Southfield and the Jeffries
Southfield and the Jeffries
So it looks like I won’t be making that trip home to Michigan that I thought I would this June, due to, how you say, irresolvable differences of contractual interpretation between myself and my employer. I’m tempted to give in to sentimentality here and list out all the things I really miss about home, but where would that get me? The places you dream about are also the places your nightmares come from, and so maybe I ought to reflect on that.

This is the Southfield-Jeffries Interchange, a monumental no-place that towers over the landscape, quite easily the tallest structure on the West Side. It has appeared in bad dreams more times than I can count. Details change, but most often, the interchange is completely filled with broken or unmoving cars and I find myself walking miserably up or down those tall arching, curving ramps. A meaningless series of dreams no doubt, and yet out of all the places and spaces I’ve inhabited around Detroit, it is that object that crops up most often in my imagination.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. Salaams.

    If it helps at all, Michigan is currently a mass of depression anyway due to the economy. It has made noticeable difference to how everything looks, and the sadness of the people is quickly giving way to hopelessness. Make du’a for us, inshaAllah, and perhaps when you do make it back it will be to something worth seeing. 🙂

  2. Ya, I thought Indy had it bad, SubhanAllah, EliLilly is hiring more folks from Detroit than Obama is with his “stimulus” package. The D city is hurting for realz!

    Is your family from Yuperland?

  3. Oh, you used to be right across the pond from me (Lake Michigan), I’m from Milwaukee. Gotta love the Midwest. Don’t worry, Detroit will always be there…. it’s certainly one city that refuses to die. LOL

  4. Asalaamu Alaikum

    I live across the border from Michigan in Ontario. I’m married to a Malaysian and we have 10 kids (2 from my previous marriage). I lived in Kelantan in 2000 for 4 months. I couldn’t stand it and came home. How do you stand to live in Malaysia? I think its easier for men. I saw an American guy living there and even though he was dirt poor he was happy as a clam.

  5. wa alaykum salam!

    Mashallah, 10. You’ve got me beat sister. Where were you in Kelantan? And what didn’t you like about it? I like it here. The weather might be the hardest part to get used to, but after about 6 months, you sweat less. Really. I showered 5 times a day when I first arrived and sweated all night long. Now I sleep under a blanket. It is harder making a living here, especially for foreign men who have more visa problems, but I’ve found it to be worth it. Maybe the social life is more difficult for a foreign woman to adjust to? So do your children speak bahasa malaysia with their father? Oh and who is this American in Kelantan? There aren’t many of us – do you know if he’s still there?

  6. I was in Kota Bharu. I loved the weather; it was like a postcard day everyday! Palm trees, beaches. Although people could care less about beaches,picnics and swimming. Its all shopping and visiting. I did like that though but nobody did much else. I went to Malaysia for hijra and found it wasn’t very islamic at all. I was there for 4 months and no one brought me to the mosque even once! No one bothered to teach me quran and find a teacher for me or even ask if I needed to learn about Islam. They were only concerned with whether or not I cook speak malay and cook malay food..sigh. I also couldn’t stand the houses indoors; no screens on the windows = lizards,cockroaches,mosquitoes, rats, mice, snakes, bats and bugs inside. I’m not making this up! KB is very rural. I lived with my in-laws the whole time. I hated the litter too and the filthy public washrooms. I hated the way people pushed me when I went shopping. I hated the way people didn’t care about seatbelts and hid their seatbelts or cut them out and then my kids were left unsafe. I hated to see little kids, whole families even on motorcycles with no helmets. I felt stressed out the whole time I was there. Sorry but I could write a book about this. Oh and I couldn’t get a job either because I had no status. My husband finally got a job after 3 months but it paid so low we could have never lived on it. Everything there is so expensive unless you live like a malay (rice no cereal, no milk, no cheese, no diapers for the baby).

    Dh never taught the kids malay. Even when we stayed there for 4 months they didn’t seem to pick up anything.

    I’m not sure about the American if he’s still there. He was 3 yrs ago I think. His wife is named Norliza. I can’t remember his name anymore. He used to live in Saudi and he teaches arabic. There was a Canadian guy in Terranganu before too named Cik Anwar. He could be gone now though.

    Where are you in Malaysia? is it sarawak?

