language


1. Inshallah we will be off to Amreeka soon. My mom is buying a new car and she will keep her old car while we visit so I will have my own personal wheels! I am really excited about that!

2. I must remember to say gilaas, not cup! A cup is not a gilaas. Otherwise no one understands me. And I must say Der and Dhai. Because saaRe ek nahin hota, and no saaRe do! But yes saaRe teen. See? So confusing!  I usually stop myself before saying saaRe ek. But occasionally one slips, even after all of these years. That is called first language interference plus mommy brain. Soon in Amreeka I will be able to say 1.5, 2.5, and cup all I want. Cup cup cup in a cup. Cup da baap cup da baccha! I love cups!

3. My bro who is closest to me in age is getting married in late July, Inshallah. I haven’t been to a non-desi co-ed wedding in a long time. So all my fancy clothes are either shalwar qameezes for desi weddings or prom gowns for Arab weddings. I had a hard time hunting for something long sleeved, leg covering that I could wear to bro’s wedding that was formal-ish. My hometown is pretty casual and not at all fashion forward, so I had some flexibility.  All the formal stuff over here looked so boxy or fru-fru. I ended up with a white cotton blouse and white and blue skirt from the Gap. The Gap used to be only for long skinny people but it seems in the past few years they have also catered to short stocky people like myself. So I like them a lot more now. I am very happy that I have I finally found and outfit! Now I can just relax and enjoy the wedding stuff. It will be a family reunion when I get to Amreeka.

4. Is it El Ninyo again? Someone told me that. Cuz I heard it’s like 105 in Texas. And well, it is about the same here. So I ain’t escaping nothing over there. I was hoping to. Inshallah it will rain when I am there. I will be disappointed if it doesn’t rain. Because it only rains a few times a year in the Gulf. And I miss the rain. Like the deserts miss the rain. I want to smell the grass right after it rains, and maybe see a rainbow.

5. I have another ladies’ lunch at the Award Winning cooking teacher’s house. Last time I wanted to take something Amreekan to represent, but I chickened out and made channa pullao and baingan ka raita because I couldn’t think of any thing Amreekan to take since my dish had to be vegetarian and impressive. They really liked the channa pullao and baingan ka raita and some people even e-mailed me for the recipe and the Star Chef asked for the raita recipe! I felt so happy! But now I really want to do something Amreekan. This time I am gonna make vegetarian polenta bolognaise! It is like say, Italian American. Well, it doesn’t really matter if it isn’t truly Amreekan because the hostess cannot even remember where I am from anyway. She keeps telling people that I am from London. To her it’s all the same! I have it all planned out! Yummy, butter laden, cheesy, bechamel sauce topped veg. polenta bolognaise!

6. My favorite dosa spot, Saravana Bhavan (say that fast three times in a row) opened next to my favorite shopping center Lamcy Plaza. Before I had to go to the one in Karama or the one in Bur Dubai near to Bank of Baroda bazaar…both special trips for me, though I thought of some excuse to get near there and get a dosa when I could. But now I can go and enjoy my favorite onion rava sada (say that fast three times in a row) whenever I want because Lamcy is my second home. And the Bombay Chowpatty in the food court has good dosas, but let me tell you that Saravana Bhavan has crazy mad delicious eat your fingers dosas and their other items are fabulicious, too! So, let’s just say that they are gonna be seeing me a lot over there at the Saravana Bhavan Lamcy branch.

7. Baby is teething. She already has two teeth, mashallah. She is mashallah good tempered, but the teething has her waking at night a bit. Subhanallah the night waking has started as my school year has ended so I can sleep in with her a little bit. Otherwise I would be dead tired all day and a walking zombie. Poor thing. I know her gums are all itchy. It is hard being a widdle baby!

Our new housekeeper cum nanny is very nice, mashallah. She isn’t as well organized as A., the old housekeeper. But she is good with my girls, alhamdulillah. She is from Bangalore. Her family is native Urdu speaking from Karnataka (yes, there are native Urdu speakers in the South), but they have this kind of very different dialect so neither my husband and I can always understand what she is saying. I have spent more time with her, so I actually have to translate what she says for my husband sometimes.

