Pregnant in Africa, Part 1

Like any pregnant woman will tell you, the second time around feels different. You’re a little more confident; you do a lot less research. That strange periodic burning sensation under the left ribcage? Had it last time so I know it’s no big deal. Feet feel tingly when you first get out of bed? Been there already. The words Moby, Beco, Baby K’Tan and Ergo? Know ’em all. I am very clear on what baby gear I need and what I don’t (I’m looking at you, Diaper Genie). In short, I feel like a pro. But being pregnant in a different country comes with its own surprises that you can’t predict, and this makes even the second time around feel like a new experience. First of all, I am in a strange and lonely category being pregnant here at 39.

Strawberries & Lemons

My mother died twenty-eight years ago today, in her sleep peacefully at home, after a three-year struggle with cancer. It was a Monday morning, just like today, and I was eleven years old, having hosted a birthday party with balloons, games and all my grade-school friends less than two weeks earlier. When my mom’s birthday comes around in December I like to get a colorful bouquet of flowers and display it in my house, picking out an assortment that I think she would have liked. Mother’s Day used to be a day I faced with dread, but it was reclaimed when I became a mother myself and it turned into a day of celebration again. But a death anniversary is different. It marks a terrible day: a day you don’t really want to remember.

Election Expectations

Labor Day in America was on Monday (Yes, I still had to work. But I do get local Botswana holidays like “Ascension Day” so I shouldn’t complain.) This means midterm election season in the United States has officially kicked into high gear. Barely anyone votes in American presidential elections, let alone midterm ones (relatively speaking) so I don’t imagine this fact will affect too many people. But it will at least result in a slew of cheesy ads and a little mud slinging in tight races. Botswana’s own elections are coming up on October 24, but it’s the big one: the presidential race that only occurs every five years. You know it’s campaign time in Botswana because every ten yards or so on the streets, colorful placards with candidates’ faces on them are stuck on telephone poles. You also know it is election season due to the highly suspicious lack of power cuts the last few months—the government’s way of convincing the people what a good job they are doing providing electricity. I expect the country to be plunged into utter darkness soon after the polls close to make up for it. While waiting at a red light on the way to work this morning, I was able to take a good look at the most popular campaign poster plastered around town.

Birthday in Botswana

It was my birthday this week. The last birthday of my 30s, a golden decade that in retrospect seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. At the beginning of the decade I was living in Boston, working on my dissertation, teaching undergrads and watching every single Red Sox game. Since then I’ve lived in two different countries, moved back to California for a year, gotten divorced and re-married, had a baby and started working on a second. It’s safe to say my life is different in almost every way.

Photo: from goafrica.about.com

Worms & Worthy Causes

Yes, everybody hates the Ice Bucket Challenge now. Because it is just a stunt that doesn’t really encourage medical progress, or because it is a stunt that generates too much money for one disease, or because the tide of the internet turns fast and whatever was popular last week doesn’t stand a chance today. But like every American who lives overseas, my today is your yesterday: I am always hopping on the bandwagon a little late and more than a little unfashionably. For example, I finally got comfortable with skinny jeans, which means they have probably been over now for years. This is just the price you pay for the glamorous expat life: always late to the party. It should also be said that no one actually *challenged* me to the Ice Bucket Challenge, making me the girl who shows up late to a party I haven’t even been invited to.

Cops in Another Country

I was pulled over by the police this morning. I was running late to work as usual (Lila’s various peanut butter incidents and unattended water bucket emergencies always expertly timed to coincide with my departures) when I almost whizzed past the police checkpoint strategically placed between Marina Hospital and Gaborone Secondary School. The checkpoint had gotten me once before: two weeks ago I had to pull over, open my trunk and dig around in my purse to show the officer my driver’s license, which gave him enough time to notice that my registration tags were expired. When he said he had to impound the car (“It is like you are stealing the road”), I shamelessly played the pregnant lady card, imploring “How do you want me to get to work then, walk?” while pointing to my already huge belly.

