Monday, February 27, 2006

“Reign of Terror” Takes the Skies as Annual Kite Flying Festival Kicks Off

Proposition #144, the shoot to kill order issued by the government, has served to dampen the popularity of Lahore’s latest daytime hobby: violent rioting. On the other hand, Lahoris have now diverted their attention to Basant kite flying, which has claimed two victims before its official start. The casualties, ages 18 and 3 (yes THREE that’s not a typo), were both driving motorbikes when they unknowingly drove straight into the deadly kite strings that serve as Lahore’s version of the guillotine. All the more reason to avoid riding on those motorbikes…

(*The title is based on the French Revolution when decapitation by guillotine was quite popular. They should have just used Basant kite strings. Then they could have done it sniper style. You’re riding on your horse and you think, “Oh look there’s a nice yellow kite flying in the sky.” Little do you know that kite has orders to take off your head! Watch out.)

President George W coming this week...

and we've got Bird Flu in NWFP!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Life Lessons from Leviticus

Warning: Not to be read by children or those who are easily grossed out

"If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife." Leviticus 22:17

"Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion." Leviticus 18:23

Check out this BBC front page news - apparently the violated party was considered to be a virgin for legal purposes

This man didn't read Leviticus

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Possible World of Pakistan

Here’s a few random thoughts and observations from the last week:

One day when I was dropped off at the house there was a donkey cart outside delivering firewood.

In Karachi people were able to protest the Danish cartoons without destroying their own property or killing anyone. Al humdullah! Inshallah the Lahoris can follow their example on Friday’s upcoming strike.

Public libraries seem to be virtually non-existent as the books would most likely be stolen. I borrowed a few books from a friend who is a teacher at Lahore College. She warned me not to ever take the books out of the house because they have a habit of ending up in other people's bags.

Somehow you can watch a Britney Spears movie with Arabic subtitles on one of the stations here. When did she star in her own movie? And perhaps the more pressing question, why and who paid for it? This being aired to the tune of the call to prayer seems like something worthy of protest.

From the one case study I have observed, households with 22 children tend to lack discipline. If their parents don’t pay you for two weeks of tuition, just send the kids home for one day. They’ll put up the dough within 24 hours.

For students taking Ling510 (Semantics) this semester: I’m living in an alternate possible world where the following sentence is true:

Six people can easily fit on one motorbike.

The husband drives with one child sitting on his lap. Whichever child is a toddler sits on his or her brother and holds the handle bars. That’s three. An older child sits behind the father with her legs dangling off to the right, while the mother sits on the very back with her legs dangling off to the left. You see it’s not appropriate for ladies to sit on bikes properly as they are prone to “lose their virginity” by doing such things. No horseback riding, no bike riding. Preserve the family honor. The mother’s feet are about an inch above the ground in her side saddle stance, but somehow she still pulls off wearing open toed high heeled shoes. The shoes must be sparkly. To fit the sixth person on, the other or the oldest daughter hold a baby. Perhaps they can fit seven as each one could potentially hold a baby. A rule has been made that motorcycle helmets must be worn, so any law abiding motorcycle driver will wear a helmet. Yes, you got that, ONLY the driver wears a helmet. I’m not sure if I know of any company that makes infant motorcycle helmets anyway.

I was offered a ride on a bike the other day but I graciously declined the offering seeing as traffic lanes are not kept and there’s buses, cars, donkey carts, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, rickshaws, and possibly stray cows all traveling along the same roads. Oh and sometimes horse and buggy as well. Add to it that it’s the opposite side of the road for me and I almost can’t handle it. I certainly couldn’t handle it riding side saddle on a motorcycle.

This sentence also seems to be true:

I am a famous supermodel.

Random people come up and ask to take pictures with me. Students write me fan mail (or love emails) and everyone is always asking for my number. My hairstyle is exciting no matter if I straighten it, braid it, let it go curly, or tie it in a knot. I took the precaution to dye it darker before coming here, but to no avail. People stop and stare at me wherever I go. In the streets. On the bus. Even when I'm in the car. Stopping at traffic lights in a nightmare. This is what it feels like to be followed by the paparazzi! I never want to be famous. It takes too much time and energy to try to divert attention from yourself. I just want to say, seriously, stop staring. I'm not a display in a museum and I don't consider the streets of Lahore as a catwalk where everyone can check me out. Where can I buy a burka?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Op-Ed on the Continuing Riots

A friend of mine wrote me prior to the riots saying, “I’m worried about you. People are killing each other over cartoons in that part of the world!” She and I had met living in Morocco a few years ago, so she’s not one to be alarmed by CNN and Fox News reports alone. I was quite impressed with the Pakistanis that they had not been jumping on the protest the West bandwagon, but while watching the footage of the riots on 15 Feb that respect was lost.

