Saturday, September 5, 2015

Zaker Uncle

His room is a medical equipments heaven. He hoards commodes and urine bottles. He’s got canes, crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs all in sight, like an art exhibition. In my mind I start coming up with a possible name to this exhibit: Commodes and Crutches: Badass Bangladeshi Tenant Fights Displacement from Bed. I also remember my commodes and crutches at home, which my mother continues to keep hidden. Same with meds, like no one is supposed to know I have Lupus.

We had talked twice or thrice on the phone, him being the type that keeps you on the line. The conversations with him are normal, how I’d like my relationship to be with my father. He gets why I keep calling and inviting him to meetings. He was an organizer of sorts too in Bangladesh.

Each time he reminded me, “tomar cheshta kora uchit proti shobdo Banglai bolar jonno,” observant of my habit of inserting English words to string together sentences in Bangla. So, like, ya, right, exactly, you know… and others, saved me many times when Bangla was not enough. Each time I assured him, “ami cheshta korchi/kortesi,” depending on how proper I felt, but wondered if my shuddho Bangla will ever be as complete and crisp as his.

This was my first time visiting him. Zaker Uncle lives in the Queensbridge projects off the F train, soon to receive free wireless internet while countless residents’ homes reek of mold and peeling paint creates a mural of the life they left to be in America.

He tells me I'm his daughter. He tells me that if he had a daughter also born in NY, she too would speak Bangla like me. He tells me that I must be his daughter. “You’ll find a good husband,” he adds, perhaps suggesting that speaking Bangla is my greatest asset. I like that.

The talks of a husband, while remembering a bolder self during my academic-feminist undergrad years where this conversation would lead me to challenge his heteronormative assumptions, help me redirect the conversation to more serious matters: the 18 billion dollar debt that the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) racked up. Zaker Uncle is confused, rightfully so because this is the first time he’s hearing about this. I’m there with meeting flyers in Bangla on the Mayor’s plan to undo the mess, though I know Zaker Uncle won’t be coming.

He now only uses a wheelchair, which he’s unable to sit on by himself. A spinal injury and multiple surgeries promising cure left him bedridden. His legs are numb, sometimes tingly. He’s got a laptop, sitting on top of a cooling pad, his source to everything Bangla including the online patrika and Bengali dramas on YouTube, while printed patrikas and stacks of DVDs are mounted on his bed.

Apni ki janen je NYCHA’r property bikri kore dibe? This is how I begin the conversation about privatization as it’s written on my script, transliterated just like that. I have the Bangla script on me, which wasn’t the easiest to translate, it never is. I’ve been experimental though, sometimes choosing to prepare the script in English first, then translate in Bangla. Other times, I choose to craft it only in Bangla. I don’t know which I prefer given that the conversation will be in Bangla anyways and I have to be as colloquial, non-jargon as possible so tenants and I know what’s happening. Google translate isn’t actually a comrade in the process.

In the Mayor’s plan, NextGeneration NYCHA, there’s a consensus to preserve public housing in NYC. This is good. But to bring in revenue (that 18 billion dollar deficit ayyy), the plan proposes building new “affordable” apartments on unused/underused NYCHA property, by way of private developers. Cool, building “affordable” homes to combat the City’s housing problem. Zaker Uncle sways his arms and fingers, the only limbs mobile on his body, motioning discontent. He knows that the City’s immigrant and low-income families in public housing will not be protected by private developers.

He almost absolutely loses it as I name “affordable” numbers: private developers will build new “affordable” apartments for households with incomes up to 60% of AMI (Area Median Income), yeah I’m new to this language too, this refers to an income of $46,000 for a family of three. “I don’t know any family in Queensbridge with an income of that number… definitely not mine for sure! How is this affordable? Are private developers and land-leasing the only solutions to protect public housing in New York? How did it get so bad? Why haven’t they asked us what we think?”

He’s asking all the right questions. I have no answers.

“Well, they don’t want you to know. When have they distributed any information in Bangla or invited you to their meetings? If you knew, they know you’ll fight, which we’ll do together.” That’s me on an organizer’s high. I catch myself relying on this collective coming together to fight back realizing that it’s not enough. Maybe struggles of poverty and displacement mean a good afterlife, as Emad Uncle, one of my favorites, reminds me every visit. His wife, Nayrin Apa, is our tenant leader.

