Monday, October 31, 2011

Higher

October 30

You know you’re having a lucky day if you hit your Walmart desk with your Walmart rolly-chair five times and still nothing falls off. Not even the gigantic blue mug of elaichi chai.

So, Elizabeth and I finally pushed one another out of the house, onto the metro and into Upper Limits. We weren’t sure how it would work out considering neither of us knows/remembers how to belay very well but it turned out well for us because that gym had auto-belays. And they were situated very conveniently near the 5.6 to 5.8s. All you have to do is clip on twice and then climb up.

Seems easy enough. And so I started the 5.6 and it truly was simpler than I had expected. The ‘rocks’ were spaced at easy intervals and they had nice upward curvy corners that provide good grips. About 20 feet up I started to feel a little scared though. Not because I was tired or the climbing was hard – no, it was just a thought that casually came and perched on my shoulder like a parrot. “You’re going to fall and break your leg, ankle, knee,” it squawked into my ear. Yikes. “Liz! I’m going to fall and die!”

“No, you won’t. The rope’s got you, it’ll just bring you down,” Liz said conveniently grounded.

“You’re going to die, the rope’s too thin, you’re going to break your arm, elbow, nose!” the parrot wouldn’t stop squawking and my heart was pounding harder, my hands getting sweatier which is never helpful on a climbing wall, my mind flew away with rationality sitting on top of it, waving at me cheerfully. I didn’t notice, of course, because I was busy panicking. “I don’t know what to do! I can’t climb further up because that just means I’ll fall from a greater height!”

It was like standing on a tightrope. Or being told to jump off a plane without a parachute. Granted it was not as high but the panic was similar. Flashback to my first trekking experience: 8 kg backpack slung across my happy shoulders, feet snug in good-looking tough Diggers, a blue cap on fat head, and a narrow, snaking dirt path going downhill with a fall that would probably break more than leg, ankle, knee, arm, elbow and nose.

The panic that swept over me like a 10-foot-wave and would have probably swept me over the edge had the little Pakhtun angel not descended with a comforting hand to help me move.

Of course up there on the climbing wall there were no angels descending but thank god for Liz.

“I promise you won’t fall! Just let go a little bit!”

I didn’t agree but at least I managed to overcome my panic enough to just climb down. Finally, I had my feet firmly planted on the ground.

“I guess my fear of heights took over a bit.”

I let Liz take on the 5.7 first and then I tested it out. Climbed halfway up and came down to make sure the rope would hold, and it did and it was kind of fun. The auto-belay really doesn’t pause and it brings you down as soon as you let go of the rocks. And it brings you down at a steady, quick pace. I always wanted to hang from the rope part of the crane and this is as close as I can get – unless I was a log or a cinder block I suppose.

It took me a couple of tries but I finally completed the 5.7 and it felt so good! The most annoying part was that my hands would get sweaty really fast. And then I sort of had to find a comfortable perch and hang on with one hand while I would reach into my chalk bag with the other and then repeat.

We took turns climbing and cheering one another on and although I didn’t conquer the 5.8, I managed to climb two-thirds of it. It had a tricky part where you had to sort of go at an angle. I do think I need to push myself more, stretch my limits a little more.

All in all, it was so much fun. So much better than my last climbing experience! I hope we can go again this Wednesday – despite the fact that our bodies feel as if they’ve been rolled down a rocky hill. I have a series of bruises on my knee and my arms, ribs and strange parts of my body ache. Introducing me to all these muscles that usually just lie there unused. Like new shoes you need to break into and before you do, they cut up the backs of your ankles like mad little chipmunks.

Although I’m still drinking milk I haven’t gone jogging in two weeks! I haven’t been lifting weights either. Terrible. But if we go climbing on Wednesday it would make up for my slacking. It would also be amazing if I can manage to climb all of that 5.8…

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Pakistani dream (I)

October 27

So I’ve been thinking about it for a while but it feels like a harder task so I’d been putting it off. I was either too sleepy or too tired and Desperate Housewives was easier. But right now, listening to Laal singing Habib Jalib’s poetry, I’m revved up like a clockwork toy all wound up and waiting to whir forward.

