Sunday, June 19, 2011

the burqa ban, cont'd

(Click here for previous posts on this topic: part I, part II, a short youtube clip)

One of the things that is fun about the book my sister-in-law lent me last week is the detail of description with which the author, Miranda Kennedy, fills each paragraph.  Most of "Sideways on a Scooter" is about what it is like to live in Delhi as a young, single professional woman and I can practically smell the masala frying in the pan.  Since she is a reporter she not only gets to describe India, but also the day-to-day of women's lives in neighboring Asian countries when she travels.  Among other discoveries, she finds out just how hard it is to find a suitable place to go when you need to go while in AfghanistanFunny thing about a place where women are generally confined to their homes: there are few female-designated public restrooms and it is often too little dangerous to stop on even a remote hillside! 

So there is poor Miranda, traveling in the heat, in her tightly-tied headscarf (with no hair showing) and covered from her neck past her ankles, trying to hold it for a Very. Long. Time.  Hours into one ten-hour trip, she urges her driver to stop a roadside cafe and, with his help, pleads her way into the men's room.  Afterwards, her guide serves as translator at a table of locals who soon start to exhibit discomfort at talking to a strange and foreign woman---especially because she is, as they say, "naked."  After all, her face was showing! 
And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their headcoverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms (jaybs), and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to Allah together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful" Qur'an Sura Nur Chapter: The Light. Verse 31
As promised, here are a few links to short articles by women who wear, or have worn the burqa and their various reasons.  I am afraid I was not able to get very far into scholarly writings about this and have barely skimmed the surface of news articles and online chat rooms.  At the moment I don't have access to a computer all the time, and also, a lot of the debates in France are in French so that makes things more tricky.  (For you! ha ha.)  Anyway, there's still plenty of reading if you want to start clicking on what I can offer you below.

A CNN article: the Koran tells me to wear it
How some women feel about the ban

There are all sorts of conversations on Youtube about this, and here are a couple good starting points: here is one in Australia and then this piece by the Economist that frames the French debate:

I like this second clip especially because it captures what is unique about the French case: the very strong legal and cultural emphasis on "secularism" in that country.  It is not Muslims in particular who are being targeted, but any religious group that seeks to influence public life.  Still, there are arguments from all sides.  For instance, some opponents of the ban have argued that France has never legislated what women can do with their own bodies, so just as the nation ignored those who wanted to ban abortion, for example, we must ignore this new group of religious fundamentalists, not legislate against them.

On a practical level, here is what some women have written about the experience of wearing full-body coverings.

One London woman writes about what it is like to wear the burqa and I especially liked the parts about the practical difficulties while wearing one: how can a girl sip a latte?  It seems like this was just a one-time experiment, and so here is the perspective of a woman who had to wear it for a longer period.  She initially hated it, but after a few years, ended up actually enjoying it. 

Other women have written about their choices of Muslim dress and although this article is specifically about the hijab and not the burqa or chador, even though I am speaking exclusively about full body coverings, I found it and the comments to be fascinating.  In doing my "research" for this little post, I ran across a Canadian chat site dedicated to Muslim women in Canada who wear the hijab.  The moderator said repeatedly that a primary reason to wear it is because "50 percent of a woman's beauty is in her hair."  So I found it a little humourous to run across the same statistic by a person in a Youtube video on the subject of the burqa: 50% of a woman's beauty is in her face! 

And that brings me back to the issue of "naked" faces. 

A freelance writer and ex-patriate resident of Istanbul explains why she changed her mind about the burqa (and the veil): at first it seemed like a clear-cut issue of women's choice, but then she realized just how much it could change--and already has changed--the tone of casual interactions between the sexes.  She builds a case for a legal ban and asks this question: is there a place in the world where wearing [the veil or] burqa is the norm AND women and men enjoy equal rights

