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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When Abuse Happens

Eds. Note: We’re featuring the stories and perspectives of Muslim youth between the ages of 18-25 this month! Tune in on Twitter to join the #MYRising conversations and check out our sister sites Muslimah MontageComing of Faith and Muslim ARC for more #MYRising features.

Trigger warnings: Self harm, rape and sexual abuse.

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It was becoming a little routine by now. Every day after work, I would listlessly make the rounds of the kitchen, not daring to cook anything lest my resolve broke and I took a knife to my skin. I would wait for my roommate, who came in half an hour after me. We’d cook dinner together, her unawareness of my inner struggle a relief of its own.

When Ramadan came, the cutting urges gripped me in a vice. Wrecked by hunger and exhaustion on the one hand and battling self harm urges on the other, I came back from work every day and fell into my bed sobbing, terrified of what I would do to myself if I got up. My entire body screamed. It was like a food craving, except my body did not want to nourish itself. Falling headlong into depression, my body only saw self-destruction as a way out.

I fasted day in and out living out an internal terror. My roommates were all non-Muslims. There was really nowhere I could go for spiritual support or guidance.

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Dying before Death

I hate writing about death. It brings up unpleasant family memories.

Mother died at the age of 62 in 1982 from a series of brain infarctions, which is like Alzheimer’s, only accelerated.

Dad died in 1994 at the age of 75 from pancreatic cancer. By the time he was diagnosed, it was so advanced the doctors sent him home after surgically opening him up. He died a couple of weeks later.

These were huge personal losses. But I could comfort myself with knowing that I still had my sister, Debbie. Debbie and I were not close, but whenever we met for lunch or a special occasion, the conversation would always move to our parents and what bratty kids we’d been.

Swapping childhood stories with her was the most fun I ever had with anyone.

She died at the age of 48 in the spring of 1999 from congestive heart failure. When I finished being mad at her for taking a radical position early in life to never ever go to a doctor, things started closing in. I began to realize how alone I was. I was the sole surviving member of my family!
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Man of the House


I’ve had many humbling experiences in my life, including voluntarily going homeless for one week every year as part of an awareness-raising project. But my most humbling experience so far has been being unemployed.

Since I left my job in October, I went from being the man-of-the-house to the man-in-the-house. My new househusband role begins at 6:45 am when I wake up to make and pack my wife’s lunch. By 7:15 am, I’ve also ironed her clothes. At 7:30 am, I’m warming up the car to drop her off at the train station fifteen minutes later

After that, phase two begins. I make sure the house is clean, the laundry is done and dinner is made while also searching and applying for jobs. It sounds easy enough, right? Let me tell you, it’s one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever done and I’m still trying to get it 100% right. I have a new respect for women and men who take on the role of homemaker. And, I can only imagine the work it takes to be a stay-at-home parent.

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