“When I think of Home…” A Homegurl Anthem

Family: A web of wonder, the essence of everything

It took me a long time to bleed orange.

A loooong time.

A long time to speak of my hometown, Syracuse, NY, with more affection than annoyance, more shout-out than shame.

Oh, I wanted to be a big-city girl. I wanted the melody of hustle and bustle, the endless glow of grand marquees and 24-hour fun. And it seemed like, back then, we all did. My high school classmates and I shared one ambition for life after graduation: to leave home and go far, far away. As far as opportunity and audacity and imagination could take us.

I complained that Syracuse was “boring” and so “corny” (this was an ’80s whine, after all) compared to the gloss and glitz of, say, Brooklyn, Atlanta or Accra. I wanted high fashion, celebrity sightings and top trends. (What flygurl wannabe wants to be in a place lauded for being great “to raise families?” Code phrase: boooring.)

But that was before I knew any better.

Before Life re-purposed my priorities.

Before I saw that all that glitters ain’t gold…and sometimes it ain’t even real metal.

Before I realized the snide “only boring people get bored” rebuttal was actually quite true.

Before I knew that attitude, flexibility, creativity and good company comprise 95% of fun.

I didn’t begin to appreciate my hometown until good fortune forced me. A full-ride to Syracuse University in 1992 dashed my Spelman dreams. (“Girl, you gonna turn down a full scholarship?!!!,” my parents asked…rhetorically.) And then four years of hearing “you don’t act like a townie” fertilized seeds of defense-driven appreciation. (“‘Ummm, ‘scuse me! If you don’t like Syracuse, then why are you here?!”)

But my big bang came last week during our holiday trip to Syracuse – 15 months after we moved to Belize. Going home brought my gratitude into full bloom.

Proof: Yesterday a neighbor asked if we saw “the ball drop” during our time in “States.”

Usually I would let the “you’re from New York so it must New York City” slip-up slide. But this time, I set it straight: “Oh, we’re not from New York City,” I said. “You follow NCAA basketball? You know about the Orangemen being the number one team in the country? Well, that’s where I’m from: Syracuse.”

Part of my brain was like, “What?!…Girl, go’on and let them imagine you among skyscrapers and Times Square.

But my soul settled in truth: No need to perpetrate. Erie Boulevard, Westcott and 690-East have a special sophistication, CNY-style.

What produced such pride? Maturity, experience and exposure, I think. And, of course, love.

So many of the people I adore, call the ‘Cuse home. And I love them. I crave them. I bask in their company, their humor, their generosity and comfort. And I revel in an adoration dipped in Motown rhythm; “I don’t like you, but I love you. Seems that I’m always thinking of you…(Syracuse) You really got a hold on me.

Thing is, Syracuse has not undergone an overhaul. I have.

No, it ain’t a Chocolate City (sweetie, it aint even Caramel). Yes, some spots still sob for integration.

No, downtown still doesn’t seduce with cosmopolitan sass. Yes, Shoppingtown still feels deserted.

No, it ain’t getting more sun. Yes, it’s still gray.

But, still.

This love isn’t about the place, but the people. My people. And it’s not about random moments of excitement (Really, how often would I ice skate at Rockefeller Center if I lived in Manhattan?) but the collective experience.

Syracuse is where me and my four siblings shared a 10-speed with streamers flying from the handlebars at 506 Tallman Street.

It’s where my parents started our family enterprise – Grace Children’s Academy at Kennedy Square and 2223 E. Genessee Street.

Syracuse is where I married my husband: The Sheraton at Syracuse University, my alma mater.

It is where my second and third daughters were born  (I love you Lynn Hickox, Midwife Extraordinaire!) at the Jim and Dede Walsh Family Birth Center at Community General Hospital.

It is also where my husband and I bought, and sold, our first home.

Syracuse is where I first fell in love, had my first kiss (Levy Middle School, second floor, near Ms. Davoli’s room; Orlando Mulero, a nut-brown Dominican with a curly ‘fro and silver Jesus piece…Lawdhamercee!) and survived my first heartbreak.

In Syracuse we cousins baked cookies at Aunt Diane’s, sipped Uncle Omanii’s world-famous lemonade,  and spent every holiday eating collard greens with Sis.

I earned my first paycheck in Syracuse and bought my first car there, too, a “Mystic Magenta” Geo Storm I named “Sarafina.”

