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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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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love, personal, stories, Uncategorized, womanhood

Lessons on love

I saw them walk around the edge of the water holding hands. Her chubby fingers laced into his. They both appeared to be in their mid to late 30’s. I could tell their love was new based on how his hands traced her body. Whether or not he realized it he was reading and studying her. His fingers did the work and his mind soaked it all in.

I could tell he was enjoying it. I thought how I missed having my body studied by a man.

As I watched them slowly walk by I imagined him being a very passionate and attentive lover. Words didn’t have to be spoken because he would read her body like a book of poetry. Her body was his poetry, in all of its sacredness. He would write haikus about the curve of her wide hips. He would write soliloquies about the softness of her heavy breasts. Every pause, every comma and every period would be considered. He would never rush. Every time his fingers grazed her body she would allow him to turn yet another page revealing more of herself to him. Sometimes he would even go back a page, only to slowly read it again fearing that perhaps he may have missed something. Her deep sighs would mean she was ready. He would want to take all of her in. He savored the ending but he wouldn’t finish until she gave him permission to close her book. Everyone knew you had to take your time reading poetry.

Once they reached a hill the woman stopped and looked out at the water. Her curly hair was moving in sync with the wind. Some ducks were splashing nearby and the sun sat perfectly in the clear blue sky. He walked up behind her and gently placed his arms around her waist. I could see he was whispering in her ear. I imagined what he might be saying. Her face eased into a smile. She closed her eyes as he brushed his lips against her cheek. She leaned back and shifted her weight onto him fully assured that he was able to handle it. They walked in slow motion while taking gentle steps. Both of them were oblivious to the runners, bikers and strollers that zoomed around them. There was an air of impatience to the people who passed them up. I just watched them both and thought to myself what it truly means to be in love and oblivious to the rest of the world.

I came up with one answer, absolutely wonderful.

_

I have been in love twice. I’m speaking about being madly, deeply, i-cant-think-about-nothin’-else type of love. The feeling of being warm and fuzzy inside when you see the person. Oh, and I can’t forget the “butterflies”. You haven’t truly been in love until you’ve experienced that. For real.

But, I digress.

I am a Black, Afrikan, Muslim woman.

I am a strong woman.

I am also…

A woman who loves to love. I am a woman who loves to be loved. There is nothing weak about admitting that. I actually view it as a strength. Love is one of the only things that can make you both vulnerable and powerful at the same damn time. This is the effect that love can have on a person.

I am close to turning thirty, God willing. For some women, thirty is a stepping stone and almost a dreaded right of passage. Many feel that there are certain things that a woman should have by the time she hits thirty. One of those things is a stable relationship. The powerful women who raised me made it clear that my identity and self worth was wrapped up in so much more that a societal dictation regarding female aging.

Lately, I have been reflecting and thinking about my experiences with love so far.

For me, both times were wonderful and I learned lessons about myself in each of those relationships. One thing I have definitely come to understand is that inexperience brings a sweetness to love. I was nineteen the first time I fell in love. I gave him a very sweet and innocent type of love and with the right person it could have been a beautiful thing. At that age it was so easy to follow the inclinations of my heart without hesitation. Part of being young is thinking that you can overcome anything. Life has a way of working itself out though. Allah knows what we do not.

As you get older you become realistic and begin to fully understand life. The second time happened ten years later and I was at a very different phase in my life. I still fell hard and enjoyed every minute of it. I was in deep, but unlike most, I was not in denial. I savored every minute of daydreaming, random texts and lingering conversations on the phone. I knew that being that much in love with a person carried its risks. I was ready to accept all of that. Our love was pleasantly unexpected and intense. I appreciated it for the experience and the lessons I learnt.

Remember, many people have never loved, been loved or fallen in love. Consider your experiences a blessing even if they end before you would like. There is a place for everything in your life, including love. What is meant for you now may not be meant for you tomorrow.

Give thanks for life.

Give thanks for love.

Give thanks to Allah.

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sex, stories

Yellow.

*Trigger warning: This post contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors. Please read with caution.*

 
She sat there, in the corner, alone.

She had purposely picked the dark corner in the room. No one would force her to talk if she pretended like she was in prayer.

Her eyes stayed focused on the floor until the green zig zags in the carpet made her dizzy. People around her were trickling out of the room. She wouldn’t get up until the sound of shuffling shoes stopped.

She thought about the tackiness of the mosque. Between the green carpet and pink walls it didn’t stand a chance.

