Saturday, December 28, 2013



"Very well
I believe I know you
Very well
Wish that you knew me, too
Very well
And I think I can deal with everything going through your head."
--Stevie Wonder "Superwoman/Where Were you When I Needed You."

After the summer of 2004, before I started to lose my grip on reality and when I began to sense that a relationship between me and MQ was not to be, this song was my theme song. Or rather, my theme song for how I felt about him.

For whatever reason, I felt like I knew him well, if he'd just let me tell him about himself. He would see that I knew him well, and he would come to love me for it. And together, we could deal with everything going through his head.

But then there was this cumbersome part of the lyric to reconcile, and that was about Mary wanting to be a superwoman.

The woman that I was early college, I wasn't into that lyric. What's wrong with Mary wanting to be a superwoman, I asked myself...and probably seriously asked my mother. She didn't give me an answer. For those who have never enjoyed this wonderful Stevie song, here is a sampling of not just the chorus:

"Mary wants to be a superwoman
But is that really in her head?
'Cause I just wanna live each day
And love her for what she is

"Mary wants to be another movie star
But is that really in her mind?
And all the things she wants to be
She needs to leave behind."

Then it launches into the "very well" part.

As my brother is want to say, I took offense to this lyric. Why does Mary have to leave behind the things she wants to do? Her dreams, her aspirations, just for this man? And he claims to know her very well, well enough to know what is best for her as if she doesn't.

"My woman wants to be a superwoman
And I just had to say goodbye
Because I can't spend all my hours
Start to cry."

And like that, it's over.

The lyrics were based on Stevie's relationship with his first wife who had aspirations to be a singer herself. I think he helped produce her first album or something, but it was splitsville from there.

Towards the end of that marriage, Stevie wrote "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" for a woman not his wife. Burn.

Just a little music trivia there.

I took offense and I told myself I never wanted to be with a man who wouldn't let me be a superwoman. Because I've always imagined myself being somewhat of a superwoman. That image has metamorphosed over time...

From my 6-year-old imaginings of a thinner, browner-skinned version of myself sporting bantu knots, a tank top and capri jeans singing "Yes and yes indeed, nobody's just a-right for me," while passing by interested young black men on either side of me in an elaborate fantasy music video daydream to my 21-year-old image of myself in black hijab and jilbab with my activist husband to my left and my young son on my hip, overlooking the landscape of the human rights march we had organized, I always imagine myself a superwoman.

That has got to be the longest sentence I've ever written.

These days, superwoman me is a bit nebulous at best. I see her as some kind of leader in medicine, leader in her community, loving wife and mother, champion of the underserved. I don't see my hair texture or color or whether or not its covered. I don't see the color of my husband or my babies. I don't see my size and I don't hear my voice and the specific of my aspirations I don't know, but I do know I want to be great.

But is that beyond what I am?

Maybe I don't have within me to be a leader. Maybe I'm too soft spoken and accommodating. I've certainly had time in my life to be as activist as I want to be, and I haven't done nearly what I could have done.

Maybe I want to be a superwoman, but that's not really what's in my head. Maybe I should just be satisfied with who I am and go on from there.

...I still take issue with someone telling you, for the sake of your relationship, to forsake your ambitions. Although, at least he left without giving an ultimatum.

The truth of the matter is that I am not the superwoman I saw myself being when I was younger and even among the things I'm relatively good at, I'm mediocre at best at them in the grand scheme of things. I'm relatively poorly read, I'm not that good of a writer, I am not a model Muslimah, and my body has swung on the pendulum back to the fat side of things. My hair is broken at the crown in spite of its growth, and I'm an okay family medicine resident. I'm an occasionally disappointing daughter (to my father) and a distant sister. I'm a hesitant significant other. I'm not the best at anything that I do.

And you know what, that's okay.

Maybe now I can focus on making real goals in my life and not idealized ones, just as I will focus on making a life with a real man in my life, and not an idealized one.

One who I do not know very well. One who I'm not sure I can deal with everything inside his head. And I won't be able to. But that doesn't preclude me from becoming part of his life.

