Isn't a pig one of god's creatures, too?
Friday, January 30, 2009
What's up with pigs? Pakistanis are really anti-pig. I mean, I get that Muslims don't eat pork. (And oh, how I miss it. My own personal jihad...) But Pakistanis really seem to vilify pigs even when they're not for dinner. M said he was raised to believe that you had to wash your mouth out after saying the word pig; that it would make you impure and you'd have to wash up again before your next prayer. In the Urdu kid's books we've brought from Pakistan for our son, the word for pig appears, but with a picture of a cow underneath it. They don't even want to show a picture of a pig!
Posted by The Gori Wife at 12:09 AM
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I was the passenger in a car driving down a major road in Karachi. It was my first day there. It had been a whirlwind day - we'd arrived at the Quaid-e-Azam International Airport at 4am. We'd been met by three two parents, two brothers, 2 uncles 3 aunts, and five cousins. We were all packed into three cars and went to M's familial home where these people would. not. leave. even though it was very clear we were exhausted. At some point, we tried to take a short nap but couldn't, we went through all the luggage to distribute various gifts (less that 25% of the luggage carried stuff for us.)
After that, we'd begun a dizzying tour of family member's houses. Nani - M's maternal grandmother - was first, then Baray Uncle - M's eldest paternal uncle. Next up was his eldest paternal uncle and then the next door neighbors. (These things have to go by age. It's a respect thing, the eldest being visited first. Also, M's family still very much expects preferential treatment of the males in the family. Another post for another time.)
It's night. I've been up for two days. We're driving home, and the streets or Karachi are dark and dusty. Never empty, though. We pull up to a crowded intersection, and as we're slowly making our way through, I'm sure my eyes are deceiving me. "What's that?" I ask. "A side-of-the-road fast food restaurant," says M. "No," I say, "I mean, what are those things strung up by a rope between those two poles?"
"Oh," says M, "those are dead chickens, waiting to be cooked."
Just hanging out there in the dust and pollution and dirt. Without refrigeration.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 11:24 PM
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Someone recently found my blog by searching in google for "why do Pakistanis eat on the floor?" While this in not the collaborative reader submitted question-and-answer session I had hoped for, I'll take it and run with it anyway!
Lots of Pakistani homes do have dining rooms and/or tables. In the small bit of Pakistan I've seen, it seems that the more prosperous a family is, or the more "western" they are, the more likely to have a dining table. In more rural areas, or in very poor neighborhoods, it's more likely that people will eat on the floor. Here are the theories I thought of for the 'why' portion of the question:
1. In many Pakistani homes, especially in low and middle class families, space is a deciding factor. Many families might not have the space to dedicate to a dining room table. Rooms can serve as living room, bedroom, and dining room - all at once. It would be unfeasible to dedicate so much space for just one purpose. A dastur-khwan, or floor cloth, can be laid on the floor at any time, and removed after a meal.
2. Some people eat on the floor because it's the sunnah - or example - of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He ate while sitting on the floor, and because Muslims believe he was the best example of how to live as a Muslim, they follow his example, sometimes even in these small ways.
3. Sometimes a family might like to have a dining table, but doesn't have the money for it.
4. Some families might just prefer eating on the floor. It's impromptu - anyone can just sit anywhere, no seating arrangements requires, and it requires very little set up or maintenance, and people can relax easily after a big meal.
In M's family it's a mix of the various situations described above. His family does not have a dining room, but they have converted the outdoor front veranda into a dining room of sorts. There are curtains against the gate to the outside to keep out dust and make it semi-private. There is a dining table and chairs, and many of the meals are eaten here as a family. Informal meals are eaten in an indoor sitting area (that also doubles as a bedroom at night), and everybody sits in a circle around the floorcloth with the food in the center. It's the equivalent of an American family ordering pizza and sitting on couches in the TV room to eat, rather than the usual dinner in the dining room.
There's also some amount of personal preference. Even in America, when attending desi dinner parties, many times they're served on the floor. This happened more often when M was a grad student and I was attending dinners at the homes of other grad students (less money, less space, often more recent immigrants) but it's happened since as well. I've also been to places in Pakistan that had gorgeous, ornate dining rooms with huge tables and dozens of chairs, and the host ate every single thing with a knife & fork, even a pizza, a doughnut and a banana. Seriously. Probably in an effort to distance himself from the floor-sitting, hand-eating customs. (I mean no disrespect, he was a wonderful host, and I think people can eat however they want!)
To sum: not every Pakistani does eat on the floor, and those that do so have a variety of reasons for the practice. I'll allow my commenters to fill the gaps in my explanation.
Well, I guess that doesn't help at all then, does it?
Posted by The Gori Wife at 9:54 PM
Sunday, January 25, 2009
In M's family, they don't really eat much of a breakfast. Normally, they eat some kind of leftovers from the night before - there's no real distinction between breakfast-y food and dishes that would be served at lunch or dinner. Sometimes they would eat a fried egg with paratha or tea, and recently they've been introduced to the greatness of cold cereal, but I mean more traditionally...
There is one last bastion of breakfastness there, though. The Havla Puri. Halva can mean any one of a variety of sweet dishes, made from carrots or chickpeas or, like the one I made yesterday, from farina (also known as cream of wheat or sooji.) Puri is a simple, thin, white, oily flatbread. Oily because the bread is DEEP FRIED. This bread & sweetdish is accompanied by lots of different traditional breakfast-y things, but I like to make Chole and potato bhaji.
AND! I'm going to share my mother-in-law's sacred recipes with you so that you, too can eat this very unhealthy breakfast - after spending hours preparing it - and then nap all day.
First, you can make your channa - or chickpea curry - first. My MIL doesn't have a recipe for this, but through trial and error I found this one online. It's a very complicated recipe that requires you to use three different pans. I usually skip the first step entirely because I don't see what the point of that step, so I only dirty two pots. I also cook it a little longer at the end because I prefer the tomatoes to be a little more broken down.
Next, you can work on your Potato Bhaji. Bhaji means any kind of cooked vegetable dish. This one only has potatoes, and a lot of weird spices that most non-desi cooks wouldn't have in their pantries. If you decide to stock up your pantry with Pakistani spices, you have to find a good Indian/Pakistani grocery store. It's usually impossible to find these spices in regular grocery stores, and when you do they cost an arm and a leg.
Cut 2 large potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/4 inch slices. Heat up 3 Tbs. oil in a large pot and add 1/2 tsp. Kalonji (Onion seed), 1 Tbs. sabut dhuniay (corriander seed), and 1Tbs. saunf (fennel seed) into the oil. Then add the sliced potato and enough water to halfway cover the potatoes. Before the potatoes are cooked though, add 1/4-1/2 tsp. of crushed red chili (the kind in the shakers at a pizza place,) 1/4 tsp. of turmeric powder and salt to taste and stir everything up. Cover and cook on low-medium heat until the potato is cooked through, but hopefully the pieces aren't breaking apart. (Mine always seem to, though.) At the end, you can add a little bit of tamarind for some sourness. Tamarind is hard to find, though.