Also, our old housekeeper A. and I were very bonded on food and cooking. We liked to eat a lot of the same things, and we shared recipes and talked about food a lot. A. had worked for a lot of different families. She was one of those people who always knew everything. She would surprise and impress me with the range of cuisines and dishes she knew. She knew West African foods, Korean foods, Japanese foods, Latin American foods as she worked for embassy families in New Delhi. She was one of those “culture vulture” people who liked learning about different people and especially their food, so she picked it all up. She also had worked for a Indians of various backgrounds, especially Punjabis. Based on her observations of my cooking, she said Punjabi (Sikh) food was like Pakistani food, lots of garam masala, and we use everything openly, open-heartedly, without miserlyness (translating what she would say from Hindi). We use lots of oil. That was how she assessed our food. She really liked it though. We would eat things and lick our fingers and moan, “oooh, this is so good.” She loved what I cooked and I loved what she cooked. We also both loved Chinese food. She was very open to trying new things.  She would experiment in the kitchen when I was at work while she would baby-sit. She made all kinds of interesting things. Things that she invented herself, like sweet potatoes seasoned and made into the shape of cupcakes, and all sorts of other things. She was a real foodie. She would cook whenever she was bored, pick up recipes from friends and neighbors, and watch food shows with me.

The new housekeeper isn’t into food. She is one of those people who says things like “Oops, I forgot to eat.” How can anyone forget to eat? I have some friends like that, too. They can skip a meal and not care. I get low blood sugar and start to have a melt down if I eat late. I just don’t get it. She doesn’t have a sweet-tooth at all, either.

She also hates our food. She thinks it is flavorless. She cooks her own foods for herself. She offered a taste to me a couple of times, but her level of spice is very very hot.  Like I might use a heaping tsp of red chile powder and 3 dried or fresh chiles in a dish. She will use 2 tablespoons of chile powder, plus 8 whole chiles. She also uses loads and loads of curry leaves and mustard seeds. I only use those in a few dishes. I do have a curry leaf plant, but my mustard seed supply probably lasts me a whole year. She also makes everything in the pressure cooker. Everything.

I ordered Chinese food once since she has been with us. She hated it. “What is this stuff? Dinner or dessert? This is sweet!” she complained. Also, our old housekeeper and I had fallen in love with the Gujarati cooking of our neighbors and started making some of their dishes. They always sent us snacks and samples of what they made if they made a special dish or made something they knew one of us liked. But the new housekeeper hates the Gujarati food. “Sweet, spicy, and sour all at the same time!” she complained with a grimace.

She usually makes veggies or daals for herself and eats whatever meat dish I cook with achaar or fresh green chilies on the side to up the heat. I also try to bring her vegetables that I assume she likes, like drum stick and stuff. When she first arrived, the old housekeeper and I asked her what her place’s famous dishes were. Idli, dosa, vada. We asked her, “Do you cook sambhar?” We both like sambhar, and actually A. had worked in Chennai for a year and the sambhar recipe both of us use is the one she picked up from a friend there (that friend was also a Bangalorean, not originally from Chennai). “Oh no, sambhar is made by Hindus, Kannada speakers. That isn’t our dish. Muslims make dalcha.” (I actually know some Muslims from Hyderabad and Madras who make sambhar quite regularly, including our neighbors, so I knew this wasn’t true, but may be the case for people in her community).  She didn’t know haleem or nehari by name, but once when I made haleem she said “Oh, we call this khichda. This is baby food for us.”  My delicious haleem was reduced to baby food! Well, I guess it does look kind of like baby food, but anywayz…

Since I am so into food, I have a hard time relating to people who aren’t that into eating and all. That is perfectly fine by me if she cooks for herself and all, and even if she thinks that the food I make is flavorless and gross. As long as she is comfortable and happy. I like her, she has a pleasant personality, is good with children, and tries hard to do a good job. So that’s what counts.

I watched the film Ramchand Pakistani, which depicts the lives of a Pakistani Hindu Dalit community in the Thar desert for much of the film. The film is excellent, and I highly recommend it. The film takes some narrative liberties for entertainment purposes, but basically tells the true story of a Hindu Dalit Pakistani father and young son who were captured and imprisoned for 4 years in India for accidentally crossing the India/Pakistan border. A critical look is taken at how the case is (NOT) dealt with by both Indian and Pakistani official administration with special consideration of the low-caste minority religious status of the pair. The central female character, a woman who lost both her husband and son, goes through very difficult lengths to survive and stay sane. Her side story was especially thought provoking.

Among other thoughts I had on this film, my mind also wanders towards language issues.

The film is in Hindi and Urdu. One point I noted was that for some reason, the actors who portrayed the Sindhi Thar resident Dalits used “mereko” in place of “mujhe.” The film makers could not use authentic actors from that particular community because they probably don’t exist, and the well known Pakistani (and one Indian) actors who played the members of that community just spoke in Urdu for the sake of ease of both themselves and the intended film-going audience. So the native language of that community was not used at all.  I have no idea what language that would be anyway, but it is most definately not Urdu (some dialect of Sindhi, Cholistani?). For whatever reason, the film makers seemed to think it more authentic to have the Thar residents say “mereko.” Any speculation as to why? Does that make them seem more authentically Dalit or perhaps more Hindu from a Pakistani perspective?

