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The Secret Love Lives of Muslim Women – Call for stories As many of you know, we’re working on an anthology project entitled ‘Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women’.

We received some incredible submissions and great feedback from agents and publishers. We’ve been asked to include more stories and are reaching out in the hopes that you will consider writing and/or help us spread the word. We are soliciting auto-biographical stories written by American Muslim women on love, dating or courtship. While we prefer that authors write under their real names, we recognize that some topics – including sex, sexual orientation, polygamy, mutah marriages, etc. – are sensitive, so we are accepting a limited number of anonymous submissions.

If you are interested in submitting a piece, please send a first draft (1500-4000 words) by Monday, February 28th to relationship.anthology (at) gmail.com. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at the e-mail address above. Thanks for your help and support!

For more info: https://sites.google.com/site/loveinshallah/

According to an online date calculator, it is around 62,000 minutes until we arrive in Amreeka. That’s about 43 days. So much is going on. I am in the middle of a term at school. I have students to prepare to teach everyday. That keeps me busy, busy, busy Thank God. That’s what I am here for, right? 

 We are settling on a shipper. We have been discarding unneeded clothes and other items. But aside from those few things, it is just sitting and waiting for this huge life change to come. The major tasks of the move don’t start until right before we go. I am staring into my crystal ball, wondering how things will work out, but everything is hazy. Do I see foreboding clouds? Do I see a few glimmering flashes of light? My husband has been sending out job applications online for a few months. He actually has a couple of places interested in interviewing him. He is on a third level interview with a prominent company in California (Silicon Valley). What if we moved to California? My girls would be California girls. He has also finally asked his current employer about possible transfer to any of their US branches. He hasn’t given proper notice yet, though. His employer told him that they would look into this and get back to him. Two of the companies that contacted him for a future interview are in Texas. Right now we have nothing, and I am counting my chickens before they hatch, so to speak. But what if it came down to a choice between a major city in Texas and California? There are positives and negatives to any place. And I am just making khayaali pullao in my head.  Heaps of pullao.

I told our housekeeper a few weeks back that we would be going. I actually found her a new sponsor before I told her. The future sponsor is a colleague and I have known her for a few years. As she will be going to her home country for the summer, she is actually okay with letting my housekeeper go home to visit her family this summer, too. Alhamdulillah, this has worked out. This was another thing that had been giving me knots in my stomach. You see, before I leave the country, I have to either cancel her visa or she must transfer to someone else’s sponsorship, or I cannot leave the country. That’s the way the rules work here. I knew that she would find another sponsor pretty easily, but she has some requirements, such as staying in our neighborhood, and having certain timings off. If she went with just anyone, she couldn’t be guaranteed to get what she wanted in an employer. So now, alhamdulillah, she will be going to someone who agrees to her requirements, but will also be cool with her going on vacation this summer. Yay! If she hadn’t gone on vacation, we would have owed her the ticket money anyway, but of course it’s not the same thing and she really wanted to go home. So, inshallah khair.

I try to absorb the sights of Dubai, just because sometimes they are so surreal to me, and also so I don’t forget them. You see, we live on the edge of a desert. There are sand storms, especially at this time of year. The whole sky blackens, as if it were going to rain. But there is no rain. Just tiny sand tornadoes whipping around, sending granules of sandy irritation into my eyes, sending sand and dust underneath the front door, choking me if I take a deep breath. And sometimes there is no sand storm, but the sky is just gray. There is no sun. It can go for weeks like this. No sun.