Beneath a slate gray tombstone, in the Muslim section of Oakwood Cemetery, is where my father, Jamal Grace is buried. My grandmothers, Sis and GrandUmmi, and my Aunt Sabriyah, rest nearby. My beloved, zany, dimpled, karate master, Uncle Vinnie, too.

This city is where I once held a whole one-and-a-half-hour conversation with my mother while sitting on her bed as we spoke to each other’s reflection in the mirror. Crazy, right?

But kinda cool, too.

In Syracuse, I am “one of the Graces.” I am “Ted and Jackie’s daughter.” And in Syracuse, that means something. It means I got people. Good people.

Isn’t having community, being part of a crew, belonging somewhere to somebody, what we all strive for? Sure, this ambition – more spirit-led than career-guided, for me – looks different in different places but if you squint and bend down real low and quiet your mind, this sentiment sings true: No matter how many miles I travel, no matter how alluring the city or awesome the nightlife, by sunset, I want to be with the folks who matter to me.

So, even from miles away, I’m stepping out of shame and insecurity and poppin’ my ‘Cuse collar. (I might even put an SU Alumni sticker on the mini-van. Who knows? Pride inspires possibilities, y’all!)

I do wonder, with all our Tewog trekking, what home-love we will imprint on our children. What place will feel familiar and precious to them? Part of me prays we ultimately “settle down” (a phrase that inspires angst for Zu) in a place awesome enough for them to stay, near us, always. (My own mama dreams of a multi-family ranch for all her children, and her children’s children. These days, ‘specially after several weeks chatting, face-to-face, in her living room, it sounds kinda lovely.) But I want my girls to fly, too. And to have the kind of boldness and courage that grows from confidence and security and, of course, love.

I pray that our family love draws them back to the nest, confident they can count on a pick-me-up before they launch into their next dream. I pray that we always feel like home to them.

Of course, all these are mama-made wishes.  I trust their destinies will develop from their own divine compass. I trust Spirit to guide, and bless, their every step. Who knows? Maybe they’ll bleed orange, too.

So I suppose it’s true: Syracuse really is a good place to raise a family.

Lord knows, I been raised up and lifted, lifted!, by the love of mine.


Happy Birthday Muna

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Today, November 22, is my SweetMother’s birthday.

She was born Jacqueline Elaine Guy.

After falling in love with my SweetFather, Jamal Grace, and Islam, she became Sahar Abdullah Grace.

As a child, I called her “Ummi.”

Today we call her “Muna,” her name for “grandmother.”

Lately, I call her “MyMuna” because she mine. And I love speaking our connection.

Today is MyMuna’s  birthday and today I want her to laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh some more until she finds herself, mid-giggle, smiling at the goodness of life.

Cuz it is good. All the time. But especially today.

Happy Birthday Muna!!

I love, love, love, love me some you!

Me & You, Us Nevah Part….Maki Dada

Tasneem and Panya, soul sistas in Belize

I think we first met in the airport. In Harare, Zimbabwe. On a humid August day. About 17 years ago.

We were instamatic friends, the kind of girls – just 19 years young, then – who turn to each other like flowers to sun. The kind of girls who lean in to each other to laugh, the ones who walk together in drunken glee, stumbling, giggling with linked elbows and skipping feet.

We had other friends during our semester abroad; I traveled with a college boyfriend, she with her campus homegirl but we still made time to connect and speak a language all our own: sista soulspeak. (Me: Girrrrrrrrl, whatchoo doin’? Her: Girrrrrrrrl, waitin’ fa you!”)

We last saw each in an airport. In New York City, I think. On a cool fall evening. About 17 years ago.

Long spans of silence were broken with email, postcards and letters. I moved to Nashville. She moved to Japan. I traveled as a journalist; she moved about Asia as an English teacher and communications specialist. I moved back to Syracuse; she moved back to Brooklyn.

Our life paths took similar turns: We both found good men and married them. We both met other amazing sistas and friended them.

We both wondered about the other.

And then, just a few months before we left Syracuse to move to here, to Belize, I asked my researcher/sleuth husband to locate my homegirl, my Zimbabwe ace, my sista’frien’, Panya Walker.

And he did.

And I called. And we talked.

She sounded just the same, a sassy blend of Brooklyn, Barbados and downhome Virginia. She sounded just the same, still talking in a singsong with laughter twirling through in her voice. We screamed and chuckled and tried to catch up, our words tripping into a tangled heap of memory and girrrrl-I-miss-yous.

