Thursday, July 11, 2013

My International Life

As of right now, I am a citizen of Pakistan and the United States and a resident of the U.A.E. While this means that I have spent an absurd amount of time on airports and up in the air, it also means that I've been lucky enough to have friends and family - to have a home - in all three countries.

I am a hardcore Karachiite, there's no denying that. It's in the way I talk ("Abay yaar!"), the way I dress, the way I dance (or so I've been told). The fresh, clean air of Kansas doesn't suit me; my body is used to the special variety of Karachi pollution that is a combination of smoking motorcycle and rickshaw engines, musical mini-bus horns, and a peculiar fish smell from the Arabian Sea. I have an unhealthy obsession with the ocean and with greasy food from Burns Road and Boat Basin. I thrive on tense, stressful situations. Sadly, that is the truth.

America, my adopted home, has welcomed me with open arms. How does a Karachi girl end up in Kansas is a question I'm still grappling with. When I first arrived in this country on a snowy winter afternoon in 2008, I wasn't quite sure about why I was here (could've just been the jet lag) - I just knew I was really far away from home. I didn't know how to dress for the winters; I was working as a cashier but didn't understand the currency ("Do you have a nickel?" "Do I have a WHAT?"). And God forbid if I had to explain anything geography related to an American. For Americans, America is the whole world; after all, it's called the World Series but is played between American teams.

My globetrotting ways confuse the hell out of people and give rise to questions/remarks like:
"So you didn't go to high school here but you're NOT an international student? How does that work?"
"You're not from here? But your English is very good!"
"If you're not A-rab, then WHAT ARE YOU?"
"You're you speak Arabic?"
"WOW! You're from Pack-is-tan? THAT IS SO COOL! I wish I was from somewhere!"
Any attempt at answering these questions just confuses people more. Although sometimes, I confuse them on purpose. It's just more fun that way.

But five years and a blue passport later, in these three countries are people that I love and places with memories I cherish. At this point of time, I have gone to school and/or worked in all three. That means that all these countries have a role in what I am today, in what I am going to be. They have, in some major or minor way, shaped the person that I am. It also means that my English is neither entirely Pakistani nor American, it is somewhere in the middle (together with almost four different accents I can pull depending on who I'm talking to). I've also quit using words like loo and queue because no one would understand them. Jet lag recovery, working out a time to Skype with people in three different time zones: no big deal.

While Karachi is the resilience in me, Kansas life has taught me things like doing my own laundry and cooking my own food along with other essential life-skills like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. I will stay up all night when Pakistan plays India in a cricket match but also bite all my nails off during an intense KU basketball game. And then Abu Dhabi is the happy medium between the two where I just soak it all in and realize how incredibly blessed I am to find love and support scattered all over the globe. Here's to my international life!

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Friend in Need ...

How bad can a relationship between two military allies get? Pakistan and the U.S. keep us guessing.

In the wake of a NATO attack killing 25 Pakistani soldiers this weekend, Pakistan has indefinitely shut NATO supply lines through the country and said it was re-evaluating its military, intelligence and diplomatic links with the U.S. It also gave the U.S. two weeks to pull out of a Pakistani air base that Washington has used in the past to launch covert drone strikes on Taliban militants. Pakistan is also threatening to pull out of next week's Bonn conference on Afghanistan, at which key stakeholders will attempt to draw up a plan for transition from a US-led NATO command to an Afghan security force by December 2014.With Pakistan's co-operation considered key to an orderly and peaceful transition, the Afghan authorities urged Islamabad to reconsider.

With plans of a pull out starting as early as next year, this may not be the first strategic mistake the US had made in this war, but it could yet prove the costliest. The short-term response is not as troubling as the long-term implications. The closure of NATO supply lines will make Barack Obama more dependent on Vladimir Putin's goodwill, and the northern supply route through which 60% of troops and military cargo to Afghanistan now travel. But, of itself, the closures will be a temporary problem. Of greater significance is the erosion of Pakistani public support for the US fight against the Taliban. Images of the funerals of the young martyrs filled television screens across Pakistan on Sunday and protests against the attack were held throughout the country. “Imagine how we would feel if it had been 24 American soldiers killed by Pakistani forces at this moment,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, said on Fox News Sunday.

