Selfies: With Bettina Ng’weno (L); Sharon Fabriz (R)
“I remember us facilitating Rice Writing Project sessions at the Rice School and how even then you had the title in mind. As I recall, we heard some of your scenes in first draft form!” I read in an email that arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago. The note was from my friend Sharon Fabriz, reflecting on early drafts of Black Wings which I workshopped amidst fellow writers-teachers. Back in the 90’s, Sharon and I worked at different Houston Independent School District schools, and we served as co-directors of a teacher writing program that was started by educator and writer Marv Hoffman.
In 2002, I left full-time teaching to focus on my nonprofit arts organization, Voices Breaking Boundaries though I continued to teach community, college, and teen workshops. The last time I saw Sharon was in 2009 when she attended the living room art production, Honoring Dissent/Descent, at my Houston house, which I had produced to honor my father, the late Dr. Mohammad Sarwar.
In her email, Sharon said she had seen information about me on the Texas Book Festival website where I would offer several panels. “I was just browsing the Book Festival offerings looking for books for my personal list,” she said in her email. She told me that she had retired and moved to Sacramento. When I mentioned that I would be offering a reading at UC-Davis Middle East/South Studies program, Sharon promised to attend.
I was also joined at my October 21 reading by UC-Davis faculty member Bettina Ng’weno, who I had never met in person but had chatted with via Skype in 2009-10. Back then, I was researching Pakistan’s Baloch population, which I developed for VBB’s Homes and Histories 2012 production. Bettina, introduced to my family and me by our common friend Kamran Ali at UT-Austin, had spent time in Karachi with my mother, Zakia Sarwar, and my sister, Beena Sarwar. I had also fallen out of touch with her. But a few days before heading out to UC-Davis, I had remembered that Bettina was at UC-Davis, and I emailed her to let her know I’d be in town.
During my reading and discussion, my UC-Davis host Parama Roy asked insightful questions as did audience members, including Parama’s colleague Sudipta Sen, who shared stories about experiencing the 1971 war from the other side of the border in Calcutta. Afterwards, Parama and Sudipta took me to a Thai restaurant, where we were joined by another friend, Torsa Ghosal (Cal State-Sacramento), who I had also not met in person, but who had co-edited my On Belonging poems alongside Sorayya Khan for NOMAD – PaperCuts, the 2018 virtual magazine for Desi Writers Lounge. Writer Reyna Grande, a Sacramento resident, stopped by to join us for the meal; I had spent time with her at the July 2019 Macondo Writers Workshop when we both attended the workshop led by Sandra Cisneros and Ruth Behar.
After dinner, as I boarded the airplane from Sacramento to LA, I was still processing the series of coincidences that led to a memorable evening amidst new and old friends.