“Don’t Ask Questions!”

"Don't Ask Questions!"

By Zohra Begum from California, USA

How many have you heard “Don’t ask questions! Just do as you’re told!”, from your parents? I know I did; still do. And maybe this isn’t just a desi parent lingo, but I don’t know many desi parents who encourage their kids to question their life.


I have heard many aunties complain that their kids are always asking “why” to everything they tell their kids. I hardly blame them; it isn’t easy being a parent. Kids can be annoyingly curious.


So, this auntie came over one day, for some reason or another, and she was telling us that her 10-year-old son is always asking her ‘why’ whenever she tells him that he can’t do something for religious or cultural reasons. I can barely remember what I ate yesterday, let alone the exact thing she was telling him he can’t do. But the kid was apparently complaining that other kids can do this so why can’t he. As a mom, she just wants her son to listen to her and not question her reasons. Of course, she mentioned that she never asked her parents questions when they told her to do something.

As an introvert and a youngster, I really wasn’t going to say anything, so I didn’t. I just ate my pulao in silence and listened. It was good pulao and I’m no fool that’s going to let it get cold to add in my two cents to the conversation. I also hate confrontations, so there’s that. However, I couldn’t help but think how hard it can really be to explain things to children; kids aren’t as dumb as we like to think.  

In the West, specifically in America, we are taught to be individuals and encouraged to learn via asking questions.

I know for myself growing up, the teachers prioritized ourselves in our lives. They taught and even encouraged us to ask questions. They appreciate it so much that my cousin received a special award for asking a lot of questions; It gave us all a good chuckle. They teach us that if we don’t understand something then we must ask why and how. And from my personal experience, desi parents don’t admire this trait in the least.

Culturally, the weight of respecting our elders is so heavy that doubting their rules and orders is considered disrespectful and an act of disobedience.

Now listen, I’m not saying we should completely disregard our parents and their advice. We ain’t about that life. They try to do what they think is best for us; we should appreciate that. However, this doesn’t stop our curiosity on why there are certain rules set in place that other kids don’t have to follow. But for some reason parents find it unbearably frustrating answering our questions.

Let me give you an example of a basic conversation from when I was 12 years old:

My mom: Don’t wear perfume and walk under the trees. It attracts Jinns and they will possess you.

Me: What? That doesn’t even make sense. Why would that happen? There are millions of women who wear perfume in the park, and they come home fine. Why would they come for little ol’ me?

My mom: These things do happen and I’m telling you for your benefit. This is the problem with you kids, you never listen to your elders, Badtameez (disrespectful). Now, go do something useful.

haunted tree
Yeah, that's pretty much how I imagine it, minus the kuta that my mom won't
let me get because that's haram too ;(

All she had to say was that it is believed that Jinns like to, allegedly, reside in flower bushes (which I discovered when I got older), and since perfumes are floral scented it can attract otherworldly entities. Or she could have told me that she thought I was too young to be smelling good. Either of these reasons would have been more reasonable than just saying that I’ll get possessed. But what do I know?

Perhaps, they themselves don’t know the answers which is why they struggle to find a proper response. Parents don’t like to be wrong and don’t like to admit that they may not know something.

This is something I’ve always been dubious about. I can feel my eyes squinting and side eyeing in suspicion when my mother says, ‘that our elders told us this and that’s that’.

I think back in our parent’s time the family unit was so tight knit that there was hardly any way for outside influence to seep in. It was easier for them to believe and accept the regulations of their elders even without proper explanation.

Nowadays, with easy access of the internet, which holds vast knowledge of everything and anything, we know more of the world than our parents did. We wonder and question more and struggle to be satisfied with just, “because I said so”.

I don’t know about you, but I consider my parents average human beings. That means that I acknowledge the fact that my parents don’t know all. It’s just that they need to accept this fact about themselves.

I just want to put my hand on their shoulder, squeeze in reassurance and tell them “it’s okay that you don’t know. We can research separately and then rendezvous later and share our study”.

We must work together to diminish the cultural differences between us and our parents.

Our parents not only have a generation gap with us but also an environmental gap. We are being raised in a completely different time and country than our parents. They need to understand that their kids are growing up multi-cultural and will need more explanations; and we need to probably be less annoying.

