Physiology for a Five-Year-Old

My grandson Hasan wanted to spend the night with me, so I picked him up on my way home from work. We played on the computer,  constructed a model car together, watched a little television,  brushed our teeth and put on our pajamas. Then he asked me, “What color is our brain?”

“Pink,” I said.

“What color is a very young brain?”

“Pink.”

“What color is a very old brain?”

“Pink,” I said, “I’ll show you.” I dug out my beautifully illustrated atlas of anatomy and flipped to the section on the nervous system. I showed him the pink brain, with its packed convolutions, and I showed him where the spinal cord enters the lower part of the brain. Then I ran my fingers down his spinal cord. He stared.

“How do the five senses work?” he asked.

I flipped to the eye picture and told him about how light enters the pupil and how the optic nerve is connected to the brain.

“How do we hear?” he asked.

I flipped to the ear pictures, and showed him the inner anatomy of the ear, which conveniently looks like musical instruments (if you apply a little imagination).

“How does burping work?”

To the digestive system…

“How does the pee pee get made?”

To the kidneys, ureters and bladder pages…

“The poopies?” Back to the digestive system…

“How does our hair get white when we get old?”

To the section on aging…He stared at the drawings of people at various ages,  their hair becoming white and their flesh becoming  loose. He wanted to know where each of his family members stood in the lineup.

We sat with that book for nearly an hour, he asking questions and  me flipping the pages to show him pictorial answers.

Finally I saw his eyelids droop, so we went to bed. I was relieved he hadn’t asked me about death.

He turned from side to side, unable to fall asleep in spite that he was tired and it was nearly midnight.

“I can’t fall asleep,” he said. “I want my mommy!” He became agitated and I wasn’t able to help him recover his usual good mood. I  had to phone his mommy, waking her,  and ask her to unlock the door for us. I took him home, feeling sorry that he had suddenly felt so unhappy.

Next morning, he phoned me early and said, “Grandma! Don’t tell me anything more about the body at night time. I just get so confused! I get sooooo confused!”

Sweet Hasan, and Why I Work

A few weeks ago, while visiting my grandson, he said, “Stay with me, Gramma. Don’t go to work tomorrow.”

“I have to go to work,” I replied. “I’d love to stay with you, but tomorrow is a work day, and I have to work tomorrow.”

“No! I don’t want you to go to work!” he cried, tears erupting from his eyes.

“I don’t want to go to work, either, Habibi, but I have to go.”

He pouted, with big, dreamy eyes and a poked out lip. “No more work,” he begged.

“I’m sorry, Hasan, but I have to go to work. That’s how I get my money. If I don’t work, I don’t get money. Without money, I can’t buy gas for my car, and I can’t come and see you, and I can’t take you places or buy toys for you.”

His eyebrows drew down as he thought about this. “Buy me toys?”

“Yes,” I replied, relieved that I’d touched a spot that would help him let me go.

He brightened. “OK! You can go to work tomorrow!”

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This morning, Hasan phoned me and asked, “Gramma, do you have to go to work today?”

“Yes, Sweetheart, I’m sorry. I have to go to work today.”

“No! I don’t want you to go to work!”

“I don’t want to go, either. I’d rather spend the day with you, but I need to get more money.”

“Why do you need money?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, suddenly feeling the weight of work and the need for money, “I need money to pay for my food, my clothing, my electricity, my car… and to buy you toys! Remember? I need money to buy you toys.”

“Gramma,” he said slowly, “I don’t need any more toys.”

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As true as it is that I need to work, and as true as it is that thousands of people are now out of work and cannot earn money even for their basic needs, I felt resentful that I cannot spend the day with this lovely boy, this dear boy who is getting his first lesson in the necessity for work, and isn’t liking it.

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On second thought, I could have given him a more positive lesson. I should have said something about contributing to society, making myself useful to others by means of work, fulfilling my need to do productve activity, etc., but that would have been false, and he would have known it.

