Sunday, April 29, 2012

Now THAT`S Talkin’ Bout a Revolution

April 29

I watched a documentary, Marley, about Bob Marley and from the start, shots of tin shacks, barefoot children running on dirt tracks, men with crooked teeth standing on rickety porches while it rained – it reminded me of home.

Studying about America’s problems, sometimes I forget where I come from and what I will have to work with when I go back. The poverty in Pakistan is stark, more in-your-face, more prevalent, more life threatening and acute. And I’m not saying racism, sexism, ageism, etc. isn’t as dire as Pakistan’s violence, illiteracy, unemployment, inflation, and so on, but it is oh so different, and it is where my heart lies, it is why I’m here.

Anyways, so Bob Marley. He was born in a tiny, hilly green village in Jamaica, where the light in the night came from stars and fireflies. He always loved music, inspired revolutionaries across the world and inspired his people in Jamaica to peace, helping to foster a truce between the rival political parties. His dad was a background kind of white guy who slept around while he traveled to other countries on active duty, but refused to really interact or get to know Bob (listen to “cornerstone”, which is a pretty sweet song like all of Marley’s music. Just makes you want to get up and turn your back on all the materialistic, petty yet pervasive stress and just go sit out under an open sky and light a joint).

Marley smoked pot, a lot, even grew his own weed in a middle-class neighborhood in America, played the guitar, wrote songs about peace and happiness and love, and danced to the reggae he spread across the world, and played football. His house was always crowded with people, coming in and out at all hours of the day and night, and they would sit around smoking, talking about religion and justice and history, and then play football (I loved how in the documentary it wasn’t soccer but football like the rest of the world calls the sport) and then write songs and make music late into the night. It sounds like the perfect life.

Marley slept around even though he was married, but the women in his life forgave that, and their explanation was that there was too much to this man, what he stood for and what he did. The kind of man who makes unforgivable things seem trivial bad habits, like cutting your nails without spreading an old magazine underneath. Annoying but not a thing that ends a relationship.

Back to Marley and Jamaica: shots of poverty give way to shots of violence: men with guns on streets, puffs of smoke dissolving in the air above barrels, like lives of people caught in the crossfire, political parties feeding off on the violence. Areas divided visibly with informal check-posts, marking sectarian divides as constructed as the check-posts but harder to see and erase. And like Marley said, when you have youth killing other youth, it isn’t for anything, it is just the politicians’ using people, its divide and rule…

Bob Marley inspired peace in Jamaica (I’m not sure if it lasted but it sure happened, on a stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people moving their bodies to the beat of Marley’s music); he was shot the night before an earlier peace concert but he went on with it anyways; and then years later he directed a negotiation between the rival political parties of Jamaica and had another amazing concert.

He wrote a song for people in Zimbabwe, for people in Africa, for black people in America, and even now, his music lives in the hearts of millions, telling them to get up, stand up for your rights.

That sure was two and a half hours well spent. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Positive psychology

April 27
It is a fight, between white clouds that color the sky bright blue, and the heavy gray clouds, that want to pour. It is a fight between the cold wind, and the branches of the tree that want to hang on to their leaves. It is the kind of day that makes you pause by your door, to take my umbrella or not to take my umbrella?  

It is the kind of weather to switch on the pretty fairy lights over my fake fireplace with a family of strange scurrying animals inside, to listen to Bruce Springsteen’s throaty mellow voice, to sit down with a warm striped cup of tea and wonder why the roses outside my window are so bright red.
It is the kind of weather to lay back on a comfy chair and think of you. To take deep breaths, and wish for pakoras. To remember mangoes, and monsoons, and wish for the summer to hurry up so I can be back home.

It is the kind of weather to be nostalgic and wistful, but happy, happy about the little black kid at the school dance who just had these groovy moves, the sixth grader who was so secure about the way she looks “I love that picture! I look so good!”, about the $1 frames I bought at Target, the ride I got back home, the goofy colleagues I work with who turn every Friday into a sitcom so that when I come back home I’m not tired from a long day at the office but just grinning and wondering when I can hang out with them again.

The ups and downs of working with middle school kids in an American public school are like the weather forecasts for St. Louis. Yesterday’s beautifully warm and windy spring day/evening gave way to a surprisingly cold, almost but not quite rainy day today, and thunderstorms are hiding around the corner.

