From Pakistan to ‘Survivistan’

Published: July 6, 2014

Let me always find a reason to love you and never be ashamed to call you my motherland.

You make a football for the world to kick (even though we don’t play football) and I cheer you on! You give a speech at the United Nations (UN) and I cry tears of pride and joy! You win a cricket match and I clap till my hands hurt! You get nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and my chest bloats with pride! You discovered the Higgs Boson and I am enthralled!

Proud is too small a word! You take the first Oscar for your country and I scream out the news to the world! You produce the most divine mangoes in the whole wide world and gave me breath-taking mountains, beaches and rivers; you give me my identity.

Yet, you stole that identity from me.

When I lived away from you, I missed a lot of the very same things that defined me yet I wanted to stay away. But fate brought me back to you. I came back as a mature, well-read and educated person. But I also came back with an aftertaste of the West, the Wild West to be exact – I lived in Texas for eight years.

While I was there, I learnt to say please and thank you to everyone. I learnt to give a thank you wave when someone gave me way on the road and to slow down to snail pace regardless of how late I was getting because it was school closing time and I knew there would be children crossing the road. I learnt to clean up after myself and obey rules because of the hefty fines. I also learnt that it’s normal to say ‘hi’ or ‘howdy’ to strangers passing by and that honking was a way truckers say hello to each other.

I learnt that it was acceptable for women to pray in a mosque (25 years of living in a Muslim country did not teach me that) and that I could stand in a windowed conference room and visibly attend to my prayers in an office filled with Christians, Hindus and Jews without anyone raising a brow.

I learnt that, like it or not, I have to give tax.

I learnt that if I call 911, help will come immediately.

I never heard people cussing in public and it was particularly taboo to do so in an office environment.

I learnt to trust people and learnt to belong.

And with that learning, I came back.

People raised eyebrows when I said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to helpers. I was told I was spoiling them. People looked puzzled when I waved a thank you wave. I was cheated many times.

People became sceptical when I extended my hand upon meeting them for the first time. Men accepted it better but only because they were men. I heard cuss words spoken publicly and loudly without even a hint of hesitation, regardless of the kind of environment.

I have not prayed in a mosque since I came back, and my faith has been questioned and doubted on many occasions. Every day people on the streets test my temper.

No one from my neighbourhood called to say thank you when I sent birth announcements and sweets when my child was born.

Begging had become an art, a business for some. Trash is rampant.

No, not all is glum.

I moved to a great neighbourhood where wonderful neighbours would care and pay attention to each other’s needs.

I learnt that I am not the only one who says please and thank you to everyone who does something for you. I learnt that on some rare occasion I too get a thank you wave, and it feels great. People do smile back if you smile at them.

Trust is a different matter altogether.

Religious tolerance or even tolerance in general is a rare quality that I look for in people. I wish we could accord the same respect I was given as a visible outsider in the West to everyone regardless of their faith or practices.

New restaurants, multiplex cinemas and malls have popped up. I see big fancy cars in town. And people are still learning to cope with the newness of these things.

I came back and learnt about strikes, unexpected school holidays, day time robbery, big wigs and their army of guards, nouveau riche and generational rich alike flaunting themselves. There was shortage of power during summers, shortage of gas during winters, inflation, one insincere government after another, one annoying, juvenile delinquent after another on TV all day long and terrible breaking news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I learnt that I will feel an element of fear every time a motorcyclist stopped beside me at a red light, and that in case of an emergency call a friend not the police and the knack of dealing with people of all temperaments. I realised that I now live in Survivistan; I earned a new identity, that of a survivor.

Even though I may complain or get angry, I will continue to love you unconditionally. I don’t want to look at your tarnished image; although I cannot ignore the stench of some of your leaders anymore.

Let me always find a reason to love you and never be ashamed to call you my motherland.

I will forever try to hold my head up high as a (Survivor) Pakistani!

Aisha Khan

Aisha Khan

A graphic designer, illustrator, and brand consultant. She lives and breathes in Karachi. She is a born and raised as a Karachiite and loves to see the good things in situations/ people. Stays as far away from TV as possible and sometimes embarrasses/entertains her kids constantly with her crazy antics! She blogs at www.aishaandherwork.blogspot.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ali

    Sad but true….beautiful ending…Recommend

  • H.M.T.

    “I learnt that, like it or not, I have to give tax.”

