“The Self-declared ‘Prisoner of Conscience’” – A Covid-19 Pandemic Story

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” -Maya Angelou.

We had a powerful storytelling session tonight at the American Pakistan Foundation, Leadership Council monthly meeting. I am a member of this wonderful community and I was able to participate in the gathering virtually.

Thank you to Dr. Uzma Iqbal and Noah Usman for leading it tonight!

As I have shared in the past, for example in this post, I am really connected to the Power of Storytelling, and have aspired to improve my storytelling skills in speech and writing so I wanted to take advantage of this and took it as a learning opportunity among other things.

The meeting was done in a similar format as the popular series called The Moth! 

And the theme tonight was stories from the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Most who shared, shared extemporaneously but I wanted to take a moment to write out the story. I admire those that are able to share stories impromptu style, as most did tonight, so beautifully, eloquently, and I hope one day to be able to achieve that.

I did get some inspiration from videos on the Moth podcast , and I found this amazing video from Amanda Gorman.

I wrote this rather quickly with limitted time so the writing might be amateur in some places if not all, but it was a great form of catharsis for me. I appreciated  using that moment to not only write the story but also empower myself and a way to keep evolving and growing in conquering my public speaking and anxiety challenges.

So as a member of the APF Community, I was truly grateful for a chance to express and share my authentic truth in this space.

So Here was my contribution tonight. I will try to make a video of it and post here another time.

I did actually take a video immediately after the meeting, of my performance, for myself, and to maybe share it in my independent capacity. I am glad I did because I captured some reflections about that experience, which I will expand in detail in a future post. For the moment, as I need to call it a night now, I will share this story here in this space….

“The Self-declared ‘Prisoner of Conscience’” – A Covid-19 Pandemic Story

I wish I didn’t wake up today.

Because I knew I would miss the morning again…

And Because I was just dreaming of being with the Sunsets in Sindh and feeling that joy of sitting underneath the stars, drinking garam garam karak pyala Chai in Nooriabad…

OR on the other side of the border, at that Kaava shop in the Qissa Khwaani Bazaar in Peshawar, hoping that my beautiful Pathan brothers will share Qissas (stories) as they all keenly observe this alien, this Ajnabi, this “perfect stranger,” respecting some distance, while I sip the most delicious kaava I have tasted in my life…

Back to reality….

There is honor in scrubbing toilets I tell myself…

Suddenly I am getting on the internet to explore jobs in housekeeping, when voices inside are screaming for more…

The guilt and shame of my woes radiate throughout my body, as I am reminded of the collective grief, the innocent lives lost, the frontline workers at risk, the people in more difficult situations.

But my Qissa still matters, doesn’t it?

I wake up, yearning to give salaam to the morning.

Yearning for that Inward Revolution…

A blessing I don’t get to have as much these days…

So I sing…

I sing the 90s Bollywood hits, in that high-pitched Awaaz…

And among my boxes of “useless” things I’ve hoarded over the years and can’t seem to let go…

I find my posters of my premi forever, King Shah Rukh Khan, that I got from a bazaar in Saddar Karachi more than 22 years ago…

And I dance and I sing loud in my awful voice knowing that my neighbors will probably hear me…

You remember that song from the Bollywood Movie Hit, Pardes?

How does it go?…

“Zara Tasweer seh tu, Nikal ke saamne ah… , mere mehbooba”…

Pardon my indulgence, Just a typical ABCD, American Born Confused Desi, embracing her intersectionality…

Grateful I did not pursue my dreams of being a contestant on American Idol, back in 2007…

But Wow, I have just discovered that singing 90’s Bollywood Hits helps reduce sounding like a prepubescent teenage boy, due to my Generalized Anxiety Disorder…

I’ll keep that in mind…

Back to reality….

I wake up, hoping to have the blessing of salaam in the morning…

But instead, I am given the choice between a gun to my head, or a rope around my neck…

It’s a “Choice” they say…

Yearning for freedom, while not knowing what that means, I am imprisoned.

I thought I escaped the brutal winters of Wisconsin, but it’s still very cold, here….

…In this prison.

I rely on my post-it notes I place on the walls around me in this box I have created for myself.

Not quite my quote unquote “home”…

I rely on the Post-it notes to remind me of my Affirmations…

I rely on them when I look at myself in the mirror and stare into my eyes reminding myself of my worth….

One reads… “You are a Warrior Queen.”

Another… “You deserve to be alive, to survive, and to thrive.”

Is it okay that I don’t really know who I am, now?

