Sunday, November 26, 2017

VIDEO: Women in Kensington are doing it for themselves

I was featured in a video documenting Kensington, Brooklyn through my eyes. I'm excited about ending 2017 with this spotlight because Bangladeshi women I admire and look up to in the community make a powerful appearance over a dining room chat. We are not a formal organization and unsure if that's what we want; informal women's groups like ours exist throughout the community but are seldom highlighted. Bangladeshi women are seldom highlighted. This film was also an opportunity to share our collective vision to found a women's center in the neighborhood... I'm fixed on this idea and am playing with what it can look like from a design (what do we look for in a welcoming space? what will make it different from rundown basement offices in the neighborhood?) and resource perspective (what amenities will be available at our center? why do we need to exist?). I'm hoping the new year brings renewed energy around this collective project.

In the meantime, the intergenerational conversations will continue to flourish, even in conflicting moments, and we will carve ways to live on our own terms, whatever that means to each of us.

My sisters were home for Thanksgiving weekend. Like other reunions, this included a messy disagreement on Saturday wherein my mother critiqued our shortcomings as daughters because we were supposed to have fixed a plate of food for my father before sitting to eat -- the idea that he should eat first and then us. There was a hefty back and forth because the three of us (Sabia, Sazia, and myself) cannot keep quiet. That night I told her, "We're not the daughters you wanted us to be." We fixed him a plate anyways...nevertheless, we're not the daughters they expected to raise.

The video features my mother Rehana Hanif, middle sister Sabia Hanif, & three neighborhood aunties: Monowara Begum, Tahera Khanam, Taslima Shely:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

new job

i've joined the office of my local council member as a community liaison, primarily working to center issues impacting bangladeshis in kensington, brooklyn, where i was born and raised. it's a part-time gig (10 hours weekly actually) for now and while i'm excited, i'm sooo nervous. i'm not sure i see myself working in a government office long-term, but taking on this position is timely for me in the trump era where white supremacists (the ideology) want us (immigrants, brown folks) out of america and as i continue to navigate doctors appointments, sporadic health issues, and figuring out future stuff (read: should i pursue higher education? what do i really wanna do with my life?).

it excites me to know that a bangladeshi brooklynite woman (me!) is physically present in the neighborhood; i do office hours in a satellite space (at our favorite dr. sobur's medical clinic) located on the crowded strip of mcdonald avenue. i'm feeling out the months of september-october to think through what's lacking and already available for bangladeshis, particularly addressing lower-income families, women, children, and disabled people. i'm not sure how my position as liaison will take shape in the coming months but i appreciate the new breadth of knowledge and learning the nuts and bolts of local government and city-wide service agencies. i'm also looking to determine if there is a need for there to be someone just for bangladeshi constituents. this position is newly created and was implemented in 2016; it was the first time i had seen a bangladeshi young woman (ruby!) hired in kensington-related local government to represent the 15% and growing Bangladeshi base in the district.

so far i've been trying to get the word out that i'm here and open for the community to visit me with questions, concerns, and conversations. it is quite daunting to sit among many bangladeshi men and also having to deal with them. i had asked a shop to post my flyer on their storefront (the man made a nuisance and said flyers can't be posted); i walked by the next day and saw colorful posters of men who're running for local bangladeshi association elections, attached to the glass. i can't help but think that they don't want a picture of a young woman hanging on their door.

i'll be visiting them again with the support of my mother. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

convos with ammu: gender & sexuality

during breakfast ammu asked me, "tanzi* ki?" 

she's frying eggs for my father and herself while i'm cooking turkey bacon. i look at her with a what do you mean? look on my face and she repeats herself. her asking the same question again isn't helpful but i know where she's going with it all along. 

