Today, on our way back to our house, Minal points out to laundry laid out behind some bushes right off the freeway, as we enter Pierce Elevated, heading south.
“Those belong to the woman that lives under the bridge,” she tells me. “You know, the one that has the shopping cart…”
Before entering the freeway, I glance as the red and checked cloths hanging off a rudimentary clothesline. I would never have noticed on my own.
“They always hang clothes there,” Minal tells me.
Minal explores leaves, sawdust and tree bark in our patio and serves up some vegetarian meals that substitute as art installations.
Driving together is when I hear Minal’s wisdom. Perhaps this is when she slows down and has time to respond to the world around her.
Today she says: Ammi, I think the kids of today will save the world!
- What do you mean?
- When we grow up, we’re going to discard money and go back to trading like the Indians did and we’ll plant more trees. And also we’ll save animals and homeless people.
Another Minal-ism: So everything you read in the news isn’t the truth?
She’s been listening to René and me talk about western news coverage of he Israeli bombings on Gaza. When I was eight, I wasn’t so astute.
I’ve been writing about her since I began blogging more than five years ago. And today, she decides to google me and finds herself in my blog. Her face lights up as she reads what I write about her. She finds a typo in one of my entries. I thank her and make the correction on my laptop. She refreshes her Firefox page on the family i-pad, finds the edit and beams.
“Are you going to blog that I helped you with your mistake?” she asks.
And we know she’s growing up, but not so grownup that when I tell her she too can keep an electronic diary, she just smiles. Her eyes lower and she wrinkles her nose. Not ready for so much digital stuff – yet. But soon.
Her first day as a second grader is tomorrow.
We close out our coastline travels with a night at Cannon Beach, half a mile away from the 235-feet tall Haystack Rock, which we cannot approach in the evening because it’s surrounded by ocean. In the morning, though, when the tide is low, we walk up to the rock and examine the sea life that’s sheltered beneath the lower rocks. Local volunteer groups provide information about the anemones, sea-stars (once known as starfish) and water mammals that live around the rock and at nearby Ecola State Park.
Minal, always fascinated by new objects, uncovers sand-dollars which she promises to rinse and save forever.
Today, while the rest of my new friends drive away from Silver Falls State Park in a coach that will deposit them at Portland’s airport, I get picked up from the park by René and Minal.
As we drive toward the coast, the light continues to shift and change; one moment the sunshine is bright, while the next, clouds bunch up in purple clots between hills and trees.
I wake up from a catnap when René veers toward the skyline. He’s chasing after a massive rock jutting out from the approaching shoreline.
The exit signs on Highway 101 read “Pacific City” and I find that my phone is connected, so I google the city. That’s how we learn about Chief Kiawanda Rock that’s named after the chief of the Nestugga (aka Nestucca), whose descendents are members of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. In many ways, the Oregon coastline is more raw than what I’ve experienced in California and certainly, Chief Kiawanda Rock bears memories of stolen histories and the devastation of a people. We walk up the sand-dune and then return back to our car. This is a place that we will visit again.
Later, after checking in at our hotel at Otter Creek – a small enclave along the southern Oregon Pacific coast – we head to the water. Undeterred by the 100+ steep steps to the small beach, we descend to find ourselves alone on the sand inhaling cold sea air.
The flying experience has changed since my childhood years when I, along with my family, boarded airplanes from Karachi to Lahore. Now the lines are long and the “security” is nerve-wracking. This morning, my husband and daughter drop me off to IAH for a flight to Portland so I can meet up with other NAMAC arts representatives for a leadership retreat at Silver Falls State Park. We are 15 minutes late as we leave, and once we reach the airport – and even as I leap out of the car – I know that I have a 50-50 chance of making the flight.
Inside the terminal, the line to enter the departure gates is long and slow. I hold my phone in my hand and keep checking the minutes, hoping that my departure gate hasn’t changed. Once I reach the checkpoint, I have to do what everyone does: remove jewelry, unzip laptop, remove sneakers and belt and somehow hold on to my ID and boarding pass . I’m asked to go through a full body scan and body pat down. Each minute is more delay and I force myself to remain calm. I can’t protest now.
When I finally reach the gate for my flight, passengers are on standby and I’m the last person allowed to enter the airplane.
The woman next to me reads my exhaustion: “That was awful, wasn’t it? I’ve never been through such a stressful departure.”
