Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Letter To The President Of United States of America

Dear Mr. President,

Salutations and peace to you and your family.

My name is Ali Yusufali; it may interest you I was born not too far from your father’s birthplace of Kenya, in Arusha, Tanzania, where I grew up and became an adult. Aspirations for a quality education, better economic opportunities and awe for the United States brought me to this country. A very wise decision, since I have, thanks to God and this very generous country and her people, done wonderfully well. I love this adopted country much, whose citizen I became some fifteen years ago. I cherish the privileged freedoms and liberties she affords my children and me. For this kindness and generosity, I frequently pray for the safety and success of these United States of America.

Mr. President, I have written to you before, when you and Michele visited India in 2010, on November 6 2010, to be exact. I hope you read my letter but doubt it, what with your very busy schedule running the United States of America. However, should you feel inclined, I have posted the write-up on my Blog which you can access by clicking here.

You recently made your first trip, as President, to Israel. I was quite excited you were going; happy to learn you were going to listen, to both the Jews and Palestinians. I am sure you did that, listen. But I gather, from news reports, you listened to one side only, the Israelis. I was very hopeful you would listen to the oppressed people of occupied Palestine relate their lives under Israeli rule to you. Real life stories of oppression and brutality and subjugation and indiscriminate, arbitrary killings of innocents and arrests without cause and razing of homes and burning of olive farmland that put bread on poor Palestinian dinner tables and usurping of land and of insults to the oppressed and the denial of medical facilities or care to the sick or injured and of sheer helplessness and desolation of these hapless people.

Mr. President, the above description of Israeli rule of occupied Palestinian land is not mine. No Sir, I have never been to occupied Palestine. These words are from a very renowned and respected Jew, an Israeli citizen who has witnessed and documented all these atrocities I describe. My dear President, I beg you to spend about fifty minutes of your time to watch this. It will be time very well invested, I promise you. Granted Al Jazeera TV, not your cup of tea perhaps, has hosted this piece, but, to me, it is quite fair and balanced reporting. Again, this intense documentary is not mine or Al Jazeera’s, but from Journalist Gideon Levy, a well-known, well respected reporter from the renowned Haaretz newspaper in Israel. My request is asking a lot from a busy person as you, I am certain; but it beats travelling time and considerable cost of taxpayer dollars going all the way to Palestine and seeing, hearing all that is documented, all within the peace and comfort of the White House.

My good President, I believe you are a man of decency and honor. You are from the genes of humble people; you too, have international flair of events with your background in Hawaii, Indonesia and your legal background here in the USA. I have seen passion for fairness and all that is good for humanity in you; in your speeches and your direct addresses to me. That is why I voted for you, both times! But you are letting me down Mr. President. You have missed out on a unique opportunity by not talking to ordinary Palestinians under occupied rule. Here is an opportunity again, please do watch this documentary. May I suggest you invite your beautiful wife and two lovely daughters to watch with you? You and them will truly appreciate how lucky we all are living in these the United States of America and how truly awful, brutal, beastly the occupation of Palestine is.

From your campaigning for reelection last year, you stated you are a practicing Christian. Wonderful! I attended elementary school in a wonderful Catholic school in Africa; those were formative years of who I am today. Even at that young age, I learnt, from mandatory church attendance, how very similar Christianity is to my Islam, how much we share in values and Biblical history, prophesy. My holy book, the Glorious Quraan commands me thus:
“Let there arise from you such people inviting what is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; these are the ones who will be successful.” (3:104)

I am sure this command is not unique to Islam, but is common to all religions, especially the three Abrahamic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Mr. President, the occupation of Palestine by Israel and her brutal rule is vile evil. Period.

I am confident you have in you to be a good President; nay, a great President. These personalities, history teaches us, become great by men who have the steel in them to be just and fair, against formidable odds. I am cognizant and appreciate the many pressures and constraints you have from numerous US and international vested interests that root for Israel and her unjust and brutal policies. By not speaking out, as leader of the only country that can make a difference to the current status quo, by not enjoining what is right and forbidding what is evil may make your life easy in this temporal life. Perhaps. I do know however, that Christians believe in an afterlife that will have to be reckoned with.

I must end here; again, your time is important. Thank you Sir, for giving me the opportunity to write to you, an opportunity that is not a privilege to a vast majority of this worlds populace. 

I wish you peace.

Yours very truly.

Ali Yusufali
Sanford, FL

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Oh. My. Gawd!

Oh. My. Gawd, you are such an uncool Dad! Why can’t you, like, be like other Dads? Exclaims my twelve-year-old daughter Maaha Zainab once more, rolling eyes to the heavens. I have heard her use this expression several times now, consequence of middle school peer influence obviously, but it never fails to irk me to temporary insanity. I immediately recall when I was her age; this behavior would have been rewarded by a tight smack across the cheek, at least. This utterance and accompanying expression has taken over her waking hours. I am beginning to wonder how ‘cool’ dads look or act.

