Saturday, January 21, 2012

Afghans for Afghans - I have a dream!

I recently read an article that described how our generation is labeled the SANDWICH GENERATION! It detailed how to get yourself financially and emotionally ready for this.  It was defined as "a generation who is taking care of small children while caring for an aging relative".  I found the article a little odd as for the Afghan people and most Asian society, this is the only way of life. For us taking care of the elders is an honer, duty and second to prayer. However even though it is a duty as an Afghan, I admit it is not easy.  While my parents do not live with me, this year more then any other year I have realized how hard it truly is to be there for them and my heart breaks when I see them alone and sulk when we do not visit.

The hardest part is that you know how vulnerable they have become, you know they need to slow down, you know they cannot do the things they once could but they have not come to that realization.  So you gently remind them and they get upset with you for reminding them they are getting old.

The next hardest part is watching my parents sit home alone in a big home by themselves. Asking them to downsize will be insulting them. They want the grandchildren, the son-laws and rest of the family to come every night so mom can cook for us and we can have one big family at one locations.  But the reality is that kids have after school activities or have invited friends over, the hubby just wants to watch sports on the couch after long day of work and as a mother / wife I have to be there for them. So every night, I call my parents to check in.  I feel guilty  and heartbroken every night because I know they once had a house full of people, where always entertaining and now that is all gone.

It would be so much easier if they came to live with me or one of my sisters because they  would have the company and  I would have the ease of mind that they are not alone.  As much as my husband and I have begged them to come live with us they have turned us down.  The biggest reason is that in the Afghan culture it is customary to live in your son's home but never in your son-in-law's home.  Because my parents do not have a son, they feel that they must live in a home by themselves. So we wait until they are ready to move in with one of us.

As for my dream - I had always thought if I had some money to invest, I would invest in creating an Afghan retirement home. I didn't want to build this retirement home because we are burdened by taking care of our elders but rather for providing a place where they are connected by their past, religion, have companionship from of their own peers.  While we are busy with our little kids and careers - a place like this will great for the empty nester like my mom's  to go to socialize and feel needed.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

All-American Muslim is a TV show! Why do we allow hate to grow?

 A friend asked me to give my opinion on the controversy surrounding the TLC show "All-American Muslim".  If you recall from my first post, I was excited for the show and felt it might be added to one my many TV viewing habits (All the House Wives, the annoying Kardashians, the occasional baby beauty pageants and I will admit at times Storage Auctions).  After watching the first show I realized it did not have enough drama, cat fights or enough bling to continue watching.  It has recently peaked my interest again to see which advertisers are taking advantage of the rating hikes and making a stand. 

Being in the media for a very long time, I understand an advertiser have a the right to pull out of any program they feel may upset their consumer, it is their right.  People this is a free country.  You can air whatever you want and  you can choose not to advertise in any program you do not want and you have choices to shop in other places if do not like what business stands for.  What puzzles me is why Lowe's  allowed  this to get to this level and where is their PR team.   

Why are we so quick to jump on Corporate America and see the giant fall and choose to ignore the real instigator  who caused all this - The Florida Family Association.  They are festering hate in this country, which makes them no different from the fundamentalist who teach young Muslims that all things West is bad and should be destroyed.  This will be another bullet for the fundamentalist to teach with  "see they are out to destroy Islam".  Although a fundamentalist may have an issue with the mini dressed Lebanon's girl  who wants to open a night club and was having a glass of white wine on the last show.

Lets not forget all the things that makes this country so amazing and great.  Our foundation is rooted in our beliefs of freedom and equality.  I was recently watching Lidia-celebrates-america on PBS (yes I do watch that channel) and she walked us through a Chinese New Year dinner and a Jewish Passover Seder.  I found the show so fascinating because she showed that everyone is welcomed in America.  Everyone came here for a dream. Maybe the 35,000 + members of FFA and David Caton should go back to wherever their ancestors originated  from and live outside of the United States for a year or two.  Just maybe that will remind them why  we all live here! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is being a Tiger Mom the right path for better kids?

 I struggled with my next topics and had to take a deeper look inside to question my parenting methods. I truly believe we are creating lazy kids because we were deprived as children.  Most people say that we were never deprived as kids because we went on family vacation, dad would buy us anything we wanted if we brought home good grades and we ate out on a regular basis.  But I felt we were deprived because were not allowed to do a lot of things our American friends were allowed.  I had questioned my parenting skills and said they were too strict and I would never be that strict when I have kids.  I am not sure if they were wrong anymore and I may need to implement some of their methods.

