Chimayó, New Mexico

30 minutes north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, lies the tiny community of Chimayó. This morning, on yet another cloudy day in Oxford, I woke up thinking about chile!

When Jamie and I were in the early stages of love, I did not, could not, understand his obsession with “chile”. It mattered not how spicy the briyani or kebabs (both foods he loves very much), it was never the same, even while as hot as New Mexican Chile. I would often say, “Spicy is spicy, I don’t understand.” I didn’t get it despite really enjoying New Mexican cuisine whenever we would go out to eat (which I quickly learned was different than Mexican food which is, as everyone knows, different than Tex-Mex).  However, slowly, I started being able to tell the difference between the chiles. Sometimes it was not as red as other times; sometimes it was a “flat” green taste and other times it was a “fresh” green taste. Not all restaurants did theirs the same. Each time even at the same venue it couldn’t be the same because it depended on the batch.

Well, now I understand completely. Here is more if you want to read and see beautiful photos about it.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a South African friend of mine who is a healer told me, “You will marry a man from the desert. He will take you to a place that reminds you of your childhood.” I laughed at her and told her that was impossible–I was never ever moving to the desert. And no force of love could ever make me leave New York City, my home of so many years. Two years later, I met Jamie. Of course, leaving New York City was easy because it was no longer the city I had loved for so long, but I left knowing it was not possible to feel “at home” anywhere else. I have never been more wrong.

New Mexico is high desert, meaning it has all the seasons, including snow. It has mountains, sky, green, rain, pinon, monsoons, real diversity, and wonderful people.

Love, real love, shatters preconceived ideas about so many things: where you can or can never live, what the word “desert” means, and where you call home.

 

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Thoughts about Albuquerque & a place called The Open Gym

As strange as it may sound, I have been avoiding writing about Albuquerque and New Mexico so as to prevent anyone learning more about it. This is very unlike me. When I like or love or find something curious, I share it with the entire world. It matters not if that world consists of one person or one hundred people. In this instance I have been very childlike. You know how a young child can sometimes pretend that if he or she closes his eyes, the object before him would simply go poof and disappear? Of course at the particular age of development a child isn’t aware that this is not plausible. So I have been childish lately, thinking that if I don’t talk much about it, I won’t jinx it by inviting unappreciative energy. That somehow as if I stay quiet, no one will know how great it is here. This is because I am protective. I am protective of this city and state as I was once about my New York that no longer is. I am protective as one might be about a new love. You want to scream at the top of your lungs that you are somehow living a dream you dared never even bother dreaming and yet at the same time you don’t want to invite envy or jealousy. I want to protect it from what is happening to cities all over. I don’t want to draw attention to the city in the fears that it will become the next “cool” or “hip” city. “Cleaning up a city” shouldn’t mean making sure locals can’t afford to live there.

Locals assure me not to fear given the high poverty level and significant small and big gang related crimes (robberies and car break-ins etc.). Locals remind me of the poor job market. Locals assure me that the DWI levels alone will keep people away. Others confidently state that most folks just go to the ritzy Santa Fe or Taos either becoming, or chasing, caricatures of art, missing the spiritual essence of the land despite it being right under their nose, bypassing this quirky, sometimes gritty, city as soon as they land. People in the Hollywood industry know Albuquerque well given so many movies and shows are filmed in New Mexico. Yet this influx never changes things permanently. No one wants to stay. It comes on and off the map like cheap lip gloss. It is and isn’t part of the United Sates’ psyche. Most people hear “New Mexico” and think you mean “northern” Mexico.  People sort of  know about Arizona but there is so much misinformation about New Mexico (if there is any prior knowledge at all) that her identity remains a mystery.

I must disclose the following: I don’t know how I would feel about the city if I were a kid who grew up here. Maybe I would leave and never look back. Maybe I would leave and then come back in my middle years or to retire (many miss the weather and seasons, not to mention the 300 days of sunshine). So, my perspective is based on being married to someone who is from here and proud to be from here and my having lived in many states and continents. I no longer need to be in a city that must entertain me every time I step out. Or perhaps, better put, what entertains me is very different now.  Actually, that’s not entirely correct either. While I lived in NYC I would live off of strangers’ tall tales and true stories but they became harder and harder to hear as the city started resembling more like Ray Bradbury’s nightmare than a cool science-fiction graphic novel. I mention this to assert that even in NYC what entertained me was not the clubs, the shopping, or any “scene”. Very few people truly understand what I loved about the city, especially my neighborhood.

There is one major university here, University of New Mexico, and yet Albuquerque is not a college town like Boulder, Lawrence or Des Moines. I like that about it. Jobs are hard to come by unless you work for the state or local government in some capacity. I had a college friend who lived here some years ago, long before I even met my husband, who said it is hard to meet people if you are not from here. Others have confirmed this; however, it hasn’t deterred me from making stranger-friends. Public schools are not the best (except the ones like mine!) but the private ones are, of course, bar none. Other than Nob Hill and Downtown (the city is trying to clean up Downtown and has done an amazing job to make it more inviting without gentrification) there really aren’t any designated strips like in Berkeley, Austin or the likes. You have to scratch the surface to find gems. In some ways it reminds me of Philly from fifteen years ago. That being said, people are genuinely nice and real. And they are filled with generations of stories and a product of at least three different cultures who have been living side-by-side for 100 years or more, including decades without recorded bloodshed. There are many breweries, coffee shops, several locally owned stores that are able to survive next to the big chains, housing is affordable, and the sky is a lucid dream.

The Indigenous/ Native American communities were here for tens of thousands of years. Then the Spanish were here for a couple of centuries. Then it became Mexican territory for a couple of decades. Thereafter it has been part of the United States ever since. Santa Fe is the oldest state capital city in the United States. The United States didn’t exist when Santa Fe was founded. Perhaps because it has always been a cultural meeting place despite people’s diverse backgrounds, the food is some of the best I have had in the world!

