Monday, April 27, 2009

Pakistan Chronicles: Misconceptions, Prostitution and Cheesy Love Songs

When Sam first started going over to Pakistan, I was very jealous to say the least. To him, it was all part of the job. But to me, it seemed as if he was traveling the world while I was (not stuck, totally not stuck) but... kind of... stuck at home with the kids.

After his first trip, he brought me pictures like this...

and this...

and this...

Seriously, that was it. Just those three pictures.

I have to admit, I found the pictures lacking in
woohoo and overflowing with blech, but I was still determined to go.

Based on the pics, I imagined a giant desert, with adobe huts everywhere. At the same time, I also knew Lahore had a population of around 7 to 10 million people, so I figured it must just be a sprawling city/village.

Um, so yeah, I was totally wrong.

Pakistan has three major cities: Islamabad is the political capital, Karachi the commercial capital, and Lahore the cultural capital. Lahore is a city of extremes: extreme driving, extreme noise, extreme economic diversity, extreme spice, extreme heat.
So, today, I thought it would be fun to review my preconceived notions, and those of other Americans like me, and figure out what is the truth, and what is fiction.

1. All Pakistanis hate Americans.

FALSE. Of course. Now that doesn't mean those with ill will towards the US don't exist. And there were definitely neighborhoods in which I would never be allowed to enter, some streets I would never be allowed to walk.

But everyone I met was kind and good. Sure there were curious stares. And maybe there were people who kept their distance because of how I looked, and who knows what goes on inside the head of someone else? But I only felt good vibes.

The people I talked to are very concerned with the terror problem in their country. But they also want outsiders to know that their country is not solely about what is shown on CNN.

2. I'm American. I live near Mexico. I can handle spicy food.

Um, abso-freakin-lutely FALSE. Spice has its own political party over there. Seriously, it should be its own nation. Our naive stomachs simply cannot handle the truth of their spices. What's that you say? You eat at the Bombay House every night? That's like saying you eat white bread every night, so you should be okay eating a piece of granite.
Also, we can't handle the dairy either. Or raw vegetables. Thankfully, I had friends who would leap through the air and tackle me every time I was about to eat something I shouldn't.

3. Blond hair and blue eyes couldn't possibly be scary.

FALSE. We've already discussed how many little children I made cry just by smiling at them.

4. All women in Pakistan cover their heads and faces.

FALSE. There exists more conservative Muslims, who only show their eyes. Especially on the outskirts of the city. But you will also find those who just cover their heads and those who don't cover anything from the neck up. Some wear the traditional shawal kameez, some wear jeans and tees.
Many women won't shake the hand of a man. Many will. Some believe a woman's place is only in the home, as a housewife. Some work very hard at their jobs to provide for their families. Some choose to focus on a career instead of marriage.
I met at least one of each kind of woman. And they were all muslim.
5. American music is nowhere to be found.

FALSE. Much of the music playing in our cars was of the India Bollywood type. But on the way to tour the Badshahi Mosque and the Fort, we were all singing to the tunes of ABBA. On the way to the airport, I even heard Muse playing. At another point "She's got Bette Davis Eyes." So, yes, they even listen to cheesy American music.

6. Cars cost the same in Pakistan as they do in America.

NOPE. Cars cost about twice as much in Pakistan. So the kind of car can often be an indicator of how well off a person is. Also, many of the "middle class" people have maids, cooks, and/or drivers.
Considering the cost of cars, you can understand why an entire family would be riding on one little motorcycle.Or even just a donkey pulling a cart.
As a side note, most of the women on motorcycles ride "side-saddle". They can do this while holding a baby with one arm and a bag of groceries with the other. Talk about balance.
7. Pakistanis probably have never heard of Facebook.

Okay, this one's probably obvious. They Facebook as much as we do, and even the shyest of women suggested we "friend" each other.

8. Prostitution could never exist in an Islamic republic.

Nope. It does. Lahore even has a red light district. But prostitution is only legal between the hours of 11 pm and 1 am. (or maybe 10 to 12). We ate dinner in the old city, near the red light district once, and I got to see some women of the night. I noticed that most were sorta chubby. When I asked about it, I was told that's how the men want their prostitutes. Chubby is sexy.

9. I've driven a car in New York City. I could drive one on the streets of Lahore.

Uh-uh. Not in a million years. Every time I got in the car, I would close my eyes and just hope we would get to our destination in one piece. We always did. In fact, accidents seemed to be pretty rare. I still don't understand it.
10. Sam doesn't do dairies. He really works for the CIA.

MYTH. Nope, it's nothing as exciting as that. He really is all about the cows.
So, what are your questions about Pakistan? What are some of your perceptions? If I can't answer them (I'm still pretty clueless) I know my Pakistani friends who are reading this can. I would love it if y'all would leave a question in the comments today. Then maybe I can get them answered for Wednesday's or Friday's blog posts.