I know they’re probably not reading, but I have two groups of people I want to address concerning the current situation: those who support the infamous cartoon and those who have incited and participated in the riots here in Pakistan. This blog is taking the place of sitting down to letters that I never end up sending, but at least after writing them I feel like my voice has been heard even if it’s only by the paper I’ve written them on.

Dear Mr. Danish Cartoonist & Co.,
Let’s get this out of the way first, I’m an American and I’ve grown up enjoying my freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. We have freedom to say and to publish whatever we choose, but I believe that we are still to be held accountable for what we say, write, or do. It’s words that will convict someone of conspiracy. It’s words that are used to order the hitman to kill the unfaithful wife. Responsibility can be found in words alone, provided it can be proved that those dialogues took place. Words have power and we all are called to be accountable to that power that is vested in us. In the same way, images hold power, especially to the illiterate, and we should be accountable to that power in the same way we are accountable for what comes out of our mouths.

Is it possible that you didn’t think of the effect publishing this cartoon would have? Did you not know that people would die for the sake of this “freedom of expression?” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m torn over a certain Indian author’s fictions novels which caused similar violent outbursts in the subcontinent. But judging from this incident and others, I would be upset to think that you drew and published this cartoon knowing the calculated costs of doing so. Did you think that students in the streets of Lahore would lay dead? Did you think about how people like me, who are living here investing in education and human development, wouldn’t be able to move or travel freely for the sake of your little joke? Did you look at the situation of world politics and decide that you should be the one to throw a match on the power keg of anti-western sentiment?

I’m not saying that you are the direct cause of the violence and deaths here in Lahore, but if you know anything about the worldview here, past events, and the current situation, it’s as if you looked at an arrangement of dominoes and decided to take the liberty of being the person to push the first one over. You know in pushing that first domino that all the others will fall. Is your freedom of the press worth the lives of other people halfway across the world? I would say that it’s not; and I would say that you should be accountable for the images that you give to the world. You know when you push the first domino what will happen to the others. There’s a bigger picture here.

And now to the people who took part in the riots:
My question for you is this: Is it possible to be offended by something and to let the cycle of hatred stop there? Violence begets violence. Why not stop the chain of dominoes from falling over? Why not prove everyone wrong and refuse to react in such a way, only proving right those who criticize you.

I think people agree that it’s not right to disrespect anyone; it’s not right to hurt people. But the problem is that people don’t always do the right thing. How should we react when that happens? Does it make the situation any better when you burn Pakistani businesses, wreck your own cars, and shoot your own people dead? Do you think people in Denmark are affected at all by your shouts in the streets? No. They’re sitting at home in their houses watching it on CNN, unaffected. What does it do if you go on strike and close down your shops? Well to start with you lose economic profit for your shop and your country, making you weaker. If you burn down the Daewoo station and wreck all their buses do you think Korean investors will want to put more money into your intercity bus systems? No, and you’ll lose the most convenient and reliable system of public transportation you have in this city. One of my Pakistani students was saying that people shouldn’t even both boycotting Danish or European products, on the other hand, they should be thanking international companies and investors for coming to Pakistan in the first place and sticking it out despite everything that’s going on.

Think about this: What would be an appropriate way to show your discontent without damaging property and losing more lives? Nobody’s denying you your right to be offended, but I’m sure there is a better and more effective way to voice discontent.

To anyone who has taken the time to listen to my venting:
Honestly, it is tough to not to be able to go into certain parts of the city and to have to be constantly getting updates to see if I should venture into town to teach class. This morning Anita was concerned about me wearing jeans and a kurti (short kameez) into work and warned me to ask the security guard to go and buy my shampoo so I wouldn't have to go out to the store. For one who values being independent, this is not fun! I'm in a safe part of town now, and I'm surrounded by people who care about me and are looking out for me, so you need not worry. Just keep reading my ramblings...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Precaution Taken for 2nd Day

We cancelled our evening classes in the city last night (14 Feb) after we heard reports that the riots had escalated and two people had died due to police firing. It was strange going home and watching all the violence on TV. We saw the Punjab Assembly burning and mobs of angry rioters in the streets holding signs that said “Curse the Danish.”Cars Over 500 cars were vandalized and many properties destroyed. If I hadn’t watched the news I’d never have known, things in Defence and Cantt were going on as normal. The shops below our office had opened back up by evening. Apparently some bigger companies had come around in the morning threatening them to stay closed for the strike. In a city of 8 million people, it’s really like I’m living in a different world than those in the city centre. Literally, the army has been having a boxing championship right in front of the house I’m staying in, so there’s no question about the order being maintained in our area.

