Friday, July 30, 2010

The Throwaway and the Orphan

As salaam alaikum,

I'm currently in Kansas City (arrived safely, alhamdulillah) taking a break from my second day of this family medicine conference, and man, I am more than overwhelmed right now. I have all of this in front of me and I'm not sure what it all means...the sky's the limit, basically, and it's always been, really, but even so, I know this is what I want to do. This feels like what I was made to do, really. But I find myself in an interesting place...

One thing will be the topic of another entry, but I'm realizing this spiritual revival from within myself and by the grace of Allah (swt). It's bubbling up within me, and overwhelming me with a sense of peace, low key. It's nice, and I hope it only continues as I go forward.

The other thing is...I feel media aislada, haha, is the first way that I thought about describing it. It's not really big fish in a little pond...I feel more like a bird trying to swim in the ocean, is more like it.

They refer to us Harvard medical students as "orphans"...that is, we don't have family medicine programs affiliated with our university. And it's true. HMS does not have a family medicine program and probably will not have a department for a little bit, if ever. It's just the kind of place that HMS is. It's very much geared toward the specialties. They give lip service to primary care because I guess that's hot right now (at least that's the way I feel about the administration...[don't get me wrong, there are plenty of folks at the med school that are very passionate about primary care and do a lot of work to make Harvard not an entirely hostile place for primary care-leaning individuals to train]), but for them, academics, leadership and scholarship are their goals.

Serving your community and addressing that community's needs, not so much...

The way that I view family medicine is two-fold. Yes, there are skill sets that you are interested in and a knowledge base that you want to expand upon (for example, I'm all about maternal/child health), but a lot of where you choose to train and where you ultimately end up working depends on what community you want to serve, what challenges you want to face and tackle as a physician that exist with your patients and your community...things like that. I feel as if sub-specializing in other specialties are more about skill sets than community.

I love young families. I love their potential. I am particularly interested in maternal/child health, early childhood development and health education. I am interested in promoting the health of the family unit where it counts, which, for many if not most families, rests with mom. I'm also interested in how children develop in their first few years and how it relates to the health, health education and literacy of mom. I can focus on that through family medicine like no other specialty.

Another thing that family medicine is great for that no other specialty can quite touch...educating pregnant teenage mothers. If I can find an opportunity to do something like that in Boston during my public health year, I'd actually really look forward to that. Pregnant teenage mothers and young teen moms, helping them with contraception/family planning, their own sexual and reproductive health, their health otherwise, the best choices for their babies, and working within the challenges within their community. Like, what are their barriers to breastfeeding? Things like that.

Sometimes I wonder if, when I sat in that lecture hall during Alliance Weekend, the weekend for minority students accepted to Harvard Medical School, crying because I knew that I loved what I heard from the program here while knowing that I would lose an aspect of the way of life that I was making for myself...sometimes I wonder if I actually made a mistake by coming to Harvard. I love my education, the experience, the boundless opportunities to do whatever I see fit...but at the same time, more than just not having a family medicine department, you do feel like an orphan.

You feel like the child of the trauma surgeon and the pediatric intensivist who came of age never seeing either parent. Your parents work, but actually, they're old money, too (Harvard is old money...okay, we'll see if this analogy doesn't get out of hand). It's like, there's a lot of funds, the world is yours, the sky is the limit, you are of the most privileged people on this planet...but there's just something to be said about not being raised by your own parents. family bent is obvious in this analogy.

So you feel like the orphan, though you're not. Far from it. You just wish your parents had more hand in your raising, is all. And here you are, your parents specialized, and now you want to go into family medicine, and they don't support that. Why?

Because they see family medicine as an outcast, a reject...a throwaway specialty, if you will.

Family medicine, from a distance, does seem like a catch-all. You can basically practice whatever you want, do whatever you want, go almost anywhere you want, accepting that community's limitations. It is a job description that carries little prestige with your colleagues at the US News Top 10 programs across the country, little prestige among the sub-specialties. But people in family medicine are people who really don't care about prestige. You care about finding a community, a patient population, whatever, and being the best doctor you can for that population. I digress a little bit.

I've had people tell me that I didn't go to Harvard to become a family medicine doc.

Reference "My Indian Auntie." Yeah, it's totally narcissistic of me to block quote my own writing from not that long ago, but whatever...

Then randomly, after Sarah or Sofie [my best friend's sisters] asked me what I wanted to go into, and I responded "OB/GYN or family medicine," one of her random, pregnant aunts, I think one of her uncles' wi[ves], came out of nowhere and said, "Family medicine? No, I see you as an OB/GYN. You exude OB/GYN. Look at you! You go to Harvard Medical School. You don't go to Harvard Medical School and then go into family medicine. Do OB/GYN." - March 6, 2010
The thing about it is, some people in my institution will not respect my decision to go into family medicine, think that a Harvard degree (or two, as the case is, insha'Allah) to go into family medicine is overkill, whatever. I've known this, and this conference didn't teach me that.

Three years ago when I started medical school, I had some idea but at the same time little idea what I really wanted to do with my medical degree. I've grown in experience, still have a lot more growing to do, but based on all that I've learned about the field and myself, I'm ready. I know more now what I want out of the career and what I want to be as a physician.

Family medicine is in line with my values. It's implicit in everything about me. The fact that I place so much importance on the family unit for the health of entire societies, not limited to my own, the fact that I asked myself what type of doctor would I want to be if a family member came with a problem. I'd want to be their primary care doctor, I'd want to help manage their health, I'd want to be there when their kids are born and help them establish healthy families. I'd want to be there for the young women in my family who have children in their teens. It's implicit in my values.

It's implicit in the fact that--more important than my own career is the formation of my own family, and the importance of their health, and the importance of the raising of my own children.

I came to Harvard because I didn't know what type of physician I wanted to be and I wanted the opportunity to be anything that I wanted and do anything I wanted. There are few limitations that I face domestically or abroad because of the Harvard name, unfortunately...unfortunately, because I don't like riding the H, at all. It will probably help me get A Rose Much Desired published, maybe, but oh well. I digress.

