Pakistan, I love you!

Published: October 11, 2011

I do love wearing Shalwar Kameez. This is a picture of me and my friends beofre the mendhi of my friend's sister.

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.

Carola.Precht

Carola Precht

A student at the London School of Economics, the author is pursuing a Political Science degree. She grew up in Vienna and Paris and currently lives in London.

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

  • http://www.elucidations.org Abu Bakr

    Its amazing how a handful of people have destroyed the country for 170 million plus good people. I have hope for this country, because/if the handful are replaced by as many better people. Enjoyed reading your feel good, yet realistic experience.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely article, nothing new. One would expect you to feel exactly as you felt.
    Your level of anxiety on your second visit, said something. You must remember that where ever you are, if you’re scared then you can’t really enjoy yourself. Recommend

  • Zain Gilani

    Carola Precht: A brilliant blog in all respects. Simply loved it. You have written a masterpiece. Thank you for all the kind words for our country. Really really appreciated. I kinda cried too. lol.

    Anyways. Carola Precht be ready for all the random friend requests now =P Recommend

  • pinky

    thanks carola :) YMMD :)Recommend

  • Anon

    I wish this article was better written. However some great thoughts are penned somewhere in there. There is still a lot to love about Pakistan. Thanks Carola for appreciating a sense of aura that our country exudes.It is unfortunate that most of us are not able to see it due to all the ugliness that goes on around us. Such is the paradoxical state of our dear country!Recommend

  • Ali

    As much as this blog should be appreciated, there is something we need to realize and question.

    Why is it that foreigners, especially the ones with white skin or the ones from colonial / world powers, find this land most hospitable? Why not the Pakistanis themselves?

    Maybe its because our nation consists of ubiquitous racism / fascism at the very core leading us to believe that the foreigner is superior (sometimes not even human) and needs special treatment while the local is not.Recommend

  • jameel

    You give hope to us. I thought everyone despise us. Recommend

  • Adeel

    Thank you Ms. Carola Precht.
    May God bless you… Keep visiting Pakistan, and we hope we will keep improving year by year.
    You have indeed shut up a lot of haters and detractors with your honest words.

    Respect.Recommend

  • Nauman

    KGS and Whhaaa? Its Aitchision and LGS most of the time.Recommend

  • Saad Siddiqui

    Thanks Carola for such a nice words for our country, we hardly hear them !Recommend

  • S

    Thanku is all i can say :)Recommend

  • Safir,

    @Carola,
    Unlike england parliament we got Donkeys on the street.Recommend

  • Safir,

    @ Carol Bibi,
    Little too much phildallphia cream cheese u try to used.Recommend

  • Atif

    Thank you Ms. Carola Precht
    I hope your words may motivate us to make this country a better place.Recommend

  • http://habloid.wordpress.com Habiba Younis

    quite a warm post, thanks for the kind words :)Recommend

  • arshad lone

    thanks toyota corrolla, for the candid,honest,heartfelt appraisal of our beloved country…when times are better and inshallah sooner rather than later you will be riding on those donkeys like a pakistani lady godiva lolRecommend

  • Shahzeb

    Thank you for your views. Its always interesting to see the country from another person’s point of view, one who hasn’t grown up in Pakistan and can comment on it with a multicultural evaluation.Recommend

  • http://none Bangash

    Have a nice safe trip and enjoy.Recommend

  • Asad Baig

    Thank you for your kind words and appreciation.Hope you can come again in the future and have an even better time in Karachi and see other places too.I will suggest you to please try visiting and see some of the most awesome places in the North of Pakistan like Naran Valley,Swat Valley,Gilgit,Skardu-Baltistan to name a few on your next visit if you can.I have visited some of these places myself and I will highly recommend these to those who have not seen them.Pakistan is blessed with some of the Finest Natural Beauty in the World which is Second to None.Recommend

  • Ame

    This is so wonderful! Is that Subul with you in the picture, shes my cousin, haha, what a small world :) I’m so glad you liked Pakistan, and there are some hopeful patriots out there..we hope and pray that one day Pakistan will go back to what it used to be when we were kids, Inshallah!Recommend

