5 Things I learned in 5 Years of living in Pakistan

When I made the decision to move to the notorious land called Pakistan because of my husband’s job, there were mixed reactions from the community (to say the least). My non-Pakistani, non-Muslim friends were terrified for my safety and were keen on reminding me of the short list of freedoms and long list of restrictions soon to be imposed.  As for the Pakistani-American communities, their concerns involved my husband’s salary, the tough humidity and the eternal inconvenience of load-shedding.  Ignoring all concerns, I decided to take on the adventure and assured my friends that I was happy and ready for anything! Boy did I lie. I was terrified- but very much in love.

  1. I had been living in the American Bubble

As Americans, we value our privacy, our personal space, our neatly scheduled routines and our mood swings.  After struggling through some awkward social encounters and unannounced guests coming to my house at midnight for Kava (green tea), I soon realized that if I wanted to accumulate the least amount of stress and still be happy, I would have to pop my American Bubble.  As a new bride, I was treated like a princess.  No, seriously, I was a princess.  My mother-in-law’s relatives and friends would come to see me and my job was simply to change into gorgeous dresses adorned with gems and embroidery, look flawless and smile.  Yep, for a brief five months, I got a small taste of what it feels like in Kate Middleton’s shoes sari.

Another struggle was controlling my mood swings.  Not only could a nosy neighbor or a sister-in-law come unannounced at any time, they expected the gracious hostess (me) to welcome them with open arms, leave all that I was doing, give them company in the living room and whip up some bangin’ samosas.  At one occasion I remember comforting my 2-month old daughter, with my post-partum hormones all over the place.  The doorbell rang and relatives surprised us. And I mean really surprised us.  When I blamed my hormones to be the cause of the messy house and my disheveled state, the jolly “Auntie” told me that today’s generation blames everything on hormones, PMS and a crying baby.  Code for: I’ll hold the baby, now go make some tea for us.

 

  1. Would you like a maid with that?

My mother in law prides herself in the fact that she raised 8 children and worked as an entrepreneur without hiring a maid or housekeeper.  My father-in-law remembers it a bit differently.  According to him, even though Ami never hired anyone, she had tons of help in the form of her sisters, sister-in-laws and neighbors who took care of babysitting, cooking, cleaning and even being part-time masseuses.  So, there are two kinds of help in Pakistan: your paid employees or the help network made up of relatives and friends.

Almost everyone I know has a part-time maid.  At first, I found it strange that women could entrust their entire household duties to a stranger as I was raised to be independent in every sense.  Code for: We Americans don’t know how to delegate well or ask for help.  In the past 5 years, I went through 5 manservants until I learned how to train, trust and delegate.  Trust me, this is one of the greatest blessings of living in Pakistan.  Labor is cheap which means that you can always find someone to work for you and this is one of the reasons why most middle class families are able to afford housekeepers.  It is also the reason why the women have active social lives and always seem to be enjoying themselves through long skype chats with friends, hosting kitty parties or simply going shopping.

  1. Pakistani kids are just as more spoiled as American kids

I remember teaching at a private, international school two years ago as the mathematics and Social Studies teacher for grades 3, 4 and 5.  I was told to speak English slowly as the children were getting confused because of my accent. However, I soon realized their English was far better than I was expecting.  In fact, their grammar was MUCH better than most Americans.  I remember my excitement as I brought in my iPad on the third day expecting them to hover around me in a circle, impressed and intrigued in every way.  Boy was I wrong! There they sat… their bored faces staring back at me.  Thankfully, one of the 5th graders sensed my wonder and enlightened me to the fact that every single child in that room had an iPad at home.

The surprises were not exclusive to private elementary schools.  On a visit to my aunt’s house, I found her stressing over her son’s job.  He had just graduated college and was looking for his dream job (which might take a while).  I suggested that in the meantime, he work as a waiter or become a delivery guy for Pizza Hut.  My aunt and my cousin stared at me in disbelief and simply started laughing.  Utterly puzzled, I asked them what was funny.  Apparently, it was beneath them to work in such a low level job.   My uncle and aunt decided to support their son until a more suitable position opened.

  1. Where did the Burqas go?

Let me tell you something. Pakistani women are strong, beautiful and very up to date.  In fact, wearing a hejab, I’m considered very conservative (and inferior) in many parts of the country.  My first time strolling through Islamabad shopping malls, I was baffled.  Women and girls of all ages adorned themselves in the latest American and Pakistani fashions, with some even wearing sleeveless dresses.  Speaking flawless English, a girl sitting behind me at TGIF (yes, the American restaurant) politely asked me: Do you wear the hejab even in America? She was shocked when I replied in the affirmative.

Even conservative areas like Kohat and Peshawar have relaxed their cultural customs when it comes to the once-traditional black burqa.  In fact, the newer generations deem it old-fashioned and opt for a more modern look based on Dubai-based designers. Women are avid drivers, hold public offices, celebrities, models, have their own morning shows, can be found jogging in the local park, bargaining confidently with shopkeepers, debating fearlessly on college campuses and even riding motorcycles on Islamabad Highway.  I hear Karachi is even more modernized!

