Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Duarte & Heather

Duarte & I on Christmas


Duarte's surprise Christmas gift - princess cut diamond necklace to match the ring


At the Haughton's house - thanks Greg for the picture Posted by Picasa

Finally Together

After 11 months of being so far away, I'm finally in the same time zone as my fiance Duarte! We got engaged on July 20th via long distance, and after five more months of waiting he picked me up at Logan airport on Dec 20th. I had been travelling for 20 hours after having woken up at 4am in Manchester to catch a 7 hour long bus ride to London Heathrow, being delayed at Victoria station and then being delayed in London due to fog. My flight arrived an hour and a half late, but when I came out of the gate with my 120 lbs of luggage (wedding stuff), Duarte was waiting for me with a single red rose. He had one foot up against the wall and a huge smile. It was so amazing to hug him after 11 months! We wandered around the airport going the wrong ways and walking towards the wrongs exits for a while cause we were both in a daze that we were finally together in the same place. Eventually we found where he parked his car.

I was incredibly tired, but Duarte managed to keep me awake til 6am Boston time with a whole evening he had planned for me. While I got ready, he cooked up a gourmet meal. He made me close my eyes and led me into the dining room, which was set up with candles and another red rose lying on the lacy white table cloth. Romantic jazz music was playing in the background. He had found my favorite flavor of hummus, sun dried tomato and basil, and set it up with green and black olives. There was also Portuguese cheese, crackers, and Portuguese red wine. Next were the baked stuffed tomatoes and the tossed salad with homemade dressing. I barely touched the tomatoes and the salad because I was really enjoying the hummus and crackers. Then came the main course, filet mignon with mushrooms and carmelized onions. Mmmm! I didn't know he was such a good cook. :)

Dessert was strawberries dipped in dark chocolate. This was followed by another surprise. Duarte, who is not a dancer (yet!), had collected a selection of salsa music (my favorite) and made space downstairs that we could have a little dance floor. After a few latin songs he slowed down the music. He had set up candles there as well. I was deliriously tired but there's no way I could have fallen asleep after waiting so long to see my future husband. Since we had already talked in July about how we felt about each other, and decided to get married, he had gone to meet my parents and found out about what kind of engagement ring I would like. So now, five months later, while we were dancing, he took out the ring and slipped it on my finger while reminiscing about the day we had gotten engaged.

See pics of us togethere here:

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dreamin' of chips n' salsa

After almost a year in Pakistan, people have been asking what I miss from the US. While eating my ziti tonight, I thought, "What I really miss is the 5 'F's - fiance, family, friends, food and freedom." The first three need no explanation, but the other two, those I will go into depth on for you.

FOOD - Warning: Your mouth may start watering while reading the following

One of the things I miss most about America is the wide variety of food. Here everything is either spicy (extremely) or sweet (extremely). I do like some Pakistani foods (if not TOO mirchy) like Biryani, kebabs, samosas, and sag, but well my yearly quota for oil, ghee, and mirch was full about six months ago. Recently I've found myself craving so many different foods that are available back home -

Mmmmmm American pizza with real tomato sauce, not ketchup
Meatball grinders from Subway without the Pakistani spices

Chicken Caesar Salad
Boundless heads of lettuce in the supermarket
Cold meat......turkey...ham....normal sandwiches
a full variety of cheese

The DINER in Hadley after Night Watch

Whole grain fresh bread
EVERYTHING from Trader Joe's
Sun dried Tomato and basil Hummus with pita chips
Sesame and blue corn tortilla chips
Spicy tortilla chips
Salsa tortilla chips
Black bean dip on my tortilla chips
Mexican mix kraft cheese on my tortilla chips, dipped in salsa

Coffee flavored soy milk
Freshly brewed hazelnut coffee
Sesame seed bagels with veggie cream cheese
French vanilla coffee coolattas

Cream of broccoli soup in a bread bowl - yes from the Hatch food court
Clam chowder

Macaroni and cheese with the spiral noodles

Baby spinach leaves with blue cheese dressing

Cheese balls
Nacho cheese Doritos
Can you tell I like cheesy junk food?

I'm gonna gain 20 lbs when I come back and then I won't fit in my wedding dress....

And in Amherst -

Antonio's pizza - chicken & blue cheese, mexican, just plain cheese
Wings! - honey mustard & honey barbecue boneless
Sandwiches from the Black Sheep on a french baguette
Anything from Panera
Rao's paninis
and Greg Haughton's pad thai....and spaghetti with sausages! :)

Wow, I'm feeling really hungry right now. If I think of more I'll come with the FOOD part deux post.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Linguist, more dangerous than CIA

I had a good laugh reading the following language log post.People do seem to be more suspicious of linguists than of other foreigners. Even at my language institute there was at least one anonymous person who was worried I was selling nuclear secrets to the US government. My boss told me of this incident, which had happened while I was on a trip to the Northern Areas. My boss found it quite humorous and had promptly replied to the accuser, "What? What secrets does our institute have to hide that you are so worried?"

Sorry, I lost the ability to make these links clickable. I'll be working on that...

They might as well've given me a pizza recipe...

The time has come for me to grade my students' final projects in Syntax & Semantics. They were assigned a project where they had to do original research in either the area of Syntax (language structure) or Semantics (meaning). Out of 25 students, 10 handed in A+ projects. They did WAY more work than was necessary and I'm so proud of their final products. About 5 girls handed in decent projects. They followed the directions of the assignment and fulfilled most requirements. And well,the other 10, they might have just handed me recipes for pizza because I have no idea how what is written on the papers relates to what I assigned them to do.

There should not have been any confusion over this project.Yes, it was probably the first time any of them have been assigned original research, but we discussed the project in class more than once. I even gave them a four page list of ideas for project topics AND gave them an assignment to make a proposal (outlining their goals, hypothesis and methods) which counted for extra credit. If they had a low homework grade I would replace that grade with the grade they received on their proposal. I also gave all the girls who handed in proposals advice about how to better go about or focus their research.

Aside from that I gave everyone a detailed handout outlining how the proposal should look. I gave two outlines myself, one based in syntax and one in semantics, to show exactly HOW they were to go about making the proposal.

THEN, after half the girls didn't hand in this proposal, I set up extra office hours so that they could come to me for help a few days before the project was due. I went in to the college on a saturday (it's 30-45 minutes away by rickshaw during rush hour) only for the purpose of being available to help them on their projects. They also had my email and phone number to call me at any time (since I am usually at a diffrent college and not at Lahore College during the week). Well, the same girls came to me with questions and for clarification, the ones who already had A+ projects in the works. The other ones just took off after their class and didn't bother.

So now I've got their papers and what do I do with them? I'm not even quite sure what they were doing or trying to prove. I think they were just trying to write something down on paper. One girl did a project about how some speakers use "a" when they should use "an." This deal with phonology, which was not the topic of our course. One girl wrote that her goal was to observe subject/verb agreement. She then gave her students a quiz which had absolutely nothing to do with subject verb agreement (test looks like something I've seen online....) and told me their scores. A bunch of students just wrote down a number of "incorrect" sentences and handed me a list. Meanwhile half of the allegedly "correct" sentences are actually incorrect.

If this was the US, all of those papers would be out with the trash. This project is 20% of their final grade.

.........anyway this is what you deal with as a teacher in Pakistan

Worse part is I failed those girls last year and suggested that they need to learn English before going for a Masters in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), and they were still admitted to the second year of the program.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Don't have a vase...koi bat nahi! Use your blender


On my last day at Lahore College several of the girls got together to give me a gift. They gave me a gorgeous Sindhi work (hand embroidered) rug and a bouquet of flowers.

When I got home I realized I didn't have a vase, and after searching my whole room I decided the best option was the blender! Don't worry it's not plugged in.

Koi bat nahi means "no problem"

(if you can't see the pic on facebook you can click on the "view original post") Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sitting with Headless Buddhas


just in case you wondering if I was still having fun in Lahore after 11 months.... Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 17, 2006

Women's Rights bill submitted in Pakistan, last straw for MMA

A new bill on women's rights was submitted this thursday in the Pakistan national government. Apparently that was the last straw for the religious alliance of the MMA, who have decided to resign from the government.

The focus of the bill is to combat six specific anti-women practices. In the words of the federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Sher Afgan Khan Niazi

“One, it seeks action against those who deprive women of their inheritance or property rights. Two, it legislates against vani or the custom of giving the hand of women, mostly under-age girls, to settle murder disputes. Third, it criminalises forced marriages. Fourth, it proposes legal action against those who issue three divorces to their wives in one sitting. Fifth, it makes women’s marriage with the Quran a crime. Sixth, it puts an end to the custom of watta-satta,” he explained, adding that the bill incorporated the views of religious scholars.

More details on the current practices:

1. According to the Qur'an, women receive half the property that men do in inheritance law. In Pakistan, most women are expected to give up even their half share of property to their brothers out of "respect," but in rural society it means that basically gets NO share of the inheritance.