How do you tell the stories of 17 years past in a single phone call?

So we promised to keep in touch.

But life swept us away – again.

Until now.

Last month, I sent her this blog. Spirit told me to. And my girl wrote me back fast. She said I write just the same. She said my words took her right back to our days in Southern Africa, to the site of Great Zimbabwe, to the shores of Lake Malawi. Back to those laughing, good-time days.

I wrote her back and said, “Girl, the next time you in Barbados, you should hop in a dorry and come see us in Belize.”

Within three weeks, she was here. With her husband supreme, a smooth-scalped, almond-brown, solemn-eyed, soul-ful brotha named Harule.

What love looks like: Harule Stokes and Panya Walker

She was here!

And we saw each other for the first time in 17 years – 17 YEARS!

At the airport. On a cool Caribbean day. And she was just as she was before – still my Nettie. Still my soul sista.

Panya and Harule stayed with us – we six boisterous ‘Bolas – for six days and by the grace of God we outlived the guest/fish rule: after four days nobody was stinkin’!

Yemurai and Auntie Panya, a new love in bloom

Each of the girls found their special way to connect to “Auntie Panya” and “Uncle Harule”: Azizah giggled and zipped her way across the floor while being chased by her new uncle. Zenani performed about 5,000 dances to her favorite Adele songs. Yemu regaled them with artwork and steady drama. SaSa delighted Auntie with “Green Eggs & Ham.”

Princess Zenani performing, "Watch Me Spin 2,000 times to Adele," a 'Bola original

A drop of sweet honey, Asali Jamilah

Azizah Grace is Azizah the Great

And me and Zuberi blossomed in their presence, too. We discovered how healing it can be to simply be around another couple who expresses their love for one another with touch, words and intention.

Panya, a practitioner of mind-body-soul healing, and Harule, a writer, love each other with sensual, casual, inspirational dedication. They stroke, they murmur, they laugh, they tease, they motivate and uplift each other. They bring action to spoken declarations of love.

Love, they teach, is a feeling.

And, oh, what a feeling!

Sit across from each other, Panya told us one night after the girls had gone to sleep and we attempted a couple pow-wow. Put your hand over each other’s hearts. Close your eyes. Speak to each other with your hand and your mind.

With the baby draped, nursing, on my lap (you know one of the girls had to wake up!) I touched Zuberi’s heart. And he touched mine. And this wasn’t our usual alright-yeah-yeah-yeah-have-a-good-day-forehead-kiss kind of touch, it was intentional. Soulful. Spiritual. Powerful.

The look of love renewed: Zuberi and Tasneem

For several minutes – maybe five? – we sat there, knee to knee, holding each other’s heart space. Breathing deep. Thinking good thoughts – not about diapers or dishes, trash day or payday, children drama or our drama – just good thoughts, the kind that heal and forgive and reboot.

I hadn’t seen this sista in 17 years! And here she was: in Belize, in my living room, with her husband, sitting on our futon, leading me back to love.

It’s been two weeks since we’ve seen Auntie Panya and Uncle Harule in the flesh. Of course, the girls still ask about them. They want to know when they’re coming back to Belize and when we can visit them in Brooklyn. (Luckily, they left behind their homemade shea butter so each morning the girls shine up with a dab of our Walker-Stokes ash-chasin’ shea special.)

It’s been two weeks and me and Zuberi are still using intention and touch and meditation and language and prayer to find our way past the mundane distractions of marriage and back to each other.

Proudly, we are still inspired by a love that begets more love.

And I’m still proud of me and Panya and the power of sistalove. I’m still proud of how two girls could find each other, again, and find themselves, again, in a bond beyond biology.

From Southern Africa to Central America and places in between...Maki Dada

We ain’t just friends, but sistas. And not just sistas but soul sistas. We kin.

Maki Dada.

Leaning on Love

Summer harvest: five beautiful 'Bolas all in a row.

Quick Queries for Long Thought: What if we were to accept what author and spirited “soul” sister, Marianne Williamson, writes of as “the ultimate spiritual invitation?”

What if we were to accept the Divine’s invitation to “count it all as love” and put all the rest (envy, frustration, anger, helplessness, confusion, guilt, blame, shame…) in observation hold?

What if we acknowledged our less-than-lovely emotions without claiming them? What if we felt them but resisted the habit of becoming them?

What if, instead, we CHOSE to become anything and everything that reflects permanence: Divine Love?

