A Day in My Life – 2006

While living abroad, email provided an efficient, quick, and inexpensive way to stay in touch with my mom. So when we had electricity and when we could get the internet connection to work, I would fill her in on how our lives were passing so far away from her. I wrote from there, but didn’t realize at the time how much my words meant to her. After she passed away, I found a folder in which she had saved our email correspondence. She had printed each email and placed them in order. Reading through it now feels like a step back in time. One time my mother had asked me to write to her the details of how I passed a typical day. Reading what I wrote to her reminded me of so much. So I am posting the entry here as a reminder and an example of a day in my life…

Saturday, April 22, 2006

My days are fairly routine. Before sunrise I get up for my morning prayers. It is such a peaceful time when all is quiet and still dark, a gentle glow slowly fills the sky. I wake Sarah to do her prayers. Then she gets ready for school. The City School has been such a great experience for her. I am so thankful that her first school experience has been so positive and supportive. I give her cold milk and cereal for breakfast and give her an apple, chips, and sandwich for lunch. She carries a large thermos on a rope with her for water. Water is an absolute must, it is so hot here and her ride on the van (which has no AC) is about 1 hour there and 1 hour back in the hot sunshine.

You would think that the van ride would be a bummer for her, squished tight between so many children for such a long stretch. But her favorite time is van time. She has whipped all the other riders into shape. She is the leader and they pass the long ride with games, laughter, jokes, and silliness. Her nickname on the van is Makri, which means spider. They call her that because she has no fear of insects, spiders, or flies that happen to trap themselves on the van. While others scream, she carefully takes them in her hand and helps them to find their way back out to freedom.

While we wait for the van, we walk about in the garden. The sun sits just above the horizon, shining, but not yet suffocating. The air at this time is so cool and fresh, better than any AC could ever be. I pick jasmine flowers for Sarah to carry in her pocket. I don’t’ think I could ever convey to you the extremely delicious smell of our jasmine flowers. They are just small, simple, white blooms; but their sweet smell is so strong that each time you walk past the bush your nose fills with their delightful odor. When I place one close to my nose to smell it, I feel compelled to place it there again and again at each breath, wishing its sweet smell would never fade.

If the finches in their cage are particularly noisy, then we know that they need fresh food and water. It is so lovely to watch them after you fill their bowl with fresh seeds. They all swarm down onto the bowl perching on the edges of it and jumping right into the center to dip their sweet beaks into the food. When we put the fresh water in, we have to jump back because they begin to bathe right away splashing water all around the cage. It splashes out on us if we are standing too close. Sarah gets on her van at 7:00 am.

Yusef sleeps right through Sarah’s departure for school. He looks so dear and little laying on that large bed alone. Sometimes it seems he is so big and I wonder where the time went…he is 4 1/2 already. But when he sleeps, I can see the pudge on his fingers and toes still there. I lay down close to him and smell the top of his head…better than jasmine. I take this opportunity to rest before he decides to wake up. While we rest, Sana and Ahmed get up and eat breakfast and go off to their respective jobs.

When Yusef begins to toss and turn about on the bed, I know he will be waking soon. If I am particularly sleepy, I ignore his rolling about and keep my eyes shut. He is so sweet, if he sees I am still sleeping, even though he is in the mood to wake, he will just lay there and wait for me. He lays his head on my stomach and plays with his writing board or looks at the pages of a book. When I feel sufficiently guilty that he is so patiently waiting for me to wake, I throw off my laziness and hug him close. He gest so happy to see me awake and complains that it took me too long to get up this time.

After he washes his face and brushes his teeth, he picks out his clothes to wear. He is a very picky fashion child. His belt will match the slippers he decides to wear and the buttons on the shirt that he chooses. He likes to wear collar shirts buttoned to the top and tucked into his pants or jeans. When his attire is set, he must comb his hair and then he is ready to leave the room. He explores the garden, checking all the flowers and their smells, pulling some branches apart, stepping on a few ant hills, digging a few minutes in the dirt, etc…while I make up some breakfast.