But I guess this is the fair limitation that I face...a program without a family medicine department and with several members of the faculty not respecting the specialty. I guess it makes me feel a little bit striving to be Muslim with a Christian father who doesn't really support my life trajectory. It makes things harder only emotionally, and otherwise is not that great of a hardship at all.

At 22-years-old, wearing that white coat, I had no idea that I'd be going into family medicine...even less as I applied to programs that didn't particularly support it. I may have been mature but I was incredibly immature in so many ways, I'm realizing. I'm just growing up over the past two years, really, growing up from ways that I was still an overgrown child...

I didn't know what I wanted from medicine yet. Now I do. I happen to be in a place that's not the friendliest for it. Sees it as a throwaway. And it's okay, because people on the outside see me as an orphan but I'm not. I've got fam. I've got fam in all the Harvard kids that are with me on this conference today, were with me yesterday, sleep across from me.

And of course, there is always the wonderful Kathe Miller, the family medicine doctor who was my primary preceptor in the rotation that I did at Cambridge. She's my adoptive mother.

As I wrote in one of my first entries, I've found a love like Wilson Pickett. It's nice to fall into something that makes the most sense in the world, accept it for it's shortcomings, accept the challenges that you potentially face and accept there will be challenges that you can't anticipate, but go forward lovingly anyway... That's what I want marriage to be like for me., step two is to find the residency programs that are right for me. Thank God I have another year to sort all of that out! Alhamdulillah for public health school!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Father

As salaam alaikum,

Today, insha'Allah I'm on my way to Kansas City for a Family Medicine conference. I'm praying for a safe and comfortable flight.

Speaking of dreams, I think I had a dream I was married last night. I don't remember any of it, therefore, I don't remember who I was married to or anything. I also had a dream about sprinklers running in Boston after the rain. I'm not sure where in Boston the sprinklers were running. The only dream I really remember was that I got my Step 2 CK score back, and I had failed, meaning I'd have to reschedule it and take it over. It took me a while upon waking to realize that it wasn't true...badness.

My mother suggested the other day that I should go to church with my father one of these Sundays, that "it would mean a lot to him." This made me angry...not because I absolutely refuse to attend church with my father, but that I couldn't have done this of my own volition without her getting that motherly look on her face and being an interloper in my relationship with my father.

When I argue with my father, she always gets nervous and wants to go somewhere else, even if it's just good-natured joking between us.

I didn't appreciate her telling me what to do that would "mean a lot" to my father. I don't feel like I owe it to him to go to church, and...ugh, she put the mother guilt trip on me with the "it'll mean a lot to him." It's like, can't I cook him something? That would mean a lot to him...if I learned to cook soup.

But her request did give me pause.

I spend so much time worrying about how my father wants me to embrace Christianity and how not to insult him because of my Islam, that maybe in the process our relationship is dissolving and I'm not being a good enough daughter. It's hard to tell.

My mother said that she thought it wasn't fair of me to say that my father doesn't respect my choice of religion and/or Islam. I didn't argue with her too much, because I think that this is a delusion she keeps up that helps their marriage make sense. There are degrees of respect. No, my father would never defile a Qur'an, and honestly, I'm not sure where he stands on Islam. I don't know if he thinks it's completely a false religion or if it's not the right way, I don't know.

Nor does he really know how I stand, how I stand on Christianity. I think we've both been avoiding that topic not to offend each other, but it's kind of essential for us to move forward.

In essence, I don't feel like I'm being unfair to him by saying that he doesn't respect my choice in Islam. I feel like that's entirely accurate. It's accurate in the way that he thinks he's going to come along, after I've made my decision after 23 years of not exposing me to Christianity and here I am, now 25, and he thinks if I listen to his pastor and read Romans and other things in the Bible, I'll be like, "Oh, Christianity..."

My mother herself says that he thinks I'm easily influenced, that the reason that I'm Muslim is because of my best friend, who is Muslim.

At which point I father doesn't really know me. My journey to practicing Islam was my own. Not even MQ had a hand in that. That was me, myself and Allah (swt).

At the same time...I have to make sure I'm not biting the hand that feeds me and thereafter shooting myself in the foot. Although I am frustrated with his efforts to convert me, he is my father, and I owe him love and respect, first and foremost. I need to remember that. My love and respect for my father is more important than any self-righteousness I may feel as a Muslim, which I shouldn't feel anyway. Like my father, I will answer to God at the end of this all, and kindness to my parents is one of the things, the easy things, that I'm supposed to let me not forget that.

"And [God says:] ‘We have enjoined upon man goodness towards his parents: his mother bore him by bearing strain upon strain, and his utter dependence on her lasted two years: [hence, O man,] be grateful towards Me and towards thy parents, [and remember that] with Me is all journeys’ end. [Revere thy parents;] yet should they endeavour to make thee ascribe divinity, side by side with Me, to something which thy mind cannot accept [as divine], obey them not; but [even then] bear them company in this world’s life with kindness, and follow the path of those who turn towards Me. In the end, unto Me you all must return; and thereupon I shall make you [truly] understand all that you were doing [in life]." (Qur'an, 31:14-15)


Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Child of my Dreams


Heh, I guess I've watched, "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" one too many times.

I had a dream that I gave birth to a baby boy last night...while still in medical school. I was in the middle of my public health year, and I went to the hospital and gave birth to a 7lb 6oz baby boy. I don't recall knowing I was pregnant before then.

In fact, as relatives and friends began to visit me to see the baby, I began to wonder...who the father was? By the end of the dream, I hadn't really figured that out, but I figured out that I'd conceived as a result of one interaction that I barely remembered.

I went through the first few days of motherhood in the dream. I was so excited! I was like, yes, I succeeded in having a child before 30 (I don't a child, I always wanted to have a child before the age of 30, because that was the age at which my mother had her first child). I had a child, as I was worried that I may never have children of my own. But then I was like...crap, I have no job, I have no income, I have no way of supporting a child right now. I must have had the child during break or something, because I wasn't worried about missing classes or anything.