You have to make the Puri next. The recipe is really easy - it's just a simple dough. You make little balls and roll them out as thin as you possibly can using only oil. You can't flour your surface to roll them out because the flour would brown when they're cooking, and puri is supposed to be pretty white. The trick is to oil your rolling pin and counter just a little bit. Also, it doesn't matter if they roll out pretty, or if they end up looking like the various American states instead of perfect circles. If they pull or tear or fold up on each other when you're trying to transfer into the frying pan - the hot oil will cure any of that. You fry them only for a very little bit, you don't even really want them to change color much. Then you stack them all up in a dish that's got some newspaper of paper towels at the bottom, and cover it to keep them hot. They end up sticking together and you have to peel one off the top. Mmm. I'm getting hungry all over again!Poori1. Add 1 part atta (whole wheat flour) to 3 parts maida (white flour) 2. Add salt to taste and 2 Tbs. oil 3. Mix into a hard dough, and knead for 2 minutes. Put about an inch of oil into a wok and heat on medium-high heat. 4. Separate into 1-1.5 inch balls and roll each out at thin as you can. Really, really, insanely thin. My husband and I usually roll/fry as a team so that one of us is rolling out the next one to be fried. Otherwise, you should roll out a few because frying them is very quick, and you don't want your oil to get too hot in between each one. 5. Fry each one for just a little bit - you don't even really want it to change color, although I prefer just the tiniest bit of golden color.
Lastly, you make your halva. It's last because it have to be served hot, and it can't sit around for long without congealing into a halva loaf instead.
1. Heat 1/2 stick of butter in a pan 2. A 2-3 1 inch pieces of Cinnamon stick, 8-12 cloves, 6-8 small cardamom seeds, and a handful of raisins(optional) to the oil and cook until the butter starts to brown. I like the butter to start to brown because otherwise the end product looks kind of pasty. It needs to have a little color to it! 3. As soon as the butter has browned and gotten infused with all those wonderful spices, add in 3/4 cup of farina (sooji) and about an equal amount of sugar. You can use less if you like your halva less sweet, and you can always add more sugar later if you want. 4. My MIL adds 1 Tbs. ground coconut, but I don't. 5. Cook the sooji and sugar while stirring continuously for a few minutes. 6. Add 1.5 cups of water. Stand back because the pan and sooji are very hot, and there will be a lot of steam! Try to stir constantly, and it's okay if it seems like some of the sooji/sugar has stuck to the bottom. It's really just the sugar reacting to the water, and it will be boiled/stirred away. 7. Keep cooking until it's the consistency you want and it's cooked through. You might have to taste it to see, and you can add more water if it's getting too thick. It's supposed to be a pretty thick gloppy porridge kind of thing. 8. When it's done, add rose water (kewra) to taste, stir, and serve hot! My MIL adds some food color, and in restaurants here it's sometimes bright orange, but I don't usually add any food coloring. It's up to you.
I'll take pictures the next time I cook something for you guys! Sorry the recipes aren't formatted properly. I just cut and pasted (and proofread!) the emails my in-laws had sent me. If only I'd married into a family of cookbook editors, but alas, you will all just have to make do.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 9:52 PM
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
In my ongoing effort to educate the world about how a white girl experiences Pakistani culture, I got to thinking about Paan the other day. Actually, it happened less because of my selflessness and more because I was going through my old pictures for the Award Winning* Staring At White Girls Series. Turns out I take a lot of pictures of paan. Who knew?
Paan is a Betel leaf with stuff wrapped in it. You chew on it. Hey, go to Wikipedia if you want more technical information. Different people like different stuff in it. Some people like some white stuff (chuna) that I think makes you high. Or maybe it's the red stuff (kaTha) that makes you high. (Edit: M says neither the red or white stuff is the one that makes you high. Zarda is what makes you high) Some people like tobacco in it, too. The less serious paan chewers might like meetha paan - sweet paan - that had candies and sweet things in it. M likes this kind.
Here, two guys are working in a paan shop to assemble and wrap up the paan M ordered. The thing I take pictures of most, though, seem to be the grosser aspects of paan. You see, with paan, comes peek.
Peek is when people spit out the excess accumulation of saliva that's the logical result of chewing ALL day on some big leaf with nuts and other stuff in it. People spit it all the time. Everywhere. It's the red stuff that makes the most impact, and there are red splat! marks all over Karachi. And I take pictures of them.
This is a sign I saw in a wedding reception hall that - an effort by the management to try to keep the hall looking nice by trying to ban paan chewing (and the spitting that seems to inevitably accompany it.)
But you might not believe me when I say that peek is everywhere. It really is. Red blotches and marks on every street, on every building. (Well, probably not in the really really nice areas, like Defense, where I've never even been)(Except once I went to a restaurant near Defense, and there was still peek in the streets, if not on the walls of buildings...)
This picture shows the height of disgustingness that peek leads to. This is in an indoor stairwell of an apartment building, and every floor had these areas where the residents would apparently go to spit out their peek. M is only pretending to make his own contribution.
*Well, one day I'm sure my investigative journalism will win an award.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 11:30 PM
Thursday, January 22, 2009
In today's final installment of the Gori Wife's 3-part series entitled "Staring At White Girls," (Part 1 and Part 2) I'd like to discuss the absolute WORST aspect of this phenomenon. We've already covered that we white girls get stared at while visiting the Indian subcontinent. We've also already covered that we white girls get stared at while in our OWN country. What could top this, you ask?
The Enemy Within!
I am guilty of it too! I stare at white girls!
Every time I see a half desi / half caucasian couple walking around, my head swivels too! I want to stop them and say "HI! Can We Go Talk Somewhere About Out Shared Experiences?!?!" My breath catches, my heart races. It's so exciting! I just want to know MORE! All those same prying questions I hate being asked rush to the forefront of my mind. How did they meet? What did his parents think? Has she travelled to India/Pakistan/Nepal? And don't even get me started if its a white GUY with a desi GIRL! OhMyGodIWantToKnowEverything!!!
In an attempt to rid myself of this horrible disease, this urge to pry into other people's lives, I will fess up to the most egregious of incidences. Karachi - 2004. After shopping in Zainab Market, driving home down Abdullah Haroon Road, for the first time, I saw a white girl in Pakistan. I was so amazed. I kept saying "There's a white girl! There's a white girl!" She had her two (maybe three?) kids with her, she was carrying a Louis Vuitton purse. She was with what looked like a sister-in-law and had her Aya (nanny) with her, and she was wearing jeans and a cropped leather jacket. She seemed perfectly comfortable. No wearing cheap shalwar kameez to try to get better prices. I was so excited that Ammi asked M "Whytegul Kya Hai?"
And then? I couldn't help myself? I took a picture!
Posted by The Gori Wife at 10:36 PM
As one commenter pointed out, Goris don't just get stared at in Pakistan (or India, or Nepal, or Sri Lanka, or...) While people the world over probably give into the temptation to stare and look at people, it can sometimes seem like a national pass-time in the land of desis. So I actually get stared at a lot even in America. Maybe especially in America.
M and I used to get really annoyed by this in the beginning. Desi eyes throughout the malls seemed to be glued to us. Heads swiveled in our direction. And often people could not be deterred. Unlike many Americans, who might quickly look away when they've been caught staring, it seems to me that there's not always that same concept in desi cultures. We would sometimes stare back expecting that would end it, but then be caught in a Who's Going To Look Away First contest.
My husband, M, especially used to get upset, and sometimes he would even cause a scene. At times it would be funny - he'd call out to the person "Kia Hal Hain, Bhai? Theek Hai? Ammi theek hai?" (How are you, brother? You okay? Is your mother okay?) I can't count the times people would start visibly racking their brains trying to figure out how they knew M. Sometimes when M was in a bad mood, his reactions weren't so funny and he'd get rude. "Apna Kam Rukho, Uncle" ('Mind your business, Uncle.' Literally, Do your own work.)
So, in response to all of that, this is the present I got on our 2nd wedding anniversary. He made them himself with iron-on transfers. I thought it was so perfect!
"Mian" is husband and Baygum means wife. Underneath it says -Since 2003-
The back of mine said "I Love My Mian And Ammi (my mother) Knows It!!!"
Posted by The Gori Wife at 12:29 AM
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
One bike, two bike.
