How Am I Doing?

You want an honest answer? Really?

One of the things I hate about my own American culture is the typical greeting, “How are you?” In truth, most Americans don’t really want the answer. In fact, it is rude to answer honestly if things aren’t going so well. The point is that “how are you?” is really a rhetorical statement. The inflection at the end of the statement is really just a formality. Sometimes it isn’t even there. People say as they pass by, “How are youuuuuuuuu.” voice fading as they speed by. Over the years I’ve had a lot of people ask me how am I doing and then get really annoyed when I tell them the truth. I’ve had friends who call me up and get really annoyed or impatient as I talk about things I’m struggling with. I’ve had close friends who have shared their stories, who I have helped work through issues, who I have sat for hour listening and trying to understand, go off on me or shut down when I share my story. But at least I can write uninterrupted. I don’t have to spin my wheels worrying if my complaints will offend someone’s sensibilities before I can fully articulate what I’m going to say.

To answer your question:

Alhumdulillah…Things have been challenging and frustrating. I’m just coming out from some major upsets. Thins are looking better, but I’m still wondering if it will work out just as planned. Things operate differently here. And there are different levels of shadiness and ineptitude. Overall, it is a mixed bag. I’ve already written about boredom and being judged. I have felt homesick, isolated, disoriented, and lonely. It would be far worse if I lived on my own. I’m grateful for my friend and her family. They basically keep me going. But sometimes I feel intrusive and like a burden. There are times when I felt like packing up everything and going back home. And then I realize, I can’t because I don’t have anywhere to go back to–somebody’s subleasing my room for the year. Plus through the past few years many of my relationships and friendships back home had become strained or distant at best. The nice ones were ephemeral, kind of like “hi-bye good luck on your trip!”

Before I left for this trip, I had no doubt that I had to take this step. But I had trepidations. I felt like I was putting life on hold. But then again, I wonder what life? I have spent the past 6 years focused on getting into graduate school and then trying to survive graduate school. It consumed everything. Even my few diversions and leisure activities (including laundry, foot soaks, blogging, visiting friends) were just coping mechanisms for graduate school. Even my leave of absence was full of reading, researching, planning, worrying, re-planning, writing proposals, and preparing for graduate school. This whole leave of absence for French and Arabic study took a huge wind out of me.

Cramming a year’s worth of French in six weeks was a piece of cake compared to embarking on this trip. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy many things about being in the Middle East. But is absolutely frightening to know you don’t have a safety net. By safety net, I mean family members who will send you funds if you get ripped off or stuck in a jam. I know a Muslim woman who was actually stuck, really stuck, in some Gulf country. All our affluent friends did nothing to help her out in her jam. I suppose those car notes and bargain shopping had ran up the bills. There was even one brother all into tasawwuf with a site about sacred knowledge who treated this sister poorly. He ran into her at the house of some people who might have helped her and her children find a safe place to live until she could get a ticket back to the states. But this well known brother sent her packing and told her never visit those people again. I guess he wanted to protect wealthy Muslims from helpless and homeless American Muslim women who are stranded abroad. After a harrowing story full of drama, she finally made it out and eventually made it back home. You can have your passport lost, credit card stolen and personal items stolen, put in jail, or become really sick. I’ve known people who have gone through some tribulations and trials abroad. Some of their accounts speak to my worst fears.

I’m still working on my fears and insecurities. I still get embarrassed speaking Fushah in public. I still don’t understand Kuwaiti Arabic and there are some days when your confidence in your language abilities gets knocked right out of you. I try to motivate and work harder despite the most recent setbacks. I try to think about the overall purpose. Learning Arabic has been a dream for 15 years. Going abroad wasn’t just important for my academic career, but my spiritual well-being. Maybe it was about letting go of some control–even though I finally had taken the reigns of my own life following my divorce. 5 years ago as I prepared for graduate school my adviser David Pinault said that graduate life was monastic. It entails poverty, lonely long hours, etc. He assured me that it was a good kind of poverty. You don’t starve, it is just a modest living. After a few years in graduate school I wasn’t in debt (except for those deferred student loans), I could pay my bills, I was even saving some money. I found history to be isolating. That was just part of the field, the long hours in archives, the long late nights writing, the time in the field. I knew that going abroad for graduate work was looming in my future. And it felt like a destabilizing force.

