Monday, April 27, 2015

To honor Sabeen, I’m going to stop being a “Jackass Pakistani”

The outpouring of grief over Sabeen Mahmud’s murder in Pakistan, has been overwhelming and humbling. Many have shared stories of Sabeen’s impacted on their lives. I only briefly encountered Sabeen at T2F, but she was, and will continue to be, a permanent part of Karachi. And making that kind of an impact in a city filled with apathy, hopelessness and everyday Pakistani nonsense is a big deal. Sabeen’s death has meant many things for many people, but for me, it’s shaken me out of my apathy. It’s time to think about what’s next.

Like many others, my first reaction was hate for Pakistan – the country that’s killed Sabeen, Parveen Rehman, and countless other activists and fighters – “All the better, Pakistan doesn't deserve people like this.” For me personally, it wasn't Salman Taseer or Malala’s story that threw me over to the dark side. It was long before that, following the 2010 gruesome public lynching of two teenage students, alleged robbers, Mughees and Muneeb, by a mob in Sialkot, Pakistan. I gave up on Pakistan.

I adopted the familiar role of reading and pontificating from a distance – “All Pakistanis do is go to dharnas ”, “These activists think putting up a play is going to change the country… Idiots"  –  what I hereby refer to as the “Jackass Pakistani.”

If there’s anything Sabeen’s death can do, it’s to force us to cut the bullshit. The pessimism, the morbid perspective, and the hopelessness is abundant in Pakistan. We – the collective Jackass Pakistanis – are not saying anything regular Pakistanis don’t already know, and we’re obviously not providing any solutions to the problem. We know that one protest, one talk, one play, and several dead bodies are not going to fix a 65-year old problem. But there are believers out there who choose hope, and are willing to keep trying.

What have you done to change the world today?

So in honor of Sabeen, I've decided to stop being the Jackass Pakistani. No, I’m probably NOT going to participate in Imran Khan’s 400th dharna, I’m probably still going to get pissed off at hate-inciting mullahs starting their own clothes lines, and I’m still going to state for the record that Karachi is WAY cooler than Lahore (#factoflife). But I’m also going to learn more, become more informed on my own, and stop being the person who thinks, “Yea, well fortunately only 10 people died in the blast instead of 100.”

Here are some things I've done/am doing that might be helpful to you if you want to stop being the Jackass Pakistani:
  • Understand what’s going on – Don’t just read FB posts (like I was doing), don’t make your friends’ opinions yours… read real content, opinions from the horse’s mouth and make up your own mind. Learn more about Balochistan, understand the missing people issues, and find out the real story behind China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement. I've started by retweeting/reposting articles that I found to be unbiased. I’m also following some cool pages on Facebook (FB) that post information to help form your own opinion. I’m not sure if they’re the best or most unbiased, but it’s a start, and if I don’t like it, it’s easy to unfollow and look for more. If others have other thoughts, please share: (It’s not a long listed, I’m still learning and don’t want to be overwhelmed)
  • Do your part in dispelling the myths about Sabeen’s murder – There’s a campaign to blame everything from terrorists, to random thugs on the streets, to personal vendetta. Let’s be realistic and connect the dots. Sabeen was murdered after she held a talk on Baluchistan, on an issue that the Pakistan army doesn't want to address. Her murder follows a trend of assassinations targeting voices of dissent. Question what you’re being fed, and spread the truth. Retweet, post on FB, write an editorial in your school newspaper, or blog about what you've learned about these trends.
  • Talk about things – I’m not saying organize a mass protest, but invite 3-4 friends over for chai and talk about what’s happening in Pakistan. And yes, if it is a conversation about the new lawn exhibition, that’s fine, as long as you also acknowledge how alleged mullahs are spreading hate-speech, and your buying lawn from them is really condoning that, so stop being a dumbo and get your lawn from Gulf. See if there are some students’ associations or peace groups nearby that you can participate in. They don’t need to be South Asian – who knows what you might learn from other movements.
  • Stop acting like Pakistan is the worst place in the world – Ferguson.
  • Stop putting down the idealists– You think this is all just another idealist set for failure and “Pakistan ka toh koi future hi nai hai”… Fine. Keep it to yourself. It’s not easy being hopeful about Pakistan, so give us a break. Just roll your eyes and move on.  

This is where I'm choosing to be an Optimistic Pakistani. I will likely get it wrong many times and I’ll get pulled into the Jackassness again, but I've decided to make a conscious effort to try. And I’ll need support, so let’s be there for each other.