 The film also depicted Indian soldiers and an Indian prison, and it was interesting to see some of the Pakistani cast members affect faux Hindi accents in their Urdu. One actress in particular made a strong attempt at Bombay style Hindi since her character was supposed to be from Bombay. The main character in the film, young Ramchand, spends four years in an Indian prison, and viewers witness his Urdu (which the real Ramchand probably didn’t speak, or at least didn’t speak well) turning into some dialect of Hindi common to uneducated speakers. The actor who played the 12 year old Ramchand did an excellent job at that accent.

Anyhow, I am just rambling about my impressions of the underlying linguistic issues in the film. Most people who are not huge nerds like me will just sit back and watch and enjoy. It is outrageous that so many people, including children on both sides of the border have suffered due to political issues which have very little to do with them. The message of the film is very strong, and will hopefully serve as a factor in raising awareness about the issue of innocent Indian and Pakistani political prisoners whose capture was just a stroke of bad luck; a fisher man’s boat drifting too far, a camel caravan traipsing on the wrong desert, or a boy chasing a toy across a line in the sand. Such public awareness could do a lot towards the freedom of those people. When the film reaches a theatre near you, do check it out.

When I first moved into this villa (that’s a fourplex in American), I went around and met my neighbors. One of the families is from Pakistan. The wife, let’s call her Parveen, greeted me and apologized for her bad Urdu. “I don’t speak Urdu very well,”  “Neither do I,” I laughed. We started talking and she seemed very nice. She is from a small town in Punjab. She lived in England for a while, but doesn’t speak English either. We chit chatted, and I liked her manner. She was warm and homely in a good way. She didn’t seem weirded out that I was a foreigner or a convert to Islam. But then, towards the end of my visit, she asked me about my jeans. She wanted to tell me that it is better for Muslim women not to wear jeans. Although I liked her, I was kind of at a point with my faith that I didn’t want to deal with people giving me lectures on jeans and so forth.

I decided not to meet her very much after that. We said “hi” a lot, and sent food to each other during Ramazan. We only chatted a handful of times after that. I also saw her teenage daughter wearing jeans as she came home from school many times. Some petty part of me took note of that. Still, I knew Parveen was a nice person. Parveen isn’t a “Begum” type. I am surrounded by all of these “Begum” or “Madam” types.  They are these kind of rich spoiled women who are very polished and have a lot of poise, but are other wise very brutal and useless people. They are uber-snobs and treat their housekeepers very badly. I knew they wouldn’t like Parveen because she is too unrefined for them, no English, no Urdu even, a Paindu who doesn’t know how to wear her clothes.  Parveen, I thought, was different. She talked to my housekeeper sometimes, and was fairly close with another neighbor’s housekeeper. She didn’t act like all of the domestic workers around us are invisible like some people do over here.

My housekeeper liked her a lot, too…until…one day Parveen confessed to my housekeeper that she was pregnant, but wanted to terminate the pregancy because she has 5 kids already. My housekeeper was sooo insulted that she would ask her. “Why would she think that  I should know where to get something like that taken care of? And anyway, that is such a big SIN!” I know of people like Parveen, who think birth control is sinful, but would have an abortion. I had just read about it, and also my mother in-law works on women’s health projects and had recently had a discussion with me about the very same thing, noting that botched abortions was one of the top five maternal killers in Pakistan, though most people theoretically disagreed with birth control on a religious basis. Coincidentally, Parveen came over a few days after that. I felt weird meeting her because I knew that she knew that my housekeeper would of course have told me that she was looking for an abortion.  I was pregnant at the time, too. I feigned ignorance and asked her if she was pregnant, and then we started talking about our pregnancies. Somehow, we ended up talking about my housekeeper. “Does she cook food for you?” Parveen asked. I told her that I usually cook for everyone, but occasionally the housekeeper makes vegetable dishes, and I added that she makes really delicious vegetable dishes. “Is your housekeeper a Muslim?” Parveen asked. “I think you know that she is a Buddhist.” I said. “Well, did you know that it is haraam for a polytheist to touch your food?” she asked. I just looked at her, didn’t lose my polite smile, didn’t bat an eye. “I don’t believe in stuff like that.” Was all I said. Later, I made the mistake of telling my housekeeper of what she had said. My housekeeper had heard before that some Muslims said that non-Muslims shouldn’t touch their food. She said Hindus didn’t like Muslims touching their food, either. She used to work for a Hindu family whose Muslim neighbors sent them pots of home cooked sweets on occasion, and the boss would tell her to throw the sweets away each time. Her employers never touched them. She said that she and the other servants in the home ate the sweets themselves. She was telling me all of this to let me know that some people think Muslims are dirty, too. I knew she was hurt by what Parveen had said—from her perspective, it was like calling her an untouchable. I just emphasized that this was ignorance and not prescribed in any Islamic textual sources, though some isolationist scholars did occasionally write such things. And anyway, I don’t believe in such things, and that’s all that should matter to her. But ever since that day, my housekeeper really hated Parveen. Later, while my in-laws were visiting, Parveen sent me a bag of fruit. But half of the fruit was rotting. I honestly didn’t care. That wasn’t the first time she had done that, actually. But somehow I just thought, well, she is kind of weird anyway, so I guess this is just part of her weird behavior. I just picked out the good fruit, and tossed out the bad fruit. My in-laws were really shocked. My housekeeper instigated the shock even further by stating loudly that Miss Holy Moly didn’t want to throw the fruit away herself and accrue sins for wasting food, so she sent the rotting fruit to me so that I would throw it away and get the sins!

