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May 14, 2010 - travelogue    6 Comments

A Southerly Visit and Where should Muslims move to?

Last week I took a trip to visit my friend who lives in the North Carolina Raleigh-Durham area. I found the area to be very green with a lot of stately old trees and pines. They seem to be everywhere!  My friend said they might have some kind of law that everything has to be covered with trees. So houses are set back from the streets covered by trees, apartment developments are set inside gates surrounded by trees, even those little plazas with different stores are so covered by trees and shrubbery that you have no idea what could be inside! You can’t really get a feel for the real city life there which is why my friend doesn’t like it too much.

So I visited a local Mosque, the UNC Chapel Hill campus, some gardens near Duke University and attended a fundraiser for another local Mosque. The community seemed kinda Arab flavored but they had a number of Desi stores and restaurants. It seemed somewhat cultural because while I was in town they had a Turkish festival which was fun to attend. This area has what’s known as the Research Triangle, a corridor of huge high tech companies. This is what probably keeps it diverse and it also surprisingly had a large Hispanic population? Always good to have brown ppl around I say :) Everything seemed really nice but I still don’t think I’d want to live there.

The area where I live now in upstate New York is supposed to be diverse because of all the universities nearby and our proximity to New York City, but it isn’t. It has an overwhelmingly non-culture exploring white population. Which is fine, but having grown up here all my life I still feel “not welcome”, even when walking down my own street. The other MAJOR problem with this area is the weather: 9 months of brutal winter is truly hard to take.

I don’t really know what area is better for Muslims to live in. I think that country-wise the UK/Europe and Australia seem extremely racist and my father refused to settle in both those countries for that reason. The US does have a more open nature being a younger country and less into classicism, doesn’t really have a culture and is used to immigrants. Canada might actually be more diverse and open to immigrants.

In the US I think the NY, NJ area is out even though there are many Muslims the lasting bias of 9/11 has really affected morale, businesses and activity there. Moving South the DC area has a very vibrant young Muslim community but everyone is soo into politics there. Really, like even housewives that’s all they talk about!  I can’t really take that much political debate and whatnot lol. The Carolinas we covered. I think Atlanta is way too urban and South but it’s next on my list to visit so we’ll see. Florida is nice but no one wears clothes and seems like a lot of retired ppl. The Midwest’s big cities could be nice, depending on the communities but I think they mostly have the same problem of lack of diversity. Houston/TX area has their own culture which I think is really at odds with Muslims but they seem to tolerate us well enough. California I think has the naked ppl problem again, extreme beauty consciousness and earthquakes! but sounds like it’s a lot more diverse than anywhere else, has the high tech jobs, large Muslim populations and activities. I’ve heard its extremely expensive to live there though, but who knows. Another area that might be good is the Chicago area, which has a really explosive Desi population and numerous Mosques and schools.  Their winters though I’ve heard are pretty ugly too.

I really don’t know where Muslims should settle but I think exploring different areas is always good!

I took a number of beautiful nature pictures from the Duke Gardens and areas around the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill so check them out here: Gallery of Nature Pics from NC

Also, here are a couple pictures from my trip with more descriptions:

Jun 19, 2009 - travelogue    Comments Off

Thoughts from an Airport

An airport

An airport

I am sitting in one of those little food courts in Newark airport. Straight ahead of me are a row of windows that show the most famous skyline silhouette in the world: NYC. I can see the Empire State building and the many other beautiful modern buildings of New York. The view I have though is kind of funny. Underneath that, as if there were a sea, I see only the tails of planes moving back and forth like they were shark tails! They slowly move back and forth as if searching for prey.

I drink my Dunkin Donuts tea and hear my stomach growl. How can I be hungry at 8am, I’m never even up at this hour.

Looking at the sea of planes moving, I wonder how many planes I have ever been on. Trips when I was a baby from India to Australia, to the UK, to the US. Growing up and visiting grandparents, aunts & uncles & cousins in India every few years. All the trips going to conferences, ISNA’s and ICNA’s in Daytons and Indianapolis and Chicago, visiting Texas. Then traveling to Damascus, to Cairo, to Amman, to Dubai, to Umrah, to Hajj. Even at Hajj I flew from Makkah to Madinah. And then all my work trips to Cleveland, to Miami, to San Antonio, to Pennsylvania, to Kansas City. Perhaps dozens?!