In my attempt to make sense and not fall off a cliff of alliterations and magic realistic cotton candy-colored thought bubbles, I will tackle this on two fronts: 1. our perception of America as the place to be and 2. the nerve of American (government, politicians, media and population that falls into this category. I take care to point out the Americans who stand vehemently opposed to what follows) to push Pakistanis and Muslims down a muddy slope of negative stereotypes, sticking them with labels of terrorism, underdevelopment, fundamentalism, extremism and oppression, cover us up with so many labels that you can’t even tell what lies beneath, blind us, stifle us, silence us. Force us into a box that we don’t fit into, a box that they have lived in for years and continue to live to this day. A box they created and maintain. Yes, I mean oppression, discrimination - nightmares that exist in America and should stand out even more blatantly because of the sunshine, wealth and rollercoasters that exist side by side with racism, sexism and poverty.

America has some very bloody stains on its history - we know that and it’s important to remember them. It is even more important to see what still exists. Obama’s president now, racism is gone? Think again. I’m all for optimism but not if it makes you turn away from an issue that still exists. Yes, think of it as a positive step so that it motivates you to go further down a path. Don’t think it’s the end. The poverty in America is different from that in Pakistan, I agree but inequality in this country is more than any other industrialized country. Some facts – An average CEO earns as much as 157 factory workers (Sklar); white males make up only 29% of the workforce but they hold more than 90% of the senior management positions. In 2003, white people had 14 times more in assets than blacks and 11 times more than Latinos. The statistics are similar across all fields of life – and when it comes to the level of vice president and above at Fortune 1000 industrial and Fortune 500 service industries, 96.6% of the executives are white males (Gallaghar).

You think Pakistan is a patriarchy? Come to America and women might not be “oppressed” with veils, but check out statistics on rape, domestic violence, depression, divorce, employment, salary, sexual harassment. Don’t widen your horizon and mind so much that you stop noticing what is on your doorstep. Sure, speak out against what’s wrong in other countries and cultures, walk down righteous paths but do glance down and see if your shoes are covered in your own dirt. Maybe you want to go ahead and deal with that first?

I know it’s been said before, America’s the only country to use the nuclear bombs, America’s a fucking hypocrite but I feel like it still isn’t said enough. And the own problems this country faces are not talked about enough.

Living in Pakistan, America’s the place to be, let’s go study there, it’s a liberal, free country and we can learn so much. And yes, I am learning so much but fortunately for me, I am learning of so many reasons to not be here. Yes, we have our own problems in Pakistan but the history and current state of discrimination in this country exists across so many different levels and more are coming in all the time.

For this part of the blog, I’m going to introduce you to eugenics – a movement I had no idea about. It started with a British scientist who came up with the brilliant idea that not everybody is allowed to live and procreate. Yes, some people are just not ‘right’ so they don’t get to marry and give birth – an effective way to ‘weed out’ and destroy certain genes that really aren’t that good anyways and so should not be passed on.

Who fell in this category of not right? Colored people (who the fuck came up with this term colored people anyways. White is a color too. Well. Actually its achromatic so maybe not but then black is achromatic too. You get what I mean.), disabled people among others. The way to deal with this? Forced sterilization. Yes. This means you cut away body parts so people can’t reproduce. (And they speak out against male circumcision – which has been discovered to have health benefits! Oh, it makes my blood boil. The righteousness of people with such an ugly, terrifying history). So while everyone was up in arms and horror about the sterilization and genocide that Hitler was carrying out, who talks about what happened in America? The horror of the holocaust must not be forgotten. But at the same time, what happened because of eugenics in America must not be forgotten either. To quote from one of my readings: “In 1933, shortly after the Nazis assumed power, they passed a law designed to forcibly sterilize persons with a range of disabilities. The text of this law was, sadly, heavily influenced by the eugenics laws of California” (Reilley). The magnitude of this fact blows my mind away. It was mandated by law in most states! And these continued till 1970s. The 1970s!