It seems the people in the city were shot by security guards. Here all the security guards have guns and every business has a security guard. Duiii and I were quite amused walking into shoe stores and having to walk buy an ex-army man with strings of bullets across his chest and his gun ready at any moment. Think what it would be like if you walked into payless and there was an armed guard. That’s what it’s like. Our office has a guard too. His name is Altaf and he has a really sweet smile, but he’s also armed and I’ve been told there are real bullets in his gun. He’s sitting about three feet away from me right now, ready to greet the students as they come up the stairs.

You can read the local news about the protests here:
Arson, violence on day of mob rule in Lahore: Two rioters dead; slow police response alleged -DAWN - Top Stories; February 15, 2006

Classes Cancelled due to Protests

I was packing my bag to head off to Lahore College when I got a phone call letting me know that classes had been cancelled. Today was supposed to be my first day teaching for the M.A. TESOL program, and I have to admit I was a bit nervous about getting there, getting copies of my syllabus made, and finding the right class on time. Not to mention that it would be my first time teaching ESL teachers as opposed to students. Well, it looks like my nervous excitement about my first day at the university will be staying with me ‘til tomorrow, because today the country is on strike against the Danish cartoonist. Reuters Update 14 Feb Near the university people are stoning any cars on the roads, as the cars might be going to or from work and the whole country is expected to be unified in the strike.

When we drove in to the Cultural Centre office this morning, the driver noted that all the shops were closed. I didn’t even know that a strike was planned for today, but basically everything in this area is closed except our office. We aren’t located near the city center, but the university is in a more central part of town. As I was told, there’s a lot of “garbar” (confusion, chaos) going on there. For this part of town, the worst thing happening is that people are giving us funny looks and there aren’t any restaurants open to order our lunch from. The good thing is that it's the AUSTRALIAN Cultural Centre, not the Danish one. As far as I know, there's no Danish presence in this country, but unfortunately the agression needs to be taken out somehow.

A nationwide strike, including all forms of transportation, is planned for 3rd March, and George W. will be paying us a two-day state visit that same week.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Watch might be decapitated by a kite!

Today the Supreme Court here decided that it would still be legal to celebrate Basant. Basant is an annual kite-flying festival held at the coming of spring here in Lahore. It doesn't only involve flying kites, but battling them. Everyone who is anyone has a top class kite to fight it out during the festival which starts Feb 15th this year. The problem is, people have gotten a bit too serious and kite battles have turned deadly; not only for the kites but for innocent passerby as well! For months leading up to Basant, people make kite string out of shards of glass. These thin strings are like mini invisible guillotines, flying everywhere in the air. Picture this, you're riding on your motorcyle to work and suddenly, you drive through a kite string and your head is cut off! just like that. I was told 7 or 8 people have been decapitated in such a way in the last four or five years. Last year the celebration was banned despite protests outside the supreme court. I think it pretty much went on anway, but the marketers took a big hit since it's one of the biggest celebrations of the year. This year it will go on as planned, and I'm definitely planning to avoid open fields and rooftops for fear of losing my head...literally! Crazy sports these Lahoris have here.

Find out more about Basant here:

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sipping Chai

Green tea, Lipton, licorice tea, we drink it all day long here. It reminds me of when I spent the holiday season in England. It’s great. I start my day with chai and breakfast, then I get to the office and we have more chai. Mmm if we’re not having chai we’re having delicious fresh squeezed juice. My favorite is the same as in Morocco, “kele ka juice” a.k.a. banana juice. Well I guess au Maroc I had two favs, banana and avocado, but you can’t get avocados here so I’m happy with my kele ka juice. They also make a lot of vegetable juices here, and those are growing on me cause I know they’re healthy!

Anyway, we have lunch followed by more chai, and then a few hours later another juice or another chai. There’s even a 30 minute tea break scheduled into my class with the Turkish guys. They like drinking tea, but not the Pakistani way. They take it black, whereas the Pakistanis take it with hot milk and sugar.

