Vanna Frandship?

For most of us, every time we get a friend request on Facebook, all other things are put on pause.  As you drag your mouse over to the top left corner of your screen, your mind is abuzz with pleasant thoughts. Maybe its that cute guy I met at the library (obviously not at the bar, because you’re Pakistani and don’t go to bars), or maybe its that girl who said she could get me an internship at the World Bank. As your insides bubble with anticipation, your hopes are immediately shattered; its Rana from Sialkot.

 Who is Rana from Sialkot, you ask? Rana is a fraaaaanshipper.

Rana is a 20-something male on the hunt for either a jaanu, or a passport. A graduate of Holy Child Boy’s School and a “biznessman” by profession, his info section boasts of his academic credentials. Don’t be disheartened though; he is pious and a scholar. His favorite books are the Holy Quran and Shakespeare. However, don’t discuss politics, because “all [politicians] r evil nd corupt.”

Rana’s friend list is composed of dozens and dozens of girls who, unlike you, didn’t have the heart to reject him. Their names are the likes of Princess Annie, and Sunny Rajpoot- their display pictures of Katrina Kaif or anime characters.

Noticing that you have no mutual friends, you wonder how he ever found you. Remember when you liked Atif Aslam’s fanpage? Yeah, well, so does he. Assuming you have mutual interests, Rana plunged for it.

Angrily returning back to your homescreen, oh look, a poke! It’s Rahim from Quetta. Rahim must have recently gone on vacation; his profile picture is of him standing on rocks, surrounded by inches of water, with a few buttons of his tight black shirt opened. Uff, what a hero!

Just as you remove Rahim’s poke, you get a message. Brace yourself, its Rana again. “y u rmv me?? Y r u soo high? Cum dwn a litl.” Let me translate: “Why didn’t you add me? Who do you think you are? Do you know who I am? I am the king of Sialkot.” Yeah! Who do you think you are?

For Rana, Rahim and co. Facebook is better than ogling girls at the park. Facebook provides multiple barriers: an emotional barrier, because your rejection(s) are simply words on a screen, a social barrier because his friends will never hear of this embarrassment, and most importantly, a physical barrier so you can’t slap him. What’s the worst you can do? Block him? Don’t worry, he’s got “On to the Next One” on repeat.


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Forever Loyal: My BlackBerry

I usually have great instincts; whenever I can’t completely deduce something, I don’t hesitate over following my gut. Such was the case when I bought my first big-girl phone: my beloved, over abused, under appreciated, frequently spastic BlackBerry.

Today, while watching the loading bar slowly inch forward after the second reboot of the day, I wondered why I ever bought a BlackBerry.

I bought a BlackBerry because I was moving back to Washington D.C. To me it felt like having a BlackBerry was a rite of passage, as if they were handed to everyone one as they crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

I bought a BlackBerry because all the cool kids had one. Everyone from President Obama to businessmen to ambassadors- heck, even lousy Hill interns- had a BlackBerry. They, unlike me, constantly monitor their emails, edit documents on the go, and need a removable battery. I just tweet insignificant details of my life while waiting at the dentist’s office.

I bought a BlackBerry because iPhones were “so New York. iPhones were just too unprofessional. Like seriously, separate your music from your “work.” Androids are even worse. Phones aren’t toys (Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja being the two exceptions).

I bought a BlackBerry because they’re … sexy. The curvature of the phone, its sleek design, the one handed usage- for some reason BlackBerrys wreak of simplicity, eloquence and intellect. Nothing compliments a man’s outfit more than a BlackBerry. (Note: Belt clipped phones are tacky and gross unless you’re over 52)

I bought a BlackBerry because I wanted to be foreign. Most of the international students at GW have BlackBerrys, and since most people think I’m one, a BlackBerry just makes it official. BlackBerrys just shout, “Yeah, I have friends abroad.” and/or “Yeah, I’m well traveled.” Despite the availability of numerous applications to text internationally, like WhatsApp and LiveProfile, BBM is in a class of its own.

At the end of the day, my BlackBerry is more loyal to me than I am to it. It’s dealt with spilt drinks, falls down multiple flights of stairs, and most importantly, my kabob fingers.

I contemplate a switchover every time it freezes up, delays my BBM, or stutters through a security check. However, I realized- BlackBerrys are what every man/woman want to be: smart, sexy, cool, and foreign.

*This by no means suggests that I will stay with BlackBerry once my upgrade is due. It’ll always have a piece of my heart though 🙂

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Aunties 101

The typical auntie is about 5 foot 2 inches, pushing 150 pounds, and extremely lovable. However, there are always some out-of-the-box exceptions.

