The lead-up to Eid-ul-Adha 2021 had been one marred a little by some state of seemingly indefatigable fatigue, for me. Friday, after school, the end of term. We (my aunt — whose ever-used nickname is ‘Sweetie’ — and I) met my cousin Moosa, brother Saif, and my mum, in the market, and walked home together. Saif determinedly pulling my suitcase; Moosa and Saif walking off, far ahead, and me, rushing to keep up with them.
That day, Sweetie had made lunch for us all: fish and chips. And I had been in a state of simultaneous inspiration (what with those doses of reminders of what my purpose here is, and all, at the INSET day that day) and… exhaustion. Then came Saturday: an at-home day of ‘recovery’. Sunday: outside with the neighbourhood kids, and then my friend Tasnim had come around, to do our Mendhi. When I say that this woman is talented, I mean… Masha Allah, Allahummabārik.
My Didi and her sister-in-law assumed that Tasnim is Egyptian, on account of her (tall) height and stuff, apparently. Why is that relevant to this post? Well, ‘being Egyptian’ is likely to come up again, soon.
On that day, incidentally, I learned again that… appearances can be the most deceptive thing in the world (and, while, closer-to-the-truths of things, perhaps, can be… quite shocking, actually). You do not know someone until you live with them. [Or, do business with them, or travel with them (presumably, for a long time)]. How much social appearances can hide; how much they can feign to show. ‘Social media’, and simple fleeting discussions at dinner tables. A person is not merely how we can present ourselves to be, before various social groups. Each person: like an iceberg, and parts of us, often, hidden beneath waters murky and deep.
Inspired by something I heard from Jordan Peterson [I consider him to be very wise, Masha Allah, although I think a lot of people I know would likely disagree with me on that]: the truth is, all of us are deeply complex and multifaceted creatures. There might be parts of us that we are reluctant to let another soul be witness to; parts that we are known to deliberately ‘polish’ and present, when there are people around.
An ongoing theme, so it would seem, this year: that rift between what things seem, and what they are. I think it is an apt reminder for us to not be afraid. Don’t be afraid: what you see is not necessarily what is. What about all the things that are hidden? What about all those things that Allah may be protecting you from? What about the fact that two snippets, compressions, are never enough to tell the entire picture of anything?
Maybe: a great Du’a to make. “Oh Allah, please may you reveal to me the fuller pictures of things. May I know truths, and may the deceptions show themselves to be such”.
Who you really are, and whom you are presenting yourself as. How big is the gap between the two, do you think? And… why?
Compressions blur out ‘imperfections’. Hide weaknesses and flaws. Lighting, angles, the right sort of camera lens. What, for example, do our closest family members know about us, which others might not? Whom might we be, when we are alone; before Allah, the Alone?
Monday: I don’t quite know what it was, but it felt like depression. Coupled with the heat; nobody else had been here, at home. I think, what helped, in the end, was getting out and walking. Seeing Tamanna the chocolate-lover (or, addict? Here, again, those questions on the difference between the two?!) for those few seconds. Seeing Doli Khala for a short while; her children. She did not let me leave without filling my bag with snacks, a container of Biryani, and a lovely Eid present.
Well, that day I discovered that Aneesa loves Rapunzel. Shaiful does not like football [I just assumed… ten-year-old boy. Football, ‘of course’]. For Eid, I got him a football magazine. He took it, super politely Masha Allah, but he’s not really a fan of football, and, I mean, nor does he ‘have’ to be. “I’ve never really tried it.” He said something along this line. At break-time at school, he just likes hanging out with his friends.
School and structure: now it is summer, and the academic year has ended. We really do depend on structure to motivate us; for a sense of continuity, novelty, the impetus to do many things, and such.
On Monday, it had been the Day of Arafah. I had been fasting, Alhamdulillah, and I had broken my fast with… Biryani! Sadiqul Mama from next door asked me if I were fasting, gave me part of a mini watermelon. Farris, our neighbour and my brother’s friend, gave me two boxes of chocolate for our family, and said “Eid Mubarak”. When I say I love being Muslim…
Another thing: on Monday evening, right before Maghrib, I came outside, and was about to (in my characteristically annoying way) say, “HEY BEST FRIENDS!” to the kids. But then I saw Catherine (Farris’ mum) there, and so I presented myself as being a little more… civilised. Catherine and I had a nice conversation together, though I forget the exact details.
