Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Worst Kind of Terrorists


I vacillated about whether or not I should make this entry, as I try to keep this space as apolitical as possible for one thing, and for another, I don't like to write stream-of-consciousness pieces for something that I could research and on which I could write a proper dissertation.

And I feel that way for most political topics, current events, news, etc.

But I've been sitting back these last couple of days since the San Bernardino terrorist attack, watching people stew and seep, boil and burn, cry and fret about what this country is coming to, what it all means, whether this is terrorism or not, what terrorism is.

I've seen fellow Muslims hesitate to call this terrorism, wish (as we all do) that it's not terrorism--by which we mean, we wish it's not someone carrying out an attack in the name of our religion.

But those same people, just days before with the Colorado Springs shooting, hastened to call that shooter a terrorist--and he is. And that was a terrorist attack.

As of December 2, we had 355 mass shootings in this country, more than days we've had in this year so far. Many of them, if not all of them, I consider to be acts of terror. For me, terrorism is simple--acts of violence aimed at killing and maiming multiple people and to, in general, cause chaos within communities and societies.

For state purposes, terrorism is often defined as such violent acts that have a political, religious or ideological significance or, by some definitions, are carried out in affiliation with larger organizations.

And this is why, if I am as diplomatic as I can be, Muslim mass murderers are labeled as terrorists and lone-wolf white mass murderers are not.

The question of affiliation with larger organizations is one for another time. For example, how loosely does a white mass murderer have to be affiliated to, say, a white supremacist group before being considered a terrorist because of this affiliation?

Again, I consider all mass murders terrorists by my definition, so this is moot to me.

But, if what we have been told about the shooters in San Bernardino is true, then they are the worst kind of terrorists I have ever seen. It is absolutely horrifying. The flagrant disregard for human life, the indiscriminant killing of men and women of all ages, the mundane venue--a company holiday party at a rented space in a social services building.

How many of us have gone to our company's holiday parties, hackneyed Christmas classics playing softly in the background, people milling around, nibbling on dessert for too long and being embarrassed for someone who got uncharacteristically drunk and loud? Can you imagine going there and dying? Can you imagine the people around you dropping dead? How terrible!

Each story is heartbreaking. Understatement.

That, of course, makes me the most sad and the most angry.

What also makes me angry is that, because of these devils, the moderate Muslim defense doesn't exist anymore.

What do I mean by that? The perpetrators seemed like--and perhaps, for a good while, were--the "moderate Muslim" archetype. Professionals, integrated into their community, seemingly responsible citizens, married with a baby. And then, they spontaneously radicalized.

It's insidious. It reminds me of what family members and friends of the Paris assailants said, that six months prior to the attacks, they stopped drinking and started praying.

Prayer now seems a sinister act...

...though, I guess it always could be.

Muslims are being stopped in subways by passengers believing their laptops are bombs. People in town halls blurt out that "all Muslims are terrorists." A Sikh woman on a Delta flight is made to show her breast pump so a wary passenger is at ease that she is not carrying a bomb. People are being put off flights for speaking Arabic or being visibly Muslim.

Being Muslim right now is different than it was post 9/11. Post 9/11, there was an unspoken other. We were American Muslims. We had no ties to these radical groups in the East "jumping through flaming hoola-hoops," as my mother once put it. And their targets were big and symbolic. I remember, as the 16-year-old I was in 2001, scoffing at the security measures at local stadiums. I cried when I was made to throw away my purse at a game. "Why would terrorists want to attack a college football game?" Why would they target Nowheresville, USA? And for years, that remained true, and I felt justified at dismissing some of the lingering fears as Michael Moore did, as a white American culture of fear.

I think the fear is legitimate now. Conspiracy theorists, like they did post 9/11, are running rampant, but the fact of the matter remains--people really got shot and people really died at an everyday venue, horrendously at what should have been a time of casual celebration.

In the eyes of the public, every Muslim is suspect. There are no such thing as moderate Muslims. Any could radicalize at any time. Once again, "See something, say something" targets Muslims and apparent Muslims, brown people and people who cover their hair with scarves and turbans.

These terrorists are the worst kind because they took lives, shattered families, terrified a community, and made things worse for the peaceful majority of Muslim people in America, heightening their exposure to discrimination, hatred and possible violence.

I do wonder what's become of my country, that mass shootings are so commonplace and so many of us have become so flippant about death until, perhaps, it personally touches us. And just today I began to wonder, as staunchly as I am for gun control (to the point where I am like, yes, someone should take your guns!), if the problem is not other. If it lies in the fabric of who we are as Americans, who we purport to be, and who we actually are.

But besides that, I am at a loss. I don't know what to do, like none of us does, but I do know what not to do.

As a Muslim, I am mortified by every act of violence that is carried out by a Muslim, more than I cringe at ever instance of so-called "black-on-black violence." We can say that these people aren't really Muslim, we can say that what they're following isn't really Islam, we can point out every Muslim that was killed by them and every Muslim hero who saved those around them.

We can condemn every act carried out by people with "Muslim names" before terrorism is formally identified as a motive.

But this doesn't take away the fact that, for some reason and at this time, organizations and individuals are interpreting our texts and our message for the purpose of evil and mass slaughter.

They are certainly not the only ones using a faith to commit atrocities. There are terrorists who draw some sort of twisted inspiration from every religion. But the terrorists who use our faith are center stage now.

A vociferous and murderous minority is successfully defiling our religion in a public arena.

This is not time to sit back and state that this is a sign of the end times, because every day, we're still here. End times is clearly not right now.

