Building Bridges

building bridges

I met my wife, Azza, when I was employed by the American University in Cairo as an Instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, a position I held for seven years.

When Azza and I started going out, she owned a successful catering and food vending business in Cairo.  She’d been trained by an Italian chef named Samantha.  As soon as Azza became proficient in the kitchen, the two of them started making money together, and eventually Azza went “rogue,” breaking away from her mentor to open Azza’s Italian Kitchen, a one-woman operation that helped her earn some really good dough.

In 2015, I left Egypt, bringing Azza with me to the United States.  After a month or so of looking for work, I landed a position in San Antonio, Texas, my birthplace and a city with a cool, international vibe.

&&&

Less than a month ago, after scheming and dreaming and filling out scads of paperwork, Azza opened up a home bakery—Zoozoo’s Sweet Treats (and More)—in accordance with the Cottage Food Industry laws of the state of Texas.  During the intervening weeks, we have done a few events and have made a pretty good start to her little kitchen enterprise.

Last Saturday, we sold Azza’s baked goods at a first-Saturday-of-every-month farmer’s market that had sprouted up in the parking lot of Marbach Christian Church, located on Marbach Road in southwest San Antonio.  We threw our tent up in the middle of a huddle of other tents and then covered a couple of tables with delicious, homemade edibles.  Right next to us, Ayse, our Turkish friend and a neighbor, sold some of her paintings and a few lovely ceramics that had come over with her from Istanbul.

During the course of the day, the church’s pastor, a fifty-something fellow named Darnell with a greying beard, came over to welcome us to the market and then chat.  He was a loquacious fellow with a bass laugh that came directly from his core.  He told us about the halfway house—he pointed at it across the street—that his church was sponsoring.  Then he told us about all the other initiatives—for instance, he acquired and repaired old bicycles for those in the area with no other form of transportation—he and his parishioners were involved in.

My wife and Ayse are both practitioners of Islam.  Ayse quite conspicuously covers her hair with a hijab, so the pastor, quite surprisingly, greeted her with a “hamdullah,” an Arabic word that means “thank God.”  A more appropriate greeting would have been “Salaam Ahlaykum,” but we were all thrilled that he’d even made the attempt and were surprised that he knew as much Arabic as he did.

When I told him that Azza was also Muslim but that she didn’t cover her hair, he seemed a touch baffled.  “So why do Muslim women cover their hair anyway?” he wondered.  Then he followed that up with, “And why does one woman choose to do so and another one not?”

We explained that it was all personal preference and that the idea that all Muslim women were required to wear the hijab was a misunderstanding of Islam and its precepts.  It was an example of a misconception that many have about the religion.

&&&

As you might guess from what I wrote earlier, Pastor Darnell is a busy man, so one thing and then another kept pulling him away from our tent; however, after tending to whatever needed looking after, he always came back to where we’d set up shop, and we eventually invited him to pull up a chair and spend the day with us which he ended up doing.

One of my favorite pastimes these past several years has been educating Americans about the Middle East—I lived in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt for about a decade and a half—and the predominant religion of the region.  Given the current climate in America, where fear of “the other” is being used for political purposes, this pastime has become a vital mission.

After learning that I am a published writer and interested in the arts, Darnell started presenting ideas about projects he and I might collaborate on.  For example, he wanted to know if I would like to help him organize poetry readings.  For another, he asked me if I’d like to help him edit some of his writings.

All these ideas sounded interesting, but they prompted me to make a proposal of my own.  I told him that I thought we ought to organize a kind of “mixer” that would bring Muslims and Christians together for the purpose of building interfaith bridges.

He liked the idea a lot and we exchanged telephone numbers.  In my mind’s eye, I can even see Azza and I doing a little presentation on Arabs, Islam, and Muslims at his church.

&&&

The idea of bringing people together during the Age of Trump excites me and fills me with hope.  Speaking of hope, I think everyone should check this out as a way of becoming a bit more informed and enlightened.

Wrinkles

pexels-photo-479462

I have this just-out-of-bed ritual that I follow every morning.  After successfully finding the floor with my feet, I begin making my way through my dark bedroom toward an unlit bathroom.  My eyes have adjusted by the time I reach the threshold that separates the place where I sleep from the place where I clean myself.  My hand knows exactly where the light switch is located without me needing to engage my eyes in the process of finding it.