The summer came, and I went away and came back from vacation. I wanted to know what had happened to Parveen. Was she successful in her quest to terminate the pregnancy? My housekeeper had returned from her annual leave a few days before us, and she started to tell me stories that she had seen Parveen a couple of days ago and that she was as slim as ever. I was quite pregnant at the time, and I felt really, utterly sad to hear that. If she had terminated the pregnancy, it would have been when she was fairly far along. In pregnancy, your emotions can sometimes be more intense, especially when it comes to anything about babies and children. I just told my housekeeper to stop spying on Parveen and it was none of our business. But I was very curious, too. I wanted to see Parveen and make sure that she was still pregnant. Somehow, our paths didn’t cross until last Ramazan. Parveen sent me a plate of chicken pullao. The next time I made something nice, I took it over to Parveen. My housekeeper wanted to take it to her for me and lie and say she made the food just for fun. She has a spiteful streak sometimes. I insisted on bringing it myself. So we met, and there was Parveen, extremely pregnant. I was so relieved. I was elated. We chatted, and once again, I was struck by how pleasant I found her to be. Even though she ended the conversation by telling me in something of a righteous tone that she didn’t find out he sex of her fetus, or any of her children, until the day they were born because it was all in God’s hands. This was after she had asked me if I knew the sex of my fetus, and I had said yes, a girl.

You know, in the past, I had friends who were more orthodox, and I respected that their views were different than mine. I also had friends from different backgrounds who would sometimes believe in superstitious things and pass judgement on me for not following their superstitious advice. But at some point I just decided that I had enough friends and I didn’t want any more Holy Moly people or Auntie-thinking friends. I had had enough well-meaning advice. But I regretted not being kinder to Parveen, despite her occasional self-righteous barbs.

When Baby A. came, I sent a box of sweets to Parveen. A few weeks later, her husband came and delivered us a box of sweets on the delivery of a baby girl.  I had never seen her husband before. When I saw him, I was really surprised. He looked kind of like a punk rocker. He looked very young, and he had spiky gelled, longish in the front hair. One of his ears was pierced, and he was dressed like an 80s New Waver. I left my husband alone to talk to him. Later, my husband informed me that Parveen’s husband couldn’t speak Urdu or Punjabi very well. He said Pakistani like this: Pawkistawni. Usually, when Pakistani people say that someone raised abroad “doesn’t speak Urdu/Punjabi,” they actually do speak it, just not very well.”What do you mean he can’t speak Urdu or Punjabi? How do they communicate then?”  I guess based on my own stereotypes, I had imagined that Parveen’s husband would be like her. Perhaps he had a handlebar mustache or a long shaggy beard. And he probably wore a shalwar qameez every day. Whatever he looked like in some part of my imagination, he was not the guy who just came and brought us sweets. “She and her husband are so different,” I said. My husband said something like, “Poor guy, he got stuck with her.” (Bechaara, phas gaya) That somehow irritated me. “Who got stuck with who? I asked. Later, I told all of this to the housekeeper, including the “getting stuck” part. It is funny, but she can sometimes sum up a whole situation in one line. “He only thinks the man is important.” she observed.

