In the 1990s… you know, the ancient times…it was commonplace for young people to experiment with and/or convert to Islam. I have to believe that the conversion rate was much higher than it is over most periods of time, but I don’t do research. Rappers were preaching it and high-schoolers were eating it up. I mean, X Clan was one thing but even Tupac was photographed rocking a djellaba. For those who don’t know, a djellaba is a djellaba. What I mean to say is that curiosity into the Muslim faith was ubiquitous. Like shitty rap music is today. My apologies to Islam…I don’t mean to compare it to shitty rap.
One of my dearest friends in the world, and basically the whole circle of people I knew associated with him, converted to Islam. He actually went with another friend of ours, a kid who ran exactly as fast as I did, and learned Islam in Pakistan. His Imam at his Mosque payed for the trip. I think they were there for a couple of months.
Upon my homeboy’s return, I went to visit him. He lived in Arizona, where I mostly lived in the 1980s. I lived in Minnesota at this time, and like B.A. Baracus, I hate to fly, so I took a long Greyhound out to stay with him for some time. Like months. The stay, not the Greyhound trip, but the perception of both is arguable.
I’m a free thinker, so I wanted to learn all about Islam. I didn’t know that much about it back then. It certainly wasn’t the absolute devil people would have you believe nowadays. It still isn’t. It’s a religion. Overly religious people are weird and usually bat shit crazy. That goes for any religion. End of story. That’s not what this is about.
Picture from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/apr/25/taliban-mingora-pakistan-swat-islamists
One of my favorite things, a side-bar actually, that came of this was the miswak stick. He learned about it over in Pakistan. It’s available anywhere, so he had some on hand. It is basically a small stick or root of some kind that you cut about an inch of the bark off at one end and then fan the fibers out a little bit and chew on it and use it as a toothbrush. The fucking things are amazing! As I’m typing this, I just thought of a great idea. I’m going to use miswak sticks to help me stop smoking. I’m gonna suck on that miswak all day long and not smoke. Unless Miswak is a dude’s name…than I’ll just keep smoking.
Anyway, my homie told me many stories of Pakistan. I was fascinated. Unfortunately, years of the Irish Gene and medical edibles have left me only remembering two of the stories. Or maybe they are just the best two to remember, and their remaining with me is just a function of time.
My friend got very sick while in Pakistan. He had a huge boil on his forehead. His contacts there sent him to see a doctor. This wasn’t the white-surface-everywhere doctor rooms that we have here, complete with nurses in ducky-clad medical garments. He went into a room with 20-40 people sitting on a dirt floor. If my numbers are off, read the previous
paragraph. He waited and waited, and then, finally, a dude walked up from behind him, put his hand on my friend’s shoulder, and stuck a needle in his ass right by the waist! My friend, startled, turned around and looked the man in his eye and the guy glared in his eye and said “Subside” while giving the baseball signal for “safe”, and then walked away. Nobody told my homie a fucking thing. He had no idea what was injected into him, and still doesn’t today. I guess he just had to awkwardly (in his mind) get up and walk out like “uummm….okaaayy”.
The OTHER story is perhaps one of my favorite stories I have ever heard. This story takes place in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.
My friend was trekking through the Swat Valley. I always think of Pakistan as a brown, dusty place…much like Phoenix. Look up “Swat Valley”…it looks like how I envision Sweden. Lush green hills and flowing streams, brooks, and rivers. My friend was wandering this valley, out in the most rural recesses of it, for many hours when the necessities of nature took over.
He was in a small town at this time…a remote town, to be sure…and he did not have his hosts/translators with him. He was in need of a bathroom, and not for the “duck behind a bush” type of need. So, right off the bat, I’m finding comedy in the age-old question: How do you communicate with people who do not speak your language to find out where you can go and take a shit? This is like, I don’t know, a third year at Mime University type of situation. As his need to go grew, and the clenching became more laborious, his effectiveness in translations of movement diminished as his painful expressions multiplied.
Finally, an older local man saw his dilemma and seemed to know what my homie was talking about. The older man pointed to a building, instructing my friend to go in there. The building was an old brick building. Like hundreds of years old. It was built so that it actually rested on both sides of a brook that ran to the Swat River, which ran to the Indus River. That is to say, the brook ran down the middle of the building, underneath it.
When my friend entered, he noticed that the brook was exposed through the floor of the building. The brook was flowing freely, with well-constructed masonry on each side of it. The brook was only two or three feet wide throughout the length of the building. In the middle of the building, straddling the brook, were several small stone-built rooms running the length of the building. Maybe ten individual rooms in total. If one were to look at this building from above, with no roof, I would imagine these rooms resembled a zipper over the brook.
My friend was in an urgent manner at this time, so he was frantically looking for an empty stall over the brook. He quickly scanned the rooms from the doorway and saw that all of them were occupied, except for the room all the way to his left. This was the room that was furthest “up the creek”.
He ran into the empty room, which was semi-closed in. The room was wider than the entryway. There was a small stone bench on either side of the room. There was a mirror image of this small enclosure on the other side of the brook. A mirror image, but no mirrors like we
have in our restrooms. So primitive. However, there were no toilets in sight. Just the brook. So primitive.
So, he had to do what he had to do. He dropped his pants and straddled the brook. He unloaded an abnormally large payload into the water and felt immediate, comforting relief.
That relief was over in a nano-second.
He immediately heard shouting…violent, upset humans! He pulled up his pants and stepped out of his stone-age cubicle and everybody from all of the other stalls were waving their hands at him and undoubtedly cursing in a language he could not understand, anger on their faces. He hastily made his way to the doorway while he was still fixing his pants. At the doorway, he turned back at the still-yelling Pakistanis, not knowing what the hell was going on. As he looked back, as they were all out of their stalls and yelling at him, he could see behind them. He could see into their stalls. He was struck by a thousand bolts of shame when the realization of what he saw hit him, and he ran away from the building.
In this small, ancient building in Swat Valley in this ancient small village, in small rooms straddling a brook, is where the locals did their laundry in the brook.
And my homey just shit upstream from all of them.