Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Visiting Pakistan

I speak two Pakistani languages. I have a closet full of shalwar kamiz. I cook a variety of Pakistani cuisine and I abide by many eastern values. Yet the last time I saw Pakistan I was eight. I've longed to go for ages, but as family immigrated and we accommodated, the years kept passing until soon it was either this college exam, or that internship and somehow just like that nearly 20 years have since passed.

I've heard visiting the country of your forefathers is a feeling that should be felt at least once in your adult life. My brother went a few years ago and shared with me what it felt like to walk through streets where everyone appears to be variations of you. I want that. I want to see my parent's village and sit under the tree that shaded my grandfather, and his father, and fathers before him. I want to see history not World History, not Eastern History, but my history. I want to walk through the streets and blend in and melt away into a sea of anonymity and feel for a brief moment that I just am and that I belong.

Yet I know that in the same breath of belonging, Pakistan will remind me that I am different, still an ABCD- just on a different continent, and in a different manner. I know Pakistan will remind me that though I am undeniably Pakistani, I am also undeniably American. And that regardless of whether I am here or there, the split identity remains split. Still I long to know what it feels like to be on the other side of the looking glass.

I have an opportunity to visit with my family. Though I want to go, part of me fears it. The current instability in Islamabad is just an example of why I feel apprehensive. If you live there, or have been there, your opinion on your experiences and/or any advice on safety or anything else would be much appreciated.

27 comments:

OFK said...

If you are coming to islamabad, then one thing is for sure. Dont go towards G-6. All the other sectors are ok to go.
The Airport is quite far, in rawalpindi so its safe to come and go. Anyway I think this lal masjid issue is going to be over in a few days.
happy travelling...

Anonymous said...

well stated

Suroor said...

You must go!

Anonymous said...

...aisha - come, come, come!!...i hate to sound like a broken record but the media is only showing ONE side of pk...we are more than burka, beards and bombs...unless you plan to go into the tribal areas or venture out late at night, you will be safe :)...however, be mentally prepared for the abject poverty and sense of helplessness you will encounter…oh and of course the dust, beggars, flies and the heat (if you’re coming during the summer that is – however, the weather is delicious in the winters and it’s a much better time to visit)…

-ash

Tee said...

This is such a struggle. I see Carlos go through this, too. He came here at 17 years old. He returned for a 2 week visit when he was 19 years old. Now he is almost 30 and hasn't been back since then.

Part of him wants to go back and visit but as much happiness as it will bring him, it will probably cause just as much depression and nostalgia.

The country he left is not there anymore. It's a different place, and he is a different person. Where he wants to go requires not a plane ticket, but a time machine.

Aisha said...

OFK thanks for the advice! It seems the Lal Musjid issues are resolving... not as peacefully as one would want though.

anon, thanks!

Suroor, ever been? Any advice from your experience?

Ash- thank you for telling me that. I know that the media can portray things in ways to sensationalize. When we went to Turkey, Istanbul was listed as the top ten most dangerous city in the world yet I felt safer walking through the streets of Istanbul than I do in my own city. The thing that kind of makes me nervous and maybe you could clear this up, it seems as though to some degree there is some anti-US sentiment. Me being from the US makes me nervous. Is this also wrong? I know in Turkey the vendors begged us to tell others that Turkish people weren't out to harm Americans, that they disagreed with American policies but not American people. Maybe its the same thing. Also, I watched too many dramas going up too... and you know how dramatic they show Pakistan to be :)

Tee, your last paragraph sent chills up my spine. He wants to go back to remember but I want to go back so I can know and understand a bit of who I am. Do you guys have plans to go back to visit? I know when my dad went back he experienced much of what carlos fears... the nostalgia coupled with sadness at things that could have been that are not, and the way things have let themselves go awry when they never had to...

mezba said...

I dont think anyone will harm you because you are American. To them you are still Pakistani, Americans are the gora people...

koonj was in pakistan recently and she seemed a'ight

Nauman said...