Prostitutes & Potholes

The most African thing about my life every day is my commute home from work. Because of a large concrete road divider on the main road to my house (see photo above), you can’t turn directly from the street to get to my place. Instead, you have to turn off the road 1/2 mile earlier, wend your way through rutted back roads full of children and chickens, and make about three unmarked left turns and four right ones to finally get to my driveway. I realize this makes no sense in print and I really need to draw a diagram. But this forced detour from the slick highway and exposure to a real middle-income African neighborhood reminds me that I’m not living in Phoenix or a downmarket Californian suburb, which is what most of the small capital city of Gaborone looks like. Long ago the town made a conscious choice to implement “mixed housing” in Gaborone rather than class-segregated neighborhoods, so the nicer, bigger houses (of which mine is one, even though the rent is only a $1,800 a month) are just one street over from modest shacks and a few hovels. Gated houses with electric fences are a stone’s throw from dusty compounds with four or five tiny houses on one plot.

Work Permits & Waiting

In order to work in a foreign country, you generally need the permission of their government. This makes perfect sense but is one of those things you don’t think about until you find yourself in this particular situation. Botswana is a sparsely populated country (at barely over 2 million people), and it is fiercely protective of its own citizens, which translates into being a bit stingy when it comes to handing out work permits for expats. You have to demonstrate clearly that you possess a “special, valuable skill” that is not already readily available in the country, and that your job has already been advertised widely to give citizens a chance to nab it first. No work permit = no job, so the stakes are high, especially when you’ve already moved your whole family to Botswana at great personal expense and exhaustion of energy and you literally have no home to go to if they kick you out.

Cooking from the Couch–Southern Africa Style

A few days ago salon.com ran an article explaining why Guy Fieri has ruined the Food Network. It is true that Guy’s most famous show, “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” isn’t exactly an icon of culinary artistry. This is the show where the loud blond guy with spiky hair drives around the country in a red convertible visiting local restaurants and heading back into stainless steel kitchens to watch the cook make vats of chili or mounds of carne asada or enough pulled pork to feed the invading hordes of Rome. The Salon article complains about how Guy yells at the viewers, “ranting like an imbecile on fire,” while stuffing food into his face. I can’t argue with any of that. But I actually like watching recipes come together with things like 1/2 cup of garlic powder, five pounds of beef, a dozen onions and an entire bottle of ketchup stirred in a pot the size of a hot tub with a paddle you could use to spank sumo wrestlers. The whole concoction usually gets slid into the oven for two hours, no matter what is being made: this seems to be the magical time frame. Whatever comes out usually looks pretty tasty, and Guy always takes a big drippy, greasy bite, smacks his lips and says something like “That’s killer!”

Back to the Blog

Photo Credit: J.O. Smith I’ve lived in Botswana for almost two years. What have I been doing all this time instead of getting down to business and starting a blog? Here are the things that have held me back:   1. Aren’t blogs dead? I think you are only allowed to keep a blog now in a completely ironic fashion, composed of video clips of piano-playing kittens or photos of real people from the ’80s wearing horrible Christmas sweaters. That is all too dreadfully hipster for me, and I felt that starting a blog would be like getting out the parchment, dipping my quill in ink, and scratching out a sonnet. Then I remembered I like things that are outdated, nerdy, and vaguely Shakespearean so that reason went by the wayside. 2. Moving to Africa keeps you busy for more than a few months.

