By Raja Mushtaq Ahmad
As I talked about my stay in Oregon previously in these pages, there exist some basic differences between Gilgit-Baltistan society and American society.
The American people are independent, welcoming, gracious, well-mannered, kind and helping because they are residents of the most developed country in the world.
But few things are new to me and attract me to make further comparisons. My observations are based on my discussion with faculty members of the University of Oregon (UO), students at UO, and community members at different shopping malls, at Eugene bas station and in different hotels.
In my previous article, I raised the issue of homeless people in Eugene, Oregon USA. One of the main reasons these people are homeless is because they don’t have a joint family system.
We have a joint family system back in Gilgit-Baltistan. A joint family system is an extended clan comprising multiple hierarchical tiers of relatives with their respective spouses and children. They live under one roof, eat meals together and try to get along.
It is the elderly who mostly prefer this system, because it alleviates their insecurities regarding age, loneliness and being excluded from their adult children’s lives.
Some of the advantages associated with the joint family system include enhanced security for members, support in times of need, getting different perspectives during decision making and enjoying affection from family members.
(Also from the author: http://outpost.pk/opinions/983-from-eugene-to-gilgit-baltistan.html )
Joint family systems are closely knit together, making family members bond and help each other in whatever way necessary. Joint family systems stress the need for each family member to look out for the interest of the other, enhancing security for all.
Family members are also able to help each other in times of financial need or health complications.
Our culture strongly supports a joint family. It expects sons to dwell with their elderly parents in their homes and financially support them, even if the latter are well-off.
My wife is a teacher and mother of a two-year-old son; we have a joint family and that’s why she is able to pursue her teaching career despite children.
But the concept of family is different in Eugene as compared to Gilgit-Baltistan. Most families consist of a mother and father with an average of one to three children. But we have a family consisting of many members.
Most families, regardless of where they are located, will all get together to celebrate events like Halloween and Thanksgiving.
But a few cases are different. I met some old parents; the father is above 80 and the mother is above 65. Both have three children, from their previous life partners.
The man has suffering from cancer, and is under treatment at a healthcare center. While his wife is living outside of Eugene, in a farm house, lonely. She visits her husband daily. But their children visit them only once in a blue moon, because they are busy and live in different states.
This is part of American culture, but in Pakistan we never let our parents alone in their old age.
In the US, parents of an adult person are not considered their dependents or part of his/her immediate family. Some people get married and divorced several times, or even have children out of wedlock. Relationships are sometimes confusing.
It is not uncommon to hear phrases like “she is my father’s wife” (not necessary the mother), “he is my mother’s boyfriend “or “he is my son’s father” (not necessary the husband).
I heard one of my colleagues saying that on Thanksgiving, “We are going to meet our father.” I asked, “Is your father not living with you? How old is your father?” He replied,”65, and my father is living with his new girlfriend in another state.” This is a very interesting story for me.
Advantages for Senior Citizens - A Fine Array of Privileges
Senior citizens in US are entitled to significant discounts on anything from travel to movies and from bus fare to consumer goods. Retail stores sometimes give senior discounts on slow days, such as every Wednesday, for example.
Some establishments give out senior citizens cards which allow discounts all the time.
Community help for senior citizens can range from help preparing tax returns, to free hot meals for the homebound. Many communities have “senior citizen centers” that allow for socializing, entertainment, job searches and other kinds of assistance.
During our stay in Oregon, I had the chance to experience voluntary work with Dr. Muhammad Ismail who is my KIU colleague, Aneela, an International Studies student at UO who is from Swat, Pakistan, and Dr. Anita Weiss, Professor of International Studies, UO.
We worked with the volunteers of Habitat for Humanity, and made a wheelchair ramp for an old lady at Springfield.
Some (homeless people) adopt this lifestyle by choice. I met a young boy and girl (homeless) in Springfield, who used to be students at University of Oregon. But, they left their studies due to financial reasons and adopted this lifestyle; they said they are happy to live as homeless people.
Joint family system is an enduring strength, and I am sure we don’t have a single homeless person in Gilgit-Baltistan, although we are living in a very backward and underdeveloped area as compare to Eugene.
The author is currently in Oregon, United States, as part of a faculty exchange program.