Home – A re-blog from Something Different

I’m taking time off from blogging and today I’m sending you to the blog Something Different with writer/student Josh Wiley. I don’t know Josh but do know his parents and love that we share so much in common through growing up in Pakistan and transitioning to life in the west during college.

Josh took me back to Pakistan this morning and I smiled as I remembered times of arriving in Karachi with my heart bursting knowing I was home.

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Over 30 people on this car

Home. There’s something refreshingly normal about being home. Within a few seconds of making my way out of the airport in Karachi and into my parents’ warm arms, everything became so very familiar. Sitting in the back of the car as we pulled out of the airport, I had to remind myself that this is not ‘normal’. You’ve waited to be here, Josh. Now enjoy it and appreciate it like you waited for it. But I do enjoy it. I do enjoy being home. I just enjoy the normalcy of it.

Somehow the familiarity of home adds to the enjoyment, or reflects it, at least. If I was constantly reminded how strange it was to be home, it wouldn’t really be home, would it? But instead, it’s in the places where everything is as expected that I often experience the most joy.

Read the rest of the article here. 

Wrapping up the Week ~ 6.01.13

It’s hot. It’s as though all the passionate pleas for warmth during winter gathered in the Heavens and sunshine and heat have come in abundance. I love this weather with all its sweat and lethargy. The whirring fans spell ‘h-o-m-e’ and the heat takes me to palm trees and dust, to Pittman’s house in Karachi and Addleton’s in Shikarpur, to Islamabad and Rawalpindi and Cairo back to my couch in Cambridge. I love this.

The cottage 3And today we unpack ‘place’. A small cottage-condo by the sea will be ours for the summer until fall rolls round and new renters sign a lease. Rockport is a special place for our family. Rockport means slow weekends with no internet or television, piles of books, long walks by the rocky coast, and art projects galore.

And so my blogging schedule will change. I will be posting Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, Robynn will continue on Fridays, and Saturday wrap-ups will go on hiatus until the fall.  Any extra time will be spent enjoying summer life and working on a two book projects – one with Robynn where we explore more of our TCK roots and compile what we’ve already written and add fresh, new material; and another that is shaping in my head with input from my husband and brother, Dan.

Onto wrapping up the week….

On Photography: My brother Stan has submitted a photo to the National Park Photo Contest in the United States. Stan is a superb photographer and this picture does not disappoint. Take a look at ‘Realignment’ and pass it on to others. You can share on Facebook as well as vote on it.

On getting rid of books and moving on: All of us know what it’s like to go through that gritty, difficult passage from one stage to another. Sometimes it happens through moving countries, other times through other life events. In a NY Times op-ed Stanley Fish explores this in a piece called Moving On. He begins the article on looking at what it was like to get rid of books and look at empty shelves but moves it from there to looking at retirement. A quote from the piece:

“I’m not going to go on forever. I avoid this realization, even as I voice it. I say, “I’m not going to go on forever,” and at the same time I’m busily signing new contracts, accepting new speaking invitations, thinking up new courses, hungering after new accolades. My books are clearer-eyed than I am. They exited the stage without fuss and will, one hopes, take up residence in someone else’s library where they will be put to better uses than to serve as items in a museum, which is what they were when they furnished my rooms.” from Moving On NY Times May 27,2013

On writing: I was delighted to be asked to be a monthly contributor to A Life Overseas. I’ve contributed two articles to A Life Overseas and love the perspective I see from other authors there. They are working through thoughts and feelings on poverty, nationalism, saying goodbye, having household help, and faith with passion and strong voice. I feel privileged to join them on this journey.

On the amazing book by my bedside table: It continues to be Americanah and oh I am loving this book. The descriptions, the attention to detail, notions of home, flawed and fully relatable characters  – all of it wrapped up in a great package. I don’t want this book to end quickly so I’m taking it in sips.

And to you who read….last night I met someone at a wedding who reads Communicating Across Boundaries.  I had met her only once before and she found the blog through a link on someone elses’s site – so humbling and wonderful to meet her. That’s how I feel about you all – it’s an honor that you read and share. Thank you and see you on Monday!

Stories of Lost Luggage

Okay – let’s hear them! The stories of lost luggage and distraught travelers.

After years of traveling with a clean record of luggage arrival, the spell ended when my boyfriend (now husband) and I went to Pakistan by way of Cairo to get engaged.