tanzi ki? as in what is tanzi? in english. my mother is curious about tanzi's gender and sexuality. they* stayed over during the week and are spending time with me at my place more often. despite my friendship with tanzi existing for over three years now and having seen and talked to them before, today is the first time my mother asked about their gender identity. i gauged further to know what exactly she wanted to know because i'm curious about how she'll frame the questions. my mother then responded with, "well, does tanzi have periods?" i smiled at her innocence and wasn't surprised at her focus on tanzi's period, in other words, her wanting to know about tanzi's biological sex. tanzi is gender nonconforming and identifies as a trans-person. i explained some of this english language to my mother, often drawing comparisons to the third gender or hijra communities in bangladesh. i also spoke about how transitioning works and that some folks choose to take hormones to express their gender, which may stop periods but her trying to understand tanzi should not center periods. 

there are no literal translations of gender nonconforming in bangla and transgender identities hold different meanings to those like my mother whose exposure to respectful and comprehensive conversations about queer & trans identities are nonexistent. even bringing up hijras isn't valuable to this conversation because our association with hijras are their feminine, saree-clad bodies roaming the streets as dancers, beggars or sex workers. thus, while trans-folks are on the margins universally, their identities hold diverse meanings according to space and place. i can't actually talk about hijras in bangladesh to understand trans-communities in america. nevertheless, my mother only wanted to be educated and this was our first open conversation about trans-identity. during my senior thesis year (i wrote a paper on queer muslims in nyc), she was conservative about my choice to pick at the qur'an for sexualizing homosexuality and didn't ask questions. three years later we are finally talking. she then shared how when she arrived to new york in the late 1980s, there was a woman who was romantically interested in her. she recalls this memory as her introduction to queer people existing. queerness never occurred to her while growing up in chittagong and dhaka. 

my father has also been making comments, ammu added. he apparently said, "munmun now hangs out with lesbians." tanzi is an androgynous butch in their clothing style which reads lesbian to my father. he was worried that tanzi may be interested in me because we shared the same bed several times. i laughed. 

ma, sleeping on the same bed doesn't mean we're intimate. have you thought this way when girlfriends slept on my bed? you and abbu shouldn't sexualize my friends like this, lesbian or not. them being a lesbian doesn't mean they're interested in me or other women in our group. a more in-depth lesson on queer identities coming soon. 

i ended our little chat by letting her know that tanzi's not the only one. other queer, trans-identified, beautiful souls have walked and dined in our home. they are my friends. 

tanzi*: original name has been changed; gender pronouns: they/them/theirs

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


i'm having such a difficult time writing this summer. there are pieces i've started that lay unfinished. i've been feeling purposeless since returning from bangladesh and am still figuring out whether or not i want to stay in new york. i'm starting a new job, part-time at an elected official's office. i'll be more public about it in september, when i start. i'll be working in brooklyn near home with bangladeshis in the district. a part of me feels excited, but overall, i am confused and anxious about working again. i hope that when i'm back in a routine, i feel better to finish the unfinished writing. do you need a routine to feel productive? i am need of structure but am miserably failing right now.

though i'm feeling purposeless in terms of what's next for my career: should i pursue higher education? what makes me feel whole?, this year has been one of personal growth. i went through a friendship breakup, which was the most difficult emotional thing ever because i felt off balance, unworthy, and incapable of making new friends or deepening the ones i have. i was reflective about my needs in friendships alongside thinking about the ways i can be a better friend. i feel good about the breakup and where i'm headed as i build with friends. i'm learning to address those hard to talk about feelings as they come up rather than avoiding them; i'm letting go of my stubbornness and the need to hold more power in friendships by way of punishing friends for tiny issues (at times i'm quick to give silent treatments); and acknowledging that all's not hopeless, that i'm loved and so so capable of loving deeply.

this summer i'm home more (unemployment) and the only one at home with my parents. sabia and sazia live away. i was devastated with the both of them moving out and visiting on a weekend basis. their moving has actually been a blessing in disguise. i have more time for self things, feel more in control of spending time alone, and i value the quiet as well as the chaotic (when they're home). i've also learned to love them individually and look forward to their visits. i don't feel tied to existing as a group of sisters, but it feels good when we get together. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

