personal, stories

My #metoo moment happened during umrah

In front of me there was an elderly woman crouched over. Her back contorted into the letter “c”. I could tell she was tired by the way her feet dragged behind her, and, as her black dress was gliding on the ivory floor, a young man slowly walked beside her. His olive complexion shined against the stark white piece of fabric he wore. His heavy black hair ruffled in the wind as he moved. Each of his calculated steps were matched with the woman. I assumed perhaps it was his mother or grandmother. His arm was gently intertwined into hers. People rushed ahead of them but my eyes were solely focused on them. I had witnessed so many acts of kindness during my first trip to Mecca.  

In the spur of the moment my mother and I bought last minute tickets to perform umrah. My mother had performed hajj two years prior and thought this was a great opportunity for me to go alongside with her. From Mali to Bangladesh we had traveled side by side. In our own right, we are mother daughter travel connoisseurs. I anxiously waited for my visa and passport and once it came in the mail, the excitement of it all began to set it. The significance of this trip required serious mental and spiritual preparation. I needed this and I had to get the most out of it.

I remember the first time meeting him. He was tall. His beard sprinkled with gray hairs. Something did not feel quite right. It was hard for me to put my finger on it. Thinking back it was perhaps my intuition or my body making note of something my mind had yet to register. We have a funny way of talking ourselves out of our gut feelings. He was part of our umrah group and either the age of my father or several years older. Several times I caught him staring at me from a distance and it made me feel uneasy. Usually I would turn my back to him or position my body where I didn’t have to directly face him. I wrote my feelings off not wanting to make a big deal out of something that may be nothing.

In a nutshell, I am a young and single Black Muslim woman. I’ve attended university, lived on my own and have virtually lived an independent life since adulthood. I am not inexperienced when it comes to men and their intentions but even with all of this the situation still left me uneasy. I have always known that no one is immune to predators. In my community, my humanity as a woman has always been upheld. Needless to say, I was raised with the idea that I deserved respect regardless of the presence of a man.

The incident happened when we were getting ready to leave Mecca. People were lugging their suitcases behind them. Umrah was over and it was time to go home. I was filled with sadness but relief at the same time. Mecca had been hectic with a huge influx of people that year due to the holidays. I realized that if I had to choose I definitely preferred Medina. My mother and I stood in line waiting to get our boarding passes. I could see that he was making his way over and once he approached he stood in line behind us. My mother turned to me and said she was going to the restroom. This was when he turned to me and said, “Would you be offended if I asked you something?” He said this slowly all the while looking me in the eyes. Before I could respond he continued. “You know I’ve noticed that single sisters feed their emotions with food.” A miswak was hanging out of his mouth as he smirked at me. “It’s hard to be by yourself and all alone. You have all these feelings building up inside of you and there are no suitable brothers to marry. You need to release. I can tell you’re one of those sisters.” I looked at him with confusion. I wasn’t sure what he meant and the conversation seemed odd. Then he asked, “Am I right? You like to eat, don’t you?” He began chewing on his miswak a little harder as he waited for my response. This was when I realized we were not talking about food in the slightest. He was playing with words and making a crude analogy. He took advantage of an opportunity when I was alone. I made sure to let him know I knew what he was talking about and to stay away from me the remainder of the trip.

Thinking back, I can recall many instances where men have encroached—– my personal space either verbally or physically. Once man kissed me in public by grabbing my head and placing his lips on mine. I could not push him off and I adamantly asked him to stop. He did not listen and I didn’t want to cause a scene. In a different scenario, another man made sure to inform me that he was well endowed even though we weren’t discussing anything remotely related to his genitals. Thinking back, it infuriates me and I wish I had handled the situations differently, but I remind myself it wasn’t my fault. I am not responsible for their actions.

Both of these men were Muslim.

To most, both of these men would have been considered practicing Muslims.

There are many predators in our Muslim communities hiding behind religious guises. Any well travelled woman knows that some of the worst sexual harassment happens in several so called Muslim countries where misogyny and sexism run rampant. Are we perpetuating this blatant disrespect of women by enforcing ideas that we always need to have a man with us to avoid predators?

Until we honestly and candidly discuss the lack of safe spaces for women, including Muslim women, we will forever be in this revolving door of victim blaming all the while giving abusers the freedom to continue their acts. If women are not safe performing sacred rituals then where are we truly safe?

It is also time to admit that hijab does not protect you from serial predators. My experience is one of many where fully clothed women have been sexually harassed. I could not have had more clothes on, but even if I didn’t, would that still have warranted his behavior?

Certainly not.

Any personal assault should hit a person hard but this time it affected me deeply because my guards were totally down. I was in a spiritual state and comfortable. Afterwards it angered me because I realized that if I wasn’t safe from predators in Mecca than I surely wasn’t safe anywhere else.

My #metoo moment happened during umrah.

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marriage, sex, tips, Uncategorized

Don’t ask, don’t tell…?