What if we trained ourselves, through study and stated intention and plenty-a prayer, to view ourselves through a divine love lens?

What if, then, we viewed ourselves as miracles: magnificent, precious and powerful, and disowned the thoughts and urges that minimize our birthright to greatness?

Wouldn’t we feel, and live, and be, different?

Friends and family, this invitation to lean fully on love comes daily and, recently, I said, “YES!”

Every day, several times a day, I ask the Holy Spirit, the One, the Divine, the Most High, Big Mama, Allah, the Creator, God/dess…to take possession of my pains, to remind me of my strengths, to honor my request for what Williamson calls a “miracle: a shift in perception.” I ask to see the other sides of an issue, a hurt, an experience and accept the lessons laced in each.

Instead of ease, I request education.
Instead of denial, I seek depth.
Instead of worry, I pray for willpower.
Instead of simplicity, I ask for serenity.
Instead of self-righteousness, I await revelation.

And, it comes, ya’ll! Insight comes, carrying peace on piggyback – whenever I ask.
Every single time it arrives on divine time.

My Sunday meditation: Be gentle with yourself, Precious! Miracles are always just a prayer away.

365 Days and Counting…

Tasneem & the girls - including lovely Titilayo - at Caye Caulker.

We have been in Belize for a full year. Words easy to type; tough to talk.
Friends: For real, though? A full year?
Us: Mmmhmm, we left Central New York a bit more than a year ago. We came seeking sun and sensation and we have gotten all of that…and more.
Friends: It feels like you’ve been gone a coupla years.
Us: You telling us! We been here a Black English MINUTE!
Friends: What’s a year in Belize feel like?
Us:Check out the list and you’ll see how much a family can learn in 365 sunsets.

We’ve Been Here Long Enough to…

1. Understand Kriol: Win we da di cah heah, we heah di Kriol taak and we di sey, “Wha? Wha she di say? Wha he di say?” And now. We unastan. It no eazee, cuz we eas no use to da soun. But now we eas shif and we tong, it di loose up. And we eyes no di look crazee win we lissen. It take time, time, no true? But we get betta, a lee bit betta, and unastanin soon com. Unu unastan? (Need translation? Talk to Yemu or SaSa; they are quick-fast Kriol queens.)

2. Realize that iguanas ain’t really that cute. They are still a work of divine magnificence just as any lizard of camouflage. (Ever realize how their thin, striped tails perfectly mimic fronds of the palm and coconut tree?) But…they ate up our garden and for that they are now off the “cute yard creature” list. I won’t say we aim to kill them. But when we attempt the next planting, we will handle our bidness. You feel me?

3. Admit that all sunshine ain’t sweet. Being from CNY kinda messes with a human’s natural love of the sun. Us Syracuse folk are so deprived we flock to every ray, we rock flip-flops even if it’s sunny in February. But the sun has levels and we never really appreciated them until now. There is “bask in the sunshine” sun and there is “Whiten your whites” sun and there is”Fool! Get the he$# out the sun!” sun. We never used an umbrellas as sunshields, until now.

4. Accept the sweat. Vanity departed long ago. No attempts at cuteness can compete with heat. I don’t care how flawless your make-up or how smooth your linen. At some point (for us, it begins minutes after waking and ends during sleep) sweat will streak your face, your back, your chest. You won’t “glow,” you’ll drip. Your clothes will stick. Trickles of sweat will tickle your calves. You’ll learn that elbows and knees, dang even your earlobes!, have sweat glands. At first, you wonder if you have an endocrine problem. And then you look around and see wet faces. And you learn to do as they do: Tote a sweat cloth, sop up the drips and keep on movin’.

5. Be honest. When we first got here, we were too enamored with the exotic to out-right moan about some stuff we felt wasn’t right. We swallowed – many times – our grievances and tagged them as “cultural differences.” Today, we say some stuff is foul, in any country, in any language, with any people. Period.
For example: Tossing trash on the ground is called “littering.” It ain’t cultural. It makes the neighborhood look trashy and clogs our environmental pores. Period.
Demanding American motorists pay at a traffic stop for an infraction is “bribing.” It ain’t cultural; it’s wack and illegal and – even though it kept us out of jail – creates a sad stereotype of Central America.
Also, routinely cutting folks in line at grocery stores is rude. It ain’t cultural; it’s disrespectful. You see 15 people in line? Well, go’on get in the back and wait quietly like the rest of us.

