Serendipity, Happenstance and Toast with Guacamole


I do believe in serendipity and happenstance.

And I believe that things happen for a reason. At that happening moment, often, we don’t realize what that reason maybe; over time, we understand why this just needed to happen.

Also, I see, that the series of experiences I have had, were just preparing me for this moment of time.  

Today, I closed on my first holiday-home (and possible final home) in Oakland Park, Florida. For seven months, I have been following the construction of this home; cinderblock by cinderblock, windows, doors, electric wires and tile work. As if, I am preparing for a child to be born. 

When you talk about serendipity or happenstance, on this same date, I arrived in the US, some 32 years ago. Maybe the date is just a coincidence.  

I started my new life in this new country, bursting with desire and ambition. Even after so many years, my heart and mind are just as excited by possibilities of love, friendship, a great meal, or a bottle of wine.  

This morning, Shania, my twelve year old and I drive to sign the paperwork at the closing office; all the way, I keep thinking of the first home I bought on Merrimack Lane in Toledo, some 24 years ago. I remember the night before the closing of my first home; my mom and I kept talking about the concept of buying a “home”. She was worried that if I bought a home in the US, I would never return to Bangladesh. She was right.  

She sat with me through the signing of papers, insurance and documents. At the end she asked me, “Bujhcho, shobkichu?” (Did you understand everything?)  

Today, my strong Shania sits with me, quietly, for more than hour, while we go through some 30 signatures, deeds, titles, insurance….all of it. Later, she acknowledges, it was really boring, but she didn’t bring her headphones to the closing because she thought it was impolite. I am grateful she is here; I believe she is here for a reason more than, just that I asked her to be there. Just like my mother, twenty-four years ago, she is is providing me strength and support to nurture my dreams along.  

We get home and Daiyaan arrives; we unpack boxes and put things away. We are sleeping on air mattresses tonight, just like camping. Sheets are unfolded. New dishes are put in the new dishwasher; new towels are hung up. All to the girls’ favorite music – dancing, joyful and bright.  

In the evening, my friends Toby and Ray, bring champagne. We toast in our new glasses, nibble on tapas, listen to good music and break out into utter goofiness. I feel like I have been designing and planning for this day, all my life.  

The goal tomorrow is to make breakfast for my girls, at our new home.  

Multi-grain bread with Guacamole, sunny-side up eggs on toast, and a sprinkling of Sriracha. Orange juice, hot tea or coffee.  

This is a great day for my family. 32 years from landing in this beautiful place, to 24 years from learning to buy a new home, I am here today because I have been preparing for this day. This is no coincidence. This was meant to be; Guacamole toast for my princesses, and a hot cup of red-rose tea for me.  

Our First Drinks at our New Home

Angel Passing By: Mirjam Wobmann: July 2012

Mirjam at her home

This week, one morning, I received a simple text from Wasima, “Mirjam is No More”. I stared at the text for a while, put the cell phone away and went about doing whatever I was doing; but I don’t remember what I was doing. I just wanted to not believe, in the news.

It’s easier not to acknowledge the news you don’t care for.

This morning, Daiyaan sent me a text at 12:30 am, “ I am looking at old pictures of Mirjam and literally sobbing”. On this cloudy, rainy Sunday, Daiyaan shows me a collage she has made of her memories of “Mirjam Nanu”; my heart stops beating for a second.

Mirjam and Daiyaan in Paros 2004

My teenager was sobbing last night thinking about all the people that she has met and how they have influenced her life. On the other hand, her 45 year old father just refuses to deal with it!

As if, if I don’t talk about it, it’s going to go away somehow.

With Mirjam at her beautiful sculptor garden 2007

The first time I met Mirjam, was ~ 14 years ago; I worked for a Swiss-Swedish conglomerate and had to go to Zurich for a meeting. I had heard so many stories about Mirjam, Peter and their wonderful family, that I had to meet her in person and complete this picture.

Wasima had spent quite a bit of time with them and ever since, had become a de-facto member of this family.

The first time Mirjam hugged me, I felt as if I have known her forever. All of her goodness seemed to seep into me with delight. I felt an instant connection.