So, now--what?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I Never Existed Again, the Prequel


I was just going through a journal of mine from when I was 19 years old and read a paragraph that really exemplified the whole "I never existed again" thing, 4 years before I would hear the Djavan song that would give meaning to the feeling I had. And this was only the beginning of me feeling this way. I had not known MQ for a year yet, and I was already falling into the obsession circuit in my brain.

Anything in brackets are edits I've made in retrospect. This was written in January, 2004. Emphasis, with the bold, was also added by me later.

I think it was last Thursday, so Thursday, January 6. It was the first time I had my Spanish class with Sra. Highfill (and wow, I just suddenly had déjà vu with her and her class…like I’d been there before or something).  Anyway, a girl came in named Sarwat.  I had seen her on thefacebook before, back when I was looking up stuff on Azmat…who didn’t end up pairing up with [MQ] at all.  It was just me being silly…again.

Anyway, Sarwat came in, and for whatever reason, I just thought of [MQ] whenever I looked at her.  Okay, it was obvious why I did…I was thinking about the whole culture thing, and if, for him to ever really consider me, that’s what I would have to be…Desi, Pakistani, whatever…and I never would be…well, obviously.  But yes, I thought about that, and then I started thinking back to him, and all the silly little conversations we had… And that progressed, until I thought about him all day.  And then that kid who’s in my Biochemistry discussion and apparently living in South Quad, Ajay…he reminded me of him, too.  And I would see back of heads [around me in class], and I would get startled when [those backs of heads] looked slightly like [his], and almost wanted to close my eyes and run away in case the head turned around and it was him…

It was something like that, not so eloquently.  And I realized at the end of the day that the whole thing was ridiculous.  I hadn’t seen him since November, and now it’s January, and I hadn’t really spoken to him since we did in the summer, and that was kind of shitty in itself, and I was still nervous to come anywhere close to him, even if it was second hand through his friend Sarwat, who never mentioned him...

[...] as she looked at me as I pronounced my name [for the professor in class], I’d wondered if perhaps she’d heard that name before…and for what reason she would have heard it. [Maybe she'd heard about this girl from him, this girl that was obsessed with him].  Or if it was from the back of random people’s heads that kind of looked like his…I just realized it was getting out of hand, and that I’d spent more time that day thinking of him than thinking of anything that had to do with me.

And I started to wonder how much of myself I had lost in the process of being in love with him.  Yes, I may not have ever gotten him, but I was in love with him, and I wanted him, and I thought that if we worked together, I could marry him…all of that foolishness.  But I wondered how much of myself I lost.  I thought I was losing my personality by being so stuck on him  But maybe that wasn’t the case at all.  Maybe, in the beginning of this whole ordeal, I didn’t have that much personality to begin with.  Not as much as I thought I had.

This was remarkable for me to read. In that last paragraph especially, it's like I couldn't even remember who I had been before there was him. I go on to write about how my first journal entry began with me musing about the my teenaged crush, Corey, and I wondered how many legitimate thoughts had I had that were not about some male.

Another (perhaps) remarkable thing is that my writing hasn't changed so very much in the last 11 years. I'd like to think I'm a slightly better writer now, and definitely the content is more mature now, but oh well.

I'm, in general, stunned by how naïve I was...11 years is a lot. I ended this entry thinking about taking out loans to take an MCAT class. That's how long ago that was. That was a more than 4 years of medical school, 1 year of public health school and 3 years of residency ago. Wow!

And it's also incredible how you can lose yourself in someone who in the end has nothing to do with you...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"It Wasn't Meant to Be" Takes New Meaning


"It wasn't meant to be."

Intellectually, I could get with that, but emotionally, I could not. As a several-year sufferer of unrequited love for much of my young adult years, the phrase seemed cruel, a hackneyed trope offered by people who didn't have answers but were well-meaning nonetheless.

Years after getting over the love that never would be, I still couldn't really understand that. Yes, obviously it was not meant to be, because here I am and there he is, living two separate lives, probably never chancing to meet again and, because of Facebook, I know too much.

My last entry shows how I couldn't understand it.

And to be clear, part of me will still wonder. There were so many signs that I interpreted as meaning we would end up together after pointed and plaintive prayers. These signs from hearing a random string quartet practice the wedding march in my dorm to him being down the hall in my friend's dorm, hearing me as I cried. Why would God tease me with these signs if we were, in fact, never meant to be.

Because we weren't. We existed in each others' lives exactly as we should have.

Before I fell for him, I had prayed specifically that I would not do such a thing. I prayed to God not to allow me to fall for a man who was not meant for me. But I did.

Most other prayers I have prayed in my life have been answered, from small things like praying that the rain would let up so I could take pictures for a summer project in high school, to big things like medical school acceptances and residency matches. But my faith remained shaken after the man I prayed for so long would be my future husband ended up to be someone else's.

I used to wonder why, and then for a long time, I gave up. I just didn't think about it. I reasoned, there are probably people who pray for more important things, like being able to feed their child, or to save their dying spouse from the wrath of disease, or any other number of situations who are now sitting on the other side of things, wondering why their prayers weren't answered. For me, the only thing not answered for me is that some dude I had a crush on in college didn't like me back. Big deal.

But then, thinking about the turmoil my fiancé has had to go through because of his family's disapproval of me, I realize something...

...well, for one, it likely would have been several times worse with my college crush. My fiancé has a small family. My college crush had a large family that was apparently invested in him ending up with someone from their own community. And that he did, and their families get along well.

Whereas, my future in-laws will likely have little contact with me...thankfully, as the case were.

