents, though she never asked for it. A Christian man who grew up sitting at his father's feet during sermons married a Muslim woman in spite of all of the things he believed about the Muslims of the north that were responsible for killing his people before the war. He also didn't seek the approval of his family.

When my mother tells it, she never balked at what my grandparents would think of her marrying a Christian man. She did not ask their permission to travel to Nigeria to visit my father in 1981. She told them, then she went. A woman previously sheltered by the strictest parents I've ever heard of in the name of the Nation of Islam traveled outside of the country for the first time to Nigeria, by herself. She has never asked them what they thought of the whole thing and it hasn't mattered.

My father doesn't tell stories about these things, but I imagine he didn't ask or tell very much. Not only did my mother not meet his family when she traveled to Nigeria (tell me more about that month long trip, Ma), but his family just found out that she is Muslim...two years ago? Over the phone? This tells me that my father did not consult his elder brothers, as my grandparents on that side had already passed.

That the children of two families who were essentially religious entities in their community could pull of an accepted interfaith marriage was pretty remarkable. That neither of these adults were hindered by what their family thought was fantastic. Their marriage exemplifies everything a love marriage can be for a Muslim woman, for an immigrant man.

And unlike various in each set of their co-religionists, they do not wonder if their marriage is valid. And they do not doubt that it is recognized by God.



Besides this very radical aspect of my parents' marriage, the interfaith without asking permission part, it is also otherwise unconventional. It was my mother who proposed to my father. And I believe it went a little something like this:

"Hey! Why don't we get married?"

And three years later, after spending most of that time with the Atlantic between them, they did just that. Prior to their marriage, their courtship face-to-face was 10 months total - 9 months in the United States, 1 month in Nigeria. They succeeded in having the longest long distance courtship I've personally known of.

They were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend they hadn't talked to in years. My mother was instantly taken at how my father was so friendly and outgoing that he talked to the DJ at the party as if he'd known him for years, yet he just met him. I don't know what my father was thinking, but I know that he's always adored my mother, and probably felt some semblance of that then.

They were set up but they had met before. My mother was a secretary at University of Michigan, Flint in the offices of Afro-American and Chicano Studies, where my father's cousin, head of the department, worked. My father would visit his cousin and bow his head toward my mother as he entered the office.

And somehow, this was totally unrelated to them being set up.

I don't know if my father dated previously, but I assume he did. I know my mother did. Her first foray into dating non-black men was another Nigerian who happened to be Chinua Achebe's cousin. The date ended, and Mr. Achebe seemed enthusiastic but I guess that was the last date.

(And to think, I may have been an Achebe...more than happy to be who I am!)

And of course, as goes without saying, their union was intercultural.


 
For all the ways my parents' marriage was radical, unconventional, special, it was also largely ordinary. It's an ordinary story of two people who loved each other and decided to spend the rest of their lives together. It's all about love, as Maurice White sings.

"Bound to fall in love one day. Surely, and you need it!"

They liked each other, then they loved each other, they married, they formed a family.

I don't know what it was about my dad, but he saw my mother transform from being a professional-minded woman who never aspired to have children to a mother who adored and nurtured us without interruption from the days we were born while still developing professionally. And I don't know what it is about my mother, but she anchored my father to a land in which he never intended to stay.

And the rest is history.