"And if you look to your right, you'll see a freaky white girl."
This guy stopped eating his sandwich.
These guys were selling snacks at Jinnah's Tomb. I like the guy flipping his collar up for the picture I'm taking out of revenge.
This was taken at M's favorite restaurant. Can YOU correctly identify the number of people staring at me? Bonus points for the number of people who've turned around in their chairs to get a better look.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 1:19 AM
Monday, January 19, 2009
My son is 2. I'm still a novice, not just in my own parenting, but in my experience with parenting as desis see it or as it relates to desi communities. . (Or at least the teeny percentage of desis that make up M's family.) But perhaps you all can enlighten me as to whether this is an across-the-board kind of desi thing.
What IS it with desis? It seems like no one is actively parenting their young children these days. Not that a lot of Americans are either. But there seems to be at least a parenting movement in America, or a new interest in parenting theories and books. Desi kids seem to be running amok everywhere - weddings, embassies, even the mosque! And no parents - not their own, not their grandparents, not even other parents - seem to be stopping them. It doesn't seem like anyone thinks these kids NEED to be stopped. Sometimes I've seen young children even encouraged to be hellions. Kids who are told "badmashi kero!" Once, when a 3-year old was banging on a glass table, I heard his grandfather said to him "Yeah! Break it, break it! We'll get a new table!"
But then there's also this great imposition on desi mothers. They often shoulder all of the parenting responsibilities. I've heard some desi men boast about having never changed a diaper. In fact, one ten year old niece of M's was surprised to see M change a diaper one day and asked me "Uncle M changes diapers?" I didn't ask her, but it seemed like she'd never seen that happen before. And then there's the sleep thing. Most of the mothers of young children in M's family take their kids to sleep, and they pat them until they're sleeping. Sometimes for an hour or more. And she's just stuck in the room, a slave to the patting.
Now, my kid is great. (All thanks to God.) He is well behaved and calm and quiet and the easiest kid to handle that you'll ever meet. He doesn't throw tantrums, is easily distracted and easily made happy. He eats well and he's not picky, and he sleeps well and falls asleep all by himself - no patting. He plays well with other kids and shares well, and he also plays well by himself. He just has the easiest, calmest temperament of any kid I've ever seen. (Alhumdililah!) I know that maybe ALL of that is just God's blessing, but I know that I have also educated myself on parenting issues so that I could help my son to become a good person, too. I read books about infant sleep before he was even born. I read books about childhood nutrition and the importance of schedules and consistency and father involvement. M and I have a game plan about what we think is the best way to parent our child(ren) and we stick to that ad are almost always on the same page. We are doing the best we can, and our son - I think - is evidence of that.
I don't mean to say that parents of kids who are picky eaters or don't sleep well AREN'T good parents or aren't trying their best - many times that are. I think kids are born with all different kids of temperaments and struggle with different aspects of childhood. Some kids seem to struggle with everything, in fact. And as long as a parent is making informed decisions, I don't care WHAT they're doing. But I think parents should educate themselves and that decisions parents make really do make a difference in your children and in their lives and can have lasting impact - both good and bad.
The only theory I have is that M's family doesn't seem to think there really IS anything called parenting. M's family will talk about how easy/good/sweet/whatever my son is, and then chalk it up to him being born that way. Which: maybe. To an extent. And then there are kids who I am related to who are not that way. They still refuse to feed themselves at SIX, or still drink from a bottle at three, or still cry about having to take a bath at seven, or scream at the top of their lungs at parties - and no one says anything or even tries to calm the kid down. The parents complain about it, and then this kind of behavior is explained away, and they're not really interested in finding any solutions, as if no solutions really exist.
It's like they think you can't do any good or bad one way or the other. Parents of difficult children get all sympathy, no judgment, and not even any suggestions, and parents of really well behaved children get none of the glory. These things are somehow thought of as intrinsic to the kid, and it's not like anything you're doing is making any difference. So it seems like a lot of desi parents aren't even trying.
Example: a woman relative of M's who we're pretty close to and see often. She complains about her daughter a lot, about how she won't eat except if she's forced to and even then, only if she's sitting in front of the TV with her favorite program on. Or how she refuses to sleep unless the mother sleeps right there next to her, and if she wakes up and the mother's left, throws a middle of the night tantrum. And then M - stupidly, I think - offers his suggestions. And it's all "hmms" and "theek hai" and the conversation just breaks down. It's like they don't even WANT to know there are alternative options out there?
M very negatively thinks that most desi parents are like this - that they someone check out of parenting until their children are adolescents and then they suddenly pull in the reigns. That until you reach a certain age you're allowed mostly freedom, but at some point a parent will expect near-perfection and hawkishly control an adolescent's life. I don' t know anything about that - my kid's just 2. That's the extent of my exposure to desi parenting.
Well, this ended up soudning more judgmental than I meant it to. I don't mean to pass judgment on other parents. I think we all have our own struggles, and some kids are more challenging than others. Mostly I meant to ask you about this "kid's nature is intrinsic" thing - do you guys know many desis who hold this ideology?
Posted by The Gori Wife at 8:49 PM
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I so badly wanted to see this movie that I convinced M to leave work early on Friday so we could have a date night. (That's what date night turns into when you have kids and no babysitter: a 3:30 matinee and no dinner because you have to pick up the kid at daycare before 6.) It got such overwhelmingly good reviews, and I really wanted to love it.
It was good, I guess. I enjoyed myself. But I was expecting something PHENOMENAL. I didn't really like the cinematography, the shaky cameras and the running through the streets. I think that's part of the 'critically acclaimed' part, though - so what the heck do I know?
It wasn't until after I left the theatre and was racking my brain trying to figure out what the hype was all about that I realized that two of the most major parts of the movie had been completely lost on me. (Spoiler alert: stop reading if you don't want to know!) The children running around in slums part and the police torture and corruption part of the movie hadn't even fazed me.
These movies were made for a western audience that doesn't have a lot of exposure to this sort of thing, and those sights and idea must have been very striking. I figure most people who go see that movie have these sorts of thoughts: "Oh my! Children are really treated like that?" or "The police can do that to someone who hasn't been charged with a crime - let alone gone to court yet?!?"
Now thankfully, I've had no exposure to Pakistani police, but I've seen my share of children begging in the streets. Injured and crippled, or women with crying babies. It's terrible to think perhaps I've lost some of my compassion simply because of repeated exposure to these children's unfortunate circumstances. I mean, I didn't even realize that was part of the reason people think the movie is so striking until the end of it. I was too busy maligning the weak love story part! And the police thing, too. Thank god I don't know about that stuff first hand.
Except wait - I do! I did have a little bit of exposure to Pakistani police. We went to Saddar market one day (sadly, probably the nicest market we frequent when we're in Karachi. I've never even been to Millenium Mall, which I hear is the best.) We ended up having to park at the end of the main street - down by that school. It was near Eid-al-Adha, a religious holiday, and it seemed like every single person in all of Pakistan was out shopping. We'd parked there before, too, but this time the car wasn't there when we got back. After a few minutes of freaking out (and calling one of M's uncle for advice) we figured the car had been moved (I don't know how...) by the police, and they were holding it until we could come rectify our "traffic violation." (That's in quotes because there were no 'No Parking' signs, and as far as we could tell we'd broken no laws.) M followed his uncle's advice meticulously: cover up the white girl, humbly go to the station, offer your bribe - even haggle with them when they ask for more money! The uncle gave us the maximum we should pay - the going rate for police bribes in that situation, I guess - and it all worked out perfectly. I used one of the new scarves I'd just bought to burqa-ize myself, stayed silent, and we had our car back within minutes. Ha!