At this time Ami is busy cutting veggies or sitting watching a few daily dramas that she enjoys. Ami loves vegetables. Everyday the veggie man (subziwala) pushes his cart down our street calling out, “SUBZIWLA…SUBZIWALA…” Neighbors come out, including Ami, to buy veggies from him. His rates are a bit elevated, but we don’t mind considering he has to push that cart around, up and down the streets in the hot sun just to bring veggies to our doors. Ami likes to buy cucumbers and peel them and put them on a plate salted for the kids.

Our masi, Razia, has come and left by now, having done the morning dishes, swept the floors and mopped them. She also cleans and irons some clothing items of Sana, Ahmed, or Ami. I wash all my clothes and the kid’s clothes myself. Sometimes Razia also cooks for Ami. Ami likes spicy food. Razia takes 1200 rupees a month for all that work…imagine, that is only 20$. Razia has 5 children (four girls and one boy) all under 10 years of age. Her husband does labor work in construction.

Sometimes Ami eats with Sana and Ahmed and sometimes she has not eaten yet, so I give her some tea or fried bread to eat with veggies. Lately she has days that she simply does not feel like eating and has to make herself eat. And other times she eats fine. Yusef likes to eat fried bread with egg but these days we have not been having egg from fear of bird flu. So he just eats his fried bread plain and drinks some milk. Sometimes he has apple or banana or cereal…whatever his mood. I eat tea! I put our breakfast on a tray and carry it into our room. Then he comes in from outside and knocks on our door as though he is a student asking permission to enter the school. I become the teacher.

This is school school time. We practice numbers and letters or tell stories and color. There are other students in our class, imaginary. And they each have set personalities. There is Salman, who is very naughty and I often have to call the peon to come and take him to the Principal. And Salman’s sister, Kathy, she always manages to fall and hurt herself to the degree of bleeding. I end up calling the peon to take her to the nurse. Kaynat and Sumbreen are pretty good girls and then there is James, the son of Samurai Jack (the cartoon character). James does everything well and fast. But Yusef has to be the best in the class. And when he falters or fails to concentrate on what I am saying or asking, I need only to say, “Ok Salman, perhaps you can answer this question for me…” And Yusef quickly focusses and says, “No, I know it.” And he gives the answer.

School school time is great fun for Yusef and for me. I enjoy seeing him learn things. The learning is slower than it was with Sarah. She was very fast. But I’ve heard that that’s expected with boys. Still we enjoy it. I feed Yusef while he learns. After school school, I head into the kitchen to make up some lunch or dinner. Some days, I dust. Some days, I clean our room -it is very dusty here…like Oklahoma. And every few days I have to wash clothes. Sarah’s uniform is white with a burgundy trim at the collar and sleeves. Cleaning whites by hand is a challenge.

At 3:00 pm, Sarah arrives home from school. She tells me about her day and eats her lunch. Then, she sets to her homework or takes a nap. If there is a cricket match on TV, she sits on the sofa and watches it pretending to do her homework simultaneously. She’s cricket crazy. Cricket is a very fun game, actually. I never used to think so. I thought it was so boring compared to baseball. But simply due to Sarah’s enthusiasm for the sport, I have also taken an interest in it. And then, one cannot ignore Yusef’s love for it either…probably also inspired by Sarah. When we first arrived here, Ahmed had bought a plastic cricket bat and ball set for Yusef. Yusef barely understood what to do with it. But when the matches started and Sarah began giving the matches so much attention and explaining them…then, suddenly, Yusef took interest in his bat and balls. He insisted I play with him all day. His batting improved so much, that we needed to graduate him from a plastic bat to a real wooden one. But all the wooden bats were made for larger kids, like Sarah’s size. So his father took a large bat to the carpenter and had a few inches cut from it and all the edges smoothed. Wallah, the perfect-sized bat for Yusef.