Hilary Clinton and Pentagon big shots responded with the usual regrets and worthless determinations to investigate, without admitting responsibility - all while Pakistan's own death toll from the "war on terror" rises, it struggles under an excess of American demands that are contrary to its own national interest, and as uninformed, people-pleasing US-senators and Republican presidential candidates continue to pick on this infinitely more important country.

The thought that destabilized, poor Pakistan has no choice but to slavishly obey what the master says could be one of the biggest misconceptions of this century. If bullied for long enough, it could learn to firmly and politely tell the US that it must, from henceforth, conduct its war on terror by itself and that while Pakistan is willing to be a friend, it is unwilling to destabilise and destroy its own stability for the neocon cause. Then, Pakistan has other friends to turn to: alternative alliances with China or Russia could lead to a completely different ball game.

Pakistani soldiers carry coffins of their comrades killed in a NATO air strike during a funeral ceremony in Peshawar

Friday, November 25, 2011

Addicted to Reality

"This is what is wrong with our country."

"It's all scripted anyway."

"People who watch this crap have no lives of their own."

Yes, everyone loves to hate reality t.v. Yet, people can't stop clicking on the stories to get the latest scoop on their favorite Housewives. I'll watch the History Channel, I'll watch the news, but reality shows are my guilty pleasure. It's OK. We all have those. Some of us openly embrace our love for reality t.v., while others hope our friends or family never see our DVR schedules.

Topping my list of guilty pleasures have to be the Kardashians. I know, I know. Everyone likes to say they don't understand why the family is famous, etc etc. But whatever they are, I give them credit for being highly entertaining. Also, for having some level of skill and talent that will surely not let you turn the damn show off. It's addicting. I got sucked into the whole phenomenon. I found myself watching episode after episode, surprised, horrified, and entertained all the same time. Crying over diamond earrings, shoving money into waiters' mouths, changing dresses multiple times at the wedding, getting your butt x-rayed - problems of the rich and famous, right? But throw in some issues that most people can relate to, like the dad's struggle to connect with his teenage daughters or the guy's attempt to make the girl's family like him, and it all kinds of become close to your life.

So, reality t.v.may be over the top, dumbed down and at times straight up offensive, but it’s one fun guilty pleasure. I couldn't get past the first 15 seconds of Jersey Shore, but I love me some Real Housewives and the Kardashian clan. What's better than Kim K's two-day four-hour nuptial palooza? The upcoming season of Kourtney and Kim take New York where we get to see what went wrong with the marriage. CAN'T WAIT!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Come and see the blood in the streets

Nothing but the usual. A suicide attack. Broken windows. Shards of glass on the floor. Read it. Move on.

But it's different this time. The pictures I see catch me off guard. I recognize this place - the place I associate with my childhood. A childhood so sheltered and so unmarred, I look at the pictures and think, "How could it be?" It's our lab, our library. It's the place I associate with laughter, memories, best friends, goofiness. OII Science, the makayee wala, Sir Sami and his pink shirts, Shammo and her attempts at insulting the students, everyone harassing Laali, stories of Mogadishu. But it's different this time. I feel the heat in my face. Warm tears roll down. I'm too far to feel this.

I've written enough about my city's resilience. That it will come out stronger. That it will carry through. Like every other time. I like to write optimistic pieces possibly because of my love for this city. When you love a place so much you can't hope for anything else except for the fact that it'll eventually bounce back because it's too much to think of the consequences that will occur if it doesn't. But do I feel the same now that I see pictures of my school with the broken windows and the shards of glass on the floor? It was different then. We could see the ocean from our classroom and make jokes about the tsunami because we thought we were invincible. The tsunami couldn't reach us. The lala at the gate would keep the bad guys out. And that was all the security that we needed. That was how I grew up, that was the Karachi I grew up in. And thus, when I hear anything negative now, I tune it all out with memories of my safe, happy childhood.