And now I've come full circle.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

We Do It, Too


When I was a younger Muslimah, starting college and finding my way, I once scoffed at a non-Muslim friend who asked about Muslim male dating habits.

"We don't date," I explained to him. Or, at least, I tried to, before he got angry at me for "pushing" my religion on him. Whatever.

He was taken aback that I could have liked a Pakistani man over a black man. Rather, he wouldn't admit it, but even though we were "just friends," he wanted me to be attracted to him as he was not so secretly attracted to me. Oh well.

He didn't want to hear the explanation because every time I explained how I was Muslim, that was less of a chance for him to make his way into my life. We didn't date, I would have explained to him, and I would have described some of the more halal methods of courtship, as I had only recently come to understand them. We didn't date and we didn't have sex before marriage. That way, we could use birth control sparingly, while married, and then we would bring forth what God willed. And what better way to bring forth what God wills than in a marriage approached prayerfully and for His sake?

So even though I liked this brother, I would never be truly heartbroken because I wouldn't have gotten unnecessarily physical with a man who I was not bound to marry, because I would not get physical with a man I had not married. My non-Muslim friend thought I was being a prude. Whatever on him.

And I thought that was the way it was with all Muslims.

Fast forward 9 years. In that time, I graduated from college, from medical school, from public health school and have been a resident physician for 1.5 years. I have lived my life and I have lived alongside many challenging and beautiful patients who have taught me valuable lessons as I learn along with them and attempt to be a healer. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I have been blessed to work with a large population of Muslim patients, more than I had the privilege of working with while a med student in Boston. And although it did not take this experience to make this realization, it did give me real stories and real faces to put with what had just developed as anecdotes.

We do it, too.

We do what? Whatever you may say, "Muslim(ah)s don't do." We do it, too.

We have sex before marriage. We get pregnant as teenagers. We have babies, still unmarried. We get abortions for unplanned pregnancies when we're unmarried. We get drunk and use drugs.

I think what some Muslims do, and I say this because I once did it, is consider these Muslims somehow other. They are either "so-called Muslims," they are "nominal Muslims," they are "not practicing Muslims," they are "actually disbelievers," or at best they are "not striving." Perhaps struggling, later to find their way. Maybe they were born to Muslim families and have not actually taken their shahadah or taken it seriously. But they are not considered properly Muslims.

Then one feels comfortable falling back on "Muslim(ah)s don't do."

While protecting the privacy of my patients, I will say that the majority of the families impacted by issues above are actively practicing the five pillars and are visibly practicing with hijab, jilbab and beard.

And I do all of this not to noise about "evil," because I don't believe in that. That's not my point.

I used to believe that "real Muslims" didn't do certain things, that because of our approximation of the perfect faith, we were immune to certain life mistakes, missteps and choices. And I believed that anyone who made those certain choices were no longer real Muslims and therefore not part of my imagining of the ummah. At best, those who participated in those activities had strayed and, God being merciful, they would probably find their way back, someday.

But imagining the ummah this way creates a lot of instances of "not my problem," that should be our problem. They should be taken into our consideration. They should be made part of causes that we champion in our communities. These are not things that simply happen to somebody else.

It reminds me of my father's church. As many of you know, my father is Christian. His pastor and his wife were unmarried when they got pregnant and they were quite young when they married as a result. Because of this, the pastor understood the importance of having a ministry for single mothers, recalling the challenges he and his own wife faced. The proposal was met with a lot of resistance from other Protestant pastors who felt like having a ministry for single mothers was enabling and encouraging premarital sex.

So I suppose they would sooner not support these women, part as punishment and part as "encouragement" for them to form an acceptable family unit soon.

Even if that were the primary goal of the ministry, how do you expect single woman to form "acceptable" family units if they are believing woman shunned from congregations?

I applaud the pastor for forming the ministry and recognize that this point of contention exists across conservative faiths.

