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Archive for the tag “Indiegogo”

Cigarettes and Oil

Day 5. Circa 2010.

He holds the cigarette in his hand, a stream of smoke ascending from the lit tip.  It’s halfway done, even though he has only taken two draws from it.   It burns between his fingers more than it burns between his lips and, at this moment, I wish I smoked so I could take a few hits on it to both taste the wetness he leaves on the paper and to ease my angst about the wastefulness of the thing.

Why do I care? I think to myself.  After all, no one wants anyone to smoke these days with ubiquitous posters and billboards screaming:  “YOUR CIGARETTE KILLS THE AIR AND UNBORN BABIES!” Perhaps I too should preach about the atrocities of burning up an American Spirit and blowing its smoke out your mouth.   That’s not my thing, though—I leave that for the environment freaks and fault-finding Christians.

I inhale the secondhand smoke that mingles with the scent of his body which smells of sandalwood or patchouli, likely a fragrance oil that he purchased from some Muslim guy who sells them on a North Philly street or in an underground subway car.

Who can resist an aromatic roll of scented oil from the strange hand extended to you on your commute from City Hall to Cecil B. Moore?  You know this guy in the long robe and short pants makes a living from these miniature vials and if you have a five dollar bill, you hand it to him—still crumpled from your pants pocket—and watch a smile appear somewhere between the bushy beard on his chin and the knit kufi pulled over his brow.  With this, he uses both hands to place the small bottles in your palm, gives a hearty thanks and then glides over to the other passengers, occasionally bidding “Salaam-ailakum” to the burka-covered woman or other bearded brother dressed just like him.      

I am thankful for those pious palm-holding, vial-selling, subway peddlers when I am in his presence.  I am even thankful for menthol Newports, Marlboro soft packs, and Camel Lights when he’s around.  If he ever asks if the smoke bothers me, I would tell him how hopeful I am that the scent of his cigarette stays with me until I arrive home and get in bed—just let the smell of smoke ascend above my head and form a halo around me as I sleep. 

Or I would just say to him, “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.”

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Confession in a Parked Car

Day 4. a poetry class journal entry. Circa 2009

 

There is only stale air and failed words

Between us

There has been no truth for days

Now silence

Endless deliberation

Be honest or tell lies?

Lies

That have fallen flat for days

And widened the chasm

Between us

He sits up straight

Separated

only by the inches

Between us

Steering wheel in hand,

His head low,

He confessed.

I cried.

Four months apart

Had been too long.

Of Silent Types

Day 3. Poetry. Circa 2009.

Lately,

I have tried to refrain

from saying I love you

and, instead, be like you.

Lately, I see

that love ain’t about

the words formed

in my mouth

or in cursive

on little lime-green post-its

that I have placed

in your brown bagged lunch with chips,

but on your face

and in your eyes

when you pick me up

on rainy days.

One God. Same God.

Day 2. This is an excerpt from my senior thesis work,

a collection of essays titled “Faith and Bullshit.” Circa 2011.

There is no light outside the window when he begins to move restlessly in bed—only an orange glow that spills onto the carpet and against the walls from the lamppost across the street.  I finally feel his warmth slipping away as he slowly peels back the comforter and sheets, careful not to disturb me.  It is minutes from sunrise and Hasan has to make his first salat.   He slips into a pair of shorts and t-shirt and tiptoes to the bathroom to make wudhu before he makes his prayers.  I lie awake in bed, silent as if still asleep, and listen to the way the water moves in the bathroom: the steady stream from the faucet to the basin intermittently interrupted by his cupped hands scooping water to his face, around his arms, and on top of his head—and then the squeaky turn of the knob to close the water valve.  He shuffles out of the bathroom, feeling his way through darkness until he reaches his designated place of prayer—a little area in the corner of the bedroom that allows him to face the Ka’abah.

 He begins the series of movements that accompany his prayer routine—takbir, ruku, qiyaam, sujud, jalsah—as he utters the rhythmic, foreign words from his mouth, his monotone voice sounding musical at certain intervals of his recital.  I am completely awake in bed now, eyes fixed on the ceiling, pondering when and how I would get on my knees and make my own petitions to God.  I decidedly keep my place after convincing myself that Hasan is hardly worried about who is holier than who—that was usually my role in our relationship.

