Friday, May 27, 2011

Part of the Majority

Greetings from Bahrain! Did you know that the Islamic Republic of Bahrain has been proposed as a site for the Biblical Garden of Eden? Interesting, huh?

All is well and safe. I just finished eating a meal at McDonalds with Baba. It was my second time ever ordering something other than Fish Fillet off of McDonald’s menu. Why? Because McDonald’s in the U.S. do not sell halal—or blessed by Muslim standards—meat. My first time eating chicken from a fast food restaurant was last summer when I was in Dubai for a week. And boy have I been missing out on the good life! Needless to say the Grilled Chicken Deluxe was delicious.

I flew out of Dulles International on time. Thank God. We were in a bit of a rush, actually. There was a lot of traffic on Capital Beltway 495, and Baba, who always likes to get to airports a billion hours early, feared we would miss our flight. His impatience with cars in front of us pressured Maryum to drive faster, which did nothing but make us all nervous. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a safe driver. But when you have cars cutting in and out, it can be a little scary. OK, very scary. But you get the point.

Flight from D.C. to London was about 7 hours. It was my first time at the Heathrow airport, and surely, it was exciting. Though very large, I was a bit disappointed with its beauty, however. But then again, nothing can compare to Dubai’s opulent airports. Not even JFK International. Our stay in London was short, only 3 hours. It was morning time there so Baba and I ate a quick breakfast before heading over to Terminal 4 to catch our next flight to Bahrain. At this point, both Baba and I were tired of the constant security checks. Taking out my laptop and camera over and over again became a hassle. I know this minor inconvenience was necessary, and I was glad greater security measures were taken.

In London, my backpack did not pass the security check. I wondered why the beeper buzzed; the only things in my backpack, other than the laptop which I took out and placed on the tray, were my journal and school supplies. I was confident I would be let off easily. Except for the darn Purell! First, it leaked and made a mess in my front pocket. Second, the officer with an evil grimace took out all of my contents and displayed them on the table for the world to see. Luckily for me, I had nothing to be embarrassed of. Other people, however, were not as fortunate. Talk about privacy of packing. No body wants to see undergarments of anyone out in the open, especially not in a public place such as the airport where people are silently and secretly—let’s be honest—judging.

I was judging. And I felt judged also. Never in my life did I travel with so many Asians—and by Asians, I mean South Asians. Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Muslims everywhere. The security officers were Asian. The guy who stamped our passport was Asian. The guy sweeping the already shiny floor was Asian. The woman who searched my bag was Asian. What was this? A comeback of imperialism? This time it would be the Asians who would triumph—just look at how many there are! In Professor Murthy’s South Asian Popular Culture class, I learned how Asians in Britain—or “BrAsians” according to Brah and Ballard—had made home in the diaspora. Neither British nor South Asian, these ‘BrAsians’ struggled for an identity others could recognize them by. It occurred to me that perhaps that my own struggle of finding a middle ground between my Pakistani and American identity would never end. It is a continuous battle. And ‘battle’ isn’t even the right word for it. I’m not fighting “anyone”—or at least I don’t think I am. I suppose I’m fighting myself. Why can’t I define myself however I want and call it a day? Why isn’t it that simple? I don’t have a direct answer to this, but I can speculate. We live in a society where validation from others is vital for our survival. If others can’t recognize us, then we don’t exist. If Billy Joe can’t see me as the Pakistani, American, Muslim Mariya—then I’m invisible….Right?

For some reason, I felt uncomfortable at the Heathrow Airport. It was one thing to be in Pakistan and be surrounded by Pakistanis; it was completely another to be in London and surrounded by all sorts of South Asians. I wasn’t used to seeing such masses of Westernized South Asians. Baba wanted to carry our American passports in his hand so we can show off our American citizenship. That only made me more embarrassed—not because we were American citizens, but because it wasn’t a big deal. I saw countless other people with American passports. We didn’t stand out; we were part of the crowd. And perhaps that’s why I felt so out of place: for the first time, I was part of the majority in a Western nation.

We are patiently waiting at our terminal to catch our next flight to Islamabad. Four more hours and I’ll be home! But not really, add another 4 hours of driving from the capital to Abbottabad. Talk about jetlagged. First thing I’m doing when I get home is taking 50 bills of Tylenol and passing out.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Glazed Donuts

I had originally planned to wake up at 7 a.m. so that I could visit some of my favorite teachers at West Potomac High. That, regrettably, did not happen, as I ended up rolling out of bed at 9 a.m. Opps. I’ll make the trip tomorrow for sure.