It makes me wonder why did we ever think that Malala was the measuring stick for all Pakistani women? Even in the smaller villages, women have countless freedoms and girls are happily and actively pursuing their education.  In fact, the list of restrictions seems to be diminishing and I simply wonder why these success stories fail to be heard on a global platform.

  1. They don’t hate us.

As a newbie to Pakistan, I was discouraged by many friends and family members to not show open support for Americans.  In fact, avoid bringing the topic up at all.  Naturally, I was terrified and tried my best to cover up my accent while speaking Urdu.  However, as I began to travel and meet more people within the country, I realized something: The Pakistani people don’t hate Americans.  In fact, they love our lifestyles, our movies, our cities, our food and our education systems.  Whenever people heard me speaking English in my Jersey accent, they wanted to know everything about my life in New Jersey.  To their disappointment, I had never met Angelina Jolie. The women respected me more as a mother and treated me as a perpetual guest in their country.  In the conservative towns, even the local religious leaders spoke fondly of Americans and focused on the fact that Americans sent the most aid to Pakistan throughout the year.

As I waited at the American embassy with my husband to get his Visit Visa, I was shocked to see the crowds in the waiting room: all applying for a chance to visit the States.  The one lesson that I learned was that it is the politicians and media that play with our emotions.  The public, the common men are eloquently tolerant and united by the eternal bond of humanity and yearning to learn from each other.

So what?

My aim is not to defend Pakistan nor do I have a political agenda.  I am simply surprised at the perception the international world has of Pakistanis.  When I am away from Pakistan I am only shown bearded men and women in burqas.  Even entertainment such as Homeland focuses on the dark side of Pakistan, never shedding light on the greater good.  On the contrary, when I am in Pakistan, I am only shown the vibrant Cherry Blossom festivals of Washington, D.C. or the ferocious life of Times Square.  Never do I see reports of the gun violence, police brutality or Islamophobic campaigns in America.

I encourage you all to travel around the world. Seize those opportunities and make new ones.  In these past 5 years, I have grown in ways I never thought I could and learned that there are two sides to everything and everyone.  Our minds can only open when our bodies make the effort.

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76 thoughts on “5 Things I learned in 5 Years of living in Pakistan

  1. Once again, you have nailed it, Fatima .
    Showing that there is always a brighter side of each picture, a positive way of looking at things, people and nations…
    Congrates, congrates, congrates !!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There is cheap labor in Pakistan but they shouldnt be treated that way. Everyone in Pakistan gets a maid and sits around doing nothing all day. Umm but the maids have to work, they dont get to do that.

        Like

  2. Wow……I dont read long stories but on fb wen i saw this post n read its heading.i simply clicked on it n went into in.enjoyed reading ur experience of Pakistan and thank u for showing us to the world what we are not wht media and politicians r doing thanks again…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this piece of writing not just because Its about my homeland but because I felt it to be honest writing, a true feelings not like many of us using biased media as their source of biased opinions. Best wishes and keep writing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Very well penned indeed. Pakistan is transforming and every little nudge helps. Perceptions are carved by the pens and in your case its a mighty fine pen in good hands. More power to you. Forward and Upwards

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting perspective. I’ve also always wondered why Malal Yousufzai is the only perspective of Pakistan women the world can see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s all about the IMAGE. Malala conforms to the image of Pakistan suitable for all the ‘karta-dharta’s’ of the world, so she’s the yardstick to measure Pakistani society with.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As a Pakistani girl I can testify that there is lot more about Pakistani women than that. We might be facing very very tough situations in many parts of the country, but we’re fighters. We’re tough and talented and highlighting only one woman is quite unfair to countless others who are doing far greater things.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for documenting the true picture of Pakistan to the whole world by writing this article. People living here are brave and courageous who can stand out in every walk of life!
    Long Live Pakistan

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for being so honest with your comments.. Yes Karachi is quite modernized but not as much as Islamabad ! 🙂
    Well I love the fact that you loved Pakistan..
    Thanks for such a nice blog. I am sharing it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. While I don’t agree with a couple of the more personal opinion based points you make I really liked reading this. The most important fact here is that there is a bubble and sad but true, the only way to pop or burst it is to live on the other side, but not many can afford to. So those that do have a duty, almost, to tell them how it really is. And that is what you’ve done. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very well written piece of literature with the specialty of being true feelings.
    You have very rightly pointed out that It were the politicians and media of USA who were keeping the people in dark.
    Respected lady, from 1966 to 2001, I have been to 12 countries to the West of Pakistan including UK, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Libya, USA (Atlanta & Jersey). Unlike general visitors, after having a glimpse of famous cities, I used to slip out to suburbs and small towns. My experience tells that people, living away from the so called modern cities, are all alike in their behaviour and are very much human unlike those machines in the form of human bodies running around in modern cities.
    A notable similarity in the big cities was their ignorance about people of Pakistan. Some people even asked “Do you have tomatoes in Pakistan?”, “Have you seen Ludo?”.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You represent our country in beautiful way. Thankd

    Nowadays I am not living in my beautiful and loving Pakistan.