Anyway - that's my humble take on Slumdog Millionaire. I did love the ending, the part that runs during the credits. I won't say what it is - you'll have to go see for yourself.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 3:40 AM
Friday, January 16, 2009
Back before I knew much about desi culture, I had an interesting exchange with one of M's friends. He was talking about how he hated shopping in America, and using Coke to explain why. He said that he hated the fact that a 12-pack of Coke could cost one thing at Wal-Mart, and then be 2x as much at a nicer grocery store. He wondered how the price of something so basic can change so much, and he said that in Pakistan, a coke is 15 rupees no matter where you buy it, and he thought that was fairer and less difficult. He hated that you have to 'bargain shop' to find the best prices.
But in Pakistan, I've found that the only things that have those kind of fixed, accurate pricing are the cheapest, smallest of items. Most prices of other things are seemingly not determined by any intrinsic value of the thing itself, but rather by the shopper. Lots of times, the price of an item is determined by how much the shopkeeper thinks YOU can pay!
Or more likely, double what the shopkeeper thinks you can pay. You see, in Pakistan, almost all shopping is done with lengthy bargaining sessions. Shopkeepers ask for some crazy amount of money, swear up and down that that's the going rate these days - their kids have to eat - times have been tough these days! You counteroffer something equally crazy on the other end - probably half what you'd actually like to pay. The shopkeeper gets somehow personally offended by your lowball offer - why don't you just take food out of his children's mouths already! Are you even here to buy, or are you just screwing around? Why are you wasting his time? Eventually the offers you and the shopkeeper throw at each other will meet somewhere in the middle, and the shopkeeper will assure you he's selling you whatever item at a loss, just to please you (or get you out of his shop, or just because you're such a loyal customer....) This kind of bargaining accompanies almost almost EVERYthing you buy in Pakistan except food, gas, "and maybe the newspaper" says M.
Shopping in Pakistan is not a fun experience for me. First, because of this bargaining. In America, there is almost no bargaining for anything. Sometimes - rarely, though - for certain really HIGH price items, like cars and large home appliances. But even then, a lot of places that sell those items will advertise their "haggle-free" pricing so you know they don't engage in bargaining. It's just not a part of American shopping - and it's becoming even less common every day. Prices in America are fixed, although different stores have sales or have lower prices to entice you to shop there. So the idea that I have to haggle is foreign to me. And then the Pakistani haggling is not fun to be a part of either. They talk so fast I sometimes get lost, and sometimes we've even had to walk away from stuff I really wanted just because the haggling wasn't going well.
I usually shop with one of M's cousins, Appi or his aunt, because they're know to be good hagglers. My mother in law is a backup option, but she's not as good. They tell me not to say a word so that we can get a better deal. The idea behind that is that the shopkeeper is trying to get as much from us as he can, and if he seems we're 'foreigners' he'll overcharge us (because we've come all the way from America, we must be rich. Because all Americans are filthy rich, didn't you know?)
So I have to shut up and try to look as Pathan as possible. (Pathans are an ethnic group in Pakistan that have lighter skin and hair.) Then M and Appi haggled for ages and ages while I sit on a bench and look longingly at whatever item - usually clothes - that I want. Sometimes Appi decides the price isn't good enough and we have to walk away - even if I was FINE with the price! I really wanted that outfit!!!
Posted by The Gori Wife at 9:18 PM
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I think that perhaps one of the worst things about being in an intercultural relationship is the lack of community. There is no one out there like you. People all have different experiences, I know, and maybe some of you out there were more fortunate, but I have never in "real life" met another couple like us. And there is so much OTHERness that comes along with entering into an intercultural relationship. Sometimes you just want to talk about it with someone who's been there, y'know? Someone who's forged through these situations before (I'm looking at you, desi dinner party.)
But the worst WORST part about not knowing any half-Pakistani/half-Caucasian couples to commiserate with was the children. Or lack thereof. My aunt, who has a different flavor of intercultural marriage (her husband is second generation Chinese-American), once told me about how she and her newly-wed husband would elbow each other every time they saw half Chinese/ half American couples at the mall with children. They would say to each other, "maybe that's what our children will look like!"
I don't know about you, but I see a lot of Chinese-American couples in the world. Not so much with the desi guy/ non-desi girl pairing . So I never got to elbow-nudge M and say - Look over there! that kid right there - maybe one day we'll have a child that looks like that! When I was pregnant, this was torturous - I just wanted to seeeeeeeee the baby, already! But it hasn't stopped since our son was born. He looks different today than when he was born. He was darker skinned when he was born, with a head full of dark, dark hair. Now his skin is the exact midpoint between M and I, but his hair is even lighter than mine. And my frame of reference for adha-desi kids is only his lifespan, with a sample size of ONE! I have no where to let my mind wander about what how he might change. Our African American neighbor said her children's skin got darker when they grew up, but M's mom says his skin got lighter. My own brother's hair got much darker as he grew, but my son's hair has lightened.
I know it's insignificant. Believe me, I am much more worried about what kind of person he'll change into than whether his hair will look like his father's when he's an adult. It just seems like such a cute newlywed thing to have missed out on - that elbow nudging...
Posted by The Gori Wife at 7:09 PM
Whoops. I mean Bhabhi.
Bhabhi means sister-in-law, and it's not only what I am, it's also my name. Well, part of it. To explain why, we have to look at Pakistani names in general. Pakistanis give their kids first names and pet names and nicknames, and the last names those kids get could be the family last name or the father's first name or the grandfather's last name. M's family (used to) do things particularly weird - the last names keep changing back and forth for each new generation to show respect to the previous generation. Like, M's grandfather's last name was Kishore, but when his children were born he made their last names Mukesh because that had been his father's last name. But then those kids named their own kids Kishore out of respect to their own father, and so on and so on. So my FIL's last name is Mukesh and M's last name is Kishore - and the one daughter has a different name entirely, and my MIL kept her maiden name (a common practice in desi culture.)
Sheesh. None of that is important anyway. I don't know why I got off on that tangent. What I really wanted to talk about was how you're not supposed to say the names of people older than you. As a sign of respect to your elders, you have to tack on some extra thing to the end of their name. Usually this extra thing you tack on is the relationship. Just like in America, you would call you mother's brother "Uncle Jack". He's much older than you, so you can't just call him Jack, so you tack on the relationship.
But desis make it a little harder because all of the family relations there are defined in more detail. Instead of Uncle, you have words for paternal uncle (ChaCha) or maternal uncle (MaMa), and their spouses have their own names, too (ChaChi and Mami, respectively). And then there's maternal aunt (Khala) and parental Aunt (Phoopi) and their spouses (Khalu and Phoopa). You just add these to the end of the name, so your mother-in-law's brother because Pervaiz Mamu, and her sister becomes Radha Khala. The spouses of your uncles and aunts sometimes even lose their entire name - like if you Mahmood Mama married a woman name Ambreen, sometimes she'll be called Mahmood Mami (instead of Ambreen Mami).
(An aside: a VERY traditional wife doesn't say her husband's name AT ALL - EVER. His first name will never leave her tongue. Instead, she'll either call him some nickname, or she'll call him "sooni-yeh" which translates loosely to "Are you listening to me?" or just "him." This leads to some lengthy round-about conversations trying to find out which 'him' my mother in law is talking about, and when we're out in Bazaars in Karachi, and she yells Suniye!, you should see the number of heads who swivel around! All husbands who are called that at home, too, who thought it was their wives calling them.)
This applies even to elder cousins, although in a somewhat sexist fashion (at least in my family.) It can be sexist because when cousins are born relatively close together- let's say two son are born to two families 9 months apart - because they're so close in age, this formality is dropped and they will usually just call each other only by first names or nicknames. But if a girl and a boy are nine months apart, usually the formality is NOT dropped, and if the boy is even only slightly older, she'll still be told to add some sign of respect to his name.