If you ask me there are some things better left unsaid.

Over the years, I have had several of my friends in predicaments where they were talking to potential brothas for marriage. Things were going smoothly, actually things were going pretty good. The brotha was practicing Islam, had a decent job, came from a great family and was helllaaa tall. A perfect match. What else could you ask for?

Then he pops THE question…

No, not THAT question. Don’t get excited…

The one question that changes the entire vibe of this new and blossoming relationship.

“Have you been with a non-Muslim?” aka “Has anyone popped that cherry?“ aka “Are you still a virgin?”

Now keep in mind, in most of these situations folks are well over 30. Grown as hell and have been in a relationship of some sort. I don’t sugar coat Islam or Muslims and yes you can still be Muslim and engaging in pre-marital sex. We all sin in different ways and this doesn’t make anyone more or less of a Muslim than the next.

There is no “Muslim-Richter” Scale in Islam.

For real.

You’ve repented and asked Allah for forgiveness but some people are not as forgiving…

Back to my main point…

Now, if you’ve been good and haven’t fallen victim to your desires I give you props, but what if you have? What if you messed up and are now back on track?

What’s next? The situation can look pretty bleak, especially if you’re a woman…

Now what is one supposed to do when the question of premarital sex is brought up. Really, let’s think critically here. I’ve witnessed these three responses:

1. You can be totally honest. This is marriage we’re talking about so you should be an open book, right? The question seems pretty invasive but you don’t want to start the relationship off on a lie. This is totally understandable but there are certain things to consider. First off, don’t assume he’ll appreciate your honesty. Hopefully he/she will, lets be optimistic, but you may become a victim to your own truthfulness. In utopia, we would all have the freedom to be ourselves but we live in a world of judgment and shame. Feel out your situation, assess what type of person he/she is.

2. Throw the question right back. The chances of him being virginal are very slim. Believe me. Now if he is expecting you to be virginal and he isn’t I would drop dude like a hot potato because you better believe he has some other twisted ideas about women. The last thing you need is to get that from your husband. It’s unfair but its reality. Now if both of you guys are on the same page and have been in relationships move the &^$# on! More serious things to worry about in a relationship. Allah gives chances so give your relationship a fair shot without focusing on the past.

3. You can totally lie. To be honest I have seen this play out the most. I’ve known many women who lie right through her teeth. It’s rather unfortunate because women are sexually shamed and as a result are almost cornered into being dishonest. This could bite you in the butt at the end of the day though and lies are always difficult to maintain. If you have to start the relationship off on a lie you really need to consider if this is the right person for you. Lying in life leads to nowhere.

Now all three of these potential scenarios could be avoided if folks just didn’t dig into the past. It’s so unimportant in the scheme of things. Later in this post I am going to suggest limiting ourselves to two important questions.

Truth of the matter is I don’t expect Muslim men to be virgins, because well most of them just aren’t! If a brother who has been unmarried is a virgin I am often surprised. It doesn’t even cross my mind to ask because I really, really don’t care. People are people and they mess up, people sin and everyone is just trying to make it.

But in the midst of this Muslim men continue asking women these questions.

Women, whether Muslim or not, will forever be judged on their sexual history. Men are given a free ticket to be the sexual creatures Allah intended them to be. Many Muslims men will justify the Islamic practice of polygyny with the need to have more sex. Even in the West you’ll hear common sayings like “Men will be men…” The universal pass to do whatever the hell a dude wants without question.

Some Muslim men get offended and in their feelings when you ask how much money they have in their savings account yet its acceptable, and often encouraged, to ask who has been in my vagina? Since when did something so personal, such as my sexual past, become grounds for public conversation? Who made this the deciding factor whether or not I am “good” enough to be your wife? As though, this isn’t one of the most personal and invasive questions to ask a grown woman before you decide to marry her.

I suppose concealing ones sins doesn’t apply when it comes to marriage…

Every Muslim woman has the right to be utterly offended when this question is posed. Now, if this one of the first questions asked and I barely know you I’d be totally pissed. As though there is not more to me than who I have had sex with. Muslim men are out in the dunya, sometimes they’ll even father a couple children. At a certain point they decide they are over that life and become practicing Muslims. Muslim women accept them, and their children, with open arms. The mosque accepts them with open arms. They bring their kids in the mosque and nothing is said. Muslim women end up marrying them and at times even helping them raise their children.

This is how it should be, we should be forgiving of each other, but Muslim women are exempt from this forgiving.

Let a woman fall in love and end up in the bed of ONE man and she will be publicly crucified. I have a friend who converted to Islam and a brother asked her about her sexual past. Even as a woman who was once married, some Muslim men still have the nerve ask me if I have been with anyone sexually since that time. In some instances, even bringing up past marriages brings to surface negative feelings within people.