My fingers touch the switch and I think, let there be light and then it comes, bright and jarring.  After narrowing my eyes, I step toward the wall-mounted mirror, located above the large countertop and sinks, and look at myself for a few seconds, turning my face to the right and left as I do so.  I also step toward the mirror and away from it to see myself from a variety of vantage points.

I try not to make any judgments about the face that looks back at me.  I mostly take note and catalog my observations.  I also try hard not to feel emotional about the version of Troy Headrick I happen to see on any given day.  I wish to remain detached, as cool as a cucumber or as cold as scientist.

It doesn’t take an observational genius to understand that the Troy I see now is quite a bit different than the Troy I saw twenty, ten, or even five years ago.  This is neither surprising nor disturbing.  This is simply the way things are going with my face, the direction my looks are headed now that I am firmly ensconced in middle-age.  I do not fear these changes or feel angry about them.

There is more grey hair, a bit more sag, especially above and below the eyes, and a general appearance of fatigue that expresses itself in a number of ways.  These are all signs of deterioration and demise.  Some mornings, when I’m feeling especially truthful and detached, I’ll whisper, “Troy, you know where you’re headed, don’t you?  Your face is providing you with a road map.”

&&&

This past weekend, for the first time in quite a long time, my wife and I visited with my cousin, her husband—a man who rarely speaks, but when he does open his mouth, something worth hearing is certain to come out—and their precocious but reserved ten-year-old son.   We arranged to meet them in a Mexican food restaurant in the town where they live.

When I meet members of my extended family—I wish it happened more frequently than it does—I have this habit of blurting out that I’m older than I used to be (as if this fact wasn’t already perfectly clear).  This past weekend, as could be expected, within five minutes of us sitting down together, I said something to the effect that I’ve aged a lot recently, and I immediately felt as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders.  It was the sort of liberating feeling one might experience when sharing a weighty secret that one had long kept to himself.

My cousin, an educated woman who works in healthcare, seemed older too.  The 800-pound gorilla at our lunch table was the fact that we hadn’t seen each other for a while and now we were all taking stock, making mental notes, about all the ways each one of us had changed since our last get together.

After we’d ordered our drinks and were waiting for our meals to arrive, I launched into a mini-speech on how well my father seems to be aging.  I based this on the fact that he refuses to slow down and never complains about any of his health challenges.  Nor does he ever act as if he wants others to feel sorry for him.  I went on to say that he has apparently made peace with the idea of his own demise and noted how he was able to talk, without looking even a touch morbid, about his own death.  I put forward the hypothesis that the greatest challenge we face—this is especially true of Americans who have this unspoken belief that they are going to live forever and look beautiful in the process—is to become comfortable with our unrelenting decline.

Americans are a funny people.  They are capable of uprooting themselves and moving on to new and different jobs and new and different places, but they have a lot more difficulty dealing with changes in their bodies and appearances.  Many seem to view the ageing process as an affront, and they fight it, every step of the way, tooth and nail.

&&&

I don’t mind physical changes near as much as I mind changes in my emotional well-being.  I hate to see a waning in my overall sense of excitement about life.  When I was a child, I woke up feeling as if each day was going to be a kind of epic adventure.  I delighted in small discoveries, like the finding of an insect crawling across a stretch of concrete.  The blueness of the sky was utterly astonishing and could fill me with giddiness.  Tying a kite to a string and then sending it five hundred feet into the air was like the coolest thing I’d ever done, the coolest thing anyone could ever possibly do.  The nights were magical.  I was delighted by chasing fireflies at dusk and then falling down into the grass and looking up into the growing darkness.

Where has that sense of magic and wonderment gone?  I can do these same things today, but the experience isn’t nearly as intense and awe-inspiring as it once was.  Perhaps I’ve seen the blue sky too many times already and am too familiar with the scene and the color?  Have I become jaded or tired or something else?

I have recently vowed that this is the thing I need to work on most in myself.  I need to find a way to recapture that delight.  But, how, precisely, does one go about doing so?

