by Wanda Sabir
I really loved my Sister Nida Ali, who flew home to Allah this morning (March 3). I think what I appreciated the most about her was her ability to be a spiritual warrior who walked the planet earth. She really loved Allah and Allah’s servants. She was loyal and forgiving too, and she took care of a lot of people.
I’d visit with her monthly for many years and she’d work her magic in my hair, whether this was press and curl, California Curl, Sister Locs or just a wash and conditioner. The price was always the same, $20 unless I was getting a trim and then it was $35. For over 20 years, the price never went up.
Only two sisters ever did my hair, and that was Sister Haneefah and then Sister Nida. I don’t remember why I switched, but I liked how Sister Nida was always trying new products, moving away from chemicals towards pineapple based hair relaxers, shea butter conditioner and natural dye colors. She sold Obama bling in the shop and we could even take a photo with the president (smile). His life size cutout lived in the shop on Telegraph near Alcatraz.
Even after I was no longer getting my hair done monthly, I’d pop by when I was in Berkeley to say hi and get a hug. Sister Nida was an entrepreneur and sold art and clothes. In addition to Sister Nida’s beauty shop, before her sister and sister-in-law passed, the three of them had a catering business.
Her shop was truly an African Marketplace, decorated with her brother Umrani’s designs – sculpted work, textiles and paintings. She also had personal art like the beautiful plaques and other creative work her children and grandchildren gave her for birthdays and anniversaries, calendar art and figurines from her many journeys abroad.
I remember a few times over the many years I visited her, she had another designer, Ms. Barbara, in the shop as well, but mostly it was Sister Nida. Sometimes I got her all to myself. I recognized the treat this was whenever that happened.
I’d see friends I hadn’t seen in months, even years, there. Merrakesh Beauty Salon at 6609 Telegraph Ave., was the depot along a trail route many of us traveled. These encounters included friends from my childhood and friends of my daughter’s friends.
Hmm, go figure. I’d watch TV series there and children’s classics like “Anne of Green Gables” and “Akilah and the Bee.” She also introduced me to murder and intrigue. She was a great storyteller. I think I first learned of “The Good Wife,” “Treme,” “Scandal” and a few other shows at her spot. Loved her Denzel collection. Visiting Sister Nida was an all-day affair and she was so forgiving when I would arrive late with my hair still twisted. Many a time she fit me in and then stayed late to finish my hair.
We’d talk about men, and she’d share what she’d learned over the years with a laugh. Her life wasn’t flawless; however, I learned watching Sister Nida and Brother Ernest that for a relationship to work, there had to be trust, respect and freedom. Sister Nida was the freest black woman I knew. Perhaps this freedom was tied to faith. I remember the early morning Sirah study sessions at Masjid Warith Deen she’d attend. Sister Nida was a devoted servant of the Dinexemplified in service.
It was lovely watching Sister Nida and her husband, Brother Ernest Sr., in the shop too. He’d bring her lunch and she’d brush his hair into a pony tail.
Her Merrakesh was truly a place where one could travel. Sister Nida and her sister and sister-in-law would trek the planet. She knew how to relax and have fun. I loved looking at her photos when she returned from Egypt, Morocco, Hawaii and elsewhere across the globe. Rides on camels, sunbathing on the beach, spa days – her stories of Mecca with her sister friends from Oakland gave Hajj a dimension or a spin only a Black woman would have the audacity to share.
For those who knew her, she always wore a fez or a sculpted wrap predating Erykah Badu (smile). Always ready for battle, just her preparedness meant everyone who knew better always checked the madness and entered Merrakesh in peace. I recall her charity to the homeless who came by and support of fledgling youthful businessmen and women who failed as often as they succeeded. She’d have to unlock her door, and let them in, and she did, over and over again. This was her Sadaqah or support for African Diaspora community at work.
Yet, Sister Nida was not a soft touch. She was fierce and had no patience for crap. She was always honest, her speech peppered with a reality only certain words fit. The writer in me will miss her linguistic flair. Her shop was like a cinema, theatre only second to life. I think we should open a movie theatre and name it Merrakesh in her honor. Sister Nida stuck it out. No new occupants were going to push her out of a neighborhood she cherished. The block will never be the same now that she is gone.
When I learned that she had been sick, I called her and she told me I could visit her. I took a calendar with natural hair styles I thought she’d like, some lavender and a small bottle to put the oil in with water. She told me she was not in pain at all, just a bit weak after being in bed for over a month. One of her sons was helping her with exercises to strengthen her legs, that and climbing all the stairs to her room.
She looked great. You wouldn’t have known she was sick unless she told you. It was good to know she was not suffering. I couldn’t imagine a disease that disappeared all your white blood cells. The soldiers were being taken hostage; however, when I saw her they were coming back home.
I remembered back when Sister Sadaqa was alive, along with Sister Laiqa Louise Muhammad (June 14) and Sister Ummus Salaama and Sister Nida (June 1) – the five of us would have a June Gemini Birthday Party on Sister Sadaqa’s birthday. I don’t remember the exact day. Sister Nida’s birthday is June 1. We’d go to Housewives Market in West Oakland and get a goose or duck for the meal. Sister Sadaqa would cook it. I don’t remember the entrees we’d have with the main course. I do remember enjoying being with my elder sisters even if I didn’t like the duck. I don’t know how I lucked up to be invited and a part of the party, but I was not complaining one bit.
We had our parties until Sister Sadaqa fell and she was placed in a convalescent hospital, where she died soon after. She was one of the first to live in the Sojourner Truth (or Harriet Tubman) Apartments on MLK Jr. Way (Grove Street) in Oakland. She gave me her Champion Juicer. She believed in the power of carrot juice to cure just about everything. Carrots and copper. She also gave me one of her copper bracelets.
When I met Sister Nida, she was first lieutenant for Captain Sadie at Mosque 26 in San Francisco. I remember when the Evening of Elegance was launched as a fundraiser for the Sister Clara Muhammad School. Sister Nida was elegant and beautiful. There were lots of photos in her albums from many such evening programs.
The audience looked just as wonderful as those on the runway. It is not every day that one can wear one’s formal garments, so the black folks were stepping in high cotton (smile). The models ranged from little bittie kids to elders. One year I helped the models dress for the runway – that was fun! Years later I went on a date – another fun evening. The two made a great team; Sister Sadie was so lovely to work with. They used love, not fear to manage the sister community.
I remember when Sister Nida made 70. Time kind of stood still for me; she didn’t age, she looked the same as 30-40 years ago when I first met her. But she had pictures from her birthday parties and holiday parties to share with her other family, her friends from the market place—from her life before Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, World Community of Islam, American Muslim Mission and after that too. She was just so beloved by all, the space her absence leaves will certainly mean we have to tip carefully around the chasm so that grief does not swallow us whole.
Sister Nida Ali (June 1, 1941 – March 3, 2016) is survived by Na’eem Perry, Sadat Perry, Ernest Deshan Perry, Ronald Woods, William Wood and husband Ernest Perry. She is preceded in death by Louis Ragland, Madeline Beal and Mary Louise Jackson.
Sister Nida Ali’s Janaza or funeral is Tuesday, March 8, 11 a.m., at Fuller Funeral Home, 4647 International Blvd, Oakland. The internment is at Rolling Hills Cemetery in Richmond. What a fitting day to celebrate a great woman’s life: International Women’s History Day!
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at email@example.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.