I started my Urdu classes (back in June) with zeal and enthusiasm. Amid work and dissertation, I saw it as something entirely and exclusively my own, something which didn’t need to produce excellent results (the price you pay for being ambitious and setting the bar high for yourself), something which helped me to take my mind off the challenges of combining a demanding job and dissertation-writing. I was excited and interested in the new language, but it very soon turned out that not only was I getting language classes, but also a real insight into Pakistani society. Having an inquisitive mind, I did not shy away from asking B. about all those extracurricular things, for instance the calling for prayer which I could hear during our classes; I learned about the power cuts, the enormous heat which is experienced here in the summer months, the Ramadan and the Eid, and much more. B. is very knowledgeable, articulate and keen to explain things. Let me tell you something, he’d say and I was all ears. We spoke a lot about Islam which has started fascinating me a couple of months earlier when I began working at the University of Liverpool and for the first time in my life I met Muslim students. I was astonished to discover how many things in common there were between Christianity and Islam, but I was also learning new things about the latter. After Ramadan and accompanied by a Turkish student/friend, I even went to the Eid Festival in Manchester, where I bought bangles from a Pakistani lady, who asked me to pose for a photo for her Twitter and Instagram page.
Anyway, I was learning a huge amount about the society in Pakistan and the picture that began to emerge through the conversations, photos and videos that we were sharing with B. was nothing like I had imagined Pakistan to be from the media coverage that we are all too familiar with. I saw that the lives and ideas of ordinary people were not that different from ours in Europe. People work 9-5, go out with friends, go away at weekends, drink tea with milk, don’t like their politicians, do shopping for food, etc. What’s more, we discovered with B. that we had a lot more in common than we might have been expected to, considering the fact that technically we couldn’t be more different – a Christian woman, a Muslim man, different backgrounds, religious, places on Earth – everything, really. Despite all this, we quickly realised that we were, in fact, the same person: we laughed at the same things, the exact same things concerned us, we shared the same opinion about almost everything, we did things in the same way, we finished each other’s sentences, we wanted the same things in life – we were soulmates. Who would have thought??
It was a crucial time for me, because I needed to start deciding what to do as of September, which was when my contract at the University was supposed to end. I had wanted to go to Latin America and had even begun applying for jobs there, but when B. suggested that I went over to Pakistan, knowing what I already knew about the country and about B., I had no doubts about wanting to go. It was a massive step forward in my being a human, it was crossing boundaries and limitations which had been imposed on me by my upbringing, the media, the Western lifestyle, and by myself alone. Worse yet – I had been accepting these boundaries and limitations, for instance I had been thinking I could never leave the comfort zone of ‘safe’ and ‘progressive’ Europe. I felt no fear, no doubts, no hesitation. Had this happened earlier on in my life, I would have dismissed the idea straightaway, nipped it in the bud. But I was in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing.
We had just over 1.5 months to prepare everything, the most stressful episode being the visa application process. Lots of mixed messages as to what documents were needed, lots of hassle about finding out my blood type (not very easy to do in the UK; apologies to all my former colleagues who had to go through this drama with me), stressing out whilst waiting for the decision; then having received the visa and bought the ticket, organising hundreds of little things which you have to take care of when you are about to leave a place for good; endless doctor’s appointment for check-ups and vaccinations. All this whilst working full-time+ and spending the whole weekend every single week at the library studying. B. was doing things on his end: looking for a flat, organising the furniture, getting my clothes done, but also keeping my spirits up, particularly about the dissertation, which at times I didn’t think I was good enough to finish off.
I think it was a great miracle that on 16th September I was flying off to Islamabad with a great sense of accomplishment. We did everything the way we had wanted to. We made it happen.