Scene: a graduate class. Students poring over papers. I’m sitting by, alert to signals from anyone.
Suddenly, I’m in Lahore, in Pakistan, and I see my mother’s hands. Her frail, busy hands are laboring on something as usual. And as I sit there, in a clean, institutional space on an American university campus, I’m suddenly lost. Where is the dust? The noise? The family? The chaos? The smells and sights?
Suddenly, my classroom, my space, my work and my persona are unreal. I need to reach out and touch what was real to me for so many years of childhood and adult life. How is one to move out of one real into another, and stay there?
We talk incessantly about how “people are people” and “life is the same,” but the concrete realities of life are dreadfully different between the U.S. and Lahore. I am shaken by this again. It just takes a moment of reflection, and I am transported.
The next moment, when I am called on with a “Dr Mir, I have a question -” I have to return.
Something about the chaos, the dust, the sights and smells is too real. When I go back for visits, its realness stuns me almost to the point of immobility. I can barely function in it. And yet I yearn to go back and touch it again, so that I may feel real again.
A minaret against a cloudy sky. The sound of adhan in a quiet evening. The sound of a donkey braying, a child laughing, a peddlar calling out, all at the same time. It is too much, when I go back. It overwhelms me, the routineness of it, the gray-dusty-normalcy of it. The clean, angular lines of life here sometimes feel like they are synthetically designed. They are predictable. The phones will work. Traffic will be bad on game day.
Home is noplace in particular. Home is in hot chaos. Home is in cold routine.
As one of my long-time blog readers, Adnan, commented, the shadow of silence stretches long upon this blog. The truth is, teaching qualitative research methods to graduate students in an intensive course leaves me very little time. Any little extra pockets of time must be claimed by my daughter, who is becoming acutely aware of her mother’s absences.
The list of friends and relatives who wonder why I don’t call is becoming long. The list of errands and absolutely-must-do’s is also lengthening daily. The list of “wish-I-coulds” rots in the back room. THAT list now includes a day dream: merely sitting in the sun and dozing. The bigger daydreams – vacations, road trips, beaches and bed-and-breakfast getaways – are a laughing matter. What used to be necessities – 3 full meals, good sleep, and occasional naps – are now becoming irregular events.
But an income is a good thing. It is good to know, when the bills roll in, that they will be paid, inshaallah. It’s good to know when you’re hungry, that you don’t have to think too much about grabbing a meal on the go (you can’t make a habit of it though). And as many of my readers know, it is nice to have health coverage. It’s nice to have transportation. And yet I am always aware of having been the person who could not count on all these things so blithely. I am aware, too, of the vagaries of the job market, and of the uncertainty of the economy. Times have changed. Futures are much more uncertain. We work hard, and we remain on edge.
Sometimes it seems as if our incomes pay to enable us to do our jobs and pay our taxes, and not too much else. As the mother of a young child, as a daughter and a sibling and a friend, I find that I don’t have the freedom or the time to connect adequately with the things in life that – well, give me life. Such as chatting with loved ones, visiting friends, playing with the toddler, and, – breathing freely and reflectively. I work, I remain dissatisfied with my efforts, there is always more I should have done, and there is always more to do YESTERDAY.