Friday, October 22, 2004

Woo Hoo!!! Momma's got her blue jeans ON!

Nine months of the year, I wear shalwar kameez, the national dress of Pakistan. I love shalwar kameez. They are elegant, cool in the heat, and are figure-forgiving (and I've gotta lotta figure to forgive.)

Last year, I spent 11 months in the States and wore western clothes almost all the time. Whenever I was out shopping and would see a desi (Indian or Pakistani) woman in her shalwar kameez, I would admire hers and long for mine. I did have a couple dressy ones that I wore to church a few times and always got fabulous comments from men and women alike. *Must stop typing long enough to use both hands to shove head back into proper size*

But when it cools down it's time to dress for warmth and then I don blue jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers. Poor Hubby hates it and doesn't want to be seen with me wearing them. Being a foreign wife, puts me in the “trophy wife” category. No matter how causal, ethnic or grungy he dresses, I'm supposed to be dressed to the nines when we are out in public. Note: As you can tell by my photo above, me being a trophy wife is absurdity to the nth degree and a very blogworthy topic!

Yesterday he gave me a glaring look and asked, "Is this part of your rebellion?"

"No," I replied with a sweet smile, "It's my national dress."

That always shuts him up. You can take the girl outta the country, but you can't take the country outta the girl.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Today was cold and dark with rain beginning about 1/2 an hour before sundown. I headed out to my ESL class with this prayer 'God, I'm grateful to have a car on a night like this, even this tiny car the size of an aluminium beer keg and without seatbelts.'

I turned on my headlights and noticed of all the hundreds of cars coming at me, only a handful were using theirs. The raindrops smudged the dusty windshield. I reminded myself to drive a little slower, keep a sharper lookout for the bike riders and pedestrians on the side of the road. No sidewalks here. You share the road with everything from pedestrians, donkey carts, farm tractors, motorcycles, push carts, and even ice cream venders.

Swish swash the wiper blades made an interesting sound. The syllable pattern and pitch matched the word potato, but not like an American would say it, but po-taaa-to - swish swish swish - like the Brits say.

I tried to think of a different word to fit the pattern, but the only one that came to mind was to-maaa-to. So, I thought, my little car has a British accent. That amused me greatly.


The rhythm of the wipers kept me company. The rain slowed to a light drizzle. I fiddled with the wiper control to find the intermittent setting. It had none. I turned off the wipers to get potaaato/ tomaaato out of mind, but road spray forced me to turn the wipers back on.


I drove on with greater care, dodging the recklessly fast drivers and narrowly avoiding the dangerously slow ones, wondering "Why can't we all just follow the speed limit?" I stopped at a red light and gazed about at the other cars.

Two cars up I saw a metal sign on the left bumper of the car. Not a bumper sticker like you'd see in the States, but an actual hand-made, metal sign like a license plate. I leaned left and read the word - RESPECT. Is that all it says I wondered? Respect for what? Life? My personal space? The law? Pedestrians? The environment? The cars moved on and I was able then to see the whole sign. 'Respect' was all it said. I turned off the wipers and drove in silence, contemplating the message.

Again, I had to switch on the wipers, but no potaaato, tomaaato then it became rubi dubi squeak squeak. Sometimes it was only rubi dubi squeak. I tried matching an English phrase to this new rhythm and pitch, but then realised I was paying more attention to the wipers than to the busy downtown traffic that played dodge'm cars on wet roads. It began to drive me crazy. It seemed safer to drive without the wipers, as I found them so distracting.

Again, I thought back to the sign on the car. I realized that the writer of the sign had it right; the minimalist approach was the best. By putting only the word 'Respect' he had invited the reader to interact with his message the same way an artist invites the viewer into his painting. It allows one to provide his own interpretation to the message. In one word he had summed up all that was wrong or missing in the Pakistani driving experience - respect. That's what was missing. That's what is needed.

As I sat there driving, thinking, almost as if on cue, a rainbow formed in the darkening sky, as if to validate my epiphany.


Monday, October 18, 2004

The Queen of Cultural Confusion

Those of you who know my family or read the girls' blogs know that in my home I am the lone Mormon surrounded by praying, fasting, beardie/hijabi wearing Islamic-types. I love 'em and they love me, but you know I'm an irrascable brat and the self proclaimed Queen of Cultural confusion. With that disclaimer out of the way, I now blog on.

