Monday, April 4, 2016

Easter Season, Special Visitors, and a Very Important Speech

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on this blog, but that’s because I’ve been busy! Over Palm Sunday, I was lucky enough to receive a visit from my mother and father, my sister Muriel, and her boyfriend Sahil. We ate out for dinner every night and spent our evenings playing board games together in the guest house.

Then the week preceding Easter was just a flurry of activity. I felt like I didn’t sit down all of Holy Week except for Tenebrae and prayers. I helped Sister Mary get out the fancy dishes and scrub the dining room, where I think we removed 20 + years of dust. I also sang in the schola for the Good Friday mass, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday mass; plus I did at least one scripture reading each day and two on Saturday. At Easter Vigil I did my reading from Isaiah as a duet with Sister Johnette. Between each stanza we sang a verse from Come to the Water while Sister Judith played guitar. I was actually very nervous for this because it was the first time in my entire life that I have ever sung in public (not as part of a choir). Luckily everything went well, and I think those in attendance enjoyed our performance.

I spent the rest of last week trying to catch up on my rest before this weekend, when I had another visitor: Sherene, my good friend from high school. It just so happened that while Sherene was visiting, my high school concert band was also touring Chicago. It all worked out so that she and I were able to meet my old band director (who was also my piano teacher for 10 years) for deep dish pizza and join them in viewing the musical Matilda downtown. 

On the train with Sahil and Muriel

Sherene and me

Sherene and me at the corner of happy and healthy (aka Walgreen's)

So you can see I’ve been so caught up in living that I haven’t had time to blog about my life. Hopefully, though, this has got you all up to date.

There’s so much more I could say about the whirlwind of these last few weeks, but for the sake of time I will just share one story that touched me and made me (for the hundredth time) happy and grateful that I came to Chicago this year.

The story starts on the feast of St. Scholastica, our monastery’s namesake, when I was seated next to one of our oblates at dinner. I didn’t even remember meeting her until she contacted me a few weeks later, saying that, as a member and organizer of the West Ridge Historical Society, she was hoping to feature a neighborhood organization at their monthly meeting.   Remembering our conversation about my work at the Indo American Center, she invited me as well as any of my colleagues or students that might be interested to come speak about IAC at their next meeting.

I was thrilled. And I knew just who should be our student speaker.   

Zubeda was one of my first students when I began teaching ESL at IAC. She was always one of the most active and enthusiastic participants in class, not to mention one of the most generous people I had ever met. Over the past few months, I’d gotten used to receiving all kinds of spontaneous gifts from her— a handful of cough drops in the winter, homemade chicken biryani, a batch of fresh-baked muffins.. she even brought her leftover pizza in to share. She was such a dedicated student, she would come to the Center on Saturdays to get extra practice, though her English was already good. I was so happy when she agreed to speak at the event on behalf of the Center.

On the day of the meeting I was feeling nervous. There were way more people than I expected. And as nervous as I was, I can’t imagine how Zubeda must have felt, one tiny Pakistani woman in her headscarf staring out at what seemed like a vast sea of English-speaking Americans. But luckily we had a supportive entourage— my mother and father, who were visiting at the time, my co-teacher Nayana, and Zubeda’s daughter Sanober.

Zubeda’s voice shook as she read from her meticulously prepared notecards, but then grew stronger as she told the crowd about her experience at the Indo American Center, a place that she loves and where she finds community. At the end of her speech, Zubeda received a thunderous round of applause. Smiling from ear to ear, she told me, “In Pakistan I am giving speeches all the time.. but this is my first time ever speaking to the American people!”

For everyone in the audience, it was just a ten minute presentation at a monthly historical society meeting. But for Zubeda, the occasion was momentous. 

This was one of the proudest moments of my time here. Not only did I get to introduce my parents to one of my favorite students, but I also got to introduce some of the (mostly white, Judeo-Christian) Rogers Park residents to Zubeda, their new neighbor.

When I came to the Center on Monday, I found an extra large chocolate cake that Zubeda had brought to share with everyone in celebration of her success. She had also posted the index cards containing the text of her speech on the bulletin board along with a note which read,

“The staff members Teachers and students of I.A.C.

My name is ZUBEDA YASIN. I am the student of civic class. I gave the speech of about I.A.C. services. My speech is good and successful and everybody appreciated me. Thank God. ZUBEDA YASIN.”

Me and my fellow teacher Nayana

Giving our presentation

Zubeda speaks

Zubeda, her daughter Sanober, me, and Nayana

Zubeda's notecards, posted on the bulletin board at IAC

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