Monday, December 5, 2016

Pakistan, Day Two

We’re back from the wedding in Pakistan, an adventure aptly called a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was exciting and uncomfortable and joyful and scary and absolutely incredible every minute. Every day was filled with new things—food, clothing, people, culture. Instead of a precise, day-by-day travelogue which I’m afraid might be boring to anyone but me, I thought I would share with you my top three “firsts” from each day of the trip.

Thursday November 24
Pakistan is twelve hours ahead of Mesa, so after a very late night (we didn’t get to the hotel until after 2:30 am), I called Heidi’s house to see how Thanksgiving went. Listening to the kids laughing in the background and hearing about turkey and pie made me homesick. I admit that I teared up a little as I got in bed, but it was the only day I intensely missed the kids (which is saying something for me, because normally I’m a mess after being away three days).

1.     First time in a currency exchange. Every time I went out in public, people would stare at me. At first I thought it was my western dress, but even when I changed into Pakistani dress, people still stared. Kids would unabashedly crane their necks to watch me walk by. Men would drive by on their motorcycles, sitting two or three on a seat. They would glance my way, then double take before driving away. I told Brad it was like an elephant was walking the street—that’s how hard people stared. He reminded me that most of these people will never see another American in their lifetime, since Sialkot is not a tourist destination in any way. Depending on the situation, strangers would approach me and ask for a quick photo with me. It’s weird to think that there are images of me on Pakistani cell phones with people I don’t even know. I imagine the conversations they have with their friends: “You’ll never guess what I saw today! I ran into an AMERICAN WOMAN. She didn’t have her hair covered and she was wearing PANTS! I knew you wouldn’t believe me, so I took a picture with her. See?” Thursday afternoon Brad needed to exchange some money, and I went with him and Junaid, Nosheen’s brother and our driver/guide, to the currency exchange. Going to the currency exchange wasn’t that novel, but what happened inside was.
An older lady, obviously Muslim (Pakistan is over 95% Muslim, with women dressing anywhere from the very conservative black burqa to a more modern, loose hijab covering the hair), walked into the exchange and sat down next to me. Her gaze traveled me from head to toe, and a smile spread from her mouth to her eyes. Indecipherable words spilled recklessly from her mouth as she held my hand and tried to force my understanding. I loved listening to her excitement, trying to guess what she was saying. When Brad finished, I asked him to snap a photo of us. I know tensions are high these days between Christians and Muslims, but every Muslim I talked to in Pakistan was kind and happy, living their normal lives until they ran into an “elephant” at the market one random Thursday in November.

2.     First time drinking Pakistani Pepsi. Brad acted as Nosheen’s dad through this whole wedding experience, and she requested he bring presents from the States for a few people. Nosheen didn’t complete the last two years of high school before serving her mission (not uncommon in Pakistan), but she finished them when she returned. She really wanted us to meet her principal and visit her school, so we accompanied her to deliver the principal’s present. Women are treated very differently in Pakistan, and it took me a few days to get used to it. When we met at the school, I was still uncertain who I could talk to and when, so I was a little bit hesitant at first when the principal invited her brother in to meet with us and share a drink (it is customary to offer drinks to guests). A man brought in glass bottles of Pepsi, all with the lids popped and straws bobbing. I didn’t know if I could look at her brother or address him directly, and he was a bit uncomfortable around me at first as well, but when they both found out I was a teacher in America, they were very eager to show off their students and their school.
And I was thrilled at the opportunity. I felt like a visiting dignitary, being paraded from classroom to classroom (separated into a boys’ campus and a girls’ campus), students standing when we entered, reciting poetry or showing off their English skills. I learned about the high level of competition for grades (highest students in each class wear different headscarves or badges) and fielded questions from the students.
One young man asked a question that the teacher wouldn’t translate as he quickly moved on to another question. Brad later asked Nosheen what the question was, and she said, “He asked, ‘How do I get a job in the U.S.?’” After the tour, the principal requested a photo of her, her brother, and me and Brad for her school. My time at the school was incredible. Teachers all over the world are the same, I discovered.
Our schools may teach different things, but we all love our kids, want them to do their best, and connect immediately over our love for teaching. I remembered how much I love my job and how lucky I am to do what I do. My few hours touring the school were hours I will always remember, and the availability of my favorite drink in Pakistan was surprisingly comforting.
3.     First time getting my eyebrows threaded. Thursday night was the first big celebration for the wedding, and Nosheen asked if I would like to be included with the other girls that afternoon getting makeup and hair done at the salon where she used to work. I’ve never had my hair “done” for an occasion, and I was excited for the experience. The shop owner lined all of us up, assembly line style, and each of us rotated between hair and makeup stations. She didn’t speak much English, but she would occasionally ask Nosheen for directions. “Jenny, she wants to know if she can do your eyebrows.” Since I started teaching (and since I grew bangs, which hide a multitude of forehead wrinkles and ungroomed eyebrows), I’ve neglected my brows, so that little surprise was a pleasant one. Until they pulled out the string. Have you ever had your brows done by threading? Pro—it goes really fast. Con—it hurts really bad. And then they did my upper lip. Even the memory makes my eyes water. After I was acceptably de-haired, I moved to the makeup station. Like I said yesterday, I’m not a big makeup girl, and normally I wouldn’t allow makeup like this, but I decided before I left that I was going to fully embrace every experience thrown my way, even those that put me way outside my comfort zone. I tried not to look in the mirror as she applied my makeup, and when she finished, she quickly turned me over to the hairstylist. I have very thin, very straight, very fine, very flat hair—all qualities that are completely opposite to Pakistani hair—thick, curly, coarse, and big. I don’t think the stylist knew exactly what to do with my particular mane, so she asked Nosheen, and I surrendered again. Backcombing and bobby pins and a braid—nothing I ever do to my hair. When my eyes locked on my final image in the mirror, I was stunned. The girls in the room, however, squealed. Shazina, Nosheen’