  7. Sorry it didn’t work out for you. There is a lot to adjust to, and it’s true that a western lifestyle is very hard to maintain on a Malaysian salary. Sometimes people write to me asking about moving to Malaysia – after I tell them what I earn in US dollars they don’t write back, lol. It’s funny you mention breakfast cereal because that was something I had to simply eliminate from our diet for years. It’s only within the last year that I’ve felt comfortable enough financially to buy the kids cornflakes. Isn’t that funny? The flip side is that now Detroit is an economic ruin – on the whole I think I’m living better here than I would be back in the D. Seriously. But it’s not easy. I brought my baby sister here for a little foreign exchange and she had to evacuate after 3 months too. Had you visited prior to moving here?

    Yeah, I’m in Sarawak, in the capital, Kuching. I’ve been here over 7 years now.

  8. I never visited before that, we were just poor struggling students when we got married. If I had gone beforehand I guess I would have never moved there. Did you ever see how the expats live there? The white guys who went there with a western company and they are living high on the hog? Maids, chauffeurs, pools. Meanwhile everyone thinks you’re rich if you’re white and the kids got that in school too. The other students were shocked to find out we were living with the in-laws and penniless!
    Detroit really has fallen apart. You can get a house there for a steal! Big houses that would fit our families for a few thousand! But there are no jobs. Windsor has suffered too but not nearly as bad as across the bridge.What do you do for a living there? Dh got a job there in engineering.

  9. I teach at a local university. So does the wife. Like you, I moved here first and started looking for a job second. Little did I know once you’re in country they won’t offer you all those expat packages, which yeah, are pretty cushy. If you can find a way to make a USD-equivalent salary over here, you’ve definitely got it made. Most of those deals are for mid-career type people though, that’s the other thing. Coming over fresh out of school is tougher. Have you come back to visit since then? Ever think you might try again? As our children multiply (we’re at 7), the thought of picking up and moving back to the states again dims. 10, mashallah… Did you get twins somewhere along the way?

  10. I’ve never visited again..can’t afford it. Dh has gone back 3 times since we came back; twice with one kid at a time and once alone. He brought them because they had to get their IC card. We went there when we had 6 kids and left with 6 kids and the 7th on the way! We can’t afford to go back and what would we go back to? I’ve never had twins. Tickets for all of us would be like $20,000 Canadian. When you went there did you have kids yet? Was your wife a sponsored student too? Would you like to come back to the US? The year after I came back 911 happened and I was kicking myself thinking I should have stayed in Malaysia because I suffered so much because of it living on the border with the US. If both of you are working, who watches the kids? Some people have told my husband to get a job with the oil industry..they apparently pay big bucks and we could live decently on it but he never got any leads from them. I don’t know where I belong. I don’t feel really happy in either place. Here in Canada there are mostly Pakistanis and Arabs and they don’t really accept us. The nearest malays are hours away! What made you leave? Was it a hijra for you too? Or you wife had to go back to pay the loan?

  11. Oh some of your kids are registered in Malaysia? That’s good. All my children were born in Malaysia – it was the only way for them to get Malaysian citizenship. With the first two, we were still living in the US, in school and later working. She would fly back shortly before term, deliver, recuperate and fly back. We moved there when she was heavily pregnant with the third. We had already decided to move back to Malaysia basically before we got married. Yeah, she had a loan to repay, but also it was a strategic move, and a hijrah. I wanted my kids to be bilingual and to have a religious education. I didn’t know for sure if it would be permanent. I still don’t, though it increasingly looks that way, and I’m happy here. In the end I think immigration is really something you do for your kids – most immigrants – from anywhere to anywhere – have an ambivalence about their adopted country and the choice they’ve made somewhere inside. Leaving their family if nothing else. Have you heard the joke about the guy who visits hell? Are you in Windsor proper? I know a family in the Detroit area – Malaysian guy, American girl, 5 kids. I could put you in touch. Still far though, I know.