Teenage girls can be your greatest joys and a royal pain in your behind. Well, at least Maaha Zainab is, for me. I now really wish she had stayed the cutest ever toddler all her life, never mind the milky barfs on my freshly donned clothes at regular intervals. I realize new generations have always been different, with the older ones complaining Aaj kaal na baacha, uuuf! This lot however, anyone with teenage kids must concur, are a handful. It’s a struggle, yaar, on every subject I am to care of a child, from salaat, acceptable Islamic behavior, acceptable attire, to friends, peer pressure,’s endless. Why, this can make a grown up shed tears of uwazeemu.

Take this kid I am trying to befriend at HIC the other day. I sit outside waiting for the program to begin. A nice kid, about ten or eleven sits next to me, glued to a cell phone, playing some sort of a game.
Sallam aleykum, I say.
There is no response, except his fingers move at frightening speed, chasing some sort of a monster on the screen.
Sallam aleykum, I try again.
Uh...salaam, sallam, he responds irritably, but alas, loses concentration and the screen monster zaps his prize. He looks at me accusingly for a flashing moment before folding arms and hugging himself in defeat, a glum scowl on his developing face.
Lost the game, eh? I say in sympathy. You can try again. Don’t look so sad, it can’t be so bad.  
That was so wicked, I almost got to the next level. You distracted me! That was soooo wicked.
I feel terrible. I am so sorry, I apologize promptly.
No, says he, the game is so wicked...
If the game is so wicked, why play it? I am sure there are other games not so wicked?
The kid turns his face to me with a look of incredulity on his face. His eyes, lake Maaha Zainab’s, roll up to the heavens; he giggles.
No dude, sorry, I mean Uncle, he says, the game is wicked, get it? As in good? The game is soooo good, it’s wicked! Hahaha.

I feel my face color, in embarrassment and ire. First, I am very allergic to people calling me uncle, even ten year olds. Second he has just made me feel even more out of touch with the new crop of kids on the block. It is my turn to fold arms and sit with a glum cross look on my face. The boy gets company his age and moves away to try the next level of his wicked game.

I return home determined in educating myself on current age teenagers and their lingos and mannerisms, perhaps. Google takes me to an Ustad Nauman Ali Khan, a brilliant speaker on the subject of teenage upbringing on Young Muslims website. The Ustad points to the example from the Glorious Quraan of excellent relationship between Prophets Yaqoob (A) and his son Yusuf (A). Fine, but it is an example of infallibles; what about a poor mortal like me? Well, be friends, says the Ustad, make your teenager your friend, talk to her, take interest in her school activities, know her friends, find out what makes her tick... Hmmm, make my daughter into a friend? I have seen the relationships between ‘progressive’ parents and their children of recent era; I am not impressed. Or amused, either.

I can only empathize with the balancing act my widowed Mama must have walked during my teenage era, not that I could ever think of rolling my eyes or calling her ‘uncool’; my elder siblings and madressa teachers ensured an iron clad respect to not only parents, but anybody elder to me. But outside influence and an unruly nature did play a role in giving Mama heart palpitations, be it peer or Bollywood pressure.

Especially in the choice of clothes; I have a constant tussle with Maaha Zainab about the appropriate tightness of her jeans, one that can justify an acceptable Muslim dress code. She always backs away and complies with my wishes, bless her, but not before something like this:
Oh. My. Gawd! Papa! This is nothing! You will not believe jeans others girls in my school wear! You’d freak out!
I know, I say. I see them every day when I drop and pick you. Yes, I do want to freak out. But you are a Muslima, you must dress modestly, we all must don modest clothes.
I get an eye roll to the heavens, a resigned sigh and a barb for this. Yeah, you by wearing shorts all summer long...


I think I will struggle as my Mama did with me, balancing the need for my daughter to flourish as a Muslimah. In this new age of eye rolls and O. My. Gawds. And strive to be a ‘cooler’ parent.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mullah Mchungu Looking For A Susheel Girl

I sit at my desk, minding my own business, at peace with the world and, for a change, the world at peace with me. There are no bombs exploding down the street, no lunatics with Kalashnikovs wondering the street taking potshots at everything that moves, no delayed aircrafts with silly excuses of late incoming flights. The house is deathly quiet, the family lost in slumber; only the humming of refrigerator in the kitchen and ticking of two clocks disturb the earthly stillness of this chilly morning here in Sanford, FL; a cup of hot chai keeps me warm. I am well rested, jetlag from multiple flights to multiple cities / countries beaten silly. Why, I am ready to battle the world!