Tomorrow I’m going to go to the farmer’s market and then explore that strange museum/café/house a street away from me!

More reasons to like St. Louis:

11. the strange street behind our house with a painted metal dragon leaning on a tree, and the two cute café type structures with strange statues in front
12. the old man who told me about an exhibition in one of these café type houses and then proceeded to show me a long series of pictures of the exhibition on his digital camera
13. the ice cream floats at Fitz’s
14. all the music – from Radiohead to Madonna to Black Keys to Six Pence None the Richer. They’ve all come here or are going to be here this year!
15. the Iraqi grocery store across the middle school where I work which sells Halal chicken sandwiches and chai made for rainy weather
16. the erratic weather
17. the smell of barbecue on a warm spring evening
18. the five-dollar cinema on Clayton
19. Tivoli with its offbeat movies
20. Delmar Loop with all its food and shops that look really small from the outside but stretch magically into the back when you enter  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Make love, not stress

April 22

I dreamt of green fields, and a hill and my friend and I wanted to see what was there on the other side because we could hear music, but the hill was steep, and I was wearing flip-flops, and I felt the grassy earth squishy underneath my shoes, climbing on and sticking to my soles, and as I fell back my friend managed to climb higher up.

I dreamt we were driving away from a forest and when I looked back there were these gold sculptures, and the further we went the more I saw, it spread out like one of those coloring books that you run a watery paintbrush on and the colors magically appear.

I’m swimming against the tide of homework, assignments, dinners to cook and laundry to dump in the washer, resumes, and tickets for a summer to remember; I’m steady and strong but it’s hard to look back at the completed work, because soon it’s time to cook again and the laundry basket is overflowing, and there are still FOUR MAJOR things left.

But. I’m not going to whine like the regular ol’ grad student. I’m going to talk about why I like St. Louis. I like living in this city because
  1. the sidewalks are like giant staircases if you were a squirrel
  2. of the cat that ate a mushroom
  3. the man in the parking lot nearby who told me to “smile! It’s a beautiful morning” (because it was a beautiful morning)   
  4. the metro buses and trains stop if you run fast enough and yell hey hey HEY!! loud enough
  5. there is a beat up truck in our alley that belongs to a painting but stays parked behind our house and moves once a Fall so that a man can rake the leaves away
  6. the ambulance sirens, the fire trucks, the man with a “homeless” sign, the worn out streets that run right by the pretty ones, and the houses with broken windows and flaky paint that you can see a block away from the ones with sprinklers in their well-trimmed lawns. Everything that makes the city imperfect, and reminds us of the reality that we live in, and the work that we must do, and the people we must be
  7. the free concerts and movie screenings in the parks on hot summer nights or unusually cold summer evenings
  8. the four Thai restaurants on the same street run by the same man
  9. the hookah places where teenagers dance to “I’m sexy and I know it” and feel young and alive but look utterly ridiculous
  10. the pickup truck around the block that is home to a hundred little figurines, baseball players and dinosaurs, and Pikachu too 

Monday, April 9, 2012

“I don’t have time to be dead”

April 9

I don’t have the most refined palette, I can’t really taste the difference between lemon and lime, or sniff out e Whole Foods cinnamon from the regular grocery store cinnamon but my god, the bagel I just ate was awful. It tasted like eating softly-baked cardboard but since I spent two bucks on it and I’m not sure the ten peanuts Southwest gave me were a sufficient meal I had to stuff it all down my throat. I just hope it doesn’t take a hundred years to break down. Thanks a lot Starbucks. Never again will I look at a bagel in your shop.

Even though I felt after my extended spring break that I was going to be buried beneath an avalanche of assignments, I realized I wasn’t. And with my eye on the calendar, I also found a weekend to run away to North Carolina. What a good trip that has been. Pushing back all the stress and worries, melting away like Magic Pop (or cotton candy) in your mouth, or ink in water, coloring it a beautiful, calm, happy aqua. Just stepping into Aa-zhur’s car and settling into the comfy leather seats – it was the indication of a pretty sweet weekend.