Checking my Facebook memories to remind me …

remind me of the good times…remind me of how far I have come…

Watching The Maid on Netflix inspires me to seek jobs in housekeeping and maybe do some creative writing on the side.

With gratitude, I didn’t have to sleep in my car or scrub toilets, even in these challenging times…

But there is always a reason. A reason for our pain…

I am not what our President calls “The Little guy”…

but At least these moments will help me to “choose to identify with the Poor, with the underprivileged…”

as our Great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said.

But is this what the Universe is telling me what I am worth.

Is scrubbing toilets what I am destined for after spending ten years on my doctorate.

Or was I destined to “Change my Stars?”

Perhaps like they say in my parent’s homeland, “Nazar” lag gaye…

The “evil eye” is holding me hostage…is winning…

Or it is just the mind playing games with me again…

I am a prisoner of my own conscience…

Nevertheless, it still resulted with beautiful paintings of evil eye dot mandalas to support my anxious mind, if not remove the buree nazar or perceived buree nazar …

There must be a reason, there must be a reason that Allah gave me these challenges…

Suddenly that scene from The Handmaids Tale (which I watched 5 times, twice during the Pandemic) emerges… when the Handmaid Janine Says …

“You need to stay alive so you can be here when things get better.”

On the bright side, at least I get to spend more time with my most precious companion, the Chand (moon)…

…as we paint each other …

Together into the night…

There were days that I would do anything to be able to sit in a library again, to be able to smell the scent of books around me.

Immerse with the quiet…. and the peace.

And even now, I long for those days …

Where I would say to myself at the end of my time at the library…

When I didn’t complete the goal of finishing a chapter as planned,

“Nice Try Elsa.”

“You’ll get em tomorrow, Elsa….”

“You are not the Imposter, Elsa.”

If it really is a “Choice”…

Then I refuse to remain a Prisoner.

I will choose to be a Warrior.

I will choose my Azaadi (my freedom).

It may not have worked out today, but I will try again tomorrow. It will be okay, tomorrow.

I will stay resilient. stay empowered. stay connected…

At least according to my Facebook hashtags…

I will show up tomorrow.

Inshallah, I will say Salaam to the morning tomorrow.

Nope… This isn’t THE END of the Qissa.

But the Bollywood Warrior Queen DID live happily ever after, dreaming of that delicious cup of garam garam karak pyala chai with her Baadshah Khan underneath the beaming stars of our glorious Sindh…

*******

Thank you for reading this. I will update this post with the video of my performing it another time…

It was difficult to perform/share this piece in this space.What added to that difficulty was being the first one selected. But we all shared our stories as well as our reflections about how we felt about sharing our story and then listening to others. And that was equally powerful. I think it was at that moment when I felt more at ease with sharing my story.  Given my anxiety disorder, it is difficult for me to speak in certain spaces, but we have to push through it anyway.  There was a time when it did get better, but the past two years, there was some relapse. Being able to express myself authentically, and being able to embrace my intersections and own my story is really the fundamental way I will improve. And I know it can.  Each time it should get better with deliberate intentional exposure and practice. And we must allow ourselves the opportunity to grow and evolve, and at times, we have to push ourselves harder to grab it. Every opportunity to grow is an opportunity worth taking… We need to keep “showing up.”

The American Pakistan Foundation works to “Empower the Pakistani American community and build bridges between the United States and Pakistan.”

You can learn about their amazing work here: https://www.americanpakistan.org/

Please do consider supporting our community here: https://americanpakistanfoundation.givingfuel.com/donations 

“The Willingness to show up changes us, it makes us a little Braver each time.” – Dr. Brene Brown

“When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending. And when we don’t own our stories of failures, setbacks, and hurt, they own us.” – Dr. Brene Brown

Peace, Warmth, and Blessings,

Your Sister,

Dr. Elsa T. Khwaja

The Warrior KQueen

“She wasn’t looking for a Knight. She was looking for a Sword.”

One comment on ““The Self-declared ‘Prisoner of Conscience’” – A Covid-19 Pandemic Story

  1. What a treat to read your amazing Qissa Elsa. It was both heart-melting and uplifting. So is our life. We seek refuge within our consciousness and at the same time get imprisoned by it…. And very often, it goes beyond the inexplicable dilemma of choices, as we have never been our own choice… anyway, 90’s Bollywood is inescapable and there is some kind of healing power in our nostalgic teenage which is still alive very much somewhere deep down in us. Dear Warrior Queen, never cease to inspire people around you with the wonder of your writing and story telling…you are incredible ❤️ ..Love, Peace and Prayers on your way…

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