For cousins and siblings, though, there's no specific thing to add onto the name. Most times they just end up calling each other some variant of 'sister' (Baji) and 'brother' (Bhai). So an older sister becomes Aisha Baji, and the eldest brother becomes Mehfooz Bhai. Except, of course, there are a bajillion other exceptions. (Like the eldest sister is sometimes called just Appa, or the fact that lots of families - especially Western ones - don't do this at all anymore.)
And then there's the nicknames. Everyone's got a nickname. Every name is shortened (or sometimes lengthened!) and "oo" and "isha" or something like it is tacked on. Shahnaz is Shanoo, Muniba is Moonie. Or the nickname can reference some part of the personality or favorite family memory. Even elders can have nicknames. M's maternal aunt was known to take a lot of pictures, and one of the kids was always getting surprised by a flash of a camera and started calling her Bati Mami (meaning "light" auntie.)
So, if your older brother - who you call Mahnoo Bhai - gets married, you also don't say his wife's name. You add something onto her name as well, and that something is Bhabhi, meaning sister-in-law. Like if my name was Aisha, I'll be Aisha Bhabhi, or sometimes just Bhabhi (especially if I'm the ONLY sister-in-law.) A new wife will also be called Bhabhi by her husband's friends - even if those friends are the same age as the husband. Some of this might be because male friends of your husband don't always remember your name, and some of it is because it's considered forward to call a married woman by only her first name. (Again, a lot of this is going away with time and 'westernization'.)
So, because I married the eldest son, all of my brothers- and sister-in-law call me Bhabhi. A lot of M's friends also call me Bhabhi, but not anyone that knew me prior to our marriage. It's nice to be married to the eldest, because there aren't a whole lot of people that *I* have to call Bhabhi!
Of course, there are a million mamas and khaloos and chachis!
*Names changed to protect my anonymity!
Posted by The Gori Wife at 4:32 PM
M and I have always done this thing - we hide any flaw I have. It's motivated by having a relationship that people might be adverse to. It started when he decided to tell his parents about me. Like anyone would, he tried to portray me in the best light possible. I have many good qualities, so he just focused on those when he was describing me. This isn't unusual - what son would introduce his prospective bride by listing off her bad qualities?
But we kinda do this for another reason, too. Sometimes it seems like M's simple, immigrant parents would not understand certain things, or would have unnecessary bad reactions. One example was my homosexual male college roommate. I introduced him as my friend. It just seemed like they didn't need to know I'd lived with another man for years, or that he was gay. Giving them more accurate information would have resulted in unnecessary conversations about unimportant things. Unimportant to them, at least. And I wouldn't want them thinking less of my friend - or of me - so it just seemed better to leave the subject alone.
Because we've often felt like much of the world is adverse to our relationship, this glossing-over of any of my flaws applies to everyone - not just M's parents. I wrote before about how some of M's friends were openly hostile to our relationship and subsequent marriage. Perhaps this whole practice was borne in that situation, when poor M just wanted his friend's acceptance and tried to convince them how great I was - tell them the good things about her, leave out the bad.
We've been married for over five years now, and the practice hasn't stopped. His parents and close friends know me as a separate person now, so really there's no need for it anymore. Except that to some extent we still feel like we're trying to convince the world - probably M more that I. The practical result of this is that M has never had and outlet to complain about his wife. He has no one he can go to and say "She is driving me CRAZY!"
He wouldn't tell his parents. He doesn't want them thinking - even for a minute and even after five years of marriage - that perhaps this was a bad decision. He doesn't feel like he can tell his friends. For those who opposed him, he also doesn't want them to think maybe they were right. For those who didn't oppose him, there's still a lingering concern that "love marriages" are suspect, or that American girls don't make good wives - and M doesn't want to bolster anyone's idiotic thinking. So he really has no one.
I, on the other hand, have a whole slew of support people in my life. Friends and family, especially my mom - I have lots of people to talk to if I'm upset or hurt, or just unsure. It's not really complaining - sometimes people just need to talk through any issues with a neutral third party - or just vent a little. It's healthy, I think. I can't imagine feeling like you have NO ONE to talk to.
One day I told M I'd been complaining to my mom about him and he brought up the fact that he didn't have anyone to complain about me to. (We'd always known about the hide-her-flaws-thing, but that was the first time we realized the no-one-to-complain-to-thing.) So I suggested he call MY mother to complain about me. After all, she certainly knows about all my bad character traits. He never has. I also have suggested many times that he should complain to The Friend I told you about earlier - he's also marrying a white girl this year, he probably feels the same way! So far, it hasn't happened, but I think I'll bring it up in front of The Friend when I see him next.
How terrible is it that I have to find someone to hear complaints about me?
Posted by The Gori Wife at 10:50 AM
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
M is not big on physical affection. I'm not sure if it's a truly desi thing, or if it's just an "M's family" thing, but he didn't get a lot of hugs growing up. He doesn't think he's hugged his parents since he was 6 or so. He's sure he hasn't hugged his mother or sister since he was about that age. Cross-gender physical affection just isn't the norm, and parental affection isn't really either. (Of course, I don't mean to generalize. Lots of desi families do things differently, and one of M's uncles is known as a big hugger to all his kids. Your desi family situation may vary!)
I remember the first time M and I hugged, he was shaking afterwards. He seemed to go on a physical affection spree after that, but now after 5 years of marriage, he's gotten back into his old rut, and it's a struggle to remind him that why yes, I do still enjoy a hug or a foot rub or a head pat.
In M's family it's the same way. No one hugs or kisses. When I'm in Pakistan it's rare to see and cross-gender physical affection of any kind. Husbands and wives do not hold hands. Even women on the back of motorcycles don't make physical contact with the (usually) male driver. Women hug and kiss each other on the cheek. Men touch other men - boys (even teenage boys and sometimes grown men) will put their arms around each other's shoulders and even hold hands. While I do think there is generally less physical affection across the board in Pakistani culture, the most striking thing is that the sources of physical affection are opposite to my culture. In America boys and men generally shy away from physical affection with other men at all costs.
All these observations aside, I have one funny anecdote. After we were married, my in-laws stayed with us in our tiny apartment for 52 days. M went to work as usual and it was my job to entertain them. We got quite close in that time. That was when I got my first head pats - when older Pakistanis want to show approval, or sometimes when they're saying hello or goodbye, they give you a nice pat on the head. It may sound strange, but it's actually quite nice. I got head pats for hellos and goodbyes, upon the completion of our nikah (wedding) documents, and also when some particularly good test results of mine came out. I became fairly adept at the whole bend-you-head-ever-so-slightly at the initiation of a head-pattable event.
I wouldn't want to say I was happy to see my in-laws at the airport about to board their plane home. I really had enjoyed their company and getting to know them, but I was also eager to settle into my new married life and spend some time alone with my new husband - without my in-laws somewhere else in our tiny, tiny, tiny one bedroom (which we gave to them and slept in the living room) apartment. But even though I was looking forward to this, I was still crying at the airport when they were leaving. What can I say, I'm very emotional. So I say goodbye to Ammi, hug hug, kiss kiss. And then, in my emotional haze, I hugged my father in law! I HUGGED HIM! He probably hadn't hugged another female other than his wife and his daughter (but only when she was young, probably!) and here I was attacking the man!
Luckily it was over in a quick second, and I've always been able to keep my wits about me since. But, still....embarrassing!