For me, work is nothing more than a means to make money, and I work no more than absolutely necessary to earn the absolute minimum needed to live comfortably. Ironically, my work was the sole reason I ended up in Riyadh, and that was an experience I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

No Pooping on My Property!

Yesterday morning, I noticed a man lingering at the end of my driveway. I went to the door for a better look, and saw that he held a leash, at the end of which a little dog was poking its nose in the grass. “Not again,” I thought to myself. I come upon this scene regularly, with different men, women, and dogs, but the scenario remains the same. The dog wants to poop, and the owners think nothing of letting it poop on my property.

When seeing this, I always go outside and say, “Good morning,” or, “Good afternoon,” or whatever, and quickly proceed before it’s too late, “Please do not let your dog poop on my lawn.”

Invariably, the adult holds up the little plastic bag, the glove and the spoon, and says, “I pick up,” as though that should reassure me, but they misunderstand.

“Yes, I know you pick up, but I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t let your dog poop on my grass.”

At this point, I might get a dirty look, but you’d be surprised how many dog-walkers repeat the bit about picking up the poop. They actually think I should be OK with dogs pooping on my lawn simply because they pick it up. What they don’t realize is that they can never pick it up entirely.  Traces remain, and other dogs smell it and think they’ve found the toilet.  Also, I have to walk on that lawn when I cut it, and my grandkids run on it when the weather is nice.

Yesterday, after the man shook his little plastic bag at me, and repeated, “I pick up,” and I repeated, “Yes, I know, but I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t let your dog poop on my grass,” he replied, “Don’t worry, she won’t do anything.”

I stood there for a moment, watching the dog root around for a likely spot. “You can let your dog poop over there,” I suggested, gesturing to the neighbor’s lawn, “or over there,” I added, gesturing to the lawn across the street.

“Don’t worry, she won’t do anything,” he repeated.

I started walking toward him, not wanting to become rude, but feeling my heart-rate accelerate.

“I’m asking you nicely not to let your dog poop on my grass,” I said, and he finally pulled the dog along. I stood there until they meandered across the street, where the dog immediately dropped its nose and then its haunches.

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During my twelve years in Riyadh, the only dog I ever saw was a big brindle Boxer running loose in the city. I felt sorry for the dog, who had obviously escaped from his Western expat compound, and was now lost. He would come to a bad end in Riyadh, where no one loved dogs, and no one kept them.

Most Arabs dislike dogs, and will avoid them. Their abhorrence originates from a religious belief in the ritual impurity of dogs, a belief that is controversial, and sometimes exaggerated.

Before living in Riyadh, I loved dogs, but after twelve years during which not a single dog crossed my path, except that poor loose Boxer, I was used to living without them. In fact, I grew to appreciate an atmosphere free of dog hair, dog breath, and other leavings. I started to wonder why anyone in his/her right mind would keep a dog in the house, and have to feed it, clean up after it, walk it, and treat it somewhat like a member of the family.

Upon repatriation, I noticed that most American households— most, I am not kidding— had dogs. Some people kept more than one. Strangely, all these dogs sat home in empty houses every day because everyone worked.

When I was a youngster in the 1950s, only married couples with children kept dogs. Single people did not keep dogs or even cats, out of a consideration for the emotional well-being of the animal. We believed that pets should not stay alone all day while adults  worked. We believed that domesticated animals belonged with families where women stayed home and took care of the household matters, including dogs, and children came home from school early enough to take dogs for walks before dinner.

Anyway, today’s pet owners think nothing of leaving their dogs and cats home alone all day, sometimes in crates. These people are clearly in the majority, but I remain in the minority. I still don’t believe pets belong in empty houses while the human occupants run off to work or school all day, and sometimes into the evening.

In any event, I do not want dogs pooping on my lawn. I’m ready to put up a few NO POOPING signs. I’ve seen these little signs in stores, but my mom (with whom I live) thinks they look tacky, so I have to keep an eye on the lawn through the front window. I’m on the poop-patrol, and I chalk up one more way in which my Riyadh years changed my life in a fundamental way, taking me further away from mainstream America than I could have imagined.