 

My silence has been about protecting this city from a Silicon Valley invasion or even a remote infection (pun intended). I know this sounds silly but the arrogant take over by young people in charge of decisions that impact so many when they don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions is not only dangerous, it is not sustainable. It isn’t that young people haven’t existed before; it’s just that we treated them as inexperienced no matter how brilliant or talented. Somehow we have started equating “page hits”, “likes” and “retweets” with experience, maturity, intelligence, and compassion.

Then I realized that silence could be perceived as permission. I am going to be writing about Albuquerque, starting with this post, in the hopes that my words will attract more people who genuinely appreciate this city and state and less who want to move here and change it into whatever hip place they left. I met one young lad at a local bookstore here who had the audacity to remark, “Yeah, New Mexico would be perfect if there was a beach!” It’s a land-locked state! There is no beach! If you want to be near a beach, live there! Don’t dig a puddle with your money and “try to bring the beach” with you. That’s what I am talking about.

If you love where you live (realizing no place is perfect per se) and enjoy your neighbors and the community, then you know how I feel.

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After first freeze. November, 2015. Albuquerque, NM.

 

Today’s Albuquerque local story is about Bill. Bill owns a medium sized gym called The Open Gym. I have only talked to Bill twice. In fact, prior to talking to Bill the second time, which prompted this post, I had only seen Bill around the gym a few times without even knowing he is the owner. Let’s back track as to what in the world could I possibly be doing at a placed called a gym?

I hate gyms. Gyms remind me of hamster cages. Somehow I have never been able to convince myself that being at a gym is fun. In California I tried so many gyms to maintain my functional health and physical condition, that I lost count after four. Everyone was a fitness coach or trainer (once again, young and lacking experience). Apparently being able to walk upright made a person qualified to be a trainer or an instructor. If it hadn’t been for Francine’s yoga classes or the yoga teachers who would come and teach at Yoga Space in Bakersfield, I would have been in an even worse physical and mental health than when I left. When I left my home in NYC in 2012, I was in the best shape of my life. This is saying a lot given I had always been active. After college this became challenging due to multiple factors but in 2007 I found Marco Rojas and his yoga classes were an emotional, mental, and spiritual challenge that relied on physical alignment and strength. In California, this last year, before it was apparent that I was losing my strength, I went on walks, I tried yoga, and I even bought into that cross-fit idiocracy (no offence to anyone—but it is NOT, repeat NOT, good for your joints. Maybe if you are 18 and can jump around, it won’t hurt you right away, but given how it is executed most places, it is a disaster). Anyway, upon moving to Albuquerque we have been literally doing something or other since we settled into our beautiful space.

About four weeks ago I decided although I love both of the yoga studios I attend, I was not getting stronger. Unlike my husband who is a disciplined fitness aficionado and incredibly nutritionally aware (and a phenomenal cook!), I am not. Jamie doesn’t need to go to a gym or take group classes or have a coach. He can do it all by himself right at home. Most gyms are designed as a place for people to feel good about themselves for attending, regardless of any results. They can be isolating yet serve as a pick-up joint both for men and women. People are competitive and rude. I am happy if this has not been your experience. In fact, I have a friend in NYC who is a gym rat and goes to a really big gym and loves it. However, most gyms are trying to be like this absurdity and no thank you.

 

I can’t really recall how I found Bill’s gym. I think I was looking for strength training classes and something in my search led me to information about a trainer named Adelaide Mcmillan. Upon joining the gym (which is so affordable!) I decided to work with her because I wanted to learn more about rock climbing and hiking. I am in New Mexico, after all. In order to be able to join her and others who regularly go rock climbing with her, I needed to become stronger. So, once a week, I train with her and follow her plan on my own four times for the rest of the week. I am continuing with my yoga three times a week. It hasn’t even been four full weeks and I already feel so much stronger.

Adelaide has a wonderful sense of humor and the best part is that she is neither a ditzy Barbie doll nor a woman who feels compelled to be aggressive and macho. She is not trying to be permanently 20; she is beautiful and extremely strong. She also loves to travel and really likes Albuquerque. I hope I can share a photo of her and her story here later.

I love this gym because the people who go there are regulars. I see the same faces even if I haven’t talked to many of them. It feels safe and as a woman I am not disgusted or annoyed by men on a testosterone high. Women actually smile at one another and everyone is so courteous. It doesn’t have a spa bathroom but the changing rooms are always squeaky clean and have showers if one so desires. And this is the most important part for me: most dumbbells and weights are made of this metal which leaves a residue that smells like burnt iron. I have an idiosyncratic disdain for that smell. I can’t stand it. I have to hold things that smell like that with a glove or a towel. None of the weights at The Open Gym have that metallic stench! It’s amazing! I don’t know what material they are made of but it sure isn’t metallic or if it is, it is covered.

This Saturday when I walked into the gym, I was so moved by this image. There was Bill fixing the hardwood floor. This is what local looks like, was my first thought.

Bill

 

 

I introduced my self and thanked him for this space. I told him why it was important to me. It wasn’t just about fitness, it was also about writing. The time I was writing full time in New York, I was also on top of my physical health. If a writer, coach, teacher, artist, poet, is a vessel through which creativity flows, then the vessel needs to be strong enough to process all that comes. I haven’t been able to write since June. Yes, it has been because of settling into a new place and all sorts of relaxing-ness and busy-ness, but it has also been because I have not been able to take care of my joints and muscles. I wanted to express my gratitude to him for this place that I look forward to going.

While I was chatting with him, I learned that Bill is also an attorney! We discussed schools and law and owning one’s own business. Yes, Albuquerque may not have a lot of typical corporate jobs, but it is great if you want to run your own business.

