Saturday, December 10, 2016

I No Longer Need a Man ... to Kill the Cockroaches -- I Am Hagar!

By Ayisha Karim

“In some traditions, the cockroach represents adaptability, the ability to sense subtle changes, and the ultimate ability to survive any conditions – they have crawled over the Earth for hundreds of millions of years – true survivors… they teach us to go with the flow and adapt to your surroundings, to survive…” – Friend and Colleague, Ellen

Last Friday night, I sat alone in my cold house, suddenly thrilled to receive a text from my older brother, telling me that he was on his way over. This particular brother is an amazing storyteller and asks very little from his hostess. 

I know that brewing up a fresh cup of any coffee that I have in the house and offering it to him in a clean mug, on top of a saucer, is the ultimate delight for him…along with giving him my undivided attention, a listening ear, an open heart. (But then again, I’m somewhat of a coffee snob, buying fancy coffees from around the world. He’s begun to depend on a higher quality roast with me.) My brother likes his coffee black with a hint of sugar, as he’s oftentimes on his way to his second job, a nightshift involving physical labor. This time I even have a fancy red velvet cupcake to offer him along with it. I only had one cupcake, however, expecting that I’d be totally alone that night. Plus, due to our humble upbringing, one in which I don’t recall ever owning a coffee maker (not even the $10 one), my brother is accustomed to partaking in the skimpiest of accommodations and finding the gift/comfort/good in it. And well, I, the hostess, took pride and joy in being able to serve and cater to him in this way. Being the baby of four, it wasn’t my natural role to care for and look after my older siblings. Not until I became an adult, a wife, and caretaker did I see the normalcy, beauty even, in being a relief, an aide, guide to them, as they’d been for me for as long as I can remember.
Brazilian coffee from "Estrada Real", the Royal Road

So, we sat on the couch together, sipping our coffee, my full body turned towards his, listening intently to every word, as he shared his thoughts on the recent elections, why so many Americans voted for Trump, his day job as a barber in the local barbershop—where his customers range from Muslim friends he’s grown up with and Black women who wear short hairdos to the local kids (ages 6-17) who sweep up hair for an extra dollar and manage to take in lessons on how to be a Black man in this society.

In the same breath, he offers his take on the stagnant state of a large portion of our local Muslim community, stemming from not truly knowing the example and character of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and prayers be upon him). Commentary like this, on the moral decline of our American Muslim communities, or the lack of activism within them, was becoming more prevalent. Oh, how I love to see the pride in my brother’s eyes and hear the expertise in his voice as he speaks about such things. 

And then the conversation turns, as it always does eventually, to his wife, the love of his new life – his friend, his ride-or-die chick, his partner in this, what would otherwise be, cruel, cruel, "man’s world." A long-lasting smile appears on his face as he talks about his wife’s latest theories, shenanigans, projects, and successes. My brother is a gifted comedian on the side, so one of the ways he shows his love for his wife is teasing her. Her latest thing had been putting powder on big bugs, thinking this would get rid of them for good.  He laughed hysterically as he told me that her trick was not only ineffective but that he’d shown her a better way: “I told her, ‘Look, watch this.’ And I’d open the door and watch them walk right on out the door. See, they don’t want to be inside in the first place.” And just like that our conversation turned to waterbugs and cockroaches.
Which brings us to the ever-contentious topic of COCKROACHES. And depending on your socioeconomic status, the part of the world you live in, or your stance on the source of cockroaches, there’s a chance that you may not even consider these hideous creatures as ever appearing anywhere near or inside of your home. Or, you’ve totally dismissed them from your vocabulary and replaced their species name totally with that of waterbugs, much less offensive, I guess. You see, there is a shame to experiencing the terror of cockroaches in one’s home, especially if you only associate them with poverty or filth. I call those bad boys for what they are (and yes, they’re ALL male in my mind; I’ll spare you my reasoning)… cockroaches!!
My brother went on to talk about how his wife would call him on the phone while he’s at work and complain about a cockroach, or waterbug. He went on, laughing at the seemingly helpless nature of women in the presence of these creatures: “I remember even Jamillah [our other sister] would call me when I was at Momma’s [who lives across the street] and say, ‘Do you mind coming over and killing this bug for me?’” And then I recalled and shared my stories with him about depending on someone else to kill them for me.