Gaining Weight During Ramadan

Oh-oh! I’m about to suggest something no one wants to admit— that it’s easier to gain weight in Ramadan than during any other month of the year. Perhaps I should qualify that statement, for those readers who are quick to say, “Not ALL of us gain weight in Ramadan!”

OK, not all of us gain weight in Ramadan, but maybe more of us do than don’t. Anyway, let’s get on with it. 

I’ll admit straightaway that I gain weight easily.  Ramadan has never taught me control. It’s taught me postponement. I can postpone. I can fast and fast, but by Maghrib, I am like a cat ready to pounce.  I used to follow the Sunnah, which is to break the fast with dates and water, juice  or soup, then pray. That’s because one cannot pray comfortably on a gorged stomach, so, the serious eating had to wait until after dates and liquids.

I’d eat a full meal, including dessert. That would have been fine, except that another meal (and maybe  dessert) followed during the night, after Tarawih, followed by yet a third meal, Suhoor, just before Fajr. Between meals, I’d sleep a few hours, if I was not visiting someone or having guests at home.  Days passed in a groggy haze, similar to jet lag. The hospital in which I worked during my fist six years of fasting allowed Muslims to reduce their shifts from eight hours to six. That was nice. 

I worked in Riyadh, at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center. We Musims would stagger our shifts; one worked from 7AM to 1PM, another from 8 to 2, and another from 9 to 3, etc. I was committed to maintaining as close to normal a daily schedule as possible, because I believed I was supposed to do that. I criticized the Saudi practice of switching days and nights.  I accused them of sleeping all day because they did not want to feel the discomfort of fasting. Their focus on food, food, food, both in the grocery stores and in homes, seemed inappropriate and somehow sacreligious, especially when they slept during the day and never felt hunger. 

Well, at the end of each Ramadan, I’d find myself tired and fatter, and finally had to accuse myself of the same fault I’d attributed to the Saudis. Something was wrong.  One is not supposed to gain weight during Ramadan, I thought.

Then I got married, quit my job, and joined the Saudi liftestyle, especially in switching my day and night activities during Ramadan. From the first year I did that, I no longer gained weight, and the whole twenty-four cycle proceeded more smoothly, productively and comfortably.  I slept from fajr til just before Asr, prayed, then read the Qur’an and cooked. I’d stay up all night, going to the
mosque for all twenty rakat of tarawih, and using the rest of the night for household duties usually done during the day— laundry, vauuming, cleaning bathrooms, etc. (I didn’t have a housekeeper). Many evenings I’d have an invitation, or extend one.  Then I’d eat Suhoor, pray Fajr, and go to bed.

Only then did I understand why the Saudis switched their days and nights
during Ramadan. It was a matter of physiology. The body gets tired without food and water; it wakes up after having been nourished. Switching days and nights was the most natural thing in the world during Ramadan, and I no longer criticized anyone for doing it. I found no evidence in the Qur’an or Sunnah to contradict the practice. We are enjoined to fast from fajr to maghrib, but we are not forbidden from sleeping during the day and becoming active at night. I am convinced that switching days and night in Ramadan is not only natural, but more healthy than trying to force the body to behave as if if were nourished during the day, and then force the body to sleep when it is no longer ready to sleep. That practice effectively produces ‘jet lag”, and I see no need for it. As one who is always severely effected by jet lag or any other disturbance in my circadian rhythm, I recommend the Saudi  style of observing Ramadan.

The problem is that the rest of the world is not ready to follow it. When we live outside the Kingdom, we cannot “do what comes naturally.”  That means that here in the United States, if one wants to observe Ramadan, one must remain active while fasting, and try to sleep while not fasting. 

 Ramadan Kareem!

Relish, Sauce, or Chutney?

