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Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. 2016. 144 pages.

After Trump won the election last November, I vowed to make 2017 the year of more diverse reading. Instead of just picking up my usual go-to, a memoir written by a foodie or a photographer or another creative type, I wanted to read books from different perspectives with a more historical or political focus. When I sat down in December to make my “2017 Reading List,” I added historical names, like John Lewis, and some more modern shakers like Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

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Muslim Girl is about exactly what the title suggests it would be about: a Muslim girl. It’s the story of how Al-Khatahtbeh grew up in a New Jersey suburb in post-9/11 America and how she navigated her faith through the rise of Islamophobia in the United States. I know this is a very touchy subject, so instead of getting into all of the politics of everything, I’ll just tell you what I took away from the book.

Muslim Girl wasn’t the best written book I’ve read, but the subject matter kind of makes the writing seem not so important. In a quick 144 pages, Al-Khatahtbeh takes the reader through her experience of growing up during and after 9/11 as a Muslim immigrant family, both in New Jersey and then briefly back in her father’s native home of Jordan. The most powerful part of the book, however, was when Al-Khatahtbeh first came back to the United States and she sat in the car with her father while trying to decide whether or not she would walk into her New Jersey school wearing her hijab despite the growing Islamophobia.

There were times I wanted more from this book, but I applaud Al-Khatahtbeh on bringing a voice to such an underrepresented group. Al-Khatahtbeh is also the founder of MuslimGirl.com.

Bridget's Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Mandarin Peeling, 101

What you’re about to read is something I've only confided to a group of close coworkers a few years ago, and not again since. It was met with a collective “Are you serious?!” and a quick visit to YouTube, but still the situation was never corrected.

I was never taught how to properly eat an orange. There. I said it. My parents never sat me down and showed me how to open this delicious sunshine treat, or maybe I just missed that day in kindergarten. I'm not quite sure. All I know is I’m the type of person who would actually benefit from those packages of pre-peeled oranges that can be found in the refrigerator as you walk into Whole Foods. That marketing “genius’s” demographic that was mocked on Twitter? Hi. Nice to meet you.

So I don’t know how to eat an orange. But I’m starting small—with mandarins. I still don’t know if I’m doing it right, but judging by the laugh that eked out of my wife when she caught me opening one once, I’m going to go with a big no. No Bridget, you can’t even open this lacrosse ball-sized fruit.

Let me tell you how it goes down:

I start by poking a hole with my thumb into the part where the stem once was. Then I slowly pull the tough outer layer back, and 15 misshapen pieces later, I have a semi-naked mandarin and sweet smelling nectar caked underneath my fingernails. This is where I’m assuming most people just start taking bites. Not me, though. Not this person who never learned how to eat any fruit of an orange hue.

I continue to take the mandarin apart, freeing each crescent from the overwhelming sphere. Not able to see enough of the juicy flesh, I have to keep going. I pull away the bigger strings and then scrape away as much of the white casing as I can. My wife tells me that this skeleton is where all of the nutrients and antioxidants are, but let’s be honest, my immune system has never been that strong and it’s a little too late to start that reversal now, anyway.

Once all the pieces are free and as clean as possible, once I can see a few drops of the tangy juice begin to seep out, only then do I begin to indulge. One piece of mandarin a time, I crush the fruit with my molars and savor the sour nectar. Crescent by crescent, the feast continues.

I’ve seen my wife peel a mandarin in two swift pulls and devour it within seconds. It takes me at least five times as long to eat this palm sized fruit. So long in fact, that my mind was able to describe the process in 450 words. But who’s to say who's right? The quick and efficient, or the slow and determined?

A Love Letter To Diabetes

My darling diabetes,

We’ve come a long way, you and I. Can you believe it’s already been 13 years?  Time sure flies. But let’s face it: we were bound to be together. We can say it was all right there in the stars like a predetermined strand of DNA. Or maybe it was just the way the universe always knew it was going to be, like a quickly arranged teenage marriage. But let’s admit it: our relationship was destiny.

Remember how young we were when we began? Though not too young, I suppose. I’ve seen other family members get swept off their feet at a much younger age than I did. And I’ll admit, I tried to play the field a little before you came around. I flirted with the chickenpox and strep throat, even hung out with mononucleosis for a summer. But those others were just passing through; you were in it for the long haul.

I remember the courtship so vividly. You were always so kind—if not persistent—making sure I was drinking glass upon glass of orange juice each night to keep my vitamin c up, and insisting I never pass a restroom without first using it, even if I had just gone. You even made sure I always got a few extra hours of sleep and that I never ate too much.

Some may say we have an unhealthy relationship and that you may be a little too aggressive at times. Like when you violently shake me out of a deep sleep and force me to stick a needle in my finger at 3 a.m. Or when I go for a long run only to have you waiting at the finish line demanding that I eat all the calories I just burned if I want to stay conscious. Your abuse is no secret to others, either. They can see the scars you leave on my fingertips, my abdomen, my hips.

But even certain dark things are worthy of love, don’t you think? It was you, after all, who started to give my life direction. It was you who helped me to love myself and showed me the importance of treating my body like a temple. It was you, with your unwavering determination to keep me down, that awakened the strength within me to keep me getting up. You taught me patience, a great deal of math, and a tolerance for pain. Nobody has quite taken such an intimate interest in my well-being before you.

We’ve had our ups and downs, and I can only hope that we’re only just beginning, that our relationship carries on this way for years and years to come. I promise to keep being respectful of your presence if you promise to keep being respectful of my undying efforts. Because as bad as you may be for me, the truth is that I just can’t quit you—no matter how badly I might want to.