And then there are surreal moments. On my way to work, I drive through a stretch of desert. I see cars with Oman license plates. I miss Oman. I see giant water tankers with scenes of Northern Pakistan painted on them. I have always meant to take pictures of them, but never have. I’d probably get in trouble for doing that for some reason. You can’t just go do stuff like that here. In front of me is big truck and I squint to read the Urdu lines painted on the back as we are stopped at a light (or it could be Pashto or something). Above it says ‘Haripur.’ Near to the license plate, the Urdu is very squiggly and I struggle to read it. Kabhi…Kabhi…it then becomes clear. Kabhi Haripur Ao, Na. I had been straining to read something so simple. The light turns green and the truck speeds away. For some reason Haripur sounded like it should be in India to me because of the nomenclature, but I google it and find it to be in the Sarhad. It looks like a beautiful place. Some Haripurwalla really, really loves Haripur. That sticker was most definitely not meant for my eyes in particular, and I had taken note of it randomly. But somehow I found it to be very interesting. I should make a bumper sticker that says ‘Kabhi Texas Ao, Na’.

I will soon be having Dubai lasts. Last meetings with friends. Last meals at favorite haunts. Hmmm, my last dosa at Saravana Bhavan. That will be a sad feeling. I have had friends come and go here, as that is the nature of the city. And now it is me who is doing the ‘going.’  The mango season is on now, and although we do get Indian mangoes in the US, there are special suppliers here with really great mangoes. Hmmm, and the litchis are in. Also, here we get Pakistani mangoes, too, straight from Sindh. I know those are available in Canada, but not in the US. I have already had some lasts. Last autumn I was keenly aware that it was my last season of ratab, fresh, ripe dates. I have always loved the ratab season. Hmmm, California has good dates, I hear.

It is gonna be American Thanksgiving on Thursday and then Eid on Friday, Inshallah. Usually we have people over for Thanksgiving, but this year I haven’t bothered to invite anyone. I still want to cook for Thanksgiving, though.  And then the next day is Eid. So this coincidence could potentially make for way too much cooking. Even though I have not invited anyone over for Eid, and we don’t know anyone well enough for any Eid milan unannounced but expected popover stuff.

I am just cooking because I am imposing on myself a pressure to play a role of wife cum-family cook who produces holiday meals. My husband could care less and would just as well enjoy ordering a pizza. And my kids are way too small to care. So it is all me. All in my head.

I don’t want to invite anyone for Thanksgiving. I just don’t feel like it. I know that’s bad. I am getting so anti-social. We get these huge turkeys over here and every year I end up freezing a bunch of leftovers even when we do have guests. So this year I bought a fresh leg-thigh piece. It is still pretty huge. And I have no clue how to cook this thing. I was thinking of pan searing it in butter and then baking it. But for how long? Maybe 45 mins to an hour? I just don’t know. I will have to research. I hope I don’t screw the dang thing up. But you see, I MUST cook turkey. Even if it just a piece of the bird. It is a compulsion.

And then the next day is Eid. Once again, I am being a recluse and have invited no one. And no one has invited us. That is how it is in Dubai. We may go all dressed up in our Eid finery to the Global Village or to a mall. So sad, I know. At least on Eid day 2 we are invited to a one-dish party. I plan to do dam ka queema. But for day 1 I am tempted not to cook anything. Yet I feel I should just to go through the motions. Isn’t that so silly? I will probably end up preparing my husband’s family recipe for qabuli pullao. I should make a sweet dish but actually no one will eat much of it but me. My husband isn’t too crazy about desi sweets so if I make muzaffar or kheer or sheer qorma or whatever he will have one tiny bowl and I will end up eating the rest of it, a bowl here and there a few times per day over the next few days, loading up on ghee, sugar and thickened milk fat calories. No thanks. I write this now. But watch me cave in and make a sweet dish anyway. The qabuli pullao we will eat for lunch. And then we will probably end up having some Eid dinner out at, perhaps at the Global Village at Kausar Pakistani resto. Or if we are at the mall it may be…gasp…Chili’s. Chili’s for Eid dinner? Oh, scoff away but I promise every Chili’s location will be packed and there will be a 25 minute wait for a table. And I will have a fajita salad and my husband will have a burger. Eid in Dubai. Hmmm. Last Eid, I did make a biriani for lunch and then I believe at 10 pm that evening we were at the mall and had Hardee’s burgers.