“To get to the main door, there are 6, maybe 7 steps. I counted each thump of the wheelchair that one time an Access-A-Ride driver helped me down the stairs.” Zaker Uncle is agitated and burnt, he knows he won’t survive to see what happens of NYCHA, the last of low-income housing in NYC. But while he’s around and if the Mayor’s plan goes through, he wants a more accessible Queensbridge. “You think the developers will build ramps?”

He writes my number in his phonebook, not the kind that comes in a phone. Somewhere along the talks of husbands and housing, both uncertain, he expresses his commitment to my Bangla. “Let's talk every two weeks, does that work for you?”

Obosshoi!” Of course.

blue: Zaker Uncle
red: me

Sunday, May 31, 2015

green apples and tomatoes

Tonight I’m feeling Lupus. It’s 1 am and we’re having dinner. Ammu, Abbu, Sazia, and I are all talking about my mother’s addition of a chopped green apple in the salad, which also has tomatoes. I slide the tomatoes to an isolated corner on my plate while Ammu tells me eating them prevents cancer. I pick green apples off of Sazia’s plate, annoying the shit out of her. She’s leaving for college soon and I won’t survive without her. Sabia’s also moved out now and has a kitten named yoni, vagina in Sanskrit. Yoni because of Yoni ki Raat -- she was the only kitten in the theater during my performance on being sexually touched and fingered as a child by uncles.

This week I have pains I can’t touch, can’t get rid of with Advil, which you know I take everyday. Last Tuesday I met with Dr. Chevalier, the kidney guy, after almost two years. I went in looking for Dr. Patel, the cute fellow (incredibly cute fellow), but only met with a serious-faced Dr. Chevalier. “If you don’t take this more seriously, you’ll be on dialysis.” Well, I had a senior thesis to write and finish. I also had to graduate...with my friends. I work full-time now. You know, the medical institution also sucks! My friends helped me pay the last six months of medical bills. But only met with a serious-faced Dr. Chevalier. Fine, I suck at Lupus. I’m terrible at caring for myself.

I picked up the Cozaar tablets three nights later. I asked the pharmacist if she could cut the tablets in half as prescribed. “No, you do that yourself.” Anxiety filled my body as I remembered tablets post-incision crumbling or flying across the dining room. I suck at tablet cutting. I laid out 15 in front of me on layered paper towels. I’m gonna master this. I grabbed my favorite kitchen knife. I’m pretty sure there are devices to split pills, why didn’t I ask for one? Some are eventually swept up by mom. Others are broken into too many pieces to collect, camouflaged on the white paper towel. The majority are perfect halves.

I had already been taking Cozaar 50 mg. With the newly added 25 mg, my body does not feel like mine. My week began with an achy body. This is usually the standard for me which I relieve through Advil. However, the Advil didn’t do the fix on Monday. My tonsils are swollen, with a painful sore throat that evening. Panting after walking a few steps. Anxious and sad on my ride to and from work Tuesday. Wednesday I took a sick day and comforted myself with several doses of NyQuil. On Thursday, I continue feeling achy and sore as if my body had endured a war. Perhaps it is enduring a war. My fingers are swollen. It hurts to walk. The culprit is Cozaar. At least that’s what I think after Googling ‘Cozaar side effects’. 

That a single tablet has the capacity to make me feel in these ways fascinates and scares me. The sadness engulfed in me is unlike any other times I’ve felt sad. I am crying especially on trains where I feel most anxious and free. Erratic thoughts consume my mind as I jump from thinking why did I choose organizing as my first full-time job to do I have friends to who are my friends to will I survive Lupus to what is the point? This week is my saddest sad. And I know Cozaar is not all that is at fault. Though I wish it was and discontinuing the medicine would end those pains.

Ammu grilled tilapia on the George Foreman I recently purchased. She’s already used it more than I ever will after complaining about all the faltu purchases I’ve made this year. Sazia helps herself to more salad and drops a piece of apple into my father’s glass of water.