I don’t see the point of going into depth when it comes to these issues. I’ve NEVER seen it turn out good. It only harbors feelings of mistrust and self-worth. Folks might ask themselves the question will I be as “good” as their last partner?

Ask yourself, what is truly the point? Why do you want to know? Is it your ego?

Now, what if we limited our questions to this:

  1. When was the last time you were tested for STD’s/STI’s and would you be open to testing?
  2. Are you currently involved with anyone?

    This is all you need to know. Leave the past where it belongs, in the past.

If a person wants to bring up their sexual history on their own accord that’s perfectly fine as well but don’t go digging around. Nothing good comes from this, I am telling you. Assume everyone over 30 is not a virgin, as most (not all) people have been in some sort of relationship once they reach this age be that marriage or another situation.

We should be perfectly fine with this.

Weren’t most of the women that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon them) married in relationships prior to him? Yes, those relationships were marriages but my point being is that they all weren’t virgins and he was perfectly fine with that.

You are a fool if you don’t see divine wisdom behind that. Why not practice THIS sunnah of the Prophet?

Remember, ass is easy to get but a serious, committed and practicing Muslim partner is not. Don’t get distracted my focusing on things that don’t deserve your attention.

People mess up.

We’re all trying.

Allah is the Most forgiving.

Be easy on each other.

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Uncategorized

Black+Muslim+Woman+Trump

It has been interesting experiencing the election and post election reactions in Africa.

I was in Bamako, Mali eagerly anticipating the results. I constantly kept refreshing my computer screen and when the lights began to flicker I knew the electricity was about to give out. I decided it was time to give it a rest and I closed my laptop. Pulling the mosquito net across my bed I felt a world away, both physically and figuratively, from a place I often referred to as “home” when strangers would ask where I was from. It didn’t quite feel like home, rather a foreign place that didn’t want any part of me. None of me.

My Blackness.

My Islam.

My womanhood.

The following morning I woke up to the news that Trump had won. I sat at the breakfast table with my heart resting heavy in my chest as French TV blared and images of Trump and Clinton rotated on the screen. The rest of the world was equally invested in the U.S. presidential elections. For this, I was a little surprised but it further proved the point that U.S. foreign policy truly set the political tone for the rest of the world. This fact was undeniable.

I scrolled through my Facebook timeline searching for some sort of solace (also in an attempt to avoid talks of American politics at the table.) As I swiped through my timeline I came across countless stories of Muslim women being physically attacked, homes spray painted with vulgarities, nasty notes left on peoples cars and places of worship targeted with hate.

No surprise to me.

My Blackness has always been a threat. My gender has always been a point of contention. My faith has always roused a sense of fear.

I am a Black Muslim woman. The embodiment of everything that America hates.

So, when non-Black Muslims came out whining and crying about how awful a Trump presidency would be for Muslims I side-eyed them.

Side-eyed them reallllyyyy hard.

Some people went as far as saying that “Muslim is the New Black…”

My jaw dropped. Nothing will ever be the New Black. Muslim immigrants enjoy the benefits of being in this country. Living in good neighborhoods, having the financial ability to send their children to decent schools and a sense of community.

Since when did the existence of America ever become a good thing for Black folks?

America been good to y’all. So, please don’t complain to me. I am not the listening ear, especially when you try your best to distance yourself from anything remotely related to Blackness. But you like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. They will forever be the homies.
I am the wrong person to whine too. Not today!

Then I thought to myself…

Should I have empathy? Perhaps a little understanding? I should feel something, right?

It is too hard to feel anything close to empathy. The same communities that look down on Black people and perpetuate the same anti-Black attitudes are now looking for support. Muslims that preach about Islam and its racial equities but fail to practice any of it are holding out a hand for understanding. Some would argue and say that this is now the time to build bridges of solidarity.

Sure, I get that…

I still take issue with certain Muslim communities that have to be convinced that #blacklivesmatter and who have absolutely forgotten about the mass injustices committed towards other groups of people in America. I’m not even bringing up indigenous Americans. This post would go on for days.

Injustice is still relevant, even if you aren’t the victim. This is America, remember anyone has the risk of being victimized if you aren’t the status quo.

As a Black Muslim woman, I have a deeper interest in building alliances with marginalized non-Muslim groups before I work with anti-Black Muslim communities. This is the honest truth.

Black Muslims already know the deal. Mainstream politics never favor our interests. I don’t know when Arab and South Asian Muslim fell for the facade that America actually loved them.

Don’t nobody love you.

Black Muslims know the hostility that this country has always brought forth and are the outright victims of its policies. Some of us convert to Islam thinking that religious salvation will rid us of the racism we endure. We are persecuted for both our Islam and Blackness. Black people are too familiar with this. All of this. For us Trump is just the embodiment of the true face America has always had. A face that our forefathers faced with impunity and a face that our grandparents and parents fought so hard against.

Though unwelcoming it is a face of familiarity and it has always existed. Many communities who emigrated to the U.S. still remain absolutely oblivious.