Anyhow, I am no more eager to be-friend Parveen than before,  but I have more sympathy for her now because I think she is somehow just as displaced as me over here. Who knows, maybe she and her husband are the best of friends despite being so different superficially. I am guessing that they are cousins and it is an arranged marriage. It seems my interest in her is just motivated by nosy curiousity. It is hard to make real connections here. Even though we have lived next to each other for over 2 years, I hardly know her. I guess I am a bad neighbor. Just a bad, nosy neighbor.

One of the many ways that white privilege affords me benefits has to do with language learning. I am thinking specifically about speaking Urdu. I won’t go into the issue of white Northern people studying “exotic” Southern languages. That is a whole other post. But let me take you right into my life and tell you what I have noticed. I speak Urdu. I live in a mostly Hindi/Urdu speaking environment. I speak Urdu much of my day. In some ways I am fairly fluent. But by academic standards, I don’t speak Urdu that well at all. There are huge gaps in my vocabulary, especially when it comes to “big words.” If you don’t speak Urdu, it might be hard for you to imagine what I mean by that. But there is daily vernacular, and then there is the strongly Persian and Arabic based realm of “book words.” I don’t have a high proficiency when it comes to the book words.

Actually, there are many Urdu speakers who speak in a similar way to me. They could be the foreign born/raised children of native Urdu speakers. If these people’s Urdu sounds like mine, Urdu speakers in Pakistan and India mock them. They tease them. They shame their parents for not teaching them properly. They call them ABCDs (American born confused/crazed desis) if these desi origin people are from America. These so called ABCDs are usually bilingual, but English ends up being the more dominant language. Since they have never formally studied Urdu, there are many gaps in the language. Gaps that were most likely also widened by the shame of speaking a foreign language in front of white people as children, coupled with playground taunts about their heritage. As adults, some of these people regret that they lost their Urdu. Some of them even have the luxury of studying at university the language that they lost. But for me, Urdu was never a loss, it was always something to gain. An achievement.

There are also many people within Pakistan who speak like me. Their second language is Urdu. Their first language may be Pushto or some other regional language. Or they may be foreigners, as am I. Perhaps they are war refugees from Afghanistan or economic refugees from Bangladesh. These people are marked by their accents and broken grammar. Native Urdu speakers, who are statistically mainly situated on the highest rungs of the Pakistani social structure, have a good laugh at these people. Their broken language is one of the many signs of their low status. They have learned Urdu to do business with, and if they are very poorly off, to serve native Urdu speakers. They receive scorn, and I receive compliments.

And then there are people from this highest stratum in Pakistani society, whose parents send them to English medium private schools. These people study and master my native language, English because it is the language of dominance, and as such both a sign of and a key to power and privilege within Pakistan. It is the language of their former colonial oppressors, and now the language of the current Empire of America. People who go to English medium schools are notoriously weak when it comes to “book words.” Though some do master High Urdu due to parental pressure or out of genuine interest, it is very common to hear that these people “don’t speak Urdu,” because all of the complex and sophisticated concepts in their brains exist in English. People of this level of society do a lot of code switching. They are often unable to complete a sentence without using an English word. And I don’t mean one of the many, many English words that have been absorbed into South Asian languages due to past colonialism and modern imperialism. I know that not all English medium graduates have weak Urdu, but many do. So people who have mastered Book Urdu poke fun at these English-medium people as well.

And then there is me. Because I am a foreigner, and a white foreigner, I get away with my funny Urdu. Not only do I get away with it, people congratulate me on my simple, unsophisticated language. They sometimes even show me off to others. Even though my Urdu is really sooo bad. Because it is such an anomaly to find white Americans who can speak Urdu, or even any language other than English, really well.

I have something of a Punjabi accent in my Urdu. I just picked it up that way. Despite being a foreigner, my accent in Urdu is actually not bad. I do have a slight foreign accent, but I have been told often that I sound native. And I have been told that I sound like a Punjabi. When Punjabi Urdu speakers speak to native (Hindustani or muhajir) Urdu speakers, this gets them made fun of as well. With me, often people think it is cute. White, funny, Punjabi-fied, and cute. Punjabi as a language is often under attack by native Urdu speakers. There are negative stereotypes attached to Punjabis and these overlap with their language. As a white person who speaks with a somewhat Punjabi accent in Urdu, I can overlook it when a native Urdu speaker tells me “Don’t say that, that sounds too Punjabi.” Although I bristle and feel irritated when people say such things to me, they aren’t insulting my people, my heritage, or my language. It isn’t really directed to me at all. It is ultimately directed to Punjabis. I am just a filter for it.