When Sadiqul Mama came outside, I ran inside to get my headscarf. And then I had to pray. Catherine understood: after all, she’s been married into a Muslim family for over a decade. I’m not entirely sure if she herself is a Muslim. She might be: she did want Farris to go inside before Maghrib. Sadiqul Mama took his daughters in; I took Saif in. [Saif: I asked him what his ‘Spanish name’ would be. He thinks it would be: Soyf].
I also visited the new little grocery shop: ‘Fresh Foods’, which had been there for years, has now been renamed, and rebranded. ‘OneFoods’ or something. I think I have this new thing of maybe preferably only buying from shops that do not sell alcohol: supporting Muslim-Muslim businesses, more. From the outside, it seemed like there had been a window sticker on the shop advertising alcohol, but, upon closer look: Halāl non-alcoholic ‘wine’ drinks. I bought a bottle, as well as some snacks for my former neighbour, Des.
I had something to return to Des, on Monday. Des is a priest, currently. He had initially started out, in his early twenties, I believe, as a radiographer. Moved onto midwifery (and served the Saudi Arabian royal family). Also became very interested in theology in his twenties; pursued that too. He had ended up doing missionary work with Mother Teresa in India; had become the patron of a family or two, in India, and brought them here, actually. One of the families has, in it, two little girls, and they see Des as a grandfather. He has, framed, pictures that they have drawn for him, in his house (if I recall correctly. I know: I sound like an old woman in saying this, but still).
Yesterday, I went to return an old document of his, which he had let me borrow, on the condition that I bring it back. A paper about radiography, published in 1977. And: you can tell. In it, ‘W. D. Payne-Jeremiah’ talks about dietary recommendations and such. Custard, Hovis bread, and other ‘quintessentially British’ things.
Inside his flat: a small TV in the kitchen, and bibles in the living room. A big iMac screen in one corner; the most ‘quintessentially British’ of food items. The stews, the puddings and such. I wanted to take some pictures of the paper, to keep, but my phone had run out of charge, and Des said that he would scan them for me. Soon, he is to return to his hometown in Wales. There is no-one, really, here, left for him. Just Mick, a man who Des is always here for [Des basically watched him grow up, I think]: he lives upstairs. My parents too. And a cousin in Wales.
Des said Eid Mubarak to me, and Mick did too. And, upon seeing Des’ radiography paper, Mick turned to Des, and jokingly remarked: “not just a pretty face, are ya?”
Next: Eid day. I woke up, and did not want to get up. Got ready. Eid texts: friends and family. Had some breakfast [using some pears that had quickly been going out-of-date, I made ‘pear bread’: mushed-up pears, egg, honey, and some butter/olive oil. Mix it up, dip bread in it, and oven-bake] with some… ‘wine’. Crackers and dip too. And I ate popcorn on the stairs, while Farris and Saif flipped bottles out on the porch. Flip, flip, flip. [Saif likes to get a very particular brand of water bottle, since they’re better for bottle-flipping, apparently].
Saif and Farris then played some Fortnite together, and, at 12:20 (almost) precisely [Saif told Alexa to set an alarm], Farris had to leave, since he and his parents had plans to go to his grandma’s house, as they tend to do, on Eid. Farris’ grandparents are next-door neighbours with his aunt (I think it was). And so: Eid gatherings at theirs tend to be fun.
Yesterday, I had taken Saif to the farm. Our dad had dropped us off there, and I… had accidentally left my phone in the car, on charge [I think I might be one of the most irresponsible-responsible people alive]. We traipsed through the farm. Bought feed from the little ‘Welcome shed’. Fed the goats. [At first, I had been somewhat apprehensive. But then I remembered, some eight years ago, when I used to volunteer there on weekends, that I had been quite scared, then, too. But then I went ahead and did it, and it was okay, actually.]
I put my hand out flat, with food on it. The goats ate away. They don’t bite: not even the big, aggressive one with the horns. They’re… grazing creatures. Gentle… until the big, aggressive one started pushing the others away. And: baby goats. Masha Allah, how cute!
Eid day, and I had hay on my sleeves. Saif loves animals (and so does Isa) and I love this about them. Saif said his ideal pets are: cats [he has a cat already] and goats, and… a black panther. He would like, apparently, to have a zoo in his garden someday. Insha Allah.
We did see some other Muslims at the farm. In Eid-y clothes. Including a Muslim sister called Fabiha: she had been there with her nine-year-old nephew, Adyan, and her little niece, Noori. She had not been familiar with this farm, and asked if we could walk around together. Adyan asked her if we were friends of hers. I said that all Muslims are friends.