As I went to the kitchen to prepare to feed my child (I was, like, holding him the entire time during the dream), I was like, "Oh crap...I haven't named this child yet!" I thought about it, and I decided to give him maybe 1-2 middle names. Before I woke up, I first thought about first I wanted to name him Hassan, but then I regretted that I hadn't had twins to name them Hassan and Hasna, or Thais and Thiago, and then I decided, oh well...and I named him Thiago Hassan...

Then I transitioned into another dream.

When I woke up, I was relieved that I hadn't, in fact, had a child. I had been thinking in my dream, well, I guess this is one of those things in life that doesn't go your way, or as planned...but that mess kind of would have to have been the immaculate conception, because it's kind of hard to conceive a child...without ever having had sex...hahaha!

But Thiago Hassan, huh? I like it! I may save that for my first son.

Thiago, of course, pronounced the Brazilian Portuguese way...CHI-ah-goo.

What does this dream mean? No idea.

It was fun to have a kid in a dream, though. That hasn't really happened since college, and I've never gotten to name them before...with, like, names I've actually considered.

Sei lá...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sadness to Fondness

As salaam alaikum,

Today was the first day I'd walked on campus in a while.

I don't think I'd been on Michigan's campus since 2008, probably on St. Patrick's day, so whenever in March that was. Then, less than a year back, I walked the diag as a student.

Now it's been three years, and as I passed by places I'd been with friends, I was overwhelmed with...sadness.

Thinking back to my undergrad years right now just makes me sad. And it's not only about the man, though it kind of is. I wish I had an experience in college that wasn't so colored by him, at first by liking and longing for him, and then for wanting someone like him in my life.

I wish I could look back to college and not feel regrets. Because that's what I feel now...regret. Regret that I wasted so much time hoping and praying for him, that I didn't make some of the connections I perhaps could have, that I spent most of college confused about my identity, entering medical school more fragmented than I was solid...

And I mean, that's had a big impact on who I've become, my goals in life, what I work for...the way that I felt I had to give up my former identity entirely to be here, at Harvard Medical School, in the end for what?

Nothing makes sense of that whole thing. I wish it did. This is the first thing that has happened in my life that I can't make sense out of, and it drives me crazy.

I walked past the Chemistry building on campus, and looked toward it wistfully. Here was a reality I left behind soon after I packed my belongings and headed to Boston for medical school, and here it was, in my face again.

It sucks when the other person gets on with their life before you do. Like, married...and he'll probably have his first child before there's even a prospect on the horizon for me, and I'm sorry if it's nonsensical, but it makes me feel like a loser.

As I walked on the campus of the University of Michigan, though I graduated with distinction and went on to Harvard, I still feel like a failure. A failure at life.

I never wanted to go to Harvard. And this is not me crapping on my blessings. I'm very thankful for all I have. And when I acknowledge that I am in a group of the most privileged women in the world because of my unique position to be able to choose my life's husband, my livelihood, all of that, that still remains.

But college for me reminds me of a time that...I faltered, stumbled through a part of my life and fell flat on my face. I'm over the man but I am not over the failure that the whole period was for me, in terms of my life.

I have no prospects, at all. And really, I don't need and I don't want the plural. I just wish I had the faith that it will happen for me, but I don't. I think it's just my nature to kind of be a disbeliever in this way, I don't know.

I feel like I just don't make enough sense in this world for anyone to actually fit with me...I don't know.

But, at the end of the day, what can you do? Nothing. You can pray, but it's that same prayer you've been praying for the last 13 years, in variations, and you feel no closer to the answer. So that's done, and it doesn't matter, so it seems. Life goes on in a big way. Life goes on, you'll wake up tomorrow, and you won't meet anyone, not the man of your dreams, not even anyone interesting. And you'll wake up tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and it will be the same story. Weeks, months, years will pass, and the same story. Nothing. This has been my reality, I know.

You can do nothing about it. I just pray...I guess I need to start praying that it doesn't hurt so badly, and that one day I'll actually be able to look back at my college years as not so much of a failure at life, and I'll be able to look back at everything, not just the summer of 2004, with fondness, not sadness.

Because that...that I actually may have control over...

Monday, July 19, 2010



Yes, I deleted my last post. It's something rare, but I really wasn't feeling it anymore immediately after I wrote it. Go figure.

But you know what I realized? Pretty much since I started third year, I have not really had nightmares.

I usually say du'as right before going to sleep (even though I sometimes go to sleep on them...oops), and I usually pray not to have any nightmares. It may seem like a silly thing to pray for, but I have very vivid dreams.

Whoa...for example, last night, I had a dream that I was a 12-year-old boy who liked this 12-year-old girl. Hahaha, that's never happened before...I've never been someone else in a dream before. At one point, we were sitting on this wire thing situated high above our middle school building, and we were going to retreat to solid ground and I got startled and screamed like a girl, and the guys wouldn't let me hear the end of it!


So I have very vivid dreams. I can eat in the dreams and I have all five senses. That means I can feel pain. So, any nightmare has the potential to be a horrible experience that I'll never forget, so I try to avoid them.

Anyway, I realized...except for that one dream that I mentioned about the mall earlier, I don't think I've had a nightmare since I've been in this apartment. It's all the grace of Allah (swt), really, but even in times (for example, during third year) where I got bad at remembering my evening du'as...

Could it be because I have a Qur'an at the head of my bed in my nightstand? It's actually a Qur'an I rarely read because it's a Yusuf Ali translation, the one I grew up my living room, I have Muhammad Asad, which is what I read these days. I have both...just because. The Asad is mine, the Ali I lifted from my house. My mother had two, one that was really worn, falling apart...she rarely uses this one, so it's crisp.

Could it be that my bed is facing Qibla? I didn't do it's just so so it gives me more carpeted room on the floor for salat if I positioned the bed this way.

Could it be that third year warped my brain so that I can only think about non-traumatic things since plenty of trauma happens in the hospital?

I don't know. I welcome this new state.