This country doesn’t want you just as much as it doesn’t want Black folks. Doesn’t matter if you come with an IT degree from India or a medical degree from Lebanon.

This is the everyday reality for Black people in America. Some Arab and South Asian Muslims want to assimilate into society so badly, to the point that they will ignore the injustices other groups are facing. At times, they will even perpetuate the same racist attitudes of mainstream America. Now those same injustices are only relevant only because they, themselves, are the victims. Like I mentioned earlier, injustice is still relevant even if you aren’t the victim.

At the mosque Omar is your brother in Islam until jummah prayer is over. Any other day you won’t even acknowledge his ‘salaam’.

Not so brotherly or sisterly in the real world.

Big Black Omar might save your Muslim ass now.

Remember that.

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personal, stories, Uncategorized

Garbage lady

The first time it happened I was walking down the driveway on my way to work. I paced down the narrow driveway with my purse in one hand and lunch in the other. I took a quick glimpse at my watch. It was starting to get chilly and I was happy I wore a long sleeved shirt underneath my scrubs. I took note that I would be hot later in the day. It wasn’t quite summer anymore but it still wasn’t autumn. The seasons were flirting with each other. Like a lover not ready to say goodbye the summer sun still lingered high in the California sky. Sometimes she lingered behind a cloud. Her bashfulness wouldn’t last too long because by midday she would be beating down full force. The seasons teased each other by the weather switching between it being chilly some days and warm on others.

An oversized oak tree sat in the front yard. Her trunk thick and branches hovering over the house as though she were protecting it. On nice days I would sit on the steps and smoke a spliff underneath her. I never quite understood why people chopped trees down. Maybe people considered them overbearing and intimidating after they grew to a certain point. For some, trees served as a reminder that there were indeed things greater and more amazing than the creation of man himself. I’d puff and inhale deeply filling my lungs with smoke and exhale slowly allowing the smell to engulf and surround me. Lost in the smoke and deep in my thoughts I’d conclude with the thought that the ego of man was an awful thing.

As I approached the end of the narrow driveway I was abruptly greeted by my neighbor, Mrs. Jean. Mrs. Jean lived in the apartment beneath me. She always wore the same purple sweatshirt that zipped halfway up. Her stature was small and her moves slow and calculated. At eighty-six years old she was still very mobile. From a distance I noticed her sweatshirt was beginning to fade into a lilac.

Mrs. Jean looked up and smiled bright as I approached her. I paced towards her and smiled back. As I got closer my smile quickly faded as I realized she was elbow deep in the garbage can. Tuesday was garbage day. She had to stand on the tips of her toes to fully reach in the can. One gust of wind would probably throw her head in first. She was going through the whole buildings garbage separating the items that could be recycled and breaking down large items such as boxes and milk cartons. This involved her opening bags and literally going through items piece by piece. I noticed she began to reach for my bag and in a desperate attempt I closed the lid of the can. I missed her fingers nearly by an inch.

The force of the lid slamming down sent a rotten smell in my direction.

“Mmmm—Mrs. Jean, its ok. I can go through it myself.” I stammered while trying not to appear agitated. I took a quick glance at my watch. I was going to be late.

I really could not believe what I was witnessing. Never would I think I’d be in the position to stop someone from going through my garbage. I was almost to the point of begging. My disbelief was on the brink of anger. My privacy was being invaded and to be quite frank I didn’t like how that felt. I was convinced Mrs. Jean didn’t care about sustaining the environment. She was being nosy. She wanted to see what the building was up to.

Even if I was throwing it away it was still mine. All mine. This was my garbage.

“Honey, look you have work. You’re all dressed. I can do this. Just get on your way.” She gestured to me like a grandmother telling her grandchildren to get out the way. I slowly walked away and looked back. She waved and smiled.

I opened my car door and threw my lunch and purse onto the passenger side seat. As I drove away I looked in my rear view mirror until Mrs. Jean turned into a purple dot. She was still digging through the garbage. While I was at work all I could think of was what was in my garbage bag. I began to recollect what I had eaten throughout the week and all the personal waste I had accumulated. I had images of her going through candy bar wrappers, pantyliners and ripped up mail. The thought of it mortified me.

I sat at a desk charting on one of my patients. I took a deep breath in and realized I was ego tripping.

Then other thoughts began to creep in my mind. What would make a person decide to go through another persons trash? I mean, it was California but Mrs. Jean didn’t seem like that staunch of an environmentalist. I suspected something else. I had to investigate so the decision was made to pay her a visit later that week.

Later that week I woke up early. I pulled on a pair of old jeans and threw a t-shirt on. I slipped my feet into a pair of gym shoes and walked down the flight of stairs. I baked some banana bread the evening before and put a couple slices aside. I knocked on the door and stood there for a couple of seconds before I heard the shuffle of moving feet headed towards the door. Mrs. Jean opened the door wearing her infamous purple sweatshirt. I saw a look of surprise on her face and a smiled followed.