Posted by The Gori Wife at 12:14 AM
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I met this one girl online years ago, though another website totally unrelated to this stuff. But by some strange coincidence in the past year or so, she met and got pretty serious with a Pakistani guy. He's a different kind of Pakistani than M, speaks a different language and from a totally different part of the country.
Well, now they've gone and gotten engaged.
I'm a little worried for her. I've begun to really like her, and I hope everything works out for the two of them, but I can't help but wonder if he's going to sabotage it all.
You see, he's very anti-Pakistani. She said he used to be a member of political parties and everything, and she thinks that he was pretty religious and pretty committed to Pakistani identity and political activism when he first went to Canada with his family. But now he's not. He's told her that Pakistan is "a wasteland" and that he doesn't ever plan to go back - probably not even to visit.
I think it can be a problem when anyone divests themselves from a culture they were born and raised in - living there until their late teens, no less! I wonder if this is just a stage, and whether the friend will be upset years or decades from now if he changes his mind in some way. What abot his children? What about his parents?
You see, I think my success in an inter-cultural relationship lies most in my enthusiasm for Pakistani culture, and M's enthusiasm in sharing it with me. I really love so much of it, and like including parts of it into my life. That enthusiasm has won over many a family member. It's also helped me gain some sort of comfort in Pakistani customs and situations as I've struggled to learn more and more. Every bit of knowledge I gained helped those benefits come quicker.
But of course, enthusiasm was just the key to MY success, it doesn't have to be theirs. She doesn't have to familiarize herself with any part of Pakistani culture - maybe they will be just as successful or even more so with their own formula for a cross-cultural relationship. But I still can't help wondering. What if this guy wakes up after 15 years of marriage, looks to his children whom he hasn't taught a lick of his language - and longs for the culture of his youth?
And I'm also worried for her. M did a lot to help me see what I was getting myself into before I decided to go down this path. If this guy is so anti-Pakistan right now, maybe she doesn't realize that some aspects of desi culture will probably come with the package.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 8:14 PM
Monday, January 12, 2009
M hopped on a flight at 4am, showed up on my doorstep 3 hours later, and proposed. To say it was unexpected is an understatement. But my answer was quick. I loved him, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him - I just hadn't know that was an option.
But apparently M knew more than I do. We can talk about courage and intentions another time. Most of all, I guess he knew his family. Or maybe not - maybe he just had faith in his family. He had faith that everything would be okay if he told them he wanted to marry this gori.
We had known each other for a year and two months. His parents didn't know ANYthing about me. They had no idea that their son was spending so much time with a gori girl. Sometimes in situations like these, there is an information leak. Someone - a family member or friend - who knows about the desi guy hanging out too closely with a gori or whatever somehow lets the family in on it. That didn't happen in our case for a couple of reasons. First, M is the only member of his family who was in America at that time. He also didn't live anywhere near any of the few cousins and uncles he has that were in America - so they didn't know. Second, none of his friends were the type to do that sort of thing - they were all graduate students, none of whom he'd known before he came to America; and third, to some extent there is some acceptance and/or avoidance of the desi guy "getting it out of his system." "Oh yeah, you know some of these desi guys lose their heads when they get here. Start getting friendly with the white girls. Eventually he'll figure out what's right"
Whatever the reason - now he'd proposed but his family still had no idea. Because they didn't know, there hadn't been any histrionics about straightening him out - no threats or bribes or carrying on about trying to change his mind. But I didn't know if these things were coming. I knew there was no way he was going to go against his family. If they said they would disown him, or his mother cried or carried on, or threatened to commit suicide. (Yep. That happens sometimes.) I didn't know how he would react. Just in case, though, I wasn't going to tell my family about our engagement until I knew he'd told his.
His mother had actually asked him a few times since he'd graduated and gotten a job if he'd like her to start looking for a suitable girl. He'd refused every offer, and she hadn't pressured him too much. So she asked him again one day - would he like her to start looking? He again refused, and she asked him - is there anyone there you have in mind? M seized his opportunity, but not wanting to look too eager said something like... "Oh...hmm....maybe I can look around here. There are some pretty good girls here, maybe I'll get back to you..."
My mother in law is nobody's fool. She saw right through that and demanded to know who it was. M hemmed and hawwed and tried to convince his mother that he wasn't talking about any particular girl, but my mother in law basically ended the conversation with "I know there is a girl. I'm sure you already have pictures of her on your computer. Send me a picture, now."
So? He did! He emailed a picture of me to his parents and his three siblings who were waiting anxiously thousands of miles away. WITHOUT telling them anything about the girl who would be IN the picture!
What a shock that must have been. I mean, couldn't he have told them something to deaden the shock a little bit? I mean, they had NO IDEA previously that there was any possibility of something like this. Their precious eldest son, studying abroad - never been in any trouble, never given them any trouble at all, the best of students, working on his Ph.D, studying so hard he SURELY didn't have any time for a social life, and then if he did have extra time, he had all those nice Pakistani boys he was so close with!
I've written elsewhere about how my mother in law's reaction really made my whole introduction to the family something greater than I could have ever imagined. But sometimes I am struck by the role that M played. Sure, he was the reason all this happened - the apex in the triangle, so to speak. But if he hadn't had the courage to do what he knew was right for him - for us - and the faith to know it would all work out in the end, we might not be here now. Faith in his family, faith in me, even faith in himself.
When I told him I wasn't going to tell my family until his had given their blessing, he didn't seem worried. He just kept telling me that he would be able to convince his parents. In the end, his parents told him that he'd never made a bad decision and they trusted his decision in picking me as his wife. But how did he know it would work out that way? Of course, I don't think he did know. He might not have even thought that far ahead very often. But he had faith. And he was willing to do whatever it took to satisfy his parents.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 8:45 PM
Friday, January 9, 2009
When T called me, it was under the guise of "congratulating" me for taking Shahada. The conversation didn't last long.
M and I were engaged for only a few weeks. His parents were coming to America from Pakistan for his graduation, and he wanted to get married then. (Nevermind that his parents had no idea that I existed yet. That's a story for another day.) So we're talking about 8 weeks of 'engagement'. Actually, it probably was more like 10 or 11, but I couldn't get my family to believe that I really was going to get married in only 10 weeks. By the time they were freaking out about not having enough time to plan a wedding, 2 weeks had already passed.
M had plans to come back to visit a few weeks before the wedding - get a few last minute things in order. One of the things he had to get straightened out was T. T had avoided every single phone call since the big revelation about us getting married. M and all his friends ended up at one of their houses. I wasn't there - I was coming over later to drop something off. When I did get there, M was pretty upset.
Turns out there had been an intervention of sorts. T had tried to get him to change his mind about marrying me. That was when he said all those horrible things about how I wasn't good enough and how you shouldn't marry white girls. He'd even said that he refused to come to our wedding because he 'blamed himself', and made some thinly-veiled threats that if he was ever in the same room as M's parents when they were visiting, he would tell them what he really thought of me. Keep in mind that just a few weeks ago, this guy had called me to tell me he thought of me as a friend and that I could call on him if I needed anything.
The aftermath of all that is a little blurry, in part because it's been so long. He didn't come to the wedding. The other two of the original pack of friends also had less-than-nice things to say about me, but they still came to the wedding. I tried pushing M to still try to contact T, but he refused. My reasoning was that I didn't want to be the one that broke up a friendship. M, on the other hand, said that he couldn't be friends with someone who would say such horrible things about his wife - his life partner. It took me years to really appreciate that loyalty. T called a few months after we were married and gave what M thought was a half-hearted apology. M never called him back.