Two years ago I asked for guidance and support about graduate school and my requisite year in the field. One imam’s wife told me to look at graduate school like it was a prison–I was just doing my time. There are some mind trips about this training and the constant insecurity of graduate school. Academia is medieval in its structure, from the apprenticeship approach to developing your own masterpiece after demonstrating your worthiness to be in the guild of scholars. I haven’t even begun to think about the publish or perish world of tenure. My African American peers in graduate school tell me to keep up the fight. We’re so few, 3% of the graduate population at my university. With more African American men in prison than in dorms, I have to keep trying to make a difference. There are people who don’t want us there. There are people who don’t think I can do it. Jan Barker said that if we felt like we’ve been through a hazing in graduate school, it is because we have. Through the hazing process, my Muslim friends often tell me about having patience and faith. Keep going–it is a test. So, that’s how I’m doing. I’m in the middle of another test. I’m not sure if I’m passing. But I’m doing the best I can.

6 thoughts on “How Am I Doing?

  1. Assalaamu alaikum,

    I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I have seen your posts on other blogs. We’ve even interacted online once. Anyway, I really like the way that you are developing. You don’t see it because you’re on the inside, but I DEFINITELY see a growth and maturity. Believe me, I’m not trying to imply that you were immature before or that I’m some wise old man (we’re probably around the same age), I just wanted to say that your growth is apparent to me. It’s actually rather inspiring.

    lol, I want to say more, but I’m at work, so I’ll leave it at that.


  2. It seems that like so many things, going through it is difficult, but having gone through it will, insha Allah, be valuable.


  3. I’ve always been annoyed by the “how are you?” that is so casually tossed around. When I worked as an operator people were constantly asking me this and one day I responded “pretty crappy actually” and the person on the other end just kept talking away and I realized then that I needed a new job.
    I love your posts. And I keep coming back to read about your adventures so I guess I must care a teeny bit for what it’s worth 🙂


  4. Your comments about grad. school currently ring sooooo true for me. I enjoyed hearing someone else going through the same struggles I’m currently enduring now. Insha’a Allah, Allah will guide you during your difficult times. Remember what Allah says ” After the hardship, comes the easy”. I know it’s hard to keep your head up, but the fight is worth the effort, at least that’s what they tell me(smiles). Take care and stayed focused. Find your solace in the Quran!!!!


  5. hi! i’ve read a few of your posts before, but this is the first time i’m commenting. I’m actually kuwaiti, i Iive in kuwait right now, but I spent a good part of my life in the US. All I can say to you is good luck, and if you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask! And the dream is always different when you arrive, but it’s still amazing to know that you go there!


  6. oh im really have a good read of all ur blogs. subhanallah I also cant stand it wen pple ask how u are? many times i have said alhamdulilah but im feeling fed up. and they have just said alhamdulilah thats good to hear. the assume i said alhamdulilah im fine. also i cant stand wen sisters never ring u, like NEVER, but wen they hear u got divorced they r the first on the phone. so when u tell them about them selves, and how they r just gossipers, they get alllllll offended, how dare u slander them. seriously some sisters just piss me off.

    any way that poor sister that was stuck with her kids. u know thats one of my fears, infact one of my biggest. i so wanna go abaord to study, cus learning arabic and tajweed is just starting to drag out. i feel like im never gonna achieve my goal. and i guess i keep letting my fears block me moving on. i soooooooooo sread the thought of being aboard with my kids and running out of money. or my son getting sick and having no one to turn too. i dread it sooo much i considered getting back with my ex just so that i wud have a man to be on this journey with me. even though travelling with him wud probably be more of a headache then travelling alone.
    insha allah i pray that allah gives u the strength to continue ur studies .and what ever obstacles come ur way , may it be easy for u to break through them. AMEEN


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