That’s the million-dollar question.  This year, I hope to find the answer to it.  If I do, I’ll be sure to blog about it here.

 

Strange Fruit

strange fruit

I am married to a Muslim woman from Africa.  One of my closest friends is a gay man who was born and raised in a small town in flyover country.  I am an avowed socialist.

Question:  What do I have in common with my wife and good friend?  Answer:  We are all outliers.  There is something about each one of us that is “abnormal.”

I’m not the sort of person who feels comfortable thinking in this way.  What, after all, is “normal”?  Even using the word, to describe myself and others, is troubling.  I don’t think about “normality” when I think of human beings.

Suddenly, though, America is changing.  Islamophobia, homophobia, and hatred of “liberals” is on the rise in many quarters.  So, even if I don’t like labeling folks, there are plenty of my compatriots who have no problem doing so and then shunning (or worse) those they think of as foreign, deviant, or un-American.

That and the country is certainly more divided than I ever remember it being.  I keep hearing pundits say that “tribalism” and “tribal” thinking is on the rise.  Actually, tribal thinking is really an oxymoron.  Tribalism and primitivism are the ultimate knee-jerks and have almost nothing to do with sober consideration or rationality.  Primitivism is a celebration of some mythic past, some simpler time, a time that never truly existed except in the imagination.  (When I hear radical Trump supporters say that they “want their country back,” I think I’m hearing a kind of primordial wail by those who believe in fairytales.)  I also think of snowflakes and those who suffer from some form of persecution complex.

Trumpism is really an interesting mix of primitivism, nativism, and fascism.  Too many pundits use the terms “populism” and “populists” when they describe the movement and its adherents.  Populism is a euphemism.  Populism sounds innocuous, and the reason many use it is because they are afraid to admit that there is a large fascist movement afoot in America and elsewhere.  By referring to fascism as populism, we feel more assured that there is no monster lurking under the bed.  The use of populism is us sticking our heads in the sand.  It’s our way of whistling past the graveyard.

Not long ago I asked my gay friend if he was ever afraid.  His answer went something like this.  I used to not be, but now I don’t know.

Could gays ever be scapegoated?  Well, we have seen scapegoating in the past, haven’t we?  We’ve seen genocide in the past, haven’t we?  We’ve seen lynching and cross-burning and bombing.  We’ve seen almost everything in the past, haven’t we?

For those who think such horrid things couldn’t happen here, I’d like to remind them that this sort of ugliness has already happened right here.  Just Google “lynchings” and then click on the “image” link.  It would also help if such skeptics went to the nearest bookstore or library and checked out Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, penned in 1935.

Read the novel and then turn on the TV.  Watch for a day or two and then get back to me.

 

The Total Unfairness of Conservative Thinking

albright

In my last blog I wrote about a Twitter exchanged I had with @SamGipp, a Baptist “preacher” who thinks that it is his Christian duty to hate Muslims, political progressives, gays, lesbians, immigrants, and “perverts”—a catchall phrase he likes to use to describe anyone who doesn’t look like him or live like he does.  He would not use this word to describe a president who gets off on stomping on the downtrodden or having sex with porn stars or grabbing women by their pussies or participating in extramarital affairs.

Sam Gipp lives in a very twisted world and practices a very twisted logic.  According to his way of thinking, Republicans cannot be perverts, no matter what sort of behavior they engage in.  It’s only political progressives who are capable of perversion.  If I think about his reasoning for a moment, I see that the idea of perversion is not tied to the sort of acts or behavior a person engages in; instead, it’s about who it is that is acting.  If a political conservative engages in sexually predatory behavior, then such behavior is acceptable because of the perpetrator’s political affiliation.  As we all know, conservatives are godly people and thus incapable of behaving wrongly.  Godliness, therefore, nullifies the predation.  This is circular reasoning at its finest.

On the other hand, if a progressive acts predatorily, then no one should be surprised because liberals are just inherently sinful people.  In other words, political conservatives can do no wrong because they are children of god, and even if they do stray away from the straight and narrow, it’s just because the devil made them do so.  Progressives, on the other hand, can do no right because they are devils themselves.  Because liberals are inherently evil, everything they do becomes sinful.