In her peripheral she saw a sister making her way towards her. She closed her eyes and felt the light footsteps shift and head in a different direction.

Life had been hard on her.

She never forgot that the room was yellow. She would grow up to hate that color and anything remotely related to it. Just the sight of a solid yellow shirt would evoke a feeling of utter disgust in her core. She recalled a time when she was doing good. The memories of him were beginning to lessen. That recurring nightmare had stopped. Soon after she came to that calm, a coworker pulled out a yellow notepad at a staff meeting. That was what set her off. A damn notebook. She fidgeted in her chair and eventually had to get up and step out. She would stay in her office and pop a Xanax. I just need 30 minutes to let the pill kick in. Later, when talking to her boss she would jokingly laugh and say, “You know Muslims pray all the time.” Using a religious excuse always worked in her favor because its motives could not be questioned. He would give her a half smile and know she was full of shit.

She had just turned nine the first time her uncle crept into her bedroom. Her body felt things it was not supposed to feel at that age. He lifted her underwear and stuck his fat fingers in places that she didn’t know existed. Lying frozen on her back all she would see was the yellow ceiling. This was the celling that watched her childhood unfold as she created makeshift hijabs for her dolls. Ironically, the same ceiling was about to witness the vandalization of her innocence and youth.

Yellow.

Screams would not follow direct commands. They would not come out of her mouth. Her mind and body would remain disconnected for a while after that. She would blossom into womanhood and sometimes feel betrayed by her own body. Orgasms felt good but the exhilaration was quickly followed by shame. So she would avoid accidentally brushing her nipples in the shower or watching a makeout scene in a movie too long. She didn’t want to evoke feelings that would lead to memories of yellow.

She didn’t know what to do or how to feel. Sometimes her prayers would involve asking Allah for numbness. She would bow with her forehead on the floor feeling every prickle of the wool carpet. She knew it was haram to ask for death, but by Allah, if she could have she would. It wasn’t fair. Allah was not being fair by giving her this burden. All those years. All those fuckin’ years he touched her. Allah must have been mistaken. He was mistaken for thinking that somehow she was supposed to duaa her way out of this. This test was meant for Aisha, Sumaiya or Maryam. Not her. Allah, in all His Majesty and Glory, was never wrong but in this instance He was. Just this one time He had made a mistake. She was sure of it.

A tear fell off her face. She didn’t feel it roll down her check. The carpet turned a dark green as it soaked up her hearts grief.

“Alllllaah, forrrgiv—…” She stuttered through deep, huffing breaths. Her heart needed a moment to rest.

“Allah, forgive me for doubting you and your trials.” She whispered.

Sometimes she felt stuck. Islam was her backbone but she doubted it at times. That feeling of doubt often led to feelings of guilt and remorse. Everyone said doubting meant you weren’t a “good” Muslim. Religious guilt often ate her from the inside out.

Throughout the years the thought of confiding in friends and family crossed her mind. One semester she had come home for break, which coincided with Ramadan. After attending tahajjud one night with her family she had a moment of clarity. A moment free of the anxiety associated with being judged and blamed for something the nine year old version of herself couldn’t prevent. She would tell her mother. She had decided.

Later she would back down.

That was the closest she came to exposing it all. She wanted people to see yellow for what it really was. She often questioned why lemonade, school buses and even smiley faces had to be yellow. The absurdity of it all. The sheer ridiculousness. People had been deceived. It was not a color of happiness and life. Yellow was an offensive, overpowering and a demanding of attention type of color.

So in a corner she stayed. Had her moment and afterwards went to the bathroom to wash her face. She opened the door and walked out the mosque while pulling her cardigan closer as her black hijab blew in the wind. It was starting to lightly drizzle outside. Rain was a blessing and in her quiet voice she whispered a small prayer.

She walked towards the white sedan and opened the passenger side door.

“Honey, what took you so long?” Her husband said smiling.

“I just saw Laila and you know how much she talks.” She said. He chuckled and shook his head.

She looked out the window. Days would pass. Everything would appear normal. In spaces, she would hide but remain physically present. People would think she was fine.

And she would never let them think otherwise.

Never.

_________

I will start this off with saying you never know what a person is going through. One can never understand and comprehend the internal struggles and grievances of an unfamiliar heart. All of us are handed a different deck of cards in life. Some may consider their hand fair, others may not.

Never assume anything about anyone. Never assume the type of life or upbringing a person has had. In most cases those same assumptions will be shattered.