He surprises everyone who sees him play. They ball to him expecting him to hit a little hit and he thwacks it over the roof. One day some of Sana’s relatives came. They brought their little boy, 10 years old. The little boy was very sweet and well-mannered. I told Yusef to go and play cricket with him. They were playing in the front yard. That little boy balled the ball to Yusef and he struck it with such force that it hit a glass decoration frame we had hanging outside the door to our house. Needless to say the frame broke to pieces. But what was amazing was, that without our knowing it a lizard had been taking a snooze behind the frame (we have numerous lizards here…like newts…and they are pests; we have to struggle constantly to keep them out of our house) and there it was flat on the ground with a piece of the frame glass right threw it. Yusef became famous among Sana’s relatives for his batting skills after that.

Our evenings pass rather easily. Several times a day, we hear the call to prayer echo throughout the sky. I love that. So we never forget to do our prayers. Not that I ever forget anyway, these are my favorite moments of the day. I feel the presence of God around me at all times. I am so grateful for His gifts, this world, the air we breathe, the beautiful sceneries, my husband and lovely children…I don’t think I could ever properly thank Him for so much bounty. This life is not simple or easy and often very painful but here I see so many others suffering in ways that I cannot even imagine…seeing their troubles leaves me thankful for my small problems. So the best way I find is to remember Him as often as I can and whisper my thanks again and and again…

Sometimes, we are busy going to some gathering or other at a relative’s house, dinner , or a visit, or a celebration of some sort. There are many weddings coming up and so functions and celebrations here and there are a nice diversion. Sometimes, I sew pants for Sarah or Yusef or shirts or scarves…Sometimes, I read or chat with my sisters or you. By the Grace of God we are fine here. God Willing you are doing ok there. I think about you so often…I thought you might enjoy these details of how we pass our days. I love you…hugs and kisses and prayers…

It’s Saturday

The garden as seen from my mother's bedroom window
Her view of the garden

I sit in the quiet. I like the quiet. It’s Saturday. The air is chill. The sun hasn’t reach the garden yet. It teases from the rooftops of neighboring homes. In the summer it shines down directly over the garden rendering it impossible to sit and challenging to breathe. This morning I swept the patio, brushing dust and stones back into place. I even swept the pavers. Then, I filled the feeders and came inside. I sat on her sofa to wait for the birds to come.

A sparrow perched on a back yard bird feeder
Sparrows were her favourite


I want it to look lovely for her. She always liked things tidy and in their place. Now I have to keep it that way, don’t know when she may be looking. I don’t want to disappoint her.

The sparrows live in the Oleander bush outside the kitchen window. I should call it a tree actually, or perhaps just an enormously overgrown bush. I don’t think the sparrows care what I call it. They call it home. They live there because she kept the feeders full for them every day. With a steady food supply, only a fool bird would live anywhere else.

A large pigeon and two small sparrows sip water from a green cement bird bath
Pigeons and Sparrows share water

The pigeons and doves also come. They are a bit large for the feeders but that doesn’t stop them from trying to land there. They flutter their wings and twist to perch themselves, swinging the feeder slightly till they gain balance from its imbalance. Gently swinging, they dive their beaks into the seeds, eating a few and cascading a shower below for their comrades. The foragers amble over the patio, pavers, and stones pecking at the seeds that fall between. The garden is busy and full of life when the birds come. No wonder she loved to watch them. It’s a show whose theme remains the same but not a single action repeats. It’s difficult to pull my eyes away for fear that I’ll miss something.

I wanted to see them today…in the quiet. Do they know that she is gone? Do they feel her absence like I do? The stories from now belong to us. Her story has gone to print, no more edits or redos. And those of us left behind Chinese whisper the details.

Body Surfers

A Radius Maintained

Waves crash to shore in a plume of white foam
Incessant waves crashing to shore

We are all body surfers. We skim the surface of life, striving hard to stay afloat or ride the waves. Every so often one foot or the other dives down to the base for the purpose of propelling ourselves up and forward for another dizzying stint. We live in the illusion that we are moving forward. In reality, the currents pull us back, a radius maintained. The most important questions remain unanswered. Don’t you want to know? Are you afraid to see?

