Meet María Bernardita (previously Abdallah the Tree)

April 26, 2010

“I decided that for modesty reasons, I’d prefer if such a close neighbor was a she. And since everything is a social construction these days (so I learned at NYU), contingent on perceptions of self and the shaping gaze of the Other, the shift should not be an issue.”

Dear Papaito,

I gave some further though to the issue of the tree. I decided that for modesty reasons, I’d prefer if such a close neighbor was a she. And since everything is a social construction these days (so I learned at NYU), contingent on perceptions of self and the shaping gaze of the Other, the shift should not be an issue. Note, Papaito, how the advantages of the social sciences come in handy.

So AbdAllah ceased to be yesterday, and now I am happy to introduce you to Maria Bernardita the Tree outside Janan’s Window. Or just Maria Bernardita (to family and friends). I named her after the very kind lady who used to work in my primary school’s kitchen. My older sister Khadija, my brother and I used to like her a lot. On the days there was hot-dog, or ham sandwich for lunch, La Dona Bernardita, as everyone called her, would exchange our haram sandwiches for plain, un-haramed bread. This category ‘haramed,’ and its opposite, ‘unharamed’ do not come from fiqh, I think… rather, my siblings and I developed them in attempts to explain to our classmates how, once the sausage or the ham had been on the bread, that was it, the bun was haramed-untouchable-yuck. So begging us to give them our ham and sausage (and keep the haramed bread) was useless.. we took permission from the Tia (in my school we call the teachers ‘aunties’), and run to the kitchen holding the sandwich quite carefully, so as not to accidentally touch the ham that appeared menacingly from the edges of the pancito, the bread.

And then there was Dona Bernardita. She would take the bread from our hands and exchange it for plain, halal buns that she’d kept specially for us. And some days, when we were lucky, she’d even spread a bit of jam on them. We repeated this little ritual every time there was something haram for lunch. Although other days, when the haram lunch did not include bread, such as potato salad with ham, Dona Bernardita had no buns in the kitchen for us, so we’d simply give our shares away to any kid who wanted them. Then there were days when the school gave snacks they’d never given us before… like doughnuts, and on those days, our classmates eyed our tables greedily to see whether this new item was one of the things that we could not eat, in which case, we’d soon have five or six kids all over us bidding for the priced snack…

Now of course, we also had classmates who had allergies, or medical conditions that prevented them from eating certain things (such as peanuts, or mayonnaise), and when that was the case, my siblings and I were, of course, not exempt from joining the other greedy kids in a bid to snatch their snacks. At least I can speak for myself… maybe my sister Khadija didnt do that. She’s always been too ladylike, polite and selfless…so come to think of it, she probably never did what I did. But I was a different story, so I’m definitely not claiming victimhood for all the haram foods I could not eat in primary school… I was a tough kid, and why, maybe also a bit mean. For example, I admit to enjoying very much explaining the haramed/unharamed typologies of food to my classmates, because it meant that if I couldn’t eat my snack, they wouldn’t eat it either!

I hope your not horrified by my less that selfless nature Papaito, but hey, that was primary school, you can’t really blame me, can you?

And all this is to say that I named Maria Bernardita, the Tree, after Dona Bernardita the school cook. You know? I actually had to think hard of names, because once I decided AbdAllah was not a he, no female names came immediately to mind. So I thought of names in the train, from 57th street, to Borough Plaza, and then to Broadway station. I got off at Broadway and then continued thinking of names. I was so engrossed in the task of finding a name for Tree that I forgot to open my umbrella… even though the umbrella hung from my left arm, and it was raining. I only realized that I should have opened the umbrella once I’d reached 33rd street… but then I was too close to home to open it… so I thought, oh well, it’s just water.

And no, I promise that my absentmindedness does not render me a hazard to society. At most, it just causes me some unfortunate situations once in a while, which I have learned -or am learning- to take with some humor.

J.

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