Sunday, December 21, 2008

Last night I dreamt of Obieland. It feels like I'm staying at Nikki's, although the place is somewhere on E College St. and hers never was. It's night time, and I decide that I need some groceries, having just gotten into town. Friend M doesn't accompany, because she doesn't see the necessity. So I'm walking into town, but for some reason, my first stop on College St is an Indian grocery store. I'm very aware that I only have about $10 or $15 in my pocket (being short of cash is such a familiar feeling from college), so I ask the store owner for some things, but then tell him I'll be back in a bit. What I really want to do is get to Gibson's. I realise that this Indian store is in the place that used to be Hunan when I first arrived in Obieland, and later became the more upscale version of the Mandarin (can't remember the name, but they used to serve the most gorgeous tiger prawn). After the shock of the restaurant simply having disappeared has worn off a bit, I suddenly realise that Gibson's simply isn't there any more. Even the space has disappeared. Then someone tells me that they've taken over the second floor of the Oberlin Bookstore, so up I go, and the Gibson's counter is there.

I forget what happens after that. I suppose the dream comes from having seen the Conservatory magazine yesterday, and not being able to figure out where it is that they're putting the new Con building. Also, just being terribly homesick for Obieland. It's weird, though. Before, dreams about the US have always been about specific people. Last night was definitely about the place.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I've been working on a post about nazar, and how the concept affects me as a parent, but getting it down in words is more complicated than I had anticipated. So here's a less pretentious post in the meantime. :)

Yesterday, I went to a wedding. Given that it's December in Lahore, and yesterday was Sunday, there's nothing unusual about that. But weddings always inspire reflection for me, because they become an opportunity for armchair sociology.

The most interesting part first: The wedding video was being shot by a woman. And all the catering staff (well, the visible ones, anyway) was female. I've never seen a wedding video being shot by a woman. The still photographers at two weddings I've attended in the US have been female, but never the "video guy." In fact, the term "wedding video crew" always inspires in me instant repulsion and memories of assorted annoying men, of varying degrees of sleaziness. I didn't want a video crew at my wedding, partly for that reason. I've also never seen a whole crew of female servers at a formal event.

But the paradox, which is what makes for real sociological interest (at least for me), is that the wedding was a completely segregated affair. As in, they booked two separate halls at a posh hotel, one for male guests, and one for female guests. So you had women taking on roles that are normally the preserve of men in Pakistan, but for reasons that are totally "unliberated." Like the fact that initially women would become ob-gyns here because women didn't want to go to a male doctor (or the men in their families didn't want them going to male doctors).

So I was quite entertained by that paradox. And the lesser paradox of the female videographer wearing a head scarf, taking video of women who only have their head scarves off because they are in an all-female situation. Most of those women would be very uncomfortable with men seeing that video. And yet it's hard to imagine that the wedding video won't be viewed by at least the close male relatives of the bride and groom.

And then there's the idea that arranging separate spaces is more of a religious duty than avoiding extravagance. I've seen segregated weddings before, but usually they involve putting up a partition in the single hall. I've always been uncomfortable at events like that, particularly since I got married (more on that in a second), but given the strength of people's convictions, and how extremely uncomfortable those people would be in the absence of a partition, I've never sat in judgement on it. But this just strikes me as excessive, and more ostentatious than religious.

Why does it make me more uncomfortable now that I'm married? Several reasons, really, all of them practical. For one, once you're married, you get invited to weddings more frequently (don't ask me why, pondering that one may need to be the subject of a whole different post). So the frequency with which I have to deal with segregated weddings has increased. For another, I get invited to weddings where I don't know anyone, because the person getting married is a former colleague of my husband's, for example. So, there I am at a party that I've only gone to because it's important to my husband, and I can't even sit with the one person there who I know. Third, co-ordinating exits just becomes irritating. Thank God for cell phones. But still, if one of us forgets to take their phone, or it's accidentally left in silent mode with the vibrate function off, or doesn't hear it ring in the hubbub of the reception, then we are simply doomed. Before I was married, this wasn't an issue, because at such an event, I would usually be on my own.

