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Pakistan: Evolving, Revolving Or Dissolving?
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Travel1 month ago

Pakistan: Evolving, Revolving Or Dissolving?

(Instalment one)

Pakistan: Evolving, Revolving or Dissolving?

So to say, after visiting Pakistan almost 8 years back, and returning to the place right now, I HAVE Found MUCH TO BE DIFFERENT. Some improved, some advanced and some lost. But today’s questions are not about the incredible progress the progressive government has attained, but what it is like to live here. Many so-called “youtubers”, the modern day, self made journalistic freelancers, have visited Pakistan. They stayed, they were shocked, but for most of the part they have been surprised, to find a very different place, than the one portrayed in the public media spectrum.

My journey is to live here- to become a functioning part of the society. And to do so I have come to do all that it takes to live a daily life. From basic groceries shopping, to driving my kids to and from school, and ironically, the intensively challenging, to deal with the newly acquired concept of the home staff, otherwise locally known as servants (larkas).

Looking back at myself, I find it hard to believe how different I saw my life here. I saw woman’s life more suppressed, I had a fear for my children and my safety, and I could not imagine myself living fully functional life in a “backwards” place such as Pakistan. And to my defense, Pakistan was a very strange place back in 2014, when we got to spend 2 months traveling, and just so to be clear, very much enjoying Pakistan and all it had to offer. Pakistan was mysterious, Pakistan was shocking, and it was filled with adventure. The ancient marketplaces, with old pieces of fabric stretched over like tent roofs, guarding the shoppers from the intense afternoon sun. Stanger smells and sounds all around, sneaking up on you at every passage, mysteriously scary dust storms that have the ability to turn midday sun harshness into secretive afternoon dusk. Sounds like a perfect place for an adventure, and so it was. However the idea of permanently settling in a place like that sounded more like a chapter from a One thousand and One night’s story book, rather than life’s reality.

Coming back to what I recall from my previous visit, I often remembered Pakistan with nostalgia, with a sense of vacation, with a sense of new but old, familiar but foreighn. As if somewhere deep inside, I have come to love and long for the place, but to my own stubbornness I could not accept the fact that I was calling for me to come back and I was longing for it sincerely.

And here I am, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was running its full second year of swing in Canada, We packed up our bags, and with uncertainty of coming back, and even greater uncertainty of our destination, we left.

To the very last moment when I was sitting on the plane, watching the snowy runway through the small frosted airplane window, I was remaining oblivious that my life is about to change. It felt like a dream, as if I will be waking up in the morning and life will be back to normal, where I will go down the stairs, start my coffee maker, brew a cup of fine Espresso, and do last night dishes while watching the snowfall out my dining room window. But that did not happen…

I will never forget the heat that hits your whole being, when you walk out the airport door in Lahore. The smell of the humidity, dust, pollution, gasoline, and food. The chatter of people that seem to be one hundred times more intense than the one at the arrivals in Canada. The sudden ecstasy subdues you, not sure if that is the jetlag, or the environment, but a sense of the surreal is dense to the point where it becomes hard to grasp whether the whole experience is part of the dream or a reality.

Chapter One

So let’s smear Pakistan before (and by before I mean Pakistan 2014).

As to be expected, I was highly apprehensive to go to Pakistan, especially with my two younger children being two and five month old. The trip was planned by Khan, and we booked the tickets almost a year in advance when I was still very much pregnant with our youngest son. This way we had enough time to settle into an idea of spending two month in Pakistan with Khan’s family and save enough to be able to explore some of the breathtaking places Pakistan had been famous for.

In early October we packed our bags and we went from a midnight storm with a blowing blizzard, into a midnight heat and humidity fiesta at the Lahore airport. Khan often reminds me of my first expressions of mine, when we finally got to feel the hot midnight air hit our bodies, and my expression of “ holy S**T”, where deep inside I was already wondering how we are going to bear two whole months here.

But Pakistan did not disappoint. Just like many other tourists we experienced the stares, the questions, and the hospitality of the local people. Everyone was picture perfect, friendly and welcoming. I came to the point that Pakistani people are very different from the Pakistani immigrants in Canada. But about that, we will talk later…

Pakistan was wild; there were no traffic laws, no street lights, rickshaws decorated and an extraordinary amount of “bling”, light and music. The spectacular truck on highways, handcrafted with personalized paintings and bedazels. Wild birds, greenery and farm lands. Pakistan was full of life, full of sounds, full of energy.

