She leads a glamorous life…


The airlines lost my luggage. I have never had to deal with lost luggage before. After a long flight, there is no worse feeling than watching the conveyor belt turn and turn and turn with no sign of your things. Slowly you see all the people from your flight walk away with their treasures. You stare despondently at the empty luggage cart for which you just wasted 3 lira and have nothing to put on. Then you try with your crap Turkish to find the customer service people. 

Perhaps it is a good thing I was alone because I would probably have found some way to blame Feraz for losing the luggage had we been together. I had to wait two hours in the customer service room before they even talked to me. When they refused to do anything to help find my suitcases, I pleaded “Please, you have to find them. My whole life is in there.

 

On the Saturday night before I came, I was talking to a friend who asked how I planned to pack for going away for over one year. I replied, I am about to find out. I am not a great packer in the best of times. I recall one trip to Switzerland where all my friends showed up with carry-ons and I came with a massive full size suitcase. I didn’t hear the end of that for the rest of the trip. (But people did borrow the many warm clothes I brought along!!) Feraz always groans when we go somewhere because somehow I always manage to convince myself that there is a ton of crap that I have to have with me. Eighty percent of it usually goes untouched or unworn.

 

Before I left the US Feraz and I were driving and I said to him, “I can tell you the story about every piece of clothing and jewelery I am wearing. I can tell you who gave it to me or the thought process I had when I got it, who I was with and what price I got it for.”

 

I guess my point was that although I have more clothes than any human should, almost everything I own has sentimental value of some sort. I love shopping because I am materialistic but I also love shopping because I like hunting for a good deal, making plans with friends, walking around seeing all the colors and sparkles, finding a fabric that feels like magic against my skin, putting outfits together like an art project and then finally sitting down completely exhausted and spent from shopping and eating a big meal that almost always includes a chicken burger, fries and coke. It is an experience. In some ways it is even like a sport. In other ways, it is just really sad. 🙂

 

But how do I look at my masses of clothes and decide what I will take with me? At one point when I was deciding to pack a shirt I thought, this is too hippie-ish, you don’t really dress like this anymore. Then I thought, but think of all the hippies you will meet this year. Who knows, you might need it come next year. Eventually, I sorted out all the best of the best. I picked my very favorite things and packed them up into two suitcases with a dismal 50 pound weight allowance for each.

 

Then the airlines lost it all. My life. Gone.

 

It seems appropriate that as I am back in Istanbul, my magical place of discovery and self-improvement that God sends this challenge to me. Lately, I have been spending a great deal of time reflecting about materialism. I am a materialistic person and I am a recovering shopaholic. (Feraz may disagree with the recovering bit.) I love things. I especially love nice things. I have no shame in saying that I hope to one day have a full Burberry wardrobe. It is classic and timeless. It is fashion perfection. Those silks and cashmeres, the perfect cuts, the fact that you can never put a price on a dress that makes you look ten pounds thinner.


But as I try to become more socially aware and more sensitive of my role in the world, I have to acknowledge the realities of consumerism, capitalism and superficiality.

 

Islamically I feel there are conflicting views sent about materialism or wanting the ‘good life.’ There are various accounts that stress that we should ask for the best of this world and the best of the hereafter. The Believer does not take an oath of poverty, and in fact one of the most famous and respected imams was said to wear a new garment each day. On the other hand our own Prophet lived by very humble means. Was he applauded because as a leader, it was more relevant for him to live humbly so as not to alienate himself from his followers? That he had to sacrifice first because he was asking others to sacrifice so much for this new religion? Or was the humility in his lifestyle the lesson itself?

 

Allah says in the Quran, “If it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred; the wealth that ye have gained; the commerce in which ye fear a decline: or the dwellings in which ye delight – are dearer to you than Allah, or His Messenger, or the striving in His cause, then wait until Allah brings about His decision: and Allah guides not the rebellious.”

 

It is the most holy of months, the most blessed of days. And so I lost my things. But I have my life. I have my lips with which to worship Allah, to ask for His mercy and for His help. Blessed are we who get to see another Ramadan. Who are given another chance at redemption. It is ok for us to want the best of this world, to want that which is material. But when things happen that take away some of our wealth or health or happiness we must strive to remember that nothing can be more dear to us than Allah, that we should cherish nothing more than guidance and truth and with that knowledge we must find peace.