Politicized evangelicals of Sam Gipp’s sort have really shown, in a multitude of ways, that the Bible has become subordinate to the Gospel of Conservatism.  And in the age of Trump, the Gospel of Conservativism looks frightening like the Gospel of Authoritarianism or The Gospel of Fascism.

By the way, Madeleine Albright, a woman who knows something about politics, international relations, and fascism, has just written a Book entitled Fascism:  A Warning.  When asked, in a recent televised interview who she was trying to warn, she spoke up very clearly and said, “Americans.”

Gipp, the asshole, has been tweeting again and he’s really got my dander up this time.  He sent out an obnoxious and hateful tweet about Muslims.  The gist of his posting is there is no such thing as a peaceful Muslim and that they should be wiped off the face of the earth.

Does he really think that Jesus would be in favor of his followers committing genocide?  I’d like to ask Gipp where, in “The Good Book,” genocide is advocated.

Being married to an extraordinarily kind Muslim and having lived among them for approximately fifteen years, I responded to Gipp by tweeting, in effect, that his hatefulness would help him find his way to the front of the line of those being ushered into hell.

I know this was harsh, but sometimes harshness must be met with harshness.

He then responded by telling me that unless I had nail holes in my hands and feet, I had no business telling him who would, and who would not, be going to hell.

I responded by asking him to show me his nail holes—I actually asked him to post photos of them.  I said that since he always seemed to pass judgment on others and thus enjoyed playing at being god, he surely had the marks of Christ on his body.

It’s been two days now and he hasn’t responded.  I think it’s because the cat’s got his tongue.

 

Weirdness of the Weirdest Sort (Or on Being a Trump Supporter)

clown

I really want to remain civil.  I really do.  I try hard.  But in this age of Trump, an era when so many celebrate irrationality, it’s hard to be patient and humane.

I am on Twitter.  I like tweeting but probably not as much as your average sparrow does on a typical day.  I certainly don’t tweet as much as America’s douchebag president does.  (By the way, that’s probably a first for me; I don’t ever remember using the word “douchebag” in anything I’ve ever written.)  I do have one rule of thumb while on Twitter:  I try to send out things that are not stupid or nonsensical.  This puts me automatically at odds with Trump.  He seemingly prefers to tweet dumb and absurd things.  I recently heard Eugene Robinson, well-known columnist at The Washington Post, say that Trump is certainly venal and probably senile.  That sounds about right.

Lately, I’ve gotten my back up against the evangelicals.  Many claim to be supporters of an immoral and sadistic president while simultaneously (and piously) referring to themselves as “children of God” or Christians.  At least they’ve got the “child” part right.  Many are childish, and they see Trump as their “daddy,” the one who’s going to protect them against everything and anything that’s scary (think caravans of scary foreigners coming to America).  The question is, who’s going to guard them against daddy.  Being children, it’s likely they haven’t gotten that far in their thinking.

When I was a boy and going to church, I naively thought that a person was automatically good because he or she would spend a few hours each week warming a pew in some house of worship.  Now that I’m a man, I realize that some of the very worst people warm pews on Sundays.

All this has been a roundabout way to mention that I recently ran across this Baptist preacher who tweets some of the most bigoted, ludicrous, and dishonest stuff you can imagine.  His Twitter handle is @SamGipp.  In a recent tweet he misquoted George Washington as saying, “When government takes away citizens’ right to bear arms, it becomes citizens’ duty to take away government’s right to govern.”  I thought that sounded weird—like some kind of NRA slogan—so I looked it up and found that the authenticity of the quote had been disproved.  I pointed this out to Gipp, and after doing so, even more people who’d seen his tweet began to like and retweet it.

gipp false quote of washington

This is just plain old weirdness of the weirdest sort.  It’s odd that adults, when presented with evidence that contradicts something they believe in, would continue to cling to that which was clearly shown to be crap.

Perhaps it’s a new form of derangement, some kind of Trump Syndrome?

Doodles & Poems

Combing

Poems are like
Things you find
On the beach.
They’re misshapen but usually
Sparkle in sunlight.
Some are alive
And scuttle about.
Others are dead but have left
Beautiful
White
Skeletons.

