On Birth, by a Father-to-be

Yousef Turshani

Yousef Turshani

Flying into Detroit to see Sara and Nabil’s new home, it’s my annual visit to catch up with my now 5-year-old neice, Lina.  She who gave birth to me 35 years ago today will be there. We haven’t spent my birthday together for about a decade. All the warm greetings I receive today are for my mother.

This birthday is special in a few other ways too.

I’ve been blessed to have attended about a thousand births professionally, as a pediatrician. From the 1-pounder to the nearly 11 pounds. From Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to San Francisco, California. From the celebrity mothers to the orphans who were HIV+. They’ve all taught me something, and each birth was life changing for their families.

Just a few weeks away now is the one birth that will change my life.

Last night, before heading to the airport, I knelt down before the swollen belly pushing out in all directions. I have been singing “You are My Sunshine” to our growing girl throughout my wife Nadeah’s pregnancy.

Some time around October 8th I will get the chance, God willing, to sing directly to her in my arms.

On that day I’ll gain a new title: Daddy.

Lastly, I must indulge my love of numbers:

My birthday is Aug 27th.


I am 35 today.

8+27 = 35.

I was born in 1980.

2015 – 1980
2+0+1+5 = 8
19+8+0 = 27

Read more by Yousef, here.

Yousef “Dr. Yo-Yo” Turshani is a pediatrician whose story appeared in the groundbreaking anthology, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, & Intimacy. After their marriage, Yousef and his wife Nadeah lived in Micronesia on the island of Saipan for a few years, where they worked with the underserved and traveled through Asia. They now continue their journey together in Los Angeles.

Heaven Points

Zahra Noorbakhsh

Zahra Noorbakhsh

In 1990, President De Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison, the East German police dismantled the Berlin Wall, and, in a 10’ x 10’ makeshift classroom at the Ibn Sina Islamic Farsi immersion school in Sacramento, Khanoom Bahari, the religion teacher, liberated my soul from the threat of eternal hellfire with a cheat code for savab, or heaven points.

Khanoom Bahari had a ballerina’s posture and wore a permanent welcome-smile. She glided into the classroom to our metal fold out table, opened up our religion textbook, and, with her gentle voice, read aloud from the text describing charred skin, the screams of guilty souls, and the eternal damnation of hellfire.

As she ran down the list of sins, I searched my memory:

Lying – I lied to Dad almost every day, telling him that I’d done my prayers when really I’d been lying on my bed daydreaming.

Cheating – Every Monopoly game, I cheated and stole money from the bank. When I ran out of money, I’d act sullen. Then, I’d act surprised to discover that I’d been sitting on one of those bright orange five hundred dollar bills the whole time.

Eating Pork – There had been three occasions; once it was ham and twice it was pepperoni.

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A Decade After Katrina: What We Lost/What Remains

Ambata Kazi-Nance

Ambata Kazi-Nance

I’m not a big Hurricane Katrina remembrance person. Like a lot of people from the places affected by the storm, I usually unplug from social media on the days leading up to August 29th. It’s not that I want to forget or pretend it never happened. That’s impossible considering ten years later I can drive through New Orleans and find many houses still marked with the “X” codes left by search and rescue teams signifying the number of people, dead and living, found inside; some because people refused to paint over it – Katrina war scars – others because they have been abandoned and never reclaimed. It’s because the damages, the wounds, are still so present, so fresh, that when the stories start pouring in it becomes overwhelming.

I’ve never seen Spike Lee’s much lauded documentary, When The Levees Broke, because just the thought of Katrina news footage – houses under water, people on roofs waiting, hoping, praying to be rescued, people wading through waist deep water trying to find food and clean water – makes me involuntarily clench my teeth and have difficulty swallowing. It’s sadness for the many people who died during and after the storm, but, more so, it’s anger for how poorly government officials handled the crisis, and how people, mostly poor and black, literally had to scream for help to the news cameras that dispassionately documented their struggles as my city descended into lawlessness.

