Sunday, May 29, 2016

In Which the PakAmeristanican Gets a Haircut

I accompanied Mr PakAmeristanican and baby to the barbershop today. I was being magnanimous. Husband was nervous about baby's first visit. Haircuts are the one regular kid thing I refuse to take on. It has taken on a symbolic significance for me that is entirely disproportionate with its real life impact.

I've met the barber before because he shaved the baby's head for the baby naming, but I've never been to his shop before. It's a small place, a long mirror and counter along one wall, three barber's chairs, and a long bench along the back wall. A smaller room beyond, which I assume functions as an office or something. There's a TV set up on the wall, set to Geo News. It's more spartan than most women's salons I've visited. Also, instead of ten gazillion varieties of hair product, there are simply several different shades of hair dye.

Husband sits down in the chair, holding the baby, while I sit on the bench. Baby is placidly getting his hair cut. We are all amazed, since baby is usually loud and restless. I'm thinking, "I've been trying to go for a haircut for a couple of months now" ( I think I've gone twice since the baby was born eleven months ago), "maybe I should ask him to cut mine, too". But I think about how strange it will look to be a woman getting a haircut in a men's hair saloon, and worry whether the barber will be uncomfortable if I ask him. So I do some work on my phone instead.

Then the barber asks me where I get my hair cut, and I tell him. He says, "Baji, kabhi mujh se bhi katvaa ke dekh lain" (You should let me cut your hair some time and see how you like it.). He is smiling as he says this, but it's his regular friendly smile, so I jump at the chance, and hop into the barber's chair. He seems a little taken aback at my ready agreement, but quickly gets to work.

He wants some directions on how I want it cut, and I am back in the uncomfortable moment that comes for me in every trip to the hairdresser, or in any encounter where I have to make an appearance-related decision beyond what clothes and jewelry to wear. What if I give him the wrong instructions and my hair ends up being all wrong, wrong, wrong? So I tell him I'll show him a picture, but that it should be short and above the ears.

Because of the baby, we had come right at the shop opening time, so there weren't any other customers waiting. The barber asks me if it's ok if other customers come in. I say sure. He tells me otherwise he has a more private area. I tell him it's fine, enjoying the bucking of the norm.

I'm covered in the plastic drape, wearing pants and getting a mannish cut. Another customer comes in with his two sons. They sit down on the long bench behind me. In the mirror I note the father's beard and the prayer callus on his forehead.

The children make themselves thoroughly at home in the shop. Their father says little to direct their behavior. He's busy with his phone.

As the barber snips away, I hear the name of the trans woman recently murdered in KPK. It's just a quick headline about the investigation. As the focus shifts to a story about a new shopping centre in Karachi that is creating traffic problems due to the lack of an adequate parking area, it occurs to me that I can't remember ever listening to the news while I got my hair cut. It's always music at every hairdresser I've ever visited before.

The barber asks me something and I respond. The bearded father looks up, eyes narrowed, clearly surprised by my voice. I enjoy his frown, which seems to me a combination of confusion, disapproval, and mistrust. I look right back at him and he looks away, discomfited. I'm mean enough to enjoy his discomfiture.

The haircut is done. Do I want it blow dried, he asks. I decide not to push my luck with the baby and decline. Time to pay up. (Husband had already paid for his and the baby's cut before I had been offered one. Rs 350 for the two of them! I have always known that barbers are cheaper than women's hairdressers, but I hadn't realised the difference was exponential). The barber asks me what I pay my regular hairdresser. I pause for a split second, but tell him honestly: Rs. 1500. He laughs, says it's my first time with him so he'll simply keep the change from the thousand-rupee-note Husband had paid with. I'm simultaneously struck by the facts that a) I've paid less than half of what I normally do, for a cut I'm just as happy with, and b) I've still paid more than four times what my husband pays, for a cut that isn't much different than his, and I didn't get my mustache, eyebrows, or nose hair trimmed, either.

I know as I leave that I need to write about this.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Andhair Nagri

I haven't written in a while. How's that for understatement? The urge to write has been only a twinge, buried under the weight of work and baby and home and family. And finally, those very weights have added themselves to the force of the twinge.

Two days this week, I took my baby to watch his brother play cricket at a local club. It's been the first cold week this winter, temperatures going down to freezing. Cold for this part of the world at any rate. Last night, the baby was sneezing. Baby's grandma and I decided it was too cold, and that baby and I should watch cricket training from the relative warmth of the car. Because moms and grandmas worry about babies catching cold.