Real Muslims, in my practice, face many of the same problems that all of my patients face, if at a smaller volume for some. We do all of these things, but ultimately (and most importantly), it is possible for us to do okay on the other side. We recover. I have seen married women who had terminations prior to marriage now happily married to men who respect their wives and are eager to start their families with her. Men who do not hold this over her head. Men who are not emasculated by his wife's prior sexual experience. I have seen loving parents standing by the side of their teenagers struggling with early addictions to find the best health care. Parents who do not cast these young people out. Parents who are just as frustrated and scared for their children as non-Muslim parents.

My practice in medicine has always been consistent, regardless of religion, orientation, gender, ethnicity, etc, but I believe what I've learned as a clinician has impacted my worldview. I think of us Muslims less monolithically now.

Friday, December 6, 2013

How Do I


How do I remember you, and how do I do more than pay lip service to your incredible legacy? What can I do to help fill the void of incredible leadership that's left while you no longer walk the earth with us?

For indeed, life shifted when I realized that you were no longer in this realm with us.

Nelson Mandela.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Aged Uterus


In January 1996, 17 years and 11 months ago, I was living with my grandparents for the second time in 6 months. My mother had a hysterectomy earlier that year because of pretty serious cramping and bleeding she had with endometriosis and large uterine fibroids.

When my mother told me, I was saddened by the finality of never having that little sister I wanted. Because my father continued working five days a week, my 8-year-old brother and I lived with my grandparents for the summer. It would be the last summer that my grandparents did not have air conditioning. It was installed in the days before we returned home. It was also the summer of the OJ Simpson trial, and we spent many of those sweaty Midwestern summer days lying on the floor in front of the television, low enough so our grandparents could see the trial. It was also the summer we introduced our grandparents to Rugrats.

I returned to the fifth grade just to end up going back to Flint that winter of 1994-95. They took her uterus and cervix but not her ovaries, and one of them had enlarged, concerning for cancer. When my mother told me, I was devastated, crying with the fear of losing her. My father continued working, so back to our grandparents it was. I completed weekly assignments from my public school down in Ypsilanti at my aunt's Islamic School in Flint. I wouldn't have to repeat the fifth grade for my missed days, my mother assured me.

I remember that winter. I called it the tundra winter because it was cold and barely snowed. Temperatures did not venture above 20 Fahrenheit for most of the summer. I remember the cold between my grandparents' house and Grandfather's conversion van, from the van to the school, from the school to the van, and back again. The pathology came back on my mother's ovary and it wasn't cancer. It was a chocolate cyst, a large focus of endometriosis that grew and caused her ovary to torse. My mother, who had opted to keep her ovaries in order to maintain her normal hormones, went into surgical menopause at the age of 41.

A week or so later, I was playing in the TV room of my grandparents' house when I felt a sudden trickle. I went to the bathroom and pulled down my panties to see little spots of brown in the bottom. I knew what a period was. My mother taught me about it when she pulled me out of maturation class in the fourth grade, wanting to present me sex "in the context of God" but still being too afraid to talk about intercourse with me. I knew what a period was because that's what happened to Mommy sometimes on family trips when she'd have to sit on a towel in the car and when she was writhing in pain and vomiting. It was the pads in the bathroom and the smell. This was a little bit of brown. I was confused.

I called Grandmother and asked her what it was. I can't remember her words, but she confirmed my suspicions with a groan, turning her eyes towards the ceiling with a look of "Lord help us, another one fertile!" It was my period!

She gave me a pad and clean panties, and I scurried off to play, excited that I was, like Clair Huxtable told Rudy, "a woman now."

...and then, the next day, I got my first cramps, and it was no longer fun.

My mother lost her ability to ovulate, and I gained mine. My mother lost her ability to bear children as I began my journey to be able to bear my own. I was 10 years old.

Now, 17 years and 11 months later, I am 28 years old. My ovaries have ovulated and my uterus has shed for over 200 cycles. It's coming up on 18 years of menstruation and I'm over halfway done with my reproductive years and the best ones have already passed me by. And I wonder...what was the use of starting to menstruate when I was 10 years old?