Muslims have a difficult time discussing healthy, consensual sex within the confines of a marriage. These discussions are extremely difficult to have in many cultural and ultra-orthodox circles. It leaves many Muslims feeling dirty. So naturally, it would make sense that molestation and rape wouldn’t easily make their way into our conversations.

Molestation, rape and incest happen everywhere. No one community is immune to this. The only difference is that religious circles (Christians, Catholics and Muslims) have somehow been duped to think that sweeping the issue under the rug will remedy the situation.

Facing and admitting the fact that there are ills, addictions and deep issues within religious circles is not easy. While we try to reach spiritual perfection some may get blindsided refusing to admit the stark reality. Certain things require professional help and simply praying your way out of it is not enough. That should be ok. We need to face our problems and work on healing victims of abuse. People shouldn’t be spiritually abused because they admit to trauma in their lives. I’ve heard of people going to Muslim leaders for help and being told that praying more is the ultimate solution.

Prayer is a part of the solution, yes, but not the end all be all.

Be open when it comes to discussing sex, especially with your children. Once sex is normalized in our communities then we can comfortably bring up the abnormalities associated with it.

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marriage, stories

Secret wife = Glorified “side piece”

She married him.

She married him in secret, knowing very well that marriages never went down like that in any culture or religion. Marriages were celebratory and typically included an announcement of some sort. It didn’t have to be anything big or over the top but there had to be something. She knew that but had been convinced otherwise. From the outside Islam always looked so perfect. There was order and a sense of simplicity, but once she converted she quickly realized Muslims were far from that. They struggled just like everyone else and for her that was a huge disappointment. She slowly learned to see the human in people irregardless of their religious practice.

The first time she saw him he was in the mosque. He always looked so dignified. Clothes crisp and freshly ironed. He wore a lot of white linen and his kufi sat neatly placed on top of his head. He had the type of smile where all his teeth showed. He needed a wife, she thought.

Through the curtain she could see him bent over from the waist up offering his afternoon prayer. She looked around to see if any sisters were looking at her before she peered through the sheer pink curtain for a better peek. As her eyes found him her mind began to wander to intimate spaces in her mind. She imagined her body pressed against his linen suit. Pressed so tightly that her curves wrinkled his outfit. He would pull her in closer. She would pull back, not a “real” pull back but the one that translated into “pull me in closer”. She would feel his breath on her neck. Her body would breakout in goosebumps. His hand would rest on her arm but she would feel it slowly making its way down her back. She imagined his smell, which would be of sandalwood mixed with a hint of mint from the gum he was chewing…

She stopped herself and embarrassingly pulled the curtain back into its rightful place.

Little did she know that she’d already caught his eye. Later she would find out that he spotted her in a group of sisters chatting it up outside the mosque weeks prior. He would always laugh and say he spotted the orange hijab first. When she turned around though he knew that she would be his. Her face brighter and more beautiful than the scarf that donned her head, crowning it like a halo. Like any man he enjoyed women. He relished in the thought of conquering a woman, especially the ones who were young and feisty. The ones who swore up and down that they would never be second wives. He had a wife already and had been married for nearly ten years. His wife was not into polygyny. It just wasn’t her thing. He brought up the idea to her once and her reaction made him promise to never speak of it again.

He knew what he wanted though. It was selfish but he didn’t care.

The story of how their relationship began was nothing special or profound. He ran across her Facebook profile based on the mutual friends they had. He requested her. She accepted him. There were no messages exchanged for the first two weeks. Both waited anxiously for the other to say something. There would be occasional “likes” on both ends but it didn’t progress until he popped up in her Messenger. The innocent online messages progressed to meet ups at random cafes. He convinced her that it was permissible because they were in public. Not knowing too much she believed him. After two months of these meet ups he asked if she would marry him. At this point she was already aware of his first wife.

Her feelings were invested. She didn’t care. What if this was her only opportunity to get married? She would often hear of sisters complaining about the difficulties of finding spouses.

So they got married.

At first their relationship was pure bliss but eventually the reality of its circumstances began to surface. Her desire to make the relationship public kept tugging at her. It was obvious that his loyalty was with his first wife. When she would bring it up he filled her with empty promises and one liners about how he didn’t want to cause fitnah (discord) in his community. She always heard the other sisters say that being a good wife meant you didn’t cause your husband undue stress, or at least that is what she had been told. “Allah will always reward the patient and those who perservere…” was a common saying of his. She got sick of him saying it. Quite frankly, she felt like slapping the shit out of him as soon as it began to roll off of his tongue. He was using Islam to fit his needs and desires. It only suited him to use that quote when it worked in his favor. That was not Islam to her…

Who was being patient here?
It certainly wasn’t him.