“I baked some extra cake last night and thought you’d like some.” I said while handing her the warm plate.

She gestured for me to come in. I took my shoes off at the door and walked into her living room. Her house was decorated with dark wood paneling and oversized sofas. I sat on the love seat and sank deep into it. She asked if I wanted a cup of tea. As she went to the kitchen I rested my head back and surveyed the room. Pictures of smiling people hung on the wall. Some photos looked relatively new while others were beginning to fade into hues of brown and yellow.

She shuffled back into the living room handing me a cup of hot tea. It smelled like chamomile. I took a couple sniffs of the tea before resting the cup on my lips. The pleasant taste of honey aroused my taste buds. I nestled into the sofa as Mrs. Jean began to talk.

This was the visit where I found out that Mrs. Jean was a lonely woman, a very lonely woman. She drifted in that dark apartment between memories of the past and a rapidly changing world that greeted her at the brink of her doorsteps. To make matters worse the West didn’t treat its elderly with kindness and patience. As a nurse I could think of countless times I had witnessed this working with older patients. There was no joy or celebration in becoming old rather it was always viewed with a sense of contempt and regret. The first appearance of fine wrinkles and gray hairs sent some women into botox frenzies. The idea of prolonging youth was often encouraged and anyone who embraced the idea of getting old was side eyed.

My visits became more frequent. I’d often sit through the same stories over and over again. Each time acting as though it was the first time I heard them. I knew it brought her a sense of comfort having someone to talk to even if that meant listening to her stories that I would repeat verbatim in my head.

People will do strange things in order to feel a sense of connection and purpose. Right now my purpose was clear and concise. It was very difficult to imagine myself being an old woman without anything to do. At thirty years old I was moving with life and the feeling of being stuck in time was foreign to me.

I slowly realized it was so much more than the garbage and I was indeed ego tripping. It had absolutely nothing to do with me and my feelings. This was about an old woman who had nothing else to do except go through the buildings garbage. We all have the possibility of becoming a “Mrs. Jean.”

Be kind and patient with the elderly.

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personal, stories, Uncategorized

Rat Tail Comb

I sat in between her knees Indian style. I could feel my right foot going to sleep. I didn’t care because I was too focused on the tugging and pulling of my hair. I squirmed. I made ugly faces. My eyes squinted with each yank. Sometimes I would cry or scream. She would hit my head with the rat tail comb. “Chiiiilllllldddddd, if these braids come out crooked!”

This was a ritual. A black girl ritual. Getting my hair done by my grandmother was a process and I was what Black folks called “tender headed”, meaning that my scalp was extra sensitive. My hair long, thick and curly. She was very proud of my hair. Her hands worked furiously in my scalp weaving and creating a masterpiece in my curls and kinks. With each brisk move of her arm I could smell the hair grease which was her mixture of castor and coconut oil with a hint of orange. Sometimes if she used too much I could feel it drip down the nape of my neck and down my back. It tickled and felt warm.

I would smell like oranges for the rest of the day.

The end result of her work would be rows of calculated braids, each one decorated with a colorful barrett at the end. When I would move my head from side to side I could hear them clank against each other. Red, purple, pink, blue and yellow. My head looking like a rainbow after a harsh summer rain. Everyone coming out to see it. Pointing, smiling and happy faced.

I would hold my head upward to the sky and with my eyes I would say; yes it’s me and like the rainbow I too am beautiful…

My grandmother a Baptist woman with wide hips and a husky laugh was from Mississippi. Her hair long and straight with sparks of silver strands throughout. Her skin light and eyes deep brown. Her looks being a constant reminder that her father was the result of his Black mother being raped by a White man. His white father never denying his son would constantly refer to my great granddad as “his nigga.” The other White men taking note not to mess with him because that was Neil’s boy.

Grandma Vivian.
Often times I would hug her and bury my face deep in her bosom. She would grab me in her big arms and squeeze. The air would leave my lungs and then she would give me permission to breathe then seconds later squeeze me again. At nine years old love smelled like gardenia and talcum powder. Her hands wrinkled but soft like fresh leather. Her fingernails always painted a soft hue of pink.

As a child I loved to make her laugh because it came from deep inside her stomach. The air pushing it up from her insides. I’d purposely do things just trying to get her laugh out. I knew it was real, not the fake type of laugh to appease a child. She would close her eyes, hold her stomach, bend over and I would wait to hear it make its way out of her mouth. Sometimes it felt like eternity waiting for her mouth to make that sound. My ears waiting in anticipation. A sense of accomplishment was felt once I heard her laugh. I had done something big and I would laugh with her.