It's not the same now, they say. I rant about my city's spirit, the people's strength. Come and see the blood in the streets, they say. There are beautiful things about this city, yes. Love for Karachi is love regardless of whatever happens. You come home to Karachi simply because it is home. I’m beginning to wonder whether this is good enough anymore. Is it enough to be blindly attached to a place as you watch it burn? Do the people whose children are being murdered and homes are being looted on an almost daily basis, feel this love? Or do they simply feel anguish and misery? Would I have felt this love for my city had I been in school that day? Or would I have been scared to go every time? And just waited to get the fuck out of there?

My emotions can only take me so far. I say this as someone who has always believed that the city will bounce back in spite of everything. No, it won’t - I reluctantly realize it now. It won’t bounce back because it has been raped and mutilated far too many times now. Most of the city has been affected by the violence. The unaffected have convinced themselves it is part and parcel of life in Karachi. People go about their businesses the day after a blast not because of their ferocious pride in their city - they go because they don't have a choice. They are proud because they feel defensive about a part of the country whose problems are too often treated like they don’t belong to the rest of Pakistan. They are aggressive because if you attack and assault someone long enough, s/he eventually fights back. Or learns to live with it.

Pablo Neruda writes this about the Spanish Civil War and it sounds too much like home:

(tr. Nathaniel Tarn)

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?

I'll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille's dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with it's dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel?
Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with it's statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings-
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black frairs spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you'll ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!

Photo credit: Nefer Sehgal/Express Tribune

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Summer of Swag

It's a little hard to believe this summer is almost over. It feels like yesterday when we got to work at 6.30 am for our first orientation; all of us newbies, a bundle of nerves, not exactly sure what to expect. When all the veterans said that this was going to be the best summer of our lives, I was telling myself it was an exaggeration. But a summer and fifteen orientations later, we were answering questions like pros, creating memories by the second, and had become an inseparable bunch of obnoxious adults.

My journey to OA-land was very random. I got bored studying for finals at Anschutz and decided to look up the website on a flyer posted on a notice board in front of me. The ASK ME was a little intriguing. On the website, the job description sounded fun. The selection process sounded pretty challenging and thus, convinced me it was a much coveted position. Going through transfer orientation myself, I wasn't aware of the importance of orientation assistants at all. Nevertheless, I printed off the application and told myself to apply for the position as soon as I got done with finals.

Finals ended. I went back to Wichita. It took me sometime to motivate myself to finish up the essays for the application. Soon enough, it was the last day to submit the application. That morning, I completed the application and asked the post office to get it to Lawrence as soon as they could. Then, over winter break in California, I was pulling up the NSO website everyday to find my pin number. I had made it to Round 2.

After many interviews, much anticipation, last minute wardrobe malfunctions and the realization that I didn't have enough interview-type clothing, I was going to the NSO office to pick up my letter to find out if I had made it. I walked out of the office to read it. Found myself a spot where I could sit had I not made it and would need to comfort myself. Skipped all of it and tried to look for a Congratulations! And there, I found it. Typed in black ink. Read it over to make sure I wasn't imagining it. And then awkwardly walked back into the NSO office to pick up the acceptance packet. Good times.

Then, after weeks of ruthless training, shameless ice breakers, and uncountable inside jokes, we had all become orientation assistants. We had heard deans brag about their schools, practiced skits, gotten over 10 foot walls, seen far too many graduate assistants, experienced major changes in NSO administration, played pennies at a diversity retreat, and slept in a camp where 'purpling' was not allowed. Some things were unanimously agreed to at the beginning: swag will be the word for the summer, Ramona will ask too many questions, Stewart will share his invaluable experience, ride that pony will be our favorite ice breaker. Some things were established later in the summer: Sergent Cunningham will make us look for the 1 in every 5 college age women, the mic will refuse to work for anyone starting the intros and not only be mean to Becky, people will come and go but we will continue to rock orientation. Although some things are still to be figured out: how do students end up at their small group advising when clearly told several times to go to their AIM, what does Stoppel do on his iPad all day, and how is Ernest Shepard now friends with 8 new girls on Facebook everyday? Beats me.