While I have limited my kids X-Box time to four hours on the weekend,  I allow unlimited TV until bed time, I tell them good job when they bring home good grades but do not pressure them for perfect scores. My idea of of reward is extra time on X-Box, eating out or buy them items because I feel other kids have them. I   tell myself I am teaching them responsibility by forcing them to clean their room on Saturday morning and putting away their laundry (which ends up in the hamper when they get too lazy or in a rush to finish). My husbands believes that they are still young for house choirs and they will learn on when they grow up.  My kids come home and drop their coats, bag by the front door or on the steps and we step over it.  At the end of the night, I am washing 10 water glasses (there are only four people who live here and only one person who drinks every 5 minutes!), a sink full of dirty dishes, picking up endless wet towels of the floor, cleaning dried toothpaste off the sink and on and on and on!!

This week I had enough! At 8 years old, my sister and I had taken turns cooking full dinners for the family, washing all the dishes (no dishware in my house), clean my room every morning (my mom and sister may argue with this point but I am counting they maybe too busy to read this).  The kitchen was spotless cleaned before we went to bed. We were expected to bring home honor rolls every report card.  We did not have any games or even cable.  We had one TV and had to wait till Saturday morning to watch cartoons (I did fight for Wonder Woman, Knight Rider and The Six Million Dollar Man).  If dad or mom wanted to watch TV, we had to give up our show and find another activity.  We  were never allowed to participate in after school activities (one time in 5th grade, I didn't tell anyone and tried out for cheerleading but had to quit because practice lasted after 4:30), we could not attend parties or  have sleepovers.  My poor friend Karen lived in my house because I was not allowed to be at her house.  So with that said, I would conclude that my mom did a moderate version of  what Amy Chua described as Tiger Mom.  I contribute our success to how she raised us.  On the flip side, I would also contribute how the five us are always stressed because we are control freaks who would rather do it all then have less then perfect outcomes from our kids and partners.

Some of the most successful people I know in my circle were raised by very strict parents (some as strict as Amy Chua and other like my mom a moderate version of Amy Chua).  In today's age of "talking"and "let them be children" in my opinion is creating some very lazy kids who will expect their mom's to fill out their college applications and help them get a job.

 The first time I had asked Sami to do dishes, my husband said boys do not do dishes in our home.  You can assume that conversation did not go very well that night.  What he does not know is that I HATE doing dishes and always did.  If I did not have a dishwasher we may have to live on paper plates (another pet peeve).

On Sunday I put my foot down and called a family meeting (yes I am a "talking" mom) and implemented some House Rules.  The first two nights were filled with tears, screaming matches and some very hurtful comments " I am the worst mom" and "no one else makes their kids do house work" and my favorite "your a mom, this is your job, why are you making us do it".

God give me strength because I believe with this, I hope to create a solid foundation for my kids to be independent and have some sort of responsibility.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How honest are we?

Thank god my Thanksgiving dinner was a huge success. I had cooked three turkeys and 100% of the family expected arrived , some family had responded that they would come but I knew that was for "show" and would actually not come.  Almost all Afghan gathering end up in the men taking over one of the rooms and  closing the night with a a card game or political discussion.  The woman usually end up in another room and closing the night with dancing and green tea. 

What do I mean by the word "show", well I define it as one does not say what they mean.  Afghans have perfected this art in the US.  Everyone tries to compete with the next family and no one really tells the truth.  Ask any Afghan where is he from and he will tell you he comes from a big wealthy family in Afghanistan. Majority of Afghans will try to out do another Afghan by buying a bigger home, nicer car, new Afghan clothes or more gold (yes we have an addiction to 24 carat gold!) -- me included in this list!! Some of these people may never have worked or are collecting government help but damn it they have to wear the best gold necklace and a new $400 outfit to every event.  This game gets even worse when a mother is shopping for a bride for her son. I recently heard that a mother puts on her best gold (yes, a ring on every finger and two or three necklaces at once) and attends a girl's home to ask for her hand  in marriage.  This game is usually played by the guy's mother to the girls mother to prove that this is a wealthy family and they should allow their daughter to get married.  If they are bring the girl from Pakistan or Afghanistan, the game is even more heightened to prove they are giving their daughter/son to go live a great life of luxury in America. So in the end if we were honest with people upfront and live within our means, we would not need to play this game and actually trust one another based on who we really are not what we are pretending to be.

I struggled with this concept for years and was recently tested in Dubai.  My American side have always taught me to be honest and upfront.  My Afghan society stresses not say anything that might anger or hurt someone.  I have been told I am too upfront and shoot from the hip.  On this one, I have chosen my American side! I like who I am. I refuse to pretend, be fake or keep quite if I do not like something.  I will raise my kids the same way.