 

One day she was laying on her sofa and told me to get the comb and hair grease. Her paisley night-gown draped on her body and her hair sitting in rollers. Her house slippers dangling off her feet. I stopped in my tracks. Looked dead at her. “Now you know I don’t have all day girl!” I knew what was coming. I sulked and slowly walked down the hallway to the linen closet dragging my feet behind me with every move praying to the Lord that she would forget. Finally, I made my way back to her with my arms over flowing with hair items. She had not forgotten. My eyes began to tear up and my scalp tingled. She sat up on the sofa and I sat on the wood floor between her knees. Our cat Maggie brushed up against me and with my right foot I kicked her away unleashing all my frustrations on the helpless animal. Maggie whimpered as she limped away and I felt bad for a moment until I felt the first tug and busted out in a cry.

As an adult and after an ex who used to be Rastafarian I would dreadlock my hair. One summer I came home to visit my grandmother and took my scarf off. With my locks draped down my back I shook my head to let my mane breath. Each dread as black as the night.Grandma Vivian’s eyes welled up and she held her chest stumbling towards me in disbelief. “Baby, how could you be so lazy to let your hair mat up like that?” I said nothing.

_____

I still make ugly faces when I get my hair done. When I smell oranges I often think of Grandma Vivian and sometimes when I weave braids into my baby sisters scalp I see a glimpse of her hands.

But,

I don’t cry anymore though, at least not in public.

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online, dating, tips, tips

Being 30 & Twinkies

Thirty seems to be the magical number for a lot of people.

It’s when they say you’re supposed to have a majority of your shit together. Additionally, you should be in a solid career, have a pristine family and be on the road to financial stability. In my early to mid-twenties this was my goal. To be honest, at that time, ten years seemed like more than enough time to get my affairs in line.

Once 30 began to creep up I began to internally “freak the f&%$” out.

Rewind.

Let me give myself some credit here though. I’ve done things I wanted to do. I’ve accomplished a lot in my career and personal ambitions but societal expectations can weigh heavy on you. That’s why its important to fight against them and remind each other.
Now that I have been 30 for almost six months I can have some say-so in this matter.

Dish out my own piece of sistaqueen advice for things that may happen once you reach 30:

  1. Picky Princess: If you are single people will start to inquire what your standards are and determine if they are too high. Standards should never change based on your age they should change based on what you want. Men are allowed to have standards, actually they are encouraged all throughout their lives to reach for what they think they deserve. Somewhere along the way women are told to re-evaluate what they want in life. Unless you’re being crazy unrealistic don’t do that. You wouldn’t do it for anything else, right?
  2. Matters of the heart: Your approach to religion or spiritually may change. As we get older the assumption is that we become more solid within ourselves. You won’t be so quick to jump on the bandwagon when your favorite sheikh is coming to town or when there is an Islamic conference happening. Depending on our experiences some of us may even align ourselves more with our spiritual side. As an individual you are changing all the time. So it’s naive to think your relationship with Islam will remain the same all throughout your years.
  3. Baby Fever: You will view having children differently. In your teens and early twenties the sight of a baby excited you and it still does. It made your ovaries jump with joy to see a baby swaddled up or bouncing on someones knee. Once you reach your 30’s you will approach childbearing with a different attitude. I’m not saying you will not desire children but you’ll modify your expectations. At one point I remember wanting a huge family. As I’ve gotten older and realized what that exactly entails. Getting older brings about a sense of realism.
  4. Just say “NO!”: You will begin to master the art of saying no to folks. This can apply to many things in your life but I am going to focus specifically on time. As a married woman or as a mother your time will be respected by people. Folks wont ask you for very much because the assumption is that you are busy with your family. If you are single people genuinely think you have no life. You will have to check folks, you will have to say no *sometimes* and at first it will be hard! When you complain about being tired your friends who have kids will laugh in your face. I didn’t know we were competing on some “lets see who sleeps less hours” gameshow.
  5. “She get it from her momma”: The other day I was arranging pink roses in my flower vases. I had trimmed them all, picked off the extra leaves and placed them throughout my condo. It hit me that I was doing exactly what my mother did every two weeks when I was a child. The sweet scent of flowers was something I grew up with. After the flowers would die she would dry the petals and place them in a bowls as decoration. We all become our parents whether we realize it. Some of us fight so hard against it. It’s inevitable.
  6. You may be jealous of your friends: Yep, I see you scrolling through your Facebook timeline. You can’t believe she got engaged before you. Well, hey sistaqueen it happens.
    1. Your friends may be jealous of you: This one too. As cliche as it sounds, grass is always greener on the other side. Your married friends will envy the fact that you don’t have to cook every night or that your time truly belongs to you. At the end of the day life is all about perspective.

If you’re a woman in your late twenties to early 30’s I already know I’m preaching to the choir. If you’re a woman who could careless about turning 30 I bow to you because you have successfully bypassed all the expectations that society and people throw on us.