Sunday, June 12, 2011

the shape of me and other stuff

As a medical student and then a resident, my husband had a lot of teachers and each had their own unique teaching style.  The way medical education works (in the US at least) is to start out with lectures and books for the first couple of years, then spend two more shadowing residents and then, when you become a resident you report to more senior residents and check in with the attending physicians before you make big decisions.  Once you graduate, you're on your own.  But it doesn't always work that way exactly.  For one, at least when you work in a hospital setting (like in an ER) you don't ever have to make decisions alone if you don't want to.  You can consult your colleagues, your books, the specialists upstairs (cardiologists if it's a heart issue, neurologists if there is a brain injury, etc.).  And besides, attending physicians sometimes have things to learn from residents and nurses. 
Emergency Medicine is a new specialty in India so they need physicians from all over the world to come in and help train their residents.  For a short time, my husband was one of them.  Not surprisingly, he found that there was a lot of catching up to do if the residents were to receive the kind of education he had received; there simply aren't enough Indian doctors who have been trained in Emergency Med. to do the job and it shows.  It didn't take long for him to realize how little he, a single person, could offer in such a short period of time: "Hundreds of people—even thousands—contributed to my medical education and training back in the US.  During residency alone, the entire Emergency Department and the Residency program at UCSD Hospital existed and functioned in such a way to form each one of us residents so that, after 50 to 60 hours each week for 50 weeks a year, for four years, we would really know our stuff."
This academic year I homeschooled our eldest daughter.  First grade is not exactly difficult to teach, but it was the first time I had taken on the education of another person.  Turns out, it's a pretty hard thing to do.  Which is not exactly a revelation, but boy was I relieved to turn her over to the experts once we landed in Washington.  She is finishing up her year there and from what I have seen from the homework and assignments she has brought home, and from what her teacher tells me, there don't seem to be major gaps in her education. 
Somehow I managed to hit the major learning points and she will be ready for second grade.  What is even more fun to watch, however, is what can happen when many people come together and cooperate to create a rich learning environment outside of book lessons alone.  At her school there is a music teacher, a gym teacher, a librarian, a science teacher, and a computer teacher all in addition to the First Grade Teacher.  Also: plenty of parent volunteers!   With so many people pitching in, they have pulled off all sorts of productions and outings that would be pretty difficult for a single person to manage on their own.  Just to name a few: an all-school talent show and fundraiser, a musical, a Field Day, a First Grade chapel program and then even more that I don't know about.  So although it is a lot of work to pull off these events, there are a lot of people involved in the process and some of them are really, really good at doing things that do not come easily to me at all.  (Teach 20 eight-year olds how to play three songs using only bells, and make it sound good?  Nope, I don't know how to do that.) 

Jack Whinery and his family, homesteaders, Pie Town, New Mexico (LOC)

This isn't a post about why homeschooling is bad or even less-than-ideal, nor am I out to make a point about formal vs. informal learning.  What all of this has made me think about is more simple and generally applicable to anyone, anywhere: how people, lots of people—entire communities of professionals, or friends, or even unlikely groups of mismatched folks—shape and form us, contributing to our education in small or significant ways.  It isn't the work of a single person and even when we don't realize that it is happening and even when we don't intend for it to happen, like the genetic signatures imprinted on us by our parents and their parents, we are being shaped.  Church people and family and neighbors and even people who died centuries before us but whose legacy we learn and carry on—these are all people who are shaping other people.
So for the people who made (and are making) me, for those who are making and have made my husband, my kids and my friends, I am grateful.  "Of all the shapes we MIGHT have been...I say, 'HOORAY for the shapes we're in!' "

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Leia asked for more info about why women wear the burqa and I got to work on that, wrote up a post, saved it as a draft and then...lost it.  I am going to wait to see if it miraculously pops back up somehow. 

In the meantime, here is a video that includes Amnesty International's perspective on the French ban and one Muslim woman's proposed solution:

Friday, June 3, 2011

thanks, we'll be here all month

When you live with people, they get to see all sides of you.  When your kids live with you while you live with people, it's just that much more fun because everyone gets to enjoy the show when the kids decide to act out.  And with a bigger audience, some kids decide to go all out.

For a few weeks I have been meaning to write a post about this dynamic and about what I am seeing more clearly about other folks' parenting choices now that I live with my inlaws.  If I ever wrote that post, I would say something about how important it is to remember when that toddler/preschooler is hopping around and squawking during church, or cackling while they yank rows of books off the shelves at the library, or smacking their mom in the face, that you don't know that kid.  If the parent seems less than interested in intervening and only pats their back or whispers to hush, maybe there is more to the story. 