  12. All of my kids have dual happens automatically when you are a guy..I unfair..let’s blame Mahathir..oh he’s gone but anyway you kwim. Yeah that was the deal with hubby too…that we had to go back to Malaysia. I was ok with it because I went sight unseen and I had all kinds of hopes and dreams which never panned out. I wanted my kids to be able to speak malay too and get a religious education. They wouldn’t enroll my son in islamic/arabic school though because he didn’t know malay. My two daughters went to regular school but they had stupid things like playing the flute. Instead of arabic they had jawi. My hope was to get an Islamic loan since they have an islamic bank there to get a house but with such low wages I could see we would probably never have anything! The guy in Detroit? I think I know who you mean! I talked to them just before we left for Malaysia. His wife told me that she hated Malaysia. I was excited to go that I couldn’t tolerate what she was saying. After I came back I totally understood! I don’t live in Windsor but about an hour from there. If I crossed the border I would land in Algonac not Detroit. I have never crossed the border though since ’99. I’m too terrified! Oh I lost her contact info. Can you give it to me again?

    You like living there but isn’t there things you don’t like? How did you adapt? Did her family accept you? My in-laws didn’t even want my husband to marry me. It was really awful and my parents flipped out too. No blessings from anyone.

  13. Must be a different lady. The one I know is pretty pro Malaysia – they’re planning to move back once they save up enough. Might never happen of course, but you know. Anyway this is getting pretty personal so I’m going to carry on by email tonight inshallah if you don’t mind.

  14. Asalaamu Alaikum

    Ok so I finally read the true. Before I came to Malaysia I talked to a lot of people who had visited Malaysia as tourists and they had such glowing reports. No wonder they travel there as if they are still back home..5 star hotels etc. Also never ask a native either…they only have glowing reports too. So this is how I was hoodwinked!

  15. As Salamu Alaykum,

    I couldn’t help but smile when I read your comments on here. 😀 I feel you, Sister Aishah. Hubby is also a convert, from Traverse City and has been in Malaysia since 2008. And he HATES it here. Complains about the same things Sister Aishah mentioned on here. He is homesick and I feel sorry for him. Life’s been hard for him since he left – especially having to endure cold showers and humidity. Oh and also being called Maher Zain wherever he goes (gah! that bugs me even.) He won’t go back though until I am able to get a green card. We’ve been married for 3 years with a child and I have never met my in-laws. Hopefully all goes well and we’ll be able to finally see MI! Duas please. Salams.

  16. salams, none of my business but you’ve been married 3 years, have a kid and you don’t have your green card yet? Have you gotten an immigrant spouse visa at least? They practically hand those out if you show up with a marriage certificate.

  17. Asalaamu Alaikum Zahidah

    I have no idea about American laws because I am Canadian but my husband was here when I sponsored him. So much easier. I’m surprised it isn’t easy though for your husband to get you to the US because they are only giving trouble to Muslim men it seems and not women coming into the country. There are tons of women like you in the US. Have you heard of the website rantauan. com ? You’ll find them there. They can advise you insha Allah.

  18. Correction: Not until I get the green card, but until the i-130 is approved, at least. We are now in the process of filing the i-130 petition.

    Are you talking about the IR1? After the i130 is approved, then I can get the IR1, right? I’m still a little confused about all this. Hubby’s aunt is an immigrant attorney who is handling our petition. So we are just waiting for her instructions on what to do next.

    It’s not that hard to get the visa if you do it right. One of the reasons why we didn’t work on the i-130 sooner was because hubby wanted to further his Islamic studies. We had been moving from place to place trying to find a suitable Deeni school (most only offer courses in Jawi). And now we’re in Indonesia – finally he found a place that has teachers teaching in Arabic. And also there was the money issue. So, we had to wait for the right time to do it.

  19. Sister Aishah:

    We stayed in KB for 3 months and it was rough. I mean, we were practically surrounded by drug addicts. And you’d think Kelantan should be somewhat decent for being an Islamic state. We had to find somewhere else to move since we were not going to have a baby in a bad neighborhood. And the garbage burning there was outrageous! They burned plastic and diapers, etc EVERYDAY. My grandparents are also from Kelantan, but they live in a decent and peaceful neighborhood.

    Oh, btw. We had issues too with my family. They were mad that hubby didn’t know Malay (and still doesn’t) and therefore didn’t socialize much with our relatives. It seems like that’s all people care about. The first thing they ask you is “Can you speak Malay?” Sad that that can break families apart.

  20. Drug addicts? I didn’t see any there but I saw the billboards warning people about that and also AIDS, what with being right next to Thailand! We lived in a village just outside of KB next to the pasar malam which I heard has been totally built up now with a McDonald’s and about weird! I remember the garbage burning..yuck. At least they closed down the rubber factory..that really stunk.