Of course, regular comments are fine too. You don't have to ask a question.


  1. Okay, here's my question. If there are dairies in America (and I know there are) why does he work with a Pakistani dairy? Doesn't all that airfare get expensive? Talk about a commute!

  2. i think i am moving to Pakistan to become a prostitute....except i would skip the prostitution part!
    i am jealous of your travels but so glad you had this GREAT experience!!!!!!!!

  3. Alysa- good question. The short answer is this: many places outside the U.S. have a problem with dairy, both quantity and quality. ex: one cow in America can give around 90 pounds of milk per day. In Pakistan- the average is 8-12 pounds a day. The difference is how the cows are managed. So Sam's company works with countries like Pakistan and Morocco and others to build dairies that are easier on the cows, thus giving more milk, and better quality of milk. They also work to educate the farmers.

    So, Sam's company takes the technology we have in the states and spreads it to other countries, working in conjunction with investors and businesses who want to see these countries thrive.

    Sorry for the long answer. As a side note, I joke about Sam milking cows, but he's really not a dairyman. He oversees the building of these giant dairies. His education is in International business/NGO's.

    And yes, the airfare is ridiculously expensive!

    Dorien- Yeah, driving down the street of the red light district was the point I felt the saddest about the country.

  4. No CIA huh, bummer!!!:) It is funny because reading this post and looking at the pictures I felt like I was back in Cambodia!

  5. Janae- I would bet there are a lot of similarities, as far as feeling like a "fish out of water" sort of thing, right?

  6. I love Sam's pictures compared to yours. When my hubby and I were dating he sent me pictures of his trips and they were always of roadkill.

    My question is what was the best thing you ate there?

  7. I can imagine about the spice, but what was different about their dairy and vegetables?

  8. Um. What's your favorite color? I got nothin', sorry.

  9. Debbie- Umm... bread. Actually they had this deep fried Roti bread- like a tortilla dipped in oil. Mmmmm...

    Kim- Dairy can be contaminated, veggies have the potential to be washed with untreated water.

    Cam- Great question! It reminds me of this hilarious incident, involving a donkey, two Pakistani guards, and a muslim cleric- oh wait. No it doesn't.

  10. It seems that Sam gave you pictures to hope to convince you to NOT want to go there.

    Okay, here's one:

    Why can't you drink milk there? I don't understand how the milk can be contaminated if Sam's there making their dairies more like a US dairy.

  11. Una- That's exactly why he's there. He's in the process of building dairies, but they aren't built yet. :)

  12. Loved. loved the question is "Can Mike and I go back with you in a few years when you go again?" I would love to experience that part of the world :)

  13. Em- of course! And the good thing is, the tickets to get there are cheap. It's just a short jaunt from slc to san fran to hong kong to singapore to karachi to Lahore.

    Seriously, I want to invite every willing person to come with me next time!

  14. Why can't chubby be sexy here? I am totally living in the wrong place.

  15. Valynne- I don't know about South Jordan, but here in Holladay, chubby is totally in.

  16. Brod - this is all amazing! I LOVED reading each of your Pakistani posts. Tell us more about the women in Pakistan. How did you meet so many of them? At least so varied in their home and professional pursuits. What was most "kindred spirit" about them? And where are the pictures of Sam with his harem of cows?

  17. Cath- I met some of them because they work for Sam's company, and some were wives of company workers. Hence, the variations. I'll blog about my kindred spirits today or friday, and I haven't posted pics of Sam and his cows because they are boring. :) But I'll post one just for you!

  18. I can't wait to meet all of your Pakistani friends! They sound so wonderful! My question is, when are they going to come and visit us? I would love to show them Utah and Salt Lake City and answer some of their questions about us mormons. Yes we are a peculiar people.

  19. I can't tell you how much I love that "chubby is sexy" (I should get that on a bumper sticker! I have heard that there is such an extreme in living standards, did you notice this? How extreme is it?

  20. Erin- I'll send the pamphlets with sam on his next trip!

    Keersten- I very much noticed this. Some houses seemed to be made of marble, while next door was little more than a dirt hut. Very extreme differences.

  21. I have a question! Is it too late? Is there freedom of religion there? Are most people Muslim by law, by choice, or both?

    I have another long, convoluted political question so I'll try to remember to ask it in person later because I'm not sure how to write it all down.

  22. Kim- there is freedom of religion, although most of the people are muslims. But there are Christians, Hindus, all sorts. The white stripe on their flag represents the other religions present in the country, while the green color and the other symbols represent Islam.

  23. I didn't know about the chubby part. I'm of Pakistani descent and get a lot of stick from my family for being chubby and many of the men will expect a skinny bride.

    But I absolutely love your post and thank you so much for showing a positive image of Pakistan. I wasn't born there but feel sad when people assume it's all bad. It's really not that bad and actually quite lovely.