Braided Essay (Still Unnamed)

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I’ve been working on a rather long braided essay, the pieces of which are tied together by the topic of music. I won’t post much of it here because I want to publish it elsewhere, but I wanted to provide a taste: here are a few paragraphs from two different sections of the essay.

(From a section set in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Behind me, a woman fills her bottle from a spout on the stone-roofed fountain. Closer to the Adriatic Sea, Mostar is hotter than Sarajevo and the fresh, cool water, available to everyone, is most appreciated. Next to the fountain stand medieval tombstones, some with round turbans carved onto them. The dead are never far. Flashes of hot pink, orange, and red billow behind the tombstones, next to the mausoleum. The souvenir shop sells pictures, tapestries, and clothing, including belly-dancing costumes—evidently for tourists who assume that every country with Muslims also has belly dancers.

(From a section set in Córdoba, Spain)

The smooth claws of a curious pigeon grip my hand as I gaze on the earth-colored and white walls below. Water cascades down the fountain, joining the bubbling pool with a crash. The wind picks up and a stream of water splashes onto the concrete, spraying my face; the pigeon flies away. I stand and look around. Palms and orange trees line the streets and courtyards.

Walking through the streets, I see, smell, and hear the traces of Ziryab, the architect of Andalusian culture. Sweet-smelling cafes and restaurants where meals begin with soup. Honeyed desserts of walnuts and sesame. A couple playing chess by a reflecting pool.

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Words Unsaid

I wrote this last year. It is loosely autobiographical: the party happened, but we left immediately and there was no conversation. The thoughts are mine.

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Words Unsaid

I am late. Mother of the year. But when I found out about the preschool Christmas party for parents—and they specifically said “maminky”—it was too late to change my work schedule. So, I am the last mom here. The school is packed, and I don’t like crowds. I feel boxed-in. How long should I stay? Is half an hour enough to be polite? I have chocolate chip cookies. I put them down next to all the intricate Czech Christmas cookies.

Drinking that Coke Zero was a bad idea—caffeine always makes me nervous. So does skipping lunch. The teachers and children have prepared a program for us. All the children come out and line up, singing and playing instruments. Well, except for my kid. She immediately ran off and hid behind me. She doesn’t like crowds either.

I should talk to someone. My Czech is basic, but I don’t like forcing people to speak English with me. Do I look aloof? I’ve been told a few times that I look aloof. I’m not aloof; I’m uptight. I’d really prefer to talk to one of the teachers, but they’re swamped. The mom in the red shirt looks friendly; maybe I should go talk to her.

I say dobrý den and introduce myself. I was right; she is friendly.

“This party is nice,” I continue. “They decorated well.” You doofus! Couldn’t you think of anything better to say?

“Yes, they did,” Red Shirt (Crap; I forgot her name already!) answers. “Is this your daughter?”

“Yes, this is Arvaneh.” I don’t know why I gave her a name that’s so difficult for Czechs.

It takes Red Shirt a few tries to get it right.

“And is that your son?” Call me Captain Obvious.

“Yes, this is Honza.”

“He looks like he’s having a good time. Does he like this school?”

“Yes, he’s made a lot of friends here. Does your daughter like it?”

“Yes, she does.” She is very reserved like me and hasn’t made any friends yet. I don’t know how to help her.

I decide to change the subject. Dale Carnegie says people love talking about themselves. “So, are you from here in Prague?”

“No, I was born in Moravia, but I came here for school and stayed because I found a job. Do you like Prague?”

“Yes, I like it a lot, but I get homesick. Especially in the winter!” I smile. This is true. But I also feel a lack of sensitivity here. But maybe that’s all big cities. Maybe it’s just everywhere now. And I’m afraid of going home in today’s socio-political climate, and where is “home?”

“What do you do here?” Red Shirt asks.

“I’m an English teacher now, but I’m trying to change careers—to some form of writing or editing.” I’m getting closer to 40 but still don’t feel like a real adult. You look like you have the adulting thing down, and you’re probably younger than me.

I don’t really want to talk about myself. “What do you do?” Probably an office job, surely something stable.

“I work at Raiffeisen Bank.” Bingo!

“And do you have other children?” I ask. I’m sure you’re a much better mom than me. You seem “grounded.”

“Yes, I have another boy; he’s seven years old now. Do you have any more?”

“No, just Arvaneh.” Even with just one, I’m afraid of screwing up. I don’t know much about kids. I had no experience with them before. All I have to offer her is love, and it’s not enough. I couldn’t even get her to take a bath last night and she watched Masha and the Bear for way too long, and I let her do it because I like hearing her laugh.

“So, what does Honza like to do?” I’m running out of things to ask. How long have we been talking?

“Oh, he’s into cars. And buses, planes, fire trucks, tractors. Typical boy stuff.” Oh really?

“Arvaneh likes tractors too. And animals. Do you like the Museum of Agriculture?” I lurk on their page looking for free events.