Headaches & Hospitals

So I had my first Botswana hospital experience. I suppose it was only a matter of time. After all, I headed to the Emergency Room in Pakistan only a month after moving there in 2009. This time I made it almost two years in Botswana before being forced to navigate the bureaucracy, fluorescent glare, unknown medical infrastructure and curious medley of bedside manners that compose an ER in a foreign country. I had so many chances to avoid the encounter. TUESDAY: It started as a faint throbbing behind my eyes, as if I had been peering at my laptop too long in the dark (which is almost certainly the case). WEDNESDAY: I made a series of good decisions including calling in sick to work to soothe what I now believe were the beginnings of my first migraine headache. THURSDAY: I got too cocky. With no headache in evidence, I plunged full speed back into my normal work, gym, social and home schedule. I was punished for it around midnight when a wave of the worst pain I have encountered since childbirth hit me and I could do nothing but stumble around the bedroom howling, hoping not to wake Lila.

The Last Cheeseburger in Pakistan

One of the many misconceptions I had about Pakistan before moving there two years ago was that I might not get a cheeseburger during my time in the country.  I pictured a diet solely of rice, spicy curries, barbecued meat on skewers, and a few other dishes that I found on Wikipedia under “Pakistani cuisine.” But where would I get a regular old hamburger with cheese? (Other misconceptions I had for those keeping score: 1. That Islamabad would be in a desert wasteland like the Middle East, which it is nowhere near, 2. That I would always have to wear a head scarf in public, and 3. That I would definitely want to live in the “cool” diplomatic enclave near the Embassy which turned out to be neither cool nor a place I would ever live.)

Pregnant in Pakistan

A few months ago, I faced an interesting dilemma.  Laid out on the couch with a sore throat so painful I could barely swallow, I tried to decide which was worse:  hauling my sick body out of the house for the first time in a week to accomplish an important errand, or sending my housekeeper, driver, and/or bodyguard to the drugstore to buy a pregnancy test.  I didn’t love either of my options. With my significant other in the U.S. (nice timing!) I decided to take the “do nothing” approach and wait for the throat infection to pass.  Five days later I made the trip to the drugstore myself, with driver and bodyguard in tow of course.  There was nothing I could do about the entourage, but at least going myself spared me from having to pantomime “pregnancy test” to two gruff-looking Pakistani ex-military men. I chose my most conservative Pakistani outfit for the errand: full shalwar and long sleeves. For some reason this made me feel better braving Shaheen’s Chemist.  At pharmacies in Pakistan, a line of male employees stands six-deep behind the register watching your every move.  Don’t bother trying to figure out how all of them are necessary for the ringing up, packaging, or payment of your order: they are just there, and always will be.  The drugstore is also so brightly lit one could perform surgery on the counter. I blew by the freezer case of Snickers ice cream bars (my normal reason to visit Shaheen’s) and entered the shop, accompanied only by the bodyguard lurking by the front door and the driver idling out front, to ask for a pregnancy […] Read More

Weekend Away

One of the cool things about living in Pakistan is that you are smack in the middle of South Asia.  What this means is that if you want to get away for a few days to celebrate a friend’s birthday, you can easily jet off to the Himalayas, Dubai, Thailand, or Sri Lanka.  Dubai is boring unless you like wandering around cavenous, freezing malls containing only stores you can’t afford.  The Himalayas are awesome but you are definitely going to be delayed by an extra day or two when you try to return (due to “weather” “overbooking” or “computer problems”: thanks PIA), and Thailand is a dream but was hit by severe rains a couple weeks ago. That left Sri Lanka!  Our group of three cancelled our tickets for flooded Koh Samui and made new ones for Colombo with only four days to spare.  We got hotels, ordered taxis, packed our beach bags, and in one short flight from Karachi we were there. The trip was special because I will be leaving Pakistan in two weeks and returning to the U.S.  My job has finally ended and it’s time to go.  I hope that I will be back, but for now it is goodbye, and goodbyes always make me sad.  So I couldn’t pass up the chance to go away with two of my best friends that I made over the last two years here.  I also found out I don’t get any compensation for unused vacation days: perfect time to go!   We stayed one night in busy, bustling Colombo that didn’t seem all that different from Lahore or Karachi but offered a gorgeous […] Read More