Pakistan is not much different from USA though I’ve never been to USA :) In fact all the places and people are alike. The differences are inside our heads. Happiness and sadness is a state of mind. Identity is part of our being but differences and similarities exist on an individual level. All my life I’ve lived in Pakistan yet I have more in common with Americans than Pakistanis :) Just try not to visit Pakistan in the months of June, July and August because it’s too hot.

There is no anti-Americanism in Pakistan only anti-imperialism. In fact Pakistanis are very friendly and hospitable people :)

mystic-soul said...

GO !!!!!!!!

Baraka said...

Salaam,

You should definitely go.

It will surprise, shock, disgust, disappoint & delight you. Be prepared to feel all sorts of things - including feeling far more American than you ever thought you could be.

And don't worry about the Lal Masjid situation or other reports - unless you're going to the tribal areas you have generally nothing to worry about. And eve there, the right escort will get you through.

xo,
B

yasmine said...

i'm in a rush and don't have enough time to articulate my own thoughts/feelings on this topic. but thank you once again for a lovely post, aisha. i feel exactly the same about pakistan, and i've so been looking forward to visiting (after 7 years) in august. but this whole recent political instability drama has my parents all concerned now, so my plans are up in the air, and i'm wondering if i'm just being too selfish/stubborn/headstrong/stupid by constantly butting heads with them on the fact that, No, i don't want to go anywhere else for 3 weeks, i want to go to pakistan. if the lal masjid drama's not as bad as it seems from here, then perhaps i can still make this happen, with minimal concern to my loved ones. inshaAllah.

Aisha said...

Mezba, I dont know if they will see me as purely Pakistani. there is I've heard some resentment towards Pakistani-Americans as well. I dont know for sure though, and they can tell I've heard in the way we walk and carry ourselves that are not purely Native. I'm glad Koonj's trip went well. And thanks for the tip on fb.

Nauman, thanks for your input. I agree, there are very few other cultures outside of the Middle East perhaps where people are quite so hospitable and full of "takalaf" people will do anything for their guests. Thanks for your input.

Mystic-Soul- been recently??

Baraka- thanks for the input, do you go regularly? Do you have security with you when you go about normally?

Yasmine, thank you :) Yeah even my brother who normally scoffs at such reports of instability as media hype was actually concerned about this particular situation in Islamabad.... I mean Islamabad!!? thats not the place i'd picture this.... i can understand yoru parents concern... its a tough decision to make because of safety concerns... but the other part of me fears that maybe Ii'll never get a chance to go again... you never know what can happen as far as instability... if its slightly unstable now, would it ever get so bad westerners could never visit? Then I'd surely regret not going for the rest of my life.

Naveed said...

So hopefully this is not the first time you are going? If so then you have to go to Lahore. Forget Islamabad, there is nothing to do there :-)

Arfeen said...

Even the people who live here in the US and go visit Pakistan every other year or so need a little time getting used to how things work there ... But it's always turns out to be a lot of fun in the end .... So I would really recommend you to take this opportunity to go visit Pakistan. Especially if you get a chance to visit Lahore & Karachi since theres a lot more fun things to do there.

Anonymous said...

...aisha - you're not wrong to have some trepidation and fears about visiting - it's only natural given the status quo...i just think the best way to overcome that though is to come and see for yourself...it's an important part of your heritage and like you said you might regret not doing it later on i life...as far as the security factor is concerned, i think you should be fine, iA...if you have family and friends to show you around, my guess is you'll have a blast - oh and you must look me up when you come! :-)

-ash

mystic-soul said...

went 2 years ago...and had a blast...pure enjoyment despite pollution and garmi

Aisha said...

Hey Salaam Naveed bhai! Yes, first time since 8 years old. 8 yrs old barely counts. Where do you go about in Pakistan when you go? Any advice?

Arfeen, i know people in Lahore so I will definiltely go there. I hear Karachi is sort of dangerous. Is that over hype?

Ash, thanks for your reassurances. Where in Pakistan do you live?

Mystic, insh'allah the plan is December so hopefully the garmi will be less :)

eun ha said...

Oh wow. I have an opportunity to visit Korea this winter and I'm having similar feelings, although obviously I don't have as strong a background in "my" culture as you do yours. I hope that you get to go to Pakistan. I'm sure it will be quite an experience now that you are much older.