We both agree that even though the time is only 9:20 am on a Sunday morning, we feel as if the entire day has slipped away.
Sitting on the flight, I watch fellow passengers purchase sandwiches and I remember the glamorous PIA air-hostesses (as flight attendants were referred to long ago) on those flights of my youth and realize, once again, that the pampering one experienced on flights is another experience that has long gone. And just like the rotary phone that Minal has never seen, she will only know associate airplane travel with long lines, increased “security” and stress.
We’ve been driving by the gates of Villa de Mittal for more than five years and I’ve often wanted to explore the greenery beyond. After meeting Sister Paulette at a gathering, I set a time with her so Minal, my mother and I can actually see what lies behind the gates.
On the guided tour, we explore the graveyard, the forest, the actual building where the sisters live and also the chapel. As we walk through the forest trails, we see many trees that are marked to be cut down because of the recent drought. Even still, there is shade and this visit with nature — in an enclave created in 1920 — seems distant from !-45 just half a mile away.
“There are very few sisters here now,” explains Sister Paulette. “When I started here, I had to live in a dorm. We have private rooms now.”
Ever curious, Minal asks: “Why?”
“I don’t know,” responds Sister. “Would you be interested in joining?”
I’m relieved to hear Minal’s response.
“Why aren’t there any women leaders being remembered today?” Minal asks. She’s happy that she knows more about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but is also curious about pieces of history that she still hasn’t learned.
We talk to her about Rosa Parks and play Thank you, Sister Rosa,” the Neville Brothers song that I was introduced to years ago by my friend Robin. If she were a little older, we could plan to take her to see Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock that will be playing at Rice Cinema in a few days.
Minal stares at a pink bag in a grocery store. She reads the words: Buy me now. Save Texas – purchase your own grocery bag.
She turns to me. “Actually, you can save the world if you don’t cut trees.”
I love the early hours when I drop off Minal to school. She always has new philosophies that she’s exploring, and we manage to cover a large terrain during our 12-minute drive.
Today, she asks me, “Ammi, is there a king in China?”
I respond with my standard question to her questions: “What do you think?”
She shakes her her head. “No.”
“Why do you think?”
“Because they have a president,” she says.
I lower the windows and a cool breeze blows through the car. Together, we observe the growing numbers of cars, buses and pedestrians along West Gray Street.
She pipes up again: “Why are there more poor people in Karachi than there are in Houston?”
“Hmm. Why do you think?”
This time she does not have a handy response. “Just tell me!”
We then talk about what “poverty” means and how we can identify who’s poor and who is not.
This time she has an answer: “People who are poor have sad faces. And their faces are also long.”
We have reached her school by now, and before she hops out of the car, she reads a passage from a Magic Tree House that she’s been reading. I don’t remember the details, but there’s something about how once in China scholars were valued, and then people stopped supporting their words and their learning.
Long after I’ve dropped her off, I find myself thinking about messages that are embedded in children’s books. It makes sense that the Magic Tree House series, published and widely read in the US, would underscore mainstream US readers’ views about China.
This conversation gets me thinking about another children’s book, a Newbery Medal winner that I recently purchased for Minal, but one I gave away after re-reading: Island of the Blue Dolphins centers around a young girl abandoned by her family on an island that’s invaded by enemies in a red ship (Russians). She’s ultimately saved by sailors on a ship with white sails (no surprise: Americans from California). The book was published in 1960. As a young child reading the text in Karachi, I didn’t quite digest why an indigenous girl would be shown as being “saved” by sailors on a white ship or what the red vs white conflict meant – even though I was raised in a politically aware family. But now, I certainly do understand. I would rather Minal read this book at a time in her life when we can talk about all aspects of the text.
This year, Minal participates in Chand Raat festivities. We meet friends at Hillcroft, and Minal gets mehndi on her palms. On Eid itself, I cook up a feast, and Minal collects both rupees and dollars for eedhi.
Earlier in the day, she comments: “How do squirrels know their partners if they all look the same?”
Before we go to bed the previous night, we learn about the Mumbai bombings, but when we wake up in the morning, we sense new tension in the air as a result of a statement made by Dr. Zulfikar Mirza. The city is once again at a standstill as shops remain closed and public transport is curbed.
Today is also the day for Minal’s last music and dance class at Neem Tree.
“It’s not far from here,” my mother says. “They won’t be closed.”
