A German's rendezvous with the real Pakistan
Terrorists, bomb blasts and religious extremism; these were the things that automatically came to my friend’s minds at the mere mention of Pakistan.
When I told them that I would be going to Pakistan for three months, one of them jokingly remarked,
“Aah, you’re joining jihad.”
My grandparents were very afraid; they probably thought I would be entering the heart of the evil. This was the perspective of my German family when I told them I was going to Pakistan for three months for an internship with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Pakistan, in Islamabad.
Next was my father’s voice, probably with the image in his head of an upcoming traditional marriage with a Pakistani girl, he said,
“Ah son; you are working for the 'embassy'. No problem, you will stay with your auntie in 'Pindi', but remember you also have to visit your uncle in Punjab for at least one week, and do not forget to bring proper gifts.”
And somewhere in between I found myself, a German guy at the age of 26, a political scientist of Pakistani origin, void of any Urdu language skills, preparing to visit the land of my paternal ancestors for the first time.
I, personally, was kind of relaxed, until I arrived in Dubai for the stopover before Pakistan. There I saw people waiting for flights to Kandahar in Afghanistan, as well as to Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan. All the men looked really religious, wearing their taqiyah caps (prayer caps) and turbans, while the women donned niqabs and burqas.
To my delight, most of the people going to Islamabad looked kind of liberal, but still, it seemed that I was one of only three non-Pakistanis entering the plane.
On my first day in the office, over lunch my colleagues started to get curious: watching me and asking questions. I have to admit, my accent is more akin to that of Southern Europe or even Arabic, rather than a German. The ice broke the moment I told them that I was of Pakistani origin.
By the way, this was a persisting phenomenon: as soon as I told people that my father is a Pakistani, it opened new doors, or at least provided me with a free taxi ride or two.
My work in the FES office provided me with a very detailed view into the contemporary Pakistani society. For me, this was most interesting. I was analysing newspapers, collecting information, writing articles and best of all; I got to meet so many different people.
I met people from various beliefs as well as from different areas in Pakistan. Some of them were rich and well educated; whilst others were poor and had nothing but the clothes they wore. The one thing, however, they all had in common, was their immense hospitality. On the times that I was invited to stay with them, they introduced me to their families, took me around their cities, entertained me the entire day and shared their food with me. The whole experience was just amazing!
Although I travel a lot, this was something I had never experienced before and something truly unforgettable.
Having spent those three months there, I am now well aware that Pakistan, as a developing state, still faces many challenges. Having said that, I would also like to say that I got to know Pakistan on a very personal level too and found it to be incredibly rich. There are things that I would say would do well being appropriated to even the western societies.
It is definitely worth the effort to take a look behind the ‘failed state’ image portrayed by the western media, I assure you, you will not be disappointed.
This may have been my first time here, but it was definitely not my last; that’s for sure!
Pakistan we will meet again.
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