Haha, I can't believe I was a 12-year-old boy in my dream! That's really never happened idea where that came from. I think it's from reading all of these books from children's perspectives...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Desilusão, desilusão!

Dança da Solidão - Marisa Monte feat. Paulinho da Viola

Translation below:

Solitude is lava
That covers everything
Bitterness in my mouth
I smiled it's leaden teeth

Solitude, word
Burrowed in my heart
Resigned and mute
With the beat of disillusion

Disillusion, disillusion
I dance, you dance
The dance of solitude

Camélia became a widow
Joana fell in love
Maria attempted suicide
Because of her lover

My father always told me
My son, be careful
When I think of my future
I don't forget my past

Disillusion, disillusion
I dance, you dance
In the dance of solitude

Disillusion, disillusion
I dance, you dance
In the dance of solitude

When the early morning comes
My thoughts meander
I run my fingers over my guitar
Contemplating the full moon

In spite of it all, there exists
A fountain of pure water
Whoever drinks that water
Won't have anymore bitterness

Disillusion, disillusion
I dance, you dance
The dance of solitude

Disillusion, disillusion
I dance, you dance
The dance of solitude...

Beautiful song!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Free Woman

"O dinheiro que lhe dei pro tamborim/ não vai gastar depois jogar a culpa em mim/ o dinheiro que lhe dei não é meu, não/ é da escola, por favor não mete a mão..." - "Mancada," Gilberto Gil

That money that I gave you for the tambourine/ don't go and spend it and throw the blame on me/ the money that I gave you is not mine/ it's of the [samba] school, please keep your hands off of it...

This song is a samba song by Gilberto Gil. Although I started out samba-ing in my living room, looking at my reflection in the window against the black of night outside, once I reached the window I stopped dancing and gazed out at the Charles River. It was glistening in the light from the nearby baseball field in the park where I sometimes take walks, just to be near the river. Gazing out at the river from my apartment, which affords me a panoramic view, is just as good sometimes, especially on dark nights like these when there's no one to take that trip with me.

No longer samba-ing, I began singing the ballad version of "Mancada," nice, slow, sultry, leaning over the windowsill and looking at the red necklace of back lights that is Charles Street traffic, sultry like someone's watching. No one's watching. For 24 glorious hours, I've had the apartment to myself, which is why I'm dancing around my living room now only wearing a t-shirt.

It's one of those band t-shirts from high school, from band camp in 2000, so the beginning of my sophomore year. I've no use for those shirts anymore but occasionally wear them to bed. It's not sexy, but I don't need to be sexy to sleep by myself.

Sometime around 2005 or so, after the summer of 2004 where I fell in love and the school year of 2004-05 when I discovered that nothing was going to come of it, I started to refer to myself, in my mind, as "Free Woman." I'm always of the school that you should start pronouncing something, saying it aloud, even when I don't believe it. That's how free woman came about.

I didn't feel free at the time, like, at all. I would have felt free if I could have been in a relationship with that guy, but I wasn't. I didn't want to feel free, actually. If I actually had the choice between being free and being in a relationship with someone that I loved, I would choose the latter...I preferred the latter. But I was single, very single, indefinitely.

I mean, five years later, I'm still as single as I was then. That's proof. Five years is a long time.

In five years, that guy who I liked met a woman, they got engaged, they are now married.

In those same five years, nothing close to that has happened for me.

It took me a long time to feel like the free woman I was calling myself. That time came after I read Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan. I recommend it for everyone--it is a heart breaker, though, but it's humbling like nothing I've ever read before. I nearly cried at the end, because the last story was of a mixed Hutu-Tutsi family torn apart by that conflict--and that will always be the first terrible thing I knew about as a child, had nightmares about from seeing news coverage. If I think about the nightmare I had at the time, man, I can still cry...

Anyway, I read that, and I made a realization I should have long ago...I am a free woman!

I am in about the best situation that any female in the world could hope to be in right now, more than any time in my life. Because of the career path that I've chosen, I basically will always be able to support myself and will not have to depend on anyone, not even my father, for money.

Neither of my parents are pressuring me to settle down or marry. They actually thing it was abnormal of me to be worrying about it!

I have the choice of who I end up with, the choice of how long I want to be single, the choice of whether or not I want children.

And alhamdulillah, He's protected me for all of these years...from the maliciousness and violence of the world.

When it comes to the women of the world, I am sitting on top of the world. I run this. No man is out there controlling what I should or should not say, how I should or should not dress, how I travel, whether I travel, who I travel with. No one is forcing me to marry young, no one is taking my babies away, no one is spiting my baby girls, letting my baby girls die, taking away my baby girls in favor of my baby boys, threatening me until I bear them those baby boys. No one is raping me for sport because I am the wrong ethnicity. I don't have to marry for support, for life, for status...

I am really, really free...freer than others in my own country may be because of a series of choices I've made in life and really, the grace of God.

So from here on out (actually, since maybe about two days ago), I'm not complaining about single any more... I'm serious! I am single by choice.

I've been out with guys before...if I don't like them, I feel like I'm degrading myself. Allah (swt) will provide, the time will come...not because someone will drop out of the sky, but because it will be of my choosing.

In the meantime, I'm going to work on myself. I've always wanted to be a renaissance woman, so let me be a good doctor. Let me be a good writer. I'm going to work out at the gym and be pure hotness and work on singing this ballad-style samba. Why? Because I'm free!

...I can at least be sexy in the comfort of my own home, right?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Love and Truth Written in Song

As - Stevie Wonder

We all know sometimes life's hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice it's double
That God knew exactly where He wanted you to be placed
So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
You're not helping to make this a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into Truth and then change that Truth into Love
And maybe our children's grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will tell

One of the most beautiful songs ever! The most beautiful song I know...

Monday, July 12, 2010


I didn't even make it to the Charles St. when I looked across Storrow, toward the river, and saw a wave of heavy drops traveling South, along the Longfellow Bridge, putting the mist barely hitting me at the time to shame. My eyes opened wider. I put my bag, my blue American Medical Women's Association bag containing my books and computer, over my head, a move that earned me bewildered glances that soon subsided once the torrent arrived and they understood.

