Hi everyone. I apologize for going MIA. It took us one week to hook up the Internet. First and foremost, all is well on my end. I safely arrived to Pakistan on May 28th. My 4-hour flight from Bahrain landed at the Benazir A. Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad at approximately 7 a.m. My two chachas, my father’s brothers, awaited for us in the VIP lounge. About an hour earlier, while still on the plane, I changed into the traditional slawar, kameez and dupata. Jeans and t-shirts were not okay. After all, I was a villager. We village people are not like the city dwellers. We pride ourselves in having higher standard of morals, especially a high emphasis on the values of respect and family honor. Today’s cities in Pakistan are very Westernized, therefore, according to common belief, lacking those morals. Take Lahore as a perfect example. There, you’ll see boys and girls dressed in Western styles. You’ll find pubs and bars. (And might I remind you Pakistan is an Islamic state, where alcohol is prohibited.) You’ll want to shop in the big malls and eat at McDonald’s. You’ll feel as if you never left America. But modernization is a good thing, right? How else is Pakistan supposed to progress if it can’t modernize first? All that is true, however, the simple fact is that modernization clashes severely with the value system of Pakistan. Most people still are not willing to compromise their values for the country’s better advancement.
When I changed my clothes on the plane, I remembered the first time I visited Pakistan in 2003. I was 12 years old at the time and had only lived in America for 4 years. But apparently 5 years was enough to ‘Americanize’ my siblings and me. I vividly remember the reaction of my chachas when we got off the plane. My three sisters and I were wearing matching peach tops and dark blue denim jeans. I was excited to wear my new clothes. Muma had handpicked this outfit from Macy’s weeks before. Muma always liked to dress us the same; perhaps it was her way of showing us that she loved us all equally. But to any outsider, we looked like quadruplets of different sizes and heights. To my four chachas, however, we were Americans—and that was bad. The awkward tension during the 4-hour car ride home was enough to tell me something was wrong. The very next day, we switched into ready-made Pakistani outfits. That experience will always stay with me because it was the first time someone made me feel as though I was not Pakistani.
On Saturday, as we drove in my elder Chacha’s white Parado, Baba pointed out a small dirt road from the window. “That road led to the Silk Roads,” he said. “During Asoka’s empire, porcelain and other pottery traveled through here.” Immediately, Mr. Coe’s AP World History hit me. I wanted to take a picture of the road, but I didn’t have enough time to take out my camera. It was such a cool sight though! Who knew history could be so fascinating?
It’s been an entire week I’ve been here. The Abbottabad that headlines have dubbed as ‘dangerous’ seems to be the same old peaceful, mountainous place I call home. Abbottabad is the city I identify with. Within that city, I live in the town of Qalandarabad, and within that town, I’m up in the village of Bandi Dhudan. In Urdu, “bandi” means mud house or a small hut. You’ll find hundreds of bandis here.
I’m trying my best to stay safe. I’m drinking plenty of mineral water in this 100 degree-plus Fahrenheit weather. I already have mosquito bites all over my arms and legs. The small red spots make me look like I have chicken pox. But fortunately, my antibodies are working hard to protect me.