Then today, I had a chat with a friend who has been working on the citizens' resistance to the Punjab government's disastrously ill-conceived Orange Line Metro rail project, about which expect to read more on this blog. Land acquisition for government projects is often a contentious issue, world over. The Orange Line project land acquisition is contentious, too. Several property owners have managed to get stay orders from the courts. Nevertheless, today I was told that in this cold, in the middle of the night, government goons show up, accompanied by police officers, and toss people out of their homes. The homes are summarily knocked down (these are lower and lower-middle class homes, for the most part), and the families who live there are left without any place to sleep, with no notice. In one case, the demolished property was a clinic. Patients were tossed out, still connected to active IV lines.

A little later today, the power went out in many of the larger cities in the northern half of Pakistan. Six hour power outage for us. Definitely not the worst we've experienced. We considered going out for dinner, but didn't want to expose the baby to the cold.

I spent much of the evening feeling grateful for the roof over our heads, and simultaneously anguished over the children who have been forced to spend this cold week on the streets. My baby was crying because it was dark; a few candles took care of that problem. Where will those other kids go? Are they crying in the dark? Are they too cold to cry? Have their parents managed to find food? Some kind of shelter? What is going through the minds of those moms, those grandmas?

The part of me that is always the detached observer notes that my anguish is a bit like Hope's deep sadness over poverty and inequality and homelessness in thirtysomething, and quietly mocks me for my privileged perch and comfort of my discomfort. It doesn't decrease the pain, however.

We are living in a land of darkness. Kab ujaala hoga iss andhair nagri main?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ode to the Kindle

My brothers and sister-in-law visited recently. Seeing them was fantastic enough, but they also brought the best presents ever. I've gotten used to the fact that since my son was born, the presents he gets are more exciting than the ones I get. But not this time!

My youngest brother brought me a copy of The Blythes Are Quoted, L.M Montgomery's ninth "Anne book." I've loved the Anne of Avonlea series since I was a girl, had noted the publication of the book with much interest, and written it off as something that I would get to read when I finally make it back to the US some day. Observant kid brother had noticed a Facebook conversation I had about it with some friends, and brought it along. Clever fella. Haven't started reading it yet, because I need to finish the novel I'm already reading, first, and I want to savour the Montgomery (cue joke about savouring Montgomery, when everyone knows they only make sweets).

My other younger brother and his wife, brought me, among other things, a Kindle.

I had wanted one because I have accumulated a great deal of electronic reading material in connection with my never-ending thesis, and when I start reading on my computer, my eyes get tired relatively quickly, plus I am more likely to be distracted and give in to all the many charms that lurk in the computer. So I had figured an ebook reader would allow me to single-task with greater concentration. It was a utilitarian desire.

The surprise is just how much I love it. It's the perfect combination of my love of tech and my love of books. The cover makes it look and feel like a leather-bound book or journal. This is a big part of the charm, because I still feel like I'm reading a real book. The other cool thing (and anyone who is familiar with ebook readers already knows this, but I hadn't seen one in real life before) is that the screen really looks pretty much like a page, rather than an electronic screen. I had read that e-ink technology did this, but I hadn't realized how good it was until I actually saw it. My biggest objection to the whole idea of e-books had been that you couldn't snuggle up in an armchair with them, the way you would a real book. But this is totally possible. And as I said, the cover is critical to the illusion.

Now you can't flip pages back and forth, and it's black and white, so colour illustrations are no good, but the novels and non-fiction I read are mostly text, anyway, so that's not a problem for me.

I'm still getting to know the gadget. But there are other little things that thrill me about it, too. The cover has a built in light. You pull out this little strip, and a light on it's end comes on. The light is powered by the Kindle itself, presumably from the metal anchor points where the device slots on to the cover. When you're done reading, or don't need the light, the strip slides back in, leaving you with what looks like any nice leatherbound journal.

The biggest delight, the one that gives me a little girlish thrill every time I see it is that when you switch it off, an image displays itself on the screen. Most are pictures of authors, but there are some nice line drawings, too. And even when the reader is off, the image remains displayed. No blank screen. It gives me back that feeling of magic that cool new technology used to provide. Like the first time I saw computers communicating via infrared, or my brother controlled my computer in Lahore from all the way over in Michigan. I have yet to cycle through all the images, so that's another delight. I don't know what the next image will be, and they're all images I've enjoyed, so far.

