Shadowlake Village – cooperative housing in Blacksburg, VA

meThis winter break, we invited ourselves over to the home of our dear friends, Javed “Hijabman” Memon and Aida Rahim. We’ve also been very interested in exploring their cooperative housing setup, called Shadowlake Village. So here are some pictures and descriptions of the place. I haven’t shared pictures of Javed and Aida’s home – which is beautiful and amazingly well-designed, but I am profoundly inspired by the concept of cooperative housing.

playgroundConsider some examples: When our kid wants to play outside, it’s a production. One of us grownups must accompany her to a playground, or bookstore, or library. In Shadowlake Village, Javed and Aida know all their neighbors. What do they do? They tell their kid, “Go outside and play.” They know all the other kids. They know the older neighbors whose windows look upon the playground, and who have at times hurried down to the playground to help a kid who’s hanging from the bars.

homesJaved and Aida need not own a lawn-mower. A lawnmower is a shared piece of equipment. They eat together at the club-house two nights a week. It’s not mandatory, but it’s amazing. Two nights a week, they don’t have to plan or shop for dinner. That is heaven.

clubshareHere’s the club house. It can be reserved for special parties (like Eid or Christmas dinners).

There is a large, very pretty dining area, adjoining a meeting area.meeting

Next to the dining area is an impressive industrial kitchen, complete with industrial cooking area and industrial dishwasher.

kitchen

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Next to the dining area is a cozy library where you can check out books, and people who work from home can work or have meetings.

playroomAnd of course there is a cute little playroom for the children.

 

What Javed gets really excited about is the volunteer sign-up sheet and the workshare. Everyone signs up for tasks and duties, and gets things done around the village.

signup

workshare

 

 

 

rules

game room

In the basement, there is a game room with pool tables, table tennis, foosball, air hockey, and exercise equipment.

I had the good fortune of bumping into his neighbor, Donna, who was one of the first residents and founders of Shadowlake Village. We had a most informative chat. The basement includes a wall that records the history of Shadowlake Village.

history

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lettuceJaved is czar of the agricultural area, and this is where he shines. He grows a variety of vegetables, and orders unusual seeds for the garden, such as red and burgundy okra.

 

There is quite a bit of open land. There may be goats here soon. me & Javedgrounds

 

 

 

 

Javed’s yard features a pond (with frogs and fishes) and a bee-hive (he has trained to become a bee-keeper – those box-like stacks are the hives).

hivepond

 

Philosophically and politically, the concept of cooperative housing is extremely attractive to me. I recommend you check out your local cooperative housing and consider it for yourself. Shadowlake Village may have some available homes at this time.

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Proud American

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The big unsaid narrative buried in a naturalization is the one that is supposed to say I’m moving up, baby! When you naturalize, the question frequently in the minds of fellow Americans is, boy, just how relieved are you to be like us? How great must it be to be at the top of the world?

Naturally, we celebrated by eating at the Chinese buffet. Raihana flitted in, and chirped excitedly, “I like this place because it’s very familiar. It makes me feel safe.” The familiar is usually much safer. Except when the familiar is tied up with ransom kidnappings, bombings, and armed burglaries.

I am bitter that Pakistan has to be that place that, whenever mentioned, causes Americans’ eyebrows to be raised. “Will you be safe when you are visiting your parents?” or the more politically correct, “Oh, that’s so interesting.” When mango season rolls around, my parents tell me, they cannot enjoy a good Anwar Ratol without a heavy sigh and, “Ah-ha, my Shabana doesn’t get any of these mangoes.” When I sit in a clean, mahogany-furnished courtroom, and am courteously ushered to my seat by White people, I sigh, and think, if only my Lahore friends were able to get through the day without wondering if there was going to be a riot on the street, if only my mother was able to rely on electricity all day and all night, and if only the police were better paid and not corrupt so my parents hadn’t had to experience armed burglaries three frigging times. I am happy for what I have. I am bitter for what my possible, un-immigrated self does not.

I asked Raihana (because I share all my angst with my 8 year-old daughter), “Do you think I did the right thing by immigrating?” She finished a mouthful of clam as thoughtfully as you can chew a mouthful of clam and said with characteristic bluntness, “There are some things that are good, and some that are bad. It’s bad because you had to leave your home-sweet-home” – I smiled – “and it’s good because now you’re in your” – she raised her eyebrows and opened her eyes wide, and raised her index fingers in exaggerated air-quotes “now you’re in your home sweet home” and of course we ended up laughing.