This was a quick way to religiously shut her down. She would nod in agreement and he would gently brush his hand on her face. Her eyes would close and her mind followed the tracings of his fingers. This would be followed by a kiss on her forehead. His touch would jolt through her body; like an electrical current sending sparks all throughout her being. He made her feel alive, even if that was only in a physical sense because deep down her soul felt dead and abandoned. The trail of touch would go up her arm, to the nape of her neck, between her breasts and eventually the feeling would gently settle between her legs. At this point he would want more and she would gracefully drape her body beneath his.

This became a cycle, one that never failed to repeat itself.

Her heart couldn’t find the courage to convince her lips to say how she really felt. Her body never failed to betray her. She succumbed to his every touch. The relationship was more sexual than it was anything else. He used her. Sometimes she felt like they used each other. He would often complain about his problems at home with his first wife. She would listen and not dare complain to him. She felt like she had a lot to complain about but she willingly put herself in this position. She just felt stuck and there was no room to move. There was no one to confide in and she understood that majority of the blame would fall onto her if this secret ever came to light.

She was the woman. She would be shamed. Her integrity would be questioned. This was the reality. There was only a matter of time before she would burst open.

So this cycle continued and she found herself in the same position that many Muslim women find themselves in.

Married yet alone.

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The rise of unmarried Muslim women has resulted in many considering and taking part in secret polygyny. When I use the term secret polygyny I am referring to “the intentional practice of covert marriages.” This practice, that some do state to be permissible within Islam, is more widespread than one would think. In most cases, secret polygyny involves vulnerable women such as recent reverts, those with very little family support and lastly those who are uneducated when it comes to the rights of women in Islam.

Now, before I get labeled as a sista who is bashing polygyny please hear me out. I do not have personal experience to back my claims nor to I have empirical data to support what I am stating. I believe there are several cases where polygyny works out fine, in most of these situations we are dealing with a brother who is extremely fair and righteous. These men who willingly take on multiple wives are far and few in between. Again, the honest truth. This is just the reality. Today, its hard enough to stay within a monogamous relationship and be successful at it. How are some men even considering second wives? Then, how do some men Islamically justify the deceit involved with secret polygyny?

Now as women we play our role in this saga as well…

Unfortunately, some women go by the motto “It’s better to have some man than no man.” This saying has greatly influenced how Muslim women approach the practice of polygyny. Many feel as though it may be their last shot at a relationship, even though polygyny was one that they had no intention of practicing beforehand. Whether or not polygyny still has relevance today, truth of the matter here is that it is extremely hard to convince someone who was raised in the West that it actually works and is practical. Then we throw in the whole “secret wife on the side” piece and you’ll really get conflicted feelings. Yes, we are Muslim but many of us come from different walks of life, culturally speaking, and some of those cultures do not practice polygyny.

I often think of my own experiences and having brothers who are already married approach me for marriage. One of the first questions I always asked was if their first wives were aware of their search. Some would reply with a yes but many more responded in the negative. I could see nothing but selfishness and deceit with these types of men. If they couldn’t honor their first wives, the ones that bore their children, then there was no way I would be respected and upheld. This is why even the mere thought of polygyny just turns me off. The misguided and ill intentions surrounding the polygynous marriages I have seen convinced me, as well as many other women, that polygyny is not where it’s at.

I can’t help but think who benefits most in these scenarios. I’ve personally known several sisters who have taken part in these relationships and all were given the false promise that their marriages would eventually become public. The way a brother treats you in the beginning says a lot in regards to how he will treat you in the midst of your relationship. The few who have come out have had their marriages exposed by others or by the accidental exposure that one risks being on social media.

In all these situations the women have been blamed in one way or another.

We often blame the women for even considering taking part in these marriages without paying attention to the main culprits. What about the imams and religious leaders who marry these individuals? What about the Muslim men who intentionally prey on vulnerable women? Have you ever heard an Imam give a khutbah about that?

Nawwwww…..

These subjects, that are greatly affecting Muslims, are totally bypassed.

More of the concern should be focused on who is marrying these individuals in our community because often these men are repeat offenders and shuffle through vulnerable women intentionally. They leave behind a trail of heartbreak, broken women and in some cases neglected children.