2. Vani is usually a child marriage to pay off a family member's debts or crimes. If my father were to murder a man, he could marry me off (at the age of 12 or 10 or maybe even 7) to pay for the crime. I would then be married off to a family that would be engaged in a continual blood feud with my family and I would likely be treated as a slave in their house.

3. Criminalizes forced marriages. This is a difficult one, because usually the girl or boy will not even stand up to the parents to say that they do not want to go through with the marriage. Most children, in rural or lower class families, do not even dream that they would have a choice when it comes to marriage. They are obliged to respect their parents wishes and marry whomever the parents choose. In some cases, young good looking girls are married off to better off old men looking for a second or third wife. The girls are pressured into the marriage because their families are poor and will take advantage of the money they will get for the bride.

4. In Islam men can legally divorce their wives by saying "I divorce you" three times. The Pak government is trying to make this illegal so that men will not divorce their wives so easily or in a fit of rage. Divorce is a big deal for women because after being divorced a women is considered as "used goods" and may not be able to marry again. As women move out and move in with the in-laws when they get married, a divorced women is kicked out of her in laws house and may or may not be accepted back at her family's house. She will be seen as someone bringing shame on the family and may even be killed by her OWN parents in order to cover up that shame.

5. In some parts of the country, particularly interior Sindh, women are married off with the Qur'an. The motivation for this does not seem to be religious fervor, but rather a desire to keep the family property and not divide it. As this is an agricultural society, when daughters are married off it is tradition to give some land to the groom's family. If the daughter is married to the Qur'an (legally!), she can not marry any man and therefore the family lands stay intact. The girl becomes a spinster.

6. Watta Satta - is the custom of bridal exchange or bartering. For example, if my parents wanted to marry me off, they would seek a family that also had a daughter of a proper age to marry my brother. Basically it means that one girl is exchanged for another girl (in the groom's family) at the time of the marriage. If you want to marry off your daugther, you need to be willing to allow your son to marry the proposed groom's sister.

Aside from these practices, which are the current topic of the women's rights law, there are the problems of karo-kari (honor killing), swara (similar to vani), pait likkhi (arranged marriage before birth or when children are very young) and many other similar practices.

The MMA opposes a lot of bills presented in the national assembly, but apparently women's rights was something that was too much to bear. They will be officially resigning from their seats in a month's time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Indian Cow - MUST read!

One of my students gave me a copy of the following essay which was (allegedly) written by a candidate for Indian Intelligence Services. It may or may not be authentic, but I have seen essays of the same...ahem..."quality" so to say from Pakistani CSS (Civil Service Sector) candidates.

This is a true essay written by a candidate at a recent UPSC (ISAS) examination. The candidate has written an essay on


He is the cow. Cow is a success ful animal. Also he is a four footed, and because he is female, he gives milk, but will do so only when he got childs. He is same like god, sacred to Hindus and useful to man. But he has four legs togather. Two are forward and two are afterwards. His whole body can be utilized for use. More so the milk and so forth. Milks come from four taps attached to his basement. Horses don't have such attachments what can it do? Various ghees, buters, creams, curds, why and condensed milks and so forth. Also he is useful to cobbler, waterman and mankind generally. His motions is slow only because he is of lazy species. Also his other motions (cow dung) (gober) is much useful to trees, plants as well as for making flat cakes like pizzas, in hand and drying in the sun. cow is the only animal that extricates his feeding after eating. Then afterwards she chews with his teeth that are situated inside of the mouth. He has got tails also, situated in the backyard, but not like similar animals. It has hairs on the other end of the other side. This is done to frighten away the flies which alight on his cohesive body here upon he gives a hit with it. The palms of his feet are soft on to the touch. His eyes and nose are like other relatives. This is the cow ______

We are informed that the candidate passed the exam and now is an IAS somewhere in Bihar

----Note from Heather -----

Now I am sure that is as much a lesson about bad English as it is a jab at the Indians, and the same essay written by a "Pakistani" is likely circulating in India. Nevertheless, many of the mistakes made in this essay are common ones that are made by my students.

See what I have to deal with everyday! A lot of time I have to prevent myself from cracking up and keep a straight face while correcting the students...not because any mistake is funny, but particulary mixing the gender (pronouns don't have gender in Urdu) and using sayings like "at the backside" to mean "in the back."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Know a few words in Arabic? The FBI is looking for you...

I had a good laugh at this post on the Language Log. Basically the statistics have come out that there are only 33 people working with the FBI who know "a handful of Arabic words." They insist they don't need any proficient Arabic speakers but yet at the same time are looking to hire "Arabists." So for all you Al Akhawayn exchange students looking for a job....maybe we should all team up and have a reunion at the's the rest of the post(and yes watch out for sarcasm).

October 14, 2006
Arabic at the FBI
(Roger Shuy)
Ah, the FBI now has, hold on to your hats, a total of 33 agents with even a limited proficiency in Arabic, reports Dan Eggen in a Washington Post article on October 11, 2006,

"...and none of them work in the sections of the bureau that coordinate investigations of international terrorism, according to new FBI statistics."
Pumping this number up to include "agents who know only a handful of Arabic words--including those who scored zero on a standard proficiency test," yields a minuscule percentage of Arabic users among their 12,000 agents. The article reports that only four agents in the government's two International Terrorism Sections (ITOS) have even elementary proficiency in Arabic.

Should we worry about national security? Maybe not. Our agents don't really need Arbic skills, according to the head of ITOS. Get this from him:

"There are no agent positions, at any level, in either ITOS I or II that utilize the Arabic language as part of their duties or responsibilities."
As John Stewart might comment, "maybe they don't utilize Arabic because they don't have any."

The FBI says we're in no danger because they can make use of translators who are available within 24 hours. Whew! That's good news. Despite this distinct advantage, they say they're trying to hire some Arabists (well, maybe not gay ones). But there just aren't many of them around to hire and those that are have the misfortune to have Arabic families, friends and acquaintences -- and some of them were even born in foreign countries. Trying to hire Arabists seems like an odd thing to do, however, if, as the head of ITOS says, there are no positions at any level that utilize the language. Maybe someone should look into that one.

Who is to blame for this confusing (sorry?) situation? It's American society, says the director of communications at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, because language instruction is "undervalued in the US schools." He's partly right, of course. But since when has the American society been the "Decider?"

Continue Story here:

Iraqi Christians Flee as Persecution Worsens

Apparently in Iraq there has been a big reaction to the pope's recent comments about Islam. Surprisingly in Pakistan it hasn't been such a big issue. Maybe the public here is tired of rioting after the cartoon issue, or more likely people are preoccupied with domestic politics.

To see what's happening in Iraq check out the NYTimes:

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tora little!

All the women in Sultanabad are quite concerned about my hair. Tora sa? So little! Here the men like long, black, straight and shiny hair. Most women keep their hair at least to their waists, even if it’s graying and getting straggly. They wonder, why is my hair so short when I am getting married in a few months? My poor mehengator (fiancĂ©) will surely be disappointed. Maybe I’ve cut it since we got engaged and he doesn’t know.

I try telling them that in America most women don’t keep such long hair and that I thought mine was actually quite long. Five years ago I cut off 12 inches and donated it to Locks of Love, and I’ve been growing it out ever since. I think it would take me ten years to grow it as long as theirs (maybe 15) but I’m sure I’d get fed up and sick of having such long hair by then anyway.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Yesterday I was watching the movie Lagaan and for some strange reason the subtitles kept on reading "vanilla." After a while I realized that any time there was music it said "vanilla." I don't know about these subtitle writer people, either they having a good time making jokes or they are just clueless. As opposed to most other Hindi movies I've seen the rest of the subtitles seemed to be accurate, so my guess is they were having a good laugh about the vanilla thing.

On a side note, I recommend the movie Lagaan. It is about village life under British rule. "Lagaan" is the annual taxes paid by the villagers to the Raja and the British commanders. The villagers have had no rain and have no way to pay the double lagaan that the British are demanding so they go the authorities to beg for mercy. What ends up happening is that the villagers challenge the British to a game of "kirkut" (cricket) and the story goes on from there...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Begum (Wife) is like Chewing Gum

During my time in Gilgit, I attended a mass marriage ceremony sponsored by Aga Khan Development Projects. Weddings in Pakistan are expensive, including four days of festivities and guest lists in the hundreds and thousands. Traditionally the first day celebrated with the family is a mayyun (bride and groom separate). Then the day before the wedding is the mehendi (usually separate, some couples are now doing joint mehendis). On barat, the day when the bride leaves her family to live with the groom, nikkah (marriage agreement) is usually signed to make the marriage legal. Then after sitting and taking about a million photographs, the bride performs her rukhsati which is a the official leaving of her family to live with the boys’ family. Finally, the groom’s family hosts a party the day after the barat to celebrate the consummation of the marriage. This is called walima.

(skip down to the italicized part if you just want to read the joke)

You can see how that would be expensive, especially with four different outfits and five hundred guests. The government has now put a ban on serving food during barat so as to keep the poor from going into debt just to marry off their daughters. Everything except walima is paid for by the girl’s family. The girl’s family also must provide a dowry, usually in the form of furniture and appliances to furnish her husband’s portion of the house. Due to the ridiculous costs of wedding arrangements, every year the Aga Khan Foundation sponsors a mass marriage which allows different couples to share the costs of barat, which is usually the most expensive day. Also, since most people get around the government regulations (by bribing police officers etc.) and serve food anyway, a meal is served for the guests of all five couples.

