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Khan el-Khalili

© 2010
Until you have experienced Khan el-Khalili
Smack dab in the center of Al’Qahira, Cairo you have not lived
The heat in the summer and the excruciating bone cold of the winter
Your fi ngers damp and cold to the touch in December and January
And still sweat dripping from your forehead on those July days
Situated at one corner south to Bab Zuwayla and west to Azbakiyyah
Bordered on the south by al-Azhar and on the west by Muski Market
The original courtyard lying midway between Sikkit al-Badistan
On a narrow street, you will fi nd el-Fishawi, the Cafe of Mirrors
And you too shall see a refl ection of yourself
A meeting place for local artists,
Frequented by the Nobel award-winning Naguib Mahfouz
You should shop in the area north of al-Badistan and to the west, where prices may be lower
Better deals for gold and silver to be found west of the Khan
And you will fi nd brass and coppersmith markets
Khan el-Khalili, souk, old city Cairo
Dating back to 1382
Many coffeehouses, much street food, Turkish coffee, shisha (water pipes)
In mango, peach, apple, vanilla, lavender
Smoking on the streets in those coffee houses, on pillows, with friends
Al-Hussein Mosque, not far away
You praying with the many, with the hundreds
Bent in prostration, head on concrete
Many heads on concrete, with black marks
Black, grey and smoky tinted circles embedded on those aged foreheads
Al-Azhar University, for Qur’an and Islam
Midaq Alley, a novel by Naguib Mahfouz set in an alley in
Khan el-Khalili
A target for terrorism
Contemporary and historic
Smells adored, colorful, cramped
Shopkeepers calling you
Spices, papyrus, oils, gold
A tourist trap—indeed,
Cartouches of your name, fabric, pots, household needs
Deep shadows and bright sunlight, cold and heat
Winding alleyways, groups of men huddling, maze-like
A bizarre Bazaar
A warren of winding, twisting, battling stalls and carts
In the heart
And of your heart
Bargain shamelessly
Fixtures for sale, mosaics and brass, oriental carpets, perfume shops with fl oral rose
Jasmine and Neroli
Soothing, relaxing, deep and warm
For your soul
You with a scarf, sweat slowly starting to build under the fabric
Slowly losing the fabric, the pain, the warmth
Watching the other women, some with and others without
You still with
Is it time?
To watch as the fabric slides down
Off of your head
And into your backpack
This scarf
Your scarf
A keeper of your warmth
Your protection
Dear Khan el-Khalili
Answer her
In your maze
Give her direction
Do not lose her dear Khan el-Khalili in your deep and unforgiving labyrinth

White, Texas

© 2010
Dar ‘al Hickma— a commune outside of San Antonio, Texas between
Austin and the River Walk— sat beside a little town named Blanco,
which means white in Spanish (and this town lived up to its name);
the average customer at the corner store had white skin, freckles, red
hair, and wore a cowboy hat; there was only one restaurant on the dirt
road that ran through the middle of town and it happened to be Italian, run by Mr. and Mrs.
Angelo; I had my fi rst waitressing job at this
dimly lit family food place, but I had problems— I could not serve
alcohol because my religion told me so— each and every time a customer came in and ordered a
glass of Chianti, I would have to run and
fi nd Mrs. Angelo and ask her to serve my wine; Mrs. Angelo was not
happy about this, she was not happy with me—she did not like the rag
I wore on my head (it was really a scarf) but she chose to refer to my
religious covering as a tablecloth, cloth napkin, AND a rag—she did
not like this thing I wore on my head, and she would tell me, no, really mock me about my
hairless head; she often made comments such
as, “I bet you don’t have any hair under there”, or “Go buy yourself a
brush”; the cook beside the hot stove was also intrigued by my style
(maybe more so than Mrs. Angelo) and he would also tease me, asking
such questions as, “How long is your hair really?” or “Is it brown with
blonde streaks?”, and then he would say to me, “Tamara, would you
like to go out with me tonight?” and he would suggest we go to the
bar (that was located a quarter of a mile from Angelo’s Italian Restaurant), even though he knew
I could not drink, because he too helped
carry my drinks on many Friday nights; each time he asked, I would
refuse him, and each time I refused him he became more insistent
and more intrigued: every Saturday night I would go home to our hill
named Dar ‘al Hickma; Dar ‘al Hickma rose above this white town,
it was gloriously colorful in contrast to the monotone landscape; this
hill could not be accessed by anyone except our community members
(it had huge towering walls and a coded entry gate) and Mrs. Angelo
would ask me, “What do you do up on that hill?”, and I would look at
her while still wearing my paisley-faded scarf and say nothing, but she
would ask questions persistently, because she wanted to know what
happened on THAT hill— this was possibly the reason she kept me
around and let me work at her restaurant: she had never met anyone
who lived up high, and for years she had wondered who, who had
lived up THERE— and she consistently inquired if they all looked
like me, if they were all covered up wearing funny looking rags (that
sometimes didn’t match their outfits), but I kept our secret, I didn’t
tell them we stayed up all night and prayed until the sun came up, nor
did I tell them we fasted from sunrise until sunset during the month of
August; and I certainly didn’t tell anybody what else happened on that