Anyway, I could invite. But I just don’t feel like it. Some people love entertaining, but I find it stressful. Especially cross-cultural entertaining where I have my American “help yourself, make yourself at home” type thinking and a lot of people here have the “you are my guest so let me attend to you ever so well ” style. I am just not up to playing hostess right now, I guess. 

Somehow I don’t want to play hostess, but I want to play chef. Sigh. I know.  Just go ahead and order that pizza.

Happy Eid al Fitr to you and your. Hope you achieved a lot during Ramadan, and that you have a blessed Eid!

Meghna Auntie was telling us about her daughter who is 27 and unmarried. Ritu suggested that she use the power of positive thinking. “Tell yourself ‘She will get a great guy, he will be rich and handsome, her in-laws will love her, she will never want or need anything,’ you just watch! It will appear?” Ritu’s suggestion interested Sapna, who was preparing tea for all of us. “How do you do this?” she asked. Ritu explained, “You just envision it all happening, and it will happen! Like, before you go to sleep, imagine all of the things you want to happen. Thank God for giving them to you. Imagine yourself doing what you want to do, it will happen. Just watch and see!” Sapna looked unconvinced. “Do you take any god’s name before doing this?” “You can if you want. I just say God. I don’t say any special god’s name.” Ritu responded. I interjected, “We have a similar concept in Islam. You know du’a? This is like a du’a, in a way.” “Ah, yes.” they all smile politely and nod. “Like a du’a, like a du’a, yes.”

“And do you have any other children?” I ask Meghna Auntie, trying to change the subject away from the 27 year old “spinster.”  Meghna is older than Ritu and me, actually. Her kids are around our age, I am sure. Sapna has teenaged children. “Yes, I have one son. He lives in New Jersey. He is married to a white woman.” her face tenses again as she says those last two words. Oops. I have asked about the wrong thing. Usually, people love to talk about their kids. Inadvertantly, I brought up the gori bahu. Sapna shakes her head. “It must be sooo difficult for you.” I imagine Sapna is thinking of her own unmarried sons as she speaks. She often makes references to her desire that they study in the West. They sigh together.

“Does she cook Indian food?” Sapna inquires. Meghna Auntie nods. “Yes, they cook together sometimes. Just this weekend they told me they made some vindaloo or something.” Meghna Auntie looked at me, remembering who I am. A white woman married to one of “their men.” Well, not “their” men, at least he is a Pakistani, a Muslim. “Our Fatima is so good.” She cooks desi food and speaks Hindi!” Sapna boasts about me. I laugh uneasily. Maybe they imagine that I sit at home and roll out hot chapattis for our meals. Or that I make my husband a cup of tea when he comes home.  Or that I wear a shalwar qameez and sparkly jewels just like they do, and that I am a great desi style hostess. But alas, I am not. Not really, anyway. I do cook desi foods and speak Hindi. (actually Urdu, but why be obnoxious and correct them?)  But  those are superficial things. Our home lifestyle is very American. My husband makes himself a bowl of cereal and fixes his own tea. He helps with the dishes, changes diapers, and irons his own shirts. We do not have a traditional desi pati/patni or miaN/biwi relationship.

My husband never dictates. He has gotten good job offers in Abu Dhabi and Islamabad and London. We discussed the idea of moving. He turned down the offers.  So many husbands over here would just say “Time to pack.” Actually, another friend is going through that right now.

A lot of  women we know are also in very balanced relationships, not dealing with this traditional style Man is King thing. But it is funny that when Aunties talk of bahus, they imagine a woman who will be as doting as they are on their sons, even if they are fairly independent from their own husbands. I mean, Meghna Auntie is a wealthy, self-employed business woman. She is hardly the chapatti rolling type herself. But I think she feels she missed out on the connections that she may have had with a desi bahu. Someone who would keep up traditions, perhaps someone who would be someone to talk to (or dictate to, hahaha). Someone who she could trust to look after her in old age. But can’t an American do that? A lot of American children also have their parents living with them! It is such a myth that we all cart our elderly ma and pa off to the old folks’ home!