Upstairs, Downstairs

There is one specific feature of my life that makes it really different from yours, assuming you are living any kind of typical American or European existence. It is not what you think:  it is not the threat of terrorism, it is not living on the other side of the world from my family, it is not living in a Muslim country where I hear the Islamic call to prayer five times a day, it is not my residence in a city full of wild boars and monkeys that often feels one step removed from the jungle. This feature is servants.  Servants! The very word conjures up an 18th-century manor, scullery maids in the kitchen, footmen in the stables, and a butler hovering with a silver tray. At least it does to me. In Pakistan, this word means something completely different, something standard and normal even for the middle classes. When I moved here and started searching for a place to live, I would go around with a realtor every Saturday to tour houses all over Islamabad. They all had the same basic amenities: more rooms and bathrooms than I would ever need (for the same rent as my apartment in the U.S.), cool smooth tiling in every room to keep down the heat, high ceilings, and “servants’ quarters,” which the realtor would helpfully point out at each location. He would always point them out…I would always look away uncomfortably and mumble that it wasn’t important. We would never tour the servants’ quarters, but he would always take care to highlight them as a useful feature of the property. After a while this also explained […] Read More

Take Away: Thai Food in Islamabad

There is a new Thai restaurant in town called “Mango Tree,” and I tried it for the first time on Friday night. I didn’t go there though: I invited a few of my closest friends over and had the food delivered so we could sit in a cozy room, spread the feast out over a long table, fill our plates, loaf around on the sofas, and catch up. Delivery is called “takeaway” here, not take-out, one of those sneaky remnants of British culture that linger in Pakistan like driving on the left side of the road and the popularity of teatime. We had satay and green papaya salad and tamarind red snapper and curries and noodles. We had chocolate cake for dessert and I steeped a pot of hibiscus tea from Vietnam, the tight buds turning into loose, floating flowers in the hot water. There is only one other Thai restaurant in town, and it is at the Marriott, which has good food but lost its atmosphere after the bombing in 2008. We exclaimed over the peanut sauce, decided we ordered way too much, and pronounced Mango Tree a success.

The Hen Experiment

It has begun. I’ve lived in Pakistan for almost two years: a country so full of chickens that you couldn’t walk into a village without stumbling into a squawking pack of hens. A country so full of chickens that even my house guards can tell me about the three most common breeds of hens in the country and a proper feeding schedule. And yet every week I have eaten pale, perfect, sterile-looking huge eggs in a styrofoam package from the expat grocery store that I’m sure are flown in from Dubai or someplace equally ridiculous. I’m also sure the word for a group of hens is not a “pack,” but this is exactly my point: I don’t know these things and haven’t taken the trouble to learn. (Flock? Clutch? Let the education begin.) For two years I have paid the price of my ignorance with tasteless, watery and rather expensive eggs. I said as much at work the other day, and a woman on my team turned around immediately and said, “Well, how many hens would you like?” I was headed more towards the where-can-I-get-local-organic-eggs? question, but apparently that was the wrong question. The right question was where-can-I-get-local-organic-chickens-to-lay-eggs-for-me? and now I have my answer. My first two hens were deposited yesterday, much to the wired, intense interest of Marlo and Kima who looked at first like it was Christmas (chickens arrive) and then like I had cancelled Christmas (dogs are told that the chickens should under no circumstances be played with or eaten). Two more hens are coming later in the week to make a merry little band of four. Today my throat felt a […] Read More