    See, this the problem. You had to “learn” to pay taxes in the USA? I’m sorry, but did you not know that you had to pay tax or did you know that you could get away with not paying taxes in Pakistan? I suspect it is the latter and if that is the case you are part of the problem and aren’t in any position to lecture the rest of the population on etiquette.Recommend

  • Anon

    After living in Alberta. Sadly,,,,, this is exactly I feel now. But all hope is not lost when I see the youth of this country. Unlike our previous generation, they are not afraid, they care, and are not hopeless. I do see a new Pakistan on the horizon (I dont mean naya Pakistan of PTI). A Pakistan that is not just a military might, but also economic. A Pakistan, where people are just as educated as those on developed states but also remember their survival capability. I see Islam gaining the control of my nation again. The rise of Taliban have surely made it important for us to understand our own faith so that we dont go astray as they did. Al-Quran: Verily, with every difficulty, there is relief.Recommend

  • Depressed Bohemian

    A truly thought-provoking article…you’ve given me hope, Aisha. For better or for worse, I do not know.Recommend

  • Bee

    Forget the west now. As they say, when in Rome, do as Romans do. You’re not the only one who feels like an outsider in their own country.Recommend

  • Kamran Usman

    Yet another rant. You talk as if you learned all the good things in the ‘wild west’ and learned all the bad things in Pakistan. Sorry but you are so wrong on that. Every society has its good things and bad things and it is up to you to pick only the good. Tell me this: Have you ever walked out in a burqa in the wild west? I am sure if you did, you would have heard people passing by making comments on that, and calling you namesRecommend

  • Haseeb

    Interesting read. Surprised to see no comments.
    The perspective from which you’re looking at these issues – your perspective – is very rare. Sadly, our country has a lot bigger issues to take care of, these highlighted issues tend to be ignored. The general understanding is that you have to be smarter and emotionless to survive, a messed up opportunist.
    We need more individuals like you, who are bold and much finer human beings then most of us; and time to make this change. If we all start working on these details now, it will still take another few generations to see this change on the streets, I think.Recommend

  • saleem

    keep up the good work ,Recommend

  • Well

    Um some thing are different in our culture. Here, we dont shake hands when meeting others, especially not men and women. That’s just how it is. Just like in America, they shake hands and in Japan, they bow, in Pakistan, they do neither. It depends on every culture and every Pakistani knows that. I’m sure you do too, stop acting angrez. But good article! :) I enjoyed it, love the beginning and end.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Inshallah to everything you said.Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Q: Why would she want to? Ans: Halloween?Recommend

  • kamran usman

    One of the better comments I’ve read on ET, thank you. Very true, I fully agree with Anon’s second part of the comment.Recommend

  • Aisha Khan

    Thank you Kamran for taking the time out to read and comment on my article. I’m sorry you feel that I was ranting. I never wore a burqa in the West. But I knew several people who did. They got some inquisitive looks but not jeered. Unless you are in a shady part of town. In general, I felt more free to be me in the West. No one judged me or stereotyped me. I was the first Pakistani hired by my firm in Austin, the first Pakistani woman too. I think through me they too learnt some good things about Islam about Pakistan. I still promote my country – and they still listen.

    If I didn’t truly love my country, I wouldn’t have said all that I did in my article. Perhaps you missed the line about my unconditional love for Pakistan?

    There are days when I am despondent about the state of things here. Then there are days when I pick up the pieces and move on, and have hope (some latent hope) that my city, country, people will one day learn to just respect and trust one another. That will be a good day.

    All the best Sir! Find happiness and share it. Bless you!Recommend

  • Aisha Khan

    Dear HMT,

    Thank you for reading and commenting on my article. Sorry if I sounded like I was lecturing you. The article was not a lecture at all! It was just my thoughts and feelings. I am sorry if I upset you. As for taxes, honestly no I STILL don’t know the tax system here in Pakistan. And I barely make enough to file for them. USA has a very DYI (Do it yourself) culture. People have no choice but to take their responsibility themselves. We here are a rather spoon fed people, which is perhaps why I never learnt. And since there were no penalties levied on me (like I said, I don’t earn much to give tax) I never was forced to learn.

    When I left for the USA I was not even employed in Pakistan and the only money I had ever earned was through a stipend from an internship.

    I feel sad that all you took from my writing was that I don’t/ don’t want to pay taxes.

