20 December 2016

A little alliteration.

I got cat-called while I was walking the Freedom Trail in Boston with a gal pal. Typically, I'd ignore the behavior, but I was surrounded by history, excited to visit the state archives to see one of the original copies of the Bill of Rights, and was just supremely irritated. I spouted, "you're a pawn of the patriarchy!" and kept walking. It felt good. It might be my default from now on. It'd also make a fun hashtag. Let's try it in a sentence: This rando #pawnofthepatriarchy told me to smile more.

Yes, that'll do nicely.

Keep on keeping on,

16 December 2016


Taking a moment to acknowledge my privilege: high school for me was awkward, as it is for most, but it didn't suck. I was fortunate to attend a small, private college-prep. The intimate classes were a welcome change from my previous existence (crowded public schools and overworked/overwhelmed teachers, charged with cranking students through the floundering education system as best they could). I'd had a decent enough experience in public education up until that point, but the high schools in my area were struggling--significant overcrowding, high teen pregnancy rates, low college acceptances. So, I ended up at a Catholic school for girls. I'll take a stab at the usual questions before moving to topic:

1.  No, I didn't mind that there weren't any boys. Excepting two particularly good childhood friends, I found that pubescent boys were largely shitheads. And I was sure I'd meet the good ones in my new extra-curricular, multi-school theatre program. Even if some turned out to be gay, at least they weren't the slightest bit date rapey!

2.  No, my parents weren't particularly worried about me being indoctrinated into Catholicism. In fact, there is quite an ingrained respect for religious-private education within the South Asian community (thanks, British Imperialists!).  

3.  No, I didn't mind the uniforms. I had my morning regimen down to 15 minutes flat. I like my sleep. And without the constant worry of presenting myself as a suitable mate to opposite sex, my brain could focus on, you know, my education.

The school was actually pretty progressive, as far as Catholic high schools go. As an independent school that wasn't part of the diocese, educators were granted a certain level of autonomy in creating their curriculum. As a result, we had some fantastic classes that I thought I wouldn't encounter until college--World Religions, Oceanography, British Lit, Philosophy of Personal Morality.  

As forward-thinking as the school was, I still remember feeling pegged as the token Muslim (and I was until a couple more gals enrolled). I think it came out of a well-intended effort to acknowledge diversity. Excessive recognition can come off as labeling. But being on the liberal end of the spectrum let me share a version of Islam that perhaps my peers would not have otherwise ever encountered. I find profanity to be cathartic, had no plans for an arranged marriage, and don't wear a hijab. Keep in mind that 9/11 happened my junior year. Anything I could do to normalize my family and our way of life during that time, I would do. I'm not a spokesperson for a diverse religion of 1.6 billion people, but I hope I made a halfway decent impression. Maybe even one that stuck with them at the polls this last cycle.

For more on the merits of single-sex education, check out this most excellent read.

Keep on keeping on,

13 December 2016

Not quite Muslim enough.

For years, I struggled with what it meant to be both Muslim and myself. Then sometime between 28 and 30, I thought, fuck it.

Full disclosure: I'm on the agnostic end of the spectrum and I suppose the sociologist in me has always thought religion was largely a matter of family, upbringing, and your birth spot on the planet. But, even at a young age, I had interest in theology. First, it was the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks who piqued my interest with their numerous gods and fantastical underworlds. Who doesn’t love Pegasus?! Later, it was the Druids and Pagans. I was drawn to their expressions of nature worship—it seemed more hardcore than the basic Jewish/Christian/Muslim principle of stewardship that I grew up with. I ended up going to a Catholic high school and learned a lot there. Then in college, it was Buddhism that sparked my curiosity. But in every case, my interest was on the intellectual plane. Islam was the only faith that felt like home. It is so entwined with my identity as part Pakistani that it doesn’t feel right to have one without the other.

There are also a number aspects of my faith that I truly connect with. Like most sane humans, I think religious texts aren’t meant to be taken verbatim, but are intended to teach more general life lessons. Subtext for the win, ya’ll. I love that Islam was truly a religion ahead of its time, particularly concerning the treatment of women and the poor. Its focus on inclusivity and diversity also stikes a chord with me. Go to any mosque (masjid) in the world and you will see every race represented. It’s beautiful and feels extremely welcoming. When I was really little, I remember not grasping the concept of a Korean or Black church—our masjid just had everyone.