  • Nehan Khalid

    A really nice article. And really its a fact that most of the foreigners having heard alot of bad stuff about Pakistan actually fall in love with it after spending some tym here with its beautiful people. I am a proud Pakistani. I can never give up my hope in this country and its people. Thanks for sharing this experience and loving my country…:)Recommend

  • Lelouch

    Loved your article. “Named after a car” – I bet you get a lot of toyota corolla.
    But in all seriousness, a good holistic piece. I hope people like you spread word of how our country’s only aim isn’t extremism.
    Welcome to Pakistan and all hail Pakistan!Recommend

  • Pakistani in US

    It’s great that you feel this way Carola, but you really don’t know about our hypocritical face, yet. Which is really the root of all evils and we are good at hiding it. That face is everything that you would never want to set foot in Pakistan again. Believe me when I say this, because it might not be all of us but there is an overwhelming majority who are violent bigots of the highest order. God save rest of the world from my people.Recommend

  • nasir

    Its shame on pakistanis . Get rid f ur complexes and look at the positive sides of ur country. This will help you overcome the negatiesRecommend

  • Ghazanfar Bashir

    Dear

    If all Pakistanis live a normal life and one point

    EVERY BODY HAS A RIGHT TO LIVE……no poking

    When u interact with other nationals the always take a positive note.Only problem is not to OBEY ALLAH but mullah.Recommend

  • Grace

    @Ali: I think you have your own demons to exorcise man! This woman came to Pakistan and is speaking of the warmth, generosity and beauty of our land and you turn it into some sort of diatribe against colonialism? Why not appreciate the sentiment? If it is any consolation to you, I had an African friend of mine come from Kenya to Islambad and Lahore last year and he had a great time- and yes despite his not having “white skin”. You forget that despite the instability in the region due to scourge of extremism in most of the Muslim world, most Pakistanis remain the most genuine of hosts and we love our country by showing off our natural sites of beauty. And yes there are plenty of Pakistanis like me who continue to celebebrate all that is great in this country without ignoring our challenges.Recommend

  • Ali

    You made me feel good about my country :) I try not to lose hope and that is what all of us should do.Recommend

  • AS

    THANK YOU sooooo much carola…..you give us hope ..much love and blessing for you :))Recommend

  • Tazz

    Phew! At last, we’ve found someone who likes us. Recommend

  • Indian Sultan

    I love you too =) =DRecommend

  • sajid

    hmmmm.love itRecommend

  • Saad ullah

    A well written article! But Pak looks gud when u have to just visit it for some time, and not live here permanently!!
    Settling here and spending the entire life here is completely different!

    Though i agree that a handful of people have destroyed the country. Im still hopeful that it has a potential to improve very rapidly!
    Just 1 term of a good government (possibly PTI) and im sure it will stand up!Recommend

  • Hioctane

    None of the reasons were enough to really believe why you fell in love with Pakistan and not Thailand or India or Malaysia. People dont really care if you like or hate pakistan. I know a zillion others like you who visited and never wanted to spend their vacation money again on a trip to pakistan. Have you considered moving to Pakistan at all? I say this article would make sense if you had moved permanently to pakistan. Its easy to give people hope who do not have a choice but to live in pakistan. If they had a choice do you think they would still live there? I’m amazed by people like you who pose to give hope to people that dont have a choice like you do.Recommend

  • Asma

    “…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…” it reallly touched my heart. not just this phrase but the whole article was a pleasure to read. thanx for being unbiased and if i am not wrong we paki ppl also dont hate any country bcoz yes the politicians or the govt. doesnt form the country, its the peopl who do. Recommend

  • Mani

    @Abu Bakr:
    We can always complain about those handful of evil people but the truth is that 170 million good people have enabled those people to take advanrage of us and destroy the sysem. Just wait till the next election and see who wins again.Recommend

  • Umer

    Very nicely written.
    Puts the rest of the native bloggers here to shame: who thrive of writing nothing but negative things about Pakistan, Recommend

  • Noor

    You seem to be a nice & good Girl, who does feel & think out of box, i.e, things other than what media is all about & after.

    I would request fellow Pakistanis to learn to enjoy, appreciate & promote national tourism; which if you experience is better that any other part of world. The feelings enjoyed by the writer are to be felt by every one of us, especially those who flee this country for one reason or the other.