In some way it felt like a flood of people, all dressed in the best form of self expressions and color. The languages, which sounded so profoundly unfamiliar to my ear. The dust, the dirt, the mystery and the euphoria all synchronously played a symphony that was so foreign, but so easy to fall for. And that was my new found love for this place, called Pakistan.

Chapter two

Up on leaving…

Taking in consideration all the mixed feelings and apprehension when coming, the most surprising reaction was the reaction to leaving Pakistan. I was hysterical in tears while boarding the plane. I could not stop crying. The sense of loosing something newly discovered was torturing me. I was already missing it all. From the environment that previously seemed so frightening and unfamiliar, to people that seem to love you without even knowing much about you, to the excruciating heat that felt at times unbearable. All of that I was strongly attached to, and kept longing, before the airplane had even lifted off the runway of Lahore.

Chapter three

Forward to the present…

Contrary to my beliefs after a pretty typical first experience in Pakistan for vacation, Pakistan now seems a very adaptable place, but to get to that it takes a complete reset on lifestyle and mindset. This place functions so differently. A good example, specifically coming from western part of the world, is the way office systems work. For as many encounters as I have had so far, you still pay for the majority of things in cash. The flow of currency is enormous, conventional or unconventional, you cannot survive a day without having cash in your wallet, as so few places credit or debit card is accepted as a form of payment. Let me right away give a correction to that though, many big brand stores and supermarkets do accept even an international card as a form of payment, but to buy simple vegetables on the side of the road or even a soft drink at the roadside stall, is not possible. For basic needs, one does require to have open, small bill cash. That felt like an inconvenience for some time, as in Canada, we often go days or even weeks without having even split change handy. Over time, I have adopted to Idea that it is most convenient to only use cash, simply because it is accepted everywhere.

Now talking about the cash flow. It is somewhat insane how little the value money has in one place versus the other. The most fluent bill seems to be a thousand rupee paper bill. It is worth, depending on the exchange rate, around seven dollars American. With that amount of money you can go and buy enough vegetables, rice and meat to cook a pretty decent meal for your family. On the contrary, if you were to go to a coffee shop, the same thousand rupees will hardly get you two decent cups of coffee. Money works its way around in an ambiguous way. Not to be blindsided, there is also a very great class dynamic that seems to be proceeding from somewhat ancient times, where extreme poverty plays along and in between excessive wealth. A peculiar system, so fitted to the typicality of a description of a third world country ( although I do not feel as Third World Country is a suitable description to what Pakistan truly is).

So poverty definitely is here, it’s all around you, there are people begging on the street corner, people suffering from diseases, and living permanently in tent cities in any open lot you may see along the roads. In contradiction, it is not uncommon at all so see vehicles such as Toyota Land Cruiser, driven around. To what I have been told, they can cost over three or four “crore” (otherwise 300 million rupees), which is close to three hundred thousand dollars, which quite literally can buy you a single family home in Canada. There is simply no way I can convince myself that someone has that time and effort to save up such an amount by earning an average office job salary of one hundred thousand rupees a month. That shows that Pakistan’s economic status has many layers and sublayers. There always is someone richer than you and definitely someone who is more poor in every matter.

Chapter five

On the difference between Pakistani Immigrants and locals…

To no offense to people I have met, the immigrants in Canada have very different feelings than the people you interact with here. In an assumption I’m tempted to say, that Pakistanis here, have a very strong sense of belonging to their land. They have the strength to love and defend their country regardless of all the aspects they do not like about this place. It somewhat feels as they feel more rooted, they have a sense of ownership for the land and the nation, which they may not ever find in any other place that they choose to call home. As many people I have as friends in Canada, they are never shy to share their love for Pakistan. They sense of loneliness in Canada, and often frustration about it. However there is always the sense of longing to go back to their roots, as every other place is just a temporary stop on the journey home.

The society that is so alive, so involved and so vibrant truly engulfs you eternally. There are moments of frustration as to how quickly rumors and news spread not only in the extended family but even in the neighborhood. And most Ironically people simply love to communicate, neighbors visiting each other, people stopping by for a quick chat, servants telling stories from homes around while doi9ng their morning duties. Information flows, right, wrong. It does not always matter, it travels, encourages communication, and creates one of the two best time passes: “drama” and political chats.