We had planned the trip for weeks. While I didn’t know we were getting engaged, I knew for sure we were serious and my parents had to meet him. Who was this “Cliff” that they heard about through long letters punctuated with a thousand exclamation marks?

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So we planned. And we purchased. And we packed.

We headed out about ten days before Christmas leaving bitter Chicago weather and traveling to Pakistan with a 3 day stop in Cairo planned. Our suitcases were full of Christmas presents. We had the Little House on the Prairie series of books for our Cairo friends; packets, jars, and bags of food that they could not get in either Pakistan or  Cairo – we even carried a fake Christmas tree in a duffel bag.

We arrived in Cairo and our luggage did not. It was a sad day.

For 3 days we talked about what they ‘would have’ received and how exciting it ‘would have’ been. The worst thing for me personally was that I had no clothes. I was a woman who was in love, soon to be engaged, and insecure in a place I didn’t know. If I had lost my baggage in Karachi – no problem! I knew how to shop, I was in control – I knew the ways. But this was Cairo – my first visit to Cairo. I borrowed clothes from a woman with a completely different figure type and to this day the pictures taken on that trip were the most uncomplimentary pictures that I’ve ever had taken in my life. I look as awkward as I remember feeling.

No matter, for we arrived in Pakistan 3 days later and I was home! Greeted by my parents, introducing Cliff to both parents and Pakistan for the first time, collecting money from PIA (Pakistan International Airline) so I could shop in my favorite bazaars in Karachi – pure magic.

One week later we received word that the luggage had indeed arrived in the Karachi airport, all but one piece. My boyfriend  (turned fiancee one day after arrival who is now my husband) and my brother took a train ride to Karachi to pick up the luggage in time for Christmas – and that’s a blog post in itself, but not mine to tell. All except one piece. Six months later a duffel bag arrived on our door step – in it was a fake Christmas tree that had traveled the world and arrived at our Chicago apartment in the summer. M & M’s and other candy that had broken out of its packages was strewn through out the branches, giving it a particularly decorative look. The humor of the whole thing still has us telling the story.

So what’s your story of lost luggage?

Since I had so few takers on the giveaway announced on Saturday – here’s your chance to take part. Add your story to the comments and you will be put into the pool to receive a book! Take a look here for what that book might be~

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Challenging Assumptions

This piece was first posted in February of 2011, soon after I began blogging. I was reminded of it recently when a favorite blogger of mine, Rachel who writes at Djibouti Jones as well as various other places on the web, began a series “Let’s Talk About Hijab”. I love what she is doing with this topic, inviting several voices into the conversation. And here is a glimpse of my perspective.

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In my adult life, I have often been asked questions about Muslim women, more often than not put in a defensive position as I speak to what I know and have experienced. In everything from the hijab or burqa to a view of family and work, western women are curious, incredulous, or judgmental   

While I am in no way an expert, I am privileged to have life experience that included growing up in Pakistan until I was 18, and living in both Pakistan and Egypt as an adult for a total of 10 years. What is most important to me in my conversations is challenging the assumptions that are made through limited contact and knowledge of the Muslim world, more specifically women in the Muslim world.

I grew up with Muslim women surrounding me and friendships developed at early ages, some that continue to this day-but I am always aware that my words and thoughts are inadequate to the complexity of their role on the local and world stage. There is one thing I can say with surety: one of the first assumptions to be challenged is that Muslim women are monolithic. The diversity at every level is astounding and the image often conjured up of a fully veiled woman walking behind her husband is only occasionally correct.

It is because of this inadequacy that I continually read books and articles, but more importantly, ask questions of my Muslim friends.  This is also the reason I was so excited when my husband came home with the book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. In an earlier post I wrote about this small red volume and wanted to expand a bit on this today.

The part of the book that is of most interest to me is the section on women.  While I love narratives and they resonate with me, I am aware there are many who want “just the facts”. This study works for the ‘data’ people and has information that cannot be ignored.  Several examples of vast differences in view-point are given.  For example, when western women were asked what they admired least in the Muslim world the response was ‘gender inequality”. Interesting to note is that responses from Muslim women did not include gender inequality. Equal legal right and gender inequality did not appear, rather the three most significant concerns for women were lack of unity of muslims, political corruption and extremism.