The Art of the Chick Flick

I’m afflicted with what may be strep throat, tonsillitis, or just punishment for something horrible I did somewhere, at some time in my past. It feels like gravel or tiny shards of glass are going down every time I swallow, so I try to do it as little as possible. However, I have discovered that telling yourself “not to swallow” is like trying not to think about a pink elephant. It makes it irresistible to do so. Tylenol, ginger tea, and gargling with salt water have only gotten me so far. During this bleak time, especially in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, I have found my greatest comfort in an unlikely place: the Romantic Comedy. Being out of the U.S. for two years and not a huge movie watcher even before then, it turns out I have missed hundreds of them! Hundreds of movies with cheerful upbeat music, situations that always resolve themselves positively, and lots of cute handbags and shoes. After 20+ hours of exposure to the genre, I can state with confidence the few basic requirements of the formula in case anyone is interested in writing their own to great profit and acclaim. I’ll make it easy for you. Based on my research, a successful romantic comedy should: Be set in New York City. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver on this one. The glittery high-rises for the opening sequence, the bustling, the taxicabs, and the impossibly huge stylish apartments with views of the Park prove too much for the genre to resist. The only acceptable alternative is a quaint and rustic small town setting into which […] Read More

The Town

On this lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon in Islamabad, I got around to watching the movie “The Town.” You know, the one where Ben Affleck finally decides to do a movie in/about Boston just to shake things up a bit? (Sorry: too easy a target, Ben.) Once you’ve lived in a place, it is imprinted on you. I know a real Boston street in my bones: I know the specific blue and white striping on the police cars, the sound of Joe Castiglione calling Red Sox games, the smell of roasting sausages at Fenway. I know the brick-paved sidewalks downtown, the exact look of a T stop sign, a Southie accent, and the newsstand in Harvard Square. I lived in Boston for ten years before moving to Pakistan, and watching the movie was like having a two-hour visit with an old friend, because “The Town” got all the details right. Most movies manage to flatten out the quirks of a city into an easy blandness that could be Anytown, USA. But no one can fake the details of a place you know well. Say what you will about good ‘ol Ben (who also directed the film), but he has Boston down: the security guard sitting in the armored van reading the Herald, how beautiful the Zakim Bridge is at night, the hoop earrings on the trash-talking townie girlfriend, and of course, a scene in a scruffy Dunkin’ Donuts. Of course it makes me wonder what details will stick out most vividly about Islamabad when I eventually leave here. I have a few guesses: the guy who bikes around the neighborhoods all day yodeling for everyone’s old […] Read More

Blood Orange

I hosted a bloody brunch over the holiday weekend a few weeks back. That sounds gruesome and terrible, but actually it was social and pleasant. Along with waffles and eggs, guests could take their pick of breakfast beverage from a Bloody Mary or a Blood Orange Mimosa. (Only the hardcore chose the Bloody Mary at 11 am on a Monday and you know who you are.) This is the kind of thing you can do in Pakistan, where you can buy an entire bag of blood oranges for $5. And by entire bag, I mean, a hoist-it-over-your-head, have-it-ride-sidesaddle-on-your-motorbike bag of 100 oranges. My housekeeper was bound and determined to go all the way to Khanpur, an hour away, to buy our bag of 100 oranges because in Khanpur a bag of 100 oranges is only $3. I told him we were going to let that $2 go. At Whole Foods in the U.S., at least last I checked, one blood orange was $3. On the rare occasion I would buy one, I would carefully select the best, plumpest, most perfect-looking specimen, take it home, and carefully slice it paper thin to use as a garnish for a fancy cocktail or to float on top of simmering cider. Now I could gargle with the stuff, but it is still a thrill to (have my housekeeper) juice 100 oranges so we can all slosh back pitcher after pitcher of sticky red juice while downing homemade chocolate donuts and handfuls of pomegranate seeds (another perk of the season). Yesterday it was sunny as usual but the air felt warm, like winter was ending, which means blood oranges and pomegranates are […] Read More