Now I've said my intro too many times to actually mean it. But if I was to talk about being involved with NSO, it makes total sense. It was definitely "a great way to polish [my] interpersonal skills." And although all of us came from such different backgrounds, it was also a chance for me "to meet people that share [my] interests." And I've definitely made friends that will "last [me] a lifetime." The intro is hackneyed, dear freshmen, but true. NSOlove.

KU's 2011-2012 Orientation Assistants and Orientation Coordinators

All the beautiful people at prom. July '2011.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Country, Surrounded by Myths

In my conversations with all the curious, ill-informed people I meet, the surprising part is all the myths that exist about Pakistan. There is a striking similarity to people's concerns for this strategically located, small in size, yet always making-the-headlines state in the subcontinent. Below is my attempt to debunk some of the most popular myths about my country that I encounter all the time.

All Pakistani women wear the hijab.
There is no one way to describe the dress of Pakistani women. Walk down the street and you can see everything from capri pants to niqabs, from sleeveless tops to abayas. There is no law dictating what women should wear. Pakistani women go to school, college, and university with men and compete in equal roles with the opposite sex at the workplace. They practice the religious and legal right to marry anyone they like - when they ask for the family's approval, it is out of love and respect for them, not an obligation. Even when they aren't the primary bread winner for the family, they often are the policy makers of the household. They are pilots in the Pakistani Air Force, judges in the High Court, lawyers, journalists, doctors, scientists, actors, musicians, writers, and sportswomen. Pakistan elected its first female Head of State in 1988 - a feat not many "developed" countries have accomplished even to date.

Pakistan is in the Middle East.
Because Pakistan is in the Middle East, everything that holds true of the Middle Eastern countries applies to Pakistan. First to clarify, Pakistan is not a part of the Middle East. It is a part of South Asia. Pakistanis are not Arabs, they are South Asians. Pakistanis don't speak Arabic, the national language of Pakistan is Urdu. Pakistanis vote in elections. Pakistan's very free media can bash the government if it wants to. Pakistan has mountains, forests, deserts, beaches. It snows in Pakistan, too.

U.S. aid is running Pakistan.
Seems like people think that America is feeding the poor of Pakistan. Even though the U.S. has given $1 billion per year to Pakistan since 2001, the aid is directed towards the military to fight the War on Terrorism and not civilians. Even then this supposed aid is outweighed by economic losses from terrorism and insurgency. Pakistan’s government estimates that these losses were more than $18 billion in 2010 alone. So Pakistan may as well be better off without America's aid. Pakistani officials also believe that Pakistan's bff, China, could match America's aid if asked. The U.S. is in no position to play around here. If Pakistan does not allow supply routes for U.S. and NATO forces to run through Pakistan, the U.S. would have to send supplies across Central Asia and make major concessions to Russia.

Pakistanis are deeply religious and, by default, supporters of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Religious parties have never won more than a fraction of popular vote. Last year Pakistan witnessed the largest civil rights movement in the history of this region. It was spontaneous, secular and entirely peaceful. But since people weren’t raising anti-America slogans, nobody outside Pakistan took much notice. The masses do not favor the Taliban and do no want an Islamist revolution. And, no matter what people think, Pakistan's military has proved — by launching counteroffensives that cleared the Taliban from the Swat Valley and other areas — that it can defeat Islamist insurgency.

Pakistani nukes can fall into the hands of terrorists.
Pakistan's nuclear program is under a sophisticated command and control system, no more under threat than India or Israel’s nuclear assets are threatened by Hindu or Jewish extremists. If Pakistanis can make nuclear bombs, they can also protect them. If the world is so concerned about world peace, they better be cracking down on other countries with nuclear arms, too.

So, believe the rumors, if you will. But always know there are two sides of a story. And FOX provides only one side. That's right.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ignorance is bliss.