I probably still haven't gotten over it. All those things that were said about me haunted me for a long time. I was on a constant bent to prove everyone wrong. Unfortunately, when all ties are severed, no one notices your feverish efforts to please every single Pakistani in your life. I just wanted so desperately for T to know that I am a good wife, a good mother - I did finish school, I wasn't after M just for his money (other things they'd said about me). I am really, truly Muslim. T and the things he said about me kind of took over for a while and that's all I could think about. A long while. M had to eventually sit me down and talk about it - try to get me to realize that what they said was ignorant - those guys never knew me and never wanted to, and that if all I could think about was proving them wrong I probably wasn't really enjoying my own life.
My current theory is that T and the rest were cowards. They'd tried to date white girls too - only T had been successful. He'd had a pretty serious relationship with a white girl, too. But there was no way that T would have made the decision that my husband did. There was no way he had the courage to tell him family, to truly give all his effort to convince them that this was a good choice. To try and live the life he really wanted. M did have that courage, and his family was willing to listen, and we have a wonderful life. I just so desperately wanted T to know about it.
Our only link with T was P - the only one of the original group of guys who M is still friends with. They're not all that close anymore, but for the first few years he would give us (unsolicited) reports about T and his family. It ended up just making me crazier, so I had to stop listening. It's been a while since I heard anything. The only thing I could ever think was whether P was telling T similar reports about us, and whether they were good or bad, or at all accurate. P has a nasty habit of getting things wrong. (In fact, when he was getting married and talking to his prospective bride about me, she'd asked about his friends - and we had come up. He'd told about how I went to Pakistan and she asked how I liked it. P said I didn't like it! When I heard about that, I was upset and like "what do you mean, I always said I had a great time!" and he said "I know, but I don't believe you." WHAT?!?!)
Anyway. I think T is still in the back of my mind pretty regularly. I google him sometimes. We travel back to where he lives pretty regularly. We're always there for Thanksgiving, and we always go to one of the bigger mosques for religious services the Friday after. I spend the whole time looking over my shoulder. I wonder if I always will?
Posted by The Gori Wife at 9:44 AM
Thursday, January 8, 2009
M is not friends with most of the friends we talked about last time. He only still talks with P, and even that relationship is different than it was before.
It all started unraveling when M - my husband - finished his Ph.D. The defense of his thesis was a big deal and we had some big celebrations. I attended the defense and almost all of the parties afterwards. Then there were job interviews around the country. I took him to and picked him up from the airport almost all the time. Keep in mind that before me, he spent ALL of his not-studying time with his three best friends, T, N & P.
One day my phone rang and the number I didn't recognize turned out to be T. He said that it had been a long time since he saw M and he would like to come with me the next day to pick him up from the airport. Okay, fine. I can't remember how we worked it out, but I remember that all of a sudden, I was riding to the airport with these three desi guys. This was a little more than a year after I'd met M, so I'd spent my fair share of time around these guys - but I could never shake the feeling that they didn't totally approve of me - or even like me all that much.
That evening was really weird and horrible. T was pretty actively trying to upset me and alienate me. I spent a lot of the evening left out of conversations. I ended up pretty pissed off and M had to calm me down. Of course I never said anything. But it didn't get better. A few weeks later, M had accepted one of those job offers and we had all gathered for a farewell dinner. T kept trying to upset me then, and that night he didn't even stop until I had started crying. (I don't remember exactly what he'd said - something like how did I feel now that I was never going to see M again, or I was going to be all alone for the rest of my life or something stupid like that. Normally that wouldn't have upset me, but I really was sad that M was moving very far away...)
The next day T called me to apologize and say he was just kidding, and he even said that he considered me a friend and that I could call him if I ever needed anything. He said he hadn't meant to upset me and that he, too, had been pretty emotional that M was leaving.
I was still in school at the time - studying religion. When M found out I had taken shahada and converted, he flew back to where I was and proposed on the spot. The next day - back home - he called T. Then he called me. The conversation went like this:
M: "Hey, I just got off the phone with T."
Me: "Oh yeah? What did you guys talk about?"
Me: "What? Nothing? Why are you calling me to tell me about it then? Did you tell him we're engaged?"
Me: "NO? Do you ever plan to tell him?"
M: "Yeah. I don't know. He started laughing. I didn't know what to do. I got pretty pissed off."
Me: "Laughing? About what?"
M: "Don't get mad, okay?"
M: "I was going to tell him. That's what I called him for. But I started off by saying you had taken shahada."
M: "And he started laughing. A lot. I couldn't stop him for a while."
M: "Yeah. And when he was done, he said 'I guess you're getting married, then, aren't you?"
M: "So I found some excuse to get off the phone. I didn't want to tell him just now."
And then wouldn't you know it, but there was a little beep in my ear. I was getting another call.
Just minutes after having laughed about me, T was calling me.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 3:40 PM
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
So it seems I abandoned the backstory a little while ago, but I intend to pick it up in bits and pieces whenever I run out of other material. Such as....now.
When we last heard of our heroine, she had just met her desi beau. Over time, he was introduced to her family, friends, etc. Even though he had been in America for three years, he was still very different than I was used to. I had to ask him to repeat most of what he said because of his thick accent, and he had to ask me to repeat things because I spoke too fast for him. He lived in a tiny apartment. He would cook in bulk and eat the same thing for weeks. He never went out to eat, he didn't own a car - or even a cell phone.
Things changed pretty quickly, though. Within a month, he had a cell phone and we both signed up for those "in" calling plans. We spent literally hours on the phone with each other every day. We just enjoyed each other's company so much. I found him fascinating. He was just so different from everything I'd ever known. And not just the cross-culture stuff. He was also studying for his Ph.D, which is like a whole different universe too. Different terminology and language, different idea of time. Suddenly I was proofreading conference papers and journal submissions - and I knew what the difference between them was! I remember one of the first times we hung out after that first week was when I was going to drive him to the airport for a conference. I showed up early and we spent almost two hours going over his oral presentation and explaining his poster for the conference. It was like a whole new level of geekiness.
It wasn't all sunshine and roses, though. Some stuff was decidedly unpleasant. Sometimes conversations would venture into things I just couldn't understand. Money, for instance, was a big deal. He was a poor grad student, and I made more money than he did, but he refused to take even a dollar from me. And then there was the thank you thing. Every time I thanked him for something, it was like I'd offended him. He even told me that he never wanted to hear me say thank you again. Also, we often got around to various issues about the treatment of women. He'd talk about his sister - who was attending medical school - wasn't allowed to take the family camera to school because she was too likely to break it or lose it, or how she couldn't drive or walk home from school. But she was an adult - and in medical school!
We'd also get into talks about religion. That was never a great idea. He always looked like he wanted to vanish into the wallpaper when that came up. He did a horrible job of answering any questions I had, anyway, so eventually I stopped asking any questions at all, and started looking for my own answers. Which sometimes did more harm than good.
But the weirdest thing was always the friends. Well, the three best friends in particular. After the first initial reluctance to meet me, it got a little better, but I never knew where I stood with them. Sometimes I would be around the four of them together, and it seemed like we were all friends, having a good time. Other times I was decidedly the unwelcome outsider. Sometimes they seemed to encourage our relationship, sometimes the seemed to be actively trying to dismantle it.
I wouldn't know until later, but the truth was the were ALWAYS trying to actively dismantle our relationship. And not for any righteous reason, either. Two of these guys, S and M, had come to America when they were just teenagers, and while the third, O, had also only been around for only three years, he was from the upper echelons of Pakistani high society and he probably knew more about American history than I did. The three of them were much more comfortable and adapted to American life than M was, and they'd been actively trying to cultivate him for some time now. It was their influence that had convinced him to stop putting coconut oil in his hair. M had even taken him to a barber and showed him what to tell the stylist in order to get a better, more consistent haircut. S had showed him how to pick out clothes and shoes. O had been the one to help him think of "Brunei." And all three of them were there the night we met, egging him on, trying to get him to meet girls.