Zain and Mirjam 2004 in Paros

Mirjam, in my opinion, is the epitome of a mother – caring, loving, yet nudging and firm. Strong willed, yet nurturing; always taking subtle details into account – what you like to eat – collecting small gifts or foods for you; always very much giving. Over these 14 or so years, I have met Mirjam maybe 5 or 6 times; in Zurich, Denver and also, at one of her favorite summer spots Paros – in the Greek Isles.

My favorite moments with Mirjam at their outdoor dining area in Stadel 2007

My most favorite moments with Mirjam were at her home in Stadel, where she was truly at her element; we would sit in front of the fireplace outside, and have breakfast or dinner and our conversation would flow like the meandering river – sociology, history, music, charity, friends or family. The beautiful garden, always lush and green (I only visited her in Summer) and the food always hearty and wholesome, the music always classical – the wine always splendid – and the joy of friendship, always fulfilling.

I remember falling asleep on a hammock outside of her Summer home in the Greek Isles; I remember the smell and taste of the olive oil in the salad she had tossed up that day; I remember how she took Daiyaan to swim in the cold waters of the azure sea, full of rocks below.

Mirjam gave me the joy of enjoying her wonderful concoction of Mueslix. On a nice summer morning, the wonderful Mueslix that she had soaked the night before – with fruits and nuts, is something I search for in European hotels.

When I was a little boy, an aunt taught me that, right around the time of sunrise or sunset, when you feel a mild breeze, you know that angels are passing by and kissing you with a breeze.

On many sunsets or sunrises, in different parts of the world, I have felt touched by a cool breeze. Every time, I have thought about how or what angels looks like. I wrote about this same feeling about a year ago, when Abdullah Chacha (uncle) left.

The last time I saw Mirjam, was in Zurich, one early morning, when she took us to the bus station. Greetings were exchanged and hugs were flowing. Little did we know that we would not meet again.

Maybe that’s what this life journey is meant to be; at meeting points, where we exchange feelings and emotions an then move away.

As we age, on sunrise and sunset, we get too busy, and don’t feel that breeze any more. Angels stop passing by us, or worse, stop kissing us on the forehead, when we really need a good wish.

In a few hours, when the rain stops in Fort Lauderdale, I will take a walk outside, around the time of sunset and see, if I can still feel that wonderful breeze that Mirjam touched my life with, for a very significant part of my adult “family” life.

I am not ready to give up on my angels, yet.

My Tiger Mom: A Tribute to my mother: October 2011

Mom and I: Last Time She was in Florida: Summer 2010

There is a huge brouhaha brewing about the concept of an “Asian Tiger Mom”, who is pushy and demanding.

As the child of such a Tiger Mom, I can attest that she was demanding; however, it was not always about getting an “A” in academics or winning medals. It was always about excelling and doing the best that I can do, in every situation.

The first recollection of her absurd demand was when I was maybe five or six years old.

She took me to the front of the High Court building in Dhaka (one of the tallest buildings a five year old can imagine), and told me that I strive to grow as tall as the building and always stand up straight. I had no idea how to accomplish this unnatural feat. Only today,  I realize what that powerful statement meant in a little child’s mind.

She defends her children like a real tiger; no one criticizes her cubs. She always maintains that her children can be anything they choose to be. This insufferable defense and dogmatic belief in our own success, makes one feel secure that you imagine that you can climb any mountain you choose.

I remember, during my Freshman year in college, during those pre-internet, pre-mobile phone days, my mother wrote me a letter every week. Having experienced her own “immigration” at an early age, she understood the loneliness of an international student away from home. Her weekly letters, with instructions of how to do laundry or how to cook Keema, were all behind my surviving the first year in college in a desolate, foreign land.

Later in life, to be able to enjoy the sparkle in her eye, sitting through my Master’s Thesis presentation or visiting my first home in Toledo, or my first workplace,  was amazing.

Last year,  she visited me at South Florida. I took her to my new office and asked her to sit in my chair. She had tears in her eyes – and the only thing she could tell me is that she wished my dad was alive today to see what I had accomplished.

Without her tiger-like inspiration and constant “nudging” to strive higher – everyday, it is hard to imagine, where I would be today.

Recently, I heard that a childhood friend lost his mom yesterday.

Next week, I start my eight thousand mile journey back to my birthplace; I know, from the moment of my landing, till the moment I leave, she will want to speak to me. She worries about my health, my happiness and well-being. Even at this adult stage of my life, she feels responsible for protecting me.