To you, Sabeen. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marriage and Onions

You may think this is one of those pieces about how marriage is like an onion with many layers and things to learn about each other and blah blah blah.

It’s not.

Ever since I got married, onions have suddenly become a permanent fixture in my life. You’d think it’s an onion, right? Why does it matter? Well because to me onions define many things – mostly related to the oppression of women. (I have that quintessential image of the poor woman cutting onions in the kitchen and shedding tears from the eye burn, with the double meaning or tears for her sorrows at being oppressed and having to cut onions... it's a circle). My relationship with onions was mostly of hate. I hate cutting them, I hate how they BURN like a mother... and make me tear up, I hate that it’s literally the requirement for ANY kind of food, whether it’s South Asian, Mexican, Italian – anything. I hate that it freakin’ tastes good and provides that crunch that makes kabab rolls to die for.

But within that hate is obviously the love – for the taste… and for food. So I decided to come to terms with it. I tried to work with a chopper, but that just made things messier. I washed the onion, but that lethal burn gets through no matter what. So I just came to terms with the fact that if I want to eat good food, I will just have to deal with the onions and the tears.

My life would have continued with this acceptance of the enemy, until I read about what onions have done for us in the past. Apparently if you keep cut up onions in a room, they will literally absorb bacteria and viruses, even the flu. I never tried it, but I did notice that if you leave an onion out, it rots ridiculously fast. Within a few hours it starts to smell “chemical-y”. This must be proof that they absorb more from the environment that regular veggies. I realized that onions deserved my respect. That ironically, the onion too has layers of depth. Under that smelly, tear-jerking, slippery and annoying exterior, lies this creature whose main purpose in life is to provide health… while being tasty. They're like these little saviors, demanding nothing in return (except tears!) I realized I had done onions wrong.

Then I wrote this blog and I googled the whole onion, flu connection and realized it was a hoax.

Damn you onions! You have defeated me again. I hate you, you vicious enemy!

Courtesy: Bitstrips

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Kyrgyz Chronicles - Obama in Kyrgyzstan!

In case President Obama doesn't know it, he's a rock star in Bishkek. They have an entire cafe dedicated to him. No idea what's going to happen if he doesn't get elected this year!

They love him so much, they made a life-size cut-out. You ever want to shake hands with the President, come down to Bishkek!

Need a reservation? Just call and they'll have Obama waiting at the table for you!

The restaurant comes complete with a wall montage frame.

And let's not miss out on the All American, club sandwich with a ton of fries. Portion sizes may not be as big as Texas, but then people aren't either!

Topped with a perfect little cosmo!

So come down to Bishkek. You're not a true American until you've been to Obama in Bishkek!

Caveat: If you're trying to organize a business lunch meeting with the ambassador from EU, Obama cafe probably WOULD NOT qualify as a neutral zone.

*This post is dedicated to cheesiness, because really what would you do without some of it in life!:-D

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Kyrgyz Chronicles - Meeting Cotton Eye Joe in Kyrgyzstan!

The Opera House in Bishkek
You know the Cotton Eye Joe song, come on now! I never thought that I would hear that kind of music in concert... Anywhere! But lo and behold, thanks to the US Airbase in Kyrgyzstan, we were exposed to the inner workings of a Kentucky-based band called the Red State Ramblers, all the way here in Bishkek!

Fortunately though, the show stoppers were students from the Aga Khan Music Initiative's "Ustatshakirt" - meaning teacher-student - exactly as it sounds! I suggest you hit play and hear the music for yourself, instead of me trying to explain it.

As for the Ramblers... well the name does say it all now doesn't it?

Ustatshakirt was where it was at though. They were true entertainers! I have no idea what this instrument was, but it's something tiny with a string attached. But transforming the robotic sounds into beautiful melody -- that's all by the players!

So, not surprisingly, the ramblings of the red state were quite tiresome, but the refreshing sounds of Ustatshakirt playing local Kyrgyz music just blew the audience away. The Ramblers did resurrect themselves a little by managing a decent collaboration. I have to admit, I had NEVER imagined I would hear the Kyrgyz musical instrument, kunz, played along with the southern banjo/guitar thing. Collectively, it was quite memorable. And really goes to show that at the bottom of it all, there are always cultural connections. You just have to look a little deeper. Maybe we can all learn to go beyond our biases... (Afshan!)

So I suppose in the end, my second trip out of "hermitude" was also successful! It really is fun being a hermit in a place where you go watch concerts and operas when you're bored!:) Kudos to Bishkek for that!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Making of Bridezilla

Artistic rendition of myself... by me.
In case I forgot to mention, I'm getting married in June... 2012... like literally in less than 6 months.