 

My mother always says that wherever one lives, one must literally appreciate the dirt of that land. This means giving back to the community in ways no one may ever notice. This means taking care of the city. This means loving the city with all your mighty heart, unafraid.

I never imagined I would get a chance to call another place home after New York. But then again, I never thought I would actually like a gym. So much for knowing oneself entirely despite the many experiences that reveal to us how and who we really are.

Some photos from Santa Fe(e)

I have been busy editing. I have also been organizing and re-arranging the content of this website (mostly in my head) for Vusi, my amazingly creative (and patient!) website design creator. I have also been reading quite a bit.

But for now, I had some photos to share from Santa Fe from my visits there. I don’t doubt there are many better photos of Santa Fe that are closer to the stereotypical images associated with the city but this is what I have.

What can I share about Santa Fe? Also known as Santa Fake or  Santa Fee.

New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment. Or Entrapment. Depends who you ask.

 

the bronze

 

Those who have previously read my travel essays on the various cities I have visited know about my tendency (perhaps like most?) to describe cities as if they were breathing entities.

I would describe Santa Fe as a beautiful woman whose parents decided to force her to enter children’s beauty pageants so she grew up thinking how she looks is all there is to her.

 

Perhaps only when writing fiction can one ever claim to really know all there is to know about a city. I would never assert I know all there is to know about any area, unless I really do, and when I say I really do I have dissected and plunged into every nook and cranny of a city, turned over every neighborhood’s stereotype, and talked to a lot of strangers. A lot. This includes people who are visitors, transplants of years, locals of many generations, businesses, schools etc. It is important to speak to as many different people as possible in order to get the true feel and real deal on any city. Diversity of opinions are attractive until they are so subjective that they are useless, therefore gathering information requires a fine balance.

I can offer much about Lahore, Durban, Johannesburg, Kansas City, Lawrence, Paris, Prague, New York City because I have lived there and visited many times even when not a resident. There are many other places I have visited where I can co-share a subjective authority but only because I have talked to many others who live there.

 

I have had many occasions to visit Santa Fe for various reasons. The first time I visited Santa Fe was over a decade ago. My mother and I were driving from Kansas to California since my family had relocated to California and I was moving to New York City. It didn’t even register in our minds that passing through Santa Fe was a big deal in any way. We were not familiar with the city having much to offer other than adobe infrastructures, Native-American/Indian casinos, and a few wonderful stops to check turquoise markets (which happened to be outside of Santa Fe, so the one thing that we remembered and liked about Santa Fe wasn’t even in Santa Fe).

We weren’t so taken by the adobe homes which mesmerize most because that is all there was in the Middle East where I spent my younger years. The primary difference being adobes were not glamorized as they are now in Santa Fe for tourism; although, initially they were very much served a necessity to combat the heat and cold in the high desert of New Mexico.

Most people are impressed by Santa Fe because they are not used to so much open space, but having lived in Kansas, having explored Colorado on many occasions, this was not a  new landscape.

 

It was only a few years back that the name of this town was again in my stratosphere.  I was embarrassed to admit that I had never, ever, ever associated the place with “art” or having anything to do with art. I was informed that Santa Fe was the 3rd largest art market in the United States after New York City and San Francisco/Los Angeles. I concluded this is probably because I am not a fan of Georgia O’Keefe (who, by the way, is not even from Santa Fe, no different than most “established” artists who live there now, she too resided there because she had the financial resources) and I am not a collector of art as endorsed by the so called gatekeepers of mainstream art. I like what I like until I don’t.

 

Most people who come to Santa Fe do so on retreats related to art, writing, silence (yes, really!), spiritual, nature and anything you can possibly come up with. Seldom do they talk to locals.  Moreover, those who are managing or serving in hotels are not necessarily from there but just transplants working in the hospitality and tourist industry, the primary industry of Santa Fe. The city government does everything it can to ensure this continues, sometimes at the expense of local communities who have been there (and this includes Whites and non-Whites) long before others even knew about Santa Fe as more than a dirt town in the middle of nowhere.

In many ways Santa Fe serves as the extended backyard of Los Angeles’ wealthiest. After all, it is only a two hour flight from L.A.

Most people associate the following images with Santa Fe as per the churning of ‘what sells’ philosophy by the city’s business bureau:

“land of kokopelli” (A favorite character of mine too; it’s just that I am aware that there is more to Santa Fe than this icon!)

 

“come here and find peace you can’t anywhere else”

(although this was taken in Sunrise Springs, not quite in the city of Santa Fe, I just offer it as an example)

sleeping buddha

 

“unique art”

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“land of enchantment”

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and painting after painting after painting of sunsets, clouds, sky, sunrises, sunsets, clouds, sky, sunrises…

fire sky

and why not?

 

It is indeed true: the landscape is glorious and every single time a person looks at the sky (which is hard to miss) it takes one’s breath away.

This has much to do with having the cleanest air in the nation which also makes for a great retirement community which in turn offers very little besides a tourism industry.

Unfortunately, art gallery after art gallery offers much of the same. There is very little original or unique perspective, no real storytelling in the art other than what one is expecting given the myths and preconceived ideas associated with the city. All there is is that which will sell. And anyone with money can open up a gallery regardless of any talent or vision and any tourist with money will buy it so they can say they bought it in Santa Fe so it must be collectable art. This is not true of all of New Mexico but this atmosphere is particularly common in Santa Fe.

This wasn’t always so from what I am told. Once upon a time this was a thriving small town with tiny pockets of powerful opportunities for original creative pursuits for music and art. The aforementioned issues existed but they didn’t necessarily engulf avenues for others to do something different. However, in the last fifteen years, there are hardly any options for those who are actually interested in creating something different.