When I think about Hurricane Katrina, two words come to mind: loss and erasure. I didn’t lose any family members or friends thankfully, but so many did that the loss feels communal. Once at the doctor’s office where I was being treated for rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that took over my body only months after the storm hit, another patient, an older man, was telling me about how his wife died after the storm and he just wished to die too but he held on because he had to take care of the dog his wife loved. His story is so different from mine, but I understood his loss and felt it like it was my own.

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Memories of Grandad & rice pudding (with a mango twist)


We’re going away for the weekend to what has been dubbed the wedding of the century. My parents are in some way responsible for the union, and now, after three successful matches under their belt, they’re convinced they’re experts on love.

Their attempts to play cupid with their own daughter, however, have been slow and unsuccessful – and a little annoying. Whilst bachelor X may be good enough for person Y’s daughter, he’ll require a great deal more vetting, a strenuous grilling, and a very thorough (read: invasive) background check, before he’s approved for me. And that’s just Stage 1.
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Zen & the Art of Soul Repair

Zainab Chaudary

Zainab Chaudary

Just before they take her away for her MRI, my mother removes her rings and asks me to wear them. They won’t allow metal in the room, and she gets four of her rings off easily, but there’s a set of three that are stuck. She frets with them as the orderly situates her in her stretcher.

“The tech will figure it out when you get downstairs,” he says soothingly.

She sits back on the pillows, looking tiny and forlorn in her hospital gown, and asks for her dupatta so she can cover her head. She hasn’t been out in public without her hijab for almost seven years now, ever since my brother was admitted into the hospital he never left. I know she thinks of this as they wheel her away. I know the beeps of the machine bring back memories we’ve all tried to bury. I watch her til the end of the hallway and try to quell all the fears a hospital brings while I wait an hour a half for her return.

I stare at my hands. I’m wearing my mother’s rings and they feel too big for me – not because of their size, but due to the weight of their history. Here are the two rings my father gave her all those years ago: the tiny diamond engagement and wedding rings that he could afford as a Naval officer in Pakistan. They commemorate struggle, sacrifice, the strangeness of a new life in a foreign country. The two other rings are bigger – the diamond circlet he gave her just before my brother got sick, the year we moved into a new house and were happy, the year things came together before blowing spectacularly apart. The princess-cut diamond he gave her this year, to celebrate their 35th year together and all they have endured. I know the permanence of these rings on her fingers is linked to what they commemorate: survival coupled with faith, faith coupled with love.

Wearing her rings still makes me feel like a little girl playing dress up in her mother’s closet. This, despite the fact that I am already ten years older than she was when my father first put the engagement and wedding rings on her finger, already older than when she had her first child and older than when, many years later, her twin boys were born. Younger, though, than the other two rings. Younger than when she lost her child.

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Welcome to Heartbreak


Give me a child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.

People never approach their first, true romance with a clean slate. Life is too turbulent for that. Still, the first romance is experienced with a certain naïveté that can be forever lost after it ends, but remains necessary for a future love to work.

This is certainly true in my case. My first real connection came at 18 and I fell quickly. I did the sort of cheesy cringe-inducing things for her that I frown upon so much now that I can’t even bring myself to list them. She was constantly on my mind, and everything I did seemed better as a result. I was hooked after I lost my virginity to her, fully comitted to taking her ride no matter where I’d end up.

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Brown Girls Don’t Get to be Sad

Key Ballah

Key Ballah

“Brown girls don’t get to be sad,” she said, her face marked by disgust and disbelief.

I put my head head down, looking at my hands, too ashamed to make eye contact with her again. She was a woman who was beautiful, but not pretty: strong jaw, long, thick jet black hair falling loose over her shoulders, eyes so dark you wondered what might be lurking in them, skin deep and rich like sweet dates. She wasn’t a small woman by any means – tall and full, her delicate green and gold sari juxtaposed the boldness of her outlines.

When she got onto the southbound train heading for downtown, everyone stared at her. She was the kind of person you want to understand as soon as you see her, she draws you in simply by existing. You find yourself wondering where she is coming from and where she is going.

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