Can you believe it?

And yes, everyone knows about racism but I need to talk about the Tuskegee study. Not right now cause I really should start working again but I will. It also went on till the 1970s and even to this day, one of the people behind the study see nothing wrong with it. Mind-blasting.

Seriously, social work school rocks because it makes me see the beauty and potential in my country, in my people. Yes, so we get riled up in Karachi over ethnicities but the discrimination there is nothing compared to the racism that still strikes people in this country, how it affects their day to day existence, the economic differences and the questions their children come home with about their color.

I think of the family in a village in Sindh who lived in a one-room mud hut. A naked child was running in the distance and the only furniture were the two charpoys we were sitting on. One of the men in the house was cooking bhindi. “Will you have lunch with us?”

I think of the generosity, the resilience, the humor, the adventure, the love that exists in my country and I pray, I pray with all my little four-venticled heart that these people are given a chance. Because they deserve so much more.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Friends like hammocks

October 24

The difference is like that between falling into a groove cut exactly to fit you and sitting patiently on your knees at the edge of a stiff heap of clay to slowly carve and mold a new one to fit you. To not have to think about whether you’re talking in English or Urdu, to have a list of people to refer to and wonder and ask about, where is he now? When did she decide to go there? To have a few years of memories together so that hanging out is kind of like chilling out on a hammock. It’s easy. Old friends are like old jeans - the more worn-out they get, the better they fit and the more you love them.

So I went the entire weekend without touching a book or notes or an assignment. Grad school is about priorities.

You can’t let work get in the way of going to Chicago because those opportunities just don’t come by the dozens. Kind of like trying to find someone who is going to the Indian store. You just have to put it first. And am I glad I can make the right choices because Chicago is beautiful. It’s got the tall buildings with cleaners balancing on tiny planks high up scrubbing shiny glass windows to make them even shinier (they looked like little Spidermen), it’s got a river and bridges that rise up to let boats pass through, kind of like a domino effect, or maybe like a series of salutes. There are protests around the corner with trumpets and caped men, high school students trying to dance near a massive fountain without any water and a man trapping dreams and lights in soap bubbles. Rainbows hang suspended in midair and then a child kisses the bubble and it bursts. Bring your soapy hands together and pull them apart slowly, creating slow little transparent circles, like a magician. Chicago is big and bustling with life but everybody seems to be in a good mood. It’s clean and the trees were yellow, red, green. Traffic lights smeared on the tops of branches, people offering to give you a boost on to a metal cow or take a photograph of you with your friends so you can be in the picture too. There’s so much to do and even if you decide not to do any of it, you can just walk around and count the number of institutes and colleges located in downtown.

It’s supposed to be a windy city but I guess since everything had to be perfect that Saturday, the weather was warm and the wind was a slight stir every now and then, a definite anomaly in late October. It was supposed to be freezing cold with a wind that wants your nose to break off from your face like an icicle from the roof of a cave in a very cold place – but since it was a perfect Saturday, I barely needed my coat. The deep-pan pizza was delicious, mushrooms and cheese that melts in your mouth, and Earl Grey to finish. I can put my boots up on a chair and discuss the perks of relationships with people who are not identical but just different enough that you become a fuller person with them. Sort of like jigsaw puzzles. You can’t fit two identical pieces together – they should be a little different but their contours should fit into one another so they make a more complete picture.