Similar to how “there’s an app for that”, there’s an auntie for that :

Omnipresent Auntie: Wherever you go, she’s there. Trying to sneak a call to your boyfriend during a function? Don’t speak too loud, she’s behind you. Skipping namaaz to go eat? God’s got her playing guard. Changing from pants to shorts in your car? Look in your rear-view mirror.

She-may-be-hotter-than-you Auntie: You always hesitate hugging this auntie in fear of being smothered by her silicon. If there were ever a Real Housewives of Multan, she’d be casted immediately.

Bollywood Auntie: She knew about John and Bipasha breaking up before John and Bipasha knew they broke up. She also claims that she grew up watching Shahrukh Khan’s acting. Funny, because I did too.

Command-center Auntie: Somewhat similar to Bollywood Auntie, but is more concerned by her immediate surroundings. This auntie knows the intricacies of every man, woman, teenager, child and infants’ life. You think she doesn’t know about your girlfriend? L-O-L

Alhumdullilah Auntie: Lower your gaze walking into this auntie’s house. Actually, turn around, go home, and change into full-sleeves, non-form fitting clothes, besharam. Bonus points for a hijab. Little does this auntie know, her son is the biggest playboy in the community.

Auntie Lucky: This auntie has all the luck. Despite barely passing her matric exams, her bachpan ki mangni with Sohail Uncle proved fruitful; Sohail Uncle turned out to be the best cardiovascular surgeon in all of America. Her favorite song is Hi Haters.

Auntie Squeeze: God damn, just stop squeezing my cheeks. You have plenty of your own cush to squeeze.

Towering Auntie: Is it really necessary to wear 6 inch stilettos despite already being taller than everyone else? I understand being tall is important, but, please auntie, bachoun ko dar lag raha hai.

Auntie America: She’s the coolest. A progressive, because she “grew up in the west” and went to Oklahoma State, she’ll let you do anything. Just.don’t.get.pregnant.

Tourist Auntie: This auntie is a global phenomenon. She can be spotted miles away with her lawn shalwar kameez and sneakers. Touring London? Time to pull out the Reebox. Nothing comes between auntie’s laps around DHA and her joggers.

Rishta Auntie: Has an auntie been taking unnatural interest in the progress of your ‘studies’, talking to your parents more than usual, and/or excessively praising you? Does she have an unmarried son? Go figure.

Busy Auntie: This Auntie has “no time” despite being a fifty plus housewife. I mean who has time between constantly creeping on Facebook and comparing Russian salad recipes? Check your privacy settings… now.

Dieting Auntie: Slimfast, Atkins, Chinese Soup Diet, Paratha and Lassi Diet; is there a diet this auntie hasn’t tried? Getting small portions four times in one hour isn’t really part of the diet plan.

Love ‘em, hate ‘em, you can’t get rid of them.

Props to my lovely and exceedingly witty friend, Zoya Mufti, for helping me come up with these aunties!

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Pakistan Growing Numb

I recently had a conversation with one of my friends and he said, “Its not that bad, the power only goes out for 4 or 5 hours in the city.”

ONLY 4 or 5 hours? Four hours: half a work day, two-thirds of a sleep cycle, the length of a round- trip flight from Islamabad to Karachi. Imagine the amount of productivity lost in those “mere” 4 hours.

Unfortunately, what would shake and rattle any other country is simply a cursory note in Pakistan. How can a nation sit complacent when one of its youth is shot point blank by the very people who are supposed to protect him? How can a nation quietly watch the flogging and killing of two brothers? How can a nation remain unaffected as its countrymen continue to drown from flood waters? It seems as if as a nation we have become almost cavemen-like; we are only concerned with our immediate surroundings and surviving to the next day.

After a simple flash of the ever-present “breaking news” sign, reports of suicide bombings, target killings, and drone attacks seem to scroll by unacknowledged on the news-ticker. Calamities are jumbled between stories of Bollywood breakups, the U-17 boy’s fencing team’s dismal performance in Madagascar, and the KSE’s .00145% gain. Unless a tragedy occurs in a major city like Islamabad, Lahore, or Karachi, it hardly receives air time. However, when a terrorist attack occurs abroad, Pakistanis sit anxiously by their TVs holding their breath, praying that there are no connections to Pakistan.

The population’s complacency is leading Pakistan to descend into a state of monstrosity. Lives lost are simply numbers on a page, bomb blasts a minor traffic inconvenience. Disaster has become nothing more than water cooler gossip. “Yeah, there was a blast in DG Khan or Peshawar or somewhere. A lot of people died.” “What can we do? Allah reham karay ga.”

The sentiments of the Pakistan populace are somewhat understandable; it is similar to donor fatigue. Many Pakistanis are already overburdened simply with making ends meet, and tragedies happen far too often for them to keep track of. The world continues to spin and mourning idly does not serve any purpose. However, we must not grow numb to brutality. Accepting terrorism as the norm is accepting defeat.