    If we don’t appreciate & build this country, who else will do it.

    Lets build a better Pakistan, its our homeland & home to our next generations. We can never be a first grade citizen in any other country of the world, let it be a Muslim, Arab, Far-eastern, European or American city.Recommend

  • Subul

    @Hioctane:
    As a friend of Carola’s i thought i would let you know that she IS moving to Karachi permanently after falling in love with our country. There is no need to be bitter about someone who is praising Pakistan when we ourselves dont have much to say about it. We should accept the admiration graciously and be proud of our nation. Recommend

  • Fasih Khan

    Great Thoughts …. Thank you Carola for the kind words. You enjoy your stay : )Recommend

  • ashok sai
  • Ali Tanoli,

    @ Carola
    You are not only who in love with pakistan there is some body else who lives in peshawer
    whole his life after came in 70s as a hippy mountain treller he sarts loving this country and
    latter he went to Deoband Madrassa and study islam he is only englishman who study at
    Deoband after him might be some more i dont remember know and his name is Mr John butt sahab,.Recommend

  • Adil Mulki

    Thanks…merci…xe xe.. danke…shukran… for taking out the time to write this :)
    I am working on a project to show more of Pakistan’s beauty to open-minded audiences such as yourself.Recommend

  • SaimaBaig

    Thanks such a nice blog. This blog is ever amazing.

    Orange County Tax ReliefRecommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    You are a pollysci major, who has spent her live in various localities in Europe, and are young, and were visiting Pakistan.

    You are a spy, aren’t you? ;DRecommend

  • http://fahadrnk.wordpress.com/ Fah

    Loved your article.. high 5 :DRecommend

  • http://jaan4u.blog.com jaan

    Thanks for such a great tribute.

    Recommend

  • rabiya

    carola, enjoyed your article. thats why pakistan is always home for everyone regardless of where you are from. the next time you come we’ll throw you a welcome home party.Recommend

  • Zoha Jabbar

    I loved this post! Thank you for moving past all that political stuff and not believing the generalizations about Pakistan. Wish there were more people like you, Carola :)Recommend

  • Huzaifa

    About the problem of speaking Urdu – it is good that you are feeling uncomfortable with purely Urdu speaking people. I’ll repeat, it is good that you are feeling uncomfortable. I personally feel that the people around you would always want to talk to you in your language, in fact they love to speak in your language among themselves as well. People of Pakistan have an inferiority complex – that the lack of the ability of speaking English is hindering their progress in this world, making them less sociable in their group of friends e.t.c. The other day I was sitting on the bench in F9 Park in Islamabad and two guys around me were discussing the same problem. In fact, one of them was speaking in English and urging the other do speak in English with him, and his response was, “yaar mein kaise boloun”, while the other kept on urging him, giving arguments which were of no importance, at least for me. The good part is that may be you made your friends and us realize that national language is something really important for everyone.Recommend

  • lubna

    :) thanks ! and yes this place does have a certain positivity that people are in love with… here and abroad.. but mostly those realize it who leave Pakistan and then return.. Recommend

  • Ahmed Munir

    shame on all the cynical comment here! What do you people want from the world? If someone gets nice to you, you have a problem…..hen someone cuts your aid that a problem. If you have lost all self respect inside you then there is no reason to discourage other, this just shows you have nothing better to do except to spread disharmony and disturb the peace of mind of other. Yes, there is weakness in our country and there is a security threat… but there is also goodness in our heart and the will to live peacefully…we are country who have fought more wars in 60 years than others in centuries…the seed of distrust is buried many times by our own. at the end of the day, either you are here to pluck the seek out or spread it. I, for one am proud of every common man who in troubled times has the strength to go out and work hard all day..that alone should be enough to drown you in your misery.
    @ Carola: Thank you so much for everything. This meant a lot!Recommend

  • Omaidus

    After reading dozans of articles in tribune, I felt a strong urge to leave reply to this heart touching article, from not a DESI but a GORI, unexpectidly have no words to explain my feelings, one thing what i personally found by exploring my country is that people do not hate each other, sindh’s adore Lahore, balochi’s work in sindh and punjab, and many other things i have noted, but no hate.Recommend