Category: General (Page 1 of 69)

From Afghanistan to San Francisco, with hardships and hope

Mohammad was my driver on a busy Friday night. Amid the bustle of cars coming and going, I almost missed him. He had dropped someone off ahead of me, farther down the street, but I didn’t know that and kept waiting for him to pull up. Finally I caught sight of his white Camry and got in. He said hello and started driving.

He was a large man, dark hair nearly touching the roof of the car, but he had a gentle aura, and a quiet voice to match. As we left the Mission District behind in a blur of lights, I asked where he was from. Afghanistan, he said. There, he was an orthopedic surgeon, until the Mujahideen started a civil war. Then he fled to Pakistan and worked with a Japanese NGO. His three children were all born in Pakistan, and grew up speaking Pashto, along with Mohammad’s native Persian.

As things in Pakistan became more turbulent, they moved again, this time to Canada, where his medical license no longer held meaning. After 25 years as a doctor, Mohammad had to start over. He decided to work in a research lab, and studied for a new license. Not the same, but related.

A few years later, his family relocated once more, to Sacramento. That is where Mohammad and his children call home now, although he spends many nights at his sister’s place in Fremont, so that he can drive for Lyft and Uber in San Francisco. Neither his Afghani medical license nor his Canadian research one are valid here in the United States. Another new beginning, another dead end.

I shook my head, incredulous and yet not surprised. I wanted to apologize for the way his life had been upended so many times.

Instead, I lamented about the “issues” in our country. Mohammad brushed off the criticism, and his tone changed. He had spoken about Afghanistan and his past with pride; now he spoke about the U.S. and his future with hope. His long arms seemed to embrace the car while he drove.

He told me that in many countries — one example he gave was Saudi Arabia — it was impossible for a foreigner to buy property in their own name. You could put up the money, but a native Saudi had to sign the papers. Here in America, though, what you paid for belonged to you. Like his car. It could not be taken away. It could be used to make a better life.

By this time, we were nearing my destination. In the silence that settled over us, I thought about his words. About how he carried his hardships and frustrations right alongside his gratitude and optimism. About how easily and serenely he had shared his story in a fifteen-minute conversation with a stranger. About how fortunate I was to have met him and listened.

Finally, we arrived. We thanked each other and said good night. I got out. He drove away.

His story continues.

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Recently viewed: Stranger Things, Moonlight, and Lion

“Recently” is a relative term. I keep starting blog drafts, getting interrupted (#momlife), and then forgetting to finish. So my thoughts on these aren’t as fresh anymore, but I liked all of them and thought they were worth discussing.

Stranger Things is a Netflix darling, and with good reason. Every aspect of the series is top-notch. Writing, cinematography, acting, etc. I think it’s particularly impressive given how many of the main roles are played by kids.

That said, I was most affected by Winona Ryder’s portrayal of a fragile mother desperate to save her son. Probably in part because we watched this just a couple months after IB was born. I also thought her character’s trick with the Christmas lights was clever, and cool-looking.

Andy and I watched this one together, which I always enjoy doing, because (1) bonding time, and (2) discussion. With Stranger Things, I think what we debated most was whether Steve was a good guy, and whether the various stuffed tigers were the same, and if so, coincidentally or on purpose.

Subtleties and mystery. Stranger Things was full of both.

In some ways, this movie reminded me of Boyhood, another former Oscar winner. Moonlight too follows one young man through the formative years of his life. But the two films are like inverses, with Boyhood showcasing a “typical” white middle-class coming-of-age, and Moonlight focusing on the experience of a queer black kid in the projects.

Moonlight’s breakout star has been Mahershala Ali, who I first knew and liked from House of Cards. Ali does a fantastic job with his role here, but considering all the hoopla, I was surprised he wasn’t actually in the movie more.

