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.