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

My long visa saga over, I finally came back to Pakistan, exhausted but happily clutching my stamped passport in hand, just in time to celebrate Christmas. Last year at Christmas I felt very far from home, as the holidays can make you feel when you’re living abroad. I had a lovely dinner with some American friends, but the city seemed a little cold and empty (even though it was 65 degrees) and definitely lacking in the “festive” factor. No presents and no tree: it seemed like any other day. Being stuck in the US for a month changed all of that this year. Trying so hard to get “home” to Islamabad made me love and appreciate my life there all the more. The long journey back was sort of like an international “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” but picture Christmas instead of Thanksgiving, Islamabad instead of Chicago, and recalcitrant government bureaucracy instead of a rental car on fire. My 14-hour layover in the most boring airport in the world (Frankfurt, Germany) intensified the feeling, especially after I walked out of customs in a sleep-deprived haze only to realize I couldn’t get back into the main terminal for another seven hours with only the unwashed masses and a German internet console for entertainment. (Try typing emails without using the letter “y.” Just go ahead and try it.) Just the sheer act of getting back into the country felt festive and put me right into the holiday spirit. A tree (small and fake, but still) and presents followed, as well as peanut butter dog treats for Marlo and Kima. You can see where the tree came from in […] Read More

Ten Cities, Two Weeks, and I’m Still an Illegal Alien

(15 days ago) My two-week vacation to Vietnam drawing to an end, I take a slow, bumpy car ride past hoards of motorbikes and market stalls of dragon fruit to the capital city of Hanoi, with the taxi driver honking his horn every 20 to 30 seconds the entire 4 hour trip. Luckily it is a pleasant, jaunty trill that sounds like a little song to wake birds up. I need to get back to the big city so I can… (14 days ago) …Spend the entire day at the Pakistani Embassy in Hanoi. This is just as boring as you would imagine, and does not result in the visa back to Pakistan I was hoping for so I have to… (12 days ago) …Head to Saigon for one last day feverish day of shopping, sightseeing, and a relaxing massage and mud wrap to prepare me to… (11 days ago) …Get on a plane to Doha, Qatar and spend a day in the Middle East just killing time before I… (10 days ago) …Board yet another plane for a 14-hour flight to Washington DC since I have no visa for Pakistan and am not in the mood to be detained at the airport in Islamabad upon arrival. In addition to being extremely bummed by this, I also decide to concentrate on the positives, which include me getting to… (9 days ago) …Spend two days in DC seeing fun people, eating great food, and applying for a new visa before I… (7 days ago) …Hop on a plane to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Palm Springs and… (3 days ago) …Drive up to Santa Barbara […] Read More

Do It Yourself Flood Relief

After my blog post in August on Pakistan’s flood crisis, you responded. Six of my friends back in the U.S. wrote in to ask how they could help. There are tons of great relief organizations working in the area of course, but my friends were looking to do something a little more “hands on.” Enter our grand plan: collect some funds, gather supplies, and get the stuff driven to the flood relief areas ourselves to deliver items by hand to families there. A wee bit more ambitious, but totally do-able with the support of a few friends stateside, a rented car, and my energetic house guy who took three days off from managing my life in Islamabad to launch operation flood relief. The flood-affected families have been receiving a lot of food and water, thanks to the aforementioned flood relief organizations, but it’s starting to get cold in Pakistan (yes, it gets surprisingly cold here) and warm clothes are an unmet concern for people who have lost everything. So we concentrated on getting as many fluffy sweaters, comfy sweatshirts, and woolly pants in the hands of people who would be needing them soon. Our stash looked pretty good before send-off, in Islamabad, complete with (subtly American color-coded) sign. Coming Next: Part II, Handing Out the Clothes. Thank you, everyone who pitched in!! […] Read More