Undeniable in interviews with Muslim women was disapproval of the way western women are treated in the west. The perceived promiscuity, pornography, public indecency and lack of modesty were equal, in the eyes of those interviewed, to a degraded status for women.

Even as I write this, I am aware that books can only take us so far, that there is no substitute for relationships to challenge our assumptions and move us into friendships with those who think differently. I have two voices in my head as I write this: my mom – who spent over 30 years in a Muslim majority country; and a woman Bettie Addleton who spent the same amount of time. Both are examples of people who worked to form relationships in a part of the world that was different from the homes in America where they were raised.

In her book The Day the Chicken Cackled: Reflections on a Life in Pakistan Bettie recalls a Halloween party that she was putting on for her family and ours when we were little kids. The party was interrupted by a note from two Muslim women in the town who had heard of Bettie and were curious, and the note stated, “bored stiff” in this smaller town as compared to the larger coastal city of Karachi. Bettie goes on to say this

“Improbably, this single event marked the beginning of a wide network of friendships with Muslim women living in Shikarpur. Their generosity provided a window into a world that I otherwise would never have experienced. Indeed, the young woman …who sent me the note became the closest friend I ever had in Pakistan. She also became a willing and trusted source of information for the many questions I had about customs and traditions of our corner in Upper Sindh.”

Being willing to have assumptions challenged is not easy, but it is critical, particularly in a world often driven by stereotypes posed by the loudest voices on both sides of the divide.

As the quote by Dr. Daniel Brown on the back of Bettie’s book says, we need a balance to media driven images of Pakistan and Muslims” and “an account of real Muslim-Christian encounters that (are) filled with humanity, humor, and hope.”

Wrapping Up the Week 2.16.13

The snow that wrapped up this city and left us a paralyzed package with a big frozen bow at the top is down to a mere pile and a slush. It’s amazing that one week ago we never thought we would dig out of our piles. Warmer temperatures hit the greater Boston area and we are basking in sunshine and mid 40’s. Other than the fact that the snow left on the ground is ugly brown and grey streaked, the warm weather is welcome!

On to the wrap-up.

Miami Herald, Afghan Women March Against ViolenceOn Afghanistan and Women: On Valentine’s Day in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, activists held a march protesting violence against women. Afghan men and women are speaking out, openly and loudly, to call for an end to violence and abuse. Read about the march in the article “Afghan Women March Against Violence” published in the Miami Herald. It’s a great reminder that lasting change happens from within.

On Street Kids in Karachi: Pakistan has one of the world’s largest populations of street kids. It’s throat catching tragic – but like so many things, there are whispers of redemption in the middle of horrible situations. This whisper of redemption is through a Street Kids World Cup soccer match. It’s an amazing endeavor and I’m so glad to know about it. Take a look at this article “Saving Karachi’s Street Children One Goal at a Time”. It is inspirational and educational.

“Finally, there was an arena that provided a clean slate for these children, where their worth was not dependent on what was in their pockets or whether they sold their bodies” ~ from the article.

On White Privilege: I don’t usually get into this topic – it’s too big, too complicated, too defeating. But having our oldest daughter with us for a couple of months is challenging me to look harder at some of the things I just brush off and don’t think about. My challenge this week came through an article that looks at the movie The Impossible. I am sure that this movie is amazing, and Naomi Watts has proven herself once more by being nominated for an Oscar for her role in this film. But – and this is a big but – isn’t it troubling that the film emerging about the Tsunami in 2004 that took thousands of lives, many of them children, most of them Asian, focuses on the survival of a white family? And the original family was Hispanic….! I know I’m posing a controversial opinion but I’d love for you to read this article called “Notes from the Margins: White People Problems” and see what you think. Weigh in through the comments or through the comments on the article itself.

On Making a Difference: Oh you will LOVE this website. Freerice.com is an organization that donates rice through World Food Programme to those in areas where hunger is rampant. But there’s a fun twist to their donation – they have you go into the site and answer questions – for every question you get correct, they donate 10 grains of rice. It doesn’t sound like much but through clicking through and answering questions correctly yesterday I ended up donating 660 grains of rice. It’s FUN! Try it today – if enough of you try it we can set up a Communicating Across Boundaries team.

On the Blog: Every day I’m reminded how amazing you all are – your comments are thoughtful, challenging, affirming and daily encourage. More and more comments have come on the post “‘Saudade’ – A Word for the Third Culture Kid.” If you get a chance – take a look. It’s amazing the responses that speak to belonging, memories, and loss.