Maybe: someone in the family--maybe even the child--is recovering from a serious illness and the parents can't bring them to crack down very hard on their misbehavior.  Maybe: if the parent intervenes, the kid knows that while they are full view of others, they could get away with much worse and they intend to.  The parent also knows that ignoring them is the best survival technique.  So maybe it's the kid's fault and maybe it's the parent's.  Maybe: the child is developmentally delayed in some way that is not obvious to you.  Maybe: dad is out of town and mom is just trying to survive and not lose her mind, or her sh*!.  Maybe: there is a crisis in the family.  Maybe: they just got back from a trip and the kid is trying to make sure he is still bound by the same rules now that vacation is over.  Maybe: that parent doesn't know what the heck to do or how to parent this kid (or any other) and this is the best they can do.  Maybe: they will ruin that kid's life (they might).

The point is: unless you have lived with that kid since they were born, you don't know him/her as well as you think you do.  The even bigger point: you don't have to parent that child.

My son, the four year-old, has not yet completely outgrown either his naps or his toddler years.  In the meantime, if he doesn't get an afternoon rest, I know to expect an evening of...mischief (there's a nice cute word).  The dinner hour was uneventful so I was betting that the pyjama-and-teeth-brushing routine wouldn't be.  It's hard to really explain what he was doing, but I tried to later when I described the scene to my father-in-law.  As a starting point, you should know that I know better than to leave him unattended when he gets like this so everything that happened was happening right in front of me.  And he wasn't even trying to hide it, because it's like he had lost his darling little four-year-old mind.

Imagine that I hand him his toothbrush and he starts brushing with one hand while the other one starts yanking open drawers and rifling through and pulling open jewelry cases and tossing things around the bathroom and I say, "stop doing that" so then he rushes over to the toilet paper roll and yanks on the tissue until the whole roll has unraveled onto the floor and I say, "clean that up" and then I finish his teeth for him because he is obviously too manic to do it himself so then he starts compulsively flushing the toilet over and over again.  And then, on the way down the hall to his room, he quickly yanks open the hall closet and starts shoving things down the laundry chute (just for fun or to piss me off, I don't know and because he's so far beyond being rational it's hard to tell).  Up until that point, I was real proud for keeping my cool but right then I seriously considered grabbing him by the shoulders ans yelling: "If I become a drug addict, it will be all your fault!"

But just thinking about that (and my inlaws' reaction to it from downstairs) helped me to quietly laugh through the rest of his bedtime shenanigans and retain that idea only as a mental image.
"He gets like this when he's exhausted," I told my father-in-law once I got downstairs, and then without thinking I said, "he'll be asleep in five minutes" and regretted it immediately because now I've made that not happen. 

I grabbed a beer, my father-in-law and I got settled in the den and talked Roman history for awhile because that's what he likes to read these days.  There were little feet running through the house but I ignored them for the moment.  When I finally did go up to check on him, it was all quiet and although I couldn't see him under the covers I figured the little guy had finally dozed off.  Maybe he was hiding under the bed or in the closet when he finally fell asleep?  If so, it wouldn't be the first time.

After getting distracted chatting for a few minutes with my mother-in-law, I resumed the search.  After all, we wouldn't want the boy to wake up in the middle of the night, in a dark closet or something, and freak out, right?  (Among other reasons you should probably take the time to find your lost kid.)  So I looked under his bed, around the bed, in the closet, in his sister's room, in my room, in my inlaws' room, the laundry chute--I even checked the bathtubs.  There was no point in calling his name because, even if he were still awake somewhere, I already knew he wouldn't answer.  That's just the way he is.  The front door was locked from the inside and there was no way he could've gotten out a different way unless he launched himself out a window so I checked those, too.  After ten minutes, I got the inlaws in on the search and it took us all another five to find him.

Having focused on traditional enclosed hiding places, I neglected to check the wide-out-in-the-open places where in fact he had been all along.  Under a rocking chair in the dining room, watching us hunt for him and hoping I would get around to changing the poopy diaper he hadn't told me about.  There's some four year-old logic for ya. 

The best option, I quickly calculated, was to keep quiet.  If I yelled or showed how angry I was, he'd just want to do pull this same stunt again sometime.  Anyway I had started to get a little scared so I just said, "Don't do that again, we were really worried about you" and he seems a little remorseful, sort of.  Later, when I got downstairs again, I plopped onto the couch and picked up my beer again.  "If I become a drug addict, you'll all know why" I said out loud. 

Who cares what the grandparents think.  Tomorrow I'm having that beer early.