    Your husband couldn’t find anyone to help him with Islamic studies even in KB? I wanted to just learn quran and no one helped me with that. I heard KL is better for converts. There is one convert guy though that was teaching the medina course in KB though. Not sure but I think he only had male students. How is life in Indonesia?

  21. The first thing they ask you is “Can you speak Malay?”

    The language barrier can be a big problem, but it certainly cuts both ways. Imagine bringing a Malaysian spouse back to Heartland, USA who doesn’t speak English and isn’t interested in learning any! It wouldn’t go over well.

  22. As for myself my husband barely taught me malay and I did order a tape and book set for myself to learn Malay (before internet days) and a few Malay women tried to teach me on the internet before I got there. Once I got there I tried to learn from my dictionary. The thing is if people there want you to speak so badly why don’t they ever teach you?

  23. Yeah, hubby said he saw needles when he used the public toilet at the mall. And our landlady told us that we have to make sure the gate to our apt is always locked because the kids go up there and do drugs. Said she found candles and needles in front of the apt door. So.

    No, we lived across the road from the Pondok in Pasir Tumbuh (not sure if you’ve heard it) It’s supposed to be the biggest Islamic institute for Deeni studies, from what I heard. Anyway, the teachers there do not speak Arabic despite the amount of Arabic books they have completed. I do not know how that is even possible.

    Yes, there are more people who want to learn and people who are willing to teach in KL.

    Life in Indonesia is nice, alhamduliLlah. The weather is cooler and the neighborhood is safer and nicer – for cheaper too. You would not get to live in a really cheap place like this without garbage burners and drug addicts in Malaysia. So, alhamduliLlah, we’re glad.

    So, do you have anyone to teach you now in Toronto?

  24. @Bin Gregory: Sure, it might be important to learn it if you are planning to stay in Malaysia for a long time. But why does it matter so much even to people who make conversations with you for a minute or two and you probably never see again?
    Also, I know that people who bug are the ones who shy away from speaking English. They can (eventhough broken), but they don’t want to. My grandma converses with hubby in English & I never heard her make a fuss about him not knowing Malay.
    And isn’t it about time that Malays learn English (considering it is now 2012 and English is the world language?) Sure, back before the Independence Day, every foreigner who entered Malaysia would have to speak Malay. But it is different now. I know how it is to be in a foreigner’s shoes. Most people thought I was a foreigner (from my clothing), and whenever I went to place an order, say, at a restaurant, they all pushed each other forward. No one wanted to take the order because they didn’t know English. And does that also mean that every tourist needs to learn Malay before they come to Malaysia so that Malays don’t have to suffer when they take the tourist’s order? Chinese and Indians don’t have any problem with you not speaking Malay (or Chinese or Tamil.) They even converse with each other in English.
    Sure, if I went to the US without knowing English, it would be hard to converse, no doubt. But at least people would be more understanding, instead of forcing you to learn the language (what hubby said). Allahu a’lam.

  25. No one wanted to take the order because they didn’t know English.

    That’s because they are embarrassed of their broken English, not from a sense of hostility to a non-BM-speaking foreigner.

    But at least people would be more understanding, instead of forcing you to learn the language

    This is usually true in big cosmopolitan cities, i.e. Kuala Lumpur & New York City, and unlikely to be the case in remote, isolated countrysides, i.e. Kelantan & Kentucky.

    And isn’t it about time that Malays learn English (considering it is now 2012 and English is the world language?) Sure, back before the Independence Day, every foreigner who entered Malaysia would have to speak Malay

    This is kind of backwards. Prior to Independence, Malaysia was a British colony. I don’t think the colonial masters were overly troubled to learn Malay, while it was essential for advancement for locals. Here in Kuching, the elder generation who grew up under the Brits speak far better English than their children. Post-Independence, the country has tried to reassert the importance of Bahasa as a national language, with very mixed results.

    Which is neither here nor there. I’m not casting aspersions on anyone here. I’m merely pointing out that this is a fairly universal sort of issue, that Malaysians on the whole are not more proud and nationalistic about their language than other nations – it is demonstrably quite the opposite really.

  26. Asalaamu Alaikum Zahidah

    I don’t live in Toronto, I can only wish! I live 3 hours south of there in a little town with no Muslims. I drive about 1/2 hour to get quran lessons from a lady in another town for me and my kids.

    Surprised to hear that there are no garbage burners there. I know they are famous for burning their forests.

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