    Thanks anyway for reading and commenting. All the best!Recommend

  • Aisha Khan

    Dear Anon, Thank you for reading and commenting on my article. I agree the youth is very hopeful. Their collective energy is electrifying! Oh, I too dream of a new Pakistan. Although realistically I might not live to see it. But there is and always will be something about this place… the fact that I can bury my head in its lap and just know that I belong…. I digress… but keep hoping! And spread the cheer!Recommend

  • Aisha Khan

    Thank you Sir!Recommend

  • Mehdi

    Yes I have seen many fundementalist women in Burqa walking in Devon street in Chicago and nobody bothers them. I personally wanted to go and ask them why are they covering themselves. But I am strong believer of our US constitution, hence I refrain myself.Have you ever set a foot in western countries. It’s people like you who give Islam a bad name. I agree with you every society has a mix bag of good and bad things. But in the case of Pakistan even the handful of good fruits in the bag are getting rotten because the ratio of bad is so high that it has a rotting effect on the good ones.Recommend

  • H.M.T.

    That point was sticking out like a sore thumb. Taxation is one of the major pillars of the state/government, hence why I feel strongly about it. Similar sentiments are shared around the world. At least you learnt from your mistakes and now know to file your taxes. Sadly, the same can’t be said for most of the population.

    On a broader note, when will we as a nation realise that simple things like paying taxes will fix the nation and not some revolution.Recommend

  • Shabir Afzal Khan

    Very well written blog. When I saw the title of this blog, it made me angry as I thought something against Pakistan but then I read the caption for the picture and started to read the blog. I have visited several countries and presently working abroad. I believe love for Pakistan is in our blood. We have problems in Pakistan, no one deny that but everyone is putting his/her effort to make it a better Pakistan. Unfortunately, our politicians have abused Pakistan for the sake of so called democracy. I believe in democracy and democracy is the only way forward but our leaders have cheated this country. Leaders set the example. Trust and respect will come in our society only when our leaders respect the people of this country. Whatever the differences we have or whatever the problems we have in our country, we all must accept that we are nothing without Pakistan.Recommend

  • M Ali

    Only Pakistanis who have the luxury of comfortably sitting abroad miss their ‘good life’ in Pakistan, which includes having domestic servants do household chores instead of yourself, and as the author succinctly pointed out, not ‘knowing’ that you have to pay taxes.Recommend

  • John

    I can feel everything this lady has written.I am an outsider in my own country.Recommend

  • Kamran Usman

    Thanks Aisha. I agree on the part of having the opportunity to show what an average Pakistani or Muslim is like. I am living in Germany and I have been blessed to have the opportunity to change the mindset of many about what an average Pakistani is like.

    Having said that, my main concern is that you make the US look way too rosy. My cousin lives in Texas with his family, he has been robbed twice by thugs in the last 3 months, once having a gun put on his head, but you never wrote about that. You were only reminded of robberies in Pakistan.

    I have no problem in admitting that Pakistan has problems of its own, but so does Wild west. Its all about deciding what factors to pick. I can easily write an article of the same length as yours or more which shows Pakistani society as a way better society than Wild West despite its short comings, because I will pick all the wonderful things you can only find in a Pakistani society.

    Finally, you are comparing a 3rd world country to a first world country, which is like comparing apples to oranges. Try comparing Sao Paulo to Karachi and everything looks the same.

    I commend your patriotism and I hope you stay as passionate about Pakistan and help bring real change in Pakistan inshaAllah.Recommend

  • Sammy

    The ET has pretty good lifestyle articles and I occasionally read them with relish; this one is awesome even by ET’s high standards. Perhaps because in many ways it speaks to me in its tug-of-the heart story. Not an iota is untrue…and I say that as someone who is not a Pakistani, but have experienced the same as an expat not far from the author’s Texas. The crux is the line “When I lived away from you, I missed a lot of the very same things that defined me yet I wanted to stay away”. It is a haunting recall of the famous couplet “Usi ko dekh kar jeete hain/jis pe dum nikle”. Thank you Aisha for giving voice to feelings which are not easy to comprehend, let alone express so vividly. And for being a Karachiite….a big thumbs up: may you find peace and your purpose there again; what a city She is and how great She can be again someday.Recommend

  • SamSal

    The blog that begins with “You make a football for the world to kick ” is not worth reading. Seriously!Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Dude, you can wear ANYTHING in the west and they will not object. One of my friends was even asked if she bought her “costume” at a specialty shop.Recommend

  • Fahad

    I spent some time abroad, wanted to change myself upon return, in fact the opposite happened. I was back to the routine life of being a Karachiite within a week after spending more than 150++ weeks abroad. I forgot to say Thank you, didn’t give a rats a** about waving and smiling, well forget about it, once you get the nasty looks!
    There will come a day when we will be impounded in a Malik Riaz style compound, cherishing a city within a city and forget about the woes of others around. The corrupt will become stronger and the just will become weaker.

