Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chand Raat and Eid Mubarak

This tour is the FS equivalent of a glass bottom boat ride: you can sort of make out the things going on below you, but you're not allowed to dive in. After another high profile kidnapping and a lot of sternly worded security notices from RSO, it was only through dumb luck that I had a chance to receive a mehndi tattoo for Chand Raat. Looking at it in the confines of my house, I can imagine that, just for a moment, I let my hand drift over the side of the boat to surreptitiously wave at the mermaids.

Trying to preserve the feeling of inclusion, I made seviyan the morning of Eid ul-Fitr. It's a traditional Eid dish that you eat for breakfast before going out to prayers. I doubt very sincerely that it was anything like what they would have gotten at home, but the guards accepted it with muted surprise. I wasn't cruel enough (or maybe brave enough) to watch them eat it, in case they had to struggle through the process. So nice, though, to no longer worry about them seeing me eat -- opening the kitchen blinds for the first time in a month, the sunlight pooling on the floor was like a balm.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I spent the evening with a group of young Pakistanis, embarrassed that I'd turned their gathering into an impromptu English lesson, but enjoying their views and openness just the same. They talked about stereotypes, nationalism, religious tolerance, writing... Pakistan doesn't get enough credit for these kind of exchanges. The diversity of opinions, ethnicities, backgrounds, and identities here is what makes me hopeful about the place. Diversity of viewpoint means multiple ideas about how to solve problems -- useful if you can properly channel those ideas into the framework of representative government. The first part of that equation will never be a problem for Pakistan.

Of the approximately 25 people present, at least two of them had been directly impacted by violence. That was sobering. It's a lot to balance against my hopefulness. Still, I'm holding on to it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lie to Me

Buying food with the intent of cooking it is pretty much the same as actually cooking, right?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Head Up, and Smiling

Last night was the first time I went to bed with my safehaven door closed and locked. I've never before, not once, not here and not in Jordan, felt a need to even pull it to. But with recent events being what they are, I'm trying to be more responsible. After turning the bolt, I padded over to the bed, lay down, and proceeded not to sleep.

What the safehaven door represents frightens me. Not just its implication of outside threat, but maybe more so its implication of the 'proper' way to respond to that threat: Withdraw. Barricade. Keep your head down.

Yet the greater the threat, the tighter the security, the higher the risk, the more important it is for us to be out there and engaged and visible. It's quite the paradox. I don't want the safehaven to become a normal part of my or anyone else's life, but I need to incorporate it into my routine. That's a bit of a paradox, too.

In the morning I will keep my head up. But for right now, I'm just putting off going to bed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Suppose now that there were two such servings of rice, one prepared by the just and one prepared by the unjust..."

Repeated washings of the raw rice I had intended to cook for our National Day potluck failed to remove all the weevils. Somewhere around the middle of washing number five or six -- while I was meticulously flicking stringy little weevil larvae out from amidst the wet grains -- I realized that I was actually not so much concerned about my colleagues eating the weevils as discovering them. It was my Gyges' Ring moment, and I failed miserably.

Times like these make me wish I'd majored in Home Economics instead of Philosophy. Maybe I can bring some cornflakes to share.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

These Quasi-Feudal Relationships are Confusing

After receiving this morning's ice*, the guards informed me through a series of hand gestures and disparaging glances at the ankle-high grass that they were going to mow the lawn. "Oh, you don't have to do that," I stammered lamely. It was as a red-blooded American that I had refused to hire a gardener -- I was going to mow my own lawn, thank you very much, and probably grow a corn field to boot. You know, eventually. When the weather got cooler.

I don't know why I ever bother arguing with them; they hugely outnumber me, and anyway, they have bigger hands so their gestures are a lot louder. I watched, powerless, as the pushmower was dutifully maneuvered around the lawn and a pair of kitchen scissors was applied to the tall grass around the curb edges. I'm pretty sure it's considered socially beneath them to be doing yardwork, but apparently it's an even worse affront for them to allow ME to do yardwork. The most they would permit me was to hold the bag while they stuffed it full of grass clippings. An attempt to pull up a stray weed was met with stern outcry.

Occasionally I have the sneaking suspicion that they're imposing some sort of weird purdah on me. But the lawn does look a lot better.

*They're fasting, but still collect the ice in the morning and just keep it in a cooler until the iftar. "Madam is sometimes home late," was their reasoning.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Diplomats in Pajamas

The national dress of Pakistan is known as the shalwar qamiz. That's Urdu for 'a well-spangled shapeless sack over elastic waist cotton pants'. It's brilliant: flattering for all body types, appropriate for the weather, and lullingly comfortable in exactly the way that a suit is not. It goes well with the national dish, which is dark, unidentifiable meat mixed with dark, unidentifiable oil and served with a heaping of carbs; the elastic waistband can easily incorporate the cholesterol-induced swelling of your arteries.* Added bonus: if you need to wipe your food-greasy hands on your thighs, the long top is going to cover it right up.

I don't know what the diplomatic rules are about wearing your host country's national dress, but I also find that I don't particularly care what the rules are when presented with the alluring option of going to work clad in what are essentially pajamas. I bought two to start with -- paid for in cash. I didn't want to risk the embarrassment of having the store refuse my credit card now that America's S&P rating has slipped a notch.

*Or your 'New Butt', as the sweet store near the Consulate is so aptly named.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

فلاور پوور

I haven't put much time into hobby development here. The closest I've come is my nascent gardening project: whenever I see a crazy anti-American article in one of the newspapers I read daily for work, I cut it out, turn it into a a flower shape, and stick it to my living room wall. I figure so long as I use tape to do this and not my own saliva, I don't have to worry about qualifying as crazy myself.

Think the U.S. engineered 9/11 so it could have an excuse to invade Muslim countries? Convinced the terrorist attacks in Pakistan are secretly fueled by a Jewish-Hindu-USG nexus? Want to argue that America framed Qaddafi for the Lockerbie bombings as a long-term discreditation strategy that culminated in a NATO invasion? You're probably going on my wall. In fact, you're probably going on my wall more than once because you're a fairly prolific writer. I don't care if you are a former diplomat, a [fill-in-the-blank] analyst, or a grad student in the U.S. Thank heavens no one published my thoughts when I was in grad school (they mostly involved how many meals I'd have to forgo to afford the latest Tori Amos concert).

Sometimes writers try to mask their crazy anti-American remarks by following with equally ridiculous remarks about their own country. Nice try. You're more convincing as a tulip.