I speak a few other languages fairly well, too. But could I complete university level academic course work in any language other than English? Probably not. How many foreigners, non-native English speakers, come to the US and do just that? Actually, my housekeeper, who is only semi-literate (and not literate in her own native language) speaks 8 languages well. Most of the people around me here in Dubai can speak at least 3 languages. Except for most of the Anglophone white people, of course. “Why learn another language when it is sooo hard, and everyone in the world speaks English; I know how to say Hello, Thanks, Good Bye, and a few curse words”…that is their mantra. Back to my housekeeper who speaks around 8 languages, our level of Hindi/Urdu is about the same. (Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language on a vernacular level, just in case you wonder what I mean by “Hindi/Urdu”). But people congratulate me, not her. With her, they laugh. They shake their heads. They say, you speak Hindi pretty well for a Nepali. With me, they prop me up on a pedestal. She learned Hindi because she had to learn it. She was an economic refugee in India, and worked since childhood in Indian peoples’ homes. She learned Hindi from them. I learned Urdu and Hindi because I wanted to, because I liked it. For her it was a matter of survival. For me, it was a matter of interest.

So you see, the white privilege runs very deep and comes to me on so many, many levels. The more I think about these issues, the clearer to me the benefits of white privilege become. I bet that if other whites were to think about their experiences with their own second and third languages, similar narratives would be revealed. It is just a reality. In the meanwhile, I do need to improve my Book Urdu. And since I am white and relatively affluent, have some leisure time and access to resources that could help me improve, that should be a lot easier for me to do than it would be for some of the other afore mentioned people whose Urdu is like mine.

1. I still ain’t popped yet. About 2 more weeks to go till the D-date. I was a lot more nervous about this the first time around. This time I am just like lahdy dah dah. She’ll come when she’s good n ready. I pee at least once an hour. And as mentioned below, I am pretty huge right now. I am so ready to not be preggerz any more. But not much I can do about that for now, I guess.

2. I got my overseas ballot request for the prez election just a few days ago. My county allows me to fax it. Inshallah I will get the actual ballot in time. Let’s see how it goes. And y’all know I’m voting for Obama of course.

3. I made a decision about my daughter’s birthday party. Over here there are these indoor playscapes at malls and shopping centers since it is too hot to play outside much of the year. They also host birthday parties. I figure with a new infant and without an actual yard, that would be the best place for the birthday party. So we’re gonna book that. Just the play area, no clowns or nuthin. Cuz the 2 year olds won’t appreciate the clowns. But since Baby D is obsessed with Barney, I ordered all this Barney birthday party paraphernelia so it is gonna be a Barney themed soiree.

4. I am debating whether or not to get a new stroller for Baby 2 or not. We bought a twin stroller a few months ago when it was on sale. But we probably won’t use that in all situations, as Baby D walks in many places. And we have Baby D’s old stroller which is infant to toddler. The thing is that the stroller is beat-up looking. The straps are loose and well, there is masking tape holding a part of it on in two places. But it is clean and it works well. It travelled around the world with Baby D and me. Egypt, Pakistan, Oman, Texas. There is nothing wrong with it but it looks shameful with that tape on it. I think I am just emotionally attached to it. Plus, decent strollers overhere are sooo expensive. My friend (that’s you S., can you guess who you are? LOL!) recently had a baby and she had mashallah such a nice and light stroller. If I go for a new one, I might go for a similar model.

5. Baby D is now becoming bilingual cuz I put her in daycare (she goes about 4 hours per day and they speak English there). She is mixing languages a bit at home. We have to be consistant in Urdu. I know it was weird for my mom somehow that she couldn’t speak English when we visited during the summer, though I didn’t think it mattered. My dad learned some Urdu words with baby pronunciation to speak with her. He sounded pretty funny. He didn’t realize they were baby words. I was tempted not to tell him cuz he felt so clever.

6. My George Forman grill gets too hot on top and blackens the top of the food. I end up using it open like a Korean indoor grill. But it isn’t hot enough that way, so I open-close open-close while cooking. Dang it. So far I made some sort of East Asian inspired chicken thighs, and some chicken bihari kababs ala Shan Masala. I need to keep experimenting to master the technique. I am disappointed that it isn’t more efficient.