My day was rather productive today. I went to Best Buy in Springfield with Baba and my older sister Maryum. We spent about an hour picking out three laptops that I would take with me for the journalism program I plan to initiate at the Al-Imtiaz Academy (AIA). I was picky with the specs; I wanted to make sure each laptop had high speed, enough memory space, a good operating system, and all that good stuff. We finally settled on buying two Lenovos and one Dell. While AIA has a computer lab in both the girls and the boys' section, due to random daily power outages, those PCs are not reliable. The reserved battery on the laptops will not hinder the students from their work—writing stories, doing layout, etc. I also purchased two digital cameras for students to practice photojournalism as well. In total, I spent over $2,500 of the Davis grant money on these items.

I also purchased a digital voice recorder. It’ll come in handy when I conduct interviews with for my sociological research. I’m studying the perceptions of Pakistani college-aged students of Pakistanis living in the American diaspora. Thanks to the Roberts Fund, a mini grant out of Bowdoin’s office of Student Fellowships & Research, I was able to make this purchase and will be able to conduct my entire research project.

I’m leaving for Pakistan the day after tomorrow and anticipation is growing. On the one hand, I’m excited to launch this program and see my students again. On the other hand, I hope my stay there is safe. I realize the current state of things in Pakistan is not the most ideal for traveling. But I also realize that being fearful is not a healthy attitude. I am going to Pakistan—cautious, yes—but not scared for what awaits me. I got to see my best friend Emily today and we went to our favorite place, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. As we devoured the hot, freshly baked glazed donuts, she told me how proud she was of me and how she knows I’d come back home to Alexandria A-okay. Her—and countless others’—encouragement and confidence in me makes me all the more determined for a summer that promises to be transformative.

Monday, May 23, 2011

No Longer at Bowdoin

I woke up this morning to my younger brother tugging at my blanket. “Wake up, Mariya Api,” he said. I figured it must have been a faded background voice in my dream. I ignored it. Again, “Mariya Api, wake up, you promised!” This time, I half-opened one of my eyes, and let out a moan. I forgot I was at home now, not in Howard 103, because I knew my roommate Katarina wouldn’t do such a thing. (She’s woken up before, and she usually gives a gentle nudge. This behavior was more aggressive for sure.) Anyway, I tried to shoo the boy away, mumbling something even I couldn’t make out. That only made matters worse: he pulled my entire blanket off me. Immediately, I felt a chill through my body. Cold, frustrated, still tired and sleepy, I managed to sit up in my bed. I yawned and looked at the 10-year-old who stood at my door with an evil smirk on his face that reminded me of the cartoon villain Syndrome from the movie “The Incredibles”: “You promised to go to the Tysons Corner Mall!”

I checked the time on my phone. It was quarter past noon. I realized I had slept for over 14 hours! This confirmed I was not at Bowdoin anymore. This could only mean one thing: I was not up writing about “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (DDLJ) and the Indian dispora for Professor Murthy’s Soc final; or researching about Benzair Bhutto’s rise to power as a woman in a country without gender equality for Professor Christensen’s class; or formulating a thesis about the delegation of congressional power to the executive branch for Professor Selinger’s exam. I also must not have been cramming definitions and proofs or memorizing the steps for drug identification and DNA profiling. No, I was no longer at Bowdoin. I was home—waking up to my brother’s plea for going shopping instead of the “Funky Band” default alarm on my AT&T LG phone I had become so accustomed to.

All in all, I ended up having a great time with my brother and three sisters at the mall. My evening, however, was not as pleasant. I came home to disturbing breaking news: Armed militants had bombed the major Pakistani naval base located in Karachi, the largest city and the main financial center of the country. Some newspapers indicated that these insurgents were the Pakistani Taliban who avenged for the government’s support and alliance with the United States in finding and killing the Al-Queda leader, Osama bin Laden. Since May 2nd, multiple other terrorist attacks have occurred throughout the country.

Upon hearing the news, I became nervous all over again. In three days, I would be going to this politically unstable and dangerous country I call my second home. The only thing I could do was stay optimistic. Before sleeping, I prayed that God would keep my father, Baba, and me safe.