America is home now. This is not a treacherous or pro-imperialist thing to say. This is about picking Raihana up from school and exchanging pleasantries with her teacher, about knowing how to deposit checks at the bank, about spending Sunday afternoon at the public library. As “Intisar”, one of my research participants told me, “it’s just life, we just go through it.”

So America is home. And Pakistan, despite the fact that my heart breaks to say it, is less home every year that I spend away from it. Despite the fact that the cold, foggy mornings I walked to classrooms at the Convent of Jesus & Mary school in Lahore are still alive for me, electrically alive, the reality of Pakistan has grown up without me.

Am I proud of this? Would you be proud of leaving your deepest memories behind, like the protagonist in Memento? Would it be anything other than traumatic to let go? 

If I feel pride, I should describe it as a class-based pride. When I stand in line at airports, and we glance at each other’s passports, and mine is a royal burgundy (that would be my U.K. passport) and yours might be a green (Zareena Grewal describes the impact of her “haughty navy blue vinyl”). It’s similar to the way we glance comparatively at each other’s outfits, and I shrink a little in my Old Navy sweats when I stand next to a woman in Chanel.

Even Raihana recognizes this. She went on to say, “Mama, it’s a good thing you immigrated because America is a good country” and then she said “it’s a richer country, and aren’t you happy that I don’t go to a really poor school?”

Ultimately, class defines many of our choices. Today, many middle class Pakistanis invest hard-earned savings into their children’s American education, as they themselves watch the terrorists become more fearless and the authorities more and more ineffectual. They hope that they are investing in tomorrow, and many are teaching their children the wisdom of jumping from a sinking ship.

Am I proud I jumped? Seriously? I have deep shame and embarrassment when I speak to Pakistani academics like the ones I interviewed who dedicate their days to making things better. I could have been in their position. Does holding a navy blue passport make me better than them? Maybe it makes me more of a coward, in some ways. I hold in deepest respect my Pakistani family and friends who make their way to work in searing heat, and without the benefit (often) of airconditioning or even fans, those fathers riding Kawasaki motorcycles with five children in school uniforms, those mothers walking to their house-maid jobs so that they can put daal and onions on the table for their children, those children in their grubby khaki school uniforms trying to focus on schoolwork in 110 degree heat.

Yes, I admire much about the United States political system, and I find personal relief in its friendly individualism. Yes, it is home in many ways, and I am glad that my daughter has the benefit of a public library system of stupendous power and resources, that I have access to almost every research database I need, and that everyday life – despite the pockmarked roads of Champaign post-snow – is very, very easy. That ease of everyday life is, in part, what drives much of America’s immigration narrative. Once you’ve tasted this ease, the availability of clean public toilets, the highway system, the scale of life, the size of homes (sorry, Britain), the variety of climate within its borders, the relative emphasis on customer service (have you tried complaining about gas, electricity, and telephones in Pakistan?) – most of us can do nothing but fight tooth and claw to hold on tight. Is there pride in that fight? Some would say there is, the pride of agency, the pride of rejecting a fatalistic victimhood (no, the two don’t necessarily go together), the pride of self-empowerment, the pride of self-respect, the pride that rejects a meek embrace of whatever comes. No que sera, sera in this pride.

But as I fill up on cheap gas, enjoy daily showers, and print reams and reams of journal articles, I know, too, that this pride rests on the backs of billions who do not enjoy daily showers or even potable water, who have outdated textbooks in their schools, and who walk miles and miles in unforgiving weather to work.

Citizen of the world

calvinAs a critical scholar of citizenship and pluralism, I can’t really celebrate almost anything. Nerds are a somber and disconsolate breed. Still, passing my U.S. citizenship test as I did this week gives me pleasure. Let me tell you why.

