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Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Logical Explanation

Posted on 2005-05-27
Written By: Aaminah Hernández

Aliya wasn’t supposed to tell anyone her nightmare. The traditions of the Prophet say that one should not share a bad dream with anyone. Instead one was to dry spit to their left side and seek refuge with Allah from the curses of the devil. But she had been so distracted that when Nan asked her what was wrong during science lab, she had blurted out the dream right then and there.

“It’s probably because you knew we were going to be dissecting fetal pigs this week,” Nan suggested.

But being chased by a pig down the school hallways had seemed so real. When Aliya woke from the nightmare, she had not been sure where she was or that it wasn’t still happening. She had heard of that before but had never experienced it and was surprised to discover it to be a true sensation.

“Remember when you got upset when we were dissecting the frog, and you swore that you could still see it twitching? Really, for a girl who wants to be a pediatrician, it is funny how you react to dissecting animals. I can only imagine you at your first autopsy in med school!”

“Thanks for the reminder. But the dream seemed so real, almost like it wasn’t a dream. Besides, you know the symbolism of the pig and its relation to the devil. It is the same in your beliefs, right? I remember it being used in the story of that house in Amityville. Maybe the dream is about the dissections, but maybe it is a warning sign of something else.”

Nan shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the notes she was reviewing. Aliya could sense that Nan had decided there was a logical answer to the question and it wasn’t worth continuing to try to convince her that something might not be so simple to decipher.

Aliya knew that Nan would look for the easy explanation because she had limited belief in the unseen and unscientifically proven. But that didn’t keep her from begging Aliya to ask her grandmother to read their tea-leaves. No matter what Aliya told her about the difference between cultures and what was acceptable in Islam, that was the one thing that Nan couldn’t seem to get out of her head. When Aliya’s grandmother came to visit from Iran, the two American girls listened to her stories about her girlhood and how much she wished she had been able to go to school the way they could.

“So, are you going to freak out when we start the dissecting?”

“No, I’ll be fine. This is an important skill to learn so that I can be the best doctor out there. A lot of important research on children’s illnesses and their cures comes from this kind of work. Dissection and autopsies are an essential part of my education and ability to do the work I want to do. I’ll be okay.”

“You sound like you’re trying a little hard to convince yourself,” Nan said and laughed.

Aliya didn’t respond because for the first time she actually agreed. Maybe she was asking more of herself than she was capable of. Maybe she was trying to do something she wasn’t meant to do. Maybe she didn’t have the right smarts and strength to be a doctor. Her older brother had told her that girls shouldn’t try to take jobs away from men and that she had no business being a doctor. Maybe he was right.

In the past Aliya had always countered Ahmed’s comments by saying that women had a right to work too. She felt it was important for more women to get into fields where they would be serving women and children, because it was better for Muslim women to have another woman to do business with, instead of only men. And she reminded him that the Prophet’s wives had been well-known as business women, scholars, social service workers and even as troop leaders in battle.

Her brother’s response was that women were supposed to stay home and take care of their husbands. After all, didn’t the Qur’an say that men are the maintainers of women? Women should be happy that they didn’t have to work and could live relaxed lives while their men handled everything of importance.

Aliya’s father said there was no basis in Islam for his son’s thinking, and he apologized to Aliya that he had failed to impress a clearer understanding of a woman’s rights on Ahmed’s mind. He was appalled at his son’s misinterpretation of the Qur’an and agreed with Aliya when she argued that while men were supposed to maintain their women, it did not mean that women had to sit back and do nothing. Nor did they agree that women were able to live “relaxed lives”. She was offended that her brother took for granted the hard work her mother did to maintain the home and look after the whole family.

But after the dream and Nan’s comments, Aliya wondered if maybe her brother did have a point when he said that she, as a woman, was not fit to take on the massive responsibility of being a doctor.

The next day when Aliya went to the science lab, she thought she was prepared. That day they would begin the dissection of the fetal pig. She almost wished that Nan wasn’t her lab partner so she wouldn’t have to listen to her teasing, but then she felt guilty because Nan really was a good friend.

“You look refreshed. Did you sleep better last night? No bad dreams?”

“No dreams. I’m ready to get busy.”

“Hey, I saw your brother and some of his friends huddled outside the classroom this morning. What do you think they were up to? Do you think maybe he’s getting ready to ask me out yet?”