My mother, sister and her husband are football fans and Tea Party Republicans. As far as they lean to the right, I lean to the left, and they know it. By virtue of numbers, however, they feel no restraint in verbalizing their dislike of America’s president and all of what he symbolizes. We were together last night for dinner. My sister cooked a roast with potatoes. She also made salad, and my mother contributed a cranberry relish.  I contributed nothing.  I do not muster much enthusiasm for this sort of dinner. By way of showing appreciation, I offer to clean up and wash dishes. This is my usual contribution. My sister and her husband would not enjoy the kind of food I’d like to cook for them– Arabic or Indian style recipes I’ve become comfortable with over the years.

The three of them conversed, as usual, slugging insults at the Democrats, predicting doom and damnation for the country unless the Republicans get back in power, because the Republicans are the only real patriots, you know. The rest of us have wandered too far off the “right” path, ha ha ha…

I kept my mouth shut during this, because I had nothing to say. They are full of emotion. I am not. I do not get excited over political differences, but I do get excited about people who are narrow-minded, who do not recognize that this is a world of full of societies that get along just fine using rules that could turn the stomach of an American of either political persuasion. Representatives from those societies are permeating every corner of American life, doing so legally, even.

Years ago, kids were taught that America was a “melting pot.” That meant that American culture would be an amalgam of the many cultures from which Americans had risen. America had no historical identity of its own, no national character (we weren’t taught about Indians, in those days.)  The original immigrants were supposed to pool their cultural identities to craft something from which an American identity would emerge. So today, do we now have a national identity? Does America have an identifiable character which is desirable and should be striven after?

My table companions would not have considered such a question. They already knew the answer, evident in the speeches of Sarah Palin and and FOX “news” celebrities.

Halfway through the meal, my mother offered my brother-in-law some relish. He said, “I don’t eat relish.”
She said, “Well, call it sauce. Have some sauce. How about chutney? Have some chutney.”
He said, “Chutney? That’s even worse.”

They continued, moving from politics to football. They actually feel a sense of personal worth that’s attached to the local team and the skill with which the team plays and wins games. This is another area with which I have no resonance, no connection at all. The relish dish was in front of me, so I put a dollop on my plate, and tasted it.

“EWE!” I exclaimed, with wrinkled lips and squinty eyes. “This is sauce! I don’t eat sauce— I eat chutney!”

All three of them fell silent, looked at me blankly, and then resumed whatever it was they were saying about the football game to be played next week. I didn’t laugh– didn’t need to laugh. They’re not stupid; my point had not been lost on them, but they couldn’t say anything. That’s OK. I enjoy cleaning up. I also enjoy washing dishes. I can excuse myself from having to sit like a lump on a log and listen to more of the same.

It’s not their viewpoints that offend me; it’s their arrogance, their assumption that no other political party could possibly work for the betterment of American society. They are Christians, and they “know” that only Christians will go to Heaven. How can I exchange ideas with people like that, how can I examine doctrine or delve into any system of belief– political or spiritual– within the framework of civil social intercourse?  All I can do is tell them that I eat chutney, even though they know that already.

Apples for Eating, Apples for Cooking

When leaves turn yellow, red and orange, and the temperature dips, I look forward to buying apples from one of the area orchards. I love eating apples, but only if they are crisp, sweet and juicy; my favorites are organic Fujis.

Whenever I bite into an apple, I remember my Egyptian mother-in-law, whose ideas about eating apples are different from mine.

She came to stay with us in Riyadh for awhile. I was happy, because she did not speak English, and I’d finally get my chance to learn Arabic.

The first few days, neither one of us said much. She took control of the kitchen, and there we found some common ground to focus on, linguistically, other than  my husband. I would begin by asking her, “Eh da?” and she’d tell me the Egyptian words for the various foods and utensils in the kitchen. I’d repeat the words, and eventually, she taught me enough so that we could converse about anything having to do with the kitchen, but not much else.

One day, my husband brought home a huge box of apples. We couldn’t possibly eat them all, so my mother-in-law and I decided that we’d separate the apples into to piles– one for cooking, and the other for eating. Each of us would pick up an apple, squeeze it gently, and put it either in the cooking pile or the eating pile.