  • First, I now share the same citizenship as my husband and child, so we can stand in the same queue on arrival into the U.S. If the political climate in this country takes a serious downward turn, I won’t be so fearful of becoming separated from my family.
  • Second, my daughter now sees that I am not an unalloyed foreigner but am Pakistani, British, as well as American. Like Lola, I am collecting a collection.
  • Third, I am from a test-and-rote based culture but I have not had the chance to practice my mad cramming skillz in a very long time. Cramming the 100 questions forced me to put aside work on my article on Muslim American women and dance, but it was a highly edifying process. For example, I now know that the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are the longest in the United States, and that a male citizen of any race can vote. This changes my perspective on life in a significant way.
  • My only complaint is that my interviewer at the Chicago office did not ask me all ten questions and did not test me on three sentences each for English writing and reading. She only asked me 6 questions – and yes, she asked me for one of the two longest rivers and I told her both, hoping to get some kind of extra credit. I was actually hoping she would ask me for the names of Native American tribes so I could go through a beautiful list of names – Hopi, Inuit, Cherokee, Choctaw, Apache, Sioux, and so on. I’m glad, however, that I was tested on my knowledge of the Speaker’s name, though I resent not being asked about my local Congressman, Illinois Senators, and our governor, especially after I had managed to stop getting them mixed up. The interviewer gave up after having me read one sentence in English, which is patently unfair.
  • She asked me if I had a middle name. I said no. This is kind of a sore point for me. Despite all my marks of cultural assimilation, I have only two names. I feel like a rapper – Snoop Dogg; Ice Tea; Vanilla Ice; Shabana Mir – instead of a scholar and writer with a respectable series of three names. At the very least, a middle initial that didn’t stand for anything except appropriate rhythm would be handy. One feels so much weightier with three names.
  • Maybe this is why my interviewer asked me if I wanted to change my name. I was a little stumped. Was citizenship contingent upon my response? I took a chance and said no, since I am in the illustrious company of Omid Safi and–okay, that’s it.
  • Notably, my interviewer asked me if I’d ever been arrested, convicted, or addicted to drugs. I decided to forego all mention of coffee and the occasional allergy medication and continued to say no.
  • She asked me if I’d ever been a member of any terrorist organization. I really should mention academe because this is a pretty terrifying institution.
  • In response to at least 4-5 different questions, I expressed my total and eager willingness to bear arms and hurt other people for the United States, whether in the army or under civilian command. Knowing as Svend White does how terrible my aim is, I would be concerned for any army or civilian command that handed me weapons, but if the United States doesn’t mind, well, why not.
  • I should lodge a vociferous complaint about the Immigration and Naturalization Service because I was forced to sign my name on the absolute worst passport photographs I have EVER had. I am hopeful that they won’t stick it in my passport because this is a mug shot. I look obese, puffy, and ill; I have stringy, blond-streaked hair hanging over my forehead; and the Walgreens photographer instructed me specifically not to smile, so I look like I’m ready to fall down dead. If this picture ends up in my passport, I’m going for my fourth nationality.

cartoonNaturally, my family and I celebrated U.S. citizenship by escaping to the Pakistani neighborhood on Devon Street in Chicago, pigging out on Karahi Chicken, picking up halwa puri and gajar halwa, and praying my afternoon prayer in the basement musalla at Tahoora bakery.

Like Diogenes, I aspire to cosmopolitan ideals, and like Anthony K. Appiah’s (see Cosmopolitanism), I am an American citizen who is also Pakistani and somewhat British. I say ‘somewhat British’ because I catch myself whenever I describe myself as ‘British’ and recall a professor who scrunched up his face with ill humor saying, to the Zambian students at Cambridge University: ‘She’s about as British as I am Zambian but she’s got a British passport.’

I want to ask that professor exactly what he meant by British – since he was White, a social-justice-educator type who does – ironically – inclusion in education. He does inclusion in education, though: his inclusion is focused on particular student populations, not on interlopers in the British bodypolitic who were born in the U.K. and happen to have very good English. So I want to ask him, and myself, and my daughter, where do we draw boundaries and borders and lines? Which ones serve a good purpose? Which ones can we cross? I have just crossed another border, in terms of my official paperwork, but I can’t help asking myself if I have actually also put myself behind another boundary, line, demarcation that divides me from humanity.

Cramming my way to America


griffin

Tomorrow I take the U.S. citizenship test and interview.

It has been an edifying process, of course. Among other things, I have discovered my old cramming-for-test skills are still as bright and shiny as they were when I took my B.A. examinations in Lahore. Meet the student who memorized the entirety of ‘Macbeth’ so she could respond to any questions about ‘If it were done when ’tis done’ or ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,’ and likewise for ‘Hamlet,’ ‘The Rape of the Lock,’ and much of ‘Emma.’

For the woman who could memorize Harold Pinter’s plays, factoids about the number of Congressional representatives in the country, a Senator’s term, and the Bill of Rights are fairly manageable. Still, wish me luck!

Aint no power like the power of the people

The world is in ferment. With popular protests in Egypt, Tunisia, the United States, and Libya calling for an end to the old world order, members of the old guard are shaking in their shoes. But so are those on their payroll, and the old guard gets to be in power because they have a lot of people on the payroll. Consider government employees and others who derive a degree of stability in their lives from a hierarchy and structure kept in place by the powers-that-still-somewhat-be. The choices are not straightforward ones for the haves, have-nots and have-at-least-somethings.