This perpetual cycle of victimization must end. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like a politician, don’t vote for them. As the popular saying goes, “When you point one finger, three point back at you.”

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The Power and Potential of Social Media in Pakistan

With a median age of 21, and two-thirds of the population under 30, Pakistan is one of the world’s most lucrative markets for social media. Using conservative estimates, approximately one out of every five Pakistanis are connected to the Internet. With the rise of cellphones and other cheap wireless gadgets, the number is likely to be higher.

Social media is a rising force especially within Pakistani youth. Over 5,000,000 people in Pakistan use Facebook. Although this only targets about 3% of the population, this translates into more than 27% of internet users in Pakistan having a Facebook. Half of them are between the ages of 18-24, and an additional quarter are between ages 25-34.

The impact of social media is profound. It led Egyptians to topple a 30 year dictatorship (and was a catalyst for the ensuing ‘Arab Spring’), helped the international community deliver aid to the victims of Japan’s earthquake, and even provided minute to minute updates on Bin Laden’s capture. Movements have been condensed from taking decades to taking days. Between these huge international campaigns, there are day-to-day, less visible benefits for the average person- informing people of fraud, appeals for blood donations, and information about the latest road blockages.

Social media is especially advantageous for women and the lower class. The virtual world is an egalitarian society, one in which one can convey their views without revealing their identity. Women and men can interact freely, without feeling intimidated or at risk. Websites like Twitter and Facebook also allow users to not only express their own views, but to listen to those of others. No longer are we dependent on outdated rhetoric older generations have passed down- we are able to witness what is happening around the world first hand. It also presents us an opportunity to project a light hearted, more humanized image of Pakistan for outsiders. Pakistanis can exchange dialogue and debate with foreigners whose opinions are shaped only by what they see on TV.

Domestically, social media presents the opportunity to shed light on things the mainstream media is too bogged down by nonsense news to delve into. Various blogs thoroughly discuss government policies, military operations and socio-economic issues in Pakistan. With Twitter, these issues can be debated in real-time and constituents can voice their concerns directly to their elected officials.

Despite the incredible power of social media, its usage has not hit its fullest potential. Whereas in other parts of the world, businesses attract target markets via ads, Pakistani businesses have not tapped thoroughly into this market. While a standard ad in most Pakistani websites can cost Rs10,000 to Rs35,000, an ad on Facebook costs 3 to 10 cents.

The youth have not capitalized on social media to protest against war, drone attacks, corruption, inequality, or the many other problems within Pakistani society. Protests arranged virtually have brought little turnout when physical presence was required. It took ages for Pakistanis to raise awareness for relief efforts following last year’s devastating floods. Pictures of flood victimsdidn’t surface my homepage until December.

If Pervez Musharraf, who hasn’t been in the country for two years, can resurface with over 400,000 followers and declare his candidacy for the upcoming elections, why should anyone else be left behind? Imran Khan has also recently realized the vitality and efficiency of this market. Many in the west have gained popularity and momentum through social media itself. For example viral Youtube videos (Rebecca Black), Obama’s 2008 campaign, Ron Paul, ext. Celebrities, underground artists, and businesses can also use social media as a way to attract and communicate with their fan base and/or consumers.

Social media is one platform in Pakistan where you can witness the moderate majority outweigh the outnumbered, but vocal extremists. The youth of Pakistan must realize that the end to their grievances -social, economical and political- is in their own hands. The utilization of social media can help bring an end to the cycles of corruption, attrition and bloodshed that have plagued the majority of our young lives.

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Older generations of Pakistanis have aways encouraged younger generations to pursue careers in engineering and medicine. As a young nation, Pakistan required these occupations to build up from the remains of the British Raj. To meet the demands of that time, to expand infrastructure, and to develop a society, Pakistan desperately needed engineers and doctors. As time went on these occupations provided sound financial incentives, as well an aura of prestige.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Pakistan’s position in the world has changed from “just another developing country” to a nuclear armed, headline hogging nation on the frontline of the “War on Terror”. Now Pakistan faces different, more complex challenges in an increasingly globalized world. With consistently negative round-the-clock media coverage, right-wing extremists drowning out the moderate majority, and mixed messages coming from Islamabad, Pakistan’s biggest challenge is- simply put- PR.

When asked to name Pakistani-Americans who are influential or household names, most people draw a blank. After a few seconds of thought, some might name Huma Abedin. Nadia Ali maybe? There’s obviously many, such as writers Mohsin Hamid and Kamila Shamsie, the recently deceased poet and activist Ifti Nasim, businessman Mansoor Ijaz or Professor Jalal at Tufts. However, for a population of nearly 600,000, a handful of names is not nearly enough. Pakistani-Americans are one of the most educated (with more than 60% possessing a college degree), wealthy (with a higher median income than American workers) and philanthropic racial subsets in America. (Statistics)

For this reason, it is imperative that Pakistani youth venture off the beaten path and embrace other career paths, especially in the liberal arts. Pakistan desperately needs journalists, politicians, academics, lawyers, bankers, and not to toot my own horn, IR folks. We must come out of our offices and cubicles and enter mainstream America. Essentially, Pakistani-Americans must become more visible and project themselves as the indispensable components of the American society and economy they already are.

