Travel

(Middle) Eastern Promises: Pakistan

Lahore city rises in the dust, kites soar in the air, at one moment ominously circling as if vultures above a corpse, the next diving with delightfully majestic ease. This juxtaposition perfectly encapsulates the experience I had of Pakistan. Here, poverty literally lives in the shadow of wealth; families crowd under a stretch of tarpaulin while next to them the wealthy build richer and more lavish homes. Yet, whoever we met, no matter their situation, the people were so kind and went out of their way to help.

Pakistan has become infamous in world news for the danger that has stained this country since the rise of terrorism, but rarely do we get to see the Pakistan that is under this veil of violence. This is not to say that there is no danger here. Wherever we went, we passed places where bombs had exploded, sites where terrible things had happened; like the roundabout where a bus filled with the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by machine guns. Although I was always conscious of my own safety, I would have never let this fear stop me; more than anything it was a fear totally fashioned by the media.

In fact I usually worried about my safety for an entirely different reason. I would cling desperately to the side of the seat as we sped along the crazy roads of Lahore, where traffic laws seem completely absent. Cyclists and donkey carts gently make their way, seemingly oblivious to both the vehicles on and direction of the road. Worst of all are the motorbikes, which twist and turn through the traffic at incredible speed, much of the time with three or four passengers. The women ride sidesaddle, seemingly unperturbed by their precarious situation, and with many holding their children or packages. Crossing a main road was an immense challenge, and one I only attempted once.

Unlike most major cities in the world today, Lahore at night does not glow, instead millions of lights pierce through the black, and when an ‘outage’ happens it is plunged into darkness with only the headlights cutting through the night. The ‘outages’ are caused by load shedding implemented by the government due to their inability to pay the nation’s electricity bills. Previously a lot of the electricity came from hydroelectric power; however, since India has been forced to build dams for their own irrigation, the Pakistani government has failed to put into place their own plan of action.

Some parts of the country survive on only eight hours of electricity from the national grid a day. Many places have their own generators, but this is only an option for those that can afford it. The worst affected are the state-run hospitals that cannot afford to maintain the cost; it is here that the effects of the load shedding cause the most damage. The thing that impressed upon me the most was that, even in the face of such adversity, the people here are incredibly resilient; always making the most out of what must be exceptionally tough situations.

It is a very interesting and yet strange experience to observe the ceremony that take place on the India-Pakistani border on a daily basis. Each evening both countries participate in an extravagant ceremony to close the border, in celebration of their individual nations and in recognition of everything that they share. It is here that both the similarities and differences between these two countries are most noticeable. Although there is still some aggression between these two countries, a consequence of Pakistan’s struggle for independence, this ceremony gives no indication. It is simply a celebration of everything their country is, and of how much it means to them. The enthusiasm is really overwhelming and I was completely drawn in, joining in with the cheers of “Pakistan, Zindabad” (Pakistan, Live Forever!) as they tried to drown out the cheers of the Indian side even though it far outnumbered ours. It was here that I fully appreciated Pakistan’s pride in their country, a country they fought for, not only against the British colonists but also to gain independence for their culture and way of life.

Pakistan left a lasting impression on me, mostly by the people, who are faced with more adversity than I have ever seen and yet still manage to be so generous.

Ruth Edwards

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Travel
One Comment
  • sajid
    7 July 2010 at 08:20
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    An eye account and true reflection of my homeland Pakistan. I really share your comments on the Wahga border ceremony. I had the same feelings as described. So congratulations and thanks for understanding us on the face of what ever negative is being said, projected and leveled against us. It should open some eyes and minds at the very least. Thanks again for reminding me somethings about my hometown, i missed for so long sitting so far away, listening and made to listen only the bad news. Bye

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