The above are the least of Santa Fe’s biggest problems. The city has only one main hospital which is known for not treating its employees fairly, especially nurses. The city is by and large owned by a handful of developers most of whom don’t even reside in New Mexico which makes for a very high cost of living for a city that size. This makes it very challenging for the people who were born there to continue living there. Most people who live in Santa Fe are not from Santa Fe.

 

 

Here is me holding a shadow in a bottle. : )

little things

 

Sunny day is a good day to observe frogs play some chess!

frog chess

 

This one was taken in Albuquerque back in September. We had a great time there with friends.

 

 

These are from Los Golandrinas in La Cienega (20 minutes outside of Santa Fe) which is breathtakingly beautiful and serene.

 

 

outside of santa fe

 

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only bookstore

 

 

A pensive me  (photo courtesy of The Wizard) who is always thinking there has to be a way to save cities from people who just don’t care where they are given the finite people who do but can only do so much on their own.

This was taken at a spot called Counter Culture. I don’t know what culture they are counter to for there was nothing alternative there and if anything they were counter to quality service. Most of the crowd there was from Los Angeles.

 

a thinking me; photo by my one and only

 

 

But trees, the trees remind me it will be okay.

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Note: Although I truly despise when blog posts at the end state a generic, “And what about you? How do you feel?” so as to generate comments for the sake of comments, I feel compelled to ask. In this instant I am genuienly curious if anyone who reads this has something to share about a place that doesn’t offer much to its local residents but is all about tourism first? Can that even be sustained? Curious, given in NYC the tourism industry is huge but it has much to offer the locals as well.

 

The Reconstruction Of Male-Female Relations In Developing Nations And Its Implications For Nation Building

Disclaimer: Although there exist exceptions to all types of generalizations and stereotypes, they remain exceptions; therefore, until the exceptions stand out to the extent that they defy the rule, the majority determines the actuality. That being said, I am grateful to know some anomalies who also happen to be my friends who are exceptional beacons for their communities and countries. Moreover, this article is at best a prologue to a possible research paper in need of further substantiating research.

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NYC

A Never Ending Love Story

Below is my tribute to E.B. White’s “Here is New York,” the best essay ever written about New York City.

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New York City: A Never Ending Love Story

New York City is an impractical, yet awe-inspiring, relationship you cannot quit. It took eight years of living in the city of paradoxes to finally begin to understand and appreciate the kind of love my parents have for one another. This correlation dawned upon me when a friend visited the City, her first short visit some years ago, where we only had three days to experience and explore the “not-so-touristy” along with the landmarks. My friend was impressed that one could live a lifetime in New York City, if only in the borough of Manhattan, and still not see all of it—ever!—even if it was your day job to see all of it! Upon her departure she said, “I could visit here again and again, but to live here every day—forget it.”

On November 12th, 2009 my parents will be married for thirty two years. That is a long time. And they are relentlessly in love. To my and the siblings embarrassment they still flirt, along with keeping up with the new technology they have even learned to send cute texts to one another. Their cell phones’ ringtones are love songs that either remind them of one another or the love that has endured tremendous adversities with a sense of humor.

My mother says after the first eight years she gave up trying to pick up and organize my father’s clothes. My father reminisces about the days when, he claims, there was a method to his madness: “I was the most ordered man until your mother came along.” It would take my mother another few years into their partnership to feel absolutely no agitation, not even a kernel, whenever he would just drop his tie and suit jacket wherever in the house instead of taking the extra time to walk to their bedroom closet. They were neither the parents from the Brady Brunch Family nor the Cosby’s. Growing up we heard our share of fights between them, result of multiple stressors due to life’s curveballs.

Their love seems all the things we are taught “real” love is not because such ways are not love but merely a glint of romance that vanishes like the morning dew, after the first few weeks, months, or years. Not between them. In fact, they claim, it is this very romance that has kept them going for so many years. However they caution us, mainly those of us who carry honorary badges from the battlefield of failed relationships, that without a real commitment there is no freedom to practice this romance. To truly commit to love is to have the maturity to take responsibility for yourself and another.

Those of us that transplant ourselves to New York City make a commitment to thrive in a city infamous for gloating: “If you can survive living here, you can survive anywhere.” And hence, even when we are jobless, unsatisfied with the living conditions, or have to defer our dream(s) that originally brought us to the wormy Apple in the first place, we remain content with just walking the City streets. NYC can hardly be described as “romantic” when there exists the Romeo of all cities: Paris. But this is a different romance—it demands you practice it every day; it is not handed to you as in Paris where the smoky cafes that play Edith Piaf coy with you constantly.

The romance of NYC is certainly unique. After all, where is the “romance” in waiting for the Cross-town 86 bus that carries you from the obnoxiously uppity East Side to the elegant West side of Manhattan while it is pouring? You can literally watch your post-yoga bliss begin to wear down rather quickly because the weather, within two hours, just crashed from a lovely breeze to God’s wrath, a rain that pricks your skin with each drop due to the wind gusts. And the bus does not come. You calculate the cost of cabbing it uptown on the Westside (as if you have not done this before and really need to do the math again). Then your eyes meet a stranger’s who is also waiting for the bus. Instantaneously you both know that both of you are doing the same math. So you ask, no introductions needed given you can barely hear yourself think over the downpour, “Do you want to split going cross-town?” There is a nod, then your hand goes up to hail a cab, next you are sharing a cab with a stranger, drenched. The cab driver already knows the deal but you tell him 86th and Central Park West just to confirm. He nods. You tell the stranger the thunder stole your yoga high, she tells you she is late for a meeting and last time she was high was in Amsterdam. She is not originally from New York. You respond: who is. The cab ride costs $9.40 total which you both had decided to split. She gives you a five dollar bill and you give the cab driver a ten. The moment was not that sensational that you both exchange emails or phone numbers, it was just a New York moment.