7. Can’t think of nothing else to day.

I can get along with most anyone. I have friends from all corners of the earth. Some of my favorite people are very different from me. There is J., a white Zimbabwean woman. She is a sort-of Buddhist and a sometimes vegetarian. She is my mother’s age. She has a heart of gold, and she is hilarious. She says the funniest things and uses these vivid, humor tickling expressions that just have my sides splitting. There is G. She was one of my best friends in Oman, and now she lives not far from me. She is in her early 40’s. She is of Omani settled Bedouin origin but grew up in Kuwait. She is very lively, likes to tell funny stories, and is a great friend. I could go on and on. I have so many friends who are so different than me. I can be comfortable in my skin around people who are much older and from very diverse backgrounds. But there is a group that I can’t seem to get on with. That would be desi Aunties. When I play doe-eyed girl and act like a niece or beti or whatever, it all goes well. But when I try to talk to them like regular people and not Aunties, it doesn’t work. I seem too strange to them and we have no common ground to chat on. There are a lot of aunties in my neighborhood. Some of them have made an effort to get friendly, but I always do something weird and it scares them off. There is this Hyderbadi family down the street, and the Auntie sometimes comes over and tries to chat with me. One of her first questions when we met was “So what Indian serials do you watch?” I told her that I never watch Indian serials, I mostly watch BBC Food and the news. That killed her fun. We meet occasionally but all we talk about is the differences between Hyderbadi food and the desi food that I make (mostly my DH’s family’s U.P. type stuff, as well as Punjabi fare). I made some lasagna and sent it over to them, but they didn’t  like it (Hydro Auntie always informs me when they don’t like what I send). Anyway, the other day Hydro Auntie came over and I was cooking and had a bandanna tied over my hair to prevent my hair from picking up the food smell. She kept staring at my head in a weird way. After she left I went to the restroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was wearing a biker bandanna with skull and cross bones on it!!! I had forgotten! She must think I am a devil worshipper or something.

Anyway, I am not good at fake polite conversation with aunties. I just don’t know what to say. I am not trying to fit in with them, I am obviously a foreigner and all. I just wish I could gel better with them. They seem to appreciate homogeneity, and not like weird foreigners, from what I can tell. Another of my best friends is a real live Auntie (and she is visiting me in June, yay!) but she is different than most other aunties. She is kind of kooky and off-beat and funny. She also knows my family and knows the “real me,” with no pretensions. So we don’t go through all of the circles of formalities. But I think my problem is that I don’t know how to do these formalities.

I would like to know what kinds of things I should say to aunties so that I don’t sound like such a weirdo. I already learned a few things from the trenches: no skull and crossbones bandannas, don’t say I only watch the news. I am pretty well versed in cooking stuff, but beyond that, I get lost. What do desi aunties talk about? What can I do to move on from viewing them in a maternal auntie light, and view them more as peers?  Since I am married, aunties are my peers, right? Maybe that is my mistake, I should just keep thinking of them in a motherly way. I get invited to gatherings that I can’t avoid and I end up in a sea of aunties, so please someone give me a life raft of things that you think would be great to talk about with aunties. Otherwise I might drown in auntie sea turbulence one of these days.

I was looking out of the window at our little patio yesterday with my toddler. I said to her in Urdu, “Look, there is a birdie. She has come to drink water from that little hole. She must be thirsty.” After the bird drank some water, it started to fluff up its feathers…it looked very puffy and cute with its feathers all standing up. It was like birdie goosebumps. I wanted to say, “look how the bird is fluffing her feathers.” I had NO idea how to say that. How do you say puffing up or fluffing? If I were to try, it would come out all wrong. I would probably had said that the bird was “swelling up” because that is the only similar verb which I can think of. I just said nothing.

 I also noticed that my daughter’s ear was a little bit red. I said to the nanny, does D’s ear seem red to you? We peeked in her ear and we saw a little pimple. The nanny said, I see a little pimple inside her ear, can you see its “beak.” She meant that the pimple has a pointed crusty scab, but she didn’t know how to say “scab,” so she said “beak.” It did look like a beak, but that isn’t the correct word. I don’t know how to say pointy crusted scab, either. I would probably use some other words to convey that like “a spot with dried blood and pus.” Neither of us really know how to say the correct words because we are not native speakers. Sometimes we talk in long roundabout ways trying to explain things because of this.

So this is the kind of broken and inaccurate language input that my daughter receives.

In addition to that, there are many problems with my grammar. Like if I were to say a complex sentence in Urdu during natural speech, I sometimes forget to carry the gender or the plurality or the formality (hain/hai) all the way to the end of the sentence. The nanny does, too. I can hear that it is inaccurate the minute I say it. But for some reason I don’t get it right at the moment of production because my mouth is moving faster than my brain.

Children learn to speak by listening and processing rules with generalizations about structure. So what structure is she picking up from us because we are often inconsistent?Sometimes correct, sometimes not.

Do you know what a feral child is? Linguists take a special interest in the phenomenon because it reveals a lot about language aquisition in babies and small children. Children who grow up in socially isolated conditions and do not receive regular language modeling have irreparable linguistic and intellectual deficits.

