Storytime Sunday: My collection of White Barbies

White Barbie collection, writer Nida Chowdhry

I had like a dozen White Barbies shoved into this small Barbie suitcase closet. I was very proud of my Barbie collection. One birthday, I remember standing in a Costco aisle gazing at the gorgeous sets of new Barbie dresses. One was a yellow Belle costume. My mom bought it for me and I totally loved and cherished it.

I used to love setting up their worlds for hours on end, but I honestly had no idea what they should say or do. It’s like I had Barbie stage fright. I could construct the stage, but gave them no lines. My friends were thankfully great at that. I had two Barbie playing besties (they know who they are). We would hide in each other’s rooms for hours and hours on end putting together the floor plan for their existences.

I wasn’t allowed to have a Ken but one of them was. Honestly he didn’t contribute much to the game. In retrospect I would have had much more fun playing with Ken had I any deeper understanding of gender and social constructs. Ken could have been more than a boyfriend who kind of just sat there. Sorry for limiting you so much Ken.

At Target, the Barbies we’re in a very specific order. From the beginning of the aisle to the end, it went: White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, White Barbie, horses for Barbie, Barbie’s shoes, Barbie’s ride, and then Black Barbie.

I remember holding Black Barbie in my hands for what felt like a million years in my little kid mind. Thinking. I want this Barbie. But… something doesn’t feel right. It’s as though she’s less important. Or like, I might get in trouble for buying her.

I still get that feeling today when I’m toy shopping for kids in my life. Like, is it okay for me to get a non-White-skin-toned doll for a child? Will their parent think it’s because of my subconscious colorism if their child is brown? What about the “fair” toned kids? Is it ok for me to give them a doll that has brown skin? Sometimes I’ll notice that most or all their dolls are indeed White, and I feel trapped in that same toy aisle, perpetually considering race.

I don’t buy dolls anymore, but if I did I’d buy the Ibtihaj Barbie.

Storytime: The Case of Me vs. Ants

nida chowdhry, author, writer, pakistani, american, muslim, storytime, silly, stories, bugs, austin, new york, apartment living

Like a good broke oldest desi daughter who graduated during the 2009 recession is apt to do, I lived with my parents until I got married and subsequently moved in with my partner, which is how I found myself in Austin, Texas in 2012.

And in Austin, in that cute furnished one bedroom downtown apartment that cost $1100 a month to rent and where we had little to no income tax and I lived a short drive from Homeslice Pizza, the roaches found me. They didn’t find me at first. They waited. And they didn’t find me en masse. They sent these little huge scout soldier roaches wearing backpacks that would run across the room on a mission to find a better land for their friends. (I could hear them shouting commands.) They instead found screaming giants and a vacuum hose, and soon, very effective roach deterring pods ordered on amazon and carefully placed in under cabinet areas. And that was that.

Continue reading “Storytime: The Case of Me vs. Ants”

I Understand Now

Kusho #1, Shinichi Maruyama. 2006.

What kind of mother leaves her kids? She asked. She and her siblings raised themselves and learned how to cook, clean, and be on their own. When she was in middle school, her mom brought them over to the States to live with her new family. Why did I have accept these new people as my family? But I understand now.

How did you come to understand why she did what she did? I asked, incredulous at the amount of compassion and growth that would take.

I’m a parent now, she said. She had a child as a teenager, and her child is now a teenager. She’s a single mother. And her son resents her.

Why do you work so much? Why aren’t you home when I come home from school? He speaks harshly and angrily.

You wouldn’t believe what kind of hold your kids have on you. I won’t let him make me feel bad. I tell him, ‘You don’t understand now, but you’ll understand one day.’

I don’t excuse what she did, but I understand now. 

Searching for CTM in East London

London’s Punjab Restaurant, established in 1946.

Finding Chicken Tikka Masala (CTM) that’s “just right” is a challenge.* In my unabashed opinion, there’s either amazing CTM, or cry-me-a-river disappointing CTM, which is better classified as ‘not CTM’.  I’ve had ‘not CTM’ at a lot of places, and CTM at a few.

I remember coming home from one of these few places and having a surprising exchange with my mom.

Mom: “How was dinner with your friends? What did you girls eat?”

Me: “It was great! We had chicken tikka masala with fresh naan.”

Mom: “Chicken tikka masala? What’s that?”

Continue reading “Searching for CTM in East London”

A Moment With: Her Past And My Present

bohemian necklace, neckline, paisley, tan
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Meeting someone without your glasses or contacts can be an uncomfortably intimate experience. When things are blurry, you’re inviting someone to see more of you than you can see of them. You’re prompted to absorb this person’s voice more deeply, or even to move physically closer, just to understand what’s going on. This is how I met my optometrist. Contacts off – she saw me before I saw her. I wouldn’t come to ‘see’ her and be able to discern her features fully until the end of my exam. What ensued was a very intimate conversation as we related to each others religious experience – though the religion and religious symbol we had in common were in her past and my present. Continue reading “A Moment With: Her Past And My Present”

The Universal Face of Annoyance

The mailman for our building – a man whom I often run down to say hello so I can hear his complaints (he has a very particular style of complaining that makes me really happy) – well, he was on the other side of our block dutifully* delivering mail, when he saw that someone from another shift had delivered our package to the building across the street.

He was so annoyed, sooooo** annoyed, that he took the package, walked around the block, into our building, up four flights of stairs, to hand me the package and correct this heinous blunder by some unnerving fool, even though he still has to come back later to deliver the rest of our mail. “It SAYS the address on there, IT SAYS IT ON THERE! 123, not 132!” he exclaimed in exasperated frustration.

Like this, but backwards. Actual space stuff via Dailymail
Like this, but backwards. Actual space stuff via Dailymail

While staring at his face, I had about a million flashbacks to every time I’ve experienced this emotion or observed it in others. It was the best: like staring into the universe of a very particular emotion as it recedes into the past, connected to every emotion that came before it and will come after it, every eye roll, every grunt or sigh, every desire to flip over a table, every “I just can’t” that has existed in all of the languages of human expression. Exhilarating.

*Why hasn’t this word been shortened to ‘dutily’?
**Oh the frustration of writing an assignment for school or work and not being able to convey how much you mean something by adding extra letters because it’s not ‘proper English’.  This is why the majority of the populace cares not for grammar, and neither shall I.

A Moment With: Henry


About This Series

I’m intrigued by daily human interactions and transactions, and the ways in which our communities and cities are organized and laid out: who we interact with, who we ignore, who we get to know. Part of what I have wanted to unlearn from my self-absorbed lifestyle is being disconnected with so many human beings. These are my accounts of the people I’ve met: a moment of shared time and space, and an opportunity to get to know someone and hear what they choose and wish to share. The questions I ask make for a limited scope: a biased curiosity, never a ‘whole’, if we can ever come to know someone as a whole. 

Today I met Henry as he drove my friend and I home after an afternoon of exploring the Islamic Art Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I first opened the door to hop in his cab, the leather interior was clean and worn. I found myself making a wish that it didn’t smell from a previous hungover passenger (it’s happened before). Thankfully, it did not.

I quickly glanced at his ID card and extended a warm greeting, “Hello, Henry! How has your day been so far?” He responded with a warm bellowing hello and ‘he he he’ giggle – every word he spoke came out of a smile. We drove along with all four windows down to let in the fabulously cool post-rain summer air. “I been here 27 years – this is the nicest summer we’ve had!” He has been living in New York for 27 years – as long as I’ve lived. Continue reading “A Moment With: Henry”