We lack a pop-culture figure, such as Indian-Americans Kal Penn, Russell Peters (Indian-Canadian, but he’s extremely popular in the US too), and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Maybe its a case of me being under read, but I couldn’t name you a well-known Pakistani columnist in a largely circulated American paper. When it comes to innovation… Pakistan’s TedTalks are a little dull. Despite being the second largest Muslim population and eight largest Asian-American population in America, there has never been a Pakistani-American in Congress. Even influential, non-elected government positions and prestigious seats in policy institutions are less sought after by Pakistani-Americans. If we are not there to defend Pakistan, how should we expect others to?

To tackle these challenges we must break the stereotype of success as being limited to certain professions. Success should be defined not by your monetary value or your job title, but rather as the impact you have on your community.

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Pakistanis You’ll Meet in College

This post refers to mostly to the, gently put, “fresh off the boat” Pakistani students studying in the States. Some might be a mix of multiple categories, and some none. I’m not sure if the same kinds of Pakistani students are at every campus, but these are the ones I’ve come across on the few campuses across the States:

1) The Princess: So you may have been the best looking girl in your elite school’s class of 20 or so kids, but you’re pretty average looking on this campus of thousands of students. It might be time for a reality check… or a hair straightener?

2) The Alcoholic: Welcome to America, where the booze is as endless as the food is in Lahore. Theres an excuse to drink and celebrate every day in this kid’s world. Naan in the cafeteria? I’ll drink to that! Least favorite IAFF professor going out of town for Monday’s lecture? Clink, cheers! Zardari’s birthday? Rounds on me!

3) The Pennsylvania: This kid was miraculously born in America but has no recollection of his/her time spent here. When you ask them where they’re from, they’ll throw out some unknown town in Pennsylvania or Ohio. “I’m an American citizen, I was born here.” Congrats on knowing the Constitution, but you still pronounce your v’s like w’s brah.

4) The Royal: he confuses unassuming goras into thinking he comes from the non-existent royal family of Pakistan. “Man, I hate doing laundry. In Pakistan I have a driver, 4 maids, 3 cooks, 2 chokidaars- you know vhat a chokidaar is right?” His maid even has a maid.

5) The Homesick: Awn, can’t make fun of the bichara. He just misses sneaking cigarettes with his boiiz, going on long drives, and spending every waking moment with his 17 second and third cousins.

6) The Connection: “Shit man, can’t believe we got in trouble for veed. In Pakistan I can do whatever I want. I’m the great-nephew of Chaudhary Jootaywala.” “Who’s that?” … Silence. This is the underaged kid who thinks he can go to any club without an ID and just charm the guard, or tell him who his second uncle twice removed is and get inside.

7) The Starer: He knows you’re Pakistani. He’s Pakistani. Instead of creating conversation… you’ll just stare at each other.

8) The Holder: You can’t blame this kid. Pakistan has left an enormous imprint on him. Despite being plastered on Thirsty Thursday, this trooper always makes it to Jummah. Hungover… but holy.

9) The Foodie: This is my favorite kind. This one is always down to get chicken korma or mango kulfi anytime, anywhere. No distance is too great, no time is too late.

10) The Good Kid: This is the type of person your parents want you to be friends with. Actually, this is who you should be. This kid hangs out with the straightedge goras, because much to his dismay, all the Pakistanis are corrupted. They can be spotted in the library, in the dormitories, or… the library. If they don’t have exams, they may be at MSA meetings too.

11) The Revolutionary: “Man, America is great. The power never goes out, the girls are hot, the streets are clean. I’m going to make Pakistan like this.” Good luck.

12) The Music Major: His parents tell everyone he’s becoming an engineer. Little do they know, little Bilal is becoming B-Pak and trying to “create a dynamic fusion between eastern instrumentals and western rock and roll”.

13) The Indian: Perhaps its because of a lack of Pakistanis on campus, a reluctancy to share your drinking habits with fellow countrymen, or maybe just love for the neighbors, the Indian is a Pakistani who believes 1947 never existed. “We’re all the same man.” They can be found at bhangra practice, distributing pamphlets for the ISA, or grabbing some langar with the Sikhs. The Indian knows no borders.

You’re sure to encounter at least a few of these in their 4, maybe 6 year undergraduate careers. If you have come across others not mentioned above, feel free to comment.

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