I thought about this after reflecting on the teenage girls whose babies I've delivered over times. These girls usually have short labors, breathing well through their contractions and tolerating them without epidurals and then proceed to push their babies out in less than an hour of pushing. And these are first babies, the babies it can take up to two hours to push out. I once had a patient come in at five centimeter dilated, get pushed back to labor and delivery, progress 10 minutes after my exam to complete, and pushed the baby out in one contraction, three pushes.

Sitting next to one of our interns, we reflected on this. "I hate to admit it, but there's something about the teenage body that is made for having babies. It's like, they're not mentally or emotionally ready, but their bodies are ready."

I said, "Maybe that's why we developed patriarchal societies. Because we best reproduce when we are teenage women and therefore need the extra support and protection from men."

She nodded. "You're probably right." After some thought, she said, "You know, I don't know why we haven't yet evolved so that our optimum reproductive years are after we, you know, get ourselves settled, get an education, figure out what we want in life..."

The fact of the matter remains that I am a female physician who completed medical and graduate school at 27, only now have begun to have reasonable marriage prospects, and I have had the ability to bear children for the last 18 years. My reproductive system is old and unused. It will not be as easy for me to get pregnant as it may have been for me 8-10 years ago, when I was in my reproductive prime. The tissue of my cervix is not as pliable and may not dilate as efficiently. My body has been so used to being in the non-pregnant conformation for so long, its no telling if my hips will open wide enough for a large baby head.

My mother had me at 30. My head was too big for her pelvis and she could not push me out. She went to c-section for cephalopelvic disproportion. My head was so big, the pediatrician had to measure it twice. I am going to have a large-headed baby, hehe.

When I was 13 years old, three years into menstruation and already in love with an age-mate of mine, I imagined us getting married. We would get married and have our first baby when I was 20. That baby would be a boy and he would be a junior. We were going to live in Detroit in a brick, one-story house. I was going to call 9-11 and deliver at home and he was going to be my miracle baby, just like this 13-year-old boy was a miracle in my life.

At the same time, I scoffed at the girls in my class who wanted to be teenage mothers, like their moms. At least my aspirations weren't so ridiculous.

I would move away from that boy, never letting him know how I felt, and I would not be having a child at 20. Or 25. And maybe not at 30.

In the end, I don't mourn my lost reproductive time. Instead, I celebrate my privilege, my ability to choose my partner, my ability to attain my education and ability to wait for a time of more security for whoever my baby beans will be. And although at times I feel like that business is atrophying...insha'Allah, it keeps working into your 40s, less efficiently, sometimes making mistakes, but it keeps working. Insha'Allah, I'll have time.

...but 18 years of being able to reproduce is a long time and makes me feel old. Makes my uterus and ovaries feel old. That's 18 years of nausea and vomit inducing cramps. That's 18 years of overdosing on ibuprofen to try not to stay in bed all day in fetal position. That's 18 years of trying not to ruin clothes.

Oh my aged uterus, why do you torment me so?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Things that Make Me Happy #2: The Perfect Retro


Some time ago, I had a post where I did a gratefulness exercise inspired by a similar exercise that we did during Residents Only time during didactics, in which we usually do some type of meditation. The first one was called "Things that Make Me Happy." Self-explanatory. The second was "That Day He'll Love Me Back," which is my favorite part of unrequited love, the moment of anticipation when your beloved realizes that he or she loves you, too, and you begin your lives together.

That anticipation, which lasts for several moments over the span of an unrequited love, makes me very happy.

So this also makes me happy: the perfect retro.

Bruno Mars did it with "Treasure." Let me explain why.

Could have left out the "Baby squirrel, yous a sexy m***f***er" part, though, but whatevs.

I thought the song was cute months ago when I heard it, but I didn't see the video until recently. I don't generally watch videos but I saw a Bruno Mars video while getting bubble tea one day and I was like, huh, I wonder what this one looks like...

..and I fell in love.

Let me break it down for you.

