The Heroine Next Door (2016 update)

Imagine a world where a Muslim girl could grow up to be anyone she wanted to be in the world. Imagine a world where her religion is a private expression of spirituality and her contributions measured by dedication to family and/or being able to express her talents. One might be taken to task for these flights of fancy, especially since the fifteen years since 9/11 has seared the apocalyptic vision of terrorists into global consciousness. The fog of death and war enveloping the real-time and digital worlds – alternatively labeled a “Mist over Peace” – has obscured the fact that more than a billion Muslim men and women live peaceful lives across the globe. One-fifth of Muslims (300 million people), according to the Pew Research Center, live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion.

One such country is South Africa – the land of Nelson Mandela and a “rainbow nation” that took to the streets in order to shed the yoke of apartheid. As in any other country, children dreamt of opportunities to better themselves, often in the absence of mentors and the necessary finances that could positively alter their lives. I have chosen to focus “The Heroine Next Door” on one fictitious character, Leila, who represents a character caught at several crossroads. She came of age as South Africa transitioned into a democracy. She is a Muslim woman who emigrated to another country and experienced the 9/11 aftermath of heightened security. She had very few shoulders of female giants to stand on in pursuing a career in the sciences. She is also a practical person seeking to tackle health issues such as HIV, tuberculosis and diabetes that plague many parts of the world, especially South Africa.

It is easy for this trailblazer to get lost in a cacophony of stereotypes about sexuality and spirituality. If fiction mirrors current international attitudes, she would be depicted as a jihadi bride drowning in black hijab or a virulent anti-Islamist. However, I have chosen to humanize her with anecdotes of daily life punctuated with historical context. The plot is described here.

Her story differs radically from that of a Syrian refugee struggling to survive or a Pakistani-born female doctor or an Indonesian female astronomer or an Iranian female math whiz or a Saudi female mountaineer who conquered Mount Everest or a functionally illiterate Afghan woman. And yet they all adhere to a faith based on five pillars: faith, prayer, alms (zakat), fasting, and pilgrimage. Imagine if their talents could be fully harnessed beyond the family to help tackle some of the most pressing global issues ie, food security, income inequality, unemployment, climate change, weaknesses in the global financial system, the impact of the Internet, the gender gap, global trade, long-term investment, and healthcare challenges. None of these topics will inflame passions on the scale of a war or the heady thrill that comes from vanquishing a foe. It is the boring work of governance. It represents the quiet resilience of life. Shaping the 21st century will require the collective input of all men and women. All the Leilas of this world want is to be part of the solution.

My other books

 

Perspectives on Type 2 diabetes

 

Google the word, “diabetes,” and at least 268 million hits appear to describe various features and management of a chronic condition that alters the body’s ability to metabolize blood sugar. I have chosen to focus on Type 2 diabetes in four countries/regions, the United States of America (USA), China, MENA, and South Africa, as a matter of personal preference and for the sake of brevity. Tips about Type 2 diabetes are interspersed with information on patient education and personal stories.

 

HIV/TB/Diabetes resource kit

This educational aid aims to fill an unmet need in providing patient-friendly information that would aid frontline healthcare workers in resource-poor settings to devise personalized treatment plans for individuals who have multiple chronic conditions eg, HIV, TB, and diabetes. South Africa is used as a case study to illustrate challenges and opportunities.

 

A few good women

Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” This quote holds especially true for women seeking to advance in technical careers traditionally viewed as male endeavors eg, science and engineering. The female giants described in this book range from Emily Roebling’s tireless contribution to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to the joint discovery of the brain’s GPS by May-Brit Moser and her husband.

Mist over peace

Capricious weather in Africa served as the perfect metaphor for the temporal nature of relationships, illnesses, and other societal issues that may obscure the eternal quest of human beings to find meaning (synonymous with happiness) in their lives. Mist would roll over sun-kissed, emerald-green vistas dotted with homes, only to clear within an hour and repeat Nature’s mysterious dance. I have synthesized relationships, headlines, mythology, history, science, religion, and sports through my mental prism into a collection of poems. Scientific discoveries and rational thought take center stage in poems such as Inflammatory bowel disease, On microbes and Man, and Yarumel’s curse. The latter poem refers to an ongoing study currently being conducted in Colombia to assess factors contributing to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in a population predisposed to this condition. In addition, Aging describes memory loss accompanying advancing years. I have also used the often-overworked metaphor of a bridge in The Brooklyn Bridge and Question Bridge to recall heroic engineering feats and to riff on a chasm of misunderstanding that may exist within a community. In the latter case, I chose the same title as a transmedia project aimed at facilitating discussions among black men. Headlines detailing violent events in South Africa, notably the Marikana miners’ strike, and shootings in the USA formed the basis for poems such as A miner’s voice and Gun control.

