It’s been a while since I blogged but honestly–nonstop traveling takes its toll, even on an energetic feminista 😆!!!
I’m amazed looking back on 2018, at the extent and frequency of my physical travels, which are an extension of living a life informed and structured by feminist principles of autonomy and engagement.
Starting in January, I stopped off in Cairo en route to Lahore where I was headed to spend several months being with my mother as her dementia was worsening, and as a daughter, I had to take time off from my work life to just be with her; this too is a feminism of care. In Cairo, I wanted to spend a few day’s discussing our complicated family situation (my middle brother who lives with mom has Down syndrome), with my youngest brother Irfan, who has been living and working there for a few years. And while there, I wanted to spend some time visiting with my dear friend Nawal el Saadawi, who has been an important influence in my evolving feminist consciousness and being in the world. It really was great seeing how her feminist activist spirit keeps her going at an advanced age, still writing critical columns and op Ed’s for Al Ahram on the political situation in Egypt, still plotting and planning to get her Center for Creativity off the ground, so to encourage feminist art making in writing, filmaking, theatre and musical fields.
From Cairo I made my way to Lahore to enjoy the last few months of my mother’s company when she at least knew me; now, a year later, her condition has much worsened so that she doesn’t seem to know who I am when I call. Sad, but I’m glad for the strength she still exhibits . As a career woman from the 1950s in Pakistan, my mother has definitely inspired me in ways I’m not even fully conscious of.
In Lahore I connected with students at kinnaird college for women- my undergrad alma mater- and gave lectures on feminist theory which bonded me with some wonderful young women and with some of whom I’m still in touch via a WhatsApp group
From lahore I visited Sehwan Sharif near Karachi-the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shabaz Qalandar. Sufis like him blurred the binarism of gender to create androgynous personas and elevate the feminine principle whilst challenging hierarchies of all sorts as well as the divisions caused by religious dogma. At his shrine, men danced and women too did the dhamaal- dancing to reach ecstatic states where one becomes ego-less.
After Karachi visit (where I stayed with an old friend whose life has been a feminist parable of gritty evolution from male dependency and abuse to one of self sufficiency and independence)-I flew to Khatmandu, Nepal. My old friend and fierce feminist Barbara Nimri Aziz- Creator and host of WBAI’s Radio Tahrir program focusing on Arab American and Muslim American cultural, literary and political issues, who has and continues to do amazing work in Nepal in the field of education and whose early research into Marxist feminist resistance cultural politics (her book on the life and work of the Marxist “nun” Yogamaya is amazing)–was there on her annual months-long visit. So I wanted to visit and see her in the context of the work that made her who she is… and it was really edifying and encouraging and gave me the reassurance we all need that yes, our work and commitment matters. I also made a crazy bus ride on my own to and from Khatmandu to Pokhara (7 hours each way!), in the foothills of the Himalayas which was quite an experience!
From Nepal I stopped off in Abu Dhabi to see friends and colleagues at NYUAD and from thence back to lahore. After another month there I headed back to the US via Venice, Italy, where my hubby and I met at the little airport like long lost lovers… such fun and funny too! We enjoyed a wonderful week of sightseeing and delicious Italian food and wine–and gelato!–from Venice to Verona to Florence to the charming little town of San Gimignano in the Tuscan countryside, and from where we also drive to Siena and to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A much needed break and getaway for us both, and a nice way to reconnect after several months apart. This separating and reconnecting too, is a part of my feminist life.
From Italy we headed home to NY but within 10 days I was back on a plane with hubby and my son, daughter and son in law, to Ojai in California to attend a dear old friend’s daughters wedding. I have known Pradeep from the moment I arrived at Tufts university in 1979 to study for my PhD, where he was getting his masters in Engineering. I love that he and his family and mine have carried our friendship forward all these decades later.
All of this travel happened within the first four months of the year!!!! And then, in July, my feminista buddy Shoba and I, trotted off to my theatre conference in Belgrade, Serbia, where I presented my new work on Queer Performativities in Pakistan. From thence via overnite train to Montenegro and on to Dubrovnik in Croatia- all of which I’ve chronicles in this blogsite
Shortly after my return to NY I packed up to head out for the 2018-19 academic year at NYUAD in Abu Dhabi, end August. After starting teaching I left on a week long trip to Berlin and Amsterdam and a quick trip to Lahore. In Berlin, I was a talking head in a new doc film on women and Islam being made by another old friend, Ibrahim Quraishi, with whom I’ve shared a decade long involvement in an experimental theatre collective where we made cutting edge feminist and politically progressive work. After shooting my part in his film, Holy Mama, we hopped on a train to Amsterdam where we screened and then did a panel discussion on the film and I got to meet two other women who also appear in the film- Seyran Ates who is a lesbian female imam from Germany of Turkish-Kurdish background, and a Netherlands based Pakistani Dutch activist named Shireen Musa. I had my differences with both of these women’s approaches to women and gender rights in Islam in the European Context, and it felt good to be able to engage with our different viewpoints in front of an interested audience.
In October I traveled to Lahore again for my fall break, to work with a local camera team on shooting some new footage for my ongoing doc film project on women singers of Pakistan. I think the project might take a turn toward focusing on music as a tool for political and cultural resistance in general- I might want to include Taimur Rahman’s Laal Band as part of that story; alongside blind female singer Aliya Rasheed’s inspiring story of tenacity in pursuing her dream to become a singer of a difficult classical form: the Dhrupad style.
In November, I flew with a new friend I’ve made in Abu Dhabi, another Pakistani woman academic named Nadia Amin, to Morocco, to present a paper on the similar prejudices and challenges faced by Pakistani and Arab women performers at the Performing Tangiers conference. It’s a. Inference I’ve attended several times over the past many years, so it was great to see the local team of scholars and conference aides again in Tangiers. Khalid Amine is a great host! But Nadia and I had quite an adventure getting to Tangiers as we missed our connecting flight in Casablanca and had to end up taking a train that took 7 hours to get us to our destination! But we succeeded in taking a ferry across to Gibraltar which was an amazing side trip- the Rock of Gibraltar commands quite a view over the Mediterranean and the little British outpost has a quite interesting history… I had to go see my dear friend and colleague from Montclair, Norma Connolly, who is ill with a mysterious disease-possibly ALS- and had returned to her hometown, La Linea in Spain, just a few miles from Gibraltar to rest. Making the effort to spend time with old girl friends is an important mandate of feminist practice; one I take very seriously. So Nadia and I spent the evening with her and then enjoyed a very nice meal before sleeping off our exhaustion at a local hotel and then returning to Tangiers for one more day the following morning.
The year ended on a high note: I welcomed several leading feminist scholars and activists from India, Pakistan and Sweden- to a Transnational Feminist conclave at NYUAD that was structured on the model of Lois Weaver’s Long Table– allowing for an organic and non hierarchical (re: Feminist!)- method of engaging with our understanding of pressing issues around women’s and human rights in our respective locations. It was great to have Omnia Amin present a short video she made in Cairo of Nawal- it felt like my year had truly come full circle.
And then, after the fall semester ended, I headed home to NY to host my annual Xmas time get together of friends and family, and to plan the first feminist event of the new year: a surprise baby shower for my daughter Faryal, who is expecting a baby girl in April 2019, and who will inherit the strong feminist genes of her mother and grandmother 👵 even as she enjoys wearing the plethora of pink outfits she received as gifts while she was still inside her mother’s womb!!!!