 

Surely, we are only travelers in this world. We are bound to lose things along the way. I am grateful that it is only luggage that I have lost this Ramadan.


After being worried about getting to work on my first day, this morning I felt like something of a pro going to work. Having already done it yesterday, I already know exactly which dolmus (shared taxi) I have to get on and have the exact change for the driver. I feel kind of like a big deal. I also have the bright idea that I should read while commuting to work.  It’s not a very long ride but I think it it is a good way to stay on track with my reading goals.

So, I delve into unnamed book and keep an eye out for my work. Soon, I notice the dolmus is completely empty. Strange. I look around and can’t recognize the neighborhood I am in at all. This doesn’t seem like the route we went  on  yesterday. In fact, this is a part of Istanbul I have never seen. Suddenly we are careening in and out of random streets. I start to panic. Obviously I am being kidnapped.

I take out my cell phone and think of who I should call. I try to bluff the guy, pretending to call a friend at work and saying that I will be there soon.  Realizing that this guy doesn’t know English, I just sit and wait for my untimely demise.

After about ten minutes the dolmus pulls into a massive parking lot. This is it. I am going to die in some giant parking lot in working class Istanbul. I am at peace with this. Then I notice that lots of dolmus drivers bring their victims to this lot! In fact, there are rows and rows of dolmuses lined up everywhere. It is going to be a mass murder!

The driver parks and turns around throwing his hands up as if to ask why the hell I am still there. I feel like the little kid who fell asleep on the back of the bus and didn’t wake up until the bus driver is all the way back at the bus lot. I say, Levant?? Lutfen? He rolls his eyes at me. Then he yells what could mean nothing other than, “Get Out!!” I try to sit there for a second thinking of what I should do. (There are no taxis anywhere.) He yells again, “Get Out!!” Alriiiiight I think. Out I go. I start walking up the dolmus lines to see if there is anyone else willing to reply to my more sophisticated “Levant istiyorum lutfen.” I am thinking I am an idiot. I need to do my Turkish lessons. I need to look out the window while I am being driven to work. I need to not think I am being kidnapped every time I am an idiot. 

The dolmus driver sees me and gestures for me to follow him. He takes me to the front dolmus and then as if dealing with a mildly retarded person, he tells me to sit down and stay there. So, I sit and wait and wait… Eventually another driver comes and off we go. We pick up passengers until there is no room to breath on the dolmus, let alone be able to look out the window to spot my work. 

When I see a small sliver of the mall that I work by in the distance I jump up to get out. I can walk the rest of the way! I am just scared he is going to take a turn and take me somewhere else all together. I force my way through the wall of people and as the dolmus is still moving I jump out.  As I stumble and almost fall, I try to act cool. No worries, I think. I am an expert at getting to work.

Yippie! Obama’s remarks from the recent White House iftaar dinner. I was so happy to see some of my old DC friends on the attendees list and particularly happy to see that Karamah was represented! I am really happy to see this speech after reading so much against Muslims in the media and after seeing so many ignorant remarks regarding CAIR’s actions against the judge in Michigan. Thank you Barak Obama and the White House for affirming that there are many, many Muslims like myself who sincerely love this country and consider ourselves a part of the fabric that makes it so beautiful.

THE PRESIDENT: Please, everybody have a seat. Thank you. Well, it is my great pleasure to host all of you here at the White House to mark this special occasion — Ramadan Kareem.
I want to say that I’m deeply honored to welcome so many members of the diplomatic corps, as well as several members of my administration and distinguished members of Congress, including the first two Muslims to serve in Congress — Keith Ellison and Andre Carson. Where are they? (Applause.)

Just a few other acknowledgements I want to make…(I cut this part out)

And most of all, I want to welcome all the American Muslims from many walks of life who are here. This is just one part of our effort to celebrate Ramadan, and continues a long tradition of hosting iftars here at the White House.