I was invited to attend the event as it doubled as a fund raiser and people here have the misconception that all Americans can grow dollars on trees. They should talk to my mother as she was always adamant in insisting that this was not the case. Anyway, I thought it would be an interesting experience so I arranged to go with my friend’s uncle.

Interesting experience indeed! First of all it was set to start at 10am and started around 2pm. The women were sitting on the righthand side while the men sat on the lefthand side, meaning that I had to sit by myself amongst all the local women. I started off by sitting in the back, and then because somebody realized I was a foreigner (despite my attempt at blending in by wearing Pakistani clothes) I was invited to sit in the front row. This was great because from the back I wouldn’t have been able to take any photos! There were over a thousand people at the wedding.

And so from 10am til 2pm we waited. I was sitting next to one woman who spoke Urdu so we were able to chat some about weddings and her numerous sons and daughters and what they are currently doing. It was about a hundred degrees and there wasn’t anywhere to get drinking water except from the boy scouts pouring water into five community cups. With five cups for over a thousand people I thought it would be better to go thirsty than to risk contracting tuberculosis or something of that sort. Around 1pm a local band started playing and the men were invited to come up to the front and dance. Notice the MEN were invited. Women don’t dance or have any fun in public.

Finally around 2pm all the couples walked in and sat on the stage. Then all the grooms were invited to dance and several speeches were given. It was SO long and I was feeling like I was going to pass out due to dehydration or boredom or both. The event finished with some important man sharing this joke in Urdu (this is my translation so it might not be exact):

A student asked his teacher, “I heard that begum (wife) is like chewing gum. How is the wife like chewing gum?”

The teacher thought about it and told the student, “Well you see when you have a piece of chewing gum at first there is a burst of flavor and you enjoy it. In the same way the wife is very sweet at first and you enjoy her. Then after some time, the chewing gum loses its flavor and it is no longer sweet to your taste. Then you ask, ‘Aur kuch?’ (Is there something else?)”

I was happy that I couldn’t understand most of the other jokes, which had been in Burushaski. After the jab at women we went off to eat, men and women separately. The women are quite greedy and I almost feared for my life trying to get some food and water. When it comes to food for these women it’s every woman for herself. They are all trying to pile as much meat and rice on their plates as they possibly can, and they are not afraid to push. Most of them are quite large (I think it’s connected with the greediness regarding food) and so I just grabbed a spoonful of rice and tried to get as far away from the food as possible. I also finally gave in and drank out of one of those cups. I hope I haven’t contracted something…..

See photos here:

Friday, September 29, 2006

Where my girls at?

I attended a polo game in Gilgit marking the beginning of the annual Silk Route Festival. Little did I know when I was invited to attend that women here do not attend polo matches. I was accompanied by two college freshman age boys and as we neared the stadium there was a distinct increase in police and army forces. We walked inside one gate (heavily guarded by police with HUGE guns) and I’m not quite sure what happened but within thirty seconds one of the guys got in a tussle with a policeman who was chasing him out of the gate and trying to slap him. I never really figured out what happened, something like my friend asked if there were seats and the guy said there weren’t even though there were. After a minute or so everyone calmed down and we were ushered up to the nosebleed part of the VIP section as no foreigners or women were sitting in the other sections, only men. We were sitting between two men in berets with big guns and I wasn’t sure if that made me feel more secure or not!

Apparently in Gilgit there can not be any event without a presence of the armed forces. This is because there is tension between the Sunnis and Shiias often leading to sectarian violence. All the people I know in the area are Ismaili and live in a village 15 minutes by road from Gilgit Town so they are really not affected by the divide. When things heat up in town they just avoid going until it cools off. Most people in their village are also Ismailis and not bothered by such disputes.

Despite feeling a bit strange due to the fact there I was one of four women present at the match (out of a few thousand people) the match was quite good. It was the army versus the public works dept., and the game was neck and neck the whole way through. In Lahore the polo matches have rules and referees, but here it is ‘freestyle.’ That basically means ‘play to the death.’ I wasn’t too concerned about the players getting hurt, because hey they’re inflicting the risk on themselves, but for the horses I was concerned because they have no choice in the matter of whether they live or die for the sake of polo. It’s perfectly fine to whack a horse’s legs or your opponent’s head with a club during the match. As I feared, the game ended with one horse going down and all the men and boys jumping down from the stands to crowd around it. Totally inhumane as horses do not like big crowds of people around them and are limited in knowing their surroundings due to the type of vision they have. I couldn’t see anything due to the crowd, but my guess is that the horse was clubbed in the legs and its bones were smashed. Even in the states this kind of injury is usually not able to be fixed and the horse has to be put down.

So the game ended with the public works dept. winning 11-10, but people seemed more excited to see the horse’s unfortunate demise. When I returned to the house everyone was asking if I had enjoyed the game, maza aya? Hmmm…good question. I think I like it better with referees.

Polo Match photos coming soon:

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cyclops Baby

I heard that there was a baby born in the village who had only eye. Actually, he wasn’t born alive but was a miscarriage at about the sixth month. A few other women went on to tell me that the baby had the face of a donkey, the arms of a cow and the body of a dog. This I thought may be a bit far fetched.

They further told me that the same woman had given birth (miscarried) a baby whose eyes were coming out of its head. After this she had four healthy children.

Truth value of this story? Well something surely must have happened, likely people saw an extremely premature baby after the miscarriages and didn’t know what to make of it. Anyway, true or not it’s what is commonly believed and talked about in the village.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Children's Toys

I wrote several blogs during my three weeks in the north but was unable to post them due to slow internet here's one for now.

The concept of ‘babyproofing’ that we have in the states seems to be a foreign concept in the northern areas of Pakistan. Toddlers and babies in the villages I was visiting must have surely developed a vendetta against me, as I was constantly taking away fun things like sickles, axes, scissors, knives, and small metal things they were about to swallow. Even sitting in someone living room I could not feel at ease, as every ten minutes it seemed like a baby was crawling around with scissors, sticking her fingers in a socket, or pulling on a cord which would lead to something crashing down on their heads.

You might think I am being paranoid and that kids here can play with such things while avoiding incident, but I’ve seen a two year old with at least 2nd degree burns from playing with a hot iron and I watched his eight month old cousin fall headfirst off the top of a freezer. People here do their ironing on the floor so it extremely easy for a child to get ahold of a plugged in iron.

Part of the problem might be a lack of safe things to play with. Whereas in the US we have an abundance of toys and playthings to keep babies busy, here children do not have such things. They play with kitchen appliances and whatever happens to be on the floor. If there is a doll or teddy bear in the house this is surely thought of as a decoration piece and not something to be messed up by the baby.

Not only was I constantly worried about the children, but I was afraid for myself as well. Why? Because there is a rumor going around these parts that wearing diapers causes bad eyesight, so in order to protect their eyesight babies and un-potty trained toddlers are NOT wearing any sort of diaper. I suggested that they use cloth washable diapers instead of the suspected brand Pampers, but in two weeks nobody seemed ready to try my suggestion. Usually I’m quite keen to play with and hold babies, but when they could go any time without protection….no thanks!

Here it’s common for mothers to leave their children with various friends and relatives during the day. My hypothesis is that because most women do not work and spend their time at home tending to the fields, they enjoy having some excitement around like a small child. Once I went with eighteen women, a baby and toddler to town and all the women were fighting over who got to hold the kids.

I’m thinking that if Duarte and I raise our children in Pakistan I will live in a constant state of paranoia when visiting friends’ homes. Surely we won’t leave the kids with anyone else unless they keep things like sickles and axes where children can’t reach them!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

On comes the flood

So I had good reasy to worry yesterday about the rain waters rising and seeping into my room. Apparently the whole of Lahore and other cities and villages in the Punjab was flooded. At least fifteen people died, several houses collapsed, one man was electrocuted (standing in water while working a photocopy hypothesis), all the markets are closed, and cars were left in the streets - three or four feet deep in water. Good thing I didn't try to go anywhere yesterday!

Rain is forecasted for the next three or four days, so keep all of us in the flood plains in prayer as it continues to beat down.

See the news story here:

Saturday, September 02, 2006

When they say rainy season...

They mean RAINY season! When I first arrived here in January, almost every day there was blue sky and sunshine. Then starting in April there was unrelenting hot sun and heat up to 120 degress, in some places higher. Starting in mid-July was the monsoon of "Saawan" (Fifth month of Hindu calendar) and now we are into the serious rain. It's been raining every day for a week, and the garden in front of my place is two feet deep with water. Now I know what they built the building four feet above ground level. Even today I was watching the water rise about half an inch every hour, and as the rain ceases to relent, I'm thinking it might even start coming into my room!