As a woman most of the expectations will get pretty personal. They rotate around two things. These two things will become a platform for public conversation:

  1. The inner workings of your vagina a.k.a “your uterus”.
  2. Your current relationship or lack thereof.

People will think its their “right” to advise, discuss and even sometimes embarrass you. Like these will become regular dinner conversations and sometimes they will carry on even if you’re not saying so much as a word. It is forever disrespectful to talk about these topics without consent from the person you’re actually talking about. Yes, y’all I just used the word “consent” because I could name the countless of times I have heard or been involved in conversations that revolve around the body or choices of a grown ass Muslim woman. If its a conversation about you and you prefer not to have it than your consent has not been respected. These conversations can be very humiliating for some folks if they aren’t able to stop people in their tracks.

Your body is not open discussion for people.

Because by the time you reach 30 you’re grown as hell.

So stop moping around and be like a Twinkie!

Staying forever sweet and never expiring.

 

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personal, stories

Room #8

The only reason I remembered him was because of his name. The extra syllables indicated he was of African descent. North African to be exact. Algerian, if I wanted to be precise. I grabbed his leather wallet that had the word “Chicago” imprinted on the front and pulled out his ID. The leather smelled fresh and was still snug. It took me a couple pulls to get the card fully out.

With his ID in my hand I looked at him with curiosity in my eyes. “Algerian?” I said. He smiled bright showing his straight white teeth and said a resounding “Yes!”. I knew he was in pain because the smile quickly turned into a grimace as his eyes closed and face contorted. He was holding onto his left arm and squeezing his shoulder. I handed his ID to the registrar, her hair short and red just like her attitude. She snatched it from me. I always thought she took her job far too seriously.

Earlier, Chicago Fire Department paramedics called the ER saying they were bringing in a man who had just called 911 complaining of chest pains for the past hour. Three minutes later the ER doors busted open as two muscular medics wheeled in a man on a gurney. One of them looked like he was about to bust out of his t-shirt. I looked at his toned arms longer than warranted and pointed them both down the hall to room number 8.

I followed them in with an EKG machine and closed the door as the man shifted from the gurney to the hospital stretcher. I noticed he was taking in deep breaths between each move that he made. The paramedic with the ridiculous arms began rambling information to me. I was trying my best to look at his face and not at his arms that seemed to be pulsating with each word he said. My mind zoned in on the important words as I turned the EKG machine on. “Stents placed last year…” The man looked like he had just come home from work. His pinstripe button up shirt was creased on the sleeves. “49 years old…” I gently smiled at him attempting to ease his fears and unbuttoned his shirt in order to stick the cardiac monitor on his chest. “No significant cardiac history in his family…”

As the paramedics left the room the attending doctor and student drifted in. I handed the EKG over to her. She took a glance at it and told the patient his heart looked fine and lab work would be more definitive of any serious cardiac complications. She instructed me what to do with a look and nod and I proceeded to do what I have done so many times before.

I’ve been a nurse for six years. I’ve been a caretaker for many more. My spirit has always been drawn to people, especially when they are sick. I recognized early on that caring for people was part of my make up. It is one of the things that are at the core of my being. I’ve worked in the heart of Brooklyn to the coast of San Fransisco and there is one thing everyone has in common; we desire company when ill. Very few people want to be alone when they are sick. Illness breeds a sense of vulnerability and makes most of us yearn for human connections. The essence of living and what makes life are those around us. Realizing your own demise can be a smack in the face.

He was lying in the bed, topless with his bare chest out. His chest hair curly like the full head of dark hair that sat on top of his head. His jeans and shoes were still on. I unlaced each shoe and gently slid them off of his feet, readjusted him in bed and asked him to put his left arm out. I tied a tourniquet around his upper arm and watched veins begin to surface underneath his tan skin. I noticed a faded tattoo on his arm and in my broken Sudanese Arabic I could make out the name of a woman. It read “Nasrin”.

I told him to count to three and warned him that I was about to pierce his skin. He asked me if it would hurt. I said yes. As I stuck the needle into him I imagined him being in far away sandy places deeply in love with a girl who had deep brown eyes and long eyelashes. Nasrin. She would wear a black headscarf and readjust it when strands of her black hair slipped through. It was always her eyes that drew him in. It was the first thing that drew him in. She would walk past his classroom everyday. He’d wait for her even if it meant just one glance. He would wait. Their relationship would be awkward stares and lingering looks until the day she got close enough for him to say something. This time she was so close he could smell her. He froze. She would wait. There was a sense of patience to her. He begged for the words to come up. He cursed his brain for not giving his body permission and demanded his mouth make words but it did not comply. She didn’t look at him with eyes of stupidity instead she quietly looked downwards and gently commanded out his throat a simple “hello”. They would begin to meet in secret while their love began to grow.

