My first year of post-grad life isn’t fun to talk about. I have faced wage theft, medical scares, inappropriate proposals for arranged marriages, and one of the most Islamophobic situations in my life. This last experience happened at one of my jobs over the course of several months. I did everything in my power to speak up. I did so repeatedly, and repeatedly, I was ignored. It really made me question my worth. Luckily, now that I’ve been laid off due to COVID, I’m using my talents as a writer to slowly rebuild the self-love that I lost to that Islamophobic situation, and I’m doing that with my favorite sidekick in mind—my younger self!
Younger Sidikha loved to collect stickers. Teachers would put stickers on our homework, and it boggled my mind that people threw those stickers out. You don’t throw out your trophies! So I collected my stickers in a notebook, that is until my family “accidentally” threw the notebook out. But that notebook was so cool. Its cover was red and made out of the holographic material that shines differently depending on the angle at which you hold it. I felt like a mini intellectual whenever I opened it. “Stocks? What are those? Let’s talk about this sticker on page three: an unamused dinosaur next to an erupting volcano? There’s a story here!!!”
In 2020, Hana, my little sister, bought me tiny, multicolored, star-shaped stickers made of similar holographic material. When she handed them to me, the fond memories came rushing back, and so did the serotonin! These stickers bring me such joy, so I decided to use them with a new notebook in my life.
Writing in this notebook has become my favorite activity. I call this “chasing the thrill of inspiration.” Chasing the thrill of inspiration includes having a blast watching TV, writing notes about moments that meant a lot to me, getting inspired, and then writing ideas that reimagine what thrilled me. If the idea is good, I put one of Hana’s stickers next to it to indicate that I should script that idea next.
For example, I was watching the South Korean series When the Camellia Blooms, and at one point, Hyang-mi (Son Dam-bi) says to Dong-baek (Gong Hyo-jin), “If we’re ever given a chance to live another life, I want to live as your daughter.” This line wrecked me, but I won’t give spoilers.
It got me thinking, though, “Wait. I think there’s a very close Muslim equivalent to that line.” I tried to figure it out in my notebook. Muslims don’t believe in reincarnation, but they do believe in the afterlife in heaven, as well as the pre-life period called “the realm of souls.” To put it simply, souls that vibe during the realm of souls also vibe in their time on Earth, which is why you might meet someone for the first time, but feel like you’ve known them for years. In regard to heaven, Muslims often casually mention to each other their grand hopes. From something silly like, “I hope I get to jet ski there every day,” to something sentimental like, “I hope you and I are neighbors in paradise.” I decided the latter is a close Muslim version of Hyang-mi’s line. There’s a lot of neighborly love in Muslim afterlife discourse. I then started thinking of other possible permutations of that line regarding the realm of souls and ancestors. Next thing you know, I had a couple of pages of different beautiful things a Muslim character might say or do when discussing their hopes for the future. There are stickers scattered throughout. If I flip through the pages, the stickers shine like shooting stars, making me feel marvelous.
Yet sometimes, I’m still haunted by the Islamophobic situation I suffered through at work. What helps me is remembering a different scene I wrote in my notebook. One where younger me walks in on current me, who’s feeling worthless. She looks at all that I went through, all the courage and patience. Then whispers, “Did you do all this for me?” I nod. She responds, “I never thought anyone would ever fight for me. … I love you so much.” Magic words—a hidden level of self-love unlocked. Then she hugs me and exclaims, “Look at all these stars!!!” They’re my stickers, and suddenly plants grow beside my ideas. My determination to be heard reblooms right before our eyes. Younger me says, “Hey, I think this might be a good sign.”
Sidikha Ashraf ’19 is a freelance writer for two children’s animation projects in development with Netflix and DreamWorks Animation Television.