On my Bedside Table: I took a break this week and did fun! I reread Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – that quintessential mystery, romance novel that many of us read in high school. I was not disappointed.’

Where ever you are – whether Istanbul, Yemen, Cairo, the UK or anywhere else – have a great day! As always – thanks for reading.

Inhaled Memories

Chai, Pakistan, Murree“Memories often return through the nose….”Peter Mayle

As soon as I stepped into the restaurant I smelled the pungent aroma of spices that make up a curry. In a breath I was back in Pakistan at a restaurant in Karachi. My family was with me as we sat around a table, too busy eating to talk. Hot chapatis served with thick chicken curry covered in ghee filled our plates. Small bowls of raita cooled our mouths. The memory was from years ago, but as I stepped into the restaurant it was as fresh as though it was yesterday.

I had just inhaled a memory.

Another breath and I inhaled another memory. This time I was at the chai shop across the street from my boarding school. Going to the chai shop was a privilege you earned when you entered high school. Though only steps from the front door, it was officially ‘off campus’ and outside of school property. As such it offered a space away. Hot chai served in chipped china cups warmed our bodies and filled our stomachs; parathas and spicy omelets were pungent, delicious additions to the boring and some might say hideous, boarding school diet.

Another memory inhaled.

In the novel Anything Considered Peter Mayle takes his character back in time through his sense of smell. “Memories often return through the nose. As he inhaled the odor of sanctity, a blend of ancient dust, mildewed prayer books, and crumbling stone, Bennett was taken back instantly and vividly to his school days.”

I stopped my reading and pulled out a pen and my always beside me small moleskin journal to write the quote. It was too good to forget, too true not to use.

We step into kitchens and smell the aroma of cinnamon and dough and suddenly we’re back home and tiny, waiting for that hot, fresh cinnamon roll. We walk into an unfamiliar house and in a moment feel completely comfortable, secure because the smells lure us to a past place and time of comfort.

And then there are those other inhaled memories – those that remind us of sickness, difficulty, poverty, even death.

Inhaled memories are not always pleasant.

But those that come to me as I enter Indian or Pakistani restaurants and stores are gifts taking me to places and foods I love. And so I embrace them and hold them tight, as though I am greeting an old and dear friend.

How about you? What memories have you inhaled? 

*The featured photo is a picture of our beloved chai shop, courtesy of Jason Philbrick. Jason has been featured in two complementary pieces:

Yar darr mat, Malala bann (Don’t be scared, be a Malala).

Saturday, November 10 was proclaimed Malala Day in honor of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for her ongoing activity in support of  education for girls within Pakistan.

The photos posted on BBC News document vigils, demonstrations, and prayers throughout Pakistan. Men, women, and children bound together in support of this little girl and hope for the future.

Just days after the shooting, a short article published in The Express Tribune had an update on Pakistan’s reaction summed up in a phrase:

Yar darr mat, Malala bann (Don’t be scared, be a Malala).

It was a collective response to feeling helpless in the face of evil and wrong doing, and it was, and is, powerful! Throughout Karachi, one of the largest cities in Pakistan, this phrase was used and people responded.

Hearing about this response in Pakistan is heartening, it’s good news. Everyday our media sources bring us bad news from Pakistan, bad news delivered with smiles that show off perfect white teeth; bad news given with bad pronunciation of the word Pakistan; bad news delivered with no empathy or understanding of this country.

And then comes a Malala and we are given a glimpse of tremendous courage, a glimpse of someone who believes in something beyond her circumstances, and is moving forward in a trajectory that cannot be stopped. Moving forward and now carrying a country with her.

And it’s happening within Pakistan, by Pakistanis  — without another country trying to impose an agenda and values and push change that would inevitably die. Change that comes from within is lasting change. Change imposed from without is not change at all, it’s imperialism.  It’s arrogant thinking that walks in front of and not beside. 

And this change is led by a 14-year-old girl who has a purpose and courage to carry out that purpose.

“Don’t be Scared – Be a Malala” is a call to courage for all of us, no matter where we live. A call to change what needs changing in our communities, in our towns, in our work places, in our places of worship — but most of all in ourselves.  Because change comes from within. 

 *Photos courtesy of Tim Irwin and Jason Philbrick – fellow Third Culture Kids who share a love for Pakistan.