There's no question of travelling anywhere, as all the roads are flooded due to lack of proper drainage systems. Usually when excessive rains comes, even the sewage makes it way back up into the street, creating an interesting aroma in all the neighborhood markets. Here people think of the rainy season as the most romantic time of the year. Bollywood always throws in a kiss during the afternoon monsoon rains, and I've heard that half of the Urdu poetry is based on the month of Sawaan (mid July - mid August). Rain on your wedding day is considered to be good luck and a blessing from the gods. Quite the opposite idea that we have in the states!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Malay woman refused right to marry under Sharia

Sharia law claims that anyone who converts from Islam is to be considered an apostate, and in some countries this is punishable by death. In Malaysia, anyone born as an ethnic Malay is considered a Muslim from birth by default. Many believers in the Christian faith take on Christian names, shed their birth names, and meet in secret.

One woman, Lina Joy, is attempting to challenge the system by seeking a legal marriage with her Christian fiance. After five years, the proceedings are still going, and all involved in the case are under death threats. Finally, these stories are making their way into the mainstream news.

Check out the NYTimes article here:

Bombing in Liberty Market

Last night as I was falling asleep, my friend Anita sent me an SMS warning me not to go out to the markets for the next few days as there had been a bombing in Liberty Market. Liberty is in the Gulberg area of Lahore, a short drive from where I live. Anita and I had been there a few weeks ago buying cloth for my wedding dress, and I had even gone there last week for an afternoon of shopping. It's the closest market to me so it's one I always end up going to. Sometimes I even do my grocery shopping in that area.

So turns out that there was a small homemade device that went off in a shoe store. Nobody was killed, only four people were injured and a lot of property damage incurred. Even cars parked outside the store were wrecked. It's a miracle nobody was killed!I had planned on doing some shopping today but maybe it's time to think of another plan....

See more here:

Nobody is sure the motives of the bombing. A prominent leader of the Baloch resistance movement was recently killed, and some think that it may be connected to that incident. Others see it as a cry from the youth against the current military government and General Musharraf. More and more of the radicals and the MMA (religious alliance) are speaking out against the current government and asking the General to step down.

I don't know what I'd do if there was any change in government. I've seen other countries where the army is so corrupt that it oppresses and takes advantage of the people, but here I've grown to trust the army. The officers I've met are very respectable and have the best interest of the people in mind. Even one of my close friends, a Major from Sialkot, was wounded while trying to keep down Balochi separatists outside Quetta. In my opinion, the only thing keeping any order in this country is the military and it's good to have someone in charge who's not an extremist.

When Musharraf came to power he restored all the schools which were formerly Christian schools back to the missionaries. Under Zia they had all been Islamized. Even the buildings' names were changed from the name of the missionaries to "Allama-Iqbal Hall" and "Quaid-al-Azam Auditorium." A friend of mine told me that when Musharraf spoke at the Foreman Christian College commencement ceremony for the first time after coming to power, he urged them to change the names back to their original names. "Did Allama Iqbal do anything to create this university? Was it his work that founded this place? No, it was the missionaries. You are all praising the fanatics and the relgious leaders, what do they teach the children? How to roll up their shalwar (pants) and use a lotta (for cleansing before prayer)? On the other hand, the missionaries are the same ones who took a boy from the street and could make him president?"

(paraphrase of Gen Musharaf through several people...not original quote)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bahria Town

Today I went to visit Bahria Town, a new suburb of Lahore. Well the Lahoris seem to know just how to do suburban life. Walking through the streets and parks I thought I was in a wealthy housing colony in South Carlonia. Complete with it's own school, gym, shopping malls, a mini Trafalgar Square, wooden playgrounds, security men on horseback, fountains, street lights, newly paved road, villas, mansions, kids riding bicyles in the street.....and people who don't stare!

The goal of the developers was to make a place where people could live in a "western style" environment at low cost. I'm guessing the rent for a 3 bedroom luxury villa is less than $300/month, but I'll have to go meet with the property developers to find out. There is a trend now that people who can afford it are moving outside the city along the canal where there are many new housing schemes going up. We passed about 15 different ones on the way to Bahria Town, which was about a 40 minute drive from my current flat.

The 8 Marla Villas overlooking Trafalgar Square

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Women's Meeting - Sialkot

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He even makes his own tea...

Last night I was sitting at my friend Memoona's house and I was surprised to see that her husband was drinking tea...tea that she had not made for him. How was this possible? They don't have any servants? I went into the kitchen and sure enough the evidence was there. Her husband had made his own tea.
Here is Pakistan men generally don't do much around the house. It's common that the husband will be thirsty and ask his wife to get him a glass of water. He may be sitting within five feet of the water cooler, while she may be outside or on a different floor of the house, but nevertheless he will yell "Pani lao!" (Bring me water!) and sit there waiting until she runs from waterever part of the house she is at and brings him a glass of water.

Once I was out to eat with a woman named Nadia. She and her husband have two small children. One boy age 4 and one age 2. The 2-year old is quite naughty when they go out in public. He had already broken a glass, ran around the restaurant, and provoked his older brother to tears. Husband just sat there in the restaurant while Mom was taking care of the kids. When the food came, as the guest I was invited to serve myself first. Then Nadia served both the kids AND her husband before serving herself. She was barely able to eat while trying to get the naughty child to swallow some of his food, and Husband held out his empty plate, looked at her, and said, "Mix karte" (mix-do it). There's no direct translation, but basically he wanted all the different kinds of food mixed for him on his plate. I wanted to ask him if he had some handicap that prevented him from lifting a serving spoon.

Memoona told me last night that was lucky to have a husband who helped around the house. "Most men in Pakistan would never make tea for themselves. They don't even know how to do it. In our house we don't have any servants and we both work. My friends can't believe that we do all the housework on our own, but it gets done. It's hard to keep servants in Lahore becasue you can't trust them. Sometimes they steal from you and then run away. You'll never find them again. In the mornings most men sit and wait for their breakfast to be prepared and their shirt pressed. They expect their briefcase packed, their shoes by the door, and their wife smiling as she waves goodbye to him. When he comes home, we wants dinner prepared and served to him. At our house my husband will help make the kids' lunches in the morning. Other men might not respect him because he does these things, but I know I'm very lucky to have such a husband. It is so rare here in Pakistan."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Punjab's Lost Girls

Living in Lahore, I'm currently in the Punjab region of Pakistan. Punjab is split down the middle by the India-Pak border, and culture and traditions on both sides are fairly similar. On the Indian side, there are only about 7 girls per every 10 boys under the age of six. Why is that? Because in this extremely partriarchal society families prefer not to give birth to girls. A girl will be unable to work for the family, requires a dowry to marry off, and will be no help to her parents in their old age since she'll be living with her in-laws. Even here in Lahore the main banks have billboards for personal loans which make my stomach churn. There is a picture of a daughter in her wedding lengha being hugged by her father, "Personal Loan: I married my daughter in style." "Personal Loan: Don't worry about the future." Families will often bankrupt themselves marrying off their daughters. The other alternative is to keep their daughters as spinsters, but this is expensive as well because then the parents have to feed, clothe, and house the daughter for the rest of her life and they will not get much return on this investment either. If a woman gives birth to several daughters and no sons, the entire community will see her as cursed. She will risk being divorced or having her husband take a second wife if order to produce a son. Sons are a good investment because generally they continue to live with the family after marriage. The daughter in laws move in and become subject to the whim of the in-laws, particularly the mother in law.
This week a site was found in India where over 50 female foetuses had been discarded. Female foeticide is illegal in both India and Pakistan, but as there is still a desire for it there is a price at which it will be done. See the article at BBC News - South Asia

Coming of Age in Pakistan: The Proposals

During my last teacher training session I got to know one of the students quite well. She told me a lot about her life, including many amusing stories about growing up. Here I hope to share them in a paraphrase of her own words so you can also learn about one upper class Pakistani woman's story.
When I was about thirteen my father told me that I had three proposals for marriage. All three of them were my cousins, but they were of different ages. One of them was the same age as me. The other was about two years older than me. And finally, the third one was about ten years older than me. In our tradition, a female family member comes to the house of the girl to make the proposal. My father's relatives had all come, and he told them that he would ask me to make the choice. My father was a good man, and he always gave his daughters independence. He taught us to make decisions on our own, so when it came time for marriage he left the decision to me.
The suitors wanted answers right away, but I asked my father for one day to think about it. I said, "Mai soch rahi hu" (I'm thinking about it). I didn't have to think about it for too long, because I already knew the best decision to make. I chose the eldest cousin, even though he lived far away in Bhawalphur, about eight hours by road from Lahore. I easily chose the eldest one because I knew he would be more mature and able to provide for me and my children. I did not consider the one who was my age because he was so young and immature. He was only thirteen years old himself. If I were to marry him I would have to wait many years to be married.
So many of my cousins wanted to marry me because I was a very easy-going girl. I was laid back, and whatever anyone asked me to do I would do. If I stayed in Lahore, it's ok. If I moved to Bhawalphur, it's ok. I was able to adjust to anything I was thrown into, and so that's why the women in the family wanted me to marry their sons.
The next day I told my father about my decision. He called my future mother-in-law and told her that I had accepted the proposal. She came over the house to bring sweets, gifts and an engagement ring. Her son was already 26 and ready to be married, but since I was younger the family decided to wait a few years to hold the marriage ceremony. I remember wearing the ring and feeling so happy that I would marry such an older and mature man.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Insane Train

Apparently in Karachi an insane man stole a train and drove it madly through two stations. How did this happen? Well the crew of the train were on their tea else? And they wonder why they are unable to prevent bombings and other things when people can easily drive off with the trains.....