Note: The US Afghan community is a small community (estimated at 300,000) and everyone knows everyone to a degree.  On the east coast, the largest population lives in Virginia  Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island.  Smaller numbers in Albany, Connecticut, New Jersey and PA.   On the west coast they are spread out in LA, San Jose, SF Bay Area and San Diego. Smaller pockets are now spread out in Texas, Florida, Chicago area. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hosting a Halal Thanksgiving

La llaha illa Allah

Panic has started to creep its ugly head (both on me and the poor Turkey)....

A few weeks ago I decided it would be a great idea to invite the entire family over for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at my house (my family thought I had bumped my head as I am the last one to host such large parties).   But this year I was craving a huge family dinner because I had missed out on it for the past three years.  In 2008, I was coping with my Cancer and took the kids to Disney as I was not sure if I was going to live.  In 2009,  Iqbal and I had gone to Hajj to thank Allah for  getting through 2008 and in 2010, we were living in Dubai without my family.  

So in true modern style, I posted an invite on Face Book to my family but in true unspoken Afghan culture the invite includes all extended family by marriage of my sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.  The reason we have to (yes we have to!) invite everyone is because the concept of individualism does not exist in our culture and religion or at least for my generation it does not.  I personally feel guilty when I put my nuclear family needs before the extended family -- becomes very draining and stressful at times.   Now for the younger generation (the one that were born here) they have no problem with individualism.  

After sending out the invite,  one family member felt the needed to remind me that we should not be celebrating Thanksgiving as it is a  non-Muslim holiday.  I reminded him As long as I can remember my mom or aunt  or for that matter his mom have hosted Thanksgiving dinner . We did not "celebrate" the holiday, per se, but everyone was off work, so it was convenient to have dinner together.  We ate Turkey because it was available and on sale.  personally embrace Thanksgiving because I do not believe it conflicts with any Islamic principles.  We are giving thanks for what Allah has given us. 

Now the reason I am panicking for a couple of reasons.  First,  we do not believe in responding to dinner invites.   We are just not wired to respond and at the last minute if something better comes up we may attend that instead.  So I have no clue who will show up, yet still have to be prepared to feed them all (up to 40+ people).  This drives my American friends crazy, at times I mix the cultures and forget to respond to kids birthday invites.  On more then one occasion I find myself calling the mom asking if we can still come.  

Secondly store bought turkey is not an option we have to find Halal turkey  (a turkey that must be slaughtered in a proper Islamic way).  Now a week before Thanksgiving dinner, I am on the hunt for 3 Halal turkeys.  

Lastly, hospitality is engraved in our blood.  Once you open your home to a guest that person is considered family, they have free rein of your home.  A woman is obligated to host, serve and prepare everything (which includes turkey, Afghan rice,a meat sauce dish, at least 4 or five side dishes, home made pickles and pot after pot of green tea for an unknown number of people) .   With that said, I am started to panic how I will do it all and how will the house look after the event .   

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Freedom of expression for one Afghani girl

I have been thinking about starting a blog for some time but never had the time before with a full time job and running a home. Now that I am a stay at home mom (not by choice and not for long!!), I decided to give it a try once more.  A little about me, I am happily married to a great man(except during PMS moments when all men are evil), two great kids, aging parents and some crazy sisters living in suburbia of New Jersey! I dabbled in writing a blog a few years ago when I had started khala Jan but gave up when life took over.

What inspired me to start this blog  and how is it different from all the other mommy blogs out there? Well for one, I am a Pashtun Afghan who tries to balance a very modern American life within a very strict culture and beliefs. Secondly, I want to clear up any misconceptions about all Afghan woman and provide a glimpse of some of the issues we face.

Lastly I want to showcase that not every Afghan woman is living a loveless life of abuse. Let me stress that I will not deny, nor ignore that woman's rights are a large issue within our culture. I hope to inspire our Afghan community to start the change one home at a time. So once again, I welcome you to my life as I take you through my weekly adventures (and cooking mis-adventures).

Today I will provide my view on TLC new program on "All-American Muslim". As a Muslim, my first opinion is nicely done.  They touched on all the issues that we face:
  1. younger generation marrying a non Muslim
  2. cover up vs. not cover up
  3. insecurity woman feel when they try to break the norms
  4. our relationship with spouse (do they help out or not)
  5. the bullying some kids face when trying to fit in 
  6. old maid issues  
As a TV viewer looking for entertaining shows, I am not sure if I will follow them as I did "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" or any of the other reality shows that consumes my time.  But I will give it a chance and see if upcoming episodes will get juicy and moves away from teaching.  Muslims do not openly talk about their sex lives or show any intimate moments, therefore,  I am curious to see how TLC will keep viewers entertained. All I ask is that I hope future shows have better belly dancers!  Sadly I give this show a mix review and will return for a second viewing to see if it gets better.