Aehl and I are looking for a new place to move to; a few weeks ago, we were held up at gun point on our way home one night and that was the last straw. Apartment living doesn’t suit her health (not that I’m healthy myself, but my issues have little to do with the apartment) and since this is a commercial building, we can’t afford to keep paying commercial rates on our utilities.

For a skeptic, spooky things sure have a way of happening around me. I would pass them off as hallucinations if there weren’t more people who experienced them with me. The latest weirdness involved a bottle of body spray: soon after Aehl packed up an engraving of Quranic verses (is there a special word for religious decor?) the bottle suddenly flew off the desk I had placed it on, right under where the engraving used to be, and smashed with great force on to the floor. Aehl assured me it happened because the bottle was on the edge of the desk even though I was sure it wasn’t. It was late at night and I didn’t pursue it further. This morning I noticed the cap was also unscrewed.

“It managed to unscrew its cap as well? No way was it on the edge of the desk!” I exclaimed.

Now safely sitting in a sunlit room, Aehl admitted that it hadn’t been anywhere near the edge. But she hadn’t wanted me to freak out because fear only makes things worse.

I cracked a few jokes about where we’d be if ghosts were Atheists (“Oh shut that mumbling, will you! Don’t you have any Dawkins to read to me?”) and left it at that.

As afternoon turned to evening, I remained quiet and finally Aehl came up to me and asked me if I was feeling scared or creeped out by what happened with the bottle. I looked at her and paused before replying:

“I’m 24 years old, I’m bipolar, I make my living freelancing online to earn barely enough to pitch in for the bills, and now I might have to drop out of a college degree I spent 4 years trying to earn because I can’t afford the tuition fees if I get detained and I can’t afford the mental strain if I go back, which is definitely going to have an impact on my career and how much I can earn 10 years down the road, and on top of that my health is failing, all of which makes for one very uncertain future. Any ghost shows up in front of me right now, Imma sit it down and say to it
“Let me tell you what’s REALLY scary–life.”

Bonded Labor

ET Maternal and Infant Mortality Stats Feb12014

Express Tribune just released the latest statistics for maternal mortality in Pakistan–the highest in South Asia. It reminded me of an old post of mine, still just as relevant although the statistics are probably outdated by now.

We used to eat out frequently when I was a child. Those were simpler times, when going out did not necessarily entail the risk of getting bombed, murdered, kidnapped, looted or, as in the case of the Taliban-infested areas, all four.

As we drove home after one such trip, it struck me how much parents did for their children without asking anything in return.

“How could anyone ever pay back their parents for everything they’ve done?” I wondered as we stopped near the neighborhood bakery.

The area looked desolate, but it was still safe enough for my younger siblings to go buy ice cream.

“It’s a lot to pay back for,” I remember my parents agreeing, “But that’s why God has given such status to parents. A son pays them back by taking care of them and supporting them in their old age.”

I listened eagerly.

“It’s even easier for girls! A girl repays her parents when she becomes a mother herself.”

I sat back, troubled, holding my ice cream as my siblings settled down around me and my father continued the discussion with my mother, marveling at how much simpler things were for girls.

“But what if a girl doesn’t want to become a mother?” I asked.

“That’s why they are supposed to have them. It’s the way things are meant to be.” my parents replied, closing the topic.

I began to eat, though still perplexed. The way things were meant to be, I couldn’t help feeling, was somehow not very fair.

A boy and a girl are both born in debt to their parents.

For being given care and resources, a boy repays them with his own.

But for receiving life, a girl must pay back with life.

And given that childbirth is 300 times more dangerous in developing countries, given that according to estimates 1 woman dies in labor every 20 minutes in Pakistan, given that access to and quality of health facilities is dismal throughout the country even where religious zealots haven’t banned, given that a woman’s use of contraception is a man’s decision, given that any son she bears must become her hoped-for savior and any daughter she bears must inherit her debt…it is usually her own life that she pays with.

It makes me feel like a bleedin’ uterus.

–F, “Bonded Labor” (10th Feb 2009)