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Home Thoughts from Heathrow

Chaffinch2Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!
-Robert Browning

It was a strange angle for my head to be tilted at, cocked severely to the right and resting uneasily against the cabin window.  I woke up because I smelled eggs.  The passenger to my left was still asleep.  She was a designer for a major retailer.  She said you could put Hello Kitty on a pink garbage bag and it would sell. She’s right.

She fell asleep immediately after the flight took off.  It was 2am Dubai time, and by my hasty calculations, I had to stay awake for only two and a half more hours before it would be time for Fajr, and then I could sleep. Boy was I wrong. And now I’m surrounded by old ladies.

They’re in varying degrees of old and in need of wheelchair assistance, and we’re all waiting in the special assistance lounge of Heathrow Airport.  The western women, invariably, have short white hair, glasses, and cardigans.  The Asian ladies have their little old heads covered.  The African ladies are seated together in a sparkly, vibrantly-colored group.  And then there’s me- a 33 year old “white” woman in a black abaya and a flowery purple scarf.  They’re eyeing me curiously.

My calculations were totally off.  I did wudu and took a seat, waiting for my two and a half hours to pass before I could pray and get some sleep.  I turned on my tiny TV and watched Monsters University.  The movie finished and I looked out the window.  It was still dark, and in the cloudless sky somewhere over the Arabian peninsula, the big-dipper sparkled.  Bright, close, and undimmed by light pollution, it was a beautifully clear reminder of nights outside of my grandmother’s remote house in southern Indiana.

She’s eighty-eight now, and 115 pounds.  She is afraid of climbing stairs because the last time she lost her balance she fractured her hip.  I haven’t seen her for six years, and it’s frustrating to me that I should be coming so close- all the way to Chicago- only to still be so far.  She’s living in the warm, safe care of my aunt in Arizona, hundreds of miles and dollars out of my budget.

My health insurance doesn’t cover the US, so this visit to Chicago to see a neurology specialist will be thousands of dollars out of pocket.  Allah is the Best of Providers.

He is also the Best of Planners.  Right when my hands starting shaking, and my head started feeling heavier than usual, and HF and I started wondering where the money to fly out and see a doctor would come from- it came.  Allah caused an old, nearly forgotten debt to be repaid, and that’s where this trip is from: Allah.

There are a few old men here too, but most of them are just accompanying their  wives.   There’s even a wheelchair assistant- an employee of Heathrow Airport- that looks like he should be the one being pushed.  I wonder how old he is, and if he’s the one who pushes me to the terminal, will he wonder why someone half his age isn’t just walking there?

I catch people looking at me curiously, and the 2.0 in me smiles back, encouraging them to approach.  No one has so far, and my guess is that they think I’m an Arab.  So the white women keep a distance, the Pakistani women don’t include me in the polite small-talk, and the one real Arab here asked me a question in Arabic earlier that I couldn’t respond to.  Sorry, I’m a fake.

Well, I’m not actually.  I’m a genuinely tired, shaky, and mobility-challenged person, but I tend to be in denial sometimes, and it doesn’t help that I still look pretty good.

2013-09-24 07.59.00I assume I look pretty good, but my eyes are tired, my scarf feels sideways, and I only managed to sleep for an hour before I was woken by the smell of food and the clatter of the air-crew preparing breakfast in the airplane’s galley.  I opened my eyes and turned my severely cocked head to see that the black, star-strewn sky was bordered with a bright-red glow that hinted at a sharp golden line at the very edge of the horizon.  It was finally Fajr, six hours into the flight and four hours later than I had planned for.

I did wudu four times for that one prayer. After the first movie finished I stretched, waited, stared out of the window, my sleep-deprived brain searching for a reason why it was still dark.  It came up with the original Xcom UFO, where your job was the save the world from an alien invasion.  The same world turned before you in VGA-glorious rotation on its axis, turning from night to day and night again.  I knew I was flying from the right side of the world to the left, but I couldn’t remember whether I would be flying with the light or flying against it.

I turned on another cartoon.  Epic.  It wasn’t Epic.  It was a mis-labeled attempt to pass 104 more minutes waiting and wondering why it was still dark.  I got up for a stretch.  I used the bathroom.  I did wudu again.

The sink was tiny.  The taps were tiny.  But the water pressure was tremendous- and the tiny stream of water was blasted into a spray that wet everything in the bathroom except my hands.  I did wudu as best as I could, washing my hands, mouth, face, arms, abaya, purse and shoes.  Then I did my best to paper-towel things dry before going back to my seat to wait again for Fajr.