Sunday Afternoon Observations

Fall has come to Islamabad. You hardy East-Coasters and Midwesterners will scoff, but after spending 18 months in Pakistan including monsoon summers, the low 60’s feel chilly and yesterday I hauled all of my boots and sweaters out of the closet. I met the Swedish Ambassador to Pakistan and she is HOT. How does Sweden do it? A large strip of my lawn has been removed to extend the vegetable garden; there are now 20 different items planted, getting me one step closer to my goal of turning the house into a commune where we can all live off the land. The snow peas are already 5 inches tall after their first week. I made my debut on Friday night in local Islamabad band “Gigistan.” I sang an ’80s classic, “Time After Time” and got a lot of kind comments both on my singing and on my rhinestone-studded True Religion jeans. Sometimes I think the most important thing is looking the part. My vacation to Vietnam starts in two weeks. I still need a visa, but luckily I can see the Vietnam Embassy from the terrace of my house, and will be popping over there tomorrow. I am most looking forward to the food and have heard that Saigon is a foodie paradise. I love the green smoothies from my detox so much I am continuing to have one every morning for breakfast. I am also, however, eating pizza on the weekends. Here’s to everything in moderation! […] Read More

Detox

I am one week into a three-week detox. That’s 21 days of no caffeine, no alcohol, no dairy, no eggs, no sugar, no wheat. And a few other random no-no’s, like tomatoes, citrus, and soy sauce. No, I have not gone insane and no, I am not hungry all the time, to answer 99% of the questions you will immediately be asking about this process. I got inspired to do the cleanse after months of feeling tired, stressed out, heavy, and headache-y. Would surviving on a liquid meal for breakfast and dinner and a small, wheat, dairy, and sugar-free lunch do the trick? That was the experiment. I have to say so far it has been fantastic. I miss coming home to a yummy dinner (cold carrot ginger soup, anyone?), but I have twice the energy, none of the headaches, and am almost completely relaxed even though work continues to be hectic, stressful, and speed-of-light fast. So it may not be crazy to do a detox, but what about doing one in a country without salad bars, health food, or the concept of eating dinner before 9pm? A breakdown: HURDLE: My detox book (“Clean” by Alejandro Junger) includes 21 recipes at the end for all the smoothies, cold soups, and healthy lunches you will need to make on the cleanse. The recipes are full of ingredients like quinoa, buckwheat noodles, sprouted chia seeds, and blueberries. Yeah, right. ADVANTAGE: The recipes are also full of ingredients like mango, coconut water, and nut milk. Instead of spending lots of cash on packaged, stale versions of the last two, I turn the bounty and resources of Pakistan to […] Read More

Vacation by the Numbers

My three week vacation in the U.S. has come to an end, so it’s time to do the numbers: Books Read: Three. The first was How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely. This was okay, kind of funny, but not memorable. It lacked much heart, and the plot line–that all contemporary fiction that sells well is calculated drivel made up to push sales–made me really cynical about the ability of current novels to inspire or elevate. After studying Ulysses for two years to write my dissertation I started to think that already a few years ago, so this is not a good direction for me. Next came Making Your Dog Your Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete. Non-fiction, fabulous book from the ’70s from a monastic community who raises German Shepherds and their advice on how to have a great dog. I loved this book and read it all in one windy day on the beach, which the library probably won’t appreciate because sand in every single page may have fluffed it up permanently. Finally, the perfect quick plane read, My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler. Hilarious, bawdy and totally inappropriate account of the author’s history between the sheets. Midgets included. I read basically the entire thing from Doha to Islamabad. I like memoirs about 100% more than I like fiction at this point. Trashy Magazines Read: Seven. So I am totally up-to-date on pop culture now. I used to turn my noses up at stuff like US Weekly and Star. That was before I moved to another continent and felt lost and confused when hearing about things like Kendra Wilkinson, Demi Lovato, the people with 19 children, any […] Read More