I would love to be part of a family that loved me as I feel I deserve to be loved as an excellent future-partner to their beloved son, but it looks like I'm not going to...just as I was prepared was a distinct possibility with my college crush.

I said I was ready for anything back then, now I get to eat my words. It is hard. It's harder to see your fiancé essentially disowned from his family.

But more than realizing that, rationally, it was not meant to be, I also recognize that...sometimes, even if certain traits line up, there is mutual attraction, interest, wasn't meant to be.

Yes, so many other prayers in my life have been answered, and easily. Of course this prayer would be the hardest. Yes, I have a friend who claims she prayed to find a husband and then met her husband the next day, but a lot happened before he became her husband that did not seal that prayer as answered for her. She made it sound easy, but it wasn't.

It's easy when a prayer only involves you, or your personal protection, or something like that. It's easy when a prayer is about a career path, or a housing option, or safety on road or in the air while one travels. It's not easy when a prayer involves a whole other human being who is just as complex as you are, with their own desires, needs and prayers.

The man that you see who you decide must be the future husband of your prayer and desire may have congruent desires but perhaps incongruent needs, for example. People are not ready to order. I have yet to hear anyone say that someone came and was perfectly equipped to be their future spouse when they met them.

So as much as I may have loved my college crush, I could not pray him into being for me. As much as I felt I could "deal with everything going through [his] head," I was never in his head. We existed together in the same realm for just a little bit. His path was other, and I had to steer away. It wasn't meant to be.

Relationship prayers are the hardest to pray and the hardest with which to wait for the answer. The answer is sometimes quite unexpected. Whenever our desires and prayers are directed at a thing that necessarily involves another complete human being, so many things have to line up to make it work. And while certainly nothing is impossible with God, it will take a little bit more time than...driving under a bridge to see the rain stop instantly to allow you to do your high school summer project.

So for me, it wasn't meant to be takes on new meaning. It's no longer hackneyed and frustrating. It's a simple truth. It's not a term of resignation; it reminds me of my submission. Submission to the Truth.  For all I prayed, God knew that my college crush was not actually who I thought he was or what I wanted, and if he was, he knew that I was not what he needed. It was never a prayer unanswered. It was a prayer answered, but I didn't leave space or understanding of that being possibly the answer.

And with the tincture of time and experience and the prospect of assuming a family name of a family that will have nothing to do with me, I see...I come to understand. Love can conquer much but you have to decide if it's worth it.

In terms of the signs I got after pointed prayers...I still don't understand those. Maybe it's like the movie Mr. Nobody, and I could have lived a life where I ended up with my college crush if I took precise actions earlier on, actions I was not ready to take at 19. Maybe that piece has some meaning that I'll uncover later in my life. This little epiphany about the whole situation only took 11 years, after all.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

I Never Existed Again


Me apaixonei?
Talvez, pode ser
Não sei, nunca vi
Preciso sair
Depois que eu descobri
Que há você
Nunca mais existi

I fell in love?
Maybe, it could be
I went crazy?
I don't know, I've never been there
I need to get out
After I discovered
That there is you
I never existed again.

I told the story of this song before. How I heard this song on my "Haiti" playlist on Pandora in 2008, how I excitedly ordered a CD imported from Brasil with the song on it since I couldn't download it on the internet, how I read the insert in the CD to find a translation of the song, and how I realized that the song put into words what I could not.

I fell in love with a man and then I never existed again.

Alas, the very thing I prayed to God wouldn't happened had happened. I fell in love with a man who would not be mine. Why? Why would God allow it?

Over 11 years later, I still don't know. But this song reminds me of that place.

No song that exists on earth speaks to me more than this one. No artist has more quickly become my favorite than Djavan for the fact that he wrote this song. Talk about killing me softly.

There was a time where I couldn't complete a task without thinking about how this man would be proud of me, as he said he was. Proud of how smart I was, amazed at how smart I was. "I amazed him," he told me once. I had never been admired so brightly and so earnestly by a man. It had to be love.

I was so convinced and he was so emblazoned into my person for years that the best way that I could put it is that I wasn't myself anymore. The me that I was before had stopped existing. I became other. And I never existed again.

I was never the same. I have not existed again. He's since married the woman I knew he would end up with. Years after I was over him, his wife came to me in a dream, and described what he was like at their wedding.

I did not know until days later that I dreamed of her on the day they married. I would later see a Facebook post in which she described him exactly as she described him to me in my dream--serious in the face of his upcoming responsibility as a married man.

It's been 11 years since I first fell for him, and I've moved on. We are at two opposite sides of the country living separate and completely full lives, but I had to dream about him to congratulate him on his son. I hadn't dreamed of him in years, but I guess that was an occasion.

In every manifestation of his life, I can now see that he was meant for her, and she was meant for him. I don't know why I ever came into the picture and interrupted destiny. And I don't mean that to be self-deprecating, because the whole thing sure as hell interrupted my life.

The piece in the anthology only tells part of the story. I was too shy to write about the raw obsession and the pain of disillusionment when I found out he had no idea that I liked him, let alone that I stopped existing because of him.

The best that I can say did come out of the whole experience in the manuscript that I'm gearing up to edit.

I can't believe it's been 11 years. We were two different people then. Now, we're doctors. He has a family, and I'm at the precipice of marrying, at least I hope. When we met, we had no idea where we'd be, what we'd be able to do. We were just two nerdy kids in an organic chemistry class.

He didn't know a black girl could be so smart. I didn't know that the annoying, boisterous kid who I dreaded seeing in class every week would change my life.