See the story on BBC News:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dr. Michelle

The other day one of my friends had a fever. I told him to make sure he got rest and drank plenty of fluids. The commonplace advice anyone would give in the states. Well the next he called me and was like, “It worked!” Apparently in the past he’d always gone to the doctor for everything, a cold, a fever, stomach pain. After hanging out with me and an Australian guy, he started trying to let his body’s immune system take care of him instead of running to the doctor for every little thing. He realized that not only did it work, but he felt better sooner AND saved on the doctor bills. Doctors prescribe antibiotics for everything and anything, so no matter why you go you’ll come home with antibiotics. Not only that, but even for a common cold they gave him some kind of injection! After finding out about the ‘miracle cure,’ he started telling all of his co-workers that the key is eating the right foods and getting rest. Everyone in his work place was astonished.

The day after the fever incident I was enjoying a lazy Sunday in my room when suddenly a knock came at my door. People don’t usually knock here, they just try to open the door by moving the handle up and down rapidly and noisily. When people do that I’m annoyed and I pretend I’m not in my room. When they knock I’m so impressed by their politeness that I’ll admit I’m in my room and open the door. Upon hearing the knock I asked, “kaun hai?” (who is it?) and I heard a girl say a name I didn’t know. I responded with “ek minute” (one minute) and threw on a long skirt and t-shirt over my shorts and tank top which would be scandalous outside my room, even if only females are present. When I opened the door it was one of the students, Memoona, who I hadn’t met before. She was holding her right hand gingerly and had white pasty stuff all over it. She asked if I had any ointment for burns. I didn’t have anything but I knew nobody else would be able to help her so I invited her in while I gathered my things for a visit to the gate.

Turns out she had been making tea and spilled boiling water all over her hand. She had run it under cold water for 15 minutes but she was still feeling a burning sensation so she smeared Colgate toothpaste all over the burn. I’d read in a book that sometimes people consider toothpaste to be like medicine here, especially Colgate brand. Well it was doing nothing for her burn except give her hand a fresh minty smell, so I told her that we’d go look for some ointment and bandages or head out to the hospital. I grabbed my purse and we were out the door.

When we reached the gate and told the chowkidar (gate keeper/guard) what had happened he didn’t have any advice about where to get the materials we needed. We called the warden, who as usual during emergencies was gone, and she also didn’t have any idea what to do. Memoona said her hand still felt like it was burning and it was difficult to move. Finally, Memoona herself had an idea. “I’ll call the corner store and have them send burn oil.” The Madina store has a delivery boy and so about ten minutes later the madinavala (vala = delivery person/seller) came on his motorbike with the supplies. I handed him twenty rupees (33 cents) for the burn oil and bandages and we headed back to my room.

I’d never seen this brand of burn ointment before, but from the description it looked like the right thing to use. Memoona washed off the toothpaste and I was able to inspect the burn. No scarring or red marks on the skin, but the areas in between the fingers were very tender and she winced when I touched them. Didn’t seem like anything she needed the hospital for but would probably need time to heal properly. She also didn’t know how to bandage anything so after I applied the bright yellow cream all over her hand I bandaged it up and told her not to remove the bandage for at least 30 minutes to an hour after the burning had cooled. She thanked me and told me that she was worried about taking her exam on Tuesday since she’s right handed. I told her not to worry, she had two days for recovery and that she should have her friends make her tea for her until then. Phew. I should keep a first aid kit in my room so next time the whole process can take 5 minutes instead of 45.

Later she came back, paid me back the 20 rupees and asked if she could store fruit in my fridge. I was a bit confused because the hostel has one fridge and two big deep freezers in the kitchen. She said somebody might steal it there so she’d rather keep it in my room. I pictured the scenario. First one girl, then two, then five all keeping food in my room and coming at all times of the day and night to get it and then wanting to hang out and eat it in my room. Hmmmm nope sorry I’m not around most of the time…..

Independence Day

Little green flags are everywhere these days as the Independence Day holiday approaches. A bicycle goes by adorned in plastic green flags. Flags are being sold at all the main squares. All the historic buildings are lit up for the celebration, and security is tight. I’ve been stopped three times in the last two days by army men making sure I’m not intent on sabotage. As talks of overthrowing the president and his military government fill the airwaves, everyone is cautious.

Despite all the preparations, it doesn’t seem like anyone is doing anything special for independence day. In the U.S. it’s the day for barbecues, beach volleyball, fireworks, and celebrating with friends and family. Don’t forget the ketchup, hotdogs & hamburgers! I asked one of my friends if there was any tradition or any event that was happening for the holiday and he replied,

“Well here Independence Day is not a public holiday. It’s only celebrated in Islamabad and by the government officials. Any party is arranged and paid for by the government because the people aren’t in the habit of celebrating it.”

“That’s strange,” I commented. “In the U.S. it’s one of the biggest holidays of the year.”

“Well in your country the people fought for independence. They wanted it. Here it just came on us whether we wanted it or not. So that’s why it’s not really a public holiday.”

Friday, August 11, 2006

"I just want to escape"

The other day one of my students, we'll call her Maha, asked to talk to me after class. I was dreading this, as Maha is just one of those students who drives the teacher a bit mad. She's always sitting in the front row and talking without raising her hand, as if she must comment on every last thing the teacher, or anyone else says. Half the time I don't understand due to the level of English, and the other half she is asking questions about things clearly explained ten minutes prior.

Maha's about my age, early twenties, and currently unemployed. I thought she wanted to talk to me about English and ask for some advice or special help, but she actually wanted to talk about immigration. She told me that she wanted to talk to me privately, so we waited until all the other students had left.

Maha told me that she has a problem living in Pakistani society because she is a widow. She got married in her teens, most likely 15 or 16, in an arranged marriage. She has a son who is now seven years old and her husband has passed away. After her husband's death she moved back in with her family,but due to the social stigma she is unable to remarry or get a good job. She told me that she is looking for a way out of the country, "because my life is over here." She had heard that in the West people didn't look down on widows and that she might be able to study, pursue a career or even remarry.

I was shocked and tried to remain supportive and encouraging by giving her some phone numbers of offices who could advise her on immigration. Then I went back to my room and thought, wow she's my age and she's already been married, widowed and has a seven year old son. Not only that, but there's just no opportunities for her here unless her family were to have loads of money, which they don't. Society has hardened her even in her youth, and she now has the burden of trying to make a way for her family as a single mom in a country where single moms aren't supposed to exist.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Burnin' down the house...or hostel

Yes...the title is literal! A few weeks ago I went to make some rice in the hostel kitchen...and well to make a long story short because my space bar is not working resulted in a huge gas fire!

The girls had left the flame on the gas stove, like they always do, so I just put my pot of water on. I turned it up a bit, and then suddenly flames came out of everywhere, even the knob that I was turning. My first reaction was to turn off the knob, but I would have had to reach into the flames. There was another girl in the kitchen and so she and I just backed away from the stove. I figured that the girls would know what to do, since they live here and always deal with gas stoves,but I was wrong. They kept telling me to just wait cause "uncle" (one of the older guards) was coming and he would fix the problem. Well first Uncle had to get permission to come into the hostel,cause no men are allowed, and when he saw the blaze, which was about four feet high and now working it's way across the kitche, he said, "Oho!" and didn't know what to do. One of the girls rolled in an old fire extinguisher which I had no idea how to use and figured was five or ten years out of date. Uncle looked at me and said, "yih pani hai?" while pointing at the fire extinguisher. "This is water?" I said, "Nahin, yih chemical hai."

It was at this point I realized nobody knew any better than I did what to do so with a Punjabi-English mix of instructions myself and the other girl who had been in the kitchen took charge. She went outside and turned off the gas supply. At this point, all the hoses connecting hte gas had melted and the gas was even burning inside the wall. I could smell the gas filling the kitchen, which is quite large, and it was difficult to breathe or keep my eyes open. I got a pail of water and directed Uncle to fill up a bucket with dirt to throw on the blaze first. We had had monsoon rains that afternoon, so we ended up with a few buckets of mud. Then Uncle and I, along with one other girl, went towards the blaze slinging mud at it as if it were our opponent. Uncle was desperately trying to be "the man" although he's a bit older so it would have been better if we girls had just handled it.He drenched a thick rug with water and threw it on the gas stove,which Iwasn't sure was the best idea but at least we'd already covered it in mud and gotten rid of most of the flame. The other girl and I concentrated on throwing mud into the pipes burning inside the wall in order to extinguish it for good. There were still some flames creeping out from under the stove,when finally a man who knew how to use the ancient fire extinguishers arrived. He put out the blaze once and for all. Whew.

