From Palestine to Chitral: Miracles do happen

Published: November 16, 2013
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It may seem ironic to promote tourism in Pakistan by writing about a natural disaster; but the level of hospitality that I experienced in Chitral surpassed any hospitality that I have experienced anywhere else in the world. PHOTO: ABDULLAH SAAD

In an age in which reading or watching the news is enough to turn any normal human being into a raging lunatic or a hardened cynic, the smallest piece of good news is often like a breath of fresh air and can do wonders for restoring a positive outlook on life.

Rooftops near North Jerusalem. Photo: Abdullah Saad

I am originally a Palestinian from Jerusalem, and like many Palestinians, I suffer (or perhaps benefit) from a severe case of Wanderlust.

Dome of the Rock. Photo: Abdullah Saad

This means that we have to remain on the move because, as a nation that is mostly made up of refugees, hardly any countries present themselves as warm hosts.

People gathering around Masjid Al Aqsa on Eid. Photo: Abdullah Saad

It humbled me that during my time in Pakistan, I felt very welcome no matter where I went. Little experiences I’ve had here and there led me to think about the world in a more positive way, but personally experiencing a human miracle, however, can permanently instil a positive outlook in a person.

The Apartheid Wall. Photo: Abdullah Saad

My visit to Chitral at the end of August was one such miracle.  Although I suffered the misfortune of being victim to a flood and landslide simultaneously, I was also witness to one of the greatest shows of humanity that I have experienced.

Chitral’s scenery. Photo: Abdullah Saad

When I told my family and friends that I was headed to Pakistan, I was told that if I had to go, I should avoid the “dangerous North” of the country. There is a long history of Arabs having gone to the North of Pakistan and having their lives turned around. My namesake, Abdullah Azzam, was one such Arab who originally arrived in Pakistan as a teacher, but upon his death was known as “the father of global Jihad”.

A beautiful town in Chitral. Photo: Abdullah Saad

It did not help that he was also a Palestinian. This is not to mention, however, the infamous Osama Bin Laden, who hid in the north of the country for years; another Arab experience that shapes the view that my compatriots have of Pakistan and its northern regions.

Despite the fact that I left Chitral with damaged ankle ligaments, my life changed for the better over there. I went there as a typically cynical student of political science and left having experienced a marvel that changed the way I viewed human nature.

My arrival in Chitral was different from my arrival in Lahore roughly six weeks earlier. Contrary to my visit to the colourful city of Lahore, I had no knowledge of Chitral and its culture, and I went on my own rather than accompanied by a Pakistani. At the airport, I was received by Amaar, my Chitrali host. Even though I did not know what he looked like or who he was, it was not very difficult for us to locate each other. To my surprise, he greeted me with a huge, welcoming hug, as if we were long-lost friends rather than new acquaintances!

Chitral airport. Photo: Abdullah Saad

The first thing I did on my arrival, as all foreigners are required to do, was register with the police in order to be assigned a police escort. I was accompanied by the police escort over the next couple of days, as I explored the area around Amaar’s village – the quaint and quiet Garam Chashma, aptly named for its hot spring.

Garam Chashma. Photo: Abdullah Saad

I could spend hours writing about the breathtaking scenery surrounding Chitral and the activities that we undertook during my stay; but frankly the highlight of my trip was the response to a heavy storm on the evening before my return to Islamabad.

Storm clouds. Photo: Abdullah Saad

During the day we had hired a car and driven to Bomboret Village, a part of the Kalash Valley, which is possibly the most unique area in Pakistan due to the Kalash people’s preservation of their own distinctive culture.

Kalash Museum. Photo: Abdullah Saad

Kalash women in traditional attire. Photo: Abdullah Saad

In the evening, just as we were getting ready for our return to Chitral Town, heavy clouds began to gather on the horizon. In just an hour, we found ourselves in the midst of the worst storm I have ever seen, stuck in sloppy mud somewhere near Bomboret. The sheer force with which mud was hitting the side of our car made us realise that there was a good chance of our car falling into the river running parallel to the track.

A Chitral town. Photo: Abdullah Saad

Hence, we decided that the only thing to do was to abandon the car and remain on the move until we found some shelter. We left the car and started walking together, but due to the gathering darkness and heavy rain getting into our eyes, many of us got separated. After some time, I realised that I was alone and to make matters worse, I did not have my glasses or any light to guide me; not that I would have known which direction to go in, anyway.

Eventually, after sloshing through mud and trying to stay on my feet, I came across two men, who thankfully turned out to be my police escorts. They literally held me by my arms and took me to a mosque, where I was greeted by an old Imam who later took me to his house. At the house, I was re-united with Amaar and the others in our group.

The group of men who saved me. Photo: Abdullah Saad

What followed was even more exceptional, with people coming to the Imam’s house with essentials such as fresh clothes, water and in my case, footwear. I was amazed by the fact that in spite of the terrible weather, the life-threatening travel conditions for those walking on foot, and the difficult terrain, people still came out to our aid.

A view from the hotel. Photo: Abdullah Saad

It was truly the most heart-warming and humbling experience of my life. Despite the language barrier, my injuries and lack of vision, I was simply revitalised by the sheer humanity and generosity of the people who helped me during this experience. It may seem ironic, not to mention downright perverse to attempt promoting tourism in Pakistan by writing about a natural disaster; but the level of hospitality that I experienced far surpassed any hospitality that I have experienced anywhere else in the world.