So many trips on a plane, not even counting each leg of a journey. How is it that I have been on a plane so much in my life, flying through the air, as if this kind of travel were normal. How many airports have I been in, how many flights have I been on. More than any person has a right to be I think. Alhamdulllah nothing has happened all those times but one day my luck could run out.

Sometimes when I’m flying I look down and I see these beautiful houses surrounded by land and trees isolated in wilderness with maybe farms around it and a pond nearby. Like it’s own little kingdom down there. Why do I keep flying from city to city instead of settling down on some such emerald green isle?

As I travel, I meet people who have lived in the same place their whole lives, indeed generations. Unfortunately we can’t seem to go back to that beautiful village kind of life, where you grew up in the same ancestral home of your parents and grandparents and stayed there and had your kids and raised them there. I think life for most people has been the same for hundreds of years until these last 50 years. These last years have brought the greatest amount of rapid changes…cars, air travel, computers. We will never be the same.

Some changes are so amazing like access to Hajj. Millions of visitors from all parts of the world that would never have been able to perform the pilgrimage or would have perished on the way can now travel easily and see the House of God. Could that be worth all the changes of the last 50 years? I am amazed I live in this era where I travel to India and back, and Damascus and back, and New York City and back.

Hundreds of years ago there were those invertebrate travelers like Ibn Batuta. He never stayed in one place. He just kept going. Maybe I am more Ibn Batuta than villager. Even though I yearn for both. I think though I am a traveler at heart. Every time I remain in the same place for a long time I feel depressed. Traveling I think brings out different aspects of yourself. You break your routine, you’re out of your element. It’s just you and nothing else. I think it brings out the best in me. When I meet new people I feel like I can start again, be the person I want to be. I can look back from afar and contemplate my life, I can see what is out there in the world, what my choices are.

When I was younger and first started traveling for work, it made me realize I might never have the ‘things’ other people had ie their ‘wealth’ or ‘perfect lives and families’ or ‘lifestyle’. But I think time brings maturity and now I know to be content about who and what I am. I could never be those people and they could never be me. I know I have much to improve. Every time I come back from somewhere I’m ready to try to fix the past, tackle my problems again, ready to try to change anew. Perhaps this is my way of repentance.

Sometimes airports make me feel extremely lonely especially when I’m traveling by myself. And then sometimes they give me some kind of solace. Perhaps the same kind of solace I’d get watching fish swim in the sea. I watch all the people pulling their suitcases behind them, pushing baby carriages onto the escalators, talking on their phones, hurrying to their next destination. It’s fascinating yet what does it mean.

The odd thing is that on all my travels I’ve never actually met someone I knew randomly. Only after ISNA do I see some random Muslims taking flights home at O’Hare or something, but traveling so much, to so many cities and countries, I’ve never met anyone I know at all. It’s just amazing that there are so many people in the world. I keep seeing newer and newer people and I have no idea who they are. How small we are. Flying over cities of millions of people each one with their own lives and concerns and problems. It makes my problems seem small and petty. I can’t question why any more. Why me? I am me. I can’t change it. I have to accept it and move on. Work with what I have. Believe in the uniqueness of me.

Who was it who said traveling was like leaving home a sharp ragged rock and coming home a smooth stone. Surely someone who was an avid traveler :)

Here’s a little ditty for you that you can sing while you swig back a few of those mini cans of something on ur next trip. :D

A Traveler

Airports, Airports

Travelers weary;

Crying babies,

Hugging lovers;

Laptops aplenty.

I wish I may,

I wish I might,

Travel to Acapulco


Engrossed in spreadsheets

While your flight’s delayed,

You miss the moving sidewalks

Speeding visitors by.

Ancient caravanserais,

Modern lounges,

Both beg the question:

Why bring more than you can carry?!

She’s carrying a Coach,

But I think it’s fake.

A little giggle,

Over the guy that’s asleep;

But I wonder over

The 6 inch stilettos

On that Swedish stewardess!