    I did what I could do best, I ran off again. This time I will not return!

    Ayesha, btw, thanks for the nice article. The daily dose is now fulfilled.Recommend

  • Aisha Khan

    The article was not meant as a comparison Sir. It was more of my experiences… I wrote what I experienced. This was not a journalistic compare and contrast essay… so sorry I offended you.Recommend

  • Aisha Khan

    yet thanks for reading the line and taking the time to comment :)Recommend

  • Aisha Khan

    Thank you for stopping by at my article and leaving an inspiring comment!Recommend

  • Abdullah Malik

    Excellent!!! good article….Recommend

  • Waqas Hassan Khan

    Indeed a very thought provoking and well written blog. The start of the article suggested the writing to be sarcastic of its kind but was not though. I agree with you on the problems you have mentioned that face towards Pakistan, but yet, it is not completely devoid of those who do not care to say thanks or smile at you as a gesture of courtesy and respect, exceptions are there but it should not overshadow the good. I like the way you have expressed your love for the country despite being far away and the faith that you have placed in the current and future state of the country. I look forward to more well written stuff from you. Be good the way you are and keep infusing it into others. Thank youRecommend

  • http://vivayne.com Vivayne

    Beautifully written dear Aisha.Recommend

  • Sammy

    You do have a point…but that point would have more credibility, perhaps, if you were making it not sitting in Germany. Let’s be blunt about it: if the “wild West” and Pakistan were just all the same in terms of safety, opportunity, and rule of law, the line in front of the Pakistani Consulate in NYC would be just as long as the line in front of the American one in Lahore. That isn’t quite the case, is it?Recommend

  • Mahad Shahbaz

    @Aisha Why do you feel the need to apologize on every comment. All people who talk against you are the ones who have nothing better to do than to pick point out of the whole article and then criticize that. Since they are only good at that, it is all they do. I too disagree with some parts, but am sensible enough to realize that you did not mean any ill will.
    Sometimes even i do the same when i feel the need to troll someone.Recommend

  • LS

    I think all she was trying to say that she did not learn how to pay taxes because she did not make enough to fall in that bracket? In US you have to file taxes where or not you are qualified to pay taxes, in fact most of the people get refunds because of standard deduction etc…Recommend

  • salman

    Long lines at the consulate? Never heard that one before. There are no long lines there. Americans in Pakistan are well aware of the precautions one must take when living in a third world country just the way our local citizens are. Certain parts of Pakistan are dangerous and others are as safe as can be. Same can be said of America. It looks like you have never visited a red-neck area in the USA or an alley in NYC. American Consulates get relatively the same traffic in all Third World Countries. Stop trying to discredit Pakistan so much. The entire third world faces the same plight. Perhaps you momentarily forgot the ‘immensely humane’ treatment Muslims get in Iraq or Palestine. There are places WAY worse than Pakistan, though that might not make things here any better.

    One major reason why people don’t get bothered in public is because they can get sued for a lot of money if they do, thanks to their legal system. Visit a US state with no such existing laws and your experience will drastically change. Good and bad people are all over the world. Nationality will never change that.

    @author, you have never had a friend named Khan or Syed or Mohammad or Osama. Speak with those people and they will enlighten you with their own harsh experiences.

    Every place has a problem. Even the Arab Emirates with their open secret xenophobia. The Third world has more problems then solutions and this fact applies to all such countries whether Muslim dominant or not.Recommend

  • Sammy

    I have been to all the top 20 biggest cities in the US and visited 36 of the states so far. Without assumptions please take a careful note of the point I am making about doing an intellectually dishonest ‘they are all the same’ comparison. When the lines outside of Pakistani consulate in NYC is as long as the US one in Lahore, you can make comparisons legitimately. Until then, the author has a very valid point, even if it makes you very upset for nationalistic reasons.Recommend