I was thinking about something recently. My family’s language situation is a social experiment in someways. My 15 month old daughter’s main language models, me and A., the nanny, speak non-native Urdu/Hindi. My native language is English, but I speak Urdu fairly well. My accent, stress, and intonation are quite good (told that my accent sounds native…cuz i am cool like that :-) ), and I speak the language comfortably. However, there are many faults in my Urdu: I use the wrong gender sometimes, I sometimes make mistakes with plurals, and also make some other Urdu/Hindi specific mistakes. I also have some gaps in my lexicon. In some ways you could say I am fluent when it comes to daily life drudgery stuff, but with sophisticated concepts, etc., I rely on English to support the expression of my ideas.  A., the nanny, is a native speaker of Yolmo, which is a Sino-Tibetan language, but she started learning Hindi in her pre-teen years and speaks it very well, as she lived submerged in a Hindi language environment for over 20 years. I think she has a deeper lexicon than I do, but she also has lexical gaps in certain situations. Her pronunciation and stress are pretty good, with some errors common to Urdu/Hindi speakers who are from the Sino-Tibetan region of Nepal. She is actually worse with gender than I am, and also makes other grammar mistakes.  My husband’s native languages are English and Urdu. We usually mix the two when we speak to each other. He is the only 100% fluent Urdu language model for my daughter in our home environment. However, because of work, he spends the least time with our daughter, especially on weekdays. He often only sees her for 2 waking hours per day. According to research on language development, it doesn’t matter if the primary caregiver of a child speaks broken language as long as the child has accurate language modeling in the environment. Children actually pick up language from their peer groups, at school, and in the larger environment, which is why children don’t necessarily have the same accent as their parents, or why a US immigrant parent who speaks broken English with the kids has children who become fluent English speakers.

My concern is this: since we live in the UAE, my daughter does not have a full, thriving authentic Urdu/Hindi language environment. With the exception of her father, everyone around her speaks somewhat broken Urdu/Hindi. She plays often with our Gujarati neighbors, their Hindi is broken. Our other neighbors are Pakistani Punjabis. The adults don’t speak Urdu fluently, and their kids mix English and Punjabi and don’t speak Urdu very well (there is a lot of language hodge-podge in Dubai, the whole place is one big linguistic experiment!) The nanny’s best friends are a Bangladeshi woman and a Goan Indian woman. They come over often during the day and my daughter is exposed to conversations between all of us in our slightly accented, somewhat broken language. Our Urdu/Hindi language errors are all different because none of us speak the same first language. With the exception of our time spent in Pakistan, my daughter is never surrounded by 100% accurate models.  Luckily, the nanny and I both picked up our Urdu/Hindi in a very Punjabi-fied environment, so we both use aap + ho constructions, and also use some Punjabi lexicon (belly button is tunni!), stuff like that. A. is also very adept with language and she quickly picked up a lot of Urdu-specific language and uses that with us in place of Hindi stuff…khwaab instead of sapna, stuff like that. So there is some consistency. Aside from that, there are many inconsistencies. I wonder what structural rules my daughter will internalize. What will her accent be? How will this situation affect her linguistic and cognitive development? Could this possibly damage my daughter because the building blocks of her linguistic and intellectual development are broken blocks?

Inshallah I am planning to send her to nursery in the Fall. She’ll pick up English there. I am not worried at all about her English. I do use English with her sometimes, but mostly it is all Urdu because I know she will get English later. Except songs. Most of our songs are in English…I mean, I’m a Little Teapot, Twinkle Twinke Little Star. I know Chota Sa MakoRa…I really don’t know any Urdu nursery rhymes and can’t remember the few I have heard correctly. I know I should be singing in Urdu, too. I guess. I think my husband and I just assumed that our daughter would be bilingual…we expect that she will eventually lose a lot of Urdu later when we relocate to the US. But I think we just kind of presumed that since we spoke Urdu to her, she would learn Urdu. But when I assess our environment, it seems more complex than that.

I don’t know. What do you think? Did any of you choose to raise your children in a language that is not your native tongue with the intention that they would eventually grow to be bilingual? What was your speech environment like? Anyone in a situation like mine? Please ask around because I would really like to know what to expect. She does have a good vocabulary for a 15 month old (mashallah, chashm-e-bad door!). Most of it is Urdu, plus some English words commonly said by desis like light. She shows understanding of the Urdu spoken to her. But maybe since my daughter’s language environment is not one of complete fluency, I should just speak to her exclusively in English. I just don’t know. At least that way she would be getting at least one model of completely accurate language. Not that I don’t never make no mistakes or nothing, but ya know what I mean.

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