After we’d made some progress, I noticed that each of the apple piles included both hard-fleshed apples and soft ones. I assumed I’d misunderstood, so I said to her, in Arabic, “Eating apples here, and cooking apples there?” and I indicated with my hand the directions we had agreed upon.

“Aiwah” she said, and we continued sorting. Still, the hard-fleshed apples ended up with the soft-fleshed apples, and I repeated, “Apples for eating HERE, and apples for cooking THERE?” Again, she said, “Aiwah.”

This time, however, she picked up an apple, squeezed it and said, “Shoofi, nashfa,” and tossed it into the cooking pile. Then I realized that she thought the “dry” apples, that is, the hard-fleshed apples, were for cooking, and the soft ones were for eating!

I was designating the hard-fleshed apples for eating, and the soft ones for cooking.

I realized this was probably another one of the ways in which Easterners did everything opposite of Westerners. We laughed a bit, and l pulled out some choice specimens I hoarded for my own eating pleasure, and by that time, we reached the end of the box.

I don’t remember what we made with the pile of “cooking” apples, but I avoided the “eating” apples. She fed them to the kids. I managed to show the kids that hard-fleshed apples tasted very good, indeed (preferable, actually). I don’t remember their reactions, but I am satisfied that I opened their tastes a bit, even with respect to the simple apple. I hoped the lesson would be applied to the larger choices in life, and, in fact, it did.

Caught in the Betrayal of Fate

Monday, July 19, 2010
Caught in the Betrayal of Fate

My daughter’s doctor called her and her husband to come in for an immediate appointment regarding a prenatal test that indicated something could be wrong with the new baby. She’s at the end of her first trimester. I asked,”If the next tests indicate something wrong, what will you do?”

She replied, in tears, “What can we do? We believe in God, we have to accept what He sends us. What? Are we going to kill a baby?”

When I asked her husband the same question, privately, he gave an entirely different response.

Here I am,  in dead center, as usual, able to understand and agree with both of them.

As a family, we’ve already trod the moral high road. We’ve paid our dues for admission to the tower of special needs, and we’d rather not do it again.

My third daughter has Down Syndrome. Though I did not give birth to her (all my kids are originally “stepkids”)  I know what it feels like to be betrayed by fate, to relish the thought of the arrival of another child, and to be kicked in the heart when that child appears with special needs. Believe me, I know, but my story is another story. The point is that I know how she and her husband feel, and I  understand the moral implications of either decision.

Whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is a decision that one can never fully evaluate before the fact. One will never know how the future would have unfolded had the decision been made the opposite way. Therefore, one is caught in  a double betrayal of fate.

I honestly do not know what Islam says about terminating a pregnancy during the first trimester, but I don’t really care, astaghfirullah.
Religion is only one of many factors that will have a bearing upon the outcome of this situation. The best outcome would be that the test was a false positive, and that the baby is perfectly normal.

Life is hard enough under ordinary circumstances. Are we required to hang an additional ball and chain around our necks while we have the means to prevent such a fastening? Oh, yes, I’ve heard about the blessings in raising a child with special needs; I’ve acquired some of them myself, but if I had it to do over, I’d rather pass on this particular blessing.

Nevertheless, if my daughter bares a child with “special needs” (what a euphemism!)  I’ll have to fasten my seat belt on that particular roller coaster all over again. I’ll do it, and I’ll shut up about it. I’m prepared, and I’ll help her.

Time for a Blogging Break

Time for a Blogging Break

Summer is here, finally, and my three little grandchildren are getting old enough to want to go outside. Between babysitting, working, playing with digital imaging, and a few other personal activities, my blog has languished. Rather than hang on, adding a thin post now and then, while reading and commenting on other blogs, I’ve decided that a blogging break is in order– cold turkey.

