Thursday, November 18, 2004

My Almost Nine Lives

I've always been a very feline human. Of course, any person who makes such a statement would have to be a cat lover, which I am, but I mean that I have many cat-like traits in my personality.

I'm shy and standoffish around strangers. I take time to get to know someone before I get cozy with them. I require maximum attention to my food, but minimum attention from my people. Noise and confusion send me hiding under the sofa. I enjoy small groups and quiet times. And like cat-lore, I have had many lives.

Random memories of my past sneak into my present. A sudden memory of little Carol-in-Indiana, 6 years old, walking to school in her small hometown gently creeps into my mind. Shy in class, rated as "doesn't play with others", fearful in this strange new place called school, but secure in the knowledge that her 4 older sisters were close by in other classrooms. I wonder how that quite and shy, bookish, plump, insecure little girl, ever grew into this middle aged woman living half a world away in Pakistan.

Sometimes it's Carol-in-Chicago, who pops into my mind. She has just left Indiana to attend college in Chicago. She's the first one in her family to attend college, the first to leave for the "Big City" and live alone. Here is our middle child now, all alone in a city of several million without the comfort of a single friend or family. She walks down Michagan Avenue, staring at the posh designers shops, the well dressed people, the tall buildings and she likes what she sees. She loves the architecture, the look and lines of the designer clothes. She feels invigorated. How did this smalltown girl grow to be such a risk taker?

Othertimes, it's Carol-in-Motherhood who visits me. I see her setting in a Chicago playpark watching her youngsters playing nearby. She is struggling to raise her children alone without the comfort and guidance of extended family and with a husband who works 100 hours per week. She is overwhelmed by the constant needs, the constant pulling both mental and physical (too much touching, tugging, tail pulling and this cat-woman wants to hide under the sofa) the constant interaction with others from sun up to sundown. How did she survive such stressful times and come out with sucessful adults, not just as her children, but as her friends.

These mental flashbacks occure often. Sometimes, she's working in her family vegitable garden, sometimes she's riding the Belmont Street bus. At times she's working at Clinton Elementary school, sometimes she's at North Elementary school as a student. Sometimes she's visiting her parents in Indiana with her 4 kids in tow seeking a break from being Mom to be a daughter again for a few days.

Each time I think back and see a past Carol it surprise me that I have grown or traveled or changed so much. It feels like my life has been a series of disjointed chapters, not one life of fluid changes, but a series of seperate lives by sperate people. Each past Carol seems like a different person with a different life. That's why I said I'm a feline person. I've already lived several seperate and distinct lives. I'm about to embark on a new one.

As I sit in the family room I'm surrounded by bags of clothes and boxes of junk. We have started the process of preparing to move. It's like divesting myself of another Carol, Carol-in-Islamabad and starting another life. Carol-in-Islamabad will be discared, sold, packed, miminumized and concluded. Carol-in-Islamabad will become Carol-in-Dubai or Sharjah or _______ I'll have to learn a new alphabet, language, set of customs and laws. I'll have to locate a new house, new job, new friends a new congregation. I'll miss the comfort and guidance we had in Pakistan from my hubby because he was a local who knew the language, customs, culture. And, for a long time, I'll have gentle flashbacks to the old and comfortable Carol-in-Pakistan and wonder how the hell I got here.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Carol' s Theory of Relativity

Sunday was day one of the three day Islamic holiday calledEid al Fitr. (Holiday of Charity) here in Pakistan. Saudi Arabia and some parts of Pakistan had declared the new moon sighted the night before and celebrated their Eid a day earlier, but the rest of the country was waiting for the official moon sighting to be announced. After hours of is it or isn't it Eid tomorrow, we finally got a call from Crayon announcing the Eid decision and that put us in mad prep-cooking mode. I guess sighting the new moon or not is all relative to your locality.

Fortunately the days where Hubby and I did all the cooking ourselves are over, the girls are a big help now. I made my Americanized chole (chick pea salad) which is such a tradition, Hubby made Chicken Quorma(curry), Sheer Khurma (vermicelli in sweetened cream with raisins and nuts) and Pilau. Owlie made Dahai Baray (fried lental flour dumplings in slightly sweetened yogurt sauce) Abez provided kitchen support, helping out and washing the dishes. It was relatively easy.

After an early morning prayer at Faisal Mosque, (which I didn't attend this year) the family returned to exchange hugs and greetings of "Eid Mubarak". The kids got Eidi (cash) from their father. Then all settled in to attack the Sheer Khurma . Very much missed was our old Chicago tradition of a dozen donuts from Dunkin Donuts. I reminded Zaman that next Eid there would be Dunkin Donuts again, as a franchise is underway here in Islamabad. It reminded me of the Jewish tradition of saying, "Next year in Jerusalem." There was even serious discussion that day of whether we should drive 3 hours to Lahore for donuts, but decided it was relatively too far.

Then we all did something something very untradtional for Eid, we all slept for many hours. After many days of not enough sleep and then staying up all night to cook, everyone was relatively exausted.

Traditionally right after the prayer, families start to visit one another. All day the families make the rounds visiting, hugging, giving and getting Eid. Even adults get Eidi from older or senior ranking adults. There is a very elaborate and clear cut system of ranking. A woman who is married to the oldest brother out ranks his younger siblings even if she is younger by years. Older sisters get Eidi from younger brothers because brothers are supposed to support sisters. It gets prettly complex sometimes and it's fun to watch the adults laughingly argue why a certain person has no right to decline their Eidi or why they are demanding Eidi from another. With the convolutedness of inter-married families, it all gets relatively complicated.

On holidays we miss having family close by. But there's a reason why we are we live in Islamabad and all Hubby's live in Karachi. We lived in Karachi from '91-'93. The family complex was 4 miles from our apartment. It was relatively close. We would visit the extended family about 3 times a month and on every holiday. That was relatively convenient.

On holidays like Eid the lack of family members is relatively painful. We usually do go to Karachi for Eid, but last month's expense of replacing our stolen car left us relativley cash strapped. We decided to stay in Islamambad and make the best of it. Then we don't even have friends to fall back on as surrogate family. But unfortunately, in Islamabad, a city of immigrants, EVERYBODY returns to the family "village" and the city is relatively deserted.

So very painfully I must announce that we entertained NO ONE and went NO WHERE all day. We ate and slept and awoke to eat again, and spent the day bemoaning our relatively long distance from family and friends and vowed that next Eid we will be in Karachi to enjoy a relatively large dose of relative hospitality and comradery.