Buying Like an American

Last night I went to Walmart for the first time in my life. As I guess every single person in this country already knows, you can buy anything you want at Walmart, including oregano seeds for $1, karaoke CDs of Lady Gaga’s latest, and a pre-faded red tee shirt that says “I’m a Pepper.” This is awesome, any way you look at it. Draw a veil discreetly over that rather compelling documentary I watched a few years back about how bad Walmart is. My visit to Walmart was so unusual that my credit card company immediately suspended my card for suspected fraudulent activity. Remember that I live in Pakistan, charging up electric generator sets and tiki torch fuel cans left and right and no red flag is raised. Re-examine your screening process, Capital One. I restored my credit card privileges in time to do some damage at the mall today, the next stop on my consumer tour. I don’t like shopping at the best of times, but cramming six months’ worth of essential purchases into one day is especially icky. Random sampling of my list of must-haves today: sneakers, “Game Change” book about the 2008 election, sports bra, organic mascara, yoga block, 2011 dayplanner, pastry cutter, silver polish, and sesame oil. I should have bought the sneakers first and then put them on for the 6-hour mall walking marathon that commenced. Shopping by yourself is weird. You have to depend on the fawning opinion of the commissioned saleswoman about the black leather and velvet leggings/ankle boot combination that you want to believe could work on the Islamabad party scene this fall (solution: go with your […] Read More

Flood

Right now where I live, in Islamabad, the wide, clean streets are dry as a bone, the air is clear, and the sky is sunny. In the rest of Pakistan, massive and continuing floods are threatening to take over the whole country. It’s been raining a lot here in town over the last few weeks too, but Islamabad is in a secure little spot nestled right at the foot of the Himalayas so we’re on high ground. The most flood-related inconvenience I’ve had to endure was stepping in heels over a 4-inch deep puddle in the driveway of my office, which disappeared pretty quickly. Does everyone around the world know how bad the flood disaster in Pakistan is? It has already affected more people than Haiti’s earthquake and the Asian tsunami combined, but maybe because it is a slower disaster, it’s a less exciting story for the media. There isn’t one, dramatic moment of destruction where the buildings fall or the wave hits the shore. Just hour after hour of unrelenting monsoon rain, water inching up slowly and then faster to cover people’s homes, possessions, and millions of acres of crops. The death toll will climb more slowly as well. The first case of cholera was reported today, and children are already dying for that slow, very undramatic reason of lack of clean drinking water. The aid pledged for Haiti and the tsunami victims was in the billions; here the total pledged is about 209 million so far. It certainly doesn’t seem fair that Pakistan has to face this, as if natural disaster ever is fair. (Although how “natural” is this, or the Russian heat […] Read More

Eureka!

I finally figured out why I am having such a hard time putting up a post lately. It isn’t the new puppies, or the fact that I’ve been sick pretty much the whole month, or the oppressively hot weather that makes me want to lay around like a vegetable, or the news of catastrophic floods all throughout Pakistan that is just more and more depressing each day. No, it’s because I’ve been here too long. I don’t mean that I want to leave or that I don’t like it anymore. What I mean is that I’ve been here too long to give snapshots of what life is like in exotic Pakistan. Pakistan isn’t exotic to me anymore. It feels, in a lot of the ways that count, like home. Here is a list of things that I am totally and completely used to: machine guns, mosques, fancy Pakistani clothes, women carrying large loads of things on their heads. At one point all of these things seemed the height of exotic and cool. After living here for one and half years, I have even caught myself saying “we” and “our” and “us” on occasion when referring to Pakistan. This is the kind of stuff that gives the US government nightmares and is the reason they insist that their diplomats go back home on a regular basis to connect with America. Because of this adopted ownership and my appreciation for the real Pakistan, I now also feel like I have the right to voice complaints about “my” real Pakistan too. But I really don’t. At the end of the day it isn’t actually my country. So here […] Read More

Fashion Show

Today’s picture of the day explains in part why I haven’t been posting any pictures of the day lately. All my energies were a little wrapped up working on the event in the photo, which went well. Who says fashion shows can’t come to Islamabad?? Check out the U.S. ambassador in the front row. I’m hiding right behind the model and her abundant hair. The event showcased 25 women-owned businesses who underwent a months-long training program to get their products ready for the international export market. 14 international buyers attended the show to place orders and bring these fabulous clothes to the U.S. Look for them to appear soon! […] Read More