I have been in Pakistan for just over two weeks now and frankly – it has been sheer bliss! I am completely unashamed to say that after an exceptionally busy (even for my standards) year and following the summer of intensive tutoring on the pre-sessional course at UoL, working on my own dissertation and preparing for my second episode of moving countries in the last year, and fourth in life, I have done very little in the last sixteen days – lounged around my fantastically spacious flat watching films, reading, listening to music, sleeping a ridiculous (for my standards) number of hours, which the constantly rotating and creating white noise (an amazing substitute for a sleeping pill!) ceiling fan has undoubtedly helped me with, eating amazing authentic local and home-made-for-me food, as well as fresh seasonal fruit, being spoilt and generally given a huge amount of TLC. I have been out several times, but nothing major so far as I have given priority to resting and catching my breath, which even I recognised myself – was much needed. No wonder I am still (not so much on my honeymoon as yet, but certainly) in the Honeymoon Phase, the first of four stages in Lysgaard’s model of cultural adjustment, commonly known as culture shock, and have every intention of remaining there for a bit longer.
Despite taking it easy and not making an enormous amount of effort to immerse myself in the local culture as yet (though I will very soon begin doing so, and on a grand scale), I have certainly not lived in a void. There has obviously been a number of things that I have found unfamiliar, but which I have embraced with (I’d like to think) an open-mind and curiosity, as well as begun to adopt. When in Rome, do as the Romans do – a bit of a cliché, but true nonetheless.
Apologies for this very physiological opening, but the thing that has certainly impacted me first and foremost is the bathrooms, which are referred to as washrooms here, and they are called this for a very important reason. There are two bathrooms in my house, each with a standard washbasin and an ordinary mirror. Both have showers, too, but without a shower cabin – they are on the floor level, more like wet rooms. At first I thought ‘The water is going to go all over the floor!’, and it does, indeed, but as the temperatures are still high, it dries very quickly and the bathrooms are very easy to clean, too! However, the biggest and certainly a life-changing for me difference is toilets or perhaps rather toileting. One of my bathrooms has a Western-style sitting toilet, but the other one – a squat toilet. I have done some reasearch and it actually turns out that this type of toilet is widely used all over the world! However, still it’s not so much the existence of a squat toilet, but the presence of a bidet shower that surprised me most and influenced my own going-to-the-toilet. Basically, both toilets in my house are equipped with such a shower, which is used to wash yourself immediately after using the toilet. It has a lot to do with religion – Islam attaches a lot of importance to physical and spiritual cleansiness and purification, so Muslims have extremely high standards of personal hygiene. After as few as a couple of days of using the bidet shower, I found myself seriously wondering how on Earth I had spent my life NOT doing it and I really don’t think I could or want to ever go back to my previous ways!
Another thing that certainly doesn’t go unnoticed is the power cuts. The electricity goes off at scheduled times, i.e. 3-4am, 7-8am, 11am-12pm, 2-3pm, 7-8pm, 11pm-12am. I haven’t found it to be too much of an issue if they stick to those times. On a few occassions it has also gone off randomly, which is slightly annoying, particularly if you have just put the washing machine on, but otherwise it is really not as bad as it sounds, as long as you charge up your phone and laptop (the wifi company has provided the power backup so it doesn’t go off) and plan your chores. Besides, most people have a power backup, I do too, but waiting for it to be put in place. To be perfectly honest, I have quite liked the power cuts – as soothing and calming as the sound of a whirling ceiling fan or air-conditioning might be, it is only in the absolute silence that falls over and around when I can clearly hear the birds and grasshoppers, which there is an abundance of in the garden just outside my bedroom. It’s also nice to have dinner in the candlelight and generally remain quiet for a while.
Food is a fascinating area of my life at the moment. Almost daily I have an authentic home-made curry dish, the taste of which one can only dream about in the UK, where curry is the most popular of all foods. Such food is most often accompanied by roti (flat bread) and eaten with hands, i.e. by dipping chunks of the bread in the gravy and scooping pieces of food with it.
I have even eaten like that in a restaurant, and although it isn’t as easy as it may seem, I expect to be gradually improving eating with my hands. I’m as proud of it as when I learnt to eat with chopsticks. I have also eaten and am about to eat food that I haven’t even seen, let alone tasted before, namely okra, bitter gourd, ridge gourd (all vegetables) or a fruit which looks exactly like a lime, but is sweet and eaten the way you’d take it after a tequila shot, but obviously without the tequila or the salt. A passionate lover of mangoes I have kind of missed the season, but still have eaten more than what I would have had back in the UK. I regularly eat pomegranates, which I think I might have only had once before – since I arrived I have them almost every day as they are in season.
As for the noises from the outside which reach my otherwise quiet home, apart from birds and grasshoppers, there is a fruit-and-vegetable man who walks the streets pushing his cart and in a loud voice chants what he has on offer, as well as the omnipresent ice-cream man, very popular amongst the locals kids, frequently announcing his presence with a short toy-like tune (in fact, at first I thought it was a child playing), which I admit can be a little irritating, but then the neighbourhood would not be the same without him. Undoubtedly, though, the most beautiful and mysterious to me voice is that coming through a loudspeaker from a local mosque five times a day calling for a prayer.
When out and about for the first time and after dusk, my attention was immediately drawn to the fact that the road was shared by drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians alike, none of whom wore a high-visibility jacket, there were no lights in the street or even a pavement, for that matter, yet no one got killed or even particularly stressed about it. This observation was confirmed a few days later when I was in a taxi going to the city centre during the day. I find it astonishing to watch how people get on with the traffic and yet – there aren’t accidents at every corner, though they do beep at each other quite a lot. Still, I am in awe.
A few days ago, on the way to the supermarket, I saw a brightly decorated mini-van. I was convinced that it was a mobile shop kind of thing, selling traditional crafts or perhaps even local specialties, only to find that that they were, in fact, public transport mini-buses! Several minutes later I saw another one, completely packed this time (they only have a capacity of eight people) with two people holding onto the back of the bus, but still outside. Apparently, they still have to pay the fare, and people also climb the roof if there isn’t any more space on the sides! Just like with the traffic situation, despite my instinctive body response to such a view, conditioned by the British (in)famous Health and Safety regulations, I rememebered where I’m from and took it for what the locals take it – ingenious and efficent use of public transport, in which people use their own judgement and common sense as not to get killed and get from A to B. I have also seen Western type-buses, which are used by educational organisations, e.g universities for the transportation of their students.
I have had several enquires about the situation of women in Pakistan. Though I do not by any means feel knowledgeable enough to answer these questions, I will most likely dedicate a post to this topic, also in order to perhaps correct some common misconceptions, yet doing my best to obviously only report my own observations and findings based on the little experience I will have had, and my conversations with B. After all, I have only been here for two weeks and by no means integrated with the locals. I was hoping to do so through working for the language school whose manager offered me a teaching job whilst I was still in the UK, but due to lack of clarity at his end, this is no longer the case. Besides, I am a foreigner, and treated a little differently I guess, for instance although I have a few traditional kurtas which I wear when out and about, I do receive a fair amount of attention, of which I am aware thanks to B. who always accompanies me and reports these things to me, but to which I try not to pay too much attention 🙂
To be continued ❤