I wish my kids were here.  When the plane began to descend over London, there was no one for me to share the wonder with.  We were preparing to land over a solid terrain composed entirely of clouds, except for where clusters of tall building had broken through, their lights glittering and flashing above a grey ocean. It was the famous London fog, and when the plane began slowing to hit the runway, it was doing so in zero visibility.  The sky above the fog was crystal-clear, but within the fog it was non-existent.  We had no sky.  From where I sat, the plane barely even had wings.

I want to remember these things so I can tell Khalid, Iman and Musfira about them.  There were stars- distant white diamonds in a perfectly black sky- no clouds, no lights, no other planes. Then there were the cities, their densely packed lights looking like embers on the dark background of Iraq.  I checked the map, that was Iraq.

I was so grateful to be awake.  I was afraid that I would miss Fajr, and while I have missed hundreds of Fajr prayers before, most of them were before my hands started to shake.  Once laziness made my eyelids heavy, but urgency has made them light and quick to open for prayers now.  I was so relieved to have been woken up that I was actually happy to get up and do wudu again- fourth time the charm.

I happily prayed and then turned to watch the horizon glow, just waiting to watch the sun rise.

Except it didn’t rise, becase we were flying away from the dawn and if we had been going any faster it would never have caught up.  We would have flown endlessly around the world being chased by day, hiding in perpetual dark, sharing aisles and armrests but refusing each other identities or eye contact until the fuel ran out and the plane crashed and we all died and went back to Allah where we came from.

Iman and I have made a pact- that if she cannot find me, she will come looking for me in Jannah.  But if I cannot find her, I will come looking for her in Jannah.  It’s a deal.  Khalid and I have a deal as well, but it involves him making sure that the hamster has food and water, and he gets dinosaur and train pajamas from the US.  Also, Iman wants a Chinese parasol.

I’m now going to be moved from the wheelchair lounge to the boarding gate, and the staff member who came looking for his “disabled” passenger looked at me and said, “Oh, Miss Abez? We have a young lady here.  Practically a girl… your limousine is here.”

So it’s time for me to go now.  But here I am, sitting halfway across the world, looking forward to returning home before arriving at my destination.

And Allah is the Best of Planners.

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!


Hey, good news for a change!

Alhamdulillah!!!  I’m going to be publishing my first book!

Given the last ten or so years of my blogging history, you’ll be surprised to hear it isn’t actually full of mortal wounds, kids stories, and personal reflections.  It’s actually a children’s book, and I’m very excited.

The reason why I’m so excited is that the story is part of My Legacy. Yes, I’ve made it a proper noun for emphasis.  For more information, see the new My Legacy tab on the top of the page.  The way I see it, if I am not around to have important conversations with my children later, that doesn’t mean that I can’t script them now.  So I’ve started writing stories for children, specifically, mine. And yours might enjoy them too.

I want to have at least one published story for Khalid, Iman, and Musfira.  Iman’s has been accepted.  Khalid’s was rejected, but the very kind publishers said they’d give it another look-over to see if reviewing it one more time will make it seaworthy.  Musfira’s has been imagined but not yet completed, but hey, well begun is half done!

I’ve asked the publisher if they can actually illustrate the books to look like my kids, because if I’m not there, I want the kids to be able to see themselves still talking to me.  I know, it’s kind of sappy- maybe even melodramatic, but when I think about passing away, the thing that tears at my heart most is not being away from my husband (sorry HF), it’s actually the thought of my children looking for their mother and not being able to find her.  Of Iman seeking a cuddle and finding my empty room.  Of Musfira crying for me and being hurt and confused why I’m not coming for her.  Of Khalid panicking because I’ve disappeared and he can’t understand where I’ve gone.

If you think that’s bad (gee, look who’s crying again) the absolutely, positively worst thing I can think of is my children finding out that I’ve “gone back to Allah,” and then resenting Allah for having stolen their mother.  My worst case scenario is my death pushing my children away from Islam, because as sad as I am to face leaving them in this life, that’s still nothing compared to the thought of any of my children turning away from Allah.  So the stories serve a dual purpose, InshaAllah- of creating memories for my children in case I’m not there to make them, and of teaching my children about Allah in a way that reminds them of me positively (happy stories) versus negative (Allah took momma away).

