I want to simultaneously exercise my craft and mind in collaboration with that of others which are foreign but exciting and ignite a raging curiosity in my growing, vitalizing human experience. How can I be otherwise?
The elastic product of this intention needs to be uninterrupted. The reality is that most of my friends are dead people who’s journals and diaries extend themselves to the spiritual survival of many who read with their minds, bodies and hearts.
Is not the intellectual life a vital form of spiritual survival? Does it not answer the most important question we must answer; that of morality?
As I walk upstairs the same smells greet me from when I was but a girl. Memories of my time in a pleated skirt, white blouse and most likely pink or white hijab. I can see my friends and I giggling in sujood while Anse (teacher) reprimanded us later.
I also recall:
The trailer classrooms and how I used to think there were most likely tarantulas under there.
The silver cluttered wudu wash station.
The tiny gift shop downstairs; I used to buy dates and gifts for mom with my lunch money savings.
The chandelier in the prayer area adoring God’s 99 names. Al-bary is the first I always see.
The pistachio and beige carpet, smelling something of a mix between feet, masala, and tears.
Today she travels here as a revised woman who giggles in prayer no longer. She goes through the motions of preparing for prayer in the same spaces but with a reinterpretation of the world around her, with an appreciation and deep pursuit to understand the Natural, with the Natural before her.
Today Mom said that when she used to hurt me and I would fight back as a child that she was supposed to hug and hold me instead of hurting me more. She said she feels that’s how she lost me.
She said her dream is to be a teacher and help children because she regrets what she did to her own.
She said she sees me in one of her students and cries.
“everyone got a favorite sweet every woman got a recipe she is baklava backbone strong foundation layers thousand layers”
Literature and Baklava? Yes.
From an early age I gravitated toward performance arts. In elementary school I was encouraged to submit my poetry to a publisher and present at a school poetry cafe. In middle school I joined choir and tried out for a few plays. Although I never made the cut for any productions, my heart admired the acts and I gleamed on my own over how much I loved the art of words and stage. It was a form of bravery to me. The courage it takes to share a deep sorrow in a magnanimous way? How could I free my soul from the prison that is my body? For me, I choose mediums of poetry & paint.
During my second year at University years back I enrolled in a performance literature class which explored forms of communicating prose, poetry, and literature through voice and body. At the end of the quarter I selected a poem by Suheir Hammad, titled “mama sweet baklava” which, when read, is a visual and emotional expression of the fortitude Arab women value. The process of making baklava is used as a metaphor to illustrate how the challenge of repression only extends itself to fortitude and beauty in the delight that is baklava.
Ingredients: 1 pack of Phyllo dough
1 bag of walnuts (or any preferred nut base)
Two sticks of sweet butter
1 bottle of orange blossom water (maa zahr) *(Be careful not to get maa ward – rosewater)
Half a lemon (we’ll only need a squeeze)
Filling Options: Ashta based | 1 cup of milk:2 spoons of semolina (We’ll be using 3 cups of milk and 6 spoons of semolina)
Walnut based | walnuts + 1 tablespoon sugar + 1 teaspoon olive oil
Directions: 2 Hours Before:
Allow Phyllo Dough to thaw at room temperature on counter.
Crush walnuts using a blender or crusher – Do not crush into fine grains. Pieces should be broken up and still somewhat chunky.
Mama’s Walnut Baklava Recipe:
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. Walnut Filling Option: After crushing walnuts and tossing with a spoon of sugar and a teaspoon of olive oil, set aside and unroll phyllo dough. Separate into two equal piles. Depending on your pan size, cut stacks to fit the pan but be sure to cut so that ends of dough climb up the side of the pan.
Ashta Filling Option: After following instructions below, pour ashta over the bottom phyllo layer on the pan.
3. Lay walnuts over the phyllo dough in the pan and cover the top with the second stack of phyllo dough. Pat lightly over the top so the surface is smooth.
4. Using a sharp knife, cut horizontal lines across the pan and then diagonal lines so that you create a diamond shape.
5. Melt two sticks of butter. While hot, pour over the phyllo dough making sure to soak the open cuts.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is crispy and golden.