I also like that Islam kind of keeps to itself. It is not a proselytizing faith, so there hasn’t been a history of missionaries bulldozing the local culture of far off lands. Island culture in Hawaii and Polynesia, for example, changed substantially to acclimate to Christian life. (Side note: Fiji didn’t go that route and many of the unfortunate souls who ventured there to change the locals were simply eaten. Point taken.) And let's not get into the contemporary extremists, because true Muslims denounce their radical actions and resent being lumped in with what amounts to a handful of crazies. If you're going to hold over a billion and a half Muslims accountable for abhorrent actions of a select few, then I guess you can be held accountable for the atrocities of the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and Holocaust. Cool?

Having been born and raised in California and having attended UC Berkeley, you might surmise that I have more liberal leanings. But even by Pakistani standards, my family is pretty progressive. Most of the women folk don’t wear a headscarf (hijab), no one’s had an arranged marriage, and in many respects, I was given a fair amount of autonomy growing up. I didn’t have a curfew. I could wear shorts and tank tops. I went to prom. I had male friends. Though, many turned out to be gay. (I did a lot of theatre.)

So, I will try to be Muslim enough for you. But I am not speaking on behalf of all Muslims, which is as silly as it is narcissistic. And really, I’m like any other Pacific Northwesterner. I drink a lot of coffee, burst into flames if it gets to be over 75°, and love hiking, star gazing, layers, flannel, and yes, microbrews.

Keep on keeping on,

10 December 2016

An itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot burkini.

A one-sentence history: The burkini was developed way back in 2004 by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebaneze-born Australian designer, specifically with the goal of giving more conservative Muslim women a swimwear option they'd actually feel comfortable wearing. 

Having had friends and relatives that would never go swimming because of the lack of fabric associated with contemporary swimwear, I was ecstatic to learn of the burkini. I have always loved the water--ocean, lake, river, pool, hot springs, hot tub--I'm there. Growing up, it broke my heart that women I cared deeply about would never share in the peace and refreshing freedom I felt in the water. And as someone who would, given the option, opt for baggy striped 1920s swimwear, I get the appeal.

So, back in September, when a woman in Nice was made to remove her burkini by armed authorities, I was pissed. In the aftermath of yet another atrocious terrorist attack, the French government reacted out of fear and a ban was passed on this particular piece of beachwear (it looks funny and scares white people, would be a sufficient synopsis of their logic). This is a matter of personal choice and an individual's comfort, not national security. Given that the state typically does a decent job of protecting individual liberties, French countrymen and women of all backgrounds were also livid. Being topless is fine, but covering up is a crime? (That wasn't supposed to rhyme...Anybody want a peanut?)

Then, a few weeks ago, I read something that gave me hope. Halima Aden is a Somaliese teen who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp and came to America when she was six-years-old. While participating in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, she wore a burkini in the swimwear segment. Plus, a hijab for the whole thing. Mic drop. These moments where we are nothing other than ourselves humanize us in the eyes of the scared and uninformed. We must follow Halima's lead over and over again. Until we're all just your friendly neighborhood Muslim.

Keep on keeping on,

08 December 2016

Full circle.

It occurred to me this morning, that I'm right back to the first career I ever dreamed of as a kid.

It's a frosty 37° Pacific Northwest morning and I'm bundled up with a blanket daringly draped over my legs and the rolling heater. I’m sitting at my Pottery-Barn-by-way-of-Craigslist desk. The pup is in her rightful place, on her bed to my left. The cat is at my right and huddled up against the heater. Out one window I can see Lake Washington, and out the other (on a clearer day) I can see Mount Rainier.  

Coffee's in a deep blue, clay mug--a remnant from my past life in Monterey. It rests on a tin coaster featuring a vintage Corona beer girl, a souvenir from my backpacking trip through the Yucatan.  They’re accompanied by a pair of plum knit finger-less gloves, my pocket knife, phone, and all the usual office accouterments.  In front of me is an antique globe of the moon that belonged to my grandfather, that for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to dust. Beside it sits a jar containing a colorful collection of sea glass from my travels, a ceramic armadillo lamp, and a petite glass full of sand stolen from Australia.  If I look up, I see my maiden name. A cubicle nameplate from my years as an education program writer hangs on the wall, reminding me of my roots and first content gig. Around it, there’s a black-and-white picture with the hubs, and some of favorite artists: a painting of a vampire squid by my college best friend who is also a scientific illustrator, an abstract tropical fish painted by my sister in middle school, and a bright watercolor unicorn painted by my husband years before we met. There is also a large comic featuring a girl and her sea monster by a Portland artist, a vibrant low-brow painting of a woman and narwhals gifted by my high school best friend, and a framed scarf featuring a number of Australian butterflies.