But, back to being cheerful- Alhamdulillah!  My first story has been accepted and I’m very excited.  I’m fairly sure that if I hadn’t been Not-Dying-Yet, I wouldn’t have had the urgency to overcome my fear of submitting anything to a publisher.  I would be too scared of being rejected to even try.  But I did it, and they said yes.  And now I’m going to do a little happy dance.

I’ll let you know when it’s published, InshaAllah.  In the mean time, check out Greenbird Books, they have lots of really adorable Islamic stories for kids.  And soon, InshaAllah, they’ll have mine too. 🙂

How’s this for an update?

I’m sitting here waiting for the next interview to begin and thought I’d actually post something.  Alhamdulillah, the trip is going well.  Yesterday we held a 2 1/2 hour orientation for therapists and some seniors from a local center.  After that we interviewed four of them, hopped into a taxi, and then went to the other side of town to meet with the Executive Director of the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP).  He was such a lovely person to talk to,he was very helpful and gave us the inside-out of how ASP works, what the structure is, how they’re funded (or not!) what their projects are, etc.

Joy renewed her membership, and I signed AutismUAE up as a member as well and we’re very happy to support them in any way we can.  The ASP reminds me of us, really.  The Executive Director- Ranil- sits in a one-room office with a total staff of four- there are fifty national chapters, but he’s still the one driving around, making phone calls, running errands- the fancy titles don’t mean much and everyone does whatever is required regardless of the job description.

It felt a bit strange introducing myself to a board room (eep!) full of therapists yesterday as the Director (eep!) and I felt like I had to specify that I was also the driver, the clerk, the web designer, and the office boy- but after having met Ranil, I feel less self-conscious.  I feel less like I’m ‘pretending’ to be a director and more like making coffee and copies is actually part of the directorial job description.

Yes, I’m sure there are people in managerial positions out there who pay other people to wipe their noses for them, but I don’t see that as anything I aspire to.  And I feel better now that it doesn’t seem like that would be expected of me, either.  *phew*

The interviews that I mentioned in the first paragraph actually happened some time between the second and third paragraph, and now that they’re over, I can talk about them.  We have two potential therapists who both have their Bachelors degrees in Child Psychology, are in their final year of Masters in Special Education, and have four years of ABA experience with two very reputable centers.  We’re not hiring them yet though, we’re giving them three months to develop… the powers of speech. :p  They’re too shy, too quiet, too polite, not loud enough, not verbal enough, and not confident enough to swim with the sharks in Dubai, the sharks being the demanding, inquiring, and highly verbal parents that they’ll be working with.

Unlike center-based therapy, where contact between therapist and parent is very limited, home-based therapy involves complete immersion of the therapist into the child’s home environment.  There is no middle-man to mediate, and since therapists and parents together form the team that is responsible for the materials, the learning environment, and the consistency of the behavior modification plan from each family member, the therapist needs to go in wearing their own pair of bossy boots.

Yes.  Bossy boots.  Big, steel-toed, bossy boots.  You grow them after developing the confidence that you know what you’re talking about and it’s more important that the child be taught correctly than to be mis-taught because you’re afraid of offending a ‘senior’ therapist or parent.

These two therapists were not wearing bossy boots.  They were wearing what we call the too-nice loafers of Pinoy Politeness, where the cultural norm is that it’s more important to be polite than honest, and rather than say ‘no’ to anything (because it could potentially offend someone) it’s better to say yes and then disappear.  I’ve been in this situation twice or thrice already, and twice (TWO TIMES!) this has involved people accepting jobs and then being nowhere to be found when it comes time to sign the contract.  They don’t answer email, they don’t answer phones- they just disappear.  And weeks later we find out from other therapists that, in one case, the therapist’s significant other didn’t want her working abroad, and in the other case, the therapist changed her own mind about working abroad but at no point whatsoever decided to inform me.

We’ve even had one candidate cut and run- literally- from the car of a family we set up an interview with, and disappear.  After making a few phone calls, we discovered that her aunt had worked for the same family before, and reported that the mother could be verbally abusive.  Why she couldn’t have told us this before we set up the interview, before she got on the bus, before she traveled for two hours and then gotten into the mother’s car only to jump out again a few minutes later- I don’t know.