Light, mellow music, Aa-zhur singing along persistently and definitely not too badly, winding roads, very sharp curvy turns (if I sat in the backseat without my seatbelt which is the way I like to roll in the backseats, I would slip all the way from one side to the other when Aa-zhur made these highway exit turns!), rolling hills and fields and thousands of acres of forest land, happy, healthy, green trees. If these trees were using shampoos, they were using the extra-voluminous kind.

“The only thing worse than dog breath is genocide.” The best part about Aa-zhur’s ridiculous jokes was his own amusement and hybrid laughter (manly giggling that was almost guffawing but not quite) that erupted following his own comments.

Reem, I miss you so, so much. I’m sitting in the plane and nursing a very weepy, achy heart right now and I’m using these words like Hello Kitty band aids to my metaphorical wounds. I am so grateful that you came. Hanging out with you was an antidote to all that is bad and stressful. You were almost like pot (not that I’ve had any) the way you made me so happy and relaxed and so damn giggly it was kind of worrying. We really did laugh a lot, right? Starting from that frightening out-of-control fit we got into after laying out the mattress in “our room”.

I miss Aa-zhur’s mansion, and the constant presence and talk of mustaches.

A weekend that involved long drives, great music, tea, apple pie (even if it was too lemony), lots of sunshine, green grass, sitting-lying-wearing flower rings in the green grass, Southern food, and Titanic in 3D. What could be better?

My two years at grad school here are not just about working on 20-page assignments and working with troubled middle-schoolers. It is about appreciating life, and old friendships, making new ones, learning about myself, managing my almost OCD, learning how to live with people, budgeting, traveling and striking balances all over the place – work, play, life, religion, what is the bigger picture?

Must plan more trips. Must thank God for the awesome friends that I have. Oh LUMS, you have had such a huge impact on my life. Packed me off at the end of four years with changes in my way of thinking, ideas about my future career, hand in hand with my future husband, and friends all around to make life sweet and remind me of what I want to be.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bi-polar weather

April 3

Spring seems to be in a hurry to leave; it has only been a few weeks since it arrived in St. Louis and threw down its bags, scattering bright red, yellow and purple tulips along the streets, and flinging pale pink and white blossoms up on trees. The warm, humid days that give way to sudden showers, coats and boots replaced with shorts and shorter shorts. Restaurants and cafes expand out onto the curb and you have to thread your way through people sipping iced tea and spooning salsa on their tortilla chips but since it is so beautiful outside you don’t mind and everything is great…

… till suddenly it is too hot. Every hour it climbs up a degree and suddenly you’re sweating in your apartment even though the fan is on and you’re in a tank top and shorts. Ninety degrees in the first week of April? It’s global warming, fret your teachers who have spent many summers and springs in St. Louis.

You just got here, Mr. Spring, you really don’t need to wrap up so quickly. But already, most of the tulips are gone and the blossoms have been replaced with leafy greenness. Not that summer is so bad, at least in its initial stages when you enjoy the warm wind on your skin, and feel all light and airy because you’re not weighed down by a jacket half your body mass; ice makes its way into tea, cream, soda, and the evenings are perfect for walks down Delmar to get Froyo.

And the outside movie screenings and free concerts will start; and then the thunderstorms that light up the sky and shake the windowpanes…

It reminds me of home, really, the humidity, then the coolness in the air because of the rain, and since we’re students here and don’t have much money we don’t switch the central air-conditioning on and it is even more like home where electricity is a privilege that even the privileged have to do without every now and then. So we open the windows or just sprawl in minimum clothing in the lounge, ignoring the pile of assignments and to-do lists for as long as possible.

[The one thing that is missing is the smell of rain. I don’t know why but the intoxicating, wet, earthy fragrance that emanates from the ground before a storm just doesn’t seem to exist here… and how I miss it. The memory of it is so tangible I can almost fool myself into believing I can smell it…the cool, dusty smell that is a promise of good things to come, and no matter how deeply you inhale you cannot get enough of it, and if I could, I would breathe it in and it would replace the blood in my body and become a permanent part of me…]

And of course, the bugs wake up, spiders crawl out of their little holes and bees and flies find their way inside through cracks; wasps wait till you’re comfortably sitting with at least four different things around you in the balcony and then zoom towards your face, enjoying the panicked scrambling that ensues. Sadistic creatures.

Butterflies, ladybugs, caterpillars, and strange wispy orange flies. It is time to plan a picnic and quick, before we have to give in to air conditioning.