Words Amatulla Z.
Header Credits Alefiya S.
Maria sat in the masjid and listened to what the young, earnest seminary student was saying. There were historical references, and geographical references and references to various tribes and dynasties. The masjid was too hot upstairs where the women sat because all the heat always rose to the top. The heat was making her drowsy and she struggled to keep listening and not get distracted by her thoughts. She looked around to see how the others were doing, but she couldn’t really tell by looking at them if they were listening or daydreaming. A couple of people were looking at their phones. She reached for her own.
“What we really need is a visual or a chart,” she WhatsApp-ed to her best friend, Arwa, who wasn’t sitting with her. “I can’t keep this straight in my head.”
“I’m just trying to keep my daughter quiet,” she got back in response. “If you have a chart, show it to me later. Maybe I’ll actually learn something!”
“That’s a brilliant idea,” Maria thought to herself. She wasn’t listening to the homily any more. Already in her mind, she was planning how she would explain the story better, with visuals and charts and maps. Everyone would enjoy it. Mothers of children, like Arwa, who couldn’t listen because they were so absorbed in their children would be able to look at the charts at their leisure. It would be better than trying to focus.
Maria needed permission to move ahead. The lady who ran the masjid affairs was sitting right up ahead. Maybe she could just whisper to her now.
Maria adjusted her position and slowly moved forward. Someone was in the way, and after Maria had encroached on her space for a couple of minutes, she voluntarily moved out of the way. That’s what Maria needed. “I’m so sorry to interrupt,” she whispered to the wife of the Amil, the pastor. “I just wanted to ask you quickly if it was ok if I made some charts explaining the background to this story? I’d share them with everyone and it would really take this to the next level!”
“Great idea!” The Amil’s wife smiled at her and turned back to listen.
That was all Maria needed. She WhatsApp-ed Arwa again. “I’m making the charts. Can you help?”
“Love to,” came the response. “But I can’t do too much. Huzaifa is going out of town and the kids have exams this week.”
Maria frowned. She didn’t want to be taking on too much to do herself. “No problem,” she texted back, “we’ll just get more people to help.”
It was time to get together a WhatsApp group. Sarrah was great at drawing. They should definitely add her. Farida always made every exhibit look so elegant; they shouldn’t do one without her. Maria wasn’t sure what Lamiya’s role would be yet, but she didn’t want to be organizing something and leave Lamiya out. Lamiya liked knowing about everything that was happening.
Maria didn’t tell them the charts had been her idea. She added them all to the group and said they had been asked to make visuals and maps to really flesh out the story behind what they had heard that day, to deepen everyone’s understanding.
The talk was over. As people got up to leave, Farida came over. “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about the WhatsApp group you created.”
“Thanks for helping with this project,” Maria said. “Really appreciate it.”
“Yeah, I wanted to say you should really add Tasneem. She’s such a good organizer.”
“Do we really need to add another person though? I don’t know if we need so many,” Maria said.
“Oh, well, if you don’t want Tasneem, that’s ok, I just thought it would be good to have her. Do you not like her?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that,” Maria said quickly. “You know what, why don’t I just add her.”
Lamiya was next. “I’d really like to add my sister, Amatullah,” she said. “I don’t want her to feel left out of the project. And she’s such a good helper.”
Maria didn’t want the battle. “Sure, of course.”
By the end of the night, the WhatsApp group was at seventeen people.
“How many visuals can we create on one story!” Maria WhatsApp-ed Arwa. “We’ve now got seventeen on the group! What do I do with all of them?!”
Maybe they’d just turn it into a bigger event. Serve food and the works. The discussion on the WhatsApp group was too chaotic to keep up. It was time to split everyone into smaller groups.
“I’m going to break this up into separate groups for food and logistics and research and drawing,” she announced on the WhatsApp group.
She gave admin capabilities to an extra person on each group so she wasn’t the only admin on all the groups. But then every admin decided their group didn’t have enough people for what seemed like a lot of work coming down the pipe. So they all added an extra helper or two.
And the Food group was also discussing tables to put the food on, and plates and serving dishes. But that was supposed to be for Logistics to work out. The Food group was supposed to only be doing the food. What they needed was for certain people to be on multiple groups so they could coordinate communication and responsibilities between the groups. Maybe they needed a managerial group.
So Maria picked people out of all the groups and created a new managerial group. These people would then tell each group exactly what they were supposed to be doing. She explained to the managerial group the vision and thinking behind the exhibit. Sakina was one of the people in the new group. “I don’t like that,” Sakina said frequently on the group. Or she would say, “I think that sounds too ambitious. Can we make it easier to execute?”
Sakina was getting everyone down. Once she started tearing down ideas some people took Maria’s side and others agreed with Sakina. If Maria didn’t give in, Sakina messaged people off the group about how unhappy she was, and they agreed. Then they all got quiet and sullen on the group. If Maria gave Sakina her way, well, then she felt like her original idea was being turned into something completely different. She didn’t like that direction and then she didn’t want to participate.
The answer, clearly, was yet another WhatsApp group, a Core managerial group, one without Sakina. This way they could decide things without objections, funnel them to the managerial group that included Sakina, and then down to all the other groups. Sakina was told that the decisions had been made on another group, without mentioning which one, and it would be too complicated to rethink them all.
But Sakina was not to be outdone. She went straight to the top, and started her own WhatsApp group with the people at the top of the food chain who gave Maria permission for her charts in the first place. With all the people that had been added, this was now a big event, and not for the likes of Maria to be running. There were others that wanted to be involved and wanted to be calling the shots.
Maria wasn’t on that WhatsApp group herself, and suddenly found herself receiving instructions “that were made on another group”.
“Maria,” Farida told her in dismay, from the Food group. “We ordered all the strawberries yesterday, but they’ve just told us we’re not doing strawberries any more. We need to rethink it all over again! What’s happening and why do we keep getting new instructions every hour? We just can’t move forward!”
“I don’t know,” Maria said helplessly. “I can’t keep track myself. I think we have too many WhatsApp groups. I don’t know who is on which group and which one makes the final decisions.”
The day they finally put the charts up, she watched as they tried to sort out conflicting visuals, multiple tables, doubled food orders and dozens of volunteers all of whom refused to take orders from anyone other than their group admins, and certainly not the managerial group, or the Core managerial group, or any other unknown groups. The answers to the eager “what did you think?!” question she asked everyone were so varied, she had no idea if it went off well or not. Depending on whom you were aligned with, you heard about how the food was all wrong, they put up the wrong charts, it didn’t even make any sense – or, you heard about how many people attended, what fun everyone had, how the charts were so illuminating, the food so inspired.
“It’s over, at least,” she WhatsApp-ed Arwa, “and please stop me if I ever try to start a WhatsApp group again!”