(I also may have an opportunity to go to Pakistan, in which case I'm again having similar apprehensions as you.)

Baraka said...

Salaam Aisha,

I go every year & no I don't have security when I wander about town. I don't take risks of course (I wouldn't do that here in SF either) but I do walk about on my own during the day, go shopping, and hang out in cafes & restaurants till late with friends, etc. I also speak the language fluently & blend in to some degree though most shopkeepers can tell I'm from abroad & thus jack up the prices. Always shop with a local! :)

My sisters live in Islamabad and they, their husbands & young children are doing fine, alhamdolillah. If you're worried wait a bit and see how the situation goes, because if there's any backlash against the army storming the masjid it will come soon. Generally though they target the army, not civilians

We got married 11 months after 9/11 in Islamabad and weeks after some bomb blasts in Muree (two hours aways from Islamabad) & things were fine.

The best thing to do is talk to people on the ground in the cities/villages you're interested in going to & then make an informed decision based on that. The news here often makes it more frightening than it is and generally troubles in one city don't translate into other areas.

Just FYI, it will be hot weather there well into October.

Warmly,
B

Baraka said...

Plus, after Brazil, Pakistan will be a piece of cake! ;)

Baraka said...

And, my husband is a gora Amreeki & everyone there loves him. People differentiate between policy & people.

I may be there in November.

Anonymous said...

...aisha - do you have an email address where i can email you?

-ash

Arfeen said...

People in karachi are somewhat more harried and rather sharp tounged (sp?) but thats typical of any major metropolitan city. But then because of that there's a lot of variety of things you can do there. And they also have a beach !!!!! Just dont try to compare it with beaches over here :p And ofcourse you need to be careful and should not wander out alone at night etc ......

Aisha said...

Eun Ha, really,,,,, would you be going to Pakistan for the reasons I think you'd be going??? As far as going to Korea, it is still a part of who you are much like me... I think that seeing where our roots lay can help us feel more whole... I hope you can go and I hope I can go too.

Baraka thanks for yoru advice. I am so nervous because Mezba shared with me an article about how violence is escalating in Islamabad since then with 20 soldiers killed etc. Its very nerve wracking. I will be there in December if I go, which I think insh'allah I will once I talk to my relatives there... will you be there in December??? And I know right, I went to Rio De Janeiro abut frightened to go to my home?? LOL. thanks for the reminder! :)

ash, aishacs at gmail dot com :)

Arfeen thanks for the heads up on Karachi, it was not on my itinerary but if we go, maybe its worth a look :) We are planning to hopefully go to Maldives while ther since its only 2 hour plane ride away but Pakistan doesnt have any direct flights there... I'ms urprised Pakistanis would not want to go there, its such a beautiful destination.

Tee said...

Aisha - Sorry, just coming back to this post now and saw your question. No plans to go back now, mostly because of money, but also for the family reasons.

The majority of his family is angry with him because of what happened with MIL. It may be like that for the rest of our lives, (they are good grudge holders.)

For me, I think we should go visit and just stay in a hotel or at one of the friendlier relatives' homes and stay away from the angry ones, but it's a small country. (Size of Massachusetts) - so visiting without their knowing is not likely and they are the types who enjoy drama and confrontation. (MIL doesn't fall far from the tree.)

Not exactly a fun vacation idea, huh? ;)

Anonymous said...

In my opinion I dont belive there is a split. Instead I beleive you are 100% American. Everyone is an immigrant and as a result everyone brings their culture to America whether it be wearing shalwar kamaz or selling pasta. American is not a race or skin color instead all it is being able to live your live freely whether you want to wear a hijab or shorts.

Destitute Rebel said...

Ayesha you'v got so many comments that this might be late, but here is my 2 cents, You must Go it will be an experience you will never forget and probably it will be the start of regular journies to the land of your ancestors, I have been out of the ocuntry for the last 12 years and everytime i go to visit i just love it. Its a safe place there is no buts about that especially for a "desi". try and see the things that are unique, experience Pakistan as it should be experienced, on foot, on a tonga or a rickshaw, eat on the road side stalls, shop at anarkali, and im sure you will have an amazing trip.

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