Meghna Auntie sighs. “To tell you the truth, I was very hurt when I found out how serious my son was about this woman and about the relationship. But I learned to lose expectations. It is expectations in people that let you down. Not the people themselves. If you don’t have expectations, you will never get hurt.” Meghna Auntie is very wise. Still, I could hear the sadness in her voice as she spoke. The expectations that she surpressed were still there somewhere in her tone.

I wonder how my own mother-in-law feels about this. I am surely not who or what she expected for her son. Until having this discussion with Meghna Auntie, I really hadn’t thought about what expectations my MIL may have had for her bahu. She is also an independent working woman. I don’t think she expected her bahu to be subservient to her son so much. It is more a matter of my not blending in with their family. I mean, I really don’t fit in at all. Which is fine by me. But is it fine by them? Have I disappointed anyone’s expectations, I wonder.  Should I care?

So I have been doing these cooking classes about once per week. The instructor is great. She has won awards here and abroad. She does the class in her kitchen, showing 3-4 dishes from start to finish. Then we eat what she makes. Baby A. comes along and enjoys. The instructor does regional Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, as well as some other cuisines. The Italian and Mexican are very far from authentic (both seem to involve a lot of ketchup, and the recipe for a basic salsa and a basic red pasta sauce are nearly identical), but the end result is tasty. It is definately more adapted for locally available ingredients and an Indian palate, though—even though her students are international as well as Indian. I will stick to the recipes I already have for my Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Italian stuff. I am no expert, but being from Texas I pretty much grew up with various regional Mexican foods and Tex-Mex widely available from restaurants, food stands, and at friends’ homes. Most of my home-use Mexican recipes just come from Rick Bayless and Diane Kennedy books, though. I actually don’t know much about authentic Italian food, but I just make basic Sicilian influenced Italian American dishes like some types of lasagnas, spaghetti and meatballs, pesto sauce, and so forth. I would like to learn more if I ever have the opportunity. With my instructor, Thai is a different story. She learned Thai from a Thai teacher, and I can vouch for the recipes because I have also taken several Thai cooking classes and read a lot on it, as Thai is one of my favorite cuisines.

I really shouldn’t be such a purist when it comes to authenticity and food, because in the end, it only matters that the food tastes good. But I feel if you are going to say you are cooking from a certain cuisine, it honors that dish or that cuisine to try to stick to the spirit of the dish. Plus, people have a set of parameters for what variations you can make within the limits of authenticity and these techniques have developed over hundreds of years…so wouldn’t the people who cook that way know what they are doing? If that makes any sense. Like, you are not suddenly gonna just make it better. It’s best to stick with tried and tested methods sometimes.

One thing I had really wanted to learn from the instructor were some new Indian dishes. Thus far I have learned a few awesome new dishes. One is this Sindhi pakora dish where you take various room temperature vegetable (or plain) pakoras and cover them in sweet chutney, a bit of yoghurt, a dash of green chutney, some chaat masala, and sev, and cilantro. It is a type of chaat we covered in chaat making class. It was just soooo dang good. What a great way to use leftover pakoras, too.  There is this Central Asian woman in my class who has been seriously  dating an Indian guy for quite a long time. All of the Indian women were very intrigued by this, asking where he is from and which community he belongs to in order to figure out which one of their men has gone atray! LOL! But most of the other women interested in learning Indian food are Indian women (the other foreigners say that Indian food is too spicy for them…I really think they should give it a try!). So it has just been that Central Asian woman and me as the foreigners in the Indian classes. But attending with the Indian women has been interesting for me, too because they talk a lot about the cuisines of their state or community, so I kind of get to learn more about like say, Sindhi Hindu cuisine, or Tamil Iyer cuisine from them. Don’t ask me what I do with that knowledge floating around in my brain, but I just like to know about food.