Those who cannot live anywhere but NYC have more than a mere juvenile ‘love-hate relationship’ with the City. This would be to say, it is beyond an unresolved adolescent ambiguity of puppy-love. It is not a question of simply living here or living somewhere else. We are well aware that it is more like a dysfunctional relationship that would be in our best interests to leave. Friends tell you it consumes too much of you and simply put, there are other healthier options; family, although supportive, are fed up when you complain of the harsh winters or humid summers or rainy springs leaving only the perfect fall weather that lasts barely three weeks; strangers are impressed, intimidated or disgusted. And you continue to balance your own disbelief for having stuck it out here as long as you have against the pride of the almost forgotten good memories.

Realizing this tumultuous affinity, from time to time, those who live here have had their share of consummate affairs. San Francisco, for example: it felt just like NYC—the obnoxious real estate and rental prices, the diversity, the parks, and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge which literally took your breath away (although in NYC you would never walk across any bridge for any reason, with the exception of the notorious Brooklyn Bridge, unless there was a transit strike). So you decide, for once and for all, this is it, you have found the solution to all the heartaches and nuances that NYC has weathered upon you. You are not completely depleted. You are, as a matter of fact, capable of falling in love again and starting somewhere anew. This time when you go back to the City, it will be the final time.

You are moving. Done.

And then you land back in the City (after the long flight back—all flights to NYC are long, even the one hour flight from D.C. due to the everlasting issues presented by JFK and LaGuardia airports) and regardless of the bridge you take to get back into Manhattan you are awestruck by the feelings you cannot place your fingers on and words fail you. The dilapidated relationship seems salvageable: you are exhilarated and consumed by the physical. You are almost glad to be back and it is not because you are complacent—did you not just exercise the nerve to leave with the intent to stay away? But you feel your senses giving in; the ecstasy is worth the delirium. You decide it is okay to feel this for just one night because soon you are moving out and on. The following morning you even boast about your grand decision to relocate to San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Chicago, London , Paris, Geneva….and the list of all the other cities that had you convinced that you can, should, and will leave New York City.

But you don’t.

And you unexpectedly find yourself back in the honeymoon phase of your defective but worthwhile relationship, where you are pulled by the undertow of earthly magnetism and buoyancy of lunatic tides that sway throughout your system. It’s exhilarating and you laugh at the absurdity of ever having considered moving. You cannot make it anywhere else! What were you thinking?

I was thirteen when my parents relocated from New York City to Kansas City due to their jobs. I was devastated—writing depressing poems which never rhymed did not help, making new friends in Kansas City did not help (but for one friend because she was trying to flee Kansas too), and day-dreaming certainly did not help. So I found the only way to “move on” for the time being: I resolved to return one day. My thirteen year old self did not know when that one day was going to be, but one such day it was going to be. I informed my parents of my decision when I was thirteen and although I cannot recall if they believed me then, I do not recall them mocking the idea either.

In 2002, upon graduation from college, I moved to New York City (of course I wasn’t brave enough like some who literally just pack up without a job or a place to stay and just move!—that’s how fervently (or foolishly if you wish) they believe in what NYC means to and for their lives). Unlike these “cool” people, I had a plan—I got accepted to a Master’s program on scholarship and taught for three years, something I wanted to do regardless of the location. My parents thought I had gone mad but they couldn’t really commit me anywhere. Did they forget what I declared when I was thirteen?

I looked at over 80 apartments in 2 weeks…around the clock. Yep—I am just that stubborn: when I know what I want I do not settle for less than something that feels right. These top NYC brokers learned the hard way that, although I may not have originally been from New York but my spirit always had, they could not fool me. Each one said they had never dealt with a customer like me. I believe those agents still working at Manhattan Apartments will remember me as long as they stay in business! It was more work, but I refused to deal with brokers after my experience with them. I have lived in three different apartments in NYC and NONE through a broker—whenever I have shared this information with any New Yorker, they are bewildered at this feat, especially because I do not come across as a patient person and nor do I have the luxury of time—however my indefatigability usually trumps my impatience.

Those that continue to live in New York, at least those who choose to stay after having lived or visited other places, and not just for the sheer proximity to one’s family, are a testament to John Keats’ eternal line: “beauty is truth, truth is beauty.” It is the collective energy of many opposing truths that define New York and like all that is truly beautiful, the City is palpably transient. Before you can learn to pronounce it, the new “it” exhibit of the season is replaced by another, a celebrity has opened yet another five-star restaurant that even a teacher can afford, and overnight your favorite pizza joint was somehow swallowed by the streets. One can never successfully keep up. Unlike other major cities, here the individuals end up defining New York and the neighborhood you call home can never alone define the person. In a metropolis of 18 million people that is a lot of definitions. The self-proclaimed elites, the existence of whose identities hangs upon a comparison with others, may choose to never leave certain “designated” neighborhoods but they too will run into the homeless man that flips a finger to the world that has forgotten him. They too will endure the traffic, the crowded subways, the “regular” folks seated next to them on the opening night of a Broadway play. New York necessitates accepting one of the most blatant truths of life: you are no more important than the next person but you are equally unique.

I think there are some who merely want to “visit” such a romance and others who want to make a lifetime of it, despite its imperfections and turbulences. My mother takes no notice of the annoying fact that my father sometimes drives 10 miles below the speed limit—yes, he is that driver—no different than the crater sized pot holes throughout Manhattan avenues that go unnoticed by those who routinely drive in New York.

This is not to say New York City is for everyone, just like many may claim the romance in my parents’ relationship borders repulsion. My parents’ love is not perfect and I have long wondered if this is what I want in a partnership given the transparent flaws that cannot be concealed; it is a treasure of inconsistencies. Moreover, it is not what it was once. It morphs into a new entity each passing year, and yet it somehow retains that flicker of its original essence.