My cellphone rings loud, shattering the peace, startling me. I peer at the number on the screen; a call from Tanzania? Huh, who could that be now?

Hello? There is crackling and whining on the line. Hello? I repeat.

Kisukaali? Asks a quarrelsome, quivering voice. This is Mullah. Sallam aleykum.

Oh, it is Mullah Mchungu; I tense. Now why is he calling? From Dar? This call must be costing him plenty. Is he all right?

Sallam Mullah, habaari, how are you? Is everything okay? Are you in Dar? To my ears, anxiety sounds clear in the tone of my voice.

Aree ghaando, why do you care? Of course I am in Dar. Listen, calls from your end are very cheap, please call me back. This call will bankrupt whatever little charity money I steal from my son.

The line goes dead. I stare at the phone, dumbfounded. What an obnoxious turd! He must get his head examined if he thinks I am going to call him back. In the end, it is I who needs my head examined. Doubts, worry, guilt and curiosity all combine to make me return the call in less than five minutes. And he knows it, knows I will call, what with the trap he has slyly laid out.

Ah, Kisukaali. So easy for you guys to make these calls from the US, nai? It is pure robbery from us here in poor Tanzania. Listen, I need your help. I want a nice girl.

I very nearly drop my phone and scald my tongue from a sip of hot chai I have just sipped; did I hear him right? Mullah Mchungu, for those of you that don’t know him, is an ill-mannered grumpy old man of very mean disposition. The only reason I have anything to do with him is pity for his old bones, the disregard and neglect he gets from his only son Ali who lives right here in Sanford. I am about to lose my temper and yell some choice words at him when he, as usual, interrupts.

Ah, Kisukaali, he chuckles, don’t get your chuddy in a tight twist, I know what you are thinking. I wouldn’t know what to do with a girl, nice or mean, even if you could find me one. That would be a herculean task for my age of seventy-seven, nai?

Well, what the hell! I am convinced the old man has finally lost his remaining marbles. I don’t know what to say; so I keep quiet and we breathe down on each other’s receivers for a moment.

Hello? You still there, Kisukaali?

Yes Mullah, I am confused. How can I help you, exactly?

Aree Ghaando, I told you, nai? I want you to find me a nice girl from India or Afghanistan, or from wherever else you keep hopping around the world all the time. A nice, susheel, Allah fearing, respectable, reasonably educated, reasonably pretty, not too tall...not too short or plump either, English speaking, who respects her elders, obedient and a good cook. Can you do that for me?

I didn’t think these species of humans existed any more but I bite my tongue.

Mullah, I am sorry, but I can’t help you in this regard, I say carefully. I am not in a position of a matchmaker. But out of curiosity, why do you need such a person, what for?

Mullah Mchungu does not respond for a while; I can imagine his face darken in ire and irritation for he is easily prone to such emotions.

What for? What kind of question is this? Why would anybody want a girl like this? For marriage of course! My grandson is now twenty-one. Remember Zain Ali? My son Ali’s son from his earlier marriage? For him. I want to find a nice girl for Zain before he gets a nasty Khoji one in the US or Canada or the West generally. His father is actively looking for a girl for him and I want to disrupt his search. That witch of his new wife is trying to hook up her cousin, another witch I am sure, and I want to stop her at whatever cost.

Geez, am I wasting my good money and excellent disposition for something so bizarre? I need to end this madness pronto.

But Mullah, I can’t really see how I can help. Girls, especially one that fit your criteria, don’t grow on trees. Sorry, I can’t help you. You would be better off approaching many women in our community that do this service. I can find out whom in Dar and will let you know. Okay?

But I don’t want someone from our community, Gaando! I don’t want another Khoji troublemaker! Grumps Mullah Mchungu, would I be butting heads with you otherwise? You can help others but not this old dying man. If Ali’s wife succeeds in her plans, I will surely suffer and I’ll hold you responsible. All I want for the remaining days of my life is to see Zain with a good wife who is uncorrupted with Western or Khoja values, who may serve me a few years so I can get some peace while I die...  

Well, I’ll be damned; whatever is wrong with a Khoji?! This conversation is getting nowhere and I suspect my temperament will hit a short fuse if I continue with this exchange, something my upbringing will not allow towards an elderly person. So I vaguely promise I’ll put a word out to my contacts overseas and see where we get, then hang up.

So any of you who know of a nice, susheel, Allah fearing, respectable, reasonably educated, reasonably pretty, not too tall...not too short or plump either, English speaking, who respects her elders, obedient and a good cook girl, well, you’ll be doing a good service to Mullah Mchungu by contacting me.

Note: For varied reasons, I have replaced actual caller’s name with the character of Mullah Mchungu, a figment, perhaps, of my imagination.