But on the real, don’t stop asking questions. Ask them but, be respectful and patient with your parents when you’re annoying them. Explain that you don’t understand and want to, you know…understand.

And parents, try to be less annoyed by your curious children; they are just trying to understand your mindset. I mean, I just wanted to understand why I can’t drink water standing up other than that Shaytan(Satan) is peeing in my water and there is a demon standing beside me. I always thought Shaytan’s time would be better spent cajoling a believer to skip their Namaz instead of performing a petty act of peeing in my water? I’m just asking; but again, what do I know? Of course, as an adult now I know that drinking and eating standing up decreases the amount of nutrients your body receives. Sitting ensures that the water travels properly to your organs and they receive all the benefits to boost your health. But I don’t think my parents knew that; they probably truly believed that Shaytan pees in our water because that’s what they learned from their elders. They had the right idea but the reasoning behind it was lackluster to be honest.

You know what else is lost on me? Apparently, we can’t face our feet towards the Kaaba. You could put a gun to my head and ask for the number of times I’ve had my feet slapped for facing the Kaaba; I would have to die because its impossible to count. It’s not like I sit there and think ‘you know what would be fun? If I swing my legs 45 degrees NE because that’s where I pray’. It just happens! I’m just sitting there minding my own business, re-watching the first season of The Walking Dead for the hundredth time. And right when it gets intense, the characters are surrounded by Zombies, the thrilling music picks up, my hands and feet begin to feel clammy, I feel a sharp sting at my feet. “Move your legs! You’re facing the Kaaba!”. I am shook to the say the least. If I had been facing my legs in that direction in a purposeful attempt to be blasphemous then yes, I am in the wrong. But I don’t think its condemnable if the act is done without conscious effort. My legs just happen to face that direction. The intention should matter. In my heart, I was so engrossed in willing the characters to survive that I did not even think about what my body was doing. I shan’t plead guilty. But I suppose in the matter of religion I will plead the fifth, since I am not so knowledgeable in the subject. 

I’m only somewhat trying to roast my parents, but I think its allowed; we joke about it together, so I have permission. Feel free to roast your own family, respectfully. I think it allows us to bond and grow thick skin. Just don’t forget to duck when a chapal(shoes) comes flying at you.

Anyways, I think I’ve talked enough and you’re probably tired reading this whole thing. If you’ve read up until now, what are you still doing here? Hurry up and go do something useful! And don’t ask too many questions!

At the end of the day, we are more alike than different and family comes first!

Where Pakistan meets Trinidad

Where Pakistan meets Trinidad

By Shereen Ehmad from Boston, USA

In 1980, a young man crossed the seas from Pakistan. Working on a cargo ship to find his way to the United states of America at the age of 20.  In 1974, a young woman was sponsored by her brother after her father passed away and came to the United States of America from Trinidad and Tobago with her mother in hopes for a new beginning. 

They both landed in the city of New York, not knowing that their paths would be crossed and later create a life of their own together.  This is the story of my mom and dad.  My name is Shereen, wife of Habib Ehmad (the creator of Pakcord). This is a story of how I was raised in a multi-cultural home, being married into full Punjabi family and uniting these experiences with my love of food.

My mom and dad met in the late 1980’s at a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), while they were on line waiting for their turn.  They locked eyes, and soon after, my brave father asked my grandmother for my mother’s hand in marriage. Now, some may ask, how did this happen so easily? Was it love marriage? Were there other intentions? Nope! This was a pure encounter and I always love hearing this story.

You could say it was love at first sight!

The two youngsters got married in 1987 and three years later I was born. Pakistan and Trinidad are obviously two totally different countries with a different cultural inhabitant, traditions, and most importantly, FOOD!

While growing up, I felt like I was evenly exposed to both cultures.  My mom gradually learned how to cook Pakistani dishes as my dad taught her and because of her numerous visits to Pakistan.  From Karahi to Biryani, my mom is a damn good cook.  On the opposite end, I was also very close to my maternal grandmother who was an amazing Trinidadian cook.  My sisters and I accompanied her in the kitchen while she would make sweet treats and savory curries and of course the fluffiest and buttery rotis ever!  In this article, I will discuss how the dishes from each country may be similar, different and modified from each other.  So, make sure you have a snack because you’re about to get stomach grumbles.  