Hudson news,

Selling gum and the Times;

Borders books,

Browse but don’t buy.

(at full price)

Drinking a Snapple

As I spy the pilot,

His luggage one bag

Now that’s a real traveler!

Apr 27, 2008 - travelogue    1 Comment

Cairo Al-Qahira – City Victorious

Cairo – Al Qahira – City Victorious Part I

Cairo, Al-Qahira, City Victorious, City of a Thousand Minarets, Islamic Cairo, Fatamid Cairo, Ancient Cairo, New Cairo. “You would be mistaken if you think of Cairo as one city, because it is not”, said Leyla as she deftly changed gears and sped narrowly around the car in front of us, missing it’s bumper by inches, her perfectly matching scarf layers fluttering in the wind. We were in her little car around 11pm, heading back from a day at a villa in a nearby area outside of Cairo. The traffic was horrendous even at that time. We were passing by rows of glitzy shops, BMWs and women coming out of restaurants wearing sequined tops and jeans. This was the New Downtown, she told us. I could have been anywhere in the world, like LA or downtown Manhattan, but every now and then I’d see a man in a Jalabiyya on the street and remember with a little shock that I’m in Egypt.

Ever since leaving New York I’ve been feeling like Alice who fell down into a new world, where nothing is like what she expected. My trip first started out at JFK where as our plane headed to the runway we were told we were 8th in line and would have to wait 50 minutes. After a while the pilot came on and told us that we would have to return to the terminal “because a mother had left her baby behind”! This caused a lot of surprise and shock and a murmur went up in the whole plane, and an older woman in front quipped in Arabic that she could understand leaving her husband behind but not her child! This caused a lot of laughter and I remembered that Egyptians were always known for their good senses of humor. So our plane turned around on the tarmac and we headed towards the terminal. I called my dad from my cell phone and told him to try to email my sister and brother-in-law to tell them I’d be about 2 hours late because of what happened. He said, well you never know about these things, sometimes they tell passengers one thing but really it’s something else. I said, how could they make a story like that up!

All the TV screens were tuned to the camera in front of the plane and a few minutes later, all of a sudden we see 4 or 5 police cars and security vehicles surround the front of the plane effectively stopping us dead on the tarmac. It was like a scene out of a movie. “Uh oh” we all thought. For half a second I was scared there was some kind of hostage situation. But as we waited a long while nothing happened. Finally the pilot came on and said on request of the authorities the “American” mother was taken off the plane and arrested and they were just trying to get her luggage off.

Finally it was taken care of and we headed back and lifted off. The seat next to me was empty but next to that was an Egyptian from Boston. He turned out to be very friendly and helpful and said he was a Halal grocery store owner in Boston and visited Egypt often to see his mother and family. We chatted about Islam in America a little and about educating children as he had two kids back in Boston. Egypt is a wonderful country he said, but the problem is the management. Everyone is corrupt and the country has progressed little even in the last 50 years. They are all waiting for Nasser to die for the country to progress, he said. But the Egyptian people, he said, were great. He told me a little about the famous sites and said he was sure I’d enjoy my trip.

As we neared Egypt, we flew right over Sharm-al-Shaykh, a resort that catered mostly to Westerners. The sea turned into beaches and land and then we flew over green fertile farmlands that had twisting irrigation canals between them until finally I saw buildings upon buildings. From the air it seemed like a metropolis- megapolis. Towns and cities all seemed to merge together, it was endless and huge. Was this all Cairo? Suddenly, it turned into desert and all I saw were dunes and sand hills and then pyramids! There were three perfect pyramids right there underneath us. I was so excited I exclaimed “Pyramids! There are the pyramids!” and the whole plane turned to stare at me and then out their windows. The pilot must have heard me too and came on to tell us we had a nice view of the Giza pyramids to our left. It seemed like we did a perfect arc right around the pyramids and I got one of the most spectacular, amazing views of my life.

As I got off the plane, my new seat companion Omar showed me where to get a visa and helped me get my luggage. We headed out to the receiving area and I introduced him to my family and with a wave he left, saying “Come visit my store in Boston!”

End of part 1