I spent the entire month of December wedding shopping and the fancy jodas with the bombardment of sequins and zari or the sole job description of buying shoes, purses, and random little things for the entire month didn't throw me off. What did was the wedding card.

When I saw our names carved artistically in Times New Roman italicized font in matte gold paint on maroon ribbon... the "Afshan's Pithi" and "Nikkah" and "Reception, and "RSVP"... the "Insha Allah on June 23, 2012"...that's when it hit me.

Holy shit... I'm getting married.

So now every time I think about the wedding, which is really 15 times a minute, the thought process kinda goes like this:

Afshan, it's going to be ok, you can start breathing again... no really breathe... ok now you're turning blue so if you don't breathe, really that's kinda it...POOF... ok, good, breathing is back. It's ok... it's going to be ok... Mortgage... Sharing a Bathroom....Sharing a Room... Sharing SPACE... Real Life Decisions.... Having to KEEP a Job... Life for Two... Dinner for Two... Movies for two... having taxes done (SCORE!)... sharing dessert... holding hands... being able to order the large menu at a fast food restaurant and sharing the calories with less guilt... being taken care of... being loved... having companionship...... HIM.

:) I'm getting married.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Kyrgyz Chronicles - Carmeeeeennnnnnnn!

You may be wondering why there's been such a long break - or not, because you're probably not even aware about the existence of this blog. Either way, I blame it entirely on the winter. I thought Boston was cold... I didn't know that -18C was even possible. Brrr! So I have succumbed to become a hermit in Bishkek - at least until the sun shines again!

On the one occasion I did get out, it was to see the French opera, Carmen - performed in Russian. Naturally, I didn't understand any of it, except the one part where the lead sings, "CARMEEEEEENNNNNNN" with a whole lot of passion. That was about all the passion there was in the show actually. This is the second opera I've been to here (the first was The Magic Flute - which was fantastic). Unfortunately this one wasn't as good, primarily because the actress playing Carmen seemed so bored of life most of the time. But on the other hand, the opera house, although super cold, is gorgeous. And just for kicks, here's a clip from the end of the Second Act (it may have been the First??). We left after the Second of Four Acts. No really the opera was good... it was Carmen. She just was unforgiveable. But oh well, enjoy the clip and hopefully once the snow melts, I'll come out of my "hermitude".

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Kyrgyz Chronicles - Pakistani... American?

You know how people who move abroad usually struggle with some form of identity confusion if not crisis. For me, that never happened in the US. Of all places though, it's happened in Bishkek!

I am told I am the first "American" to have come into the organization as a volunteer. I have suddenly became an expert on America - naturally, that means dissing US politics (thanks to Sarah Palin and now Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman, that part is a piece o' cake!) My accent is fairly Americanish, my way of conduct is more informal and can be acceptable pretty much because, "Oh, she's from America, you know". And mostly when there's conversations about real development, I'm the quiet one - must be American!

I hadn't realized until recently how easy it is for me to take on that role here. In the US, if anyone DARES call me an American, I literally JUMP to say, "No, I'm actually Pakistani." It's almost a defense mechanism. Technically, I'm really not an American! But even if I were, I would always, I WILL always be a Pakistani first. But here in Bishkek, I think I will always be remembered as that American girl who came to volunteer.

Perhaps there's less of a need to defend myself as a Pakistani here, and more so as "an American". Maybe, in Bishkek, being an American is just more exciting that being a Pakistani because people are generally cool with Pakistan here. Perhaps it's the thrill of putting  up a fight and responding to a stir that makes you cling on to an identity - which is kind of a scary realization, if it's true. I would like to believe that I love being Pakistani, and saying I'm a Pakistani, because I love Pakistan.

Fortunately though, I redeemed myself a little bit. Today, I discovered a restaurant literally a block from my place that serves Chicken Karahi. (It will now be my new home). I still wholly do totally Pakistani things - like stare at people if they speak in Urdu - randomly smile at them if they look slightly desi; Live for the day when I can have a samosa; Follow Pakistani breaking news like with interest even though I know it's the same old sensational stuff; Try to livestream the Pakistan-Sri Lanka cricket match even though internet is so slow here, it's literally impossible to watch the ball travel all the way from the pitch to the boundary (you eventually find out if it's a choka from the text-based scoreboard changing).

But it still is this weird realization at the back of my head... which continues to irk me. Have I at some level accepted that a bit of America has entered my Pakistanni-ness? And if so, then is that so bad? Should I be more upset, or more accepting?