Time for my post dinner chai and biscuits….

Monday, February 06, 2006

Foothills of the Himalayas

If you know me you know that I love enjoying God’s creation, whether that be kayaking on a lake in the morning mist or trekking through small villages amidst snow covered peaks. Before Duiii left we took a few days to head out of the city and into the hills: the foothills of the Himalayas. Because it’s winter and many places further north are inaccessible due to the snow and road damage caused by the earthquake, we just headed to Pindi (next to Islamabad) and then took a taxi up to Murree. Murree is a resort town created by the British to escape the summer heat of the cities.

Murree was nice and somewhat scenic, but crowded with tourists. Not western tourists, but Pakistanis from the city who wanted to catch a glimpse of the baraf (snow) that comes at 2000m elevation. Since we were the only white people there, it was quite frustrating to walk around constantly stalked by the staring eyes of the “hip” boys from the city. We enjoyed walking around Murree, but the Himalayan peaks we could see from the roadside were beckoning. Everything inside of me just wanted to be OUT of Murree and instead to be surrounded on all sides by rivers, snow, villages, and away from the tourist kitsch of a touristy resort town exploiting nature. The litter, the badly kept lame horses on offer for rides and photos, and the constant staring were really getting to me. I was praying for a Philip style supernatural transportation to another place where there would be unspoilt nature and a place where I didn’t have to constantly be on the move in order to avoid taxiwalas, coffeewalas (wala means seller or do-er), any every other kind of wala.

We just ended up going back to the hotel on our second day there, and Duiii went out later to grab some food for dinner. He said it was just so much more enjoyable to walk around by himself because a foreign guy attracts much less attention than a foreign guy with a foreign girl. The next morning we left for the nearby town of Bhurban in the hope that it would be less touristy and crowded than Murree. As we walked away from the tourist section of town I started to feel the shalom coming over me. In order to get to the general bus stand we had to walk through the residential part of Murree, which was much nicer and more calm than the resort section. We stopped to ask directions and a nice old man showed me the way to find the buses and taxis that the locals used. All the way we were passing taxiwalas trying to make us deals and make us go to cities we didn’t even plan to go to. On the way to the bus stand we passed by some stands selling spicy samosas and other fried Pakistani goodies. I stopped to buy some fried aloo (potatoes) and 2 samosas (spicy fried snack filled with potatoes). 13 rupees for all that, and it’s 60 rupees to a US dollar. Do the math, that’s a cheap snack!

The bus station was bustling with people, and contained all the craziness and chaos I had expected. This kind of traveling is the exciting kind. J We jumped into a tiny Suzuki pickup with covered sides and benches in the back to wait for the vehicle to fill up and head to our first stop, Sunny Bank. 5 rupees each for a 15 minute ride. Since I’m a woman I got to sit all the way on the inside. Any other women who wanted to jump in also sat all the way on the inside, and a son, husband, or small child would serve as the buffer between the women and the men. The men from the village were so much more respectful than the tourists from the city. It was amazing! The men would squish together just so none of them had to sit across from me. They avoided looking at me or making eye contact at all costs. It was funny though because they would try to talk to Duiii and end up talking to me anyway since he doesn’t understand much Urdu. Honestly though, I felt safer and more comfortable crammed into the back of that Suzuki driving along windy mountain roads than I had walking around in downtown Murree. They fit so many people in the Suzikis that the young men were just hanging off the back as we climbed in elevation. I was thinking, “I wish I wasn’t a girl so I could hang off the back and get a better view!”

We caught a second Suzuki from Sunny Bank to Bhurban and were dropped off at a random spot on the side of the road. We knew we’d made a good decision to get out of Murree because we were able to sit down and drink some tea with a nice view of the mountains….and there weren’t throngs of people around! It was so peaceful and calm. Al-humdullah! We were wondering why we hadn’t just bypassed Murree in the first place.

We followed some signs up the road which pointed towards the PC Bhurban (Pearl Continental, fancy chain of hotels) and the youth hostel. Trudging through red Himalayan clay, we took a detour to admire the scenery and the mountain villages dotting the mountains around us. When we finally reached the youth hostel, we realized that it was closed and even if it was open only members of the Pakistani Youth Hostel Association are allowed to stay there. To get into the gate of the PC Bhurban cost 200 rupees a head, and it was over 7,000 rupees a night to stay there so that was out of the question. I think we were down to 1,400 rupees total and there aren’t any ATMs til Pindi. Most hotels here were closed for the winter, but one man from the village started trying to help us find a room. I was having trouble understanding most people since they weren’t speaking Urdu. We were shown one fancy hotel that we couldn’t afford even after bargaining and finally found a simple hotel underneath a restaurant. I think were the only tourists in Bhurban not staying at the PC hotel.