Forever yours,
Bridget

What I Read In January

Not My Father’s Son. Alan Cumming. 2015. 290 pages.

This is the first book I purchased new from our local bookshop in Hoboken in a long time. I usually either visit The Strand in the city for used books or the Hoboken library to try and conserve some shelf space. But as Cumming’s memoir had been on my list since its publication, I figured it was a good book to add to my shelf between Conrad and Dahl.

The story jumped back and forth between present day and Cumming’s past with each chapter. Truth be told, these are my favorite kind of memoirs. I love when the writer tasks you with trying to make the connections of his life instead of simply telling you his own interpretation.

Not My Father’s Son was a fairly quick read about a young boy who was abused by his father and how that affected him and his family. It was also an emotional story of whether or not blood and bone alone is enough to make someone family. The continuous surprises will have you rooting for Cumming from beginning to end.

The most important opinion, of both my work and my conduct in life, is my own.
— Alan Cumming

Mutant Message Down Under. Marlo Morgan. 1991. 187 pages.

After I spent a month in Australia learning about Aboriginal culture from locals, I went to my favorite used bookstore in Syracuse searching for more information, more stories. Mutant Message Down Under came highly recommended from the man behind the counter and $4.50 later I was walking away with it tucked underneath my arm.

When I first bought this book, I thought it was memoir. After adding it to my Goodreads, however, I found that a lot of readers considered it to be fiction. And extremely racist fiction at that. I’m not sure if Morgan’s walkabout story with an Aboriginal tribe is true or not, (parts did seem exaggerated), but I enjoyed the story nonetheless.

For me, Mutant Message Down Under was a reminder of the importance for both the earth and our personal growth of living simply and within our means. It provided an interesting comparison between the Aboriginal way of life and the Western way of life. Do we really need all of these chemicals to heal or should we be finding more natural remedies? Are we taking the time to listen to the earth and the universe or are we shouting above it with all of our industrial revolutions?

You either have faith or fear, not both. Things, they think, generate fear. The more things you have, the more you have to fear. Eventually you are living your life for things.
— Marlo Morgan

How To Be A Woman. Caitlin Moran. 2011. 301 pages.

I usually just delete the many emails I get and scroll past the tweets I see about the x amount of books this type of person MUST read. But at the end of 2016, I slipped and read through a list of 25 Books Every Woman In Her 20s Must Read. Moran’s collection of life lessons on her journey of becoming a woman was on that list.

I had high expectations for this book. I love memoirs, and I love collections of essays, and I love women. The writing was witty and quirky at times, but it just wasn’t as serious about women’s issues as I would’ve liked. The only part I found Moran to be heartfelt about was her view on abortion.

Otherwise How To Be A Woman was just not my cup of tea. Too many sweeping generalizations about men, women, and society and not enough strength in her own views to get past all the clichés. 

I can’t understand antiabortion arguments that center on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain, and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.
— Caitlin Moran
#WhyIMarched

I’ve had a lot I’ve wanted to say for a while now. I’m not even sure where to begin, or even if I want to begin, though. The person I voted for did not win the presidency. That’s okay. I can handle not being on the winning side. (I am a Syracuse fan after all…)

The person who did win the presidency, however, has awakened misogyny, bigotry, racism, Islamophobia, and homophobia in far too many people. He ignores scientific evidence and is set to sign actions that will put our planet in danger for future generations, our children’s generation. He is set to sign actions that will take away mine, my wife’s, and a lot of our friend’s rights and freedoms. That is not okay.

I struggled a lot with depression in my teenage years when I was coming to terms with who I was. I tried my best to repress my true feelings, tried to live a straight life, and often thought about how it might be easier to just give up on life altogether. And then when I finally found the courage to come out, I was met with private messages from family members who shunned me for living a life of sin, comparing me to a Renaissance prostitute, and pointing me to Bible verses that would help me get my life on the “right” track again.

These were people I grew up next door to, played backyard baseball and kickball against, and swam at our grandmother’s pool with. These were people I considered my best friends, people I thought I would always consider my best friends. And now, suddenly I’m no more than a sinning prostitute who will be burning in hell and whose marriage is somehow less valid.

That is why I “missed so many days of work” and marched on Washington. (In reality, myself and so many others were bused in for 8 hours…on a Saturday…) I marched because these isms and phobias that I have felt firsthand have no place in the White House or in the United States and they have got to go.

I marched because I know what it’s like to be on the outside, to be in the threatened minority. I marched because I know the strength that’s required when one is met with these hurtful comments, and I know sadly, not everyone possesses that kind of strength. I marched because I also recognize my white privilege and instead of basking in it, would rather use my voice and platform for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, my Muslim brothers and sisters, my black brothers and sisters, anyone who feels mistreated and threatened. 

I marched because for me, even as a writer, I believe actions speak louder than words. If Facebook arguments and the sharing of biased news articles behind the protection of your keyboard is your way of voicing your opinions, that’s great. But don’t you dare ostracize me for actually doing something about the causes I believe in.

I’m really glad that so many women I seem to be “friends” with didn’t feel the need to march. I’m glad that you’ve always had access to health insurance and affordable reproductive healthcare. I’m glad you’ve never felt your freedoms, your rights, or your way of life was ever threatened in any way. I’m glad you’ve never faced any kind of discrimination in the workplace. I’m glad you’ve never had your family speak out against your “lifestyle.” I'm glad. I truly am. But instead of bashing those who have felt any of the above, is it too much to ask for you to have a little empathy for your fellow sisters?

And let’s not forget: if you voted in the last election, you have some women who marched to thank for that…