Growing up, my mom and dad wanted my sisters and I to understand where we came from and understand that we a distinctly a multi-cultural family. 

My mom learned how to cook Pakistani dishes as my dad taught her during their early years in marriage.  She cooked various dishes ranging from Karahi, Biryani, Shaami Kabob, and Pulao.  Honestly, the list could go on and on.

Pakistani spices range from so many fragrances, colors and purpose.  The combination of these spices create magic in a pot.  Turmeric, red chili powder, coriander, star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves are just the basics to create an aromatic and spicy dishes to satisfy anybody.  After getting married to my husband, I learned even more tricks in the kitchen.  I learned from my sister-in-law how to make my own home-made garam masala.  I learned from my mother-in-law how to cook various dishes from mustard greens, turnips, and Rohu curry fish dish.

One thing I learned and love is passing down these recipes and traditions are important to keep family values tight and forever.  Food ties our family together in the heart of the home, the kitchen.  Although I am married into a Pakistani family and value the recipes and traditions dearly, I do keep the cultures of Trinidad near and dear.  I feel unique and fortunate to be able to cook with so much versatility. 

Chicken Biryani
Shaami Kababs
Rohu Fish Curry

Now, let's look at Trinidad food, starting with the sweets!

My grandmother would teach my sisters and I how to cook sweet dishes and savory dishes.  After getting married, I shared this uniqueness to my husband and the most interesting part in doing this is when he says, “I’ve had this before!” Both countries and cultures may be different, however they can always be tied by the power of food in translation.  For example, my grandmother taught me a sweet dish called Malida, which is mashed roti mixed with condensed milk, coconut, spices and raisins and then rolled into a ball.  Pakistan has a variation to this and I think this is special!  My grandmother also made a very special sweet dish called Barfi and Kurma (no, not Korma). Kurma is fried milk dough covered with sugar syrup, also called the Trinidad Gulab Jamun. This was my grandmother’s favorite item and her specialty to cook for Eid, every year!

Malida from Trinidad
Desi Gulab Jamun, of course
Kurma, also known as the Trinidad Gulab Jamun

Trinidadian and Pakistani barfis are very similar. One difference is that the Trini barfi always has the sprinkles on top, however they both taste quite similar and will satisfy your sweet tooth!

Trini Barfi
Pakistani Barfi

Now, let's talk about Trini food! I'm getting hungry just typing this!

Trinidad is also home of very tasty savory dishes like Doubles, which is a curry channa sandwich wrapped in fried dough, also known as Bara.  

The difference in Pakistani and Trinidad cooking is the spices and methods of cooking.  Trinidadian curries have adapted to the local spices with Creole influences. Only in Trinidad would you find dark roasted spices, roasted lentils, West Indian spices and Creole herbs blended into a curry. The spices may consist of turmeric, coriander, chickpea, cumin, garlic, pepper, fenugreek, bay leaf, mace, chile habanero, green onion, thyme, mustard, fennel, and nigella. 

Doubles, the famous street food from Trinidad. 'If you ain't have a double, you ain't a Trini!'

Another one of my all time favorite dish is called Dhalpuri.  This is a white flour hearty roti filled with a spicy daal filling. My sisters and I would eat this on weekend mornings.  The aroma that it would fill the house would make me feel warm and fuzzy inside as I watched my mom or grandmother pull it out of the hot tawa, then watching it land on my plate, steaming hot.  The final touch would be adding butter, and watching it melt off.


These dishes are well-known throughout any Trinidad household.  One memory that I reconcile with over and over is waking up Sunday morning to the smell of my mom’s cooking, and breaking open the warm and buttery rotis with my little finger and enjoying every bite. 

Nothing can replace mom’s cooking!

Writing this article has made me realize how lucky I am to be exposed to these treasures and having the ability to pass down these amazing dishes to my future children and so on.  Food is not only a sustainable need but a foundation for memorable gestures of love and family.  

I am forever grateful to my family for teaching me that diversity and unity can be as simple as blending up some spices and firing up the stove.