When it is the “real deal” you are certainly faced with the abstraction of impermanence. It is natural to wonder what will happen after years of being together when you will learn all there is to know about another…is the grass really not greener on the other side? Is this it? But then, if you are really lucky, you realize, like New York City, you can never know the other in his or her entirety, and even when you think you do, something has changed. New York City impels us to recognize that what’s most complex about life—changes—is indeed what gives life value. It is these transitory opportunities embedded in the windows of refinement that allow one to create, interact, and evolve. This is what attracts new bodies from world over each day to New York City. This is probably also one of the reasons my parents’ relationship is enviable to many who meet them: it is and is not what it once was.

I will never forget my first night alone in NYC: midst the anxiety, hope, chaos, stillness, joy, aloneness, and a plethora of other emotions—there were two sentiments which I never entertained: doubt and regret. I was just where I wanted to be and beneath the canopy of clammy uncertainty that humid June night, there was also an inner peace and security.

In the end perhaps it matters not where one ends up counting life’s paradoxes—a farm in a small town in California where my parents live or the The Big Apple—but what matters is with whom you participate in an ever lasting opportunity to grow presented through the chasm of oppositional forces that govern existence and love.

Personally, I have finally accepted the rarity that is my parents’ relationship and New York City for what they are: a never ending story that I will always want to be part of.

~a.q.s.

NYC_Montage_8


Who is an “American”? Who is an “African”?

South Africa, with or without the awareness required by majority of its citizens on this topic, is silently defining who is an “African”…

These two articles are befitting the age old discussion: what does it mean to be an American…

and what I discovered this time around in S.A.: what does it mean to be an African…given the xenophobia against Africans from other countries…

Africa 2009: Identity, Citizenship, and Nation Building by M. Mawere

and from the Christmas 2009 Edition of The Economist:

Going to America: The Greatest Strength About America Is That People Want To Live Here

Permanent Visitor

En route from Jo’burg to LA with a two day stay in beloved NYC, so technically from NYC to LA, I picked up the Christmas Edition of The Economist. Outstanding variety of topics. This one stayed with me probably because the timing was, personally, too appropriate!

Beware, then: however well you carry it off, however much you enjoy it, there is a dangerous undertow to being a foreigner, even a genteel foreigner. Somewhere at the back of it all lurks homesickness, which metastasises over time into its incurable variant, nostalgia. And nostalgia has much in common with the Freudian idea of melancholia—a continuing, debilitating sense of loss, somewhere within which lies anger at the thing lost. It is not the possibility of returning home which feeds nostalgia, but the impossibility of it.

But we cannot expect to have it all ways. Life is full of choices, and to choose one thing is to forgo another. The dilemma of foreignness comes down to one of liberty versus fraternity—the pleasures of freedom versus the pleasures of belonging. The homebody chooses the pleasures of belonging. The foreigner chooses the pleasures of freedom, and the pains that go with them.

The rest of the original article is no longer available for free, which is a shame (it may be available again after some time passes). However, comments to the original article can be found here:  Being Foreign. The Others:  It is becoming both easier and more difficult to experience the thrill of being an outsider.


South Africa and HIV

I have picked up a new friend to spend time with on Sundays in Jo’burg: the newspaper,  Sunday Times.

One of my favorite columnists is a woman named Pinky Khoabane.

On Sunday, November 15th, I read her short but bold piece titled “A Pandemic of Body, Mind, and Soul” which rightfully calls people to have a deeper dialogue regarding the AIDS pandemic in Africa, specifically South Africa. You can check out the article here:   A Pandemic of Body, Mind, and Soul. “Awareness” is no longer the primary issue–then what is?

Below were my thoughts after reading the article:

Dear Ms. Khoabane,

Do you have any friends? No, I am not being facetious. Do you have any real-life friends besides the likes of me who may admire you for your boldness from afar? Individuals who actually have the courage to participate in a conversation that reveals how they are or are not responsible for the “broken social fabric”? How many, besides you, can hold the space of the audacious truths in your latest article without looking away from the fact that their own “friends” might be welding this very social fabric? A “real” conversation regarding this is decreasing at a frequency that is beyond alarming. I know that the diverse company of individuals (ethnically and of varying social stratum) where I centrifuge the fundamentals are dismissed as criticism given I am a New Yorker docked in South Africa for the moment.

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Viladah

Viladah
(Arabic for birth)

So I had a near death experience. What follows is not the usual how you should make the most of every moment in life because it may be your last (I have never known how else to live even prior to this experience), or life is precious (learnt that when I was six and saw a flock  of sparrows carry the limp sparrow which had fallen from a tree), or there is a God after all (I could comfortably communicate with a Higher Being before I was taught how to pray in any language), or I had an epiphany (I am introspective enough  to have one a day). Below is merely an account of my thoughts, as much as I can accurately recall them, before what I thought were my last seconds on this Earth.

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Lahore

Lahore  is often called the Garden of Mughals because of its rich Mughal heritage. Nothing you will ever see on the media.

lahore_collage

Some background on the City that I cut-pasted from Wikipedia that is fairly accurate:

A legend, based on oral traditions, states that Lahore, called Lavapuri (City of Lava in Sanskrit) in ancient times, was founded by Prince Lava,the son of Rama.  To this day, the Lahore Fort has a vacant temple dedicated to Lava (also pronounced Loh, hence “Loh-awar” or The Fort of Loh).

 

Ptolemy, the celebrated astronomer and geographer, mentions in his Geographia a city called Labokla situated on the route between the Indus River and Palibothra, or Pataliputra (Patna) mostly, in a tract of country called Kasperia (Kashmir), described as extending along the rivers Bidastes or Vitasta (Jhelum), Sandabal or Chandra Bhaga (Chenab), and Adris or Iravati (Ravi). This city is more than likely ancient Lahore.