6. Enjoy a gray day. Overcast skies in Syracuse used to bring us down, down, down. But in a place where the sun shines 95% of the time, a little rain and clouds makes us feel mellow and relaxed. Of course, rain also tends to bring a bit of cool breeze. Maybe, though, just maybe, it also drizzles us with memories of home.

7. Make friends. We got people! The kind of folks who travel a few hours to Guatemala, see that girls t-shirts and socks are on sale and call us at home, in Belize, to see if we’d like a few. Sweet. We got come-to-my-parent’s-house-my-Mama-is-makin-that-chicken-you-like kind of friends. We got I-got-you-a-ticket-to-the-comedy-show-I’ma-scoop-you-in-10 kind of friends. And, gyal-weh-u-pon-dey? (Where you at?) kind of friends. We got people! It feels good…and reminds us of home.

8. Find out the truth about travel. Jon Kabat-Zinn, meditation maestro, is right! “Wherever you go,” doggone it!, “there you are.” More sun doesn’t totally reduce stress. Caribbean culture doesn’t totally wipe out worry. No amount of fresh fruit and ocean breeze can totally bring peace if your mind isn’t ripe for it. We been here a minute and come to realize that good living comes from good thinking. How we perceive life reflects how we receive it. We didn’t need to drive alllll the way down here to figure this out but isolation, experience and the Divine bring lessons when you’re ready to listen. We ready! Lawd, we ready!

9. Feel high and low. I have praised the Belize sunrise and also wished to be “back home” by sunset. I have stood in our backyard quietly inhaling all the beauty and also driven, in angst, so fast I have seen nothing to note. I have thanked God for this experience and also summoned sleep with memories of sitting on my mother’s bed talking happily about everything and nothing at all. I have fully been here and also been miles away in my mind: Praising and praying; exalting and complaining; accepting and deflecting. I used to wonder if I could catch a mood and keep it forever. Could I ever be eternally grateful? Or consumed with joy? We been here long enough to grasp the truth: And this, too, shall pass.

10. Give us free. I could write all about the bad stuff about Zuberi and the girls that I wish I could change. And they could write about me. (The girls: “Sometimes you yell too much.” Zuberi: “You want everything just how YOU want it.”) But after a year away from the distractions of home and family and year spent learning how to amuse ourselves in the midst of loneliness and quiet, we seem to be maturing as a family. We seem to be surrendering to the crazylovechaosconfusioncreativity that makes us the Tewogbolas. We bicker and bawl and tickle and taunt and perform and procrastinate and daydream and dawdle and rush and relax and scream and shush and cuddle and coddle and forget and forgive and laugh and love and…live. We trying to “give us free!” (C’mon Amistad!) Freedom to be ourselves and proclaim each other lovable, anyway.

We still here. Still living on Flamboyant Drive in Ladyville, Belize. Still, on occasion, missing the coolness, and coolness, u dig?, of snow. Still, shocked by daily sunshine. Still, loving swimming in cool, clear rivers and floating in the sea.

We still here. Realizing that this ain’t quite home but that we create home wherever we are, as long as we’re together.

Everyday is Muna’s Day

I am a child of God and good fortune. My mother is Jacquelyn “Sahar” Elaine “Susseline” Grace-Rasheed. And for this I sing a song of eternal gratitude.

Plain Ordinary Bliss

Smiling in the face of ordinary, everyday, satisfying sunshine

There is such grace to ordinary moments.
Such grace, sometimes beauty and all-the-time sweetness to claim when days are just…well, ordinary. But, here (where my mother exclaims, “You don’t even wear a watch!) I have the time and space to be observant of the ordinary, of all the things that get blurred in rush. And for this I am thankful.
You see Zuberi, my huzban’, is wired to love work. As in outside our home, with the aid of gadgets, deadlines and work plans. He loves it for the loot it provides, certainly. But he also loves what he does (think of ways bring more “dallas” to the University of Belize) and how he makes it happen (talking, talking, talking and using the computer – his two passions…besides the ‘Bola women, of course.)