I haven’t done so earlier for fear of losing readers and weakening the lovely connections I’ve made with most anyone who is reading this now. I’ve noticed, however, that some of my favorite bloggers have taken breaks. Their blogs– and their readers– did not crumble away, fall apart, drift back across the ocean, or shrink up and disappear. On the contrary, new posts after a break offer freshness of spirit borne of an enthusiasm that simply needs renewal.

Therefore, I shall spend a few weeks, or months, gathering myself together, playing with my dear little grandkids, and preparing some new posts. I do not plan to break my addiction to the Internet, so if anyone wants to write me via email or comment on previous entries, I will be quick to respond.

May Allah bless you all, and keep you and your blogs safe, healthy, and unblocked!

Ya Mamma, Ya Babba

Ya Mamma, Ya Babba

When I read Bedu’s recent post, Saudi Arabia- Understanding Umm’s and Abu’s, I became inspired for this post. I suppose I should say it is a rant, but I am genuinely curious about how the following custom got started and what it means.

I’ve noticed that many Arab parents address their very young children as ya Mamma and ya Babba. Both parents will address their daughter as ya Mama and their son as ya Babba, but I’ve also heard mothers saying ya Mamma to both sons and daughters, and fathers addressing both sons and daughters as ya Babba.

I understand the “ya” part, as a sort of a polite equivalent to, “Hey, so-and-so”, for people of any age,  I’ve picked up that custom myself, but the Mamma and Babba part still stumps me when I hear it addressed to children.

In fact, it grates my ears, and I was mortified to hear one of my daughters begin addressing both her kids as ya Mamma and ya Babba, right from the cradle. The poor little girl still thinks her name is Mamma, and the boy is too small to know his own name, much less anyone else’s.

I would never criticize my daughter or anyone for following a harmless cultural custom, but I wish she would realize how ridiculous it sounds when she says it here in the States, especially in public.  I’ve asked various Arabs about this custom, and I’ve heard various answers, none of which make sense.

One Arab father said, “Because I want my kids to know that their babba is talking to them.”

An Arab mother said, “Because my kids will grow up and becomes mammas and babbas.”

Can anyone enlighten me further, or agree with me or disagree that the expressions sound silly? Has anyone addressed a child as ya Mamma and ya Babba? If so, why, and what does it mean to you?

Tagged: Bedroom Art

Tagged: Bedroom Art

imuslim tagged me:

http://imuslim.tv/2009/03/08/bedroom-art/

Here are my bedroom shots, but I must confess, the photos look better than the real thing!

These peacock feathers came from a cousin who keeps peacocks and llamas on her farm. I’ve always loved these feathers, maybe because they showcase my two favorite colors, “peacock” blue and emerald green.

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This plant stays in the house over winter, and I nurse it along, though it does not like staying inside. In two months I’ll be able to put it outside.

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This lamp is next to my bed. What you do not see is a messy pile of books on the table. The object hanging from the lamp is a wooden shoe horn that belonged to my father. It seems to belong there; I haven’t moved it since my father died, and I actually use it to help me slip on new shoes.

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This is my bedroom door. I close it at night, and I can see the clock from my bed. It makes a lot of tick-tock noise, but I don’t mind. I love the Arabic numbers. I brought this clock, and seven others (which I distributed to siblings) from Saudi Arabia.

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Well, now I have the pleasure of tagging a few other people, and they are:

Hning, who might want to try picture taking as a viable alternative to writing, when she feels the need to “to say something”: http://hningswara.blogspot.com/

Susie, though she probably has better photos to take, of sculptures, sandstorms, and life on the streets of Jeddah, http://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com/

Carol, though there’s a good chance she doesn’t have time for the frivolities of bedroom art, http://americanbedu.com/

and Aafke, from whom I expect the most charming, engaging photos of all!), http://clouddragon.wordpress.com/

The rules are simple:
* Post one or more photos that were taken from within your own bedroom. The more interesting and artistic, the better!
* Then tag at least three others to do the same.
* Don’t forget to link back to the person who tagged you.