First, the video. Bruno Mars is my age, born in 1985. The style of this video is clearly before either of our times. I would place this video pre-Thriller, probably late 70s to early 80s, more precicely 1979 to 1982.

Let me give you a few examples of what this video reminds me of.

Of course, the video reminds the most of one of Bruno Mars' greatest influences, Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson, "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," Off the Wall, 1979.
 This was the first video that came to mind when I saw "Treasure." Going to the end of that era of music video is the likes of Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me."

The Gap Band, "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," The Gap Band III, 1982

And if it weren't for wikipedia, I would have never seen this video, but Bruno Mars and his producers must have seen this Earth, Wind and Fire video, because a lot of the elements are identical.
From the special effects, to the basic choreography, to the random chick dancing in it, everything...he nailed this era!

Earth, Wind and Fire, "Let's Groove," Raise!, 1981


Seeing the video made me appreciate the song a lot more. Honestly, when I first heard the song back in the summer, because I heard it at a wedding that was also playing older songs (I heard one of my faves referenced in the aforementioned entries, "Overjoyed."), I thought it was an old song that I perhaps hadn't heard before. Maybe somebody's B side or something. Thought maybe the artist was DeBarge or something, since I don't know a lot of their stuff. Then I started hearing it on the radio and I realized that it wasn't old, and that it was Bruno Mars.

There are definitely elements of the song itself that place it in that late 70s, early 80s era. First, lyrically, a song named on the simple premise of praising a woman, naming one of her attributes...that is a classic attribute of many songs of the era.

Coming to mind immediately are, "Outstanding" by Gap Band (Gap Band IV, 1982). Others include, "Special Lady" by Ray, Goodman and Brown (Ray, Goodman & Brown, 1979) and "You are My High" by The Gap Band (The Gap Band II, 1979). Lyrics only, because these songs have a different groove, obviously. Of course this concept extends outside of this era, but I feel like this era was one of the last times that R&B had songs like this that were chaste declarations of love without some muted or overt sexual reference.

For example, "Candy" by Cameo (1985). Obvious sexual reference.

Then there's the actual music. The beat/groove reminds me of a couple of songs of that disco/post-disco era. First to mind is Emotions, "Best of My Love" (1977). The vocals, once again, reminiscent of Michael Jackson, the dance moves, the same.

But with all of this, he put together a song that really could have come out in 1979. Every element of it (except for the woman in the video doing the Bankhead Bounce, popularized apparently by this song in 1995) is true to that time, including the instrumentation and vocal effects.

Why does this make me happy? Because, this is my dream!

I have a story idea called, "The Misadventures of Nisa," that is set in the early 80s, and it's either going to be a musical or it'll have a lot of music in it. I've got the basic concepts for 3 songs in it so far, one that is the theme, another that is just one of the side songs, and another that is an instrumental for the background. The story itself is really campy, but it's an outlet for me to write songs that I think could have existed in the era. For whatever reason, even though the music wasn't the greatest in terms of quality, I love 80s music for what it is, I think more than any other era. The 1960s had the best soul, the 1970s had the best funk, bass progressions and Stevie Wonder, the 1990s has my heart and is the first era where I have real nostalgia for the music, the 2000s lost my interest.

The 1980s were...awesome. It was flux, it was worldly, it was uncertainty, it was instability, it was change, it was disintegration. It was the era that gave birth to hip hop, which degenerated into gansta rap. It was the era of fame and change for Michael Jackson. It was the era of AIDS with no cure in sight, the war on drugs and the introduction of crack cocaine into the inner city. It was an era of big hair and harsh makeup and men in skinny jeans for the first time. It was the first era I look at documented in television where people look the most human to me, and not coiffed in clothing that is characteristic, universal and just-so to give us the semblance of civilization. It was more animal. It was dirtier, messier. You could almost smell the 80s.

Or maybe it's the first era that's really real to me because I was born in it. That could be it.

But someone who is able to pull of that perfect retro, harkening back in a piece of music or art or whatever to an era that actually existed such that my own mother, who existed in that era, thought that it was actually an old video of an artist she didn't know? That is genius right there.