Zuberi and Tasneem, WorkMan and WordWoman

We can’t have two workheads in one house so wouldn’t you know – the mighty God-dess of the Universe helped us find one another: a work-lover and a well…word-lover. (Not that working with words isn’t work…but…I don’t thrive on it quite like Zubee.)
Zuberi’s work affections afford me time to make mothering my ministry. I know this ain’t every mother’s mission. And I don’t believe it should be. Every mama mothers in her own way and this is mine: I am the household “heavy,” the CEO of the ‘Bola-dome, a domestic engineer.
And though at times I wonder if I shouldn’t be working for money, I actually enjoy this gig. It is often splendid in its, well, ordinary-ness.
And because my word-love grows from observation, and because observation ignites curiosity, and because curiosity fuels creativity, I spend time each day marveling at the observation of the absolutely, divinely ordinary.

Such as…

Hanging Beauty

The joy of laundry

Hanging laundry. I love to hang my laundry outside to dry. I could claim my affections are ecological. Yes, we save lots on our electric bill.
True, we’re decreasing our carbon footprint.
Sho’ nuff, no bleach can work as safely as the whitening strength of sun.
But it’s not that…well, not all that. Not for me.
I love hanging laundry, the physical act of heaving a bucket of wet clothes, diapers and towels out the backdoor, into the backyard and near three clothing lines I tied to the window frames and our soursop tree. I love the no-cost simple pleasure of hanging our wears by color and size. (Did I just hear someone hiss, “This chic don’t have enough to do?”)
I love the athleticism of it: the lugging of the bucket, the tricep flex while clipping the laundry to the line, the back bends while reaching down again and again to pick up the next wet thing.
Call it Laundry Pile-lates. I like the motions of the chore.
And I like- ok, looove- the look-back factor. Once my bucket is empty…I walk along the lines, straightening seams and fixing crooked clothespins. I begin to walk back into the house and then…BAM!…I look back. And smile. Every time. I sigh and chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all. Zuberi says I look at my laundry the way some dudes look at their cars. Yeah. I can’t help it. The fabric looks beautiful flapping in the breeze like prayer flags. Who knew wet clothes could be so artistic and yet…so ordinary?

Zenani, 3, beneath our mango tree

Yemurai, 7, Azizah, 3 months and Asali, 5 sit in the shade

Yemurai with mango style

Hearing home under a mango tree. It began with an ordinary walk to the neighborhood lake. It was hot – of course – and the plan was to take a family stroll, look at the water and return home. Asali and Yemu rode their bikes, Zenani rode Zuberi’s shoulders and Azizah hitched a ride in my sling. As usual, the trek there was more exciting than the trudge home. Yemu zipped ahead of us. Asali said she was hungry and Zenani feel asleep on Zuberi.
Azizah napped the whole way there and back.
We decided to stop in the shade of a mango tree. There’s mango trees everywhere in our ‘hood and this one is along the main street. It’s big, leafy and shady. Amazing ain’t it?, I asked the ‘Bola crew, that a bunch of leaves could truly block the heat of the sun?
Just then, a woman who lives in the house alongside the tree came outdoors.
“Good afternoon,” I said, “We’re just stopping to enjoy the shade of your tree.”
“All right,” she said. “Help yourselves.”
And there was something about the way she said it, something in the way she dragged out the “r” in “right,” something soulful, kind of drawly, definitely not Belizean.
“I thought I heard a child singing out here. I looked outside and saw a girl riding her bike singing a song. Is that your child?,” she asked.
Yep, Yemu was singing some ditty while riding home.
“I thought to myself, ‘Who is that child?'” the neighbor said.
And there was something about the way she said, “child.” It sounded vaguely American, definitely Southern.
We just had to ask where she was from. Toronto, she said, by way of D.C. (BAM! I was born in D.C.!) We asked her name. “Jackie,” she said. (Double-BAM! My mama’s name is “Jackie.” And everybody knows I LOOOOVE my mama!)
And just like that, Miss Jackie became a sonic soul-saver. Every conversation brings the sounds of “home,” of African-America, of Soulville.
Miss Jackie – who came here five years ago when the Lord instructed her to leave Toronto and share her love of Jehovah in Belize – can transform a “honey” into a five-syllable croon: “Hoonnnnnaayyy.”
And she calls me “girl,” as in “homegirl”or “sistergirl.”
The other day a simple convo about gardening led to a chat about greens – collards, baybee! – and that ordinary reference showed how friendships can grow from an plain ole’ afternoon stroll and the shade of mango tree.