After several minutes, Hasan completes his sura and, for a brief moment, there is stillness in the room.  The morning light has finally rested on the pillows and throughout the house and I am able to clearly make out Hasan’s silhouette as he disrobes before rejoining me under the sheets.  My body is considerably warmer than his now, so he pulls me close—my back to his chest and one of my breasts already cradled in his palm.  I feel his humid breath on the nape of my neck before he settles his lips there to whisper a sweet and sensual “good morning” which will serve as his invitation to commit today’s first sin.

It wasn’t long before meeting Hasan that I had settled into my own religious walk— the original faith of my childhood now repackaged and reintroduced as a personalized adult version of Christianity.  This new and improved God wanted to be my friend, my father and was described with words like patient, forgiving, full of grace which were different from the harsher and more familiar terms like angry, wrathful, and jealous.  While it seemed so much easier to worship this nice God, it was often just as bewildering to have once been plagued with legalistic checks and balances to now only be covered in the “blood of the Lamb,” once and forever after repentance. The Presbyterian doctrine of today seemed so different from the Pentecostal gospel of my youth.

Yet I never revealed such ambivalence about my beliefs to Hasan.  Instead, we engaged in stimulating conversations about our respective faiths—he maintained that there was only one God, and both Muslims and Christians served the same God, while I insisted that his religion lacked the vital component of recognizing Jesus Christ as Savior of mankind and ultimately the channel through which one reached salvation.  Hasan would allow me to say my piece before he offered a reassuring smile, sometimes lifting my hands to his lips before speaking again. After a long pause he would respond softly, “Zenique, the truth will find you.”

My Own Affirmation

I believe that when I return to Africa, I will write my best work.  I will write one story or many of them that will be as notable as the works of Morrison, Walker, Kincaid, Bambara.  I will breathe life back into Black Literature.  I feel it in my bones and I know I will do this—like Chimamanda Adichie knew she could write an American novel; like Natasha Tretheway knew she could produce Pulitzer-winning poetry; Like Edwidge Danticat knew she could write beautifully when representing two, and sometimes three, different lands.   I will do this work and you will one day count my name amongst those who are aforementioned here.  I just need you to believe with me.

 

The (Online) Diary of a Mad Black Mzungu

For those of you who don’t know, my title is a spin off of the Tyler Perry movie, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”  I’m not really “mad”.

Today is the first day of my Indiegogo campaign, The Black American Mzungu Literary Project, to raise funds for my trip to East Africa and to reopen a school for Ugandan girls with special needs in Mukono.  Ironically, this is also my first entry on this blog page which I started five years ago while studying in Uganda the first time.  Because of the campaign and because my time away is solely about writing, I thought it would be a great idea to give myself a weekly assignment of keeping an online diary where I can keep folks informed on what’s happening with me as well as make a personal writing commitment where I am somewhat held accountable by others.

Blogging has always been a little daunting for me– especially when you are considering submitting work to be published widely.  How does one decide which thoughts or moments are fit for an online rant versus a real story that could be later developed into something substantial and meaningful?   Does blogging imply that you think so highly of your thoughts and writing that you want it on the web for everyone to see? Will I feel like a loser if my only followers are my parents and siblings who wouldn’t necessarily read my rants, but have to follow me just because it’s the right thing to do?

Truth is, it’s hard for me to write so openly, so regularly.  I do, however, frequently journal (is that a verb? If not, you know what I mean)– it has helped me sort out my thoughts and frustrations over the years and has also been a great reference when writing about my time in Africa.  I find that keeping a journal (the old-school leather -bound books of lined paper– I faithfully use Moleskines, btw) is one of the most stress-relieving exercises one can commit to.  I believe it so much, in fact, that I recently inquired about leading an extracurricular journal writing workshop with the incoming students of the Uganda Studies Program later this fall for which I was approved.

But to blog on the internet, whether it is an open or private forum, means to be vulnerable with both friends and strangers about what I feel.  It means I have to decide if I will censor my thoughts or be candid about my views, and with whatever I decide, be okay with the feedback that comes along with it. IF, that is, there is any feedback at all.  What if no one cares about what I have to say? Will that be the ego-bruising moment for me? To log on and see that there is no one following, no one reading, no one commenting?

I’ve been contributing to 215mag.com, a digital magazine in Philadelphia, for over a year now and a few things I’ve learned are 1. write your best 2. proofread your work 3. build an audience 4. be ready for scrutiny.   I am still working on the 3 & 4, but these days I think I am ready to strut my stuff online– whether my audience is 1 or 1000.  I think I can handle readers’ comments– whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent.  I’m not sure what my theme will be yet, but I think it’s cool to figure that out along the way.

So here it goes– from journaling in Moleskines to blogging online, my life is really about to be an open book.

 

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