It must have been a strange sight to behold, as I limped-ran toward the Liberty Hotel to take cover. Still looking out toward the river, I watched as it stopped as suddenly as it came on. I slowed my pace, my eyes fixed toward the north, tentatively celebrating the end of the downpour. I had actually joined Charles St. when I saw another wave of heavy drops traveling in my direction. My eyes opened wider and I gasped, throwing the bag over my head again, unconcerned that its contents may have fallen out. I would not be drenched. I ran toward the front doors of the hotel, my bag over my head, my thighs in pain. I asked the doorman if I could stand there for the moment, and he said I could. I thanked him and joined him and another of the hotel staff under the glass awning before the hotel.


I escaped my apartment this morning to try to find a place in open air to read. Several things that happened the day before really left a sour taste in my mouth and I wanted to escape those feelings as much as possible. Frustrated by the complexities in the relationship with my father, bitter about an old friend who seemed to be on top of the world with his new marriage while I still struggled and failed at finding my own mate, and anger at the elusive nature of God's voice after prayers were my lot this morning. So I threw a few things into my bag--my computer, its cord, two books and a towel--hefted it over my shoulder and greeted the morning.

It was sunny and warm this morning, and the weather forecast promised sunny skies and a high of 92. It was going to be hot, but I dressed light in one of my favorite beige tank tops and khaki capris, bearing my shoulders, brown from the parade I'd danced in the week before. I would not let yesterday's events disrupt me from enjoying myself during this, my vacation from medical school.

I at first wanted to study in the Common, but it was earlier enough that many of the homeless were still waking and occupied many of the benches in the shade. That, and there was this odd smell in the air, like the combination of moldy attic and morning breath that distracted me from being at peace this morning. It probably had something to do with the morning sun heating up the damp benches from the previous day's rain.

I caught the T at Park Street and ended up at Harvard, where I sat and read for a few hours in Lamont, the library I had come to despise after studying there for 12 hours at a time or more for my step 1 exam last year.

I became restless around noon and decided to leave Lamont to go to Berry Line. Even though my thighs were in a lot of pain this entire trip due to Saturday's samba lesson, I decided that I would take advantage of the beautiful sunny day and walk home. Never mind that cloud cover had set in while I was sitting on that semi-uncomfortable maroon chair in front of the window on the first floor of Lamont. There was no rain in the forecast for today. It was going to be 92 degrees. This was a momentary thing--surely, it would blow over.

Imagine my surprise stepping into rain.

It was light rain at first, which I was convinced would blow over quickly and the sun would return. I got only a few yards away from the library when larger drops began to fall and soak into my khaki capris. I realized that walking to Berry Line in my fabric flip flips would probably end badly, namely in my falling on my behind, so I scurried back to the lobby of Lamont and stood there until the rain subsided some, then venturing out.

I looked at the clouds, gazing out to the west from whence the storm was coming. They were dark gray and heavy. There would be more rain, probably before I got all the way to the frozen yogurt shop. I walked as quickly as I could without sliding, without causing my thighs to spasm in pain, holding my bag over my head as the drops landed with more force and frequency until I made it to Berry Line, where I sought refuge with a Papaya frozen yogurt until the rain would stop 20 minutes later.

While sitting there, I searched on my phone. Rain was still not in the forecast. The homepage didn't even show that it was raining now. Cloudy and 76 degrees was all it said. Somehow, in the next hour, it would be 88. As rain dripped from the gutters, I doubted the forecast.

My plans for walking home were dashed. I could just imagine being halfway there and the sky opening up again, leaving me with a wet, dead computer and ruined books as I sought shelter. As soon as the rain let up, I ventured outside to catch the T back home, to the Charles/MGH stop. I'd looked at the radar to see that another pocket of storms would follow the one that had apparently just passed. I could probably get home before that downpour happened. Hopefully.

Even after this turn of events, I found myself mean-mugging it down Mass Ave. I was angry, rather, righteously indignant. Why did the world have to be this way? Why was my father trying to convert me, why did he think my Islam wasn't enough? Would there ever be anyone who would see me for who I am, appreciate me for all I was and actually love me in spite of who I was and what it may mean in society? Here I am, trying to live Islam as I see fit, but I keep feeling like maybe I'm going in the wrong direction, with my brown shoulders to open air. Self-conscious, I tugged at my tank top, looking down, making sure I wasn't showing more of my chest than I bargained for.

I wore a scowl which I almost never do while I walk. I usually smile, but I was angry, and I didn't care who knew. I try, I really do, and I tried. What is God trying to tell me? Am I being abandoned? How much harder is the road to the straight way going to be? I try so hard to be a good Muslim as I understand it, but it's so hard to do so in isolation and without someone to travel through this life with while keeping a Christian father at bay, a father who only knows Christianity so understandably wants me to embrace it.

I sat on the T, trying not to touch the person next to me, not because they bothered me, but because that's the societal standard. As we emerged after the Kendall stop, I was dismayed to see cloud cover returning. The train was not wet, though. It was not raining now, but I knew it may rain later. I would walk home as quickly as my slippery feet and stiff legs would carry me.

But it was not quick enough.


I gazed inside of the hotel from beneath the awning. There was a family of four or five, looking wet and confused like refugees from a sudden war, mouths agape as they watched the rain pour down in sheets. It was just a freak rainstorm, but it's telling how it caught all of our breaths. "It wasn't supposed to rain today," the doorman kept repeating, a phrase that I'd heard up and down the streets of Cambridge after I escaped during a dry period from Berry Line. He was nice enough to let me stand in the lobby as the wind began to blow the rain mist rising up from the warm sidewalk  under the awning, wetting me. I stood in the lobby and looked around as people everywhere were static, looking down helplessly as the unrelenting water poured down.

I watched an older woman run with a plastic hat over her head, skipping the awning in favor of her own drenching. If only she knew that this would pass soon, if she just stopped to take cover. Maybe she'd be less wet when she reached her destination, but she kept going, hoping over puddles, not looking up from her feet. It was a smart move, because one could easily slide and fall on the slippery brick outside of Liberty Hotel.