Afterwards the crowd was joking about "michelle's sunday night special," which now included charred mushrooms, onions, melted plastic and a whole lot of ashes!

The good thing is, the fire incident led to the purchasing of new stoves and the installment of safer metal piping instead of rubber hoses, which had led to my dinner becoming a blaze...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You just might miss it...

Stories such as the following show up EVERY day in the local newspaper ( These stories don't ever make the front page and remain small blurbs on the inside of the paper. I'm also wondering, who is this dubious "correspondent" with no name....seems like he or she always comes across that most gory stories.

Woman, daughter slain
By Our Correspondent (DAWN)
JHANG, July 10: A man stabbed to death his wife and mother-in-law after his reconciliation bid with his estranged wife failed in Malhoona village, some 20kms from here on Sunday. Reports reaching here said that accused Qaiser had contracted marriage with Surraya Bibi of the same village some two years back.A couple of months ago, Surraya Bibi shifted to her parents’ after quarrelling with her husband.The accused tried to bring back his estranged wife, but to no avail. In a last ditch attempt of reconciliation, he again went to his in-laws on Sunday. During a squabble on Sunday, he fell into a rage when his mother-in-law and wife refused to accede to his request. He took out a knife and stabbed to death both of them on the spot.

Expats looted
By Our Correspondent
GUJRANWALA, July 10: Dacoits looted houses of four expatriate brothers, a landlord and killed him on resistance in two strikes in and around the city here on Monday. Reports said seven robbers forced their entry into the house of Boota, Allah Ditta, Muhammad Yousaf and Abdul Ghafoor on Kot Noora Road in Ghakkhar Town by scaling the boundary wall. They held hostage women, children and made off with Rs200,000, gold jewellery worth Rs400,000, mobile phones and other valuables.The four brothers were settled in Italy since long while their father was present in the house along with his daughters-in-law and their children.In another incident, four bandits entered the house of landlord Muhammad Anwar at Behlool Chak, took away cash and gold ornaments worth Rs100,000 and shot him dead on offering resistance.

Heatwave claims four lives
By Our Correspondent
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, July 10: Four people were killed and more than 20 fainted on Sunday owing to scorching heat and humidity which gripped Dera Ismail Khan. A farmer Musa was fell unconscious when he was cutting grass in village Kathgarh. He later lost his life in the field due to suffocation. Another farmer died during tilling his filed in Guldani North village.Yark police mobile found a body near a tower of Telenor cellular company. A farmer died while grazing his sheep herd in Harwakai area of the district.Meanwhile, the frequent power breakdowns have caused unrest among the people of the district.

Runaway Returned

Here’s an update on the runaway girl that I wrote about last week. You were probably shocked to find out that she was only fourteen, well guess what, her actual age was eleven! More details have come to light since the first blog.

The runaway girl, we’ll call her Saima to make this easier, went out to the market to get some everyday food stuff. She met three boys at the market. From this point on we have two possible stories. 1. The girl left willingly and ran away with the boys or 2. The girl was kidnapped by the boys in the middle of the crowded market. Option #1 seems more plausible considering the circumstances, but the girl’s family holds to option #2 in order to preserve their family honor.

So back to the story, Saima was out at the market. She met three boys from the neighborhood. They boys were older than her, somewhere between 16 and 18. Saima is still in a child’s body at the age of 11. Her height is barely to the waist of the teenage boys. Somehow, she either decided to get in a rickshaw with them or was forced to. Her family claims the boys’ had a pistol and forced her to go. Their next stop was the crowded train station of Lahore where they caught a train all the way to Karachi. If you know the map of Pakistan, Karachi is a city in the southernmost part of the country on the Arabian Sea. A journey there from Lahore can take anywhere between 15 and 24 hours.

All three boys were with Saima on the train. They stopped along the way at a hotel and got some food. Meanwhile, back in Lahore Saima’s parents notified the police. They found out that she had disappeared with the boys and their fathers were arrested and put in jail. Here, because the family ties are so strong, police regularly hold and torture family members in order to get the accused to fess up. When my friend was telling me I was confused, because in America a rebellious teenage boy most likely would not care if his father was in jail. Nevertheless, this psycho analysis proves correct here and two of the boys return home to free their fathers. One boy, the main culprit, stays with Saima and continues on the Karachi.

When they got to Karachi they tried to stay at one of the boy’s relative’s houses, but they had been forewarned and would not let them in. At this point Saima called her parents and was telling them that she had gotten married and did not want to come home. Upon seeing the girl, my friend Rana didn’t think it was possible that anyone would have allowed this girl to get married. She would not fool anyone that she is past 13, nevermind the legal marrying age without parental consent. The boy didn’t have any money for a bribe and had spent most of their time on the train so it’s doubtful that any marriage took place. Saima’s story is that after they were refused housing they got back on the train and headed back to Lahore. 15 – 24 MORE hours on the train.
Reaching Lahore again, they went straight to the boys’ family. His older brother, who had been put in jail until his return, was released. The boys’ family was now afraid to return Saima to her parents. Her own family would be likely to beat her or even murder her for the shame she would bring her family for this escapade. She spent two days at the boys’ house, being told continuously that if she went home her parents would surely murder her. The boys’ family tried to convince her to stay with them for the sake of her own personal safety.

Now, my friend Rana to the rescue. Turns out he has connections with both sides of the family. The boys’ side is unwilling to give Saima back to any of her family members. Saima’s side is livid. They want their daughter back and they are in the process of filing kidnapping charges against the boy. Rana knows that this is a serious situation, and that is entirely plausible for this girl to be murdered or “disposed of” by her own family. He talks to each of the male family members and makes them promise not to hurt Saima if she is returned to their home. He is still worried about the female members of the household, who sometimes are the most merciless when it comes to issues like this, but he decides to risk it. He tells them, “Look I will collect and return your daughter to you. If anything is to happen to her, I will testify in court that I returned her safe and sound to your doorstep. The boys’ family will have nothing to do with this and the blame will be on your heads.”
The family agrees to the conditions.

Now Rana is contacting the boys’ family. Mobile phone calls. Let’s meet here. A sketchy place in Lahore late in the night. Nope, too sensitive. Let’s meet at this place. He’s driving from place to place, getting more and more nervous. Finally, he meets the entourage. This is his story:“I looked and I saw the girl. She was small, much smaller than I thought she would be. Just a child. The boy was a grown man, the same size as me. And she was barely coming past his waist. I looked into her eyes, and she looked at me as if I was her murderer. I will never forget the look she gave me. I was shaking. I was thinking, God please protect this girl when she goes back to her family. She sat in the car, right where you are sitting now (the passenger seat]. I hadn’t gone to her family’s house before. We found the house, arrived, and I took her inside. Again I made her family promise not to hurt her or lay a hand on her. Then, my job was over, I left her there.”

Currently Saima’s family is deciding whether to press charges against the boy. If they can show it was a kidnapping, and that she did not go willfully, it will save some of their family honor. The girl is now talking in agreement with this as if it was against her own will, while previously she was calling from Karachi saying she got married and wanted to stay there. The parents say that Saima was forced to say these things because the boy had a gun. The whole family is happy about one thing though, Saima and her kidnapper allegedly spent all their time on the train and could not have had time to have sex, or so they think. A 17 or 18 year old boy would have sex with a pre-pubescent girl is somebody I think should go to jail anyway…but Saima’s family would rather charge him on kidnapping and keep it in their minds that they were unable to fool around. If she is no longer a virgin, even though I’m sure she is not developed enough to be pregnant, then she is no longer marriage material and it will bring shame to the whole family. Girls in this country have been killed for far less offenses, like being caught sitting with a boy in a park, or in a car, or receiving letters from a boy in the neighborhood. Women in this country aren’t supposed to have any desire, except to marry who their parents choose for them. Whether that be a 50 year old to wed a 16 year old as his second wife, a boy who has not yet gone through puberty, an obsessive compulsive maniac who is unable to have sex and writes down everything his young wife says or does, a compulsive womanizer who calls his wife while he is cheating on her at a five star hotel…..the women must obey their parents. And yes those examples are all real. “Hey, just wanted to let you know, in case of emergency, that I’m at the PC Hotel, room #404. Say goodnight to the boys for me.”

We’ll see what’s in store for Saima. Pray that she makes it to the marrying age. Another two years until she’s a teenager. Every night I go to sleep thankful that I was not a woman born in Pakistan. And every morning I wake up thankful for the same thing.
“Life is nothing for women in Pakistan.”
a friend’s mother lamenting of her husband taking a second wife
June 2006

Thursday, July 06, 2006

What Happened to Michelle?

