Moving to Pakistan: My rational fears

Published: December 14, 2010
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I have been both reassured and cautioned by my Pakistani contacts.

A photo of my dog, Booger. I have been both reassured and cautioned by my Pakistani contacts.

As newspapers report more blasts every day, and as one of those blasts killed a would-be colleague, I have to admit it, I’m scared of moving to Pakistan.

And I’m defenseless. I don’t speak Urdu or Punjabi or Pashtu or any language except English and a poor smattering of Spanish. I’m American, and I look American. I’m female and tiny. My only defenses are my wits, and as my last post proved, those are sometimes off-mark. My friends and especially my family implore me—why are you going?

I often wonder if I should have been an artist rather than a journalist. These days both seem to be similarly impractical career choices, and one is a whole lot safer. As an artist, you can seem edgy, dangerous, flashy and exciting without actually putting yourself in danger. As a journalist, you can be bored and boring, even, while putting yourself in tremendous danger. I’m not sure the adrenaline is worth it, and sometimes I wonder if my contribution has any value. There are so many voices commanding greater knowledge than my own.

Am I foolhardy, guided by ego, to go and do and see and have people feign respect for my willingness to take these risks? If I’m not genuinely offering a fresh perspective, my efforts are merely a waste of everybody’s resources—most of all, my own.

I move constantly. I’ve been in Starkville, Mississippi nearly a year, which is about how long I stay anywhere.

I’m cozy here, doing my little PR job for a university, curling up to watch movies with my cats, dog and the best roommate ever, baking cupcakes for holiday parties and dropping in on my family just because, blogging under the tiny twinkly lights strung around my bedroom, crafting things, experimenting with vintage analogue cameras, stocking my etsy.com shop.

I’m not restless yet, but I’m leaving anyway. And half-hoping that Pakistan will change everything, that it will be the beginning of my life as an international correspondent, that I will receive fellowships and grants and assignments and clamber the world over, filtering my water and living out of a backpack.

And I’m half-hoping I can return to things just as they are—roommate, pets, crafting.

I’ve read about Pakistani culture and I want to see everything, but will I be able to travel by myself, to trust people? Will I immerse myself in the culture or will I hole away in my flat, too paranoid to make the most out of this extraordinary (for most Westerners) experience?

If I truly consider the situation, everything’s threatening. My biggest concerns are obvious—random violence, kidnapping and ransom, laws I can’t comprehend, fears I don’t even want to write. But even simple things, like drinking water, could harm me.

Recently, I met a handful of amazing Pakistanis, even in my little Mississippi town. I correspond by email with Pakistani contacts. I have been both reassured and cautioned by all of these people.

I’m not backing out of this fellowship. I won’t let paranoia define my choices.

But I do think I should come clean. I’m American, and I’m sheltered— and no, those traits aren’t synonymous, and yes, they’re correlated. And as much as Pakistan fascinates me, it also seems alien and perilous. And then, in creeps the paranoia…

cheree.franco

Cheree Franco

A graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School and fellow for The Express Tribune. She writes about art and culture for Juxtapoz magazine and blogs at chereefranco.wordpress.com.

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