Off-beat: Not just another YouTube tourist in Pakistan

Published: March 27, 2019
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PHOTO COURTESY: INSTAGRAM/ DREW BINSKY

PHOTO COURTESY: INSTAGRAM/ DREW BINSKY

KARACHI: In the bright sunlight, he is too orange to be considered a Pathan, but more importantly he is too raw to be considered a dramatist persona, someone who wants to fit in the screenplay of visiting Pakistan and then highlighting all the good in the country or how safe it is.

He is also not your everyday ‘white guy/gal’ trying to earn a reputation in the country to allure advertisers and then probably prolong his stay, because why not? Everyone loves fame, and the money that comes with it.

And as far as I can guess, after meeting the Arizona-born Drew Binsky, he is not planning to host a morning show anytime soon too.

Drew is in Pakistan because one, he wants to travel every country in the world, and two because he loves ‘exploring’.

The idea may seem a bit too contemporary and ‘I’ve heard that one before’ type because lets agree that since the inception of social media, everyone is a travel photographer or a videographer nowadays. Some of you might be reading this and thinking, I have visited 10 plus countries, what’s new in this.

Well, the answer is not an easy one, but bear with me when I try to explain Drew to you, how he came to Pakistan and why he is excited to be here, even though this is his 162nd country.

Donning a fuzz haircut, the man with a glowing smile was introduced to me by one of my friends Daniyal Sheikh, who also happens to be one of the key figures in bringing Drew to Pakistan.

After sharing pleasantries and introductions, the very first question he asked me was if I was going to shoot a video with him or do a recorded interview for the newspaper. I told him my plans and he stood up from his seat, saying let’s do it. My first impression of him: this guy’s a workaholic.

The conversation moved on as we found a place to shoot the video. I explained the video to him and after we got done, we headed back to the food area.

As I sat down to munch on a few snacks, I was constantly noticing how even after being asked for a million selfies, the smile on his face never faded.

He was enjoying it all, the experience, the love, the care, the adoration that everyone was showing, the attention he was receiving. Humans are greedy for all of the above mentioned stuff, there is no surprise that he liked it too, but I wasn’t looking at it from that position. I was curious to find out what was so different here in Pakistan that he didn’t get in any of the other 161 countries?

He answered my curiosity by calling Pakistan “the most hospitable” country out of all the other ones, even rating it better than Iran and India.

“I took out money from the ATM when I arrived here and my wallet is still full. I haven’t spent anything because nobody will let me spend any money. It is really, really special here in Pakistan.”

However, he did pay for some things, if not all.

During his stay in Karachi, he spent $9.96, nearly Rs1200 Pakistani, to buy a plate of biryani, a glass of pakola milk, a kulfi (home-made dairy ice cream), a pair of slippers, a Peshawari cap, sugarcane juice, a Pakistani flag (on March 23, Pakistan Day), a rickshaw ride, a haircut, a sunset camel ride and a head massage.

Also, according to him, Bhutan is the most scenic place in the world, while Philippines is the best country out of the 162 he has travelled to.

Lessons from travelling

A few questions which have bugged me all my life are how are humans different? What makes a Pakistani different from an Indian? How is an African different to an Arab? Does skin colour actually matter? Are humans as different from the inside as they are from the outside?

Drew, a penguin lover, answered all of my queries beautifully by saying, “The biggest realisation from travelling is just that all humans are the same. We all need to eat, we all need to sleep, we all need to make money, we all need to love each other, and that’s really the biggest thing to understand, to get rid of all your racism, I am white, you might be black or brown, it doesn’t matter.

He continued by pointing out the most striking benefit of travelling. “It is really special to go into different communities and faraway places and connect with people, sometimes even without speaking their language.”

How Drew came to Pakistan

To cut a long story short, it was difficult, but for Karachi Vynz creator Daniyal and Islamabad-based digital marketer Syed Muzamil Hasan Zaidi, it became a challenge if anything else.

Drew had been trying to get a Pakistani visa since the last five years but the trip never materialised. “We contacted him through social media and got his number,” explained Daniyal. “He was hesitant, or more specifically sceptic at first, but was interested at the same time. He told us that a lot of his American friends didn’t get a Pakistani visa and it would be a great feat if we could pull this off, so we exchanged numbers and promised that we’ll try our best to help him get a visa.”

But to help an American passport-holder, living in Thailand, get a visa for Pakistan was not a piece of cake.

“We started finding contacts in mid-November, and then came a point when Drew said he wasn’t sure if he still wants to visit Pakistan. The time the process was taking was too long and he felt we were like many others, trying to scam him or fool him in some way,” added Daniyal.

“But then he got a call from the Pakistani embassy in Bangkok, Thailand on February 28. He went there but he was warned that there was an escalation between Pakistan and India, and it might be dangerous to travel to Pakistan. However, they told him to come back at the start of the next week and that is when they gave him the visa.”

Daniyal said it was a moment of relief for him and Zaidi, but the work was still not done.

“We had to ask another friend Bilal Mansoor for help to get him out of the plane and plan and maintain an itinerary for Drew.”

Travelling costs were another issue and Daniyal said that they had to arrange sponsors for that in a few days since they couldn’t pay for everything themselves.

“Drew was surprised when he landed and got out of the airport so quickly. He was also surprised to see no strict security measures, since he was told not to go to Pakistan by many of his followers as ‘it is a dangerous country to travel to’”, said Bilal.

And what purpose does all of this serve for Daniyal and co?

“I am a traveller myself and when I talk about Pakistan with people of other countries, they think it is a big desert. They, at times, don’t even know where it is located. So I believe I owe it to Pakistan to show its actual side to the world through a guy who is followed by nearly a million people on social media.”

The message

Pakistan has given a lot to Drew already: hospitality, love, affection and what not, but what does Drew bring with himself to Pakistan?

“Drew brings with him this huge followership which we think will help us portray the real Pakistan to the world,” believes Daniyal, adding that he believes tourism can help the country shed the tag of a dangerous place to travel to.

And what’s the message that the always-smiling Drew has for everyone in Pakistan? “Always try to be yourself. Don’t try to be someone that you are not. Follow your passion in life, it’s so cheesy to say follow your passion, but if you’re not doing what you love than what’s the point of living?”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2019.

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