But when we arrive at the school to drop off Minal, there are no cars. As I push open the door to enter the house, I can hear music. We walk in to an improv-music session run by the teachers, who, rather than sit around informing students about class cancellation, choose to use their time to practice their craft. Minal joins in and drums her hands on a clay pot. Instead of the formal class, she receives a lesson in improvisational music.
Later on, we stop by my friend Salma’s house; with the city closed once again, we use the opportunity to catch up with each other. As we eat lunch, we receive a text message from my mother telling us that the Gizri bridge is “clogged with agitators.” Over the phone, she tells me that certain mosques are demanding that everyone walk out onto the streets to protest against Dr. Mirza.
Unable to move, we wander over to the rooftop, where Minal chooses the moment to create art.
By the evening Dr. Mirza issues an apology. Twenty-four hours in Karachi.
Minal stands barefoot in the living room and places her foot next to a black rain-ant, the size of two of her fingernails put together. As the ant moves to one side, Minal drops to the ground to watch it closer.
As a result of pending rain, many rain ants have suddenly appeared and some have wandered into the house, along with lizards and spiders. Almost seven, Minal who has spent a good amount of time in Karachi, is experiencing the city differently this year. She is noticing details of the streets, but also, is closely watching the streams of lives—birds, insects and animals—that crawl in the garden, fly between trees, and flop along roadsides.
The other day, we googled ‘koel’, the bird that often sits outside our bedroom window. When Minal learned that koels place their eggs in crows’ nests and then fly between trees singing their rich song, she exclaimed: “But don’t they go back and get their children? I mean, can’t they be responsible parents? I don’t like them anymore.”
We engaged in a discussion about how humans have the option of changing behavior patterns, but how animals, birds and insects often cannot.
Minal said: “I don’t like the way crows look and sound—but they’re nicer than koels. They raise children other than their own….”
Without Minal, I would only be focused on the political situation around us, and I would not notice how Karachi—a teeming city of more than 18 million people from around the country—is also home to so much more.
The summer breeze sways the flowers blooming on the lignum tree outside our bedroom window. When the house is quiet with just the ceiling fan whirring, we can hear leaves rustling outside and Minal loves to stand beside the window and wait for the koels to appear on the branches. On our third afternoon, Minal sees the female koel (speckled brown and yellow) sitting on a nearby branch and singing her song koo-oo. A little while later, a male koel (black) joins her with a berry in his beak, and they exchange a bite and something that Minal insists was a kiss.
We now start every morning waiting for the two birds with bright red eyes and an echoing song to eat outside our window. I am struck by the fact that I never knew—until now—that all koels have red eyes and that the males and females are so strikingly different and beautiful.
We were in Karachi six months ago, but Minal’s consciousness was at a different level. Now she notices—and comments on—the armed guards, why men are piled up on top of buses at the end of the day, the plastic bags flowing on desert shrub around itwaar bazaar, and street children asking for money.
Transitioning from one place to another is never easy, but the long journey from Houston to Karachi is particularly challenging since the trip involves a stopover in Dubai International Airport, a spot that I love to hate. I can do without the shopping mall inside an airport, sofas that look comfortable but aren’t, internet connections that come and go, sockets that don’t quite work, artificial plants, and shiny new cars that are displayed for raffle.
Every time we fly through, the airport seems to expand more and more, and Minal and I wonder how long it will take for movement between continents to be faster. I might not see many changes in my lifetime, but hopefully Minal will. One of the changes in Dubai airport—a marked improvement from just five years ago—is that flights to Pakistan now receive a chute as opposed to passengers having to take a bus and then having to climb up steep staircases to enter the airplane.
This year, as we are looking for things to do in the long layover, Minal sights a live pigeon flying between the circular glassed-in walls and she is ecstatic. She races over to one of the maintenance men (Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi) , and tells him that there’s a pigeon trying to break free from the glassed-in bubble.
He smiles. “Yes,” he says. “There are many pigeons here, but they cannot get out.”
Living in a Rose
A poem by Minal Saldivar
When you live in a rose
You feel so comfy
Warm and cozy
You get a nice breakfast
And a quiet morning
You can plant fruits
And sunflowers of course
You can relax in the rose
The tippy top of the rose
From where you can see
People, buildings, and art cars.
Minal will be performing the poem at her school’s talent show and the very next day, she will perform at the open mic on VBB art car Revolution. I am not surprised that her first poem closes with references to art cars – the weekend is around the corner…