Pakistan, I love you!
Re-visiting Pakistan for the second time this summer, after having spent 4 weeks last year exploring Karachi and Lahore, I no longer feel like a completely clueless gori like I did before. I now find myself amused over my shock that there was dinner served after we went out for Iftar to BBQ Tonite, my utter cluelessness of what paan is, leave alone how to eat it, and my wonderment and childish excitement to see donkeys in the middle of a city.
This time around I did have a much better understanding of what was going on – what the city is like, what to do, and what not to. Most importantly, I now knew what to expect while driving. This, indeed, disappointed my friends who would complain that me knowing certain things was much more boring for them. However, I am basically a Pakistani now.
Having said so, I must admit that my Urdu does not go much farther than the exchange of polite greetings, random food items, and the occasional swear word. Whenever confronted with pure Urdu speakers and needing something I would usually end up feeling rather stupid and go back to miming whatever I need to say (which can be quite tough especially in cases of things like chocolate powder).
Be that as it may, coming back this time for six weeks, I do feel more settled.
Last year my trip was exciting- it was something new, a completely different world from what I’m used to given that I grew up in Vienna and Paris and am living in London now. This year, however, it felt more like coming home in a way, to a place which is just so dear to me that I cannot say anything but that I do indeed love Pakistan.
From my friends I’ve heard all sorts of stories of foreigners coming to Pakistan and falling in love with the country. I did not think I would be another George Fulton when I first landed at Jinnah International Airport last year and set foot in to the country on a hot Friday during ramzan. However, thinking of leaving Pakistan in a week now makes me feel melancholic and a part of me wants to stay and never leave.
While here, I was often asked why I love the country when talking to aunts, uncles and friends, and I would usually give a rather standard answer proclaiming my love for the food and the culture. I do love the food and the culture, yet this would possibly be more of the shallow reasons you give to a relative asking you why you love the person you married.
Truthfully, my love is not founded in any generalisations, but moments, situations, and people more than anything.
I love sitting on the roof at night with the city seeming so quiet and at peace. One can see the stars above, and just for this moment, everything seems al right. I love the hospitality of people and how I am warmly welcomed in so many peoples’ houses, even if I barely know them. I can find nothing but gratitude for not being made felt an outsider, but being fully included wherever I go. I love the acceptance of my not speaking Urdu by people all around, something the French could certainly learn from, and having lived in Paris for 2 years when starting to learn French, I’d know. I greatly appreciate the smiles and encouragement I get whenever I manage to say an Urdu phrase. I love driving around the streets and seeing people busy doing their daily work in spite of the pressing heat and everything that is going on. And I do love the food, the culture, wearing Shalwar Kameez, going to Hot Spot which always results in running into numerous people one knows, discussions about who’s biryani is the best, the playful feud between KGS and Lyceum and on a greater level Lahore and Karachi, the pride everyone seems to have for the Atrium, and so many other little things I cannot think of right now but will certainly remember in the future.
That said, I am not naive about this country, nor do I make any illusions that it is perfect or even safe. When I was coming back I could tell things have gotten worse, and little things like driving in the car alone with my friend, another girl, which we did plenty in the year before, is now out of the question. Numerous plans we had this year got cancelled last minute because of unrest in the city. Being stuck in traffic at night with a strong police presence around and no obvious reason why that was the case, one day I found myself panicking over something happening and thinking myself insensible after all to come here instead of choosing a relatively safer location.
Last year I never felt the need to lock the doors while in the car, and though someone would usually do it I would not take much notice of it. This year, however, I made sure my door was locked the moment I closed the door behind me.
Other things still leave me in shock, even after having seen them last year. The rain, for example, literally flooding the streets and unless one has a jeep to manoeuvre through it, chances to leave the house are slim.
I still feel like my heart breaks when going to the corner store and seeing little children, no older than five years begging and there being nothing one can do, as giving them money would only further foster the cycle leaving them to beg on the street to begin with. Yet looking away just seems cold-hearted and cruel.
No, I don’t think Pakistan is perfect; it is very far from it. However, this does not impact my love for the country it just immensely saddens me. It saddens me to know that it would not be safe for me to go out on the street while I just feel this strong desire to explore this city on foot. It saddens me to see how so many good people have to suffer under political violence, permanent danger and poverty.It saddens me to observe this general atmosphere of fear. But what saddens me most is how people slowly seem to have given up hope for the country.
So many I’ve spoken to this year just did not see any possibility of betterment, and have decided to move abroad. I noticed that very often, when I praised Pakistan, I got cynical and sarcastic replies. Last year when I visited Frere Hall the guard spoke to my friends in Urdu when we were about to enter and asked them:
‘Why would anyone want to come to Pakistan anyway?’
This sentiment was reflected by many others this year, and to the people who wonder why, well I assume this article would be my honest answer. I know I am in no position to tell others to not give up hope after being here for only 10 weeks. Hence, I will not offer any advice. All I will say is that I really appreciate Pakistan and I feel like it is misrepresented in international discourse. In the end a country is not a territory or a place on a map; it is not a government or the politicians. A country is its people, and in spite of everything going on and the risks of simple everyday life here the people here still seem to remain strong, brave and warm-hearted.
Which other country would welcome a random girl from London who is named after a car and talks too fast and too much at most occasions?
And for this hospitality and the feeling of belonging which came about by the wonderful people I met here, I personally shall never give up hope for Pakistan.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.