I digress.  Alhamdulillah, we have finalized and approved of our next three therapists, all of whom are wearing BIG OLE BOSSY BOOTS because they’re all senior-level therapists with years of experience managing other therapists in addition to their children, and they have the presence to prove it.  Among them, even the quietest senior- who has been an ABA therapist for seven years- makes up in content what she lacks in volume.  She reminds me of a neighbor that Erma Bombeck once wrote about in one of her many gems as a humor columnist.  Erma described herself as a mother who screamed and yelled her kids into obedience (or some semblance thereof) and bitterly resented the demure Southern Belle who lived next door and never raised her voice above a whisper.  Imagine her surprise one day when her kids came back home and reported that they had been gently told, in the most feminine whisper, that if they played ball on that lawn again they’d have their gizzards ripped out.  0_0

So yes, volume.  You don’t always need it.  🙂

Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, by the time we’re done processing papers (which could take two months) our team will be comprised of:

  • Joy: My lead therapist and Khalid’s ABA therapist who commands such authority that if she weren’t handling kids she’d be bossing around a naval fleet somewhere.  She’s been with us for a year and a half now.
  • Jel: A superstar Physical Therapist turned ABA therapist who earns rave reviews from the parents as well as the visiting case managers and psychologists. She’s been with us since the beginning of this year.
  • Grace: An English teacher turned ABA therapist who is four and a half feet tall but manages older, more severe children two feet taller and double her weight.  She’s been with us for two weeks and is already garnering good feedback from parents.
  • Cheng: She’s the senior therapist with seven years of experience, a degree in Child Psychology and the authoritative whisper. We hope to have her in Dubai within the next two weeks, max.
  • Adrian: A broad, tall Physical Therapist and senior ABA therapist who handles the 16 year olds and physically demanding children.  He is scheduled to be down by mid-May of this year at the latest, InshaAllah.  He will be joined by:
  • Sherry: His wife, who is also a senior therapist, possibly even smaller than Grace but with no less command in her personality.
  • Jan-Jan: A senior therapist, Physical Therapy graduate with a Masters degree in Special Education who has also been giving speech therapy to deaf children for the last three years.
  • GNet: Another triple-header- A Physical Therapist, Special Ed Masters, and senior ABA therapist- GNet also taught high school for four years, so she’s got the kind of bossy-boots that you come to expect from someone who has taught teenagers.

After that, we have our two too-nice Pinoy Polite aba therapists with Child Psych degrees.  They’ve been given three months to take up public speaking, debate, or just arguing with people around them :p and then they’ll come back for a reevaluation.  Not for their ABA skills, but for their confidence and ability to communicate effectively.

And now that we’ve wrapped up three intense days of work, Joy and I are heading to Qiapo- the Muslim part of town to visit the only Mosque in Manila and maybe find a halal lunch, InshaAllah.


Live from Manila…

Wow, the Philippines looks a lot like Karachi- but with more shorts and flipflops and no donkeys. 🙂  And no one even stares.  Which I am amazed and impressed by.  Am here for one and a half more days of interviews and meetings, but I’ll try to update tomorrow if I can. 🙂

A Jeepny- a bit like a stretch-limo rickshaw, lol

I did a double-take when I first saw this- Yes, 7-11 is here, and apparently, they're here on every single block!

Left my heart in San Francisco

And my camera in Oman!  Noooooooooooooooo!

Alhamdulillah ála kulli haal.  Praise be to Allah in all circumstances. 🙂

Ok, so I have interesting stories but no pictures, and on top of that, I have a week of office work pending.  So let me take care of some emails before they burn a hole in my inbox, and then I can think about blogging Oman.  In the mean time, crank it up! (voice and percussion only)

And let it down softly…

Hey, Oman has Internets!

So, Khalid and Iman’s first road trip was interesting- we carefully and gently took them from their beds at five in the morning, hoping to deposit them, still asleep, into their car seats.  Well, we hoped.  In actuality, Khalid and Iman were both so excited to be in the van and on the road that they burst into full awakeness and giggles and screams of VAN! VAN! VAN! and they napped briefly around 9 am, but then stayed awake for the entire drive, laughing and screaming and fighting over toys, and pointing out the camels and trees and eating cereal in a cup for breakfast and chips in their laps for lunch.

We made it to Muscat by 11 am, and have been happily enjoying HF”s younger cousins and big-screen TV, where Dora the Explorer has been playing nearly non-stop.  Iman and Khalid are running amok in a new house, and Iman has already managed to poke the TV with her fingers, find & dump out some detergent and suspiciously poke it around with a toothbrush, though her teeth don’t look any cleaner.

Also, all the decorations and knick-knacks have been moved to the top of the china cabinet.  We’re having a nice time, the weather isn’t too bad- it’s time for me to go frost a chocolate cake, and later we’ll roll some sushi.

An Ode

How shall I update? Let me count the ways.

