“Nice hair”

“Nice hair,” snickered the old man from his car at me and my mother, both of us wearing headscarves, as we entered the doctor’s office. My mother didn’t quite catch what he was saying and glanced at me, as she adjusted her black scarf with white polka dots. I am now unable to recall the look in the man’s eyes because mine were frozen at his mouth, registering the two words that had rolled off his tongue.

My mother ushered me inside. When I repeated to her what the man had said, she naïvely responded, “But we’ve covered our hair.” I explained to her that he meant to be offensive and that I couldn’t believe we didn’t speak up. As we took our seats in the waiting room, my mother tried to assure me that it was in our best interest not to retaliate in the moment.

That’s when I decided: I need to start blogging again.

For the past few weeks, I have been writing tremendously. However, I didn’t find the incentive to share anything. Such rich literature already exists that I felt a stronger urge to invest days pondering on those works instead of expecting anyone to skim through my material. Yet, this morning propelled me to write with a purpose. Having more time on my hands the past three weeks, I have devoured as many books as possible and the writers have provided me with the fuel with which I write today.

I first thumbed through The Autobiography of Malcolm X on 20 January, 2017. The day Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. A Muslim White friend of mine, inspiring in more ways than one, had sent me a copy in the mail. After putting it down for a few months, I finally finished it last night. The voice of Malcolm X and the African American’s struggle for freedom continue to reverberate in my ears alongside the two reviling words from this morning.

Another powerful book that I recently finished on race relations is “Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author. The fictional character, Ifemelu, writes about what blackness means in America in her blog titled, “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.” As an immigrant, she feels most free when she chooses not to straighten her hair and not to hide her Nigerian accent. She feels liberated in embracing her African roots while writing boldly about building a unique identity in America.

Similarly, to me – a colored, Muslim woman from eastern Africa – the United States represented the land of opportunity and diversity. I was proud to breathe on this soil. However, instances here and there manage to disgust me. For example, when President Trump hints at a system to track Muslims in America. 

Naturally, I felt drawn to Anne Frank’s diary, the raw honesty, the preserved experiences of a thirteen-year-old girl who went into hiding with her family, targeted for simply being Jewish in Nazi Germany. Last summer, I visited the house in Amsterdam where Anne and her family hid in concealed rooms behind a bookshelf.

On 16 March, 1944, she wrote, “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I’d absolutely suffocate.”

For the same reason, I have been writing for years. And plan on sharing some pieces more regularly, in the case that doing so may enable me to connect me with other struggling souls.

After all, when your sanctuary is ruptured with a mere two words on a mundane, rainy morning, don’t you wonder how many speeches and writings will it take to prevent history from repeating itself?

The blue sky of Amsterdam, 2016

On February 23, 1944, Anne Frank wrote, “The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.” (Her words rang powerfully in my ears as I watched the open sky in Amsterdam, 2016)

The Pigeons of Iraq

“La ilaha illallah! La ilaha illallah!” I looked up from my book of supplications to hear a horde of men carrying a long rectangular box, clad in black. Curiously, I put on my glasses. As clarity hit me, the hairs on my body stood up in alarm. My first time seeing a coffin. Less than ten feet away from me. Merely a few hours ago, the human being now inside the box was breathing. Like me. Soon, I will replace this corpse as my loved ones form a line behind me, pray for the forgiveness of my sins, and leave me six feet within the dark earth.

In an hour’s time, seven dead bodies came and went and fresh tears escaped from my eyes. Windows to our soul, they say. This was the last morning I spent in Iraq. How befitting that it was here, in the shrine of Imam Ali, that I found the truth behind our fragile existence, for which I had travelled 10,000 kilometers. To feel death after having seen it so close behind the wheel at midnight two months ago, a time when I cried out Ya Ali thrice and Ali immediately came to my rescue. The relationship between life and death, between fear and peace, so delicate.

In “A Life Apart,” Neel Mukherjee writes,

“If he could only push the inevitable away to some unspecified point in the future when he was old enough, a proper adult, he would be able to deal with it efficiently and well, but no, it really was happening now. It wasn’t the luxury of a safe mind toying with dark imaginings in terrified fascination any more. At thirteen, he thought twenty-five was the right age for dealing with Big Events; now, at twenty-one, the notion of a safe age turned out to be a mirage, receding further into the distance as one approached a moving boundary. Perhaps there wasn’t really any safe age for him.”

Are we ever ready?  To face the challenges of this transient life. To let go of grudges and heartbreaks, the pursuit of power and wealth. To focus on self-education that benefits oneself, the community, and life after death. It’s now or never.

How befitting that I am on the way to the birth celebration of Fatima, my namesake, the revered wife of Ali, the daughter who soothed the eyes of her father, Prophet Muhammad. Today, my soul returns to Iraq. Yearning for the peace I felt in the shrine of Imam Ali. To be one of the hundreds of pigeons flying inside the shrine, chirping in resonance to the call of prayer calming that last morning I spent in Iraq. To be free.

The Pigeons of Iraq

A boy runs toward the mosque of Imam Ali in Kufa, Iraq. Sunrise, Feb 2016.