Because I have dementia, I find it easy to be happy. Green fields, shooting stars, blue beanies, windmills and rows of corn stretching into the distance – I’m easily impressed/awed/pleased and excited. Will I lead a happier life? Maybe. Is it because I forget all the cooler, more breathtaking things I’ve seen or because I realize that the highest of snow-covered mountains shouldn’t diminish the beauty of cornfields? I'd like to think it's the latter but then I guess it depends on whether I do have dementia or not...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

`Mulch` on my mind

October 12

I hear footsteps and my heart pounds. I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling, concentrating on the sound of soft slippers slowly walking away. I dare to sit up and my door is open just an inch more than it was before I fell asleep. Sweat starts to pour down my forehead and I try and remember if I had locked my front door properly. I did, I didn’t, I’m sure I did, I always check all doors and windows at nine pm, but did I get a phone call – what’s that? My train of thoughts derails, the track disappeared and now all I can see is the shadow of a person standing outside my room.

“Are you awake?” someone asks and the fake concern, the imitated normalcy of the tone catches me off-guard. Chills creep up my spine as the person just walks into my room, peering into the dark.

Maybe if I pretend I’m asleep…but I’m sitting up…who is this? Who took away the dagger I keep under my pillow, my hand searches in vain for the comfort of a sharp edge.

“Mirrah? Hey, are you okay?”

I nearly choke, unable to move. The person knows my name. “No…” I manage to gasp, and then louder: “Get away from me! Who are you!?”

The person switches the light on, bathing my room in bright, white-blue light. I blink, look around the eerily neat, comforting blue and lime green sheets, a symmetrical painting hangs right above my head. My knuckles are white, my throat is dry and my heart is trying to pound its way out.

“Did you take your pills, Mirrah?” the person with the concerned voice puts her head to one side and looks at me carefully. “Mirrah? Did you take your pink pills?”

--

Today, I woke up and it was still dark outside. The sky was hanging low with the weight of the wet clouds, and the carpet of crunchy yellow leaves on the sidewalk was soppy, sad, hiding sticky patches of mulch just for me to step on in my rain bootless feet. Today we watched a documentary on mentally ill people being detained in prisons and so today, I thought of what it would feel like to be a paranoid schizophrenic. To always be scared, on edge, like someone was hiding in the shadows, laying out invisible bear traps or holding up a taser to your brain whenever you dared close your eyes.

You would never be able to play human dominoes – just crossing your arms and falling backwards into the arms of a friend or a stranger. You could never walk on the street listening to your Ipod because you’d feel like somebody would sneak up on you. You’d never be able to close your eyes when you kissed. You’d always have worms of insecurity and fear crawling in your heart, swimming in your blood stream, tickling the edge of your skin. No blanket would be soft enough, no arms warm enough for you to fall asleep in.

Speaking of physical comfort, I miss mine. I miss putting my head in my mom’s lap when she’s sitting on the jai-namaz, I miss leaning into you and feeling your hand on my face. I even miss having my cheeks pulled. I definitely miss my slumber parties with the girls and just making human pyramids or lying in connected shapes to watch a movie or pictures from the past. I miss hugging the kids, my sisters. Sigh.

I woke up today and the sky was so gray I had to turn on my lamp. But I had all my mental (mostly) faculties in control and arms and legs and eyelashes too, so I decided not to be too mopey. At least I’m not incarcerated in a tiny room with a hundred different people in my mind, driving me insane(r).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Letting in the light

October 9

The best part about studying social work is the constant tap on the shoulder that makes you look in a different direction. Things I read or hear pop the bubble around my head, grab me by the ankles and pull me out from under my sofa of inane insecurities. I blink because it’s so bright and then sit back and examine the words that construct, deconstruct, shift and reorganize my thoughts.

As awful as the three-page instructions were, I started on my assignment – which is to understand, analyze and study a privilege we have – I’ve decided to choose my ability (that is being non-disabled) as a privilege simply because I never thought about it much. I mean yeah, every time I’d read Helen Keller or see someone in a wheelchair, sometimes when the electricity would go and refuse to come back I would wonder what it would be like to be blind but I never had to analyze what disability is and how as an able-bodied person I perpetuate a system of oppression.

Ha! I sound like an obnoxious masters student. In simple and better terms, I never thought about disability in relation to myself and what part I play in making life difficult for disabled people simply by never thinking – and therefore never doing – anything about a world that is built to suit people without disabilities.

