Comfort and connection in a college class

A student of mine is caring for an aging parent. When she struggles to complete her work, I tell her not to worry that she couldn’t complete the reading because she was up all night. “We’ll talk things through – don’t worry about it,” I tell her.

In class, after discussing texts related to domestic violence 😑, – good times! – I asked if there was anything I could do to support her. She thought about it. Then she said that she was isolated, and had no friends who were caring for aging parents. Just being able to talk to us in class, to people who understand, who care, is worth more than anything else.Even pouring herself into reading up on rape laws pulls her away from her struggles.

Teaching doesn’t just do one thing. We don’t just transmit information, explain texts, or critique ideas. Teaching does many things. Teaching-learning spaces support hearts, lift up spirits, connect people, make the day pass easily, allow us to laugh together at apologetics, puzzle over historical parallels, and roll our eyes at the irony of US politics. Things make sense.

If things don’t make sense, the human connection makes it better. I’m here, listening to you. I’m here, talking to you. It’s an electric connection, and it gives life. Without that connection, the teaching-learning space is dead.


Monday memories of my father

abbu and r.jpeg

Monday memories with my abbu. From my and my daughter’s visit to Pakistan in 2007. Three people have seen him in dreams in a good state – one of them even quite an amazing connection with the person’s real life. والله أعلمُ  ما شاء الله  سُـبْـحَـانَ ٱلله

As my ammi and I were saying on the phone, you really never do know where a person is with Allah; you can never judge from their apparent life. Abbu humbles and awes me after his passing.


Inertia and fear in a brown body

My (White) husband was shocked, outraged, and really angry about my experience at the Neighborhood Pub. The thing is, though, that this was a weirdly hilarious experience, but not a terribly strange one. I imagine that my friend who wears a burqa in Chicago probably has many more much worse stories to tell.

This reminds me, too, of how my impressions of cities, towns, and neighborhoods are quite different from those of my White friends. “It’s such a fun town!” my White friends said about our midwestern college town. Ugh, I thought, as I lugged my brown hijabed body around the limestone buildings.

I find that I am not that person who just gets up and goes off to explore cities, towns, and neighborhoods. I grew up belonging in Lahore and then Islamabad. I didn’t have to explain, or to be prepared. (Well, now, social class is another story because Pakistan is a ferociously classist place, and we dangled frantically on the edges of a new middle class while growing up). But here, I find that I often run out of energy to explore, energy of over-being, to reach out across those suspicious divides. It makes me unwilling to get out. To wander. To see the world. Because the world sees me back.


Where nobody knows your name


Michael Young, After School

Today I was walking down the street in the bitter cold, and as I passed a restaurant, I thought to myself, why don’t I check out this friendly- and historic-looking neighborhood establishment? It’s a homey diner-type pub restaurant in our neighborhood, right on a busy street, with signs and smiley faces outside urging drivers to stop by, to enjoy some fish-and-chips and burgers.

I’m a fan of keeping business in the neighborhood. So I happily stepped out of the cold into the restaurant, thinking, maybe I’ll eat lunch here, and it’ll become a part of our busy lives, and we’ll become community fixtures, and eventually the locals will be like, hey Shabana, come on over and take a load off! So what happened at the university today?

Suddenly, time stopped.

A group of people sat at the bar, in the middle of an upbeat conversation, – which suddenly came to an end.

Four pairs of blue and brown eyes turned upon me, like in the movie (you know, Get Out) and stared fixedly in a mix of puzzlement, confusion, and low-key hostility.

Children of the Corn turned their eyes toward me at the door, as if directing laser rays at me, as my mind raced what should I do?

OMG, I thought stupidly, they know. They’re in a sci-fi movie and they see the data MUSLIM and ACADEMIC and CULINARY BIGOT and DESI beep-beep-beeping along my face. They know I hate burgers and I don’t drink. No beers.

Except there’s no way they know me. They just looked at me, and I was not welcome.

(Maybe I’m misreading the room). The woman behind the bar stared at me. No “come in” or “hi” or “how’s it going” or “can I get you a table.” Except for the four at the bar, the restaurant was empty. It was 1 o’ clock, so lunch should be available. Responding to the silent interrogation, I said cheerily, “I live in the area, and I thought I’d check this place out.”

The blond at the bar moved slightly toward me, and said with a markedly absent smile, “O-kay.” Her tone said: I don’t want you or your business, but I can’t say it. 

The silence continued. Looking for something to do, I glanced down and checked out the menu. Yup. I could eat here.

Except there’s no way in hell I’d ever eat here.

                                             Henry Farny, The Unwelcome Guests (1887)