We persist, slowly consumed by an inexplicable emptiness. Some of us fill the emptiness with the pursuit of possessions. Each item, once acquired, provides temporary relief. Dilly, dazzle, and dance until the luster fades. Repeat. Some attempt to escape the emptiness by engaging in drug enhanced frivolity. Unwittingly perpetuating cycles of abuse, loss, and pain. Perceptions dulled to be sure, but can we ever really hoodwink our souls? We may make fools of the self, but, we can never really fool it.

It is aware. It is a nagging sensation of something missing or not quite right, a light cloud hovering over every accomplishment, an ever present sense that there must be something more to this life. If you sit quiet long enough, the soul speaks to you. So we make lists and rush from goal to goal. We shade the soul with shiny new frames set to trivial:trivial vision. I want to break the pattern. I want to hear. What will my soul tell me?

beautiful purple flower with green leaves at the base
Know me. Know You. Know all.

Stand firm.

Press my feet to the base.

Know me.

Know You.

Then, know all.

Be daring…and join me!

My Mother

Ready to go for a drive

My mother passed away December 16, 2017. A piece of me passed away with her. She was 84 and very ill. I knew that the day was coming. It comes eventually for us all. Still I didn’t want it to happen. I can’t explain how I feel. I can’t seem to think beyond the tears. I catch my breath and totter at the precipice. Did I love her enough? Did I do enough? All the mistakes I ever made stand blatant, sore, and suddenly obvious to me. Missed opportunities reveal themselves with a new, painful clarity. I drive past a beautiful, neighborhood park. “We could have taken mom here. We could have come early in the morning and strolled the path and watched the children play.” My son and I go to the mall. “We could have brought mom here more often. It could have been a weekly excursion.” But I had been at the time so self absorbed, purely caught up in the busy this and that of life, caring for mom, raising my son, driving to and from school and karate, and working in between. I had felt breathless with it all, struggling to maintain our world so fiercely that I failed to live in it.

My son sits with her

She sat long hours in her bed watching John Wayne movies and Walker, Texas Ranger. She often dozed in the middle and forgot what she had seen and would watch things again and again. How much time she spent alone, staring at that black box while I rushed around doing what? I could have sat with her then. I should have sat with her then. My insides ache from that which I did not avail. And now she is beyond me, outside my touch, a series of pictures and videos and moments lost. And so a piece of me has passed away. The womb I grew in, was born from, and laid my head upon isn’t here for me anymore. And it hurts so deeply.

She liked to have her hair braided

Several times over the five years we lived together, my mother had purged her belongings. Each time she weaned her possessions down, throwing away things she didn’t need, books she didn’t want, furnishings that she thought would be a burden for us when she passed on. So many times she had done this that I was certain there would not remain much for me to sort through at all. It gave the things left behind more value, considering they had ‘made the cut’ so many times. In a file folder, I found a binder. Inside, carefully printed, 3-hole punched, and placed in chronological order were every email I had sent to her as well as her email replies to me between June 2006 and September 2010. At the time I lived in Karachi, Pakistan. Calling was expensive and we relied on email for keeping touch. She saved all those words, a recorded conversation, separated by thousands of miles and occasionally gapped over months or weeks.

Our garden was her favorite place

I read them now, hungry and searching, hoping to find her -to complete her story…or mine. I find that I did tell her how much I loved her. I told her in every email. And she told me things, too. I found reference to her illness in July of 2009. I had no idea she would eventually die from that. That that scan was the first indication of the very illness that would take her away from me. She mentioned the results of a CT scan that showed she had an enlarged liver and an enlarged aorta with no clogs. She only said that the doctor had started her on a cholesterol medication. That small reference made and glossed over like so many others had no import then. Only now do I see the value of it and the imminent possibilities consequent of it.

Always a smile ready

Looking through our correspondence is a walk through time, moments frozen, much like photographs, glimpses of who I was then. I remember being that person. I’ve changed. She got to read me then and see me now. I’m so thankful that I’ve been here these last years. I’m grateful to have served her and for all that my being here has given me. I’m sad because I think in a way that I may have failed myself. I comfortably maintained and avoided digging deep. I missed opportunities to be with her because I feared what of myself I would see there. And now she is gone.

Flowers made her smile