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!