(gossiping) aunties

(গসিপিং) আন্টিরা—
আমাদের একসঙ্গে, মিলে মিশে থাকা লাগবে
এই পুরুষের দুনিয়ায়।
আমি আপনার বেপারে খারাপ বলব, আপনি আমার বেপারে খারাপ বলবেন,
এইভাবে বদনাম চোরাইলে আমরা
টিকবো না।
কথা বলুন, বলুন কিভাবে স্বাধীন ভাবে চলার ক্ষমতা বাড়ানো যায়।

(gossiping) auntyra—
amader ekshonge, mile mishe thaka lagbe
ei purusher duniyai.
ami apnar bepare kharap bolbo, apni amar bepare kharap bolben,
eibhabe bodnam choraile amra tikbo na.
kotha bolun, bolun kibhabe shadhin bhabe cholar khomota barano jai.

(weak translation)
(gossiping) aunties—
we've got to support one another
in this man's world.
if i'm gonna talk shit about you and you're gonna talk shit about me,
we will not survive abusing one another.
talk, talk about how we'll (women will) achieve liberation.

Monday, July 10, 2017

the cane, part 1


you've noticed my limp,
the slowing down while going up and down a flight of stairs,
accompanied me on the longer route to the mezzanine in musty elevators, even when it was one flight up,
known my tolerance for pain & how on most days of the week, it is absolutely invisible.

you've watched me concoct new recipes for inflammation and joint relief, with hopes to undo it all,
go from Ibuprofen to Oxycodone to Tramadol, staples for my Lupus survival;
like me, you worry about my inability to hold a job in normal ways and the fight it takes to hold a job in other ways,
but you've fought with me.

seeing me with a cane is new for you,
you ask if i'm able to walk without it because you've yet to learn the politics of disability,
that sometimes invisibility is the hardest script.
i share that with this cane i can walk a little longer, stand a little stronger,
that it's almost like a third leg,
and how on crowded trains and buses, the most painful of journeys,
i can have a seat.

description: a brown woman in a red & black flower wrap dress
struts confidently with her cane

Monday, June 5, 2017


taken from my facebook:

my journey with #Lupus (#SLE) has been magical and mystical all through the cycles of chronic pain and fatigue, going from immobile to semi-mobile to bionic woman thanks to my artificial hips (finding balance across the disability spectrum is not easy nor a straight path; disability is queer), and lessons (and still learning) for disability justice and liberation. as i hit close to a decade living with this degenerative autoimmune disease and in remission now, more functioning and having gained back a little power over my body, some of my earlier Lupus stories are hard to think of as truths... like damn, did i actually survive all of this? was my pain actually enough for me to handle so fiercely?

i hear it's #NationalDoctorsDay (even though y'all already get so much attention for becoming a doc in the first place) but petty aside, i have worked with dozens of doctors over the years trying to make sense of it all, many of whom have left lasting impressions on my life. while i'm critical of our shitty capitalist medical institution and the pharmaceutical industry and scared af to actually return to the US to manage my disease, i wanna thank some of the specialists i've had the pleasure to build with and see practice medicine with empathy.

thank you Dr. Laura Barinstein (rheumatologist; she diagnosed me with Lupus); Dr. Irina Kazachkova (endocrinologist; always up my ass to lose weight but supported me through Steroid-induced diabetes and high cholesterol); Dr. Ajoy Sinha (no doctor was prepared to perform a hip replacement surgery because i was too young; thanks to Dr. Sinha, i have a functioning left hip); Dr. Juan Kupferman (nephrologist); Dr. Alana Levine (adult rheumatologist); Dr. Kenton Fibel (orthopedic surgeon: knees and shoulders); Dr. James Chevalier (adult nephrologist); Dr. Edwin Su (orthopedic surgeon difficult to book an appointment with; my right hip needed immediate replacement surgery, i had no health insurance, and this guy cleared his schedule to perform the surgery within days). thanks for making it a tiny bit easier to navigate the mess chronically ill, disabled folks face with doctors, in hospitals, etc.