    Long live Pakistan

    Like

  11. Thank you for this nice peace about Pakistan. I recognise a lot of it living in Pakistan for 10 years as a non Pakistani and married. I think there is another side too. I have worked in many villages where women are not allowed to go out the door and have to stay at home. They are denied healthcare and education. I liked the bit about having a maid. That is true it is so easy to have one and be able to have a life outside the door. People also love to hear about the West.
    Being married to a Pakistani Christian I can however identify with the many forms of discrimination and sometimes persecution they have to bear.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. At last an article which portray the true picture of Pakistan and Pakistanis, a much appreciable piece of writing, really it means a lot to us all back home, keep it up!

    Like

  13. Its 7:30 AM here… i m going to sleep now as I was working on some report all nightliving abraod…but before tht I found this wonderful piece of writing depict true picture of my homeland…which unfortunately media never unveil…. made my day… awesome….

    Like

  14. Thank you for appreciating the country Pakistan that gave you a loving husband and beautiful children and a life style which does not come easy to the 85 % of the Pakistanis or for that matter the world in general. You are truly blessed to be in this land of opportunity where hard work pays off and you can make it big if you really try hard. It’s just so great to see our sons returning to their soil to make it more fertile. You are a role model Zafar and Roxana for others to follow. This place Pakistan is where anyone can come and realize their dreams! I did too! Love you for coming back to Pakistan!

    Like

  15. Very well written and certainly a side of the picture which should be displayed more regularly especially to the west. Though we have our negativities as well yet the west seems to see only them. Great work and hoping to see more. And if I’m not wrong I recognized the writer behind the pen as well:) nicely written bhabi!!

    Like

  16. So let me get this straight.

    You are named Fatima Asad and you are acting as if you are coming to some far flung unknown land. With a Muslim (and likely, Pakistani) heritage to begin with your experiences are nowhere similar to a typical American girl whose family has been in the US for generations if they would come to Pakistan. Considering you are from Jersey which is Desi Central in the US, the culture shock would have been minimal for most cases. So get over yourself and trying to portray yourself as something you are not.

    Now lets get to the rest of the actual article for what its worth. Your experience is that of a person from a well to do family. So it is hardly unique but definitely not comparable to what 90% of the country has to go through. And what were you honestly expecting in the malls of Pakistan and among the well to do kids. Did you think Pakistan is in the Stone Age that kids wouldn’t know about IPads and Miss America would introduce it to them. Similar with the girls in sleeveless shirts. May I tell you that the elite of Pakistan is likely to be better educated than you considering the strength if Pakistani student bodies in Oxford, Yale, Harvard etc. They are also financially well off

    I find it particularly laughable when you say how they did not have hate for you and Americans. First of all due to not looking like the typical American you wouldn’t get the reaction you would think you were supposed to get. People will just look at your skin tone and name and the last thing they would think you are is an American. Secondly what were you expecting. Did you think that everyone in Pakistan is a savage and would show hate towards every American and American culture just because of their disapproval of American policies?

    Ignorance is clearly your forte judging by your surprise at some of the basic amenities which are available here. Were you surprised to find ice cream and internet in the country as another confused desi I know was surprised when she found out that such things are available in Pakistan. Condescension doesn’t help either. Pakistan was the same and surviving before your earth shattering post and will be the same after.

    Like

  17. I am glad to have a view of what WE ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE TO THE AMERICANS. Thou, when I first read this, I found it ostentatious that you ended up thinking that kids in here don’t know what an Ipad was, and ladies wearing sleeveless was an utter surprise to you. But after a reality check, I realized that’s what American/Western media has been feeding to the WEST since 9/11. And irrespective of whether one is an American Muslim or a common American, the perspective about Pakistan doesn’t change. So I don’t blame you for that.

    1. The average SAT score in Pakistan is way more than that in America and also Pakistan is the third largest English speaking country. Sources Wikipedia
    2. In a point in your writing, where some relative “aunt” coded for, I’ll hold the baby, now go make some tea for us.” That seems more of a generalization, I don’t remember my mom(foreigner) or any of my immediate married relative telling me how some aunties called out to them for making tea. Maybe, that’s your husband’s family tradition of asking the newly married bride to get them tea. So I find this part thickly opinionated, And not ALL household demand a housewife who knows how to work/cook, at least not mine.
    4. Rest all you’ve said, is absolutely correct.

    (As far as your elucidation is concerned, I am impressed by your words. A nice piece of writing. *Thumbs Up*)

    Like

  18. I had the opportunity to attend my friend’s wedding in Karachi several years ago (we met teaching in an international school), and this rings true to my experience, short as it was. I was overdressed in my long sleeved blouses with long skirts because I’d read the guidebooks which emphasized the need to cover myself. While friends and family were concerned for my safety, I found Pakistanis to be warm and welcoming – even to a blue eyed, blonde haired Christian American. To those who take issue with the aunties, I did experience that extended families seemed to be closer knit in Pakistan than many American families, Thank you for your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Your explanation of our beautiful country is beyond perfect! I am abroad in Canada for studies and have been very shocked when friends ask me, does every women wear a burqa? It is really hard to explain to them about what life is like back home.
    Mind if I share your article with some of my colleagues?

    Liked by 2 people

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