Adyan and Noori joined us in feeding the goats. Noori: practically fearless, not even scared of the big goats. And Adyan: more cautious-seeming. Eventually, he braved himself to leave some food on the top of one of the wooden bars that make up the fences. Noori: rushing to have adventures. On the small field near the farm, my brother ran to climb onto the spider-web climbing-frame. Noori, in her dress, followed him, and then struggled with getting down.
Adyan, as we walked around the pond area, cleared the way of grass, with his hands, for us to walk. Such a gentlemanly little boy, Masha Allah. And Adyan and Fabiha kept encouraging us to go to Fabiha’s brother’s home, nearby, for Eid snacks. And now, Masha Allah, it seems as though Fabiha and Adyan’s mum want for me to tutor Adyan sometimes.
“I don’t care how much poo they do. I’m getting goats.”
— Saif Ahmed, also known to me as ‘Soopaf McDoopaf’
Like how my Didi’s in-laws assumed my friend Tasnim is Egyptian, and not Bengali, Fabiha told me that she had assumed the same about me, yesterday. I think the headscarf style I’ve been going with the most lately (wrap around the head, and then a clip on the side) does tend to be worn by many Arab women (like Wedyan, who used to be my manager at a café I used to work at. She’s from Saudi). Plus, I know I seem quite ‘ethnically ambiguous’ to many, and I have grown to quite like it, because I think it tends to lead to some nice conversations. Plus, I feel like… it helps me to connect with various people, fairly easily. [Am I from your country? Am I not? It’s a mystery, ma’am, and will remain as such, until we have a convo-sation about it].
Farm: goats, donkeys. Buying some plants for Sweetie’s mother-in-law. Donkeys: sometimes, when Moosa wears ‘Arab-style’ clothes, he likes to walk around (jokingly) saying things in Arabic, including… HIMAAR (which means ‘donkey’).
After circulating the farm [I love that my brother and I both love animals, Masha Allah] and hanging out with Fabiha and her family [Masha Allah, I just love people whose essence seems to be… Islam], Saif and I headed off, on a long(-ish) trek, in the blazing heat, to Nando’s: our local go-to water hole. The waiters had been especially lovely, and, on the way there, a white British lady started up a conversation with us, on account of the plants I had been holding. [Three people, yesterday, first at the farm, then on the way to Nando’s, then at Nando’s, sort of marvelled at the cute little tomato plant]. The lady said “Eid Mubarak” to us, and, like Fabiha, had assumed that… my eight-year-old brother is my son. [Fabiha also said that I look like I am eighteen or nineteen…]
Kind hearts, beautiful souls. They really are everywhere, Masha Allah. And that handful of unkind people who will put you into (metaphorical) boxes, and reject you without even knowing you… they don’t matter!
Saif and I ate the usual: quarter chicken, with chips (mine: peri peri). We sat at one of the outside tables. And I love the fact that… this had been such a wish of mine. Before I had a brother, and while he had been a baby, I used to sort of dream about taking him out, when we are older. For Nando’s, for car drives [I mean, we bike-ride together. And I am very much considering getting a Vespa sometime soon, Insha Allah, so perhaps there will also be that] and for slushies [we did have slushies, yesterday, to top our outing off]. And there we were: twenty-year-old sister, eight-year-old brother. I love talking to my brother, although sometimes we annoy one another so, SO much.
Yesterday Saif asked me who my top four favourite football players are. I… hate watching football: I find it one of the most boring and pointless things in existence to watch. Tribalism, men in knee-high socks kickin’ a ball around, and getting very (to employ an archaic literary term, here) vexed about it. But I said Mo Salah [he’s Egyptian and Muslim and thus looks like he could be… my cousin?], Ronaldo, Messi, and… Marcus Rashford [free school meals campaign]. I think sometimes my brother thinks I’m ‘cool’ and stuff: he said we have the same ‘Top Three’, but his fourth would be ‘Virgil’ or ‘Maine’ or ‘Alexander’ or something.
Playing football, however: sometimes I see a football, and ten/eleven-year-old me goes to kick it. [When Saif was younger, I used to make him tackle me. Now, he actually can…] Once, I saw a ball, kicked it really hard, and then noticed Farris looking at me, in what looked like simultaneous shock and amusement.
Yesterday, one of the waiters at Nando’s had been very kind, and showed Saif the way, to go and wash his hands [they let him use the staff sink]. Another waiter called me ‘sister’: he and his friend had been discussing the two Eids. His friend assumed that all Eids are after Ramadan, I think.