 

Scatterlings

In this collection of poetry, I have continued the approach of filtering news headlines reflecting ongoing issues such as crime, immigration, family disintegration, and diseases through the prism of normal experiences. I have divided the poems into four categories: family, immigration, society, and diseases. With Mother’s Day fast approaching and in remembrance of a woman who embodied the positive aspects of a Jungian archetype, I have paid homage to mothers in a series of poems in Chapter 2 (Family). Migrants escaping war-torn regions into Europe and South Africa appear prominently in Chapter 3 (Immigration). Their plight is juxtaposed with the positive memories of a Russian immigrant to America, Vladimir Nabokov (Butterflies, Chapter 3), and the success of an anonymous, first-generation Chinese immigrant family (A robin’s nest, Chapter 2). While most of these stereotypes are instantly recognizable, readers may have to refresh their memories to appreciate allusions to the German pilot, Andreas Lubitz, in Chapter 4 (Alienation) or to the exploits of famed journalist, Nellie Bly (Asylum; Chapter 5). The theme in Chapter 5, is largely focused on an underappreciated component of health i.e., mental illness

 

 

The Heroine Next Door: Status Update

HIVAIDS_infographicTuberculosis_2016 Diabetes_infographicIt has been a few years since I first thought about a series of books about Islam and chronic diseases. What would such disparate topics have in common, one might ask? Part of the impetus has been to try and interpret complex events that hog the news headlines and impact my life in a direct and indirect way. As someone who experienced apartheid in South Africa and the 9/11 aftermath, my writing journey started as another twist on familiar themes. The start of the project was simple. Join some Muslims together in a loosely-fitting collage of immigrant experiences and show that a positive spirit can endure all manner of problems to solve, in one instance, the burgeoning triple epidemic of HIV/TB/diabetes epidemic in South Africa. Combine those books with some non-fiction tips and poems about the diseases, relationships, and life.

Since “The Heroine Next Door” and subsequent books appeared in print over the last 24 months, I have realized how difficult it is to transmit the message that good people can help one another if they choose to apply themselves to solutions. My naïveté has been tempered, but I have also been heartened by the positive responses from fans and the fact that some people have expressed that their eyes have been opened to new ways of doing things.

So, in the spirit of continuing to spread positive energy and basic information of the top infectious killers and the diabetes epidemic, I have put together some infographics. Please feel free to visit Amazon to check out the books and Facebook/LinkedIn for the infographics (high-res versions are available upon request).

My journey (related to diabetes)

Hi everyone!

One of my brothers died two years ago due to complications from Type 2 diabetes. That tragic event caused me to channel my inner nerd and write a series of public-health-related articles about the disease that can be found here: http://znacke1.wix.com/diabetesportfolio. After much soul-searching I also started drafting my first book, “The Heroine Next Door.” It is very gratifying to receive positive feedback and I am happy to report to interested readers that a second manuscript is in the pipeline.

Enjoy your day.

The Heroine Next Door (and more about me)

Hi everyone!

I am so excited that my first book is finally in print.
My earliest memories of growing up involve sitting next to my father, as he drove a green truck filled with chattering children, to a Muslim primary school located in the whites-only neighborhood of Paarl. This prosperous South African tourist attraction and home of the Afrikaans Language monument can trace its roots of its name (Afrikaans for “pearl’) back to the description given by a Dutch colonist, Abraham Gabemma, when he saw a granite rock on one of its mountains gleaming after a rain storm. Three years later, in 1660, different Dutch settlers would give a street the same name after the oysters found in a New York river. Little did I know, as I watched my father teach overflowing classes of children the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) and I learned about nature from my mother (an avid gardener), that I would one day find myself in New York City.
Had I been the meticulous diarist of my later years, the stories of analyzing geraniums for signs of viral infections and probing the plump, yellow flesh of loquats in a tree (while hiding from my mother for some long-forgotten transgression), would be chronicled in glowing detail and cross-referenced with comments from my brothers. Instead, in my incarnation as a writer and given the vagaries of lost memories, I chose to write a work of fiction that is inspired by people and events that I have had the privilege to witness over the years. Because I am South African by birth, “The Heroine Next Door,” has a strong regional flavor, focusing on the pre-and post-apartheid era, before transitioning to the USA and Europe, and the impact of path-breaking infectious and non-communicable disease research on the lives of people in Africa. However, the core identity and relationship issues that the main character, Leila, struggles with are ones that resonate with me and hopefully with the readers. With that in mind, I plan on continuing to write about relationships, sometimes in the idiom of the religion in which I was raised, Islam, and to creatively meditate about my other great loves, including history, news (I am a news junkie), education for all, and science.