888

Visitors

Some days the poems knock
On your front door.
You go to open it
And greet them.
You get lots of visitors
On such days.
The knocking persists
Even as you turn off
The lights.
The knocking persists.
The knocking persists.
The knocking persists.
Other days
You wait.  No one comes.
You feel
Lonely
Forgotten
Dead. Maybe you are dead?
How would you even
Know if you were
Or weren’t?  Who
Would give you
The news?
When no one comes
You aren’t for sure
If you even
Are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Bukowski Currently Teaches English at Starbucks

charles-bukowski
The Real Bukowski in All His Glorious Madness

Last Saturday I met Charles Bukowski at a Starbucks in a Barnes and Noble bookstore in San Antonio, Texas.  He was arriving just as my wife and I had finished up our coffees and were gathering our belongings to leave.

Because he could see that we were getting ready to take off, he walked right up to us and asked, “Are you finished here?”

“Yes,” I answered as I stared at his acne-scarred face and misshapen nose—the bulbous proboscis of a wino.

“I ask because you’re at my favorite table, and I want to claim it if you are leaving.”

“You can put your stuff here if you’d like while we get ready to head out.  By the way, has anyone ever told you that you look exactly like Charles Bukowski?”

“Charles who?” he asked gruffly.

“Never mind.”

In fact, he was a spitting image of the renegade poet-madman-drunkard.

Because we’d bought books and had to put on coats and scarves to gird ourselves against the cold, it took us awhile to get our stuff together.  During this period, a conversation began to blossom.  “So you come here often?” I asked him.

“Every Saturday.  You see, I’m retired, but I give private lessons on the side to people who want to learn English.  Right now, I’m working with three young girls from Djibouti.  I always teach them at this particular table.”  After saying this, he leaned in to me and whispered, “Their English is very weak.”

Azza, my wife who speaks Arabic as her mother tongue, is not really a shy person, but she sometimes has a hard time inserting herself into a conversation between Americans when they are speaking a hundred miles an hour.

“I bet they’ll learn very fast, though,” I told him.  “They will probably be better at learning our language than we would be at learning theirs.”

“Maybe.  But who would want to learn whatever it is that they speak?”

“Ask them to speak their language to you and really listen to what they say.  I bet what you hear will sound beautiful if you open your ears and mind.  It’s my opinion that more Americans should learn a second language.”

He kind of frowned and then said, “So many people from crap countries want to come here.  They are just flooding in.  They have to learn English because it’s the lingua franca.”

I could feel the hair stand up on my neck.  Only days earlier, Donny Trump, the Hairpiece, had called African countries “shitholes.”  I had the feeling this old fart was likely a Trumper, and a part of me wanted to snarl.

“By the way, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, Azza.  She’s from Africa.  Her country and the people who call it home are beautiful in many ways.”

“I’m sure it is and that they are,” he said a touch snarkily.

“I think Americans should be a little more careful about judging others.  Don’t you think this country has its share of problems?” I asked him.

“Compared to other places, America is el paradiso,” he said, suddenly shifting to a foreign language.  “By the way, where, in Africa, is your wife from?”

“Egypt,” she said, finally asserting herself.

The man’s face suddenly changed and he started speaking Arabic to her.  As it turns out, he was born in Egypt and lived there as a child.  He asked her where, in “Misr,” she was from, and she said Cairo.  He, as it turns out, had been born in Alexandria.

From that point forward, I faded into the background because the language shifted to Arabic.  At one point, he asked her what her religion was and she said Islam.  He then called himself a “Yehudi,” which means “Jew,” and explained that this fact had played an important role in why his family left North Africa.  He shared some stories about how they had been victims of religious persecution under President Gamal Abdel Nasser.  Hearing these personal accounts saddened my wife.

We ended up talking until his three students showed up.  They were sweet girls.  Before they arrived, we found plenty to laugh about—the irony of an Egyptian Muslim and Jew meeting at the same table in a Starbucks at a Barnes and Noble bookstore in San Antonio.  We were reminded how small the world really is and how big it is too.  And how much we have in common despite our superficial differences.