7. Pour the hot atr over the baklavaimmediately after taking the it out of the oven.
Mama’s Atr Recipe:
My mom has always used a Turkish rakwee or ibrik or coffee decanter. She fills around 3/4 of it with sugar and soaks the rest of it with water. Proportions are up to you.
Atr = sugar + water + 5 minutes on medium heat while stirring + squeeze of lemon when it boils.
Mama’s Ashta Recipe: Stir 3 cups of milk + 6 spoons of semolina in a pot on medium- high heat (level 7/10 is good) until contents begin to solidify and bubble. When bubbling begins add maa zahr to the pot. Mom says the more you add, the better. Taste it out!
I love my baklava hot with a cup of dark coffee. 10/10!
Enjoy the smells.
“The walnut almond home
of her where she sits back with strong black coffee and finally tastes herself rose water sweet slow delicious”
Thursday night was peaceful. Thinking about it makes me smile.
Forgive the brevity and partially chaotic reflections. This may seem like a laundry list.
After work I went to a knitting shop where I opened my sock book and learned the English cast on method by heart for the Egyptian pair I’m working on. There I tried some new lotion and covered my hands with some chai and green tea scents. So good! The English cast on allows the sock opening to be elastic. It seems sturdy enough too so that it doesn’t over stretch and break. An old couple and their parents sat beside me and had some ice cream – talking about their grandchildren’s sporting games and discussing The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald.
“Does anyone know where The love of God goes When the waves turn the minutes to hours?”
A friend and I had plans to meet at a gym to sign up for a membership. The deal was affordable and we took a tour of the facility which we both admired for its simplicity and creative corners and stations. That took us about half an hour before we both drove to Irshad Learning Center for Dua Kumayl.
Prayer began and we had our noses stuck in the booklets for the 30 page prayer. Hot tea and sweets were served. Three different men passed over the microphone every ten pages and I heard different intonations and pronounciations. It got me thinking about how my Madani Homsi Syrian dialect permeates my understanding of the world around me – and especially God’s word. I’ve been going to the prayer consistently and feel more integrated. The ladies there are incredibly welcoming and even offer me tadig – the crisps from the bottom of a rice or potato dish. This is not only a sign of deep respect but it’s delicious. Keeps me coming.
A few of the brothers and sisters went to the room upstairs to play Taboo because they didn’t understand the lecture in Farsi. It was a good time to bond with the community.
Later, I asked my friend to watch me pray because I worried I was performing it incorrectly before God. As everyone left and people were doing dishes I did a practice prayer. I was doing everything correctly except the dua before rukoo in the second rakaa. And the tahiyat at the end were being said slightly wrong. She watched me make wudu (ablution) and we sat and she said ‘it’s about saving water.’ ‘It makes sense,’ I responded. We discussed wiping vs soaking.
The center was closing so we drove out to her home. There I did more practice prayers. I met her bird, Cutie, who allowed me to rub my finger on her head. She usually doesn’t let people do that when they first meet her apparently. As I practiced more prayers she sang and squeaked. My friend says that Cutie really admires me. We laughed. ‘I admire her too,’ I said.
We made hot cocoa and ate chocolate covered strawberries. We offered Cutie some tut Farangi too. While she climbed in her large cage we watched a lecture series together. Every five minutes or so we’d pause and discuss our thoughts.
I realized a friendship like this is vital. I remember my religious youth groups in Chicagoland and Syria and how I used to dress and behave. Skirts, loose shirts, simplicity, and the priority of God first. It comes back easily. Bringing those qualities back is deeply beneficial and noble. Even in simple changes of attire make a large difference. Being with friends who appreciate, understand and even practice these qualities is a blessing.
The night came to a close and it was time to go home. All I can say is that it was a much needed night. Before leaving she ran upstairs to get some books I had asked for and that she wanted to share with me.
One of the few things we discussed between pausing the lecture series was about how I ended up in this entire world of exploration. ‘I can barely explain it with words, but I feel guided alhamdullilah,’ I said. It was easy to cry.
She looked at me and smiled while Cutie sang her song.