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A Month in the Life of a Flâneur in Muncie


Hafeez-ur-Rehman joined the staff of the Center for Middletown Studies in January of this year and assumed the role of Managing Editor for Everyday Life in Middletown.  He is also enrolled in the Ph.D  in English Literature program at Ball State.  Below he shares some of his initial impressions of Muncie and Ball State, with an eye toward everyday life.

The story starts on a wintry night in December in Muncie. I have my university apartment’s keys but I don’t know my apartment number. Isn’t it a weird beginning in a new city of a slightly familiar country? My Bangladeshi brother at BSU was creative enough to iron out this riddle. I am a little reluctant to narrate what he did to figure out my apartment number. I must not be afraid as I am an anonymous Flâneur in Muncie. He took me to the cluster mailboxes and started inserting a key to figure out my apartment number. Holy Moly, What a genius guy!  That’s how I came to know my apartment number during the Christmas Holidays. This is the first memorable moment in Muncie. You people will wonder why I didn’t check my lease agreement for address and apartment, no? Your curiosity is quite reasonable. The housing office forgot to mention these details on my lease agreement in the hurry and excitement for the Christmas holidays. This whole situation reminds me of Saadi Sherazi’s golden words “A traveler without knowledge is a bird without wings”. Anyhow, my journey to Muncie starts with this interesting incident.

Next Morning, New City, Nice People

If you are travelling to Muncie during Christmas time, then you might be in for a big surprise. The first thing that you need to do is make sure that you have the right information about Uber, Lyft and other taxi services. On my way to Walmart, my Uber captain enlightened me about the taxi service in the city. He said, “The old/retired people of Muncie mostly run Uber and Lyft but the fear of COVID has stopped them from providing these services.” The taxi apps keep you waiting for at least half an hour and sometimes more than this. On my way to Walmart, Muncie started to whisper its story through its landscape, leafless, winter ridden trees and bumpy roads. Every city tells so many stories if you are a good listener. You are interested in knowing what story Muncie whispers in my ear. In winter, geese come to hear its story from a long distance. Like these geese, I travelled 36 hours to listen to this story.

A story in opaque water of White River

A story from Shaffer Tower of BSU

A story of long wild grass near Scheidler Apartments

A story about a Statue at Minnetrista

A Story above the surface

A Story under the surface

A story into a story…

I apologize for being a bit poetic because I do not have enough time and space to untie the knots of all the stories. If you have time and stories, then EDLM is a huge canvas for you. Do you know a strange thing about Flâneurs? While trolling from one story to another…sorry, from one place to another, they may lose their direction. I am losing my direction so I come back to Walmart. After buying some groceries, I tried booking a ride but I failed in doing so due to the unavailability of drivers. I knew no other way to get back to my apartment. Then I approached a gentleman in the parking lot and shared my problem. He was kind enough to give me a ride. Before parting, he gave a piece of wonderful advice: “No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another”. My first encounter with a Munsonian impressed me.

Snow, Sleet, Slush

Frosty Wind, Eolian Sound, Weather Alert

A day in the first or second week of the new year. The clock hands are joined as if showing respect to some deity. My laptop’s taskbar pops up a snow forecast in Muncie. Imagine being in a state of excitement when you see snow for the first time in your life. I am from a country where the summer rules almost 7 months. In June and July, the Earth becomes a frying pan. I was super excited to know this forecast. I left my bed and rushed outside to see the snow.

White Snow, White Clouds, White Roofs and White Sky in Muncie!

Isn’t it a fascinating scene? Everything was whitewashed with snow. I captured a few pictures and sent them to my friends in my country. In the evening, I heard a mysterious eolian sound. Sometimes the wind becomes crazy here. You can smell its fury in the air. 

Muslims, Islamic Center & Multiethnic Community in Muncie

Before leaving my country, my people advised me to find a mosque or Islamic Centre immediately after reaching my destination. People dwelling in the east imagine the west as a place where the spiritual being becomes vulnerable and disoriented. Pardon those simple countrymen because their views come out of their colonial experience. I was given a Turkish prayer mat and a beautiful made-in-China rosary. These were the preliminary preparations done to safeguard my spiritual self. When I arrived in Muncie I found a beautiful Islamic Centre here. On one Friday, I met a few Afghans who had recently settled here in Muncie. R was excited to know my city in Pakistan. He had been there for some business. He said, “Muncie is a new and different place from my Kabul and I am learning skills to survive and thrive in America.” I agreed and appreciated his efforts to assimilate into this society.

On my arrival to Muncie, I googled “Nearby Islamic Center” and I found an interesting documentary “The Secret Life of Muslims,” based on the conversion of a White American soldier of Muncie. This man secretly planned to bomb the centre out of his rage against Muslims in the Middle East. Ultimately, his life was transformed when he was treated nicely by the Muslims in the center. They answered all his questions and he changed his secret plan. When I visited the center for the first time then I saw a diverse, multiethnic Muslim community. This is something I like the most. Diversity is the spice of life.

Unpaved Roads, Missing Sidewalks, Pedestrian-Unfriendly  

The title of this section is not misleading. You must have experienced this in Muncie. The MITS bus shakes you when it speeds towards Walmart or the MITS bus station. The infrastructure is not as good as in the other small towns in the States. Mostly, the roads don’t have sidewalks. Why does this town lag behind in infrastructure? Maybe, I will come to know the answer to this question after some research. This is the most researched Middletown in the country. I will find my answer in the archives of history.

BSU, Afro-American Studies & The Myth of American Progress

At Ball State University, I am lucky to be part of a program where the professors are the titans in their fields and the students are the philosopher-kings in making. I had an altogether different view of America before the commencement of my classes at BSU. Now, I have a lot of new perspectives and lenses to view the grand narrative of this country. I read some trauma narratives reflecting the pains and pangs of Black Americans. As a reader, I bear witness to this trauma that started to surface from The White Lion. Since then, Blacks have never ceased to experience the weather of this ship. I have started to understand the stimulus behind “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” Apart from this, I have met wonderful people, intellectuals and researchers. Every day I get up in the hope to learn a new exciting idea, theory or debate.

Last Word

All cities are beautiful and lovable. I believe that our relations and societal bonds determine the reasons for our love towards a city. I am quoting my favorite lines from Rumi on this subject.

Once a beloved asked her lover: “Friend, you have seen many places in the world! Now- which of the all these cities was the best?” He said: “The city where my sweetheart lives!”

Muhammad Hafeez ur Rehman

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