Books I have read, thinkers I admire, and personal experiences inspire this blog. Growing up in a country where few people had heard about Islam –or practically any religion other than Catholicism–, I often found in books what I didn’t find in my own little world; characters with complex stories, interesting families, colorful lives, and diverse backgrounds and faiths.  They were the literary offspring of Gabriel García Márquez, Jane Austen, Isabel Allende, José Saramago, Alex Haley and many others I discovered during my teen years, when T.V, movies and video games were largely absent in my devout Muslim home.

Aside from a book about pregnant teens in 1967 rural Texas that mysteriously disappeared from my bookshelf one schoolday morning, my parents didn’t censor books. I bought them with my own ‘Idiyyeh (money given to children on the occasion of Id) without consulting anyone. My mother did wish I read Islamic literature, but because  fiction books for Muslims were unheard of in Ecuador, and I could only read Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim for so long before I got all tangled up in chains of narrators, I simply ended buying the new arrivals to the bestsellers’ aisle in our local bookstores. That is how I ran into Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, where she wrote about Eliza Sommers,

“The things we forget may as well never have happened, but she had many memories, real and illusory, and that was like living twice.”

When I read that line, I had already been writing down my daily memories for years. I started at age seven with a pink diary I named Mirsupitami. But this quote articulated an urgency I had only sensed before. If I did not write down my life as a teenager, later it would seem as though I had never been a teen. As if I had been born, and fastforwarded myself into adulthood skipping all the years in between. I would forget school, my friends, and the name of the cute thirteen year old whom my friends and I watched play football during recess-break.

But there was more than the imminent catastrophe of forgetting Pepito’s name. The books I read gave me a strong sense of fate that I knew from Islam existed. At the time I knew I was not my life’s most ardent fan, but I still felt it had to be recorded,because one day it would all make sense. It had to make sense. All the best characters in the novels I read had unusual lives, and it always worked out for them in the end. They married the right person, found freedom, saved their city from a mass epidemic of blindness.

As the only Muslim girl in a frustratingly homogeneous school of one thousand students (all Catholic, all mestizo), I thought my life was challenging. But one day, the fact that I could not eat peperoni pizza or sanduche de jamón, or go to the Prom, or sing along in La Novena* would earn me a Literature Nobel prize. Unless I did not record it. I had to record it to show it to the Nobel prize committee.

Fifteen years later, my life has only gotten more unusual, it still doesn’t make complete sense, and no Norwegian has yet asked me to show him my dozens  Mirsupitamis . Yet, I continue to write relentlessly, because if I don’t, later it will seem as though I had never been a young adult, having fastforwarded myself from my carefully recorded teenage years to old age.

I no longer fear forgetting school, or names of friends and Muslim Pepitos, but I want to be able to revisit in the future the evolution of my thoughts; what I observe around me with the excitement of seeing something for the first time, how I try to make sense of it, my fears, and my own naivete. So my blog entries are not my final product. My change in plans and ideas from one month to another should be enough evidence of a work in progress. They will continue to change, one letter at a time.

So why letters? In another favorite book of mine, Mrs. Lippet of the Orphanage John Grier told Jerusha Abbot about her benefactor”John Smith,” whom she’d nickname Daddy Long Legs (the namesake of my own imaginary interlocutor),

“That is –you are not to thank him for the money; he doesn’t care to have that mentioned, but you are to write a letter telling of the progress in your studies and the details of your daily life. Just such letters as you would write to your parents if they were living.

These letters will be addressed to Mr. John Smith and will be sent in care of the secretary. The gentleman’s name is not John Smith, but he prefers to remain unknown. To you he will never be anything but John Smith. His reason for requiring the letters is that he thinks nothing so fosters facility in literary expression as letter-writing….He will never answer your letters, nor in the slightest particular way take notice of them…”


 

 

*La Novena: In the Catholic Church, a novena is a devotion consisting of a prayer repeated on nine successive days, asking to obtain special graces. The prayers may come from prayer books, or consist of the recitation of the Rosary (a ‘Rosary novena’), or of short prayers through the day.

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