Something I read in my book deserves to be reread and quoted:

‘What was it like to be a young man being lifted, moved, pushed by a woman? What was it like to have to ask for everyday materials to be taken out of your bag slung unreachably behind you on the chair? What was it like to request a straw for the glass of water naively placed on the wheelchair tray by the researcher, to have to request the glass be brought closer to the mouth, to have to request that a cushion under one’s neck be adjusted?’

People back home asked me why I would go for social work for my masters, is it really an actual profession, what am I going to learn, really? Well, this is why. Studying social work helps me get in touch with things I believe in but which get shoved back under piles of temporary files. It brings things into perspective, lifts up curtains we hang up consciously and unconsciously everyday so that we can live more easily, more robotically, divide time between TV shows, assignments, family and friends without having to see who lives around us, sleeps on a pavement, gets shot because their skin and clothes are hinting at a certain race/ethnicity, has to wait for hours before someone can walk by and push a door open.

I make fun of the touchy, feely, self-help group style classes I have but the self-analysis is profound, enlightening.

The best part about my masters is there are no lines, no cordoned off areas, no gated communities. I’m not learning something that will apply only to my career – I’m learning how to think, act and be something more than I am right now. Not just as a social worker but as a woman, student, person. And I could totally compare how that is cooler than a myriad of professions/masters degrees but since I’m a social worker (in progress) I will not.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fat and sad

October 7

It’s like walking on thin ice, or a field with pits and holes dug all over and then covered with dried leaves. I don’t know when I’m going to fall but the feeling of falling is imminent, it hangs over me like a cobweb – I can only see it at a certain angle in a certain light.

I was walking on a tight rope over an abyss of loneliness even before the sun set and then, as it became darker outside, instructions to an assignment pushed me over. When you’re on a tight rope it doesn’t take much to make you slip but seriously, three pages of instructions for one assignment tells you something. It tells you you’re in for two awful weeks, for long stretches of researching. My eyes will shrink, the muscles between my shoulders and neck will tense up, knot together in wiry balls of stress, my brain will stop functioning eventually and I will eat incessantly and get depressed at a rate proportionate to the food I’m shoveling into my mouth.

I wondered if I should take up on a friend’s offer to spend my Friday night more productively (productive in terms of Friday fun. It’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday, intoned Rebecca Black in her supremely successful attempt at redefining tragedy that’s so great it slips into comedy). But I’m lying in the pit of hopelessness. Also wearing my PJs. So I decline and then it is just me, a very big bag of baked pita chips, a small tub of hummus and Desperate Housewives.

On a separate note, I managed to jog for fifteen minutes straight yesterday. On a similar note, I think I’ve pulled a muscle in my left calf. On a tangent, it is so amusing to hear Americans from different regions discuss accents.

“Gimme a fuckin` quorta so I can park my fuckin` caa-r!” say people in Boston.

“Shi-Kaa-go!” with nasal emphasis on the ka, say people in Chicago.

Southerners will speak in French and bye is au revoir pronounced phonetically au revoir. Apparently there is a Baghdad in Kentucky.

It was amusing to hear because it reminded me of the whole Karachi vs Lahore or Karachi vs Islamabad (okay, the latter is not even worthy of a pretend scenario) debates. I love picking on trends that exist across continents and cultures. Like Cotton Eye Joe, or how 25-year-old men have the same sense of humor as 16-year olds no matter what side of the Atlantic you’re on, or how parents always walk in on the one dirty scene in the movie you were watching with your friends.

I’m learning so much and doing so much. I’ve met some really cool, interesting, awesomely diverse people but there are those moments.

Those moments in which you feel like you’re trying to cover up a hole with a blanket of leaves. And this blanket isn’t going to be strong enough to hold you up when you eventually, inevitably get tired of standing and slip.

I think it’s that stage of being away from home in which the novelty is wearing down and I’ve finally gotten into a routine and my mind has finally stopped whirring around just enough to pause over the distance. Family, friends, fiancĂ©. Sigh. The little comfort offered by alliterations.