She sees me hurt and agonize over decisions; she urges me to pray, re-assures me, that everything will be ok; “Allah only gives challenges to those, that can handle the challenge”, she says on the phone.

From a thousand miles away, she feels helpless. Even with her crumbling health, she offers to come and help me in my distress. This is what mothers do.

So what, if a Tiger Mom is possessive and defensive about her children! So what, if they see their children doing nothing wrong! Without this courage to face off the complicated, angry world, our lives could be so different.

Mom, I know you have protected me all my life; I know you have prayed for me every day, sometimes, five times a day. In sickness and in health, you have asked for nothing back.

I wouldn’t have my Tiger Mom, any other way.

Every Day is Mother’s Day

Vintage Zain

Our universe is defined by the gracious shadow of motherhood of these very special people, whom we address as Mom, Mummy, Ammu or Ma.

Almost fifty years ago, my mother introduced me to this earth; for all these years, she has been a significant part of inspiration for many of my accomplishments. This is the first Mother’s Day that I don’t have her to call and wish. However, I am thinking about her, and feeling her in my silent meditation.

Picture6

One of my earliest childhood memories is when we were driving from Chittagong; as we approached Dhaka, the gigantic High-Court (in the eyes of a four/five year old) appeared at a distance. My mom showed me the white steeple and said, “I want you to be as tall as that building”; the absurdity of that statement baffled me at that time. Years later, as one starts understanding the gravity of this, we know that our lives are somehow framed and re-framed by such statements.

Some 30 plus years ago, my mother also assumed the role of my father; in her strong, emotional, “fire-brand” way, she kept defending her two children against the world.

Day I Left Bangladesh 2 Aug 1985

When I came to the US, I left my vibrant family back home; and missed that constant contact. Telephone conversation was expensive, and the use of the internet was at its infancy. We still wrote hand notes by mail. I remember, one of the things that kept me going was that every Thursday, I would get a letter from her, describing her week, and what had happened with my sister or grandparent. They were part English, part Bangla, the way we spoke every day. It always started with the cuddly term, Babua.

Imagining, that I am wishing my mother a Happy Mothers Day, on just one day, is not enough.

Hallmark has placed this day on our calendars and, for many years, I have enjoyed the novelty of telling my mother, Mummy, you have been that special force, that brought me to this earth and have pushed (never nudged) me along in my path to where I am today.

Today, even though, I am not calling you, I know you can hear my silent prayer.

Switching gears, the advent of motherhood for the mother of my children, were the two defining moments, turning points, of my life.

I remember those two days vividly. Those sterile hospital moments, the smell of anti-septic and fear, the taste of iron in my mouth, tears, pain, agony and anguish, all commingled into one sentiment. Then came that moment, when a new life came into our lives. There is absolutely no question that those are two of the most memorable days in my life. My daughters have re-defined, the mission of my life. That beautiful motherhood made me a father, and thereby changed the context of everything I do.

Again, just sending flowers, on this very occasion, is not enough.

Every day is mother’s day in my life. The mother’s in my life, have enriched my world, and my life. It’s either the mother who gave me birth… or that mother who changed my life forever, with the two most beautiful gifts of life.

Many years ago, I think I was in eighth grade, I went to a friend’s mother’s funeral and tried to imagine my life without my mother. This loss is so personal, that it’s almost incomprehensible. Today, as I commemorate this mother’s day, I feel the that anguish as I remember the last time I saw my fragile mother; one really does not adequately prepare for something like this.

As the day starts with another sunrise, I look out at the beautiful, red hue of the sky and remember my mother and her fierce, compassionate, conflicted style; she comes to me in my dreams, I have complete conversations with her, even though, I know, I may not see her for many years.

Last Image

Today, I plan to spend the day with my special people and celebrate these moments of configured motherhood, fatherhood and  life.

Today, I will go out to a mother’s day meal, celebrate ou5 lives together – I will eat at your favorite salad bar, maybe enjoy your favorite baklava,  and maybe just reminisce your coo “boka jhoka”, the last late-night adda with you, and the last time when we sang together. I can still hear you humming, from far away.

Happy Mother’s Day Mummy. My life is a gift from you, and I look forward to enjoying your gift in full – in your grand way.

Mom 2005