Standing in the lobby, I watched as some of the rich tenants emerged from the inside, standing outside, waiting on the doorman and the valets to retrieve their cars. I gazed at them, with their affected facial expressions and stiff postures, glad that I'd never be them. I didn't envy them, but it was interesting to watch. I was standing in the lobby of Liberty Hotel, a hotel that even after I'm able to afford to stay there, I probably won't.

I cracked a smile as the rain continued on, the family continued to look confused, and the one staff member continued to gaze into the white-out conditions. I realized, in a way, it was an answer to my prayer, or a sign for me, lest I get ahead of myself.

It was a sign that it's God who runs this. God rules, I said inside of my head. No weather forecaster could predict that torrent that drenched us all that early afternoon. It happened so fast and suddenly, reports of the current weather conditions couldn't even keep up. I saw it coming, too. I was walking, content with the small drops pecking me on the cheek and watched the wave of water push it's way southeast, barely giving me time to take cover.

For me, it means that...I don't know what's going to happen in life. I can predict, people can make an educated guess, but in the end, it's God who rules. A sudden, freak, unexpected pocket of precipitation can show up, and even though the radar catches it, no one suspects it because the weather people said it was going to be sunny today.

By all indications, I may spend the rest of my life alone, but I may look to the north and west and a new reality could take me on before I have time to run for cover, with nothing to shield or protect me.

So life may not make sense now, but at any given moment, a new day may come, with new understanding, wiping the frustration, bitterness and anger away, in heavy drops, in all-white sheets of wetness.

I walked gingerly home, sandals sliding on the sidewalk, the moisture squishing between my toes, trees dripping pitter patter on my head. I sang Águas de Março to myself as I watched the remnants of the torrent swirl into drains, collect in puddles, splash from truck tires as they sped by.

"É pau, é pedra, é o fim do caminho, é o resto de toco, é um pouco sozinho. A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road, it's the rest of a stump, it's a little alone."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"I think I better let it go..."

"...looks like another love TKO."

"We've come a long way since double honors orgo." Hah! You've come a long way...I feel like I'm more or less in the same damn place. Speak for yourself, Skinny!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Last Taboo


This article is four years old, but it's still the truth.

Black and Indian relationships: Is this the last taboo?

"But although they share a history of struggle against racism, concealed underneath are deep and ugly fault lines - fault lines that can split apart when people from these two communities fall in love with each other." - BBC, June 2006

I learned this in college, not in high school. In high school, I had no idea such taboos existed, even though my best friend was Bengali/Indian...for various reasons, her family was more liberal, anyway.

One of my friends, who is Hindu, told me once, "My parents told me that I can end up with anyone, as long as they aren't black or Muslim."

I laughed, "Really, there's nothing worse than that, huh?"

She then looked at me and smiled. "Chinyere, will you marry me?" We both got a laugh out of that one.

My friend pretty much exclusively dated black men, and before that had been involved with a Muslim. She must have wanted to kill her parents, haha. She told me that she would marry her Nigerian dude, that I should marry her brother. And I was like, "Yes, and then we'll live in one house and have a reality show!"

I mean, sometimes it is insulting when groups consider you to be the absolute last person they want their children to end up with because of race, but what are you going to do? Sit and fume and worry about what people think of you, how they see you as unacceptable, wonder why? Life goes on in a big way. Sometimes you just have to laugh it off, dust your shoulders off, keep going.

Because seriously, if all of these mamas of various races, ethnicities and religions knew how awesome I was, they'd be knocking down my door trying to set me up with their sons, and you'd best believe this! They'd forget their beef with me for being a Muslim Igbo or a black Muslim or whatever else. Now, would their sons appreciate it? Probably not, haha, but I'm telling you! I have to live this awesomeness! No more second guessing myself or waiting for the ultimate validation.

Now excuse me...I'm going to take a leisurely walk (in 90 degree weather) to the library...hmm...or I may just take the's 90 degrees...


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When Fact Becomes Fiction

As salaam alaikum,

So yes, I will be jocking myself again...this entry is going to be all about A Rose Much Desired.

After editing my cousin's manuscript for a while today, I turned my attention back to RMD...and I've gotten to this one particularly flagrant chapter, and I had to stop for the day.

Why is it flagrant? It is flagrant that I took this event in my life and formed a good part of my plot around it. The high school sequence with the character Desirée is actually the one that is most based off of my life, but this summer of 2004 stuff that I wrote here is life with the names changed.

The thing is, the events kind of are changed, the names changed, some of the circumstance, conversations are different...but the thoughts that I give the character are my own, my thoughts nearly verbatim at the time. It is an incredibly vulnerable feeling like I didn't realize before to put actual real feelings that really happened at some point into a character, even if the rest of the time, the character is not you. I guess this feels more personal than the high school sequence, where the characters are really, really based on actual people.

I guess in this story, there are areas where the actual fiction is really thin...which would make any reader wonder, what is the point of the rest of the manuscript? Is this what the author wishes would happen (no, by the way)? What is fiction and what is not?

If the person that Mo was based on (heh) ever read this, I think at some point he'd recognize that it was him. I'm actually kind of nervous about that and hope that he'll be so busy being a resident that he won't have time to pick up a book written by a former classmate (this is assuming I ever get published). Because if he reads it, man...he'll totally take it the wrong way.

The reason why I'm doing major edits with RMD right now is because I wrote most of the text in 2007 with a slightly different agenda and ulterior motives. I was a little hurt at the time and righteously indignant about the fact that, even in a religion that professed multiculturalism and supported it in the Qur'an and Sunnah, folks were still being racist...

Or, to be less beat-around-the-bushy about it, I was miffed that I was dismissed, passed up, whatever, because I was black, and sometimes I wrote that anger into the story and took it out on some of my characters.

Well, a lot can happen in three years, and with a cooler head and a different motivation, I'm finishing the story.