The me before I met him never existed again. I wanted that someone who felt so important in my life to remain in my life, but only God knows.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Without Shame or Patronization

As salaam alaikum,

I'm baaaaaacckk!

Apparently, when I finished residency and took a 2 month vacay before returning to work, so did my brain take a vacation.

But really, life has gotten busy, I had a lot of things to do in preparation for my new job as an attending and a non-resident PCP, and I've been knee-deep in my own spiritual journey, which has taken a much more personal spin such that I haven't been writing very much about it on the blog.

But I just had an epiphany that I thought would bring me back into the world of blogging.

I know what I want in a mate now.

Let's rephrase. I know what I want in a Muslim mate now.

No, I am not again single and my SO is the same. Born Muslim in a communist culture and I wouldn't even call him nominal at this point.

He grew up to think that all a Muslim had to do was fast the Night of Power and that would satisfy the entire month's fast. That is who my SO is.

But he came to be my SO because--I was afraid that I couldn't be Muslim married and he was the closest thing I thought I could get to it.

But this is not going to be about my SO. This is more about me and my epiphany.

There was something that seemed impossible, intimidating, and admittedly undesirable about getting Muslim married. Namely, I never obtained a wali, so the process was sketchy and I felt unprotected, making up an online dating profile and searching for eligible Muslim men in a list of unknowns. Or, I could obtain a wali who may or may not have my best interests at heart and certainly would not be my Christian father. Neither option sounded secure.

And besides, I was unsure if that was what I really wanted. Like, of course I'd love a husband I could pray with, who was at a similar level of practice as me, but that didn't feel like what I really wanted.

And then, as I was going through the motions of a personal exercise of fleshing out what my ideal self would look like (religiously, spiritually and physically were the realms that I wanted to idealize), I wrote out a sentence that described exactly what I was looking for:

"I'd love to have a partner whose Islam inspires me and doesn't shame me."

After which I wrote, I think this is it. I think that is what I want.

...before realizing, oh my gosh, this is exactly what I want and have always wanted!

I added to it later, adding that I did not want to be patronized, either.

I liken it to training and running a race. Of course, one can do both of these alone, or they could have a buddy. If the buddy's pace is faster or the buddy's form is better, I'd be the one to prefer to jog behind my buddy and be inspired by his pace and form. Maybe my buddy would give me a few tips if I asked or if he saw me doing something to hurt myself.

My buddy wouldn't taunt me for my pace, push me to go faster than I was ready to go, or give me unsolicited advice as if presuming incompetence. He wouldn't ask me how have I been alive this long and never run X distance.

Similarly, my partner in Islam may be ahead of me in some aspects, but I would pray for the type of partner that wouldn't shame me for ways in which he felt my Islam "deficient" and wouldn't be patronizing in our discourse.

And that, I think, is everything. That describes my fears and my hopes.

Because really, my ideal partner doesn't have a body type or hair color. This is who he is, written in that one line above. That is what I want.

Let's worship free of shaming, patronizing and judgment. Let's inspire each other instead as we join together in the mutual teaching of truth, as it were.

Monday, June 29, 2015

No longer a resident

As salaam alaikum,

I've been busy but not busy, if that makes any sense. I've been mentally and emotionally busy, preparing myself for graduation for residency. This included taking (and passing, alhamdulillah) my boards, getting my work schedule arranged for when I start my new job in September, tidying things up for my patients before I hand them off to the new resident, moving...

Ya girl's been busy.

There is also a lot of background noise right now, honestly, that has gone on for the last three years. My faith has been challenged in a very specific way that I have not shared on this blog, because it is a moment in progress. When this metamorphosis of sorts is complete, I will speak more openly and frankly about it. For now, sorry, you just get tidbits.

But alhamdulillah, I have completed residency and I am now a family physician practicing family medicine with obstetrics. This morning, getting up and not going to clinic, I felt starkly naked in a way I never have before in my life. I said at first that I felt naked because I was no longer a resident, but in truth, I've been a resident for only 3 years. It seems like nothing and it seems like forever at the same time.

I gaze at pictures of my co-residents and feel like I miss them already and that I never truly got to know them at the same time. They are a group of 11 people that I love and with whom I have experienced something unique that will not replicate. I feel like I've known them forever and for not that long at the same time. They are excellent people and I hope we continue our road to excellence.

I went in three years from being an insecure medical school graduate, not ready to embrace myself as a physician, to a board certified family physician with no insecurities about my capabilities. Again, alhamdulillah.

This moment, however, reminds me of a song Elis Regina sang, called, "20 Anos Blues."

Ontem de manhã quando acordei / olhei a vida e me espantei. / Eu tenho mais que vinte anos. / Eu tenho mais que mil perguntas sem respostas. / Estou ligada a um futuro blue.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, I looked at life and I startled myself. I am more than 20 years old. I have more than a thousand questions without answers. I'm tied to a blue future.

And while I do not believe I'm tied to a blue future, there were all of those ways, over the past few years, that I realized that I was not my 20 year old self. I am not who I was when I began this journey to be a physician, to be a better Muslimah, to make my own contribution to social justice.

I'm not 20 years old anymore. My grandfather is not on this earth anymore and my brother is an adult with autism who is unemployed, unskilled for most vocations and lives at home with my aging parents. I am a family physician continuing a very separate life on the West Coast, away from my aging parents and away from my brother. My personal life bears harsh realities that I did acknowledge, in a highly dramatized form at 20 years old, but that are more eminent now, as I begin to make plans for marriage and a family of my own.

At the same time, I'm not 20 years old anymore and I don't look for ways to save the world at every turn, in every crevice and with every issue. I'm looking for very specific ways I can make an impact in matters that I care most about and that I know most about.