Another time I will expound further upon the subject of weddings in Pakistan, and related idiocies.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Apparently there were three explosions. Not in the theatre complex itself, but in the Punjabi Arts complex next door. And there appears to have been a stampede at the performing arts festival in the ensuing panic. Allah rehem kare. Allah rehem.
So about an hour ago, I'm in the middle of the "Ok, Haroon, nursing time is REALLY over" battle, when I hear a boom and the windows rattle. Lately the house has been over-run by painters and workmen of various sorts, so I think "Someone must have left the terrace door open, oh no, wait, I hope that wasn't an explosion." Twenty minutes later I hear another boom. The battle with Haroon was still not over, so I couldn't go check the TV. Then I realised that in my ongoing saga with the cable provider, I had agreed not to have TV service for one evening while they tried to figure out why my internet connection kept going on the blink. So I checked online, and couldn't find any mention of anything untoward, so crossed my fingers that it was just a transformer going kaput or something like that.

Fifteen minutes ago, my sister-in-law called to say there had been an explosion at the performing arts festival going on at the open air theatre complex a couple of miles from my home. I still can't find anything on the internet. As I write, I can hear sirens going past. God have mercy.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Good friend NE Iowa Mom wonders how I'm going to gather my data in a quantifiable form. I think, though, that I am looking at more of an in depth interview, text coding kind of study. Because I am curious about the issue of "the good man," but I'm also curious how people at school react to a female principal, and what she sees as the factors at work in how she and other school community members interact with each other. What's worrisome, really, is how to turn this into something manageable. I don't have years to do this study, although I could turn it into a longer project later (maybe a case study of, say, half a dozen female principals of all-boys' schools?), so I have to come up with something where I can gather the data, analyse it, and write it up, all in under six months.

That's almost laughable. No, correction. That IS laughable.

So what I'll have to do is scale this down in some way, and yet still manage to ask a worthwhile question that builds on the existing literature. Said literature seems to be pretty quiet about perceptions about female principals in all-boys schools. There seems to be more about female teachers. But the fact of the matter is that there are relatively few female principals in the world, let alone in the fortresses of patriarchy. Which is what makes this lady fascinating, at least to me.

Much to ponder.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

(Re)entering the discourse

I've been silent on this blog for a long time. I've never really managed to get it to the point of being a regular thing.

That's at least in part because I've been too busy sorting myself out to deal with the things that have been on my mind in a more cerebral (and therefore, in my world, requiring writing down) kind of way. It would appear that I have cleared up some mental RAM, however. So I am now in a position to take stock of some of the more pointy headed kinds of things that are on my mind.

One is my research, upon which I need to build a masters thesis.

Then there's the state of my countries, and the world in general, which by rights, is not one topic, but occupies the same part of my brain. And since this is my blog, I get to declare it one topic.

And of course, there's the issue of domesticity, and within that, gender relations in the home space, different ways of organizing homes, the dynamics of extended families, and just how to get housework done more efficiently, so that it takes up less time.

Today I'm going to stick to the research part. I still haven't been able to identify exactly what it is that I want to find out, and it's kind of difficult to plan your thesis research without knowing what the question is.

I've decided on a situation that interests me: a private all-boys school, with a female principal. In Pakistan, no less. I have anecdotal evidence that this is a relative rarity anywhere in the world. I have to figure out where to get real data on the numbers, but that's mostly to support my assumption that this is an unusual phenomenon.

I'm interested in this one principal, in particular, partly because she's just cool. But also I see her opinions on what kind of men her students should grow up to be as being kind of counter-culture.

Now I need to flesh out my vision of the Pakistani context with evidence from the literature (if it exists). And I need to figure out how to get at the questions that I'm interested in answering. Articulating those questions would be a good beginning, but I'm struggling with that for now.

What I have so far is this: What happens when a liberal feminist becomes the principal of an elite all-boys school in Lahore?

Now I could compare this with how things were when the principal at this same school was a man, although gathering data on that might be kind of difficult, given our tendency to generate massive amounts of paperwork with little or no coherent organization.

Or I could compare it with a different elite boys school in Lahore, or several boys schools.

Or I could track down other female principals of all boys schools, figure out where they stand on feminist issues, and what their vision of the ideal student is.

Or I could see how everyone else's perceptions of this particular principal have evolved over time, or are informed by her being a woman.

What gets me most excited is the degree of variance of her vision of "good men" with/from(?) the yardsticks that society at large, parents, teachers, and the students themselves use to gauge whether someone is a "good man." And how this variance plays itself out in organizational dynamics, in curricular priorities, etc.

But how do you turn that unwieldy mess into a "real" research question?