It never ceases to amaze me that somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I have cousins with blonde hair and blue eyes and the initials J.C in honor of Jesus Christ. They were raised strictly Mormon, we were raised Muslim. They lived in small towns. We lived in Chicago. They only spoke one language, we spoke two. We were culturally brown, at least on the inside, and they were impossibly white. They blessed their food in Jesus’ name, and we had to serve ourselves before the blessing was given. They went to church and sang with the primary group. We went to church and slouched in the pews, coloring. .
One of my cousins is in the US air force, while I am one of those scary people draped in black that Time Magazine takes pictures of to show what the enemy looks like. (On the count of three, everyone roll their eyes.) We’re just so different, na? Almost on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. And yet, we both like Strongbad. And we shared the same grandparents. He remembers us sneaking frozen hot dogs from Grandma’s freezer, I remember going blueberry picking with his parents one summer. Grandpa never let him drive the riding mower. He never let me either, so we’re even there too.
I can’t help but wonder what he thinks of me, the whacky-half Paki cousin living in a foreign country and wearing many yards of fabric. I wonder what he thinks about Muslims in general, what opinion he has of the religion. I have a pretty good idea about his religion, seeing as how it’s also my mom’s religion and the religion in whose church I sat in and colored. I don’t know that I have misconceptions to get over. Or do I? I sometimes wonder, when world politics are going exceptionally bad and Bush is talking about invading yet another Muslim country, I wonder whether I’ll be bombed, and whether my cousin will be pushing the button. We joke about being on opposite sides of the fence, he tells me to hand over Osama and I call him J**** Bin Harris the spy, but there’s a bit of truth in every joke. Otherwise we wouldn’t laugh so loudly or so nervously.
I know my cousin’s not evil. I know a million people will stomp their feet and tell me the US army is doing evil things, and I will agree, but he’s not evil. He’s just one of some government pawns who signed up a long time ago and are just going with the flow. I wish we were on the same side, I wish he was Muslim and his wife and little kids were here in Pakistan so we could chill and talk about Strongbad and joke about nonsensical things. He’s a funny, smart, and genuinely nice person who actually makes the effort to keep in touch with our part of the family when I have other cousins closer to my age that don’t even make conversation with us if we come over. They just hide in the kitchen. Why they’re hiding from me, the cousin they played dress-up with in G-ma’s closet and went hiking with and fell into the frozen stream with and then shivered all the way home with, why they hide from me I don’t know. We shared a childhood and the same American culture. We would have lots to talk about if they just felt like talking to us. But they didn’t, and they don’t. Which is sad, because there’s nothing pushing us apart except for their fear or distaste for my religion.
So yeah, this cousin of mine in the air force, he’s the only one, the only one who keeps in touch with us, who wastes hours of my time on IM cracking me up and reminding me of what having an extended family is like. I’m glad he’s in our family. I just wish he was on our side.