Girls. Plural. Apparently after we went to that first movie, T had even sat down with M outside the movie theatre - just minutes after my friend and I had left - to tell him that this was a good start, but that he shouldn't get attached. He should start looking for more girls immediately.
It didn't stop there. I now know that I was under constant attack when I wasn't there. M would talk about my kindness or generosity. They would say that all girls are like that. They would try to get him to go to dance clubs (and worse).
The really amazing thing here is that one of the reasons these guys told M he shouldn't continuing talking to me was because what did he expect - that he was going to MARRY me??? All of these guys were (or tried to be) playboys. All of them sought out white girls. But all of them thought that marrying a white girl was NOT OKAY.
One day, I guess they'd been talking about me again and M had been defending me, and T had said something like "Man, the way this guy talks about her - you'd think he was going to MARRY her or something." I don't think M had ever thought before then that he was going to marry me, but something - I don't know what - made him stand up that day and say: "So what if I do?"
Posted by The Gori Wife at 12:49 AM
Monday, January 5, 2009
One of the first questions I get from Pakistanis is about whether I have been to Pakistan. After visiting the first time in 2003, it was really nice to be able to say that I had been to Pakistan. I was really looking forward to our 2nd trip also, because I had gotten tired of saying "Yes, I went 3 year ago." It really seems to improve my credibility now that I can say I've been twice.
Unfortunately, the political situation in Pakistan was pretty horrible during the time we were planning our 2nd trip. Musharraf was being called on to step down, there were bombs every couple of weeks. Elections were supposed to be held while we were there, and everyone feared that there would be even more problems before, during and/or after the elections. My family tried to convince me to postpone the trip every time I talked to them about it.
Of course, things happened a little differently. It was much, much worse than anyone had thought it would be. Elections did not happen when we were there - they were postponed because Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.
It was TERRIBLE. I don't think I had ever heard gunfire before that, and I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life. And our 1 year old son was there with us.
We had just gotten home from some shopping. We were preparing for a wedding function, and there had been lots of last minute things we'd had to get. We got home in the late afternoon, and because our son had been late for his nap, M took him into our room to try to get him to sleep. (Of course, a late afternoon nap wasn't too late to put him to sleep - the wedding function wasn't even going to START until 10pm.) I was sitting in the front room updating the website we put pictures on when my youngest brother in law came into the room, told Abbu, my father in law, that something had happened to Bhutto, and turned on the TV. It was all in Urdu and they were talking really fast, so I didn't understand much. But I understood that she was dead. And I knew enough about Pakistan that this was going to trigger bad, bad things.
We were stuck in the house for four days. The first night was all about calling various family members in Karachi, making sure everyone was okay. We lived on a major street that served as a dividing line between a large group of Bhutto supporters and a large group of MQM supporters (another political party), so I was scared that this would be the place where more violence erupted, but what could I do? I couldn't leave the house. And where would we go anyway? Flights had been grounded.
All through the night was gunfire and rioting. The next day and night too. Day three there were less reports of any rioting, but was still somehow the scariest, for me, because there were these swells of voices you could hear coming from the street. It turned out to be roving mobs of young men who had been out of work for the past three days and had gotten bored, I guess - and they had cordoned off the street and were attacking cars that came by and robbing the people in them. A couples of times you could heard the Army vehicles and voice come by and make the men leave, but they just came back a little while later. The idea of God-knows-how-many men just down the street LOOKING for trouble was unsettling, even though it wasn't violence or rioting.
My family was, understandably, freaking out. I sent an email immediately after telling everyone that we were fine, nothing was happening near us (a bit of a lie) and that we were just going to hole up at home. My mother and I got into a huge fight a day or two after because she wanted us to come home immediately. Eventually my family was sufficiently worked up that we did go to the airline's office to inquire about leaving early. They said that they'd had to reroute so many people that the earliest flight with seats we could have gotten was three days AFTER our scheduled flight. (Although we did get pizza while on that outing, which after four days or Briyani was spectacular. The guy that owned the Domino's said his brother owned a Domino's in America - somewhere in New Jersey - did we know him? His name was Jamal?)
Thre was one thing I saw during the whole Bhutto aftermath that struck me most. I thought it spoke volumes about Pakistan and Pakistanis, their resilience and fortitude. As we were driving to the airline office, we passed a gas station (only a few feet from where we lived) that had been completely ransacked. Gas pumps pushed over, the whole place had burn & smoke marks, all the oilcans and windshield wipe fluid strewn about. It looked terrible. THe next day, it was open for business again, and you couldn't tell anything had happened.
For a while I thought I might not ever be able to go back. I don't think that anymore. I guess time heals all wounds.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 11:32 AM
Thursday, January 1, 2009
We had some unexpected guests drop in for New Year's, and while at first I thought about blogging about the desi habit of dropping in for a visit completely unannounced, or perhaps the way that desi women come to visit but seem to spend the entire time in the kitchen...what I really started thinking about was my mother-in-law.
The reason for this is that the visitors were my husband's cousin, and his family, including his wife, children, and parents - who would be my husband's maternal uncle and his wife (his uncle is called his mama and his uncle's wife is called his mami.) This particular cousin was the first one in the family to marry an American.
I often don't think that this girl and I are similar at all. She's Indian-American, and was raised Hindu. She converted to Islam before they were married, but while she's as American as I (no accent, knows the same slang, etc.) to some extent she still shares parts of desi culture. I don't think she's fluent in Hindi, but she understands more that I do, she knows a lot more of the movies/songs/whatever else. Also, she's not gori. My skin makes me stand out, it seems to make people think they already know who I must be.
But one thing in particular is very different between us - our introductions to the family were very different. Her mother-in-law, upon hearing that her son wanted to marry an American, was VERY upset. Unfortunately, she made her feelings known to the rest of the family. Probably to an extreme. I heard about how she'd even broken down crying at a family wedding because of the horror of marrying an American. And while I don't begrudge her the feelings of losing out on the expectations she had for her son's life, I think this was a terrible thing that has had repercussions on their lives.
My own mother-in-law was also not very happy to hear about me. The reasons for that a varied and should probably be their own post. But. She kept her feelings to herself. I've since learned that she cried at home, was upset for a day, even tried to talk him out of it. But within 24 hours, his whole family had come to the conclusion - and told M - that they knew he had never made a foolish decision before and that they were behind him. And then my mother-in-law went about the business of telling the rest of the family about the coming wedding.
She did not cry. She didn't say one negative thing about me or her son. Even when people tried to "empathize" with her, even when it seemed they were just digging for the dirt on me. She never gave in.
And because of her, my introduction into M's family was never a sad affair. Maybe everyone knew that Ammi couldn't have been happy about it, but they never had any stories to hold onto and project onto me when they first met me. When they met me, I was able to present my OWN first impression. And I'm happy to say that I truly have a place in M's family. Even his extended aunts and uncles, cousins and whatever else comes after that - even they seem to like me, like to spend time with me and bring me gifts, ask about me and ask to speak to me on the phone even if they only know a little bit of English. I can't speak for the other girl, but when we've been at the same functions, it doesn't seem like we share these same affections. I don't mean to say it is all her mother-in-law's fault - I think there are other reasons, too, but I've always been aware of the importance of the fact that M's immediate family rallied around him and his controversial decision - even though they may have been against it themselves - and presented a united front.
And that is just one of the reasons I know that my mother-in-law is a rare and wonderful woman. Not a lot of Pakistani mothers could have done that, and I am very grateful.
Posted by The Gori Wife at 11:36 PM