To me, Moonlight felt like a literary novel brought to life. What I mean by that is, the story has structure, and a narrative progression, but it unfolds quietly, in poetic vignettes. It’s not a book that you stay up late at night to read, tearing through pages to find out what happens next. It’s one that you take your time with, savoring each word, each scene, because they’re rich with flavor and significance.

Also, it doesn’t answer all your questions, because it’s the asking that matters most.

Some of the other movie posters for Lion drove me mad, because they made it look like a romantic drama, which it most certainly is not. Lion is the true story of an impoverished boy in India who becomes separated from his family, survives the streets of Kolkata through a mix of luck and scrappiness, gets adopted and moves to Australia, and eventually searches for his birth family by trying to match his foggy childhood memories to images on Google Earth.

The main themes are identity and belonging. Saroo can’t let go of the family he was born into, but his adoptive parents and country have become a part of him too. I thought actors Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman mined that emotional territory beautifully.

And although the scenes of Saroo’s online search dragged a little bit for me, it was refreshing to see technology depicted as it really is: a tool. Not inherently good, nor inherently bad. Just powerful.

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Carole King and Beautiful

A few weeks ago, I saw Beautiful, the musical about the life and career of singer-songwriter Carole King. I really enjoyed it on multiple levels.

Before the show, I basically only knew Carole King from the Gilmore Girls theme song, which I sing to my daughter all the time. Where you lead, I will follow…

Turns out, King was sort of Taylor Swift before there even was a Taylor Swift. Her career began in her teens, and she wrote tons of oldies hits that I love. “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “One Fine Day,” and many more.

At first she was primarily a composer, writing the music on her piano, while her husband penned the lyrics. Other artists and groups recorded their songs. Later in life, King and her husband divorced, and she began to write in a deeply personal style and record those songs herself.

I think what struck me most was that, despite working in pop/rock and roll, King was always a self-described “square,” and very comfortable with that. She had extraordinary talent and a healthy level of ambition, but she was also very down to earth. She didn’t want to be stylish or sexy or cool, she just wanted to be herself. A good wife and mother. A successful songwriter.

King’s story reminds me that you can do both.

(Which isn’t necessarily the same as “having it all.” I think the musical does a good job of showing that it isn’t easy. There are sacrifices and costs.)

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Quotes on love and writing

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“Love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful. [That] has to mean something.”

“Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet.”

“I want to write. I want to write stories that make people feel less alone than I did. I want to make people laugh about the things in life that are painful.”

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Unexpected delights

A couple years ago, Andy and I decided to get season tickets to our local Broadway series, along with another married couple we’re friends with. It’s the perfect excuse for all of us to take a step back from our busy schedules and catch up with one another, enjoy some good food, and support and appreciate the arts.

In that time, we’ve seen a lot of good shows — and a couple not-so-good ones — but there are two that I can easily single out as my favorites so far.

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Like the band Death Cab for Cutie, the musical Kinky Boots has a name that intimidated me. I was bracing myself for something very provocative and in-your-face. Instead, I found myself quickly charmed by a story about shoes, fathers, friendship, and being true to oneself.

The musical numbers are clever and catchy, and personally, I can relate to Charlie’s struggle between following his own path versus taking over the family business.

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Apparently there was a movie version first, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I love. It was available on Netflix, so I watched and liked it, but still prefer the musical.

And the whole thing is based on a true story, one that might be particularly relevant to today’s political climate: A small shoe factory in a working class English town, reluctantly partnering with a group of drag queens in the hopes of weathering an economic downturn. Hmm, what parallels could we possibly draw from that…?

The other show I’ve loved most so far is Something Rotten, a hilarious satire of celebrity culture, the writing process, and musicals themselves.

The show is full of inside jokes for a theater- and literature-loving crowd. I laughed nearly from start to finish. Shakespeare as the ultimate douchebag celebrity is hysterical, and trying to identify all the shows spoofed in the song “A Musical” is quite the game.

As lighthearted as it sounds, Something Rotten also has heart. I appreciated the brotherly bond, the sweet little romantic subplot, and the shoutout for feminism.

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