“We’ve only been once. But he sits on the tractors when we visit my parents in the country. He likes animals too; we have a dog.”

“Oh, what kind?”

Red Shirt mentions the name of a dog breed I don’t recognize and asks if we have any pets.

“No. I’d like to have a cat someday, but we can’t now. I’ve always had cats.” I pause. “Those cookies look good,” I say, and proceed to take a few for my plate. “Which ones did you make?”

“I made these.” She points to the Linzer cookies.

“Oh. They look pretty.” I can’t pinpoint the exact difference, but the ones I had in Germany were better. I never eat the Czech ones.

“Do you bake Christmas cookies?” she asks.

I prefer American sweets. ”No, I usually make a gingerbread cake for Christmas. Or pumpkin pie.”

“Pumpkin pie? What’s in it?”

“Well, it’s usually made with pumpkin puree—I use the Hokkaidos—sugar, eggs, milk, and lots of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove.” Actually, my recipe is vegan, but I’m not going to tell you that because you will think I’m being pretentious or condescending. “And we serve it with whipped cream.” I use the spray can. I know how silly it sounds to use that stuff on a vegan pie, but I really can’t be bothered to make coconut whipped cream. The minute they put coconut cream in a spray can, I’m on it!

“Sounds interesting. I only use pumpkin for soup.”

I smile and nod. Your lipstick is perfect. I wonder if that color would look good on me. I’ll look for it at DM next time.

”Oh, I’d like to talk to Arvaneh’s teacher while I’m here. It was nice meeting you!” You’re a nice person, but I’m out of things to say.

“You too, have a nice Christmas!”

Between my broken Czech and the teacher’s broken English, we manage to have a conversation. I kill enough time that I feel comfortable saying a general na shledanou and leaving. The nervous energy has built up inside me and the walk home will do me good. If my daughter wasn’t with me, I would run. But I’m glad I went. Those people are nice—it’s me that’s the problem.

 

Photo courtesy of RitaE on Pixabay

Review of Concert – Gaza U Mom Srcu

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(I originally wrote this review on February 18, 2009, in Sarajevo.)

On Sunday night, about 10,000 people braved the cold weather to attend “Gazu u mom srcu” (Gaza in my heart), a giant concert held to raise money for humanitarian relief in Gaza. It was such a large event, in fact, that it took place in Zetra, the Olympic stadium. The concert was scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm, but people began filling the stadium over an hour in advance, and by 6:30 the hall was nearly full.The audience consisted of viewers of all ages, ranging from children to the elderly. The stage was beautifully set up, with white hanging lights and arches to the side of the stage. In the center was a screen, on which a slide show consisting of images from Palestine would be displayed throughout the event. On both sides of the screen were sets of high bleachers, which began to fill up just before 7:00.

Several choirs from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and other parts of the Balkans were scheduled to participate in the event and they began to file onto the stage, taking their places on the bleachers to enthusiastic applause. The members of each choir were dressed alike, for example the women of Hor Kewser were dressed in shiny red and gold outfits. The instrumentalists took their places in front of the bleachers, and the soloists, narrators, and hafizi (those who had memorized the Qur’an, and would recite it during the event) sat in the middle, just under the screen. Shortly beforehand, I had seen the Reis ul-Ulema, Dr. Mustafa Cerić, and his wife arrive and take their seats in the front row.

The event started promptly with a recitation from the Qur’an. There are many hafizi (Arabic: Huffadh) in the Balkans who have been trained at the Gazi Husref-Bey madrasa. Some of them, such as Aziz Alili, Burhan Šaban, Senad Podojak, and Mensur Malkić, who all participated in the event, are also very popular singers of ilahije. After most of the recitations, a narrator read the Bosnian translation of the passages.

I was familiar with many of the singers there, but not all of them.Some of those less familiar to me were pop singers. A highlight of the event, in my opinion, was Hamza Raznatović’s (lead singer of pop band MacBeth) rendition of the well-known ilahije “Dosta mi je Allah moj” (My God is enough for me – see him singing this at a different event on Samaha’s blog). After hearing Burhan Šaban sing a song in Arabic at the beginning of the event, I hoped that he would later perform one of his own songs, and he did – “Dođi Najdraži” (Come, Most Beloved – see music video of this song here). I think he performed this song because it describes the Prophet’s return from the isra’ and mi’raj, part of which took place at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Slides of the structure were shown on the screen during the performance. Another highlight was Aziz Alili’s performance of “Šehidi” (Martyrs – see video of him performing this song here), a song that was popular in Bosnia during and after the war. I could see that many of the older people in the audience were deeply moved by the song. Interestingly, while the permissibility of musical instruments and female singers are hotly debated in many parts of the Muslim world, they appear to be non-issues here. The event ended with a brief speech and a du’a by Reis ul-Ulema Dr. Mustafa Cerić, and people began piling out of the stadium.

*Photo courtesy of Bosniaks News’ youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt4Jm–4kOM