As we ate, Saif was his usual self. He saw a fly, on the side, and exclaimed, “STOP LOOKING AT MY FOOD!”
I think a woman who had been walking past maybe assumed he had been talking to her, so I had to… clarify… that my brother had been talking to… a fly.
Walking back: we took the train. I had to put Saif in front of me, at the turnstiles, like how my mum would do with me, when I was younger. We got some sweets from ‘OneFoods’, for later, and went home, to relax a little. [We tried to go to Nanu’s house, which is about five minutes away from ours, but nobody had been home, it seemed].
I tried to have a nap, but we had to go to Sweetie’s. There, she had prepared for us some lovely food, some (Halāl) piña coladas. Black-and-gold decorations. A whole table/fireplace area filled with gifts. Personalised gifts: from Siyana, I received a makeup bag that says, ‘I love my Fuldhi [sic]’ on it. [‘Fuldi’ is an honorific name that means ‘flower sister’, and this is what my younger cousins call me].
At Sweetie’s, Maryam taught me a ‘trick’ that supposedly ‘gets people to fall in love with you’, by the way you look at them. Very… ‘Bollywood’ (another thing I do not like, in general. You want real Bollywood? Have an Asian habee gushtee: you’ve got it in 4D). Maryam tried it on me. She… failed. Then I tried it on her, from afar. Did not work. Scam.
When you are not married, Halāl bromance has got to suffice for you. And… it’s lovely (and hilarious), it really is [outsiders probably look at us and think we’re very, very weird, but… that’s okay!].
At night, my parents, Saif, and I went to a random Indian restaurant for dinner. I really believe that all personality types have a certain unique sort of value to them. My brother loves to mess around, say hilarious things, question things. He describes himself, these days, as something of an “animal nerd”, and I love him very much for the whom that he is.
More quiet, introverted types certainly have their value too. Doli Khala’s daughters, for example: Zaynab is quite outgoing, while Aneesa appears to be more reserved. Their friendship (the type that biological sisters can tend to have) is so beautiful, Masha Allah. They balance each other out: they are both little flowers, Masha Allah. Distinctive, and of value, how they each, respectively, are. I hope I get to see them grow up, over the years, Insha Allah.
Today, Farris (who is basically my cousin, at this point) and Saif and I had our own little outing. I love their friendship too, bringing out different things in one another. Like how (again, to draw on something that I learned from listening to Jordan Peterson) younger kids tend to attach themselves to people further along the developmental curve, and look to them for inspiration; we adults do this too! These boys even look like one another, and Allah has designed these lives of ours, with all the necessary people in it: it’s Qadr, it’s Rizq.
We fed the ducks: grapes, lettuces, nuts [we are advocates against feeding wildlife junk food!] and went to the park, where Saif used his new purple basketball (Eid gift). Saif’s catchphrase while playing basketball: “Kobe”. Farris’: “YEET.” Cycling, we took the long route back. And, as a sister/guardian to them, I know I am half-kinda ‘cool’ you know. And half-very ‘uncool’, since I made them wear sunscreen and stuff.
Farris’ pun, from today, while I Googled whether or not ducks should eat grapes: “That’s grape.” And, seeing the geese: “‘Sup my geese“.
And then, when Saif ‘jinxed’ me, and I was supposed to stop talking until they said my name three times, I said:
“I don’t believe in that stuff. OOOOOOHHHHHH!”
To which Farris said: “We just got outplayed.”
As a big sister/guardian/person-in-general, I know I can be, at times, so “annoying” and “weird”. I don’t know, though: everything here is part-upside, part-downside. I see my ‘annoying’ and ‘weird’ as… interesting, sometimes, amusing (like when Isa and Saif try not to laugh… but they start smiling, and then they do) and spirited. My ‘nerdy’ is… yeah, I care about certain things, and about learning about them. ‘Crazy’… well I’m afraid there’s no helping that…
Finally, ‘The Religious One’. My greatest honour in this world.
We, and our experiences, are not (ever!) mere images. We’re moving, and real, and messy, at times. Unsure, sad sometimes, and all the rest. Love, as I have realised, is not only the mere ‘pleasantries’ of what lust might be. Love is the complete experience: the necessary positives and negatives. And here we are, in Dunya, trying to make it through, in the best way, we hope, equipped (like these boys and their Nerf guns and katanas and such) with
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.