“I have no idea what Ahmed is up to, but I’ve told you Muslims don’t date and he is not going to ask you out. Besides, you wouldn’t be able to tolerate his chauvinistic side.”

“Yeah. I know what you mean, but he is so cute.” She set a dissection tray with a fetal pig on the worktable. “Here’s our specimen. What would you like to name this baby?”

“How about if we don’t name it. Here’s your scalpel. Less talk, more cutting.”

“Oh ho ho! Aren’t you mighty serious about this now?”

Aliya flicked water at Nan, laughing to show that she didn’t have to always be serious. The lab door banged open, and Nan let out a half-laugh then became silent. Aliya looked over at the other girls climbing up on tables and screaming and the boys laughing. Aliya could not believe what she was seeing.

A large pig was trotting into the classroom straight towards her. There was her nightmare, all 500 pounds of it, in the flesh. That was when she fainted.

Aliya wasn’t ready to open her eyes, but she could hear Ahmed’s voice.

“Some doctor she’ll make. She can’t even deal with a harmless animal, how is she going to deal with the realities of med school and then a hospital internship?”

She wondered if she was still in a dream, then sat up, eyes wide, looking for the cause of her nightmare. She recognized the nurse’s office and saw Nan sitting in a chair next to her.

“Relax, Aliya. It’s okay. Everything is under control and you are safe.” The concern on Nan’s face made Aliya certain that she wasn’t about to laugh at her this time.

Aliya could hear the principal and science teacher outside the door of the office, really laying into Ahmed.

“Your behavior is reprehensible,” shouted Principal McElheny. “This was really over-the-top and cannot be laughed off. Your father will be here soon.”

A few minutes later her father was standing over her asking how she was.

“I will be okay, Baba. But I don’t understand what happened.”

“Apparently your brother decided to play a prank on you. I am going to meet with the principal and I will get to the bottom of this. Just rest for now, habibi.”

After her father left, Aliya turned to Nan, who answered her unspoken questions.

”Ahmed must have overheard about your dream. He decided to help it come true, so he and some of the guys went to the 4-H Club’s barn and “borrowed” their prize sow. He’s been saying over and over that he had to ‘jar’ you ‘into reality’ about your desire to be a doctor.”

“Oh. Wait, Ahmed thinks that he can scare me away from being a doctor? He should know me better than that.” Aliya was angry now but didn’t know what else to say.

The girls grew quiet and Aliya thought through what all of this could mean for her future. She was certain now that her brother was wrong and she was past doubting her abilities. She needed to conquer her fears and strive toward her goal even harder. She would become the very best pediatrician in her state, and she would take her services to the poor and underserved families in the community. Ahmed should have known that making her angry would only strengthen her resolve, she thought.

“Suspended?” she heard her brother’s loud voice.

Her father’s soft voice answered, “Yes, and you will spend that entire suspension working in your uncle’s store. And you will apologize to your sister, to her entire science class, and write a letter of apology to the school. Maybe you can take this time to reflect on your attitude.”

Aliya felt good about her decision. She would be a doctor because female doctors were needed. She would be an example to her older brother of the strength and abilities of a Muslim woman. She would not back down.

“Gee, Nan, I guess there is a logical explanation this time,” Aliya said.

“What,” Nan asked.

“I had thought the dream was a sign that I couldn’t handle being a doctor, that Ahmed was right about women. But you were right about it being my nerves. It is only logical now for me to overcome all of this and do what I was meant to do – become an excellent doctor.”

“Oh yes. And the men will be flocking to your father’s door to beg for your hand in marriage because they will love your intellect and abilities, tempered by your piety, of course. And Ahmed won’t be able to find a wife who will put up with his silly ideas.” Nan made exaggerated gestures and rolled her eyes.

The girls were laughing when Aliya’s her father came into the room. When Aliya looked at Ahmed standing in the doorway she began to laugh even harder.

“What on earth are you two up to,” her father asked.

“There is a logical explanation, Baba.” But she couldn’t stop laughing to tell him what it was.

“Women. See, I told you they are frivolous and can’t do anything serious,” sneered Ahmed.

“Oh, I disagree. If she can still laugh after what you just did to her, you may want to keep out of her way.” Her father looked at Ahmed with a fierce expression and Ahmed moved quickly out of the way as his father stepped into the hallway, followed by the girls.

“It would be logical,” Aliya added, as Nan put her arm around her and they walked down the hallway after the men, still giggling.



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