Thursday, January 22, 2009

Notes on.....Everything

People keep telling me that Islamabad is like the "Disney Land" of Pakistan - ie not real. There is a long wide boulevard and the streets are pretty clean. It's January, so everything is stubbly and brown, but judging by the amount of pruned rose bushes I see, it's probably a beautiful city in the summer time. The first day we were here, it was dark and cold, but subsequent days have been sunny and downright cheerful.

There are people around, but not throngs. There is traffic, but not gridlock. I was telling a friend over skype tonight that thus far, Islamabad to me has been a series of conference rooms, guesthouses, one extremely nice hotel (the Serena), and several concrete strip malls. Needless to say, I don't see that I've gotten a very good "feel" for the country.

Tomorrow, we leave for Lahore, the capital of Punjab and the second largest city. Punjab is considered the breadbasket of Pakistan, but mostly what it makes me thing of is the guy from Little Orphan Annie.

(Yes, I am culturally sensitive, thankyouverymuch)

And for all the hype about how dangerous it is here, I don't feel like a Threatened Woman. I haven't had much more than the random photograph taken, or stared at. I'm not cowering in my bed at night, waiting to be taken by mullahs. I haven't been groped, or even leered at.

I know that most women have it tough here. I don't want to down play acid throwing, honor killings (known as karo kari) and the treatment of women as commodities. There are real and undeniable inequalities, even among so called "upper class". I'm currently reading "My Feudal Lord" by Tehemina Durrani, who describes her destructive marriage to Mustafa Khar, influential Punjabi politician in the late 70's and early 80's. For lack of a longer description, he basically beats the tar out of her for 10 years - and she takes it because she feels she has no other choice.

I'm of two minds reading this book - at once fascinated at stupidity of her thinking (through my western lense, I find her reasons for staying just....heartbreaking) and revulsed by the cruelness of Paksitani men and patriarchal underpinnings of their society.

Isn't this the image that we're all used to seeing? The scary, dominant, Middle Eastern, tyrant man? It was sitting in a row of similar titles like "Behind the Veil" or "Honeymoon in Purdah" or "My Kurdish Tyrant" or "A Summer's Eve in Kabul" get the point. There's not so much good press about Middle Eastern/Subcontinent men.

So I have to wonder, are there any good men in Pakistan? Judging by the press, I'd say not. But, I can't believe this is true.

I don't know where I'm going with this except - don't believe everything you read, about Pakistan or otherwise. Go there, experience it and draw conclusions for yourself.

Tomorrow - Lahore!

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