We’ve got ourselves a big state to cover here at Texas Monthly. But that task sometimes requires us to trace the threads of narratives that extend far outside our borders. Consider this month’s feature “Sabika’s Story,” timed to the first anniversary of the shootings at Santa Fe High School, just south of Houston.

When our staff discussed how we might learn more about that tragic day, features director J. K. Nickell suggested we inquire about Sabika Sheikh, a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan who was one of the victims. Executive editor Skip Hollandsworth then discovered a compelling angle on the story, in Sabika’s friendship with Jaelyn Cogburn, an evangelical Christian.

As the anniversary of the shootings approaches and the TV networks gear up to rerun year-old video of misery and mayhem, the story of the warm and unlikely bond between Jaelyn and Sabika stands as an inspiration. Skip’s narrative is a fine example of what our writers strive to find every day: the untold human stories beneath the surface of our state’s big news events. In this case, the digging required that Skip travel not only to Santa Fe but also to a tiny village in Belize, where Jaelyn was engaged in mission work as a way of dealing with her grief, and to Karachi, where Sabika’s family resides.

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The U.S. State Department regards Karachi as a dangerous city and discourages travel there. So before departing, Skip enlisted the advice of Arjumand Hashmi, a Paris, Texas, cardiologist who was born in Karachi and maintains close ties with prominent Pakistanis. (When the country’s president visited the U.S. in 2006, he made a special stop in Paris, where Hashmi would later serve as mayor.) The doctor connected Skip with an official security detail and an imam who explained the finer points of Islam over a meal of flatbread and lamb. Skip interviewed Sabika’s family on the rooftop of their home, where she had spent many hours playing badminton with her siblings.

The Sheikh family has been moved by the condolence letters that it continues to receive from Americans, including from members of a cowboy church in Santa Fe. Sabika’s father, Aziz, told Skip that if another of his children wished to study in Texas, he would not object. They all know, he says, that Sabika was welcomed and happy here. 

Texas Monthly is famously the only U.S. magazine with a full-time barbecue editor. His name is Daniel Vaughn, and he has outdone himself in this issue. Daniel lists the state’s best new ’cue joints, compiled from the months he spent dining across Texas. And he discovered a trend: the menus at many places reflect the state’s growing international diversity.

It’s a form of cultural exchange that Daniel has found runs in both directions. Over the years he has sampled Texas-style barbecue in Brussels, Copenhagen, Madrid, Mexico City, and Paris (the other one, in France), and even taught a barbecue class in Sweden.  

To be sure you don’t miss any of his coverage, please sign up for our twice-monthly barbecue newsletter at www.texasmonthly.com/newsletters. And please let me know what you think of Daniel’s cover package and Skip’s feature and the rest of this issue.