 

The oldest authentic document about Lahore was written anonymously in 982 and is called Hudud-i-Alam. It was translated into English by Vladimir Fedorovich Minorsky and published in Lahore in 1927. In this document, Lahore is referred to as a small shehr (city) with “impressive temples, large markets and huge orchards.” It refers to “two major markets around which dwellings exist,” and it also mentions “the mud walls that enclose these two dwellings to make it one.”  The original document is currently held in the British Museum. Lahore was called by different names throughout history, and to date there is no conclusive evidence as to when it was founded; some historians trace the history of the city as far back as 4000 years ago.

The correct pronunciation: Law-her. not La Whore like some  media pronounces  it. 🙂

Here is a letter dated October 15th, 2009 that I wrote to some close friends from Lahore:

Letter from Lahore

October 15, 2009

I do not like ice cream. Gelato is not “ice-cream” which I enjoy anywhere, anytime, especially in Florence, Italy.  Ice-cream on the other hand, never more than a few spoonfuls—enough to sweeten the mouth. Because they don’t serve “just a spoonful” in New York or anywhere else in the world, I never order any since the rest goes to waste. Even the best and most expensive kind anywhere in the world doesn’t entice me. However, in Lahore, I can eat buckets. I can’t have enough of it. The small shop-owners order the milk from specific areas with special cows which they churn in a special way into this special cream, and then add the flavoring (often from crushed real fruits). It is yum-mm-mee.

Before I continue on about the stay here so far, I apologize for the delayed nature of this letter/email. Despite the accessibility to a fast internet connection at home I have just now gotten around to this update. The first week I was tied up with family and the funeral arrangements, an intense, exhausting process. Moreover, I was assisting my parents with some practical matters. When many major events are packed in a single day, a day can seem like a week; therefore after the first four days here I felt like we had been here for four weeks. This week things have slowed down a bit and we will be departing on Sunday for LA.

History:

I would like to begin by clarifying a few facts: Pakistan is not pronounced pack-is-stan. The “pak” is pronounced more like an Upper East Side New Yorker or a snotty British saying the word “park,” dropping the “r.” It means “pure land” and it is far from the vision that many shed blood to create. Short history: if East Asian Countries were the illegitimate children of British Imperialism, Pakistan was the rebel child that did not care to look for the father: it spat on the freedom granted. Pakistan was carved upon a simple ideology: they were Muslims first, then whatever other ethnicity. My father to this day adheres to this philosophy. He has a very old, traditional Pan-Islamic worldview. Therefore, even now, the Muslims that occupy Pakistan are from Middle-Eastern/Arabian, Iranian, Russian, and even Chinese descent and some only one generation removed. The country is compromised of so many languages and tribes that sometimes it is a surprise that it is indeed one country. However, few years after its creation, the nation was feared as one that would perhaps unite with other Muslim countries to create a Pan-Islamic Republic comprised of several countries. This paranoia (some local political analysts to this day say it is a legitimate concern—after all, imagine if Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the a few others were to unite) has served as an impetus for many wars propagated by others.

State of Political Affairs:

They do not like the US government here (not a surprise) but they respect President Obama; convinced that, deep down, he is a “Muslim”—“has to be—look at his principles and vision.” (That is amusing because awhile ago I read an article which stated that he adheres to many Buddhist principles. I think it is best to conclude that he tries his best to live up to values set forth in various religions, yet not indoctrinated by any).  This country is as much “at war” as is felt when living in the United States:  oblivious. We hear of bombs being blasted here and there, some near, some far and people are enjoying life. Hard to decipher who the “enemy” is. The fundamentalist Taliban that were once supported by the US for many years are now split into many factions some of which continue to get the local government’s support, others the US government’s, and some even Indian government’s support. The local government itself is splintered into sections due to funding provided by the US government.

I have encountered impoverished people who find their life stripped of any meaning due to extreme poverty so blowing yourself is not a loss to yourself or the family. Others hold the view that if one is to die by American drones he or she might as well go down preemptively. Yet there are others who believe the local government has been “bought” by the US government and therefore it does nothing to prevent the local terrorist attacks (separate from the Taliban). In short, terrorism is a scapegoat for bigger governments to do what they wish. We now use humans as bombs.

The police here are so strict (handing fines for not having helmets if driving a motorcycle to random car checks) that it is appalling how the arms are being smuggled inside through India and Afghanistan.

In my opinion it will get a lot worse before it gets any better for no other reason but because the “enemies” are so undefined. For example, even something like “news” is a weapon. Once upon a time, the media was the source from which to get factual information, now it serves monetary and political interests.

ANYWAY (sigh)

Family Stuff

Surprisingly no one in the entire extended family or “community” has brought up the fact that I am still not married. I believe this has less to do with their lack of concern for my future and more to do with the fact that every other person is unhappily married to their significant other. In a society where marriages existed to strengthen and extend families, they now serve as the main source of conflict between couples. And although divorces are becoming more common and acceptable, they are still taboo. If anything, the running joke is that it is a must to marry a “white” man from the States because they “don’t just take care of you—women are more than apt now a days to take care of themselves financially—but they actually participate in a life with you.” I reflect upon the few inter-racial marriages of the women who are with white men from the States or England and it is a sight of envy for others here: the foreign husband is not ordering the tired wife around for an extra spoon of sugar for his tea, despite having observed that she is trying to control one baby around her waist and another who is tugging her leg.

The aforementioned must take into account the exception who is my father’s adopted cousin’s mother-in-law. She was petrified that I am still not married: “Such good features and genes—do something about it, child–maybe the world really is coming to an end.” I just rolled my eyes and wanted to say, “Aunti-gee, even dogs and cats can have babies, I would like to think God made us just a tad different, even if not superior,” but I didn’t. What can I say to a woman whose sons are on the verge of divorces or have second wives without having divorced the previous ones and she is doing all sorts of superstitious rituals around the clock so she can have a grandson (after all, what good are granddaughters); as her sons continue to reproduce one daughter after another without taking any responsibility—“isn’t providing financially enough?”