I am surrounded by nature, artistic inspiration, and furry, unconditional love.  Some of my most treasured keepsakes energize and focus me.  It is the best possible workspace.  I am in the middle of a script for work, but stopped to write this because maybe I'm not as focused as I just claimed.

I first wanted to be a writer circa second grade. Mrs. Nicholas, a tall, tan white woman with braces and the most perfect side-part, fostered my love of reading. She gave me special assignments to take with me to Pakistan during a month-long visit with my family, where we traveled for my favorite uncle's wedding. I felt so honored that his beautiful bride let me have a sleepover party with her the night before the festivities, had my hands covered in mehndi, ran around my grandparents' palatial estate with all my cousins, and attended the glamorous affair covered in mosquito bites. When we returned, I wrote my first book, lovingly bound in a red report folder by my mom.  It was a travelogue called The Trip to Pakistan.  Staring cats.  Just cats. They made for far more interesting characters and were less daunting to illustrate than people.  I stand by my choice.

I remember writing it and thinking: None of the kids in my class are going to get this, but I don't care...I can’t say that my ideology has changed much.

Back to work, I go.

Keep on keeping on,


05 December 2016

Uttar naansense.

Before we begin, a short rant:
- naan bread = bread bread
- chai tea = tea tea

So, I’ve been eating a lot of comfort carbs since the election and thought I'd write about the bread of my people. Because it is so good, in its multitude of forms. In fact, there are so many varieties that we'll just stick with my faves. In no particular order:

Chapati/Roti | Our basic tortilla.
Chapatis are made with atta (a hard Indian wheat, or durum) flour, salt, and water. Lots-o-gluten makes the dough pliable and soft. Rolled out dough is cooked on both sides in a dry frying pan or tava. In some places, like my auntie’s house, chapatis are cooked over an open flame that will create big, fun bubbles. 

Paratha | Layered and buttery, like a flat croissant.
The paratha’s trademark thick, flaky goodness is made possible by spreading the dough with ghee, folding it, and rolling it out again. Ghee is clarified butter, but a different spin on the process that involves simmering the butter gives the product a distinctly nutty aroma. Moving on, paratha usually made with all-purpose flour instead of whole wheat. And to make it that much more delightful, it’s commonly filled with such tasties as palak (spinach), daal (lentils), or aloo (potato). 

Papadam | That free app that just always shows up. 
Papadam is thin and extra crispy. The kneaded mixture of black gram flour, pepper, and salt is flattened into thin rounds. Sometimes it appears shiny (when fried) and other times it looks matte (cooked using dry heat). Papadam usually served with a couple chutneys including a spicy, green (coriander/mint) and a sweet, brown (tamarind).

Puri | Poofy little balloons of happiness.
Puri is usually made with wheat flour and sometimes has cumin seed tossed in. It’s deep-fried in either vegetable oil or ghee and puffs up when cooked because the moisture in the dough becomes steam that expands. Puri is typically served as a light snack, or tapas-style with an assortment of potato based curries, lentils, and garbanzo beans.

Dosa | A lighter and more monstrous crepe.
Seriously, if your dosa fits on the plate, they did it wrong. I’m a fan of tearing off chunks and scooping up all the accompaniments (see: puri), but it can also be served stuffed with said tasties. Dosa has no added sugars or saturated fats and its main ingredients, rice and black gram, make it a solid source of protein. Interestingly enough, the fermentation process also increases the vitamin B and vitamin C content. 

Naan | A soft, chewy, magnificent beast.
Making naan involves mixing white flour with salt, yeast, and yogurt to make a smooth, pliable dough.  The dough is kneaded, set aside to rise, and then divided into balls, which are flattened and cooked. Naan is made in a tandoor (a cylindrical clay or metal oven) and served brushed with butter, or you guessed it, glorious ghee!

Keep on keeping on,