Those Indian women ask me more about Pakistani cuisine than about American food. So far they have asked me things that I don’t really know how to answer. Like one woman asked me if it was true that Pakistanis typically powder their own spices and never use mixes (she says a Pakistani woman told her that).  I told her it was kind of like in India…a lot of families still powder their own spices, but masala mixes are also widely used. In my in-law’s house, they use both. Another lady asked me about a delicious dish she had tasted. She said it was a small poori filled with daal, did I know what it was? I thought maybe a type of kachori, but she said it wasn’t that. She didn’t know where in Pakistan the woman who fed it to her was from. (Do you recognize this dish?) It is funny to me because as a foreigner I always think of India and Pakistan together and see all of the things the two places have in common. But none of the women realized that Pakistani people and Pakistani foods are just as regional as Indian food even though some of their families are originally from areas that became Pakistan after partition, or that Southern Pakistani foods overlap a lot with what North Indians eat. Dubai is a place where communities that might not otherwise mix get a chance to meet up, so that aspect of sharing is fun.

We haven’t started learning Chinese yet. I can’t wait for that. I have a suspicion that it is going to be desi Chinese because of the listed repertoire, but that is fine, too. I do know how to cook some Cantonese type dishes as well as some American Chinese, so why not learn Indian Chinese? Just more knowledge, more things that I will know how to cook under my belt. My husband isn’t one of those people who only likes desi Chinese food, but I know if I make stuff like that he will especially enjoy it because it will remind him of what is available back home.

Anyway, I am rambling on and on…but you see…tomorrow we are having a one-dish (potluck) coffee morning and we are all supposed to bring a dish. How do you bring a dish to someone’s house if you know she cooks so fabulously because you have eaten from her handcooked food many times and it is always perfect? She has one so many awards and her food is so great! What can I cook that would be nice? My other classmate was ruminating about this with me, too. Another worry of mine is that half of our classmates (we attend in small rotating groups and meet new people every few times) are vegetarians. I want to bring something vegetarian so that they can enjoy. Most of my typical go-to dishes are meat based. What to bring, what to bring?  I thought I should represent my culture and bring something American. I just don’t know. The party is tomorrow afternoon. Parties always make me so nervous. I guess I’ll let you know. I have to go to the store later. In Dubai you can’t plan without going to the store first because it isn’t guaranteed that you will find every ingredient you need due to sporadic availability and inconsistent quality of many items. I know, I should just relax and bring whatever…just plan to have fun. Right? I am such a worry wart.

*While I was typing, yet another classmate called me to ruminate about what to bring! It really is such a hard decision and we are all shaking in our boots about bringing something for the star chef to try!!!

1. The biggest drama in my life lately is that our dear and beloved housekeeper has decided to return home instead of renewing her contract for a third time.  Her visa expires at the end of March. When she came to us she was newly married and she told me she only planned to stay 2 years, save, then go have children. Her husband has been pressuring her to go back as well, even though he is here. She really doesn’t want to live with her in-laws because she has been independent for a long time. Hopefully that will all work out for her. We are all very sad about this and there have been lots of tears and stuff. We are just so sad to lose her. She has been such a friend and confidante to me as well as a great employee. It’s weird because we spend hours and hours on end together each day and are so close, and then suddenly we will be out of each others lives and become “Keep in Touch” people.  It is seriously heart breaking. So we are hunting for a new nanny. We have a couple of candidates already. The transition is just going to be so weird. I guess this is just part of Dubai life, though.