Yesterday I had to cancel my class because I had to make a visit to Islamabad, five hours away by car. I talked to my director and the director of the English department and they assured me that someone would let the class know what had happened and that they could go home early. I teach the second two hours of a four-hour intensive course. Anyway, they had their tea break and nobody bothered to tell them I was outta town so they all sat in the room waiting and wondering what happened to me and why I wasn't in the class. Finally they found out from my supervisor that I was in Islamabad and they went home early.
Today when I found out about what had happened in the class I decided to make it into a creative activity. We were due to practice phrases of agreement and disagreement as well as phrases expressing doubt. I asked each of the five groups to come up with a story to answer the question, "What happened to Michelle?" (Remember Heather sounds like the boys' name Haider so I don't use it here). Then each group would share their stories and the other groups would have to agree or disagree using the target phrases. It proved to be quite an amusing activity!
Group 1 - Most Plausible
"Michelle is usual punctual so when she had not arrived by five minutes after 11 we were quite concerned. We were sure something had happened to her because we knew she would never skip the class. She cares too much about us. We finally found out from Mr. Tahir that she had gone to Islamabad, and we thought that maybe she was going back to the U.S. We thought she had gone to the American Embassy in case of some emergency at home. We knew she wouldn't leave us, because Americans are very committed to their work. We were sure that she would come back."
Group 2 - Most Traumatic
(I had showed them my multi-purpose tool, including a small blunt knife, a few days earlier in response to a question about knife vocabulary. I joked that it was my defence weapon against sketchy men on buses)
"Michelle didn't arrive for class yesterday and we were so much worried. What happened is that the day before she was taking a rickshaw. We know Michelle is very afraid of rickshaw accidents. She was wearing pink and white, and she was looking absolutely divine. The rickshaw driver was fascinated by her beauty and he decided to kidnap her. As he was trying to take her away, Michelle figured out what his intention was and took out her knife. She took her fiance's advice and stabbed the driver right in the heart. The driver was no more. When she returned to the institute she was too tired from her fight to take the class."

Funny Response - "I don't think she has the guts to kill anyone."
Me - "Yeah I'm not sure if I do either."

Group #3 - Most Ridiculous
"It was wicked hot and Michelle had trouble sleeping the night before. When she woke up, she realized that due to the heat she had pimples all over her face. She looked in her mirror and saw the pimples. She was upset and decided she could not go to teach class with this complexion. She went straight to the parlour to have her face fixed. It took two hours, and by the time she was looking beautiful enough for class, we had already left."

Response - "I don't think Michelle is that beauty conscious."
Me - "Yeah I agree with that."

Group #4 - Most Hilarious (this one is of course the boys)
"Michelle's cousin was interested to propose to her. He thought that she was so beautiful that he must marry her. He came all the way to Pakistan, but unfortunately he went to the wrong city. He landed in Islamabad and not Lahore. This man was, Tom Cruise. Michelle found out he was waiting for her in the capital and asked Mr. Tahir to go to him. Now we have a drama to show what happened."

(all actors are the boys with Kamran playing Michelle much to everyone's amusement)
Mr. Tahir - Michelle how are you?Michelle - I'm good. I have a favor to ask you.
Mr. Tahir - No problem, just ask me and we'll see what we can do.
Michelle - You see I have to go to Islamabad. One of my friends is waiting for me there.
Mr. Tahir - Well, who will take your class? I don't know if this is a good idea.
Michelle - Oh please let me go. I really need to meet with this friend.
Mr. Tahir - Ok, you can go.
Michelle - Thanks so much. Bye Bye. (Waving girlishly)

(In Islamabad Tom Cruise paces anxiously in Jinnah Gardens, a popular meeting places for couples)
Tom Cruise - (pacing and talking on the cell phone)
Michelle - (walking into garden) Hello. I am here. How are you?
Tom Cruise - Where have you been? I have been waiting for you for so long.
Michelle - I had to come from Lahore. You know it's five hours away.
Tom Cruise - Nevermind. You are so beautiful. I want to ask you to marry me...
("Tom" goes to kiss "Michelle" who is really another guy)

Both guys laugh in embarrasment. "That's it. We're done." All the girls are cracking up. I'm wondering how old my students are again. Hmm middle school? My response,
Me: "Do you guys know it's illegal to marry your cousin in America?" The class is surprised. "Why?" "Because the more you marry in the same family the higher risk you have of your children having birth defects. People don't think of their cousins in a romantic way in the US. "
The class is shocked. I think 50% or more of them will marry their cousins.
Me: "Do you guys think this scenario is possible?"
Boys: "Well, it's plausible."
Girls: "No. I don't agree. Michelle's not that kind of girl."
"Me too, that's impossible."
"Yeah there's no way."
Another amusing day in LIP....

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

the LIP boys

I'm currently teaching a program called LIP, Language Improvement Program, to 37 students. Most students are currently teachers in government English medium schools, but I also have four guys in the class. Two are in the army and two are currently studying for their Masters. It's an interesting dynamic with 33 girls and only 4 guys, but the guys have bonded together and help make the class fun....although sometimes at the teacher's expense!

A quote from class:

Ms. Michelle (me) - "Okay so who decided they wouldn't want to study in Australia?"

(All four boys and two girls raise their hands. I call on the girls first. )

"Because why study in Australia when I can study English here?"

"Well, why go to Australia? I'd rather go to Canada where my sister lives."

And the boys, "We don't want to go to Australia 'cause we have a pretty teacher from America right here!"

Everyone laughs. The boys proudly smile at their response. I laugh, most likely turn a little bit red at embarrassment, and say "Okay, on the next question...."

During our game day last friday, one of the boys proved to be a real smooth talker. We were playing a game from "Whose Line Is it Anyway?" where there are three guests with interesting identities or strange problems. The "host" of the party needs to guess what the guests are struggling with. We had one girl who thought she was a fish outta water, an elderly woman on the verge of death, and a supermodel. All the girls were great actresses, I was quite impressed! The supermodel girl walked in fixing her hair and kept talking to Ejaz, the host, about how she wanted to become more and more beautiful and famous. He assured her, "What are you talking about? You are already the most beautfil girl in the world? There is nothing you can do to become more beautiful. Does anyone have a mirror?" The class roared in laughter.

Although my students are all out of college and at least in their twenties, it's like teaching 7th graders when it comes to boy-girl relations. The boys always sit in the corner by themselves, and anytime anyone mentions the opposite sex, marriage, or anything of that sort, the class erupts into giggles. The boys have a good time with this, although they can get embarrassed as well. Today we were talking of our "future plans," and the boys were embarrassed to say that they hoped to get married. Only one of them, who said he planned to do a Masters and establish his own business first, would admit he wanted to get married and have children in the future. This put all the girls laughing and refusing to look him in the eyes in case he might be interested in them. This dynamic is amusing for the foreign teacher, but many times I have to steer clear of topics that I would easily be able to use in the American classroom. Also, many times I try to avoid topics on dating and the like, the students are so preoccupied thinking about it that every topic comes back to the opposite sex anyways. In order to avoid any proposals myself, I've taken to telling everyone in this country that I'm already engaged. This has saved me from being proposed to by uncles, men already with a few wives, strange boys who pay someone for my number, and having my marriage arranged by friends to their son, grandson, nephew or whoever. Upon meeting me everyone always asks, "Ap shadi hai?" are you married? It is crazy for them to think of a 23 year old girl travelling the world, not living in her parents house, and not yet being married with a few kids! One of my friends is a 34 year old single guy, he gets even more grief than I do for not being married yet. Students can barely carry on with their lessons because they are all dying to ask him why he has not taken one, two, or four wives yet. Oh the amusement that gender segregation brings to the co-ed classroom. :)

Monday, July 03, 2006


Late last week a friend of mine called me, apologizing for not being
in touch. He'd been helping me with my visa process, and as the
current one runs out on July 15th he is accustomed to giving me daily
updated on the extension process and letting me know what I need to do next. I hadn't heard from him in three or four days and there was a good reason why.

One of his friend's daughter's had run away and gotten married. Her
family is extremely conservation and despite wearing full burka (the
black, tent-like get up) and being kept in purdah (seclusion from
males other than family members) somehow she managed to meet a guy and decided to run off with him. One of my friends told me she met her husband when he dialed a wrong number and ended up with her at the other end. He kept calling her back, and she was "fascinated with his voice." They pursued their romance solely on the telephone, without meeting, for over a year, until she finally snuck out to meet him in person. Two years after that her parents finally gave in to letting her marry him, as he was of a lower caste. It's possible that the same sort of situation may have happened with the runaway girl.

Two days after their marriage, signed in the mosque and everything,
the girl had moved in with the boys' family and refused to come home
at her parents' request. She said she was happier there and with her
new husband she would remain. You might be thinking, good for her,
she's escaped her seclusion and made a choice on her own, but the
problem here is not just that the girl ran away and eloped, but the
fact that she is only fourteen years old. She can't sign a legal
marriage contract (nikka) without her parents' consent.

This then makes her marriage eligible to be tried against the Hudood
ordinances, which would leave both her and her husband charged with
adultery: sex outside marriage. This is punishable by the death
sentence, if enraged and dishonored family members don't murder the
guilty parties previous. There is such a strong concept of family
honor and shame based around women, that fathers or brothers have been known to brutally kill their own daughters and sisters in situations like these. If the girl has been married illegally, and the marriage consummated, or the girl has even been touched by the man, she is considered as spoiled. Damaged goods. The prospects of her family marrying her off are slim, unless she is attractive and they can put up a sizeable dowry. Her action ruins the reputation of the entire family, and sometimes people see the only way of preserving their honor to be killing the culprit, usually the girl. Thankfully, in this family the parents fought hard to get their daughter back and as far as I know are open minded enough to allow her to live and carry on with her studies.