I shall update about the man in the white paper hat, a butcher. Oh how he sternly, how resolutely he worked, jaw firmly set, eyes focused straight ahead upon the task at hand, until the side of lamb he was weighing dropped wetly onto the floor and went -splat- Shall I speak of how his face changed, and how he quickly dropped down to pick the skinless lamb up and return it to its place on the meat hook? Shall I mention the hurried glance left, then right, to see if he had been seen? And is it possible to describe the nervous, amusing, lopsided smile he greeted me with when he realized I had been watching him, and laughing? Ah, the grocery store.

Or shall I update about Litho, the gas station attendant, who knew not what flavors his slurpees were. Truth be told, it was midnight, and in the haze of sleep deprivation and late-night hours, the light blue slurpee looks alot like the dark blue slurpee, and the both of them look like close cousins of the teal slurpee. HF and I asked him what they were. He wasn’t sure. He went into the back to ask someone else and returned without an answer. He looked at the machine. Then he took out three cups and poured an inch of each blue into each of them respectively. He offered them to us. The teal one tasted like lemon-scented handsoap. The light blue one was an unknown, and it tasted like lemon-scented conditioner. The dark blue one tasted like lemon scented blue berries that had been left overnight in the radioactive core of a nuclear power plant, so we ordered one glass with two straws. My tongue was blue for a day and a half.

Hemmi’s Guest House, Day 1

Dear Momma & AssalamuAlaikum Abbu & Zaymun & Blogistan

Abez, coming to you live from Hemmie’s computer room, where I’m taking meticulous notes and spying on the natives. Mwahahahaaaaa! To my left are Owlie, Lil’ Hemmie, Hemmie’s bro (wearing a shirt that says ‘Whatever I do blame it on Al-Qaeda). To my right are a pile of CD’s, a shiny silver mouse and a tower CPU. The room is air conditioned, the carpet is blue, and Hemmie is at school. In her absence, Owlie and I have made victorious conquest of the kitchen, where we will make a mess and call it ‘baking brownies.’

The Daewoo ride here was interesting. It being my first bus ride in Pakistan, I think I can be forgiven for thinking I was on a flight every few minutes. It didn’t help that the bus had a stewardess who walked up the aisle offering drinks, sandwiches, little muffins and potato chips. There were also overhead compartments in which to stow carry-on luggage. Unlike other domestic flights I’ve been on, the seats were huge, they reclined, had footrests, and even little pillows. So yeah, it was a nice flight. There was a bit of turbulence when we went over a speed-bump, and a mid-air collision with another bus was narrowly avoided somewhere on sky way—err… Motorway 2.

The landing was very smooth, the touchdown at Daewoo International Airport, Lahore wasn’t too bumpy and our luggage came right out of the side of the cargo hold and we didn’t have to go through customs or anything! 😀

We arrived at 11:30 last night to the happy and waiting car of Hemmie, who then procured fresh roghni naan for us and then fed us dinner. (chicken and potatoes, both boneless!) We then chatted Hemmie’s ear off and prevented her from getting to sleep till about 4 am. We woke up this morning and Hemmie was gone, presumably to school, for which she woke up at 6 am. Owlie says she has a vague memory of Hemmie saying good-bye, but I cannot verify that claim.

Well time to have lunch and then go buy the ingredients for about four trays of brownies. Rather than be taught how to make brownies, Hemmie would rather just import us from Islamabad to refresh her supply at regular intervals. Some people are smarter than others. I’m not sure which category I fit into, or Hemmie either, but in the end we’re gonna eat brownies, and isn’t that all that matters?

Peace & Brownies


#1 Striped Chair,

The Computer room,

Hemmie Guest House, Lahore

Adventures in Amreeka

Four years ago, when Owlie and I lived with our uncle in Karachi while the rest of the family till lived in Chicago, I hoped that the phone was ringing for us from the US, and the home I missed was in Chicago. Four years later, I languish in Chicago and hope that it’s Pakistan calling. It’s an interesting reversal, and proof positive that home is not a location, it’s a feeling. Or, as the ten-year old calendar on my grandma’s kitchen wall used to say, “Home is where the heart is.” Although my heart is still safely lodged in my chest cavity, my ribs don’t feel quite at home.

I miss waking up in a happy sprawl with my pillows on the floor and my blanket under my head.

I miss reading the newspaper in the morning and then hopping into my pop can (car) and zooming off to work on the LEFT side of the road.

I miss the little row of zinnias outside of our front door and the two jasmine bushes that smell sweet at night.

