This past weekend I had my faith in the goodness of people restored.
You know when you live in a foreign country and you get tired of the staring? Of covering your shoulders and behind with long clothing and still having men scan the length of your body with a gaze that somehow mergers curiosity and perversion? Of having local women request pictures by aggressively blocking your path while you’re on a run? Of not being able to stop and have a cup of chai without being swarmed by 30 plus local on lookers? And of course, of being stopped at check-points for excessively long periods of time to be asked ‘oh-so-relevant’ questions like ‘How long have you been married?’ and ‘What is your salary in Pakistani Rupees?’.
All this was getting under my skin. It was like putting on gray tinted sunglasses and unconsciously starting to see and expect the worst in people. Thankfully, some recent experiences shook this up and I remembered how uplifting it is to see the goodness in others. For your visualizing pleasure: the context of this perspective shake up was on a local cultural tour that boasted an impressively varied group of nationalities. There were people from Taiwan, China, Brazil, Belgium, Malaysia, Pakistan and Canada. We were all dressed in local, traditional Lahori clothing (including skirt like garments for the men) and riding around the city on a Tonga – the local word for a horse drawn carriage. It was mob making! Traffic stopping! And pure (though some what exhausting) fun.
Naturally, along the way we attracted attention; the difference being that the majority of this attention was positive. People politely requested our pictures and thanked us after, motorcyclists yelled passing welcomes, the stand out comment being, “Welcome to Pakistan! We are not terrorists! We are brothers!”, and Neil received countless thumbs ups regarding his ankle length male Pakistani skirt. Another difference was, having no Urdu tucked under my belt, there were Pakistani friends there to translate. So many of the stares that sometimes feel uncomfortable were articulated into welcomes, questions and praise. We ventured through one neighborhood in the Walled City that’s narrow ally ways defined sparkly in a well-done effort to celebrate the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday. Here, we were invited into homes, asked to take pictures, given rose necklaces and repeatedly told that we should consider this place our home and these people our family. A little forward for having just met, but the message was clear: we were welcome.
This brings me to a minor diversion – Pakistan is a tourist’s gold mine. It has repeatedly been claimed by Lonely Planet to ‘be the next big thing’ but repeatedly security concerns have knocked this claim from actualization. Lonely Planet speaks the truth! All those adventure seekers looking for the next ‘authentic’ place, not changed or crowded by the effects of tourism, are missing Pakistan. This may be another topic for another time, but perhaps I can peak your interest in visiting? Friends? Family? When more peaceful times take their place here, Pakistan’s doors will open and this country will quickly become a different beast.
Many thanks to these people pictured below (and more not pictured) for helping me view this world with more compassion and less reaction. You are what makes Pakistan a meaningful place to visit – not for your mountains or scenery, your history or culture but for your hospitality and hearts.