Chapter Six

On Pakistanis and politics…

By no means can I claim to be a political analyst. As a matter of fact I always feel somewhat frustrated with the political conversations between Pakistanis in Canada. It almost felt as if they showed no interest in what was happening in the Canadian Cabinet, local news or Canadian political field at all. I have come to realize that news and electoral politics in Canada truly is dull in comparison to Pakistani political “Drama”. Where once every five years, a party comes in, sets a budget, someone makes an issue for a week, and it all goes back under the carpet, for a long time. You will often see half naked Tudou jogging and crashing an outdoor wedding, which makes an enormous blast online, or hear about another million dollars smuggled offshore by a famous politician. And we are back to small city based stories that no one seem to care much for.

Now let’s talk Politics in Pakistan. As stubborn as I have been to my desire, I am completely uninvolved in what is happening between Zardari and Navaz Sharif. I have become surprisingly involved in the news updates that are sure to bring a fresh sense of unstable reality to every dinner table in the country. There is a sign floating at the top of your TV screen, visually screaming in red: “Breaking news”. And that is a completely normal daily occurrence; breaking news appears on every channel, covering Pakistan cabinet, elections, political scandals and so on. It can be difficult to comprehend the amount of friction and change that is surrounding this small country. The political opinion highly varies in the society, but for the most part majority has shifted towards the idea of emerging new Pakistan, as many of not most have grown to have exhausted their patience for the lack of advancement and forward movement. Just to put in perspective, eleven million people, in three days, have attended the peaceful protest over recent government change, expressing their dissatisfaction, without having riots, police or army involvement, or any extensive harm to property not society. Now that is mind bending at the very least.

It would be greatly sarcastic to say that I have been pulled into the political playfield drama of Pakistan, by the overwhelming exposure to all the positive changes that have occurred with the Tehreek-e-Insaf government’s short but prominent run in parliament. But I have gotten to whiteness the massive improvement first hand. The journeys up north highlighted extensive development in KPK province, which has been neglected for a long time, just to shine ever brighter with its tourist services, new massive highways development, and overall outstanding cleanness and level of respect. I did expect KPK to be one of the toughest places to travel as a woman and visitor, but to my surprise I did feel the most welcomed and comfortable. As to popular belief, that Pakistan is not a safe place, I do feel almost offended when hearing that “Mythology”. Not for a single moment have I felt unsafe nor in any form of danger being here. I feel safe, I feel surrounded by people willing to help, and I feel at home.

Political playfield of Pakistan can be an exciting conversation piece, and to many Pakistanis it is a daily routine. People are filled with emotions, and opinions on how the country is doing and what should be done. It is not wrong to say that in this country people hold the power, while the government structure is shifting and changing in front of their very eyes. It is addictive, it is fascinating and hard to stand without a sense of involuntary involvement, and for the most part progress is there and it is visible to the naked eye. Given all the political atrocities, this country is moving forward, like a ship sailing through unfamiliar waters, destined for its glorious destination, some day…

Chapter Seven

The land of mysterious Shangri-La…

Here I am referring to the lost Himalayan city of Shangri-La, whined with eternally breathtaking beauty, wealth and mystery. A famous fairy tale, surrounding a so -called lost city, has lingered and made its way to many tales, hinting of its existence, in a world where each and every corner of the earth has been explored, and there seems to be nothing else to be found. Emerging at thru the bright light at the end of few mile long tunnels, spectacular valley views, contrasted by rocky mountain peaks, that seem to pierce the skies, descending into turquoise glacier lakes, as if heaven itself is descending upon the earth. Not sure if the part of euphoria is brought in by high altitude thin air, realization of how grand and real this world suddenly opens up in front of your bare eyes, or submerging fragrance of hemp plant that is wildly overtaking or sides of the road. I recall a moment while standing at the historical Baltit fort, directly facing a prehistoric glacier covering a mountain peak, which disappears into the blue sky, while shined upon afternoon sun, glossed in golden shade, there for the observer of the peculiar beauty that is amusing with every ray of the sunlight.

Beautiful Kalam in the mist of rain

Mountain creeks from melting glaciers

KPK, wild hemp growing on the sides of the highway

On the way to Gilgit, Baltistan

Glacier rivers

Mountain springs on the way to Kalam

Small town market by the creak, Sawat to Kalam

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