I miss the dog, I miss her slobbery, unconditional love and the adoring look that she will give to absolutely anyone.

I miss the daily soccer game played in the field behind our house and find television to be a poor substitute.

I miss my brother, his brain full of interesting nonsense, his heart full of good intentions and his mouth full of amiable argument that he likes passing the time with. (Ten squirrels with machetes versus a bear with a machine gun. Who’d win?)

I miss my father, I miss him and his silly jokes and his cheating at Scrabble and his psychic ice-cream vibes and his motorcycle rides and the way that he sighs ‘Allaaaaaaaaahhh…” to himself when he’s tired.

I miss my mother, I miss hanging out in her waterbed with a bottle of nailpolish and a lap full of chocolates. I miss how she’s the only person I can hug without feeling self-conscious, how she will dance with me around the dining table and let me talk at her without telling me I’m nuts.

I don’t want to complain, because I am enjoying myself, and we have been hosted and received with kindness and love. We’re kept busy from morning till night with friends, camp meetings, summer parties and sight-seeing nostalgia, but when the Isha prayers have been said and I have again lain down in a borrowed room, my mind goes back to home, to the people in it and the four more weeks until I see any of them again. I toss and poke at a strange pillow.

I roll over.

I miss my bed.

Would you like fries with that bride?

Three days ago a car pulled up at my father’s restaurant, packed with people, all dressed up. Now, I admit that Chez Daddy is a nice place, but it’s hardly fine dining. Three of the people got out, one of whom was a neighbor from the house we just left two weeks ago. She was with her husband and father, and the rest of the people packed in the car were the miscellaneous ladies of the house. They sat down at a table in the restaurant and instead of ordering, they asked if my father was available. He was, and he went out to greet them. According to my goofy and irreverent father, the conversation went something like this.

Lady:…(with a big brassy smile) Well Saab I was wondering if you could help us with something…

Dad: Well let me know what it is and I’ll try to help you if I can.

Lady:…(proudly) We have a brother in Atlanta, and he’s looking for a good girl, we were wondering if you knew any?

Dad: (looking around the restaurant) No, none that I know of.

Lady: (appearing confused but still smiling) Would perhaps your wife know of any? A Pakistani family back in America?

Dad: (Dramatically) Oh no, my wife hates Pakistanis. Can’t stand them. Doesn’t know any of them.

[Here Aniraz and I interrupt my father in the telling of this tale and say ‘Dad, what are you talking about, your wife is married to a Pakistani! We live in Pakistan!’ Dad says, ‘Shhh, let me finish telling the story!’]

Lady: (even more confused, she reaches into a briefcase she carried into the restaurant) I brought my brother’s CV (resume) maybe you’d like to look at it?

Dad: No need, thank you. What does your brother do?

Lady: Oh he’s an electrical engineer, did his Master’s from here and then went to work in the US. Here’s his CV…

Dad: No thank you, and does he have a visa or a green card?

Lady: (nervously) Well, uh, neither. But he has a Master’s degree and…

Dad: Your brother is an illegal alien in the US?

Lady: Well your daughters-

Dad: What about my daughters?

Lady: They’re not married.

Dad: They don’t like living in the US.

Lady: (meekly) But maybe a paper marriage-

Here Aniraz and I go into shock. Of all the ridiculous citizenship-seeking proposals we’ve gotten, this was by far the most shameless. My father, however, seems amused. We ask, “Then what happened dad?”

Dad says: “I told her to look somewhere else. They looked very disappointed. I think they actually expected me to say yes on the spot. They had brought the whole family along, dressed up for the happy occasion. First they drove to the old house, but they found it empty. So they came to the restaurant instead.”

We collectively shudder at the thought of having to entertain seven happy, smiling, dressed up visa-seeking people in our living room, and suddenly I understand why the people at the immigration offices are always so cranky. We’ve been lucky that our father has fielded and screened out all the invalid offers we’ve gotten from various families so far (our daddy is awesome that way) and we just get the humorous version of the story later.

(Dad: And I said ‘of course after the marriage you’d like to settle in America?’ And he gave this stupid smile like he was caught and I told him to leave before I broke both of his legs. What a strange man…)

A friend of ours from a very wealthy family has the same problem, but not because of her citizenship, because of her family’s status. People will ask for her hand in marriage without even knowing so much as her name, just because they want in to the family business. We swap horror stories about it, hers about a man ten inches shorter than her asking for her hand without even knowing her height (she calls him ‘Tingu’), and ours about people asking that we be betrothed to their sons as children.

