ALIM* Weekend in Virginia, Moments I Loved

January 9, 2010

“I had another “this makes sense” moment this past weekend (did I mention this to you, or did I write it in my blog? Do you read my blog?). In fact, maybe the entire weekend was one such moment, extended from Friday 8pm, to Monday noon.”

Dear Papaito,

I had another “this makes sense” moment this past weekend in Virginia (did I mention this to you, or did I write it in my blog? Do you read my blog?). In fact, maybe the entire weekend was one such moment, extended from Friday 8pm, to Monday noon.

Rosa, one of the people who clean the ADAMS center everyday, is from Honduras. She has three sons, and they’ve been able to find work in Virginia in spite of the recession, thank God. Virginia is a good place. Was I from Virginia? No? Would I visit again? By the way, why had so many people come from out of state this weekend?

Pedro works as a shuttle driver for SpringHills hotel. He is Mexican, born Catholic and converted to Evangelism. He thinks the headscarf makes sense, and he admires how Muslim women dress. He also likes how Muslims don’t worship Virgin Mary and the saints. Only one God? Yes, that makes sense. How else is Islam and Evangelism similar? There are Muslims in Honduras, you know? They said it in the news. But they said some ‘bad things’ about them. So its not true that…?

Ahmed is ten years old, and he loves vending machines. Did I also love vending machines when I was a child? But the vending machine at Adams swallowed his 75c and that is not nice. So did I work at Adams? Could I help him? No and yes. Rosa watched us reason with the vending machine while the lectures where going on. The vending machine finally behaved with a ‘please,’ and an extra 25c incentive. And his younger brother would not kick the machine again, he promised.

Aqsa is a sixteen-year old who goes to a public high school. She is president of her MSA, and she wants to go to med-school. She is not afraid to raise her hand and ask a question to a university professor in front of 150 people, most of them professionals and grad-students. And unlike my voice, hers doesn’t sound shaky when she asks her first question. So could Dr. Fareed provide an example of that very abstract thing he had just been explaining? What was the point behind all that flowery language?

Leslie is an sister in her late fifties who heard about the program and decided to register. She likes the community very much, and she thinks Al-Fatih Academy is the best possible place to teach. Would I consider applying to Muslim schools in Virginia as well? If I wanted, she could drive me to Al-Fatih on Monday. She didn’t know anyone working there, but we could still go. Not this time? We were leaving right after the conference? That’s too bad. Well, some other time. So about that last lecture, had I understood what Dr. Anjum had been explaining? Aqsa, Leslie and I tried to figure it out together during lunch.

It is hard to decide who or what was most inspiring this weekend. The conversation with Pedro? Connecting with young Ahmed over a vending machine? Aqsa’s maturity, leadership and courage? Professor Jackson’s insight, knowledge and commitment? The smile of that auntie I met on Sunday evening? That late-night conversation with my roommate Rozena? But maybe I don’t have to pinpoint to one thing. These were all strokes in a picture that made sense. A moment in the right direction, I felt.

Let’s leave it here for now Papaito. I will tell you all about the academic content of the conference some other day, okay? There is a lot to say about it, but I don’t feel like talking about it now. So to end this letter on a light note, we can laugh at my own absentmindedness. Yes, me being absentminded for a change. Interested? So apparently, there was some aggressive matchmaking during the conference. And I found out *after* the conference, on the ride back to NYC. What? What matchmaking? Where? Oh, I had not noticed because I had sat on the front rows, said my friend. Had I sat on the back rows, I’d been able to see the texting, etc. I was genuinely surprised. But when did it happen? We barely got any breaks! and the lectures really required concentration, no? Hilarious, wallahi, how outside the loop I can be.

So I hope Papaito that you didn’t expect me to go about looking for a suitable bride for you. You could not choose a worse person to do it. I am absentminded, and I also suspect that I scare people. Do you think this is true? Well, Rosa, Pedro and Ahmed were not scared. Maybe I just scare *some*  people. Maybe we can talk about it next time we meet.

J.

*ALIM stands for American Learning Institute for Muslims, see <http://www.alimprogram.com/index.shtml&gt;

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