And, out of nowhere I had the question: What kind of man will protect me from THE cockroach? Wait, do I even need a man to protect me from the cockroach? Should that still be my focus, as I now can protect my own self from the cockroach? I mean, I no longer run away from it, hide, and just pray that it miraculously disappears for good. I have learned to defeat those suckers. And like a friend recommended, I don’t even give them much of my mental space anymore because as soon as I do, they just magically appear to my dismay. But how bold I’ve become in the face of them!!
With all that I’ve gone through in these past three years as it relates to maintaining myself and protecting myself, my assets and my heart (the biggest asset of all), I’ve realized that the cockroach is really the least of my fears. However, if you had observed me in the presence of them three years ago, you’d think otherwise. But I swear, I’ve grown. I now make bold moves towards them, certain that once I’m done, they will be NO MORE! I’ll admit, it typically involves Raid bug spray (lots of it), and when it dies, I have a method for ensuring their complete disappearance. Once it’s surrendered to death and has turned on its back, I sweep it up on the dustpan and quickly flush it down the toilet. And I have peace of mind again until the next occurrence, by which I grow stronger and stronger in more ways than I’d imagined.
So, what lessons have I ultimately gained from my desperate encounters with the cockroach? It’s quite simple, actually. For years, I thought either a man, or a grown-up—someone other than me—had to protect me from one of the scariest, ugliest, frightening creatures God allowed to mingle among us human beings, esp. many female humans. And now, I realize that there are certain things that I can protect myself from quite well, and maybe even better than a man ever has. This fact became ever so clear during the holy month of Ramadan when I'd wake up each morning for the pre-fast breakfast, suhur. In the peaceful, serene darkness, I'd occasionally wake to one lying on its back on the kitchen floor, or even worse, notice its eery shadow approaching while reading my sacred, luminous text (Al-Qur'an). Now, if that doesn't teach one reliance solely on Allah (God) in the face of adversity, i.e., the cockroach, I'm not sure what does! 

Essentially, my rendezvous with the cockroach as a single woman living without a man made me realize I’ve been wrong about the traits that I need most in my next mate to thrive and live a secure, successful, and joyful existence. More importantly, the despicable creature made me come to terms with what it is about being spouseless that really worried and bothered me. Mr. Cockroach moved me to consider the traits that I really do need to find in my future mate. Essentially, it made me realize that it’s not so much the physical traits that matter, as do the emotional and spiritual ones. (Hmm. I wonder if all the lucky women out there who are blessed to have never feared cockroaches already understood this important lesson.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’d never reject my spouse’s attempt to kill the sucker -- he can have his way with the roach and me :-).  But, I, like most Hagar's, would appreciate a mate who could also recognize and maybe even speak to the wisdom in all of God’s creation…and not so much protect us from the cockroach but from the schemes of the real enemy (shaytan), hehe. Or maybe even embody the qualities of Prophet Solomon, who was said to speak every language in the world, including that of animals, perhaps, even bugs...cockroaches. Imagine that.
In his own piece about the lessons gained from coming to terms with our disdain of the cockroach, Omid Safi simply states, “We cannot live in a roach-free world. Suffering and pain are woven into the fabric of this world, as are hope, joy, and love. We can live lives where we don’t have to be perpetually traumatized by them. We have more power than we realize.” (“Getting Over Our Disgust When Life Gets Gross”; On Being)
So, yes, like the cockroach, I can adapt much more than I give myself credit for. I am a survivor, who goes with the ebbs and flow of life. I am destined to thrive. I am Hagar.