It has nothing to do with who we are or what we believe, about what we look like or even what we’re looking for- it’s just about people wanted to get to America so badly that they’re willing to risk a lifetime of misery on it. Think about it, say you marry a girl you don’t know just because she has American citizenship, how do you know she’s not man’s worst nightmare? How do you know she’s even sane? How do you know she’s even got all her limbs? You don’t, because you’ve asked without even seeing her, you just heard that someone had an unmarried American citizen somewhere and you thought that marriage might be quicker than waiting ten years in the queue for an American visa.

I’m not even going to bother complaining about how everyone and their momma are tripping all over themselves in a rush to get out of Pakistan, because I know people leave for different reasons, and not all of them are morally reprehensible. Some are even quite noble, but regardless of why people want to get to America, the fact remains that a marriage license is not a plane ticket. Or, in Tingu’s case, a meal ticket.

But back to Chez Daddy. What, according to our father, was the lesson to be learned from all this?

We moved just in time.

Adventures in Taxistan

I seem to have the most interesting luck with cab drivers. I always get the ones who don’t speak either language that I do, or sometimes, I get the ones with ‘stiff neck syndrome,’ a terminal condition that prevents you from turning your head either way as you zoom out into an intersection. (I usually drive, but the car was otherwise booked)

I walked out of the house today and hailed a cab as it passed the house. The cab pulled up and I bent over and looked inside the window. Today’s cabbie was sporting those HUGE tinted shades with gold rims, the kind you would expect on a cheap cop show from the 70’s. He has the mustache to go with them, a tad too large for the typical Punjabi villager moustache, but no problem.

So I tell the guy where I’m going and how much I’m willing to pay him (this is Pakistan, that’s how it works) and instead of bargaining, he just kind of tilts his head sideways, which is the Pakistani gesture that means both yes and no, as well as maybe and whatever. It’s an all-purpose gesture, and I assumed it meant yes so I jumped into the cab and we were off.

As soon as we started driving past the first turn, I piped up and said, “Yahan left turn lena hay.” (take a left turn here.) And he made a sudden left turn and said, “Kahan turn karna tha?” (where was I supposed to turn?) “Yahan, left.” I said, trying to reassure him.

“Left?” he said, “Now is that badda (sp?) or gadda (sp?)?”

Now people, I can say left and right in three different ways because Pakistan has a lot of local languages, (whose speakers have nothing better to do than invent ways of confusing me.) but I have never, ever heard of badda or gadda. I still don’t know whether that’s what he was really saying. (bogga?) The moustache was causing some sound distortion.

“Ulta or seedha?” he asked, turning and looking at me like I was from outer Mongolia. Or space.

“Ulta,” I said, “Left is Ulta.”

“So now where do I go?” he asked.

Here I paused. See, in Urdu, the word for ‘straight’ and ‘right’ are the same. Seedha. I’ve had many moments with cab drivers that could pass as skits in some comedy (whose sole focus would be ridiculing white-washed Pakistanis) where I’ve said seedha as in straight, only to have the cab driver turn right, and where I’ve said seedha as in right, and the cabdriver has driven past my turn. I had to choose my words carefully.

“Aagay,” I said, “Ahead.”

So we drove ahead, and I used hand-signals as visual aides to the directions I called out from the back seat. When we got onto the main road that we were supposed to follow straight for about five kilometers, I relaxed in the back seat and started taking in the scenery. (on a clear day the Margalla hills are beautiful) After a couple minutes the cabdriver cleared his throat and nervously said, “You haven’t told me where to turn yet.”

“I know,” I said, “That because we’re going straight.”

At a certain point I realized that the guy had no idea where he was and no idea where he was going. The farther we went, the more nervous he got. Several times, as we drove straight through the major intersections that mark sector limits in Islamabad, I saw him sigh and make a frustrated gesture with his hand. (are we there yet?)

When we were about five minutes from the destination, and he had nearly passed two of the landmarks I had given him, driven uncertainly through red lights (which I think he didn’t know were there) and tried to turn down the wrong side of a street, I finally asked. “So,” I said, “How long have you been working in Islamabad?”

He actually turned around in his seat (while still driving!) and looked at me forlornly and said, “Two days. I’m from Karachi.”

Actually, I should’ve realized he was a Sindhi, because once his local language failed to work with me (badda? gadda? gobba? ???) he went to Urdu. The Punjabi cab drivers first try to use khabba and sajja, and when they realize I’m confused by it, they switch to English. (layft, raeet.)

