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The Museum of Lago Atitlan 9 March 2009

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Culture, History, Spirituality, Travel.

A male cardinal in March; a flash of red against snow. He jumps up the branches of the oak tree wearing a black mask over his eyes. He is crimson from his crest to the tip of his tail; one is almost glad, seeing him, for the bareness of the season. Were there leaves on the trees or sun in the sky, he might not seem as bright. I throw burnt popcorn from the second floor porch. He fights sparrows for the seeds.

I trace the shape of the minor chords up and down my knees. My hand makes a small round shape, gloves curled, imagining keys. It is a habit of thinking; in the familiarity of the scales from C up an octave to C, I find familiarity upon which to daydream. I have learned enough of my religion to feel at ease with submission and belief. Islam and iman, the first two i-words, have meanings which are clear to me. One can list their requirements on two hands, and fulfilling them, feel complete. But what of the third i-word, what of ihsan? It appears in the dictionary under husn: beauty, perfection, excellence. Ihsan is a derivative verbal form meaning the enacting of these. To do what is beautiful, to do what is perfect, to do what is excellent; what do these mean? Each time I consider these questions, I recall the same hadith.

Narrated Omar bin Al-Khattab:

One day while we were sitting with the messenger of Allah there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet. Resting his knees against the Prophet’s and placing the palms of his hands on the Prophet’s thighs, he said, “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam”.


Valentine’s Day in Karachi 16 February 2009

Posted by ABD in Culture, Travel, VARANGALI.

This week’s guest post is by VARANGALI, a San Francisco-based consultant and one-time regular at othermatters.org.

One of my favorite educational experiences came while studying abroad. Specifically, sitting in a pizzeria on the coast of Normandy with friends, eating the thinnest pizza margarita I have ever had, topped with an egg, sunny side up. Sometime between the yolk and the crust, we noticed a troupe of angelic, costumed 1st graders winding its way through the tables to the maître d’. With a huge grin, he swooped out a bowl of candy. This was one in the afternoon, October 28th. This was Halloween, French-style.

Holidays, like other cultural imports, often get lost in translation. I thought of my French Halloween a couple of days ago, while stuck in traffic late at night on February 13th. Bewildered by the timing of the jam, I questioned my cousin. “Valentine’s Day, of course.”

Of course. Cruising the streets the night of February 13th. A live rock band at Dunkin Donuts. Wearing red to announce your healthy love life. Restaurants turning off their lights for a minute at midnight. Valentine’s Day, Pakistani-style.


Crossing 29 January 2009

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Culture, Travel.

I lay three fatted twigs along the fireplace’s grate, and stretch an Ossipee log across them. I have loosened handfuls of splinters along its face, in the hope of encouraging flames. It is a dark morning; new snow has fallen. There is precious little paper, and no real kindling. I tear strips from a brown bag, and twist them into chords. These I stuff into the gaps between the log, the grate and the twigs.

The match in my right hand resembles blond hair, rigidly shellacked. It flares easily; no more force is required to ignite it against a sandpaper square than one might exert on a pencil’s lead, when signing one’s name to a page. I touch the matchhead’s flame to the tip of each twig. For a moment, they sweat grease. Then a sound like breath through gritted teeth, and one by one they ignite.

An inch and a half of each must be burned before the log will be met. My three small fires suck sap from these twigs like children emptying bones. A few of my paper twists start to burn; they are slow in unfurling. I grow tired of watching, and rise to make tea. My feet are cold along the floor, and in their stiffness I think of Abbu. He is the only member of the immediate family whom I have yet to meet. I ask my husband to describe his father, and comb his answers for clues. Abbu is the shyest, the most imaginative. He is a day-dreamer for all that I know; or perhaps like Baji, artistic? There is little satisfaction in guessing. I seek similarities between us in history. In railways, in camels, in poetry; in dua, migration, tea.


Driving 31 October 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Misc, Relationships, Travel.
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We’ve been together for two and a half weeks now, the five of us, mistaken at the tollbooth for a family. The journey between Sharon and home is thirty-six miles; when we’re lucky, it’s forty-five minutes. When we’re not, it can take an hour.

Our games to entertain each other are evolving: what began with “twenty questions (animals)”, has progressed from “two truths and one lie” to “math jeopardy”. On Fridays we stop for pop or snacks (less than two dollar each), if they give me an easy time the rest of the week. Sugar is the currency of bribes.

Bahadur leans out of the back right window at the tollbooth and asks the man making change how he gets home. The man, tall, dark and young, looks uncertainly at me. “What?” “He is wondering about how you drive home,” I nod my head, and smile. “He can’t see your car, and he’s worried about how you get out here.” “Oh.” The man smiles, and turns to Bahadur. “Biggens,” the homeless man at the end of the exit in Cambridge calls him. Eight years of good eating and exercise have formed a muscular child.


Turkey Diary: Unwrapping 24 July 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Culture, Politics, Travel.

Istanbul, July 20

Hazelnuts grow in twists of green from which they must be pried. To my left in the shade of the window frame, Hasibe’s fingers unwrap leaves. At her touch, they open; one by one, nuts are freed. Soon a handful roll on the white place mat. They are shaped like acorns and I wonder if they will be as bitter.

Cigdem, Serra, Zahra and I sit on mismatched chairs. It is Sunday, pajama day, and we are not dressed for going outside. Curls and freckles, nightgowns and slippers, we sit in our glasses, breakfasting. I have made an omelet for the girls, a puffy thing, encasing peppers and cheese. Sliced hot into wedges, it is inspected with wonder and eaten. “It is like a special pizza,” Serra is happy. “I have never seen such a thing.”

In an hour, we will scrub the apartment, in two hours, we will leave. One by one, with the coming ezan, we will disappear to pray. In three hours, Hasibe and I will pass, through Bogazici, down to the sea. Like green hazelnuts, we will be wrapped. We are better than hazelnuts, I decide, because we may cover, uncover, recover ourselves as we so please.