The questions I always get asked when out & about meeting up with people are always the same: How do you like Pakistan? Are you really going to stay here?? I understand this because about one and a half years ago I asked my online DELTA tutor Alex, a Brit who had been living in Poland and calling it his home for the previous seven years, the very same questions. I understand the feeling of disbelief on discovering that someone who could potentially live in more “attractive” places in the world would have chosen to live in Poland, for instance, or Pakistan, for that matter!
“What on earth have you done to deserve this??” was the first and immediate reaction of one of my colleagues, a university teacher, back in the summer, when I announced I was going to Pakistan. “I can’t believe you are giving up your freedom and independence for a life of slavery!” were the exact words of a close family member who is stil refusing to speak to me. Well, who would have thought? It has been over three months since I came to Pakistan. I am still very much alive and doing very well. I am treated with love, kindness and generosity not only by my husband B., but everyone who I have met and spent some time with, mostly his friends and colleagues. I could never have asked for a more peaceful and happy life. All this love, peace and harmony make me feel as if I was in a semi-permanent state of Christmas, which is exactly what I wish to all of you too, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.
I am living a truly slow life now, by no means a boring and uneventful one, but balanced and giving me the opportunity to experience every moment to the full. In the twelve years of my professional life I earned a number of excellent qualifications and gained invaluable experience, but it also burnt me out and led do various breakdowns. It really was all work and no play. I have only myself to blame for having made it so challenging and hectic for myself, but now it’s the time for rest and develop the right mindset. My activity will pick up slightly in the new year as there are new professional and academic plans which I want to embark on, but hopefully with a different attitude, without the self-inflicted pain and suffering. Old habits die hard though: those who know me well will attest that I can never be happy if I don’t do three full-time things at the same time. For this reason, though I have a few students who I give online English and Polish classes to, and I also work as subtitle translator at Amara.org, on less busy weeks or even days I still have an odd moment when I feel I need to work till I drop. Fortunately, B.’s laid-back approach to life calms me down and helps me get over these moment of panic. I have even learnt to get more that 6 hours of proper, deep sleep, something which I hadn’t been able to do for as far as I can remember. I have time for regular Skype chats with my sister and even other family (those who haven’t disowned me, that is!), regular outodoor activities like running or going to the mountains or voluntary work translating TED Talks . I also have the time to cook proper, slow food. We eat fresh, simple home-made food and I’m learning to cook new things too. I have always liked cooking at home, but never had enough time to learn to make it properly.
On the subject of food. I also always get asked if I like and cook Pakistani food. To be honest, for a long time it was B. who cooked dinners, unless it was something non-Pakistani, like my signature dishes which I have several of. B. is a great cook and I definitely prefer his cooking to mine or eating out. However, lately he has taken on some new students and is out teaching almost every day after work and at the time when he’d normally cook dinner. For this very valid reason, he has taught me to make some Pakistani dishes. The base for what I can make is the same and dead easy: I fry onions, add garlic and fresh ginger paste which I prepare in the mortar. Then I add spices: salt, black pepper, turmeric, chili powder and garam masala, which is a blend of ground spices, such as black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom. Finally, chopped tomatoes and fresh chili(es). I let it simmer for a while and then add the main ingredient. It could be boiled chickpeas, or chicken, or cauliflower, or rice, or minced meat, or red beans. At times and just before serving I sprinkle it with fresh coriander and/or we have plain yoghurt with it. You can add fresh coriander or mint leaves to the yoghurt to make it more exciting. We then eat the whole thing with roti – a type of flat bread, the chunks of which you dip in the food and scooping pieces of food; I introduced it in my first post. I love this food so much and I have got used to the spices, too! Not only can I handle more spicy dishes now, but also, if sometimes they aren’t as spicy, I feel that something is missing. At times we eat out, too. We have a favourite place called Cheema and Chattha and though we have been to other places, too – we have now decided that this one is the best.
There is something else that I have learned to have in Pakistan. It’s funny, actually, because out of the nine years which I’ve spent outside Poland, most of that time I lived in the UK where tea is a prominent feature of the culture and society. Having said that, I never learnt to drink tea British-style, i.e. black tea with milk, though I did think that the cuppa was the ultimate way of serving this hot beverage, hence earning the Brits the grand title of the “land of tea lovers”. Well, I must say that in Pakistan not only is the consumption of (black) tea of as central importance to the culture as in the UK, plus it’s made with milk too, but also Pakistanis have taken the art of tea-making to a whole new level! Here follows a Pakistani chai tea recipe, courtesy of B. who is an excellent tea-maker – just like I prefer his cooking to eating out, I prefer his tea to what we are sometimes served when we go out. Well, our favourite place does serve decent tea, too, but I’d say his is still superior:
– Put one cup of water on the stove.
– Add in a crushed cardamom pod and one teaspoon of tea.
– Keep stirring until the liquid turns dark brown.