The thing that feels naked about it all is that...if the man who Mo is based off of ever reads this...figures out it's's not only mortification I'm talking, at him realizing kind of what I felt for him at the time that I liked him, since he knows that I liked him at this time. It would this what she wanted to happen between us, as the protagonists story lives out...

Haha, I'm being very cryptic because I don't want to give the story away.

But no, this is where fiction takes over. The main plot of RMD, through the "Agent" narration, Mo's perspective, is completely fiction, as is the "Muslimah" narration the voice of Nisreen the Muslimah, is completely fiction as well. The problem is, "Desirée" is very personal, because while Mo is that one guy and Nisreen is more of a composite, Des is me...haha, which may or may not be alarming with the first chapter of the story.

I based that narration completely off of my high school experience and first year of college. In all the fiction writing (none of which is published, lest you wonder) I've done in my life, I've never written a character that has been so personal as Desirée is to me, nearly autobiographical.

I didn't have two friends, Ameerah and Divya, to accompany me though high school. Ameerah and Divya are my best friend Ayesha split in two. Des's primary high school love interest, Zachary, is actually this guy Aaron. Zachary is named after this guy that I liked at a conference who watched me fall asleep this one time, and I didn't know what that meant. I should look him up on facebook to see if he married the girl he was dating at the time. Anyway, I named Zachary after him, gave him a lisp instead of Aaron's stutter, and viola.

But once I get to Des in college, I mean, I change a few chemistry becomes biochemistry, structured study group becomes recitation, but she's essentially me for that whole story line.

...I think I'll keep it that way.

What I don't want to happen is this guy to read it if it gets published. It'd be easy for him not to, maybe. He can't read it because it's not meant to be for him. It's for me. It's my catharsis, it's my putting a story that is never told into words. It's not supposed to be a letter to him.

I wrote my letter to him five years ago telling him that I liked him. It was an email at a point where I knew we would never see each other again. And that's all I said, "I used to like you." I prefaced it with saying that I was very prideful and I hadn't wanted to admit to it, all of this stuff. That's all I wanted him to know then, that's all I want him to know now. Him reading this story and discovering anything else about me is exactly what I don't want to happen. the point where I wonder if I should even continue this project at all. The point is not to talk about him, it's to talk about the struggles of identifying as an African American Muslimah, it's telling a little bit of the story of that in a way that I think is creative and thought provoking, if I may jock myself. I still want to tell that story, but the character based on him, Mo, is at the crux. Removing him would kill the story...

So, I'm back to editing, because I wrote this story at a time before he was engaged and before he was married. The whole thing would have been more clever if he hadn't actually gotten engaged to one of the characters in the story, or, at least, the woman she was based off of...

Because of that, I've sat on this story now for three about constrangimento...



Okay, so it's settled...I have to live in Brazil at some point in my life.

So, I just found out that Dionne Warwick lives currently in Brazil, and I was like, "What?!"

Look at what Wikipedia says:

"Dionne Warwick now lives in Brazil. Warwick first visited Brazil in the early 1960s and has become so entranced by the South American country that she has bought a home there and has studied Portuguese."

Entranced maybe isn't a word I'd use, but hey, that's wiki for ya. It's like, just like me, but I fell in love with Brazil and Portuguese in 2004! E AGORA POSSO FALAR DIREITINHO!

...that is all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Two Exclamation Points

As salaam alaikum,


Two exclamation points. One, I'm done with Step 2 CK! Who knows how I did, but it's done, and I am completely free from now until August 25, when I do orientation for public health school. I cannot express to you how happy I am to get to be brainless, essentially, for the upcoming months...

The second exclamation point comes from part three of the article on about the headscarf. This article has been complete awesomeness, by the way, and answered a question that I've always had but that I've been afraid to ask: when, in Islam, we say that things are fard (obligatory), what does that mean? It's obligatory or else...what? Is Heaven and Hell at play? And this scholar just answered that question for me:

In Islam we measure outward conformities in terms of whether or not you have fulfilled an obligation, whether or not you have fulfilled something that is recommended, or neutral, or if you have done something that is disliked or forbidden. Islamic law cannot go beyond that and this is one of its redeeming features - that the law is not making moral judgments on people. It is not saying who’s going to Heaven and who’s going to Hell. It is only saying that if you want to obey God, you should do such and such. And all of us ask the forgiveness of God because there is no one among us who fulfills all the obligations.  - Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah,

Amazing! Like, you don't understand how simple it is to have a simple question and be afraid of asking it for fear of someone being like, astaghfirullah, the word that's never been pronounced in reference to something I've said or done but one that I've always desired to avoid. Of course it's not just the word...I'm just afraid of asking an inappropriate question, or what is judged to be an inappropriate question, and then not getting an answer and then feeling bad about the whole process.

He talks about how legal judgments should never be moral judgments in Islam, and it's just a concept so...foreign to me, because of how (in strict reference to khimar now) I was introduced to hijab/ was not an issue of legal anything. It was a direct moral judgment to be sure. Sisters who didn't cover, in the liberal viewpoint, were no different from ones who did, but it was clear that there was an undercurrent, a subdivision of sisters (and a not-so-subtle subdivision of brothers) who disagreed. I assumed that these obligations were moral obligations, until I barely have a schema for law in, a law that is not a reflection of morality and spirituality? The only Islam I know is based on spirituality...

...haha, which reflects the fact that I am not, nor will I ever be, any one's scholar. Not at this rate. I'm too deep in medical school now, and yeah, various other million reasons why...


Those are my two exclamation points for the day. Later, I'll have a more extensive entry about...something else, haha, I don't know what yet.


Friday, July 2, 2010

[uncensored]: Reaja! / React!

As salaam alaikum,

So it's apparent that it's time for my bi-annual frequenting of And I don't frequent it so...infrequently...not because I don't like it. On the contrary, I like a lot of the articles! Sometimes for me, however, it's just a little bit of Muslim, so many topics, so many things to read into, but I'm trapped in my individual circumstance, granted one that I chose for myself, but I'm trapped nonetheless. I chose this path, and these are the challenges that I have to face type of thing.