Ramadan is the Muslim holy month of fasting to commemorate the revealing of the Holy Quran. It is a time of self-evaluation, a celebration of the spiritual over the physical self. My family totally loves the fasting, and the sundown gatherings to read Quran and break the fast. It's their favorite holiday of the year.

But here's how I see Ramadan: Through the Eyes of an Infidel.

First of all, I miss eating in the daylight with my family. In order to not seem callous, I try to eat unseen. I've been reduced to sneak eating, a pack of snack crackers in the bedroom, a quickly munched cookie behind the closed kitchen door, a candy bar inhaled in the laundry room. Oops, wait a minute, I do this year-round! Now at least I have an excuse.

Fasting is a great way of becoming spiritually refined, but let's face it; fasting breath is a killer. I now have to remember to keep a "safe" distance from my loved ones. No daytime kissing is an extention of the no eating rule. But, hey with that killer breath, no problem.

Ramadan shopping is the pits. The shopkeepers are all bad-breathy and grouchy. The shops are all crowded with people buying all the trappings of the season: new clothes for Eid, special food treats for those "breakfast" meals. Prices are jacked up for the month. The tailors are mobbed and turn out substandard work in the rush. (Oops, wait a minute. My tailors do this all year. Now at least they have an excuse.) It's best to get all clothes shopping and tailoring done before the holiday rush.

Driving becomes more dangerous! If you've read my past few blogs, you must wonder "HOW can that be possible?" Sundown marks the end of each day's fast. Millions of men are rushing to get home before the sirens sound the all clear to eat signal. Yep, it's like, "I've been fasting all day, I'm tired and hungry, I want to break my fast at home with my loved ones and if you get in my way, I'm gonna have to cut you down!" So the usual reckless abandon of rules that is daily driving here increases exponentially just before sundown.

I become a Ramadan widow. Hubby attends the evening reading of the Quran in the mosque every evening for 1 1/2 hours. The Quran is divided into 30 parts and one part is read out loud every evening. When we were younger I really resented the fact that he worked 12 hours in the day and after break-fast went to mosque and then came home and fell asleep on the floor till bed time. That was the routine for the whole month. Over work, over eat, over sleep. BORING!!! Nowdays it's different. The restaurant is closed so he's home allll dddayyy lllonggg and driving me crazy, I'm glad he gets out of the house for a few hours. "Oh, Honey, back so soon?"

There are some GOOD things about the month that even this displaced Mormon can appreciate too.

Every sundown meal is like High Tea. There's a veritable buffet of tasty treats to tide you over till dinner. Any religious celebration involving food, count me in. There are many wonderful tradional foods: fried dumplings, fried vegetable fritters, fried sweets, fried savories, fried, fried, fried. We really have to restrict those fried goodies from daily use or we end up gaining weight in Ramadan as many people do. There is also a pink syrup drink that is mixed with milk, water or 7-up and smells like you're drinking Nestle's Strawberry Kwik spiked with Grandma's Rose Scented Toilette Water. Then there are the chaats. Fruit Chaat is made of sugared and peppered fruit bits. (Does the expression 'aquired taste' give you a hint?) The savory Chaat is based on chickpeas, and other items tossed together varying according to where you are from. Chaat is to Pakistan like Chilli is to America. Ever region takes the same basic ingredients and tweaks it differently. This Am-REE-kan makes a darn good Chaat based on the Americanization of the Hyderabadi style.

Ramadan at our house is very definitely a fusion of east and west since we are a culturally and religously blended family. A few years back Ramadan came in December. I adapted my usual holiday baking to a Ramadan theme. I'd be baking gingerbread while singing adultrated versions of Christmas songs like: "It's beginning to look a lot like Ramamdan." Our gingerbread men became gingerbread Punjabis with the men sporting big mustashes and wearing langas, the women with long braids and saris. Sundown "Breakfast" was like a Christmas party everyday. Abez, still thinks gingerbread is the perfect break-fast food and asks for it any time of the year when she is fasting. How can I refuse?

This year Halloween falls in Ramadan. I've recommemded a fusion event as follows: Just before sundown the fasters, wearing costumes and masks stand outdoors. When the sundown siren goes off they ring the door bell and yell, "Time to eat!" They then rush indoors, break their fasts with miniature candy bars, Hot Cider and popcorn balls. Later, when walking towards the mosque for the evening Quran reading, they ring doorbells, collecting candy and throwing tolet paper in the trees of people (chose one: they like, they hate or who have run out of candy).

Bodacious Ramadan to all and to all a Good Night