Every day I read in the newspaper here about strange murders and honor killings. Last week I read about a man who suspected his wife of having an affair with her cousin. He not only killed her but also her aunt and one of her friends in a fit of rage. He had no proof, just a nagging suspicion. Men like this are unlikely to be arrested and tried, for the mullahs support their actions against their "shameful" wives.

14 years old, running away to a new life. Sick of the burka. Sick of seclusion. Ready to find out about the world of boys and men. Running away and getting married. 14 years old.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Stream of Consciousness: McDonald’s

I walk in the door and there is music pumping through the speakers as if I’m at a rave party at 3am. Out the window behind me I can see Ronald McDonald’s life size figure sitting on a bench. We’re on Main Boulevard, Gulberg, across from the Nike Store and Levi’s Shop. Main Blvd is the place to be in Lahore. Skyscrapers are going up everywhere.

Proud workers seem to be all over the restaurant sporting their navy blue pants, shiny black shoes, red striped button down shirts, and of course navy blue hats with bright golden arches. Gotta represent. I choose a table and sit down as one worker is happily moppin’ away to the beat of Eminem. Another young man in his red striped shirt spins a brown tray on his finger as he brings it to its proper place.

This is one of the coolest places in town for a date. As opposed to the West, McDonald’s in the developing world is an upscale restaurant frequented by the well to do. I observe one couple sitting near me. Two milkshakes, hers strawberry, his chocolate, and a large fry. He is slightly overweight and showing it in a white t-shirt sporting Bath n’ Body and Victoria’s Secret logos on his back. She, being much more stylish as all Pakistani women are, is wearing loose bright orange shalwar with purple and green stripes. Her floral dupatta is effortlessly thrown over one shoulder of her cream colored short sleeved kameez with matching orange trim. Her hair is dyed with lighter brown streaks and held back in a big black scrunchie. Designer sunglasses are perched on her head and her black leather purse completes the outfit.

Ahh! Something does not fit in this picture. Behind her stands a blond western man wearing shorts, or ¾ length pants with his hiking boots. This is not American fashion….German maybe? They seem to be all over these parts in the summer and they have no problem showing their hairy legs much to the amusement, or distress, or the local population. Shorts do not exist here in Pakistan, and in neighboring Iran one of my friends was thrown in jail for wearing them. I turn my gaze away, horrified at the fashion statement.

A solitary balding man sits at the table across from me and places his shiny silver mobile phone on the table with his new looking car keys. He’s wearing a tan shalwar kameez and it seems as if he considers each of his remaining hairs as precious. This is a trend in Pakistani men. If a spot on their head is balding, they will let each of the remaining hairs grow wildly and as long as possible in hope that they can twirl them around, stick them onto the bald spot, and give the illusion that they still have hair. Unfortunately for Pakistan, India has been exporting the comb-over look as haut couture. This man is definitely a victim of thinking that comb-overs are attractive.

I wonder if I am really in Lahore when I see a Pakistani man wearing navy blue ¾ pants complete with track suit stripes and cargo pocket, chatting with a smartly dressed businessman in the parking lot. The businessman wears nicely fitted black pants, shined leather shoes, a mauve collared shirt, and a perfectly matching patterned tie. As they finish their conversation the ¾ pants man jumps into a metallic blue sports car while the businessman speeds off in a white company van.

Looking towards the ground, I see dark wide leg jeans. They are so wide they are nearly hiding the gray and black skater shoes underneath. “What, are you trying to hide a family of 12 in your pants?” (Meaghan King if you’re reading this is for you…..remember our trendy friend with the goggles in that movie we used to love?) I look up to see a young man, most likely in his early 20s, wearing a dark blue T. He has a nicely trimmed full beard and his shiny longish hair falls to conceal his thick square plastic glasses. He grins crazily at a small boy in jeans and a turquoise shirt and I make a conjecture that this is his son or his little brother. To my surprise, a woman in a burka joins the wide-leg jeans man. She’s got white Adidas sneakers and white shalwar on under her big black tent, and she momentarily lets her burka slip off and reveal her wavy hair held up in a clip. She looks young and I assume that she is the boy’s mother and the trendy man’s wife. As she dips her tea bag in hot water she carefully puts her burka back over her head.

At this point I’m distracted from my people watching as one of my favorite salsa songs comes blaring through the speakers. Ok yes, I must confess that I loved the movie “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” which was based around Latin dancing, and this one song from the movie always makes me want to hop on the next plane to Cuba. In my mind, the McDonald’s is transformed into a Latin dance scene. I can see everyone, burkas and all, dancing on the tables. Letting their hair down. I’m teaching the steps as I grab the mic to sing along. 1, 2, 3. Back side together. 1 2 3. I imagine the workers standing in a line moving their hips to the beat, stepping in time to the music while they blow their trumpets. Their lips form huge smiles as they enjoy the music. They are feelin’ the beat. Blue pants, red striped shirts, and of course their navy blue hats. 1, 2, 3. Back Side Together. Come on ladies, let’s join together. Don’t be afraid to move. Don’t be afraid to dance!

My inner dance party is brought to an abrupt halt due to the interruption of Chris Isaac crooning an 80s love song. There’s no dance party here. No trumpets. No 1 2 3. No standing on the tables. Just cheeseburgers and fries. The young woman with the child has let her burka fall to her shoulders again as she finishes her last bite.

Next is Sting, “Every move you make, every breath you take…” at least it’s not Puffy’s version for the B.I.G. This is why people here think of McDonald’s as a romantic place. “Baby, baby…please… do do do.”

The romantic mood is gone as we enter into some Indian club mix. Whoever put together this rotation of music must have been a schizophrenic. I imagine we are in a Bollywood movie and I’m leading everyone is some bhangra hip hop line dance. A man in gray shalwar kameez and with a big belly walks in. Drum roll… he joins in my mental Bollywood number. Bust a move, ji, but first put on those cool black shades.

Reality: A little girl on skate shoes rolls by in a flowered skirt and bright pink tank top. I see one thin middle aged woman, a rare sight among the affluent, most of who are proud to be MOTI (fat). They are the only ones who can afford coming to hip places like McDonald’s. A man in dark denim jeans, a white button down shirt, and a tightly fitted navy blue turban strides in as he walks to the beat.

More Shaqira in the speakers and we are back to my mental Latin dance party. How bout the limbo this time? Ladies kick off those heels. I don’t know how you can walk in them anyway, especially if you have to dodge heaps of trash and open sewers in the streets. Wait, I forgot, this crowd doesn’t walk more than a few feet from their SUVs to their destination. I tap my foot against the table and think again of Cuba. Why do they have to be communist? As an American citizen I can’t even go there and search for my Latin dance party.

A big silver SUV picks up 4 stylish ladies in their bright shalwar kameez. Bounce with me, ji, bounce with me. The driver is a slender bearded man in tan shalwar kameez. I imagine him in a rap video carting the ladies around, zim zimma who’s got the keys to my bimma? Oh my….

Entering the stage, couple on a date #2. She wears big black chunky hells with her turquoise floral shalwar. Her wavy black hair is down, showing that she comes from a more liberal background, and her straight silver drop earrings make her look classy. A diamond sparkles on her left hand while she inspects her long manicured nails. Another small stone sparkles in her nose, yes this is the kind of nose ring that looks quite good for a small nose. She plays with her hair and straightens her shirt. She taps her feet to the beat of the now disco music and waits for her attractive young husband to come back with the tray of food. They sit close and lean in towards each other as they eat their fries. He bobs his head to the beat box rythym.

It seems Eminem is the cue for the sweeper, cause he’s out and moppin’ to da beat in the same exact place again. His shiny shoes slide over the floor as he mops. Back and forth. Swish. Swish.

A barefooted little girl in a jean skirt and purple t-shirt places her pink sandals on the table next to her happy meal. Her dad grabs the shoes and straps them back on her dangling feet as she sits at the table. She and her older brother enjoy their happy meals. “Happiness in a box” the cartons claim. Hmm…would that really comprise of burgers, fries, and a small toy? False advertising I think. The little girl turns around and stares at me with her inquisitive brown eyes. She innocently sits with her legs wide open and her diaper showing along with her chubby tanned thighs. She should enjoy this now, for little does she know what will befall her as a Pakistani woman. Her short hair is cut in a cute bob and part of it is tied up in a sprout with a red hair tie. Her thin bangs cover her wide forehead and she jumps down from the table and starts spinning without abandon. She sticks her tongue out in concentration as she spins and spins.

Two o’ clock. My friend has arrived. Time for me to become part of the hip McDonald’s crowd and not merely an observer. Yes I’ll take a number six please, with a coke, and no please don’t supersize it. Shukriya ji, and may I ask, who is responsible for choosing your music?