I remember that now. But I'll be reading it for a few more days because this one scholar has a three-part piece on hijab, khimar and why Muslim women are choosing to remove the scarf. I find this very interesting, because it has been a decision that I haven't really been able to put in words since I removed my own scarf now three years ago, and it's a very interesting read because he summarizes some of my anxieties surrounding wearing and not wearing the scarf as I was never able to articulate. In other words, it's full out awesomeness.

So, while skimming the Altmuslimah front page, which, if you've seen it, it is a bit intimidating with the amount of articles you can read...I ran across one of the many articles about sexuality and Muslims (there's always at least one article on the front page about it!) by this brother, who earlier wrote an article entitled There Are Just No Good Muslim Women Out There." I linked to him on that one...I didn't read the other one yet, but I think it's equally as good.

But man, it was cathartic to read the first lines of what this brother said! I'll have to direct quote him:

"...I find myself simply put off by Muslim women. I need to be honest; it isn’t just Muslim women, but the whole relationship process in Muslim communities that utterly perplexes me. I can’t help but feel as though I am wandering aimlessly confused through two concurrent tempestuous storms – that of the normal bafflement that marks emotional relationships between people, and that of the Muslim relationship paradigm, the absurdities of both obscuring my ability to progress to something meaningful." - Adam Siite,


For a second, after reading this, I felt a little bit silly in writing RMD, because really, that's what's at the base of examination of the grand dysfunction of the system of courtship or, better yet, the lack of a system within the Muslim American paradigm. And here's a brother, even, reflecting the same anxieties that is the base of my anxiety these days. And why write a book about a concept that is not at all novel.

...because no one has written a fiction piece about black Muslims, immigrant American Muslims, the relationships between them and gender relations, all in one, so I'm going to do it! I don't care...

But why does this continue to be a source of anxiety for me? I mean, because sure, I worry about whether or not I'm going to be a good doctor when training is over, but anyone who knows me knows that my main anxiety is my worry that I'm slightly dysfunctional as a candidate, suitor, whatever, before a world where waiting until marriage is antiquated on one side and the grand mess that is the Muslim way of doing things on the other...which sometimes is, gosh, let's make this up as we go along, throw a wali into the mix or some halal dating, whatever, and hope that this will somehow all end in a nikkah.

Dude, I don't even know where to begin!

And as is also addressed in RMD...reading this article made me wonder, hmm, is this brother married or engaged now?

That knee jerk response reflects the height of dysfunction!

I feel like a lot of sisters have fallen into this category at one time in their lives, if they don't exist there now. Every upstanding, intelligent, educated and seemingly practicing brother is marriage material...let's call him marriage fodder. Maniac Muslim used to make jokes about this all the time, but sometimes, that mess is true. It honestly does not take a lot for someone to be marriage fodder...many men, many brothers, are upstanding, intelligent, educated, practicing...handsome, love kids, whatever else. But because the system, or the lack thereof, often relegates the opposite sex to a very distant social space than we exist, we don't often interact with each other, we don't know how to interact with each other, we don't get to know each other and form more realistic aspirations for what we would want in a spouse, such that anyone, really, is game.

A character in my story is like that, and the end for her is...well, I won't give it away...

But this is why I have to take breaks from Altmuslimah or any of the other Muslim American media is totally an over stimulation. I bet if I browsed the front page alone, there are tons more articles about the issues with courtship in the Muslim community, and people's personal frustrations, and prominent members of the community who have known names commenting often, many a single, educated, intelligent, upstanding marriage material Muslim and Muslimah.

But I'm sorry, talking hasn't done shit! That brother just may still be single and baffled by the dating process in the Muslim community, a lot of the editors, still single, still looking and hoping and praying that they get there before the magic 30 mark that many of us are avoiding.

And then you have sisters like that one that wrote this blog I once read about how she hoped that she could meet her future husband through blogging, through interchanging witty responses, getting to know each other, finding they were right for each other...

So I'm like, okay, one thing is avoiding dating [or publicly dating, as I know more than a few Muslims who actually, like, you know, kind of date other Muslims] because of the fear that dating in the U.S. is synonymous with sex, and it's another thing expecting Muslim marriage fodder to drop from the sky, spontaneously, and fit into your life...

Then we have people arranging marriages, which [not hating on arranged marriages at all, if I had good marriage fodder in mind and he were willing, I'd so arrange that shit in a heartbeat] may or may not be for the right reasons, precipitated, whatever...for example, if I were to arrange my marriage now, that would be precipitated to the nth power, and would most likely end in calamity of epic proportion...well, I'm being melodramatic right now, it wouldn't be epic, but it wouldn't end well, let's say...

All of this to say, yes! We can talk about this all day. Sixty-four sisters and seventeen brothers can guest post on Altmuslimah or wherever else talking about how dysfunctional any sort of courtship system is within the Muslim community, yes. But what are we going to do about it?

For ourselves, as individual single Muslims, what are we going to do? For our communities at large, for the little Muslims we'll be having once we're able to find ourselves that marriage fodder? What are we going to do?

I no longer care that others have gone through it, actually. Well, I'll say that differently. I am satisfied that this is a common experience. Meanwhile, there are so many eligible Muslims out there, all of us milling around like zombies, potentially marrying each other but not because, oh wait, this sister is of a different ethnic group, my head a splode!

Too much talk, already! I want to hear some solutions! No more commiserating! Reaja!

My personal solution? See, all I need is one brother who's willing to bend the rules with me a little bit, and we can form a meaningful though halal as we can relationship, and then all we have to do is get married at the end, and I won't have to worry about the system! Yeah? Awesome!

Now, all that brother has to do is drop out of the sky and...oh.

No, but seriously! I think the only way this is going to change is if folks are willing to bend the rules a little. People are so afraid of haram that there's an epidemic of aging unmarried Muslimahs. Muslim speed dating, anyone?

Something! Like, let's set up Muslim real world, except with the males and females in separate houses [with chaperons...let's make it as halal as possible], where we have to work, half of the cast would be engaged by the end of the show, I guarantee...

Okay, I'm done.