An American in Lahore: Pakistan saved me

'Were you scared to come here because you thought we were all terrorists?' they asked. No, I said. Pakistan saved...

Elisa Dun February 23, 2012
About a year and a half ago, I made the decision to move to Pakistan.  Since then, perhaps the most popular question my local friends ask is, “Were you scared to come to Pakistan, because you thought we were all terrorists like the Western media portrays us?”

Honestly, no, I was not, and I did not.  Even before coming to Pakistan, I found the notion that all 180 million people residing in Pakistan, the sixth most populous nation in the world, were terrorists or had extremist tendencies completely ridiculous.  I figured that, as in every country, Pakistan had people from all walks of life with different creeds, hopes and dreams, opinions, and lifestyles.

So, in that sense, coming to Pakistan did not significantly alter my perception of the country.

What coming to Pakistan did for me, though, was much, much more: it changed my outlook on life and on myself—and for the better.  In short, it made me a better person.

For example, before coming to Pakistan, I was a very anxious person—always worried about the little things that could go wrong each day.  To avoid these, I planned each day down to the minute: at eight fifteen and not a minute later, I would wake up; at exactly eight twenty, I would shower and be done by exactly eight thirty-five, and the list went on until bedtime, at which point I would plan the next day.  It was exhausting, but I felt I had to do it.

It is easy to lead this kind of lifestyle in the US, as we are a nation that tends to keep planners, schedule meetings and strive to always be prompt.  But, it was not necessarily the best lifestyle for me: I grew anxious easily, especially if things went a little off schedule, and at the mere age of twenty-three, I was diagnosed with all kinds of health problems.

Pakistani society tends to be a little more lenient with time.  Meeting a colleague “at two o’clock” often means leaving one’s home at two to head to the meeting (as opposed to arriving at two).  I found that almost everything here is at least a little late, from PIA flights to the rail garee to business meetings.  More than once I received a text from a friend saying that he/she was held up and would arrive later than our scheduled meeting time.

At first, I hated this attitude towards time.  It was so incompatible with beliefs I grew up with—that stress paired with hard work and strict punctuality were necessary ingredients for success.  How could anything get done in this country, I asked myself in frustration.

But, you know what I soon learned?  Everything hojaygah.  Everything somehow falls into place in Pakistan.  PIA flights take off, rail garee’s arrive, friends meet, and business projects succeed.

As time went by, I also learned that things often run better with less scheduling, with less planning for what-if's that rarely materialize, and with less worrying.  Thus, I began adopting what I call the “hojayagah” attitude: fretting less and having more faith that everything will work out.

And, this is exactly what I love about this country: people here do work hard, but they also stress less.  Things do get done, but on their own time.  In the meantime, araam say.  Fiker na karo. Hojaygah.

I recently visited three of my doctors in the US, and reports show that my health problems have either stabilized or gotten significantly better.  How?  Simple.  Since coming to Pakistan, I have learned to stress less and enjoy life more.  But, that is not to say I was not productive this past year: working with my Pakistani colleagues, I successfully completed many projects and so have quite a bit to put on my resume.  I just did it the hojaygah way this time.

So, to answer my friends’ questions: No.  I cannot readily and honestly answer that coming to Pakistan drastically changed my opinion of the country—you see, it was never negative in the first place.

What I can say, though, and without even a moment of hesitation or doubt, is this: coming to Pakistan saved my life.  I cannot even imagine what kind of anxiety-induced health problems I would have now, had it not been for my learning to live life the Pakistani way, the hojaygah way.
Elisa Dun A recent graduate from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service who is currently living in Lahore, Pakistan.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Arslan | 12 years ago | Reply Well procrastination has produced good results for me ... and apart from that a little faith in the cosmos always lets things fall in the right place =)
Wajiha Saqib | 12 years ago | Reply This is certainly a very good article. It is not only that you have learnt from us, we have learnt a lot from you. In fact in this age of globalization the best thing is cultural exchange and we get to learn when we actually live in other countries.
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