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.