For well over a billion Muslims, Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection. It’s a time of service and support for those in need. And it is also a time for family and friends to come together in a celebration of their faith, their communities, and the common humanity that all of us share. It is in that spirit that I welcome each and every one of you to the White House.
Tonight’s iftar is a ritual that is also being carried out this Ramadan at kitchen tables and mosques in all 50 states. Islam, as we know, is part of America. And like the broader American citizenry, the American Muslim community is one of extraordinary dynamism and diversity — with families that stretch back generations and more recent immigrants; with Muslims of countless races and ethnicities, and with roots in every corner of the world.

Indeed, the contribution of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country. American Muslims are successful in business and entertainment; in the arts and athletics; in science and in medicine. Above all, they are successful parents, good neighbors, and active citizens.

So on this occasion, we celebrate the Holy Month of Ramadan, and we also celebrate how much Muslims have enriched America and its culture — in ways both large and small. And with us here tonight, we see just a small sample of those contributions. Let me share a few stories with you briefly.

Elsheba Khan’s son, Kareem, made the ultimate sacrifice for his country when he lost his life in Iraq. Kareem joined the military as soon as he finished high school. He would go on to win the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, along with the admiration of his fellow soldiers. In describing her son, Elsheba said, “He always wanted to help any way that he could.” Tonight, he’s buried alongside thousands of heroes in Arlington National Cemetery. A crescent is carved into his grave, just as others bear the Christian cross or the Jewish star. These brave Americans are joined in death as they were in life — by a common commitment to their country, and the values that we hold dear.

One of those values is the freedom to practice your religion — a right that is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Nashala Hearn, who joins us from Muskogee, Oklahoma, took a stand for that right at an early age. When her school district told her that she couldn’t wear the hijab, she protested that it was a part of her religion. The Department of Justice stood behind her, and she won her right to practice her faith. She even traveled to Washington to testify before Congress. Her words spoke to a tolerance that is far greater than mistrust — when she first wore her headscarf to school, she said, “I received compliments from the other kids.”
Another young woman who has thrived in her school is Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir. She’s not even 5’5 — where’s Bilqis? Right here. Stand up, Bilqis, just so that we — (laughter) — I want everybody to know — she’s got heels on. She’s 5’5 — Bilqis broke Rebecca Lobo’s record for the most points scored by any high school basketball player in Massachusetts history. (Applause.) She recently told a reporter, “I’d like to really inspire a lot of young Muslim girls if they want to play basketball. Anything is possible. They can do it, too.” As an honor student, as an athlete on her way to Memphis, Bilqis is an inspiration not simply to Muslim girls — she’s an inspiration to all of us.

Of course, we know that when it comes to athletes who have inspired America, any list would include the man known simply as The Greatest. And while Muhammad Ali could not join us tonight, it is worth reflecting upon his remarkable contributions, as he’s grown from an unmatched fighter in the ring to a man of quiet dignity and grace who continues to fight for what he believes — and that includes the notion that people of all faiths holds things in common. I love this quote. A few years ago, he explained this view — and this is part of why he’s The Greatest — saying, “Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams — they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do — they all contain truths.”

They all contain truths. Among those truths are the pursuit of peace and the dignity of all human beings. That must always form the basis upon which we find common ground. And that is why I am so pleased that we are joined tonight not only by so many outstanding Muslim Americans and representatives of the diplomatic corps, but people of many faiths — Christians, Jews, and Hindus — along with so many prominent Muslims.

Together, we have a responsibility to foster engagement grounded in mutual interest and mutual respect. And that’s one of my fundamental commitments as President, both at home and abroad. That is central to the new beginning that I’ve sought between the United States and Muslims around the world. And that is a commitment that we can renew once again during this holy season.

So tonight, we celebrate a great religion, and its commitment to justice and progress. We honor the contributions of America’s Muslims, and the positive example that so many of them set through their own lives. And we rededicate ourselves to the work of building a better and more hopeful world.

So thanks to all of you for taking the time to be here this evening. I wish you all a very blessed Ramadan. And with that, I think we can start a feast. I don’t know what’s on the menu, but I’m sure it will be good. (Laughter.) Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)