We wandered around the famous Bhurban golf course (nobody was golfing) and then starting walking towards the next village. This cute little old man who works as a guide for the PC hotel started walking with us and giving us a tour. I was afraid he’d make us pay for his services, but he insisted that he was just walking home. He kept wanting to take pictures of us (I think he just liked the digital camera) and we let him cause he was so old we knew we could outrun him if he tried to make away with the camera. His Urdu was very clear and I could understand everything he was telling us, so it was quite a nice walk although he kept making us stop for pictures in not-so-scenic locations. Finally I took the camera and took a picture of him with Duiii, and we tried to convince him that we didn’t need a thousand pictures of us with trees in the background.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

First time I've had Himalayan clay under my boots - Bhurban

Badshahi Masjid

Anita and I chatting at Badshahi Mosque - like my shalwar-kameez?
More photos from Lahore - 4 new albums

Maf karo

It’s what you are supposed to say to beggars when they crowd around you asking for money. Many have visible deformities. Missing limbs. Stump arms and legs. Hare lips. Maf karo. They crowd around the car putting their fingers to their lips. Asking for food. Telling you they have four children at home and not enough money to eat. Maf karo. Women cradling their children who stare at you through dark sullen eyes. Young boys and girls with tattered filthy clothes. Maf karo – go away and leave me alone.

Outside Iqbal’s tomb the other day three young girls crowded around us asking for money. They sit outside the tomb all day long, hoping that those who come to make pilgrimage or visit the great Badshahi mosque will feel convicted and give them some zakat (alms for the poor). Directly next to the mosque, which can fit bout 10,000 worshippers, is Lahore’s red light district. These teenage girls were more than likely to be some of the ‘dancing girls’ which this quarter is famous for. Prostitution is illegal in Pakistan, but dancing is classified under the performing arts, so if the prostitutes go by this other profession it’s perfectly legal. What happens after the dancing is not to be talked about, but everybody knows. We tell them “Maf karo,” and when they start pressing up against us it’s “Mai police ko bulaunga.” I’ll call the police.

Begging is a huge part of the economy here in Pakistan. There aren’t enough police to round them up, and even if they do the beggars are let out in a few days and go back to their profession. For many of them it is like a career. Anita told me a story about her cousin encountering a beggar. Her cousin was coming home from work when he saw a beggar on a street corner. They tend to position themselves at all busy intersections in order to take advantage of the traffic. Her cousin reached into his pocket to give him all the change he had, and accidentally gave him a loose diamond he had just bought. When the cousin returned home at night he realized that the diamond was missing and that he must have given it to the beggar on the street. In the hopes that the man would give it back, he set out the next day to the same street corner to find him. When he arrived there was another man begging, and so the cousin asked where the man from the previous day had gone. He was informed that it was “his day off” and he was at home. Beggars are highly organized here. They rotate who goes where and even take a proper Sabbath. They all work together as if they were a union.

So the cousin gets directions and goes to where the beggar lives. It’s a house with a car, servants and everything. He starts to wonder if this could really be the house, and feels ridiculous coming to ask about the diamond. How could a man begging on the streets have so much wealth? The cousin goes inside and sees the man, same face, dressed in proper clothes and sitting on a couch. The beggar beckons the cousin to come in and asks how he can help. The cousin tells him that he accidentally gave him something the day before which he needs and the beggar asks his servant to bring him what he had collected the day prior. The servant brings a little bag tied up with all the earnings from the previous day, and sure enough the diamond was inside. Her cousin took the diamond, thanked the man, and went on his way.

Anita assured me that not all beggars live such a life as this one, but that this was a huge shock for her family to find out. It really is a big part of the economy over here, and not be encouraged. There truly are many beggars who need to ask for money in order to eat and who sleep on the streets, but there are SO many it’s overwhelming. Maf karo. What are we to do when we look into their eyes? Giving change or money doesn’t seem to be the answer, as even the young children are likely to use it to satisfy their drug habits. But there is a greater hope found in holistic ministry, if only there were laborers for this harvest. Maf karo.