Chitrali children. Photo: Abdullah Saad

It is incidents like these that make Pakistan what it is. For every disaster or crisis, there is always a great communal response, especially when guests are involved. However, these priceless incidents are hardly ever reported or appreciated. It is sad, as I told Amaar’s father that in England where I study, a man saving a dog from a flood makes the news, whereas in Pakistan, no news agency is interested in the rescue of a group of nine men, including a foreigner.

One of Methar’s castle. Photo: Abdullah Saad

To some extent this may partly be due to the fact that acts like these are considered normal by the helpful people of Pakistan and hence, nobody considers them newsworthy. However, I feel responsible as a writer who has personally experienced such amazing levels of concern and hospitality, to ensure that the story is told regardless.

A tiny part of me hopes that it helps restore some much-needed faith of people in humanity.

Abdullah Saad

Abdullah Saad

A Palestinian citizen who is currently studying for his BA in Political Science at a university in the UK. He spent the summer on an AIESEC exchange, worked on a Project called "Pakistan Tum He Tou Ho" to re-brand the image of Pakistan through writing about his experiences there. He tweets @AlShamataan (twitter.com/AlShamataan)

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

  • Fahad Raza

    My friend, My brother, You are most welcome always. Thank you for showing the bright side of the North side.Recommend

  • Muhammed Usama Aziz

    There are many stories like this but we only get to hear the negativeness from this media.

    Thank you sir for reporting this!Recommend

  • pkdesigns

    Nice Article!Recommend

  • Aheed Kamran

    Hey Abdullah this is amazing article and amazing tale of yours. awesome one Cheers BRO ….Recommend

  • Aurangzeb

    Thanks Abdullah, for showing a brighter side of Northern Pakistan to World. I wish U have more good time in Pakistan in your future stay. Best of Luck Man. Best Regards.Recommend

  • Pakistani

    Very Well Written. Thank You for visiting Pakistan.Recommend

  • Pappu

    I like this one. An arab in Pakistan with a different agenda!!Recommend

  • Parvez

    Simple, straight forward and effective. There is a lot of bad in the world and more in some places than others………but then as you so nicely show there is also much good, as well. If there was not, it would be quite pointless living.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Loved the Jack Black salute…….from one of my all time favourite movies.Recommend

  • Me

    Thank you Abdullah Saad for the very kind words. I am glad you enjoyed your stay.Recommend

  • charanjeet maan

    True Pakistan is its people and their culture. The small bigoted minority with the help of terrorists and illiterate mullahs have hijacked it . The Government have come to realize this now,and Pakistan will be Paksitan before too long.Amen!!Recommend

  • Joker

    First, You’re Indian. So you’re not welcomed or supposed to comment here. Second, You’re statement made no to little sense. What are you trying to say?Recommend

  • Ghufran Amir

    He was hosted by My cousin brother children during his stay in Chitral (a land of peace and harmony)…People from all other part of Pakistan must adopt the attributes of peace, harmony and patriotism from Chitralis…Recommend

  • Ghufran Amir

    He was hosted by my cousin brother children during his stay at Chitral (a land of harmony and peace). People from all other parts of Pakistan should adopts attributes of peace, harmony and patriotism from Chitralis…Recommend

  • Mumtaz

    Pakistan is not what the world is hearing about it on media, it is a country of diverse cultures and languages, every region has its own colors. Astoundingly beautiful and calm scenery, simplicity and hospitality are the colors of north. we will get rid of few fanatic extremists soon who have made my country notorious. once again the world will see the true colors of my country. Long live PakistanRecommend

  • Ayman Akaily

    So proud of you bro! Keep it up!Recommend

  • Tsunami

    Proud to be related ;P Awesome.Recommend

  • Ghafoor Jan

    My dear brother, I am sure you know that Palestinians are very close to the heart of every Pakistani. You are always in our prayers. Please visit us again anytime. Al-salam alykumRecommend

  • Kaplan

    Nice to hear you are not from those arabs who come to Pakistan for hunting or hiding.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    Levantine Arabs are quite different from Gulf Arabs.Recommend

  • NOOR KAHN

    So nice Sir being our venerable Visitor you have visitied Chitral & impressed by the hospitality, elegant manners & loyalism of Chitralis. It’s a proud-able for all of us being a Chitrali. Keep it up in future.Recommend

  • Be nice please when someone is saying a nice thing.Recommend

  • Adil Uddin

    He’s just saying something positive. What’s your problem with that?Recommend

  • Mufasa101

    You’re the one that sounds more absurd lol. He could also be a Pakistani Hindu you know?Recommend

  • el chor

    Joker, you’re ruining Saad’s effortsRecommend

  • el chor

    ya but who’ll show all those coulours. Media is too busy with politicians, talibans, army generals and analysts spitting hate all the time.Recommend

  • el chor

    One of my Dutch friend did silk route back in 90’s. he crossed Pakistan from Taftan to Wagha , I guess. He was so amazed with Pakistani hospitality. He said, once I slept in small village in a house , where there was just 1 bed . And he was offered bed , while the owner slept out side the house on a floor.Recommend

  • Mia

    Great article. Totally smashes the stereotypes many people have about Arabs in Pakistan. Recommend

  • True Karachiwala

    100% agreedRecommend

  • anmol

    nice positive article after a long time!! I wish to visit that place too!!Recommend

  • anmol

    nice article!Recommend

  • anmol

    i wish to visit the place too!Recommend