Due to the original reason of our trip (funeral) thank the Lord my parents do not have to deal with: “We were wondering if someone you know (translation = your single daughter) would be interested in marrying our son/cousin/brother etc.” Not that my parents have ever done anything out of societal or familial pressures, nor is my father the kind of man one could randomly come up and ask such a thing, despite how laid-back and fun-loving he is. He is just not a man you question easily—he is a renaissance man whose presence demands respect, because respect begets respect.

So—dodged that bullet! Phew! 🙂

The City of Gardens:

The city is vibrant as ever despite the pollution. And at least in DHA people are very well off and live in jaw-dropping mansions—nothing you have seen even on MTV Cribs. I am taking quaint pictures of images that one can’t google easily. But how do I capture the most fragrant roses I have ever smelt on this Earth? The Earth truly is not the same everywhere. The flowers are potent with their individual smells and the smell lingers for miles, like stars hanging from a string in an upside-down midnight violet sky. It truly is a beautiful city and most mysterious at dawn and dusk.

The Working Class:

The laborers are the most creative group of individuals I have ever encountered in any country. The man crocheting beads into a shawl is an artist and so is the woodsman who is crafting furniture around the corner, as is the tailor. Watching any of them is watching a breathtaking performance. Without realizing they have turned their poverty into art, barely making enough to live on—but they are more content than the richest for whom they create these goods.

Education:

I visited three elementary schools and even sat in on a Provincial Education Taskforce Committee’s Meeting (and will be a silent member assisting them with some much needed legislative reform). What is being taught here in 1st grade to students, children in America learn in 4th grade. I agree with neither methodology. In the States we expect too little from our children and here we expect too much.

It always takes me by surprise the influence of hip hop. Overheard: A says to S—you idiot, Akon knows how it is here because he is Jamaican, more than 50 Cent who is all fake. Did you not see the show on National Geographic where they were showing Jamaica! Or how Jay-Z is the greatest because he created songs with Linken Park, a rock band. Wish these hip hop artists knew the influence they have all over the world. For some kids who can’t afford the labels the artists wear, all they have is the lyrics they hear.

$$$$

I bought these most stunning earrings from a street vendor from Afghanistan. He said they were imported from Iran-Afghanistan border. I paid $1.50 for them. I know for a fact that a street vendor in NY sells something exactly like this for $22.00. Moreover, a similar pair is $44 at Macy’s in Manhattan. And if Kenneth Cole “buys” the design it is $84.00 at Bloomingdales. The street vendor from Afghanistan was selling at a price on which he could make a profit, so I don’t even want to imagine further profit. All I could think as I touched the earrings was about the woman in a village in Iran or Afghanistan who placed these beads and unique stones around the wiring.

Even if one does not do the mammoth exchange rate, the prices for LOCAL things are HIGH. I mean we all expect American products to be similarly priced in dollars even in developing countries but for local products to have American prices is disturbing! A set of bangles—the high end kind—costs $50 to $100, and that is just the beginning range!  And guess what? People can afford them—easily—people who live here–why else would they price them like that!

Language

My father’s acquaintances are surprised that we were raised overseas—how can your family be so humble, expecting rude, obnoxious, ignorant Americans. The typical stereotypes.

 

They are surprised at my lack of accent and when around town I can code-switch accents and dialects before another blinks. J [(am)Erica, while shopping around, I asked this young boy in the store to assist me with what I was getting made for you. I said, “You see, my friend is a performer so–” and I didn’t finish my sentence because a hush fell throughout the store. All the young boys working there just stared at me and I quickly decoded WRONG translated word. I began again, “You see, my friend is a singer so….” And everyone went back to doing what they were doing and the young boy replied, “Oh, I know exactly what you mean ma’am, here take a look at these pieces!” Forgot the word “performer” had some negative connotations on this side of the globe! Phew. lol]

Cousins

My younger cousin Ali is dying to visit South Africa so he was ecstatic to learn I had been there several times. He just happens to have an interest in the continent of Africa and it got to the point that I was like I can’t be your google search engine…he wouldn’t stop asking questions. The kids (I say kids—they are not that young—17 to 20) saw pictures of my friends in NY, other parts of the States and South Africa, on my lap top and had many questions and comments:

Why do the Hollywood movies make gangsters black? Why are there so few brown people in the movie industry? Are any of your black friends in gangs? You friend Mary looks like a principal(and she is!!!). Does Londiwe only wear Pink? Hsindy looks like a movie actress! What is the difference between my Korean-American, Chinese-American, Taiwanese-American friends? How come I don’t have a Japanese friend given I have friends from all over? How did my friend Dawn and her husband, who is from Tunisia, meet? What languages are their kids going to speak? Rhonda has cool hair! Is Josh from Tibet? Nandi, from Durban, looks Indian. Was Erica in a movie? Are Ali and Amir really twins? PJ does photography? How come you and Vuyo look like you both share an arm in this picture? Lisa looks really smart, I bet she knows real Chinese!

After an hour of the above (I am not listing the entire exchange—there is more!), I told them I just had the best-est friends ever and to go find some thing else to do. I had to—they wouldn’t stop…

If countries are grown adults, then I would consider this country an embryo—when it grows up it will be magnificent, that is before other special interests, internal and external, do not harm what is inside. For you see, this country was built on an idea, a set of principles as ancient as time that equality through unity, faith, and discipline is indeed possible. But that threatens many.  Equality always does.

As for my personal development—I think this quote says it better than I can:

“One must be thrust out of a finished cycle in life, and that leap [is] the most difficult to make–to part with one’s faith, one’s love, when one would prefer to renew the faith and recreate the passion.”  However, there is a new beginning in every ending and endings happen every moment.

Hope all is well and do update me too!
In sincere gratitude of your friendship, support, and patience,

~annie