– Add half a cup of boiled milk and keep stirring.
When it starts giving a fragrance, the tea is ready – approx. 5 minutes after the milk is poured in.
We usually have it after dinner and sometimes, but only sometimes as we don’t have a very sweet tooth, with traditional sweet desserts: carrot, i.e. gajar ka halwa, lentil – dal halwa or pumpkin – paithay ka halwa. These desserts are made by placing lentils, (grated) carrot, or pumpkin in a pot containing a milk, sugar and khoya – a product made of either dried whole milk or milk thickened by heating in an open iron pan – and then cooking while stirring regularly. It is often served with a garnish of almonds and pistachios. The nuts and other items used are first sautéed in ghee, a South Asian clarified butter. It’s absolutely heavenly, especially with the tea.
Interestingly, for many years I had purposefully avoided milk, because I didn’t believe that it was good for me, and now with all this milk…I seem to be fine. A whole other story is that the food we have here is fresh, not processed and organic – no one even calls it organic, because it’s the way it’s supposed to be! Perhaps that’s why I’m not affected by it anymore.
A few words about Islamabad itself, the capital of Pakistan, where we live and which I love, as most of you probably know, because I frequenly publish photos and videos of Islamabad on my Facebook page. My experience of living in a certain capital city called London was horrendous, as those who read my first blog My London Blues are well aware of. For this reason, I was a bit apprehensive of living in a capital again, but I needn’t have, as Islamabad with its just under 2 million residents, must be one of the least busy and hectic capitals in the world and it fits perfectly into my new, slow life. Honestly, crowds are virtually non-existent here, the pace of life is leisurely and there’s no issue getting to places. I can’t remember a situation in which I got seriously frustrated because of high volume of people, or traffic jams. In Islamabad, that is. A nearby town of Rawalpindi is a different kettle of fish! Besides, there is abundance of green areas in Islamabad, and they are generally extremely well-maintained so it’s super super green or rather it would be if it rained, but there hasn’t been a drop of rain in the last three months…We are desperate for the rain now! Besides, the Margalla Hills National Park is situated within the Islamabad Capital Territory, so within 20 minutes of leaving our house, we can be hiking in the mountains and forests. When we went hiking last it was quite late in the day and silent as there weren’t a lot of people anymore. Suddenly, there was some commotion in the trees. We looked up and saw a couple of monkeys at the tree tops looking down at us. It was funny! I have seen a few monkeys since I came here, but it was the first time we were in their homes and they seemed curious about us. Located in the National Park is also Rawal Lake, the pictures of which, at sunset, I have recently posted on my Facebook page. There are loads of amazing spots in Islamabad and we have been exploring them regularly at weekends. All in all, with all the conveniences and few(er) of the typical downsides that capital cities usually offer, Islamabad is both a really comfortable and exciting place to live.
In San Sebastian I worked with a teacher who would constantly put me down because I was a Polish teacher of English, regardless of the fact that I, unlike him, consistently received excellent feedback, was significantly better-qualified, more ambitious and hard-working. He would speak to me in a mocked Polish accent, and talk about Polish people as still living in thatched farmhouses and only being able to afford to eat potatoes! And this was only about two years ago in the heart of the civilised Europe! Though I was a confident and self-assured person, I will never forget how humiliated I felt by this. Recently on my Facebook page I published a photo in which I was holding an air-rifle, the kind that we used to frighten off starlings that wouldn’t leave our cherry tree when I was a child. The photo was accompanied by my explanation that I was aiming at baloons and the whole thing took place in a park as a form of entertainment. One of the comments under the photo, one amongst many other photos of that weekend, said “Training?”, undoubtedly implying that since I am in Pakistan, I’m surely being trained to become a terrorist…When still in the UK I met a (non-Muslim) person who claimed that “Every mosque is a paedophile ring” and that “All Muslims are terrorists”. I was curious to know where he, as a non-Muslim, attended mosques and how many he had been to, and also how many Muslims he knew that were what he claimed they were. He said: “I don’t know any, I make it a point not to know any”…
What I’m trying to say here is that I am a strong advocate of voicing own opinions, even, or particularly, the unpopular ones, but parroting the mainstream media which feeds us the biased, warped and distorted version of reality can hardly be called giving an opinion. Reading up on issues, comparing information, questioning the status quo and seeking answers, coming out of comfort zone and glossy bubbles, meeting and talking to the actual real people if possible, or going to places, travelling – I strongly believe that only if we honestly make this effort and educate ourselves are we allowed to voice our opinions. Isn’t the Christmas time the best of times to apply the Golden Rule, as present and frequently expressed in Christianity as in the Islam: ”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?
Ceasing to pass hurtful and inaccurate judgements about other people and countries could be the first step in implementing the Rule. I hope that my example – my living here safe and sound, loved, happy and looked after will offer some reassurance that the outside of our bubbles may not be as evil as we are often led to believe…
Happy Holidays! ❤