The corpse of Gaddafi and the London riots are cautionary notes that force us to consider, coolly, the implications of popular movements. For the conservative with vested interests, these are perfect illustrations of the need to keep Gaddafis in power. Many’s the time I’ve heard, growing up in Pakistan, people proclaim with a sigh, “Well, at least under Martial Law, you know you can go to work in peace – or stay at home under the curfew.” The power of the people is an amazing and terrible thing. The thing about the power of the people is that it contains within it, concealed, the power of the mob. How can leaders and activists in justified causes restrain and control the mob – the mob which seeks thrills and blood? The mob whose main goals are to fire weapons, slash, burn, beat and ease the burning of the soul? We struggle with the facy that, even at the Holy Pilgrimage, a site of intense spirituality, there are souls trapped in the carnal, who take the opportunity to grope pilgrim women in the throng circumambulating the Kaa’ba.

I watched the horrific video of the toddler in China who was run over by vehicles twice, and lay in the road as passers-by simply – passed by. Watching something like that does a terrible violence to one’s soul so I refrained from watching the grainy video about Gaddafi’s death. One’s assumptions about humanity suffer a kind of death when you see people passing by a bleeding and mangled toddler. It is an event that simply does not fit within my meta-narrative of humanity. It demands a revision of who we are, what this world is, what the nature of human life is, what a collective of human beings is. We know what happens in gangs of kidnappers and criminals, but this is not what is supposed to happen with “normal” people in the street. Who are these normal people? What is in their minds and hearts? What can we predict when we step out in the street? What do people do if they are not being watched by law enforcement, by authorities, by powerful individuals – and if they are unaware of surveillance cameras? And what happens when we are subjected, constantly, to the power of authority, to the power of the gaze, to the power of surveillance, and rarely to the power of reflexivity?

Though I didn’t watch the Gaddafi video, I did read the narration – the cries of “We need him alive” alongside the beating and gunshots. Once power has been shaken loose, the euphoria can barely be restrained. William Golding in “Lord of the Flies” depicts just such a terrible spiral downwards into savagery in a group of schoolboys who are stranded on an island.

For some, the brutality of the mob represents the true nature of humanity. For others, it represents the brutalized who have been crushed and restrained in their manacles so long that their natural impulses are almost irretrievably distorted and mangled. The answer, we hear, is to KEEP them crushed and structured. The answer, we also hear, is to liberate them and to allow the true nature of humanity to emerge freely.

I don’t pretend to have any answers. But neither First World powers, nor the IMF, nor the dictatorships of Egypt, Libya and China, nor Wall Street can escape the responsibility for their bloodsucking clamp on most of the world’s human beings by pointing fingers of accusation at protestors. Must we choose between lives of dehumanized penury under the power of a few or dehumanized terror under the power of many? Surely the choice cannot be so stark. Surely, with centuries of experience, reflection and soul-searching humanity can come up with better options. Surely we can look to the sources of altruism, inspiration, generosity, and wisdom among us, as we have done in all ages before. The power of the people is more than mere brute power – more than the power to snatch, grasp and overthrow. The power of the people lies, too, in the strength to build, the wisdom to grow, and the power to give. Let us, as individuals and collectives, draw upon ALL of our power.

Extremist women want in

Excerpt:

Al-Zawahiri should have known. Extremists draw upon the fiery of soul, the passionate, who are desperate to act, who thirst to do something. Try telling a person of this nature that s/he must stay at home, picking up after children and washing up pots and pans. It doesn’t work for the men and it won’t work for the women.

My latest post is up at Religion Dispatches.

Pakistani Harvard student refuses to receive award from US Ambassador

As my brother in Pakistan tells me, Pakistanis are talking about Pakistani Harvard student Samad Khurram, who declined to receive an award at Roots Academy from U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson in protest of US policies and actions, such as the bombing in Mohmand Agency.

He’s been in the papers and all over virtual Pakistan. It may seem like a great deal of talk for a mere gesture. A number of um, patriotic Americans may even find such gestures infuriating. I believe, however, that gestures such as these may vent some of the great frustration that the less powerful in the world feel toward US imperialistic policies. Such gestures enable them to hold their heads up high again for a bit, and, – well, – keep the peace a bit longer. Thank God for these gestures, at this moment in time. I don’t expect that anyone who should pay attention is paying attention to them, unfortunately.