Abbottabad, balakot, burqa, chador, chapli kabab, conservative, in-laws, Islamabad, Karachi, Khwendo Kor, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, malakand, malam jabba, Mardan, Maryam Bibi, murrey, National Geographic, NGO, Nokhaar, Nowshera, pakhtun, Pakistan, Pakistan tour, Pashto, pashtun, Rawalpindi, shuttlecock burqa, Social Policy and Development Centre, SPDC, Swat, village
So, I’m finally back in Canada after being away for a month and a half in Pakistan; and even though it’s been four days since I’ve been back, my mind (and heart) is still back home.
I admit when I was first booking my flight to visit the motherland after being away for 17 years, I certainly did not have very high expectations, if at all. As a matter of fact, I was dreading it. I was, however, very excited about spending some quality time with my incredible in-laws (whom I adore to death and miss terribly right now), but other than that, I wasn’t expecting much. I also admit that most of the reason for my lack of expectations had to do with what I’ve been reading in the news and watching on TV lately. I mean there was always so much negativity around the reasons why I shouldn’t visit Pakistan, you know? And that, I guess, reached a point where my family just never bothered to go back and visit. And now that I think about it, it was wrong of us to assume something when we hadn’t experienced it ourselves. Not everything we read or see in the media is the truth, and that’s exactly what I witnessed when I went to Pakistan. Yes, there is no denying that the situation in some areas of Pakistan, especially the major cities such as Karachi, Peshawar, etc. is quite dire, but it wasn’t as bad as the media had depicted.
Anyway, I personally thoroughly enjoyed my trip. In fact, I loved it so much that it was very difficult to leave and come back to Canada. We’d actually planned to go for a month, but Abaseen and I loved it so much over there that we decided to extend our stay there for an extra two weeks. And sadly, those two weeks went by so quickly! One of the things I loved most is that I feel like I learned so much in such a short amount of time (yes, a month and a half is a very short time). There was so much to see, so much to learn, so much to experience, and so much to realize about myself, as well as this new world around me, that many a times Che’s beautiful words rang in my head, “How can I feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?” Indeed, I’d stepped into a world I’d never known before, nor experienced before. It was all so new and mysterious to me. And yet, I’d often feel nostalgic. I especially felt this nostalgia when my husband, in-laws, and I went to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and more specifically, in Abaseen’s home village of Nokhaar (also known as Nowshera). I, for the first time in my life, experienced what it’s truly like to live in a kalli (village) among a people I’d seen in documentaries/news or read in books; and to experience life with them. I wore the clothes they wore; I ate the food they ate; I acted the way they did; and although, I admit, I felt a little suppressed at times, I knew not to complain about it. Because as they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I will definitely go more in depth about the lives of women in the kalli, in my journal entries that I shall be posting over the course of the next few weeks.
The most interesting thing is that not once did I feel any iota of culture shock while I was there. I mean I guess I was expecting the worse, ‘cause I’m not going to lie, but compared to places like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is very conservative. In fact, it is so conservative that women even cover up in front of men that their husbands know! I remember how whenever we would sometimes visit relatives within the kalli “neighbourhood,” and each time we’d step outside of the gate, an aunt would suddenly tell me to cover my face, so that their husband’s male friends won’t see our faces. I found that so odd, but I will explain later on in my journals why that was the case. So, as much as I loved being in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, one drawback that almost ruined it for me was the fact that women were constantly covered up in huge chadors and shuttlecock burqas almost everywhere I looked. My reader needs to understand that I absolutely loathe the shuttlecock burqa. To me, it’s the most despicable and most hideous piece of garment ever. It not only demeans the woman, but it demeans the woman as a human being. So, it was very distressing to constantly be exposed to that. And every time we went to the markets, the men would stare at us like as if they’d never seen a woman before. Even little boys, barely 12 or 13 years old, would drop everything they were doing to turn around and leer at us (by us, I mean my mother-in-law and I). That, too, was very disturbing; I mean to think that young boys were also conditioned into thinking that women were nothing but pieces of flesh to be gawked and ogled at.
But, anyway, besides these drawbacks, I felt extremely comfortable there. After all, it was home (well my beloved Canada will always be my home too, but still)! The most beautiful thing about Pashtun culture and Pashtuns is their wonderful hospitality! They all treated me with so much adoration, respect and kindness, and gosh, they’d literally serve us food and tea every few hours! If I hadn’t gotten sick (I had some weird stomach flu, so every time I ate something, I’d end up puking it up), I know I would have relished the delectable food. But alas! Though, the very first day we arrived to the kalli, they served us authentic Peshawari style chapli kababs and they were so incredibly delicious! I am not big on meat, but I know I can never stop eating it, especially when it comes to chapli kababs. Yum!
However, our trip was not only limited to meeting relatives, incredible food, and shopping markets. My father-in-law – the amazing human that he is – decided to take us all on a road trip! We went to see very beautiful and stunning places like Malakand, Malam jabba, Balakot, Murrey, Abbotabad, and we almost went to Islamabad, but unfortunately that didn’t happen as we got stuck in Rawalpindi, due to a road strike of some sort. And, yes, I’ll explain that too later on.
I also managed to speak and meet local NGOs for my thesis research. And doing any sort of work on my thesis was barely on the agenda. I mean I did think about it, but then my advisor emailed me, and because I had very limited access to the net, most of the communication was done through phone. I was even fortunate enough to get the honour and privilege to speak to brilliant women like Maryam Bibi — the founder of the Pashtun NGO called Khwendo Kor. And if all goes well, I could be working with her, as she will be serving as my mentor! Bliss!
Of course, this trip was mainly to spend some quality time with my in-laws and relatives, and get the opportunity to tour the country; but I can now say that I’ve seen 70 per cent of Pakistan! Yay! It has always been my life-long dream to tour Pakistan, especially Pakhtunkhwa, so I am very happy about that. Seriously, if I’d known how breath-taking Pakhtunkhwa is, I never would have taken this long to visit! I mean whenever I think about places like Balakot and Malam Jabba, I keep having to remind myself that it was real – those beautiful mountains, the water, the people – it was all REAL! And I got to see it all through my own eyes! Malam Jabba literally looked like a picture from National Geographic! It was absolutely breath-taking! I’ll definitely share pics, so be patient, dear readers!
Gosh, coming back to reality is tough. Really it is. After being around people who showered me with so much genuine love and affection, especially my in-laws, and then meeting people in and around the neighbourhood where we lived in Karachi, who were just as sweet and kind to me, it really makes me sad that I had to leave so soon. I was actually very close to calling my university and telling them that I’m going to stay in Pakistan for another four or five months to work on my research, but then I realized I needed to complete my coursework, before I could spend time away from the university. Plus, this semester I might be presenting at two conferences and assisting a professor with a book, so I couldn’t afford to let those opportunities go by. But, I guess, in a way it’s nice to be back to my old life and my old routine. I know it will take a while to get back into the groove of things, ‘cause the sooner that happens the better, as this semester I am working with a program called SPSS (IBM), and so far of what I’ve seen of it, it looks brutal! So, I really have to push and motivate myself, ‘cause I have to admit, when I start missing my in-laws or thinking about my trip, I get really depressed and distract myself by either looking at the millions of pictures we took, or the videos we made. Seriously, these are memories that will last a lifetime.
I hope to go back to Pakistan again. Very soon. Definitely within 2012. And this time when I go back, it will solely be to do my research and fieldwork.
I can hardly wait.