I'm not 20 and I'm not premed, I'm a family physician. I don't love a man absently who I have no access to, I love one who is here, on earth, with me, who is not a character I created but a real man who doesn't always follow the ideal script for our lives but who is here regardless. I don't look outward for my Muslim identity, I look inward.

So I begin this two months off before starting work period resuming Ramadan (Ramadan Mubarak to all) after the Feminine Interruption. I return to focusing on The Compassionate.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Body of Confessions: Big Legs, Tight Skirt


I meant for this to be a series, but residency took a bite out of my life yet again and I got behind. This is the next installment of Body of Confessions, to follow the first in the series, "Long Hair."

I think other people have always admired my legs more than I have admired them myself.

Well, not always. There was the preschool ballet instructor who told my mother that I could not succeed in ballet because "[my] things are too big." My mother didn't tell me that until years later. I thought I stopped ballet because I was no longer interested. News to me.

I didn't have a distinct Neruda ritual de mis piernas moment. It all happened gradually after my legs took a very different shape after puberty. Prior to puberty, I was an obese kid with a big belly and smaller, but chunky legs supporting my frame. As puberty commenced, the fat in my body shifted somewhat, but it wasn't until I lost some of that weight of childhood that my legs came out on top.

Well, more than just my legs--my backside, my hips, and my thighs. I don't think I was ever aware of them myself; my mother made me aware.

"You need to cover them legs. They could stop traffic!" That was how my mother told me that I had pretty legs. That they were a distraction and needed to be covered, for modesty's sake. Though modesty, in this case, was painted through the lens of causing male distraction. As soon as I was pubertal, my mother no longer allowed me to wear shorts and instead sewed her own culottes for me to wear.

My mother had an odd set of norms for modesty that I think harkened back more to Nation of Islam's clothing requirements for women. She held tight to "below the knee" as if that were a definitive thing even though in her own time she wore full hijab.

As I got older and defined my own sense of modesty, my legs became a focal point. Maybe it was better for me not to wear tight pants like the other girls, I thought to myself in high school. Because my thighs were so much bigger than my calves, tight pants made my legs look like chicken drumsticks. It took me several years to realize that I couldn't properly wear a belt because the ratio of my behind to my waist was too much for any low-rise jeans. And even in times when I wasn't a hijabi or otherwise particularly concerned about modesty, I felt my legs were never meant for shorts. My thighs would rub together and cause them to ride up in the middle, which was almost as unattractive as having to tug at the inner hem all day long.

"I don't know how...women can wear those canvas panties," my mother would often lament.

I was never comfortable with my big booty, hips and thighs.

It didn't help that my mother's prophecy came true. From the ages of 18 to 20, while walking in jeans and a t-shirt along my college campus, I did more than turn heads. Men of all ages (usually not students) would stop what they were doing and look, wave, cat call, you name it. Just walking from class to the bookstore, I could count on being hit on at least 2 or 3 times. One day it was a trucker calling out to me, another day it was the city police waving to me.

I got used to male attention, and I came to like and expect it. I began to look in the mirror at myself, turn myself around and think, this is what men want. I don't know why, but this is what they want. The chicken drumsticks. But other women at college told me that they didn't like cat calls and found them to be demeaning. I began to wonder, what was wrong with me for liking them? At the same time, I used college to delve deeper into my Islam inspired, ironically, by an almost-boyfriend in high school who asked what I wore in the summer, trying to imagine me in little clothing, which ultimately led me to embrace my mother's Islam from which I had distanced myself during my high school years.

At that point, my legs became a simultaneous point of pride and shame for me.

Because maybe if I didn't wear those "tight" jeans, I wouldn't call attention to myself.

So at 21, a few days after being called "bitch" after not responding to a man's advances as I walked to class one day, I donned hijab. I looked rag-tag in the beginning because I did not have very many loose-fitting pants that I felt were appropriate. This would be the answer, I believed. This way, my thighs would no longer stop traffic.

It took me a few months to get used to having bountiful male attention to becoming invisible.

I struggled with weight during and after hijab in a way I never have. In the midst of that struggle, my thighs have taken on another identity for me--evidence of poor fitness. Sometimes I look at the shape of my lower thigh as a barometer for how much weight I have gained or loss. In medical school, I embraced the idea of "challenge pants," or pants that were too small for me now but that I would use as a weight loss incentive. Sometimes, it worked. Other times, I was a third year medical student. I still have a few pairs of those challenge pants in my closet.

Even with fluctuating weight, the lower part of my body still draws attention, usually from men I designate "street randoms." This one man proclaimed to me that my thighs were "like they made 'em in Mississippi!"

To which I laughed and though, "No, more like how they make them in West Africa." And that's where I reached my peace with my legs, years ago. I did not inherit my mother's body. I get my body from my Nigerian side of the family. My mother loved me and marveled at the transformation of my young body into a form different from that of the women in her family, the form of a Nigerian woman with long legs, thick thighs and ample behind. She would later lament the "baseball bat" legs in her family. Her instinct was for me to cover to protect myself. Though covering is certainly a tactic, self-awareness I think is another important tool of protection.

Not only self-awareness, but self-love and compassion.

This is the body of my West African ancestors that I have been blessed to inherit. These are not the legs of other women, whose thighs and calves are not that different in size. So no, my figure does not lend to the classic ballet physique. And yes, maybe I share ancestors with some of my sisters in Mississippi. But this is my body, and before it's for anyone else and more than it will ever be for anyone else, it is for me, alhamdulillah.