Well folks, as long as this story is, I haven’t reached the end. We reached my destination and as I was getting the fare from my purse, he smiled sadly and said, “Baji, before you leave, can you tell me how to get back…?”

The End.

Mortein vs. Rocket Bug

Phone line? We don’t need no stinkin phone line!

Oh wait, yes we do. And we would like to have one, but as my Turkish students would say, “It isn’t in the Kismet.”

Adventures in Abezistan: Struth, I have vanquished the mighty foe!

Lots of my adventures begin with me standing on a prayer rug. This either means that I’m easily distracted from the prayer rug, or that the prayer-rug is really just an action-packed place. But anyway, this story actually began last night, when I was upstairs watching BBC, and I heard a piercing shriek.

(“Eeeek!” yelleth Aniraz, as she clambered hastily up yonder stair.)

Aniraz came rushing up the stairs a second later and informed me that a mighty and many-legged beast was rocketing around the living room downstairs. Only one kind of bug actually rockets, and that’s a giant spring-loaded, high-powered grasshopper. They’re four inches long and yellow with black stripes. They shoot around erratically and crash into things, like your eye. So, Aniraz and I hid our cowardly selves upstairs until we forgot there was an insect menace downstairs, and we saw nothing of it for the rest of the evening.

(The beast lay hidden, and night fell upon an uneasy peace in the land of Abezistan.)

This afternoon (and here I am on the prayer rug again) I was about to say takbeer when I noticed that something seemed very weird about the dish of potpourri on the coffee table just in front of me. I stared at it for a second, and realized that one of the leafy-bits had really, really long legs. I mean really long legs. Most of the time a grasshopper keeps its legs doubled, and it only springs them when it wants to rocket off into space vertically again, so you have no idea how long they are, but when it’s walking slowly around in a bowl of potpourri, it extends its legs, you can see they’re grossly long, almost as long as this sentence. (he he)

I was feeling courageous, so I went for the digital camera, thinking I would get a neat pic for my fotolog. Well, sorry folks, the digital cam couldn’t be found. I did, however, locate a can of pleasantly orange-scented bug spray. I tiptoed up to the grasshopper and gave a squirt, and then I screamed (preemptively) and ran away.

(And a mighty cry rang through the field of battle.)

When I came back later, the stupid dheet bug was still sitting in the same place, just rubbing its legs together, probably enjoying that pleasant orangey-smell. (it’s nice, really. If it wasn’t toxic I’d use it as air freshener). So I tiptoed in for another shot. See, it’s a tribute to the huge size of this bug that when I blasted it with the bug spray it didn’t even flinch. If you shoot this stuff at ants, the pressure makes them fly in all directions. If you shoot a mosquito, it gets knocked off course. If you shoot a roach it gets blown sideways, but if you shoot a giant grasshopper, nothing happens.

The only thing that happened after the second shot was that the grasshopper started to do laps around the edge of the bowl of potpourri. But, when I came closer for a third shot, the grasshopper went off. It shot vertically into the air, struck the ceiling and came down too near my head. I screamed (naturally) and ran away with my prayer rug, and I stood behind the dining room wall watching the grasshopper ricochet around the room like a bullet.

(And thus was vanquished a mighty foe.)

The first moral of this story is that this is what brothers are for, in theory at least. Maybe not my elder brother though, because once I asked him to kill a roach for me, and he did, and then he chased me around the house with its carcass till I cried. (I was 12, ok?) Additionally, Buddhists also make terrible bug-killers. My father’s driver in the states was formerly a Buddhist monk, and though he was no longer in the orange robes, he was still sticking to many of the rules. Once a two-inch centipede made an appearance near his head, and I said, “Aaak! Mojo! A centipede! Kill it!”

And he very happily told me that if I asked him to kiss the centipede, he would, but he would never kill it, because he would never harm any living thing. He’s lucky I didn’t call his bluff. I really wonder if he would’ve have kissed the centipede, that is, if the centipede would consent to being kissed.

Well anyway, I’ve discovered that Mortein High Performance Surface Bug Spray is ineffective on anything larger than three inches. I sprayed the dog once (it was an accident, I swear) and she just turned to me with a look in her eyes that was like, “What the hell?” So yeah, bug spray doesn’t work on dogs. Nor does it work on Aniraz, whose feet I once misted (with that pleasant orangey smell!) when I was trying to get some ants on the floor instead. Surprisingly, she didn’t die either, but she did give me the same look that the dog did.

And then she ricocheted off the ceiling.