2. For years I had heard there was a dyer in Meena Bazaar. I finally found him. It costs 50 dirhams to dye one dupatta. That is really expensive compared to what it costs in Pakistan. Actually, it costs more to dye the stupid dupatta than it costs to have a whole suit sewn here in Dubai. My fancy suit darzee takes 45-50,  and my daily wear darzee takes 35. My god, I sound like such a I am a mem saheba! Anyway, I won’t be dying things frequently, but it is good to know that he is here because “matching” with suits is a huge pain in Dubai. I got this Afghan embroidery sheet at the Global Village and I am making a shalwar qameez with that, so I am having one dupatta dyed to match. Let’s see how it comes out.

3. There is this woman in my neighborhood and previously I thought of her as Auntie, but when I saw her recently she had lost a load of weight and suddenly she looked so youthful and vibrant. She is a totally different person. She isn’t much older than me, but she seemed so old before. Now she looks young. Even her personality has changed. Isn’t it weird how weight loss can affect people so much? The blossoms have returned to her tree!!! It’s so funny. We went to the Global Village together the other day and she got some suit pieces and I got the above mentioned embroidery sheet. I also got some dim sum shaped fridge magnets, too. How I do love the Global Village!

4. I only have 10 lbs to go until I am back to my pre-pregnancy weight. I have lost like 15 lbs! Yippee! I feel so healthy already even though before I would have been mortified to be at this weight. But I am finally back on the slimmer side of fat. 10 lbs…so close, yet so far away from my goal. Inshallah I can do it!

5. Geeze, sometimes I feel all I talk about is food, weight loss, and aunties. Let me think of something else to say…

6. Well, my husband did have to return to the PK consulate the next day and get our daughters’ identity cards. He said he didn’t mind though. He enjoys the experience of seeing all the diverse Pakistanis all together in one place. He stood there with some men making “shughl valee baaten” and listening to the different accents and languages spoken around him, and looking at the various faces of Pakistan. He really enjoys stuff like that. I guess as a female and a foreigner it is a totally different experience for me at the consulate.

7. No males in my husband’s immediate family would ever be caught dead roaming around in a shalwar qameez. They wear Western clothes. I don’t always get all of the nuances of class in Pakistani  society, but from what I gather, men who wear shalwar qameez everyday are below DH’s family’s station…something like that. It all confuses me. But my FIL wears a shalwar qameez on Friday to salaatul juma’a.  For about a year or so, my husband has also started to wear shalwar qameez to juma namaaz. He won’t wear a regular one, lest God Forbid someone might confuse him for a laborer. He is not a snob, but every place has ideas constructed around what is appropriate or not based on class—like in the US we might associate certain types of dress with affluence and others with a rural baclground…we are just socialized that way. So please don’t think my DH is a big snob or anything. Anyway, instead of a more common looking shalwar qameez, he wears kurta shalwar type outfits, or some more designer type shalwar qameezes. This is all fine, whatever he wears is up to him anyway. But get this, when we were at the Global Village another time recently, he was going to buy a Gilgiti topee…one of those mushroom shaped hats (AKA pakol). I asked him why he wanted to buy that hat. Where did he plan to wear it?  “Just around.”  He has also started watching more Hindi and Urdu media and entertainment (well, definately NOT Hindi news sources, but I meant TV shows). Before, he used to snub a lot of the same programs, like Bollywood movies, drama serials, or pop-singing competitions. I don’t know, but it seems to me that these few major changes, combined with a few other things, make me feel that he misses Pakistan a lot and he is looking for ways to be more in touch with his Pakistani identity. I mean, no one in his family would ever wear a Gilgiti topi…if they knew he wore one, they would probably laugh at him. I talked him out of buying it because I said it was too hot in Dubai for that. But, isn’t that weird? Being an expat and a diasporic person is so hard sometimes. I can identify though. In the US, I would never ever eat at such a place as Chili’s. But somehow it reminds me of Texas, so we eat there way more often than I ever did back home (almost never).

Here is my interview with The Pakistani Spectator.

If you, like me, have heard about Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and her situation and thought to yourself, “I wish something could be done to help this woman…” please follow this link for more information on something you can do.

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