There is nothing Islamic about this.

With all that being said, I need my sisters to take responsibility and become more conscious of the men they decide to wed. Any act, including marriage, out of desperation should probably be left alone. Paying close attention to the signs early on in a relationship will give one a very clear idea as to where the relationship is heading. Being practical about marriage can be very challenging when feelings are involved.

Side note to the brothas, when you bring up polygyny to a Muslim woman and her face amazingly warps into that of the Incredible Hulk now you know why.

So I end this with saying a secret wife is a glorified side piece. If you respect her and the sanctity of your relationship it will be made public.

The truth never lies.

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mosque, personal, segregation, stories

And then she sang…

The sun was still beating down.

It was early evening in Senegal and my plane had just landed. I looked out at the vast landscape. It was bursting with colors of the Earth, every hue of green and brown imaginable to the eye. The sand swirled in the wind as my heart fluttered in my chest. I took in a deep breath of relief as the wheels of the plane jolted the sand encrusted African pavement. I was back in the Motherland.

No one could tell me nothin’.

I am a mixture of a lot of things and damn proud. A true daughter of the diaspora. My lineage is rooted in Africa, from the East all the way to the West. My round face, small nose and almond shaped eyes scream East Africa, the birth place of my beautiful father. My bright outfits and chunky bracelets make sure folks are well aware that I am a sista from Chicago and always down with the revolution. All of these identities are carefully wrapped into a hijab, that mind you, are always well coordinated with my over sized earrings.

My passport is almost full and my heart repeatedly bursts with joy every time I set foot back on the Continent. I have travelled across Africa. From Mali to Ethiopia then back to Ghana and Sudan. Each one of these countries has unique cultural traditions that set them apart from one another. All of these differences I appreciate. From my experiences traditional cultures offer something the West does not. There is a collectiveness, a tightness between the people even though many of these countries have suffered from issues related to colonialism and imperialism. Ties such as family and lineage are an integral part of African society. I wish that every Black person could have the experience of traveling back home, yes I said home. My experiences of traveling back to Africa continue to be a mind opener and with each visit I continue to grow and learn something new.

One thing that continues to surprise me about many Muslim countries in Africa is how relationships between men and women are carried out. Growing up in Chicago my experiences and perceptions of Islam were heavily shaped by being in predominantly Arab communities, who were a tad bit on the conservative side in regards to their practice of Islam. For most of my school life, I attended an Islamic school that was gender segregated. Nearly everything was hyper-sexualized and male/female interactions always seemed out of place and unnatural. Teachers would hawk the hallways and personally call you out if your behavior was deemed inappropriate. Within that cultural context many times I felt that my presence as a young woman was either viewed as a problem or in some cases a temptress. Now as an adult, I understand the community elders had sincere intentions with separating the boys and the girls. Though unfortunately, this practice became problematic when many of us went on to college having a difficult time interacting with our counterparts.

A sista must make it clear…

I believe there are certain instances where men and women should be separated but for the most part I don’t see the need. In a majority of African cultures both men and women function together, side by side without any issues. I think the Arab world could take note of this because gender relations seems to be an ongoing issue in many Arab communities. Along with that women in many parts of Africa are an integral part of society and their status is recognized.

So this brings me to what inspired this post…

Recently in Senegal, I attended a Friday prayer where a woman busted out in nasheed (religious/spiritual song) in the middle of the mosque. Her infant lay in her lap with an oversized scarf draped over him. She batted the persistent flies that kept landing on him. I was shocked that no one stopped or scolded her for singing. My eyes were fixated on her. As her voice echoed throughout the mosque I waited for someone to scorn her. Her melodic voice was strong but had feminine undertones. Her eyes were closed as her body swayed to the movement of her voice. She was wrapped into the moment, almost as though she was in the comfort of her own home. I looked around, expecting some old looking dude to start yelling and to my surprise no one said anything. She sang while folks kept going about their business. All she got were a couple curious glances and a group of giggling girls in the back corner. It was very refreshing for me to witness this moment as she claimed her space and looked so natural doing so. I was determined to meet this woman. So for the next several days I attended the mosque at the same time. I knew language would be a hindrance but I had to meet her. Later, I found out that she came from a family of Nigerian (Hausa) women that were all religious singers. She travelled to Senegal for the month of Ramadan. She had been singing since she was six years old, a tradition solely passed down to the women in her family. With a shy smile she told me it was reserved for them.

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I’ve left a little piece of my experience for you.

Enjoy.

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