His naivety and love for American movies taught him that if you really loved a woman you would get her name imprinted on your body. Eventually, he would get her name tattooed in secret places because Islam forbade any alteration of the body. When he showed her the tattoo she covered her mouth in disbelief. She grabbed his arm and her eyes shifted up to his face. This was when he realized no woman had ever looked at him with such intensity and desire. He tried his best not to grimace as she sensually traced her index finger around her name. He looked at her supple lips contrasted against deep caramel skin. A ray of sun snuck into the dim room and hit her eyes as she looked up at him again. Her eyes dripping with lust and pure passion. This time she didn’t hide. She wanted him to see it all. The room smelled of their sweat and ravaging hormones. With all the humidity her scarf began to slip off. His body was feeling things that he didn’t know or even cared to describe. At that moment no one else existed in the world. It was only him and Nasrin. His hand was slowly making its way to her face. He imagined what her skin would feel like under his finger tips. He stopped. He couldn’t. All the waiting he had done for this one moment. It was the worlds turn to wait for him. He wanted the world to turn seconds into minutes, minutes into hours and hours into days that would never end and if the world couldn’t do that than by Allah the world needed to freeze time all together for him. He demanded the world wait and his conviction so deep and devoted that he lost himself in her and she in him.

Later he would find out that time did not wait and a nosy neighbor standing on a nearby roof would tell Nasrin’s father that he ought to have a better rein on his daughters. This would abruptly end their early blossoming of a relationship and this was when he learned the life lesson that time was a taker and never a giver. She waited for no one, not even the begging mother would get a seconds worth of extra time with her dying newborn. It was simple.

A university scholarship would send him to Chicago and Nasrin would marry a man in the nearby city of Constantine. Her face aging but the deep brown and youthfulness of her eyes remaining. Sometimes on his summer visits home he would walk past the school. Children would poke their heads out looking at the people and donkeys carrying water down the bustling street. These were the times he would think of her. Their love would be a faded memory but like the tattoo Nasrin was forever imprinted on his being.

I began to fill the tubes with thick red blood. He looked down at his arm alarmingly and jokingly warned me not to drain his body. I reassured him he was a big man and this was virtually impossible. He laughed as I snapped the tourniquet off his arm.

I walked to the front of the ER to send his blood up to the lab. I could hear a lady crying in one of the rooms and a mother cooing her baby to sleep in another. Hospitals remind us that death and life are one in the same. I sat at my computer charting as one of the medical students hovered over the attending doctor. The secretary turned to me and said, “Room number 8 is calling you.” I walked to his room and he pointed to his chest as his face twisted in pain. I glanced at the cardiac monitor to make sure his heart rhythm was normal. Fifteen minutes later combined with a dose of morphine he rested comfortably in his bed. He turned to me and asked if his blood results had come back. I told him they hadn’t but he’d was more than likely going to stay the night at the hospital. He let out a deep sigh as I left his room.

As the night went by the ER began to bustle with the sounds of patients vomiting, call bells ringing and people crying. I whirled from room to room administering medications, drawing blood and talking to concerned family members. Nearly every time I walked near room number 8 he would wave me down. My annoyance began to reach new heights because of the volume of sick people I was tending to. Right now he was fine and I was too busy to casually talk.

Eventually, my shift was over. I put my jacket on and grabbed by bag. I was heading out and walked past his room. We exchanged smiles and he asked where I was going. He was lying in the stretcher with the heart monitor on. Different colored wires were sticking from under his hospital gown. I told him my shift was over and I was headed home. With concern in his voice he asked if someone else would be in to take care of him. I thought that was a silly question. I told him yes and that I had given her a full report on his condition.

I left.

My co-worker would call me the next morning as I walked into a dental appointment. She told me that the patient in room number 8 went up to his room and began complaining of worsening pain. One of the residents decided to order a second set of lab work. As he was Face Timing his family he went into cardiac arrest. They were unable to revive him. Once his lab work came back his cardiac enzymes had tripled. He was having a full blown heart attack.

The doctor said she had never seen this in her twenty plus year career. His blood work coming back nearly perfect. She said that ,“Timing did not work in his favor.”

Again, time waited for no one.

I sat in the chair and cried feeling like I had abandoned him. It made me feel even worse when I closed my eyes and remembered how his face looked as I left my shift the previous night. I was drained and in a rush to get home after working 12-hours. Surely, I could have given him a couple more moments. I blamed myself for being selfish with my time. I began to recount my interactions with him the previous night. Even with the gloves on I could feel the warmth of his body underneath my fingertips. I watched his heart pump out his blood into tubes. It was deep red. He was so alive.

The dentist walked in. I quickly wiped my face and smiled. He asked me what was wrong and I told him my allergies were acting up. He paused and looked at me as though he knew I was lying. Formalities would cause the conversation to stop right there and I was perfectly fine with that. He put his gloves on and I heard a snapping noise as the latex hit his wrist. “OK, open up.” he said. Normally, I hated the taste of fluoride. Normally, I hated visiting the dentist. Normally, I would have been fidgeting in that seat.

My mind was in another place.

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