So, from ebook skeptic to convert, in the space of three days. I'm not giving up my print library, though. That would still be heresy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Skill development

My 3-1/2-year-old son has recently started drawing lower-case letters in outline. By recently, I mean I just saw them for the first time yesterday. You know outline letters, the kind where you can then later colour in the letter. In fact that's what he calls them. Colouring letters. He's been doing upper-case ones for a while, and I was pretty impressed with that.

When I saw the lower-case letters today, it got me thinking. I distinctly remember learning to write bubble letters in 7th grade or even later (I remember the school where I learned them from some classmate who was really good at art). So what is it that is so different that my son has learned this, without really being taught, at age 3?

For one, his dad draws well. So that's probably a major contributing factor. But I'm skeptical about the degree of connection between heredity and specific skills. So I thought some more about PakameristanicanJr's drawing and penmanship. And it seems to me that he is really good at imitating. So, for example, as a huge fan of Disney/Pixar's Cars, he has been looking at the Cars logo for a long time. But until recently, he couldn't draw it. Then he asked his dad and me to draw it for him, several times over the course of a couple of weeks, I guess. Not every day, but it must have been a half dozen times. And now he draws it himself. So there's something about watching how we draw it that seems to help him do it himself.

The question that remains in my mind is whether this is a universal thing. Do all, or most, kids learn like this, by paying attention to how grown ups are doing something? I don't remember learning things that way, but upon reflection, it seems to be a difference in attentiveness. When I watch/ed someone carefully as they were doing something, I can/could imitate. But I rarely bothered to do so for things that require manual skills. It's just interesting how carefully he attends to the visual, something that I rarely do.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

I hold my honey and I store my bread

In little jars and cabinets of my will.

I label clearly, and each latch and lid I bid,

Be firm till I return from hell.

I am very hungry. I am incomplete.

And none can tell when I may dine again.

No man can give me any word but Wait,

The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;

Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt

Drag out to their last dregs and I resume

On such legs as are left me, in such heart

As I can manage, remember to go home,

My taste will not have turned insensitive

To honey and bread old purity could love.

Gwendolyn Brooks 1945

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Social Change Creeps In?

Weekday mornings, my son and I grab a cab to his school. Grabbing a cab in Abu Dhabi is probably even more common than grabbing one in NYC, because you don't have a convenient bus or subway system. Plus, taxis are (relatively) cheap. So I've interacted with a lot of Abu Dhabi cabbies. If you bother to chat with them, they may or may not welcome the opportunity.

The demographics are mixed, although Pathans still predominate (can I use that word like that? augh I hate that I don't have room for my dictionary near my computer...ok, yes I can), there are a fair number of South Indians and Filipinos, and the occasional Arab driver. The Pakistanis are almost always Pathan, many of whom speak very little Urdu.

Today's driver, though, was from Bahawalpur. So we exchanged the usual pleasure at recognizing a humwatan, and chatted a bit on the way back home. 

All of the above is by way of preface. The man asked me whether I was in Abu Dhabi because I work here (we had agreed a minute before that this was no place to live, that Pakistan was an infinitely nicer place, but that one had to earn one's daily bread, etc., etc.), and I told him no, my husband has a job here. To which he responded "Ye ghar ki duty bhi naukri hoti hai, balke zyaada sakht naukri" ("oh house duty is also a job, in fact a much harder job"). I laughed, said wouldn't it be great if more people understood that, and was getting ready to get out of the cab but he was telling me about his wife and how hard it is for her to take care of their two sons on her own in Pakistan, so I listened.

The conversation got me thinking. It's not the kind of opinion I expect from a middle-class Pakistani male. But perhaps that's unrealistic of me. There are probably lots of men out there who realize that the homemaker's role is a really tough one. The real change would be if they were to take on some of that role, which only happens in a small minority of the homes I've seen.

So maybe there's nothing of note in this conversation after all. Other than it being seen as polite to acknowledge that stay-at-home-moms are not living the easy life.

"I raise my hands to frame the light,
Raise my voice in the middle of the night,
I close my eyes when I start to sing,
It's a way of, way of praying"
               - Carrie Newcomer, The Yes of Yes

Monday, March 08, 2010

This is a communications company

So today my husband got our cable bill. Post only comes to PO boxes in Abu Dhabi; no home mail delivery.

Inside, there was a flyer about how the company (which is the same company that provides phone lines, cell phone connections, and internet service) was going to be sending bills by e-mail from now on.

They also included on their flyer the web address for where you could access your billing info. I am attaching a scanned copy of the paper. Read the second sentence carefully.