I really shouldn’t have eaten so many baked pita chips. Damn you, awful assignment.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Knitting socks, scarves and sweaters

October 4

The beetles and bugs and butterflies line up before the little tubs of paint at 10 past 10 every night and one by one dip their little feet into the tubs of yellow, red, orange and brown. Some choose one color but others mix and match and then they all spread out, across the asphalt, grass, ground, up the tree trunks and onto the leaves, changing the green into colors of autumn. Yellow like marigolds, orange like the rust that lines the windows of houses near the sea, deep red like black cherries, brown like your eyes.

Trees with their tops still green and the lower branches ready to flick off rows of brown, the leaves still green in the middle but toasted around the edges. I love the red trees, with all their leaves drenched in shades of cerise and maroon but I think I love the trees that are in between, peachy, soft pink-orange colored, even more.

There have been frequent robberies around our neighborhoods in the past two weeks. Somebody got whacked with a tennis racket! Most of the social workers/public health students who hear this burst out laughing. Which is definitely very unsocial worky, I’m sure. I think it may be our classes which are starting to grate on many nerves. I’m learning a lot for sure but there are moments in which I want to roll my eyes like I used to when I was 7. For instance, today one of my readings was about adultism – discriminating against children because of their age and not giving them the respect they deserve and giving them the right to vote and what not. It was well-argued, I felt, but just the whole lens of oppression that we have to wear for our social justice class is getting me down in the dumps.

The problem with wearing any lens is that then you can only see through this lens and the entire world is the same color. It is important to understand how language and knowledge is exploited and used and is a powerful tool in creating power dynamics but there has to be a line drawn somewhere otherwise we will be too scared to say anything.

Everything is so fucking politically correct here.

I miss my city. When I think of Karachi, I imagine the sea, the gray waves topped with foam stretching endlessly into the distance, the clouds that hang low over the city and move incessantly, spinning above in the saturated skies, I can feel the breeze and I can hear the trees in my street rustle. I picture the curved yellow M at the beach and even the little sandy-haired children selling disgusting gum and cajoling half-eaten burgers, coffee and ice cream from people are part of a melancholic nostalgia.

Thousands of miles away, I forget the daily crime statistics, the fear that erupts in little beads of sweat every time two people sitting on a motorcycle come up close to your car after 8 pm, the honking that starts two seconds before the red light turns green, the power outages, the stench of dead fish that the breeze casually pushes into your house from time to time. Being away from home, I’m cautious about putting these images up for others to see. I know prejudice, hate, terror, violence exists in my society and my country but everybody already knows about these pictures. I want to put up other pictures in this album labeled Pakistan.

I want to photograph the man who sits perched on three motorcycles outside a bakery and helps me park my car in a tight spot, I want to write about the artist who goes around the city drawing pictures of love, change, struggle, I want to talk about the café where you can sing, play scrabble or just dream about peace. A man selling paapurr gives two girls a lighter because the sea breeze is too wild to light a cigarette with matches, the nachos at Atrium taste so good, the children in the apartments come out to dance when it rains, a teenager qualifies for freestyle football in an international competition, old boys, young boys play cricket late at night under a million stars and twenty street lights, a baby zebra comes into the world and survives, a thousand turtles are saved, engineering students design an environmentally-friendly car, a paper boat floats in a tub of soapy water.

This African woman talked about the dangers of a ‘single story’ – how certain dominant, prevalent images and mass media can define countries or people or anything in a certain way and it struck all the chords in my heart. Who gets to define your story? What happens if you don’t pick up the pen, speak out, hold up your hand and say, wait a minute, that’s not it. There’s more to it than that.

The trouble with stereotypes, the lady said, is not that they’re untrue but that they’re incomplete.

Which made me wonder about my part in changing the pieces of the puzzle so that it resembles the sea, the sky, the clouds and the pappur man more…

Say hi to my city for me.