Friday, April 18, 2014

My Pakistan Diaries: An Occidental Guest

Sometimes when I am alone, wherever I am, my mind wanders to the other side of the earth and I think, “what are people doing there now?”
At least for one fleeting moment in time, my question was answered.
In March of 2013, I was invited to attend a wedding in Pakistan. I spent two  weeks in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, and Islamabad.
During this time I inserted myself, briefly, into a scene which was not my own. I entered into a world of images, ideas, lives, and laughter that did not belong to me, that existed wholly and completely without me, and would continue in the same manner, as if I had never been there. I observed moments in peoples’ lives which were entirely different from my own.
What made my experience in Pakistan so unique, pure, and profound, was that it had not been affected by my American presence. It was not a show designed to appeal to my American tastes, it was not a tourist attraction designed to extract money. What I experienced were the real, day-to-day lives of real people in this very real place. The experience was uncomfortable and unforgettable, hot and happy, inconvenient and inspiring.
For the people around me, this wedding was only one of hundreds they had attended in their lifetimes. For me, every mundane sight and sound was a source of amusement, which in turn amused those around me.
When I had conversations with strangers, I made an effort to ask open-ended questions, not anticipating any particular answer. I tried not to ask questions that revealed perspective or judgment on my part. This challenged me to reevaluate the cultural norms around which I had been raised. In Pakistan, it was obvious to me that the values of my culture were not shared in their culture. Sometimes the people I spoke to gave me an insight into their private lives. Often times they answered questions that had never been asked of them, not because people were shy or reticent, but because no one within their culture had every genuinely wondered what I wondered.
Now a year has passed and I have decided to publish my travel diary on this blog. At first, I thought I was only writing for myself. I wanted a record of my time there, as I experienced it, and I had no intention of sharing those private and revealing experiences with the world.
 Most of these words were written by hand in a notebook I carried with me around the country. Once, on a hot day in Hyderabad, a young girl approached me as I was writing, and asked if she could read my notebook.
I kindly told her no.
She asked why.
I told her I am writing something that I don’t want people to read.
Then she asked a question I haven’t been able to forget.
“Why would you write something that you don’t want anyone to read?”
I still don’t have an answer to her question. Had I forgotten that writing is a tool for communication?
To that girl in Pakistan, this is for you. 

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