Azizah Grace - a divine creation

Diaper Changes. Since I’m the household executive, I do most of the diapering. I probably refresh Azizah 7-10 times a day. It’s a basic childcare task, at best a chance to share smiles, laughter and chatter with our baby girl. Other than that, it’s a must-do, an ordinary chore. But, recently I really started to look at Azizah differently. While cleaning her body, I saw her as a being, a physical expression of the mystery, majesty and magic of the Divine.
How is it that her esophagus hooks up so perfectly to her stomach, her intestines and her colon? How is it that my liquid gold breast milk energizes every cell in her body, from skin cells to the ones in her eyes? Her fingers? Her kidneys? Her brain? Her heart? And this grew inside me from a clump of cells smaller than a speck?
How is it that every tube connects so flawlessly to other tubes and allows me the gift of pondering the brilliance of anatomy during a perfectly ordinary diaper change?
Who knew the daily, routine work of digestion could inspire a praisesong?
And since all bodily functions are a blessing of the Divine, who knew diaper changes could bring awe and gratitude?

Meditative Runs. I strive to make my morning exercise as routine as brushing my teeth. I wake up at about 5:13 a.m., or so. I make sure the baby is sleeping on a full tank of breastmilk, I tug on my gear, puff my inhaler, rub on repellant, stuff my cell phone into my sports bra, lace up my Nikes and I’m out.
I run for fitness but mostly for solitude, for precious Tasneem time, for meditation in motion.
It also gives me a chance to use observation to distract myself from aching thighs. To my neighbors, everything I observe is ordinary, just features of rural Belize. But to me, everything I run past inspires appreciation (I run past cattle, roosters, palm and mango trees every day…for a woman used to trotting along sidewalks past dogs, deer, skunks and oak trees, this is an amazing landscape).
Every morning, on a routine run, I seek to savor the ordinary.
One morning, I ran past a bull standing frozen in the middle of the street. I saw, and heard, a green parrot squawking overhead. A Rasta on a bike hailed, “‘Mornin’ sistren.” One dude waiting for the 6 a.m. bus told me I need to run more “on my toes.” A sista rocking a black headwrap called out, “Finish up Mommy!”
Half-eaten mangoes litter the road. So do thousands of discarded plastic water bags.
Dogs, with the terror bullied right out of them, scurry past with their tails tucked low. Or they remain slumbering in the middle of the street. Only twice have I had to pick up rocks to let a barking few know I ain’t no chump.
Those a just a few snapshots of what I see on an ordinary morning run.
And here’s the best part: after recording these scenes in my mind, I get to spend the next few hours blissed-out on endorphins. And this ain’t no ordinary feel-good, my friends, my post-run rush is SPECTACULAR.

Tasneem with (from left to right), Asali, Azizah, Yemurai and Zenani

Gazing at my girls. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mamahood machine. There’s oatmeal to make, kids to rouse, rules to enforce, orders to dispatch, locks to style, clothes to iron, panties to pick out, socks to retrieve, bodies to oil, homework to check, meals to plan, endless talent shows to watch, whines to soothe, tears to wipe, diapers to change, bellies to fill, a baby to nurse, a paying gig to prioritize…and I didn’t even mention wifely duties! (As Zuberi says, “This is the life we have chosen.”) It’s easy to move through the motions with the sole goal to do everything faster, faster, faster.
And then one of the dawtas speak. SaSa asks to do her latest passion: ride her bike. And that daily request brings my mania to a halt. She wants to show off her one-arm ride (and she does it with this cool-girl expression that makes me chuckle), pedal and coast and keep up with her big sister.
She wants to breeze past me and flaunt her independence. She wants to do what kids love to do – play outside. It’s an ordinary request, right? And it’s a perfect one, most everytime.
I move faster to make it happen. I saute a little faster, give the beans a final taste, put ‘Zizah in the sling, find Zenani’s flip-flops and follow SaSa’s lead. We head to the yellow house at the end of the street. Yemu zips along on her mountain bike or jumps her electric-cord jump rope.
Zenani asks, “Can I run?”
And me and Azizah stroll. I watch my girls. And I marvel at them.
Look how coordinated they are! Look at how big Zenani is! She may be a runner just like her mama!
Lord, is that SaSa turning around without falling?
Yemu rolls past with her feet flying off the pedals.
She and SaSa ask if they can ride around the corner and buy popsicles. They show off three “shilling” (25 cents) coins and promise to bring one back for Zenani.
I let them go.
I stare at their bobbing heads, their lean backs, their brown calves and skinny ankles and, if I squint, I can still see them as babies. But now, on an ordinary afternoon, I see my little girls becoming big girls and I’m grateful I’m walking slow enough to witness their sweet transformation.

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