Pink Enamel

© 2010
Locate me in my tub. Pink, enamel and deep. By myself.
Me, an unlucky 13. I could say I’m here soaking healing my
Poison Ivy but I’m not. I’m here counting, popping and blowing white foamy bubbles into the
air. One bubble, two bubble,
three… How I love thee. Clap. One bubble down. I’m still
fi lling my tub. I add more berry-scented liquid. I could say I
have a lot of stress and need the warm water to melt it away
but I don’t. Why would I? I’m 13.
My mother worries. She worries for both of us. She worries
about my dad, friends (if I’ll ever get any), boyfriends (she’s
praying for a miracle) and if one day I’ll live happily ever
after. Yuck!
“Leila” she says, “A girl of your age should be out having
Having fun to her is watching as me and a cheerful blond
watch Twilight together and stay up all night giggling and fantasizing about our life with Edward
Cullen, the seventeen year
old lead hunk.
My father worries too. He worries that I’ll get boyfriends,
have too many friends, wear shorts to school and forget to
“Leila” he says, “Have you prayed Maghrib yet? “
Having fun to him is chanting the names of Allah and reciting
Having fun to me is looking up at the sky and watching the
clouds pass.
I stay fl oating face up in my tub. I don’t want friends, boyfriends, don’t want to recite Qur’an
and surely I’m not interested in chanting all night. Not yet. Now I belong in a tub. So
here I am, popping bubbles. Darn, I missed the one that just
skimmed my nose!
My father walks into the kitchen in the evening. He hasn’t
come from far. Only from his offi ce. He doesn’t leave the
house much. He writes books about Islam, the Muslims in
Spain and about Heaven and Hell.
“Leila” he says, “Do you want to go to Hell?”
Hell to him is a fi re. Big and red. Hot and thorny. He says,
“Hell is forever”.
Hell to me is leaving my house, going to school and defi nitely
listening to those bubbly blonds chit-chatting.
Hell is also praying, praying, praying. Gosh, I almost forgot
“Or do you want to go to Heaven?”
Heaven to him is gardens fi lled with rivers. Papayas and mangos. A place close to God.
Heaven to me is fl owers, blue skies, running water, no God and
of course bubbles.
From time to time my dog walks in. He is what they call a
Yorkie-WaWa. Really a designer mutt. He puts his claws up
on my baby-pink tub and whimpers. He likes baths too. A
bubble lands on his nose and he scurries away. He doesn’t like
When you lie in a bath for 2 hours, you remember a lot. You
close your eyes and listen to your mutt’s long nails scratch hurriedly against the enamel and think
of who you are.
You think of you at six, sitting on your huge teddy bear that
is bigger than two of you put together and remember the day
your dad said he had decided he was going to go to Heaven
and left. He told you he found a group of Muslims that were
going to lead the way. You believed him.
When you lie in a tub for hours, you remember a world you
lived in not too long ago. Not one you read about in Anne of
Green Gables.
You are a woman standing in your kitchen. The kitchen your
mom had probably dreamed for you. With a dreamy husband
too (she fi nally got her way). You remember your dad as you
cut the celery for your barley soup. He with a moustache and
a beard. “Very Islamic” he would say. “Just like the Prophet
You are a girl memorizing Qur’anic passages, one by one, two
by two and ever so quickly. You want to go to Heaven.
You fear Hell.
When you lie in a tub for hours, lunch comes before you notice.
Suddenly the smell of your mom’s quiche is wafting from the
small yellow kitchen to your pretty-in-pink tub.
It is time to get out.
In the kitchen, your mother is still frying the potatoes and onions. You look into the skillet and
grab a half-done slice and pop
it into your mouth. You could say to mom, “Don’t worry”.
But you don’t. Instead you grab another organic-extra-virginolive-oil fried potato and sit down
on a stool in the kitchen next
to her.
I could say,
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
When I grow up
I don’t want to be a Muslim
Or a Jew
I don’t though. It hurts too much.

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