Don't get me wrong. America is awesome. And what better time to talk about its greatness than today. I am grateful to this country for all the opportunities it has given me. I'm grateful for the education, the friends, the love of my life. When someone called it the Land of Opportunities, they knew what they were talking about. It is here where I've had my fair share of firsts: first paycheck, first car, first snow, first basketball game, first monster truck show, first attempt at cooking. This country has a lot to offer and one thing abundant in this country: ignorance. I've had some really interesting encounters with some really ... let's just say curious ... people in almost 4 years here. I've had the randomest people come up to me and ask the randomest questions. Not helping this is the fact that my foreign-ness can be spotted from very far away, that I have an accent, that I live in a very white state and go to a very white school. Here are some of the most memorable conversations:

  • Person: "So..Pakistanis are Arabs, right?"
    Me: "No."
    Person: "THEN WHAT ARE THEY?"
  • Person: "You're Sikh right?"
    [Me: Never thought I would be asked this. Thought the sign on my head said what faith I followed.]
  • Person: "Well I don't know if you're a practicing Muslim."
    [Me: Thought the thing on my head was pretty self-explanatory.]
  • Person: "So do you have an arranged marriage?"
    [Me: Yes, and I also have a child marriage, FGM, honor killing, *insert all other stereotypes*]
  • Random lady at Statue of Liberty: "ARE YOU FROM EGYPT?"
  • Person: "Can you marry anyone you like?"
    [Me: "No my husband was chosen for me when I was born. He's waiting for me in Pakistan.]
  • Person: "Have you ever been to Bag-dad?"
    [Me: "You mean Baghdad?"]
    Person: "Have you ever been anywhere in Eye-rack?"
    [Me: "You mean Iraq?"]
    Person: "Yeah I wouldn't wanna go to Bag-dad myself."
    [Me: "You know they were doing just fine before you started bombing them."]
    Person: "Have you ever met a Taliban?"
    [Me: "They don't walk around saying they are Taliban, you know?"]
    Person: "What about someone from Al-Qaeda?"
    Me: *walks off*
    • Person: "Pakistan is in India right?"
    • Person: "Could you speak English before you came here?"
    • Person: "Do you speak another language? What is it called?"
      Me: "Urdu."
      Person: "So do most people in the Middle East speak Urdu?"
      • Person: "So do you wear this (points to own head) at home too?"
      • Person: "So you are from Pakistan originally?"
        Me: "Yes."
        Person: "Yeah I visited India last year."
      • Person: "Do they teach you how to wrap this?" *points to her head*
        [Me: "THEY didn't have to. I was born with this attached to my head."]
        • Random person on Mass. St. playing some instrument as I walk out of Signs of Life: "Assalam Alaikum! Shukran shukran for having coffee at a Christan place and doing good things and making this world a better place."
          Me: *speechless*
          Person: "Have you ever been to XYZ church?"
          Me: "No."
          Person: "My mom teaches ESL there to Middle Eastern immigrants. You should go."
          [Me: Pretty sure I'm not Middle Eastern. Pretty sure my English is better than yours and I don't need those classes.]
        • Person: "Wow! If you hadn't told me, I would've never guessed English wasn't your first language. You don't have an accent at all!"
          [Me: Wow! You're not a big fat liar at all!]
        • 3 months in the US of A and person asks: "Did you learn English in America?"
          [Me: Yup! Because it is totally possible to be speaking a language in 3 months.]
        Of course, this list will grow as I spend more time here and I'll be adding to it. I'm just asking people to slow down a little on the judgments and the assumptions. If people want to base their opinions about me on what they see on FOX, then I'm going to be basing my generalizations on Hollywood, too. According to Sex and the City, there are skyscrapers everywhere, everyone rides in limos driven by chauffeurs, skinny bitches walk the town in five inch heels, and sleep around. Hollywood didn't prepare me for cows and haystacks, you know? So I am terribly disappointed. Till then, let's go and watch some fireworks. God Bless your Ignorance.