I don't need street randoms to validate me.

How powerful it would have been if my mother taught me to love my body, or taught me modesty in the context of self-love.

Who knows, I...probably would have been the same woman who thought her thighs looked like chicken drumsticks in skinny jeans.

...and I still kind of do.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hater hater hater hater hater

As salaam alaikum,

I started reading The Root ( after my previous relationship, and my SO at the time was into all things black. All things pan-African and all things African diaspora. I mean, it's no wonder--we met at a pan-African book club hosted by mutual friends. It only had to be. Except, in spite of being the one who actually has black American ancestry, he was blacker than I was. I didn't read The Root or Grio as my main news sources, after all. And it was always off-putting for me to see only stories about black people--as if only news stories involving black people mattered to black people.

Maybe I really wasn't black enough.

Though it's by far not my only news source, it's one of the more consistent news sites I visit. I get most of the rest of my news from my Facebook newsfeed and the front page of NYT or The Seattle Times in the coffee shops I visit a couple of days a week.

I don't have television.

Anyway, this was a long preface.

One of the stories I love to read in The Root is that of young adults of color excelling in academics or in their early careers. Reading these pieces make me almost certain that I want to home-school my future children, insha'Allah. Seriously, it seems like children who are home-schooled really have their potential unlocked.

Occasionally, there will also be a story about a young person who got accepted to all of the Ivy League schools for college. I'm impressed that this happens more than once, but then again, I never met anyone who applied to all Ivy League schools.

The first two articles of this type that I'd seen in the last two weeks were about first or second generation African students. One was Nigerian American, the other, Somali American. I've come to almost anticipate in the comment section at least someone pointing out that these are African immigrants, and then stating a variation of the following sentiments:

(1) "Slave-descended success does not equal non-slave-descended success." I put this in quotes and I must call it out because this was blurted in a Facebook discussion by one of my acquaintances, who was one of my smart and hardworking classmates in public health school. She said this in response to an article I posted about Nigerians being the most educated immigrants in the country. I think she didn't know that I was, in fact, only half Nigerian and the other half "slave-descended." I asked her which success I benefited from, either or none at all. The more tactful version of this comment is, "I'm proud of this young person, but their circumstances are different, being an African immigrant. They came here as a child, so their formative years were not marred by the effects of American institutionalized racism like their African American counterparts."


(2) "If only young black kids/students could stop [fill in the blank of some stereotypical assumption about black students], they could be achieving these things, too."

(3) African first- and second-generation students are taking "the slots" meant for African American students at these schools.

There are probably others I have missed.

I'm used to these things, and, knowing that I probably shouldn't be wasting my time reading comments sections, anyway, I move on. Or so I think.

Then, today, I read an article about an African American student whose family lost everything in Katrina who overcame this loss and went on to get into 8 Ivy League colleges. I looked at her first and last name. She did not seem like a first- or second-generationer. I scrolled down to the comments section, expecting to see someone say, "Now, here is the story I'm looking for. Congratulations to this young woman!"

Instead, I see a comment, full of vitriol, that does not merit paraphrasing and makes little sense. The young woman wanted to study literature and political science. Great. Those are great majors for pre-law, I would think. Instead, this commenter said something about the majors guaranteeing that she would stay in her parents' home until marriage, harkening to a history at HBCUs of women entering college to marry the HBCU men, snarky comment about high echelon blacks, as this person assumes this woman's parents must be, etc.

And the title of this post is my reaction to that comment.

I realized that there is a group of never-satisfied people who will take this story and despair at the fact that the person is African immigrant or immigrant-descended and thus not "real" black. There is someone else who will dismiss and individual as being part of a so-called disconnected black social class, even if they do not have that data.

This is why I loved the "Player Haters Ball" skit of the Chappelle show so much. Hate for no reason. Hate because you're breathing. Hate with no data. Hate because you can.

And this is the semi-benign (because no hate is ever benign) hating-on, as opposed to the always damaging actual hate that I'm speaking to.

I guess those who think of the stories in an only positive light, like myself, are not the ones commenting.

One of black people's favorite words (at least the black people I grew up with) was accolades. Okay. Can we not give accolades where accolades are due? Seriously. Let's stop bickering about how we should celebrate young African first- and second-gens less because their success means less and its supposedly achieved on the backs of African Americans. Because no it doesn't and no it's not. I am Nigerian-American and I am African-American. I live both perspective simultaneously. Ask me anything.

Maybe if we celebrated one another with genuine pride, we could learn from one another and make this place a better place for all of our children, because seriously, right now, this country is pretty shitty for black people. An African surname will not save any of us from a racist too blinded by our hues and browns to see our humanity.

Maybe we wouldn't have turned our back on Martin Luther King and left him vulnerable and left him assassinated.

Maybe we wouldn't have assisted in the killing of brother Malcolm.

And on and on.

So, in summary, I'm tired of the hate. This is ridiculous. Yes, I do want to hear the story of the kid raised by a hard-working single mom, or who grew up below 100% poverty line, or who struggled through the grittiest ghettos or survived the most dilapidated of school districts get accepted into all the Ivy league schools he or she applied to, but more than that, I want to hear about the adults on the other side of their college education finding careers to help make a difference in ways that are meaningful to them in their communities and in society in general. Because that's where it counts.

And if we're stuck back at being less proud of Africans or disdainful of rich blacks, then I have to quote my mother in telling us, "That's why [we] ain't runnin' nothin'."

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Career Woman

As salaam alaikum,

This past Sunday, I was busily cleaning my apartment in anticipation of meeting up with my SO after his trip to SF. My place usually lies in shambles because of the time I spend out of it either hanging out on the East Side or fulfilling my many residency responsibilities. When I planned his Sunday return to Seattle, I proposed he meet me at my place before returning to his place to attend a panel on life after residency by recent graduates with perhaps Ethiopian food thereafter. He happily agreed, even before I mentioned that my place would likely be clean when he came.

"Don't make promises you can't keep," he said flatly.

His dead-pan delivery of jokes usually takes me off guard, and I took mild offense before he told me he was just kidding. Even so, I spent much of my Sunday scrubbing and sweeping and vacuuming.

I was putting the finishing touches on my place when my phone rang. I expected it to be him, because it was almost time for us to leave to go to the recent grad panel. I looked up and it was instead one of my co-residents. I was simultaneously excited and crestfallen. One of my OB patients was due, or as wont to say, "one of my ladies" was due, so I thought it was her presenting to triage in labor. That kind of thing throws monkey wrenches into plans.

Instead, I hear that it is my patient who was supposed to be scheduled for c-section in the coming days. She was contracting painfully every 3 minutes.

I think, great, a c-section at least takes place over a finite amount of time, so I can go in and come out 1.5 hours to two hours later. I told my SO this as we adjusted our evening plans. He would go to a movie while I participated in the section.

Long story short, from anesthesia push back, to slowing contractions to a complicated section, I was not out of the hospital until 6.5 hours after that initial call. By this time, my SO drove back to his place, never having seen my sparkling clean apartment, both of us having missed the grad panel and neither of us having Ethiopian food.

In fact, I didn't eat dinner that night because I had nothing prepared and all food places that I would have bothered with were closed.

It was a gratifying section in which baby was fat and healthy and the surgeon commended me for the command I had over closing the incision. What was not gratifying was talking to my SO to find that he was upset with me after my Sunday was thwarted.

I explained to him that I probably didn't have to be there, but my co-resident sold it as if the delivery were imminent and I got there to find that it was pushed back an hour and a half, then another 2.5 hours, and so on. I couldn't easily say to my patient that I wouldn't return after I had essentially promised her in her last three visits that I would be present for the procedure and round on her in the hospital.

The next day, after I apologized again (even though it really wasn't my fault!) and my SO told me that he was going to ask me a question the next day and he wanted me to think it over. I asked him if it were an ultimatum. He told me it wasn't. I really had no idea what he was thinking, what he was really angry about, and what I had done wrong.

I knew he was going to ask it over dinner. So yesterday, after our quesadillas arrived at this Mexican restaurant near his place, he asked me, "How much of a career woman do you see yourself as? I think I know the answer, but I just want to hear it from you."

Really? That was it? All of that build for that question.

So I answered, "Well, you know, babe, I could totally see me taking some time off of my work schedule to spend time at home with children."

"I know you say that, but then things like Sunday happen."

Things like Sunday? What was special about Sunday? I've delivered nearly 30 continuity patients, some of whom have come in times that it interrupts my plans with my SO. He's understood before. Similarly, I've been called in back up at random times.

"I was fine until you said you didn't have to go in," he told me.

Ahh. And therein lies the problem. I said too much.

For him, I didn't have to go in, but I went in, anyway, prioritizing something I didn't have to do over our plans. Even though I explained to him that I didn't have to go in (I never do for continuities), but I promised this patient that I would come to her c-section when it was scheduled for a future date. I didn't have to but I felt obligated. And, more than that, I wanted to be there for a patient I had bonded with throughout her pregnancy.

"I just want to know if, after we're married, I'm eventually going to be seeing you only 1 or 2 times a week."

Really? This is what came of me scrubbing into one c-section, the exact circumstances of which I described to him? Him thinking that suddenly I'm going to become a workaholic who never comes home?

And he thinks there is some definable dichotomy between being a "career woman" and...not, whatever either of those mean.

So I told him, "First of all, babe, career woman is a really antiquated term."


"Yes, but I know what you mean."

So I broke it down for him.

Because, the truth of the matter is, if I could have married and started a family years ago, even as much as 10 years ago, I would have, if the opportunity came along. So it didn't. So I continued with my education. I asked him, if there were such a thing as a dichotomy between me being a working woman and being more domestic, I shouldn't have gone into medicine at all. I should have instead worked small-time or more acceptably domestic jobs until a potential husband came along. But that's not how I roll. So I continued my education and training, all the while knowing that whenever I did marry and have children, I would adapt it into whatever stage and position of life I was in.

Furthermore, I told him, it is hard to say what I will be like when I have children. Life doesn't stop because I plan to have children in the future. It is a fluid position that changes. So while right now I'd love to be involved in many of my continuity patient's deliveries, I recognize that, at some point, family time will take priority.

But that was such a hilarious question to me. If we got married tomorrow and he wanted to start a family right away, I would be game. But in the meantime, life goes on, I have a robust work life with many professional and patient-doctor relationships to maintain as well. I cannot put my life on pause for a course of life that has never been my decision alone to make. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Unconditional Love

As salaam alaikum,

As I said a short prayer to myself before walking into colposcopy clinic this afternoon, I suddenly realized why people over time have been pulled to pray to their ancestors.

One of my friends, who is Christian, once told me that she equally regards most faiths, including Islam, and including worship of ancestors. As a Muslim who acknowledges my own faith to be the one right path for me and not necessarily for everyone else, I could intellectually understand where she was coming from, but did find the view to be peculiar. The way I understood it was that the bounds of her faith would allow for a syncretic existence in which ancestors would be revered close to God for consult and comfort. I couldn't imagine that for myself.

And I still cannot imagine that for myself, but I understand it a little bit more now. And now that I understand it a little bit more, it's making me rethink my imagining of God.

I understand it a little bit more since my grandfather died. As I heard the news of his passing last year, July 16 and shed my first tears, I was instantly filled with hope, calm and reassurance. That was from God. I knew that Grandfather was with God. I knew that he had gone to the Good Place. I had no doubt, and I grieved easier.

In fact, I was so reassured that I struggled to pray for my grandfather in the way that we're supposed to when someone passed because, in a way, I was like, "God's got this." And for the weeks following his passing, I felt him very present with me, as I felt that he had now come to know the truth of all things, and his soul was set at ease for all of the things he despaired about in this world. I also felt like he was getting to see me, all of me, in a way he'd never imagined me as a granddaughter.

That feeling slowly passed with the noor of Ramadan as the month ended, but since then, I've struggled to relate with that closeness. Grandfather's absent in this realm but very much present spiritually for me. My aunt says she talks to him sometimes. She has talked to deceased relatives all of her life. I don't do that. I took issue to that because I figure who better to talk to, effectively pray to, than God. So I pray for my grandfather but I don't talk to him.

But as I walked to clinic today, I thought about how proud Grandfather probably is of me, now that he knows everything about me and exactly what it takes to be a physician and what I've done, probably more than he understood when he was on earth. And then I faced the thought that always deters me from spending too much time in this paradigm: Grandfather also knows my sins. If Grandfather knows the truth of all things and is privy to the current happenings of this world, Grandfather knows all that I've done wrong. Not only that, but knowing the truth of all things, he knows better than me the cumulative consequences of my wrongs.

And that gave me very brief pause. I knew I wouldn't be upsetting a man who is basking in his life's reward, but I wondered if Grandfather's disappointment in those things that I had done wrong outweighed his pride for the things I'd done right. And while I was still in this slippery paradigm, I though, well, Grandfather would love me, anyway.

And I stopped there, and turned to God in prayer.

I realized at that moment that I saw my Grandfather as unconditionally loving, whereas my conception of God is not that, at all. Of course my memory of Grandfather, which is not at all the representation of the whole man that he was, is of an unconditionally loving patriarch. If Grandfather on this earth knew everything there was to know about me, of course he'd love me anyway. It would balance out. I project that to whatever form his soul has taken/will take/had taken in the outside realm.

But while God is Merciful (in that way that, at times, is so difficult for us to grasp), God's love is not unconditional in my conception of God.

I came of age believing in a God who loved charity, service, kindness and good matters and hated all that was evil, from murder to the sometimes vague perversion. So if I committed evil, I would not be loved by God. That is the condition.

Whereas for Grandfather, we'd have to be pretty shitty people before he no longer loved us, for God it seemed sometimes uncertain how much any particular good or bad weighed.

When put before an omniscient, inconceivable but reportedly merciful and just Being and your loving Grandfather, it would be way less intimidating, if it were an option, to go to your grandfather for guidance.

But as a Muslim, I believe that no one can help me or hurt me but God. And by extension, I also believe that God can and would hurt me, if indicated.

Grandfather wouldn't.

But without belaboring that point, whenever I find myself in that space, I extract myself and return to God. Grandfather, insha'Allah, I'll see on the other side and I can learn about the man I'd come to love in his 60s, in the latter years of his life. I look forward to that day but will complete my term in this world gladly, day by day, year by year, and prayerfully with many more.

But God is Greater. And maybe my imagining of God doesn't do justice to God's mercy and love. Not that I'm going to reduce God to a big grandfather in the sky or anything, but...

If I were too intimidated to come to God, who could I really go to?

I know why it is. It's the language of our Book. A God that doesn't need our prayers or reverence. A God that can replace us with beings that are better than us. God doesn't need us, but we think of people who love us as needing us a little bit.

So I understand how it would be nice to worship a center of unconditional love, but that's just not the way I believe.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Reclaiming Myself

As salaam alaikum,

Happy New Gregorian Calendar Year!

It feels silly to say it now because this year barely felt like a new year, except that it is the first year that I am not sharing a realm with my grandfather. I heard the song that I heard years ago upon waking from a nightmare to daytime in my grandparents' home and I cried because one of the comforting elements of waking up in that environment was gone.

It's also silly because it is 26 days into the month of January, and life has gone on, much as before. It's almost the month of my birth. I turn 30 this year.

I don't have any specific New Years' resolutions, more like continuations of the goals I've had in the months prior to the New Year. But one of the major things that it happening this year, insha'Allah, is that I'll be graduating from residency. And for the first time ever, I'm not tacking on an extra thing, so no fellowship. I am graduating, taking 3 months off, iA, then I'm going to start working in an FQHC (federally qualified health center). All insha'Allah. So soon enough, I will no longer be a resident. And soon enough, I will have time to write as I have not had for some time. I have posted minimally during residency, and it is not for lack of topics.

My life has also been very active, not only in terms of residency training, but in terms of relationship and family stuff. And out of respect for my father and my SO, I keep the discussion of most of the themes of that outside of my blog. So that makes for...not as much to talk about, publicly, at least.

On the other hand, it makes a lot to think about on my own side of things.

So this year, probably not until after June, iA, I plan to revamp this blog, to post more, to be more reflective on residency (that has been challenging, and not just in subject matter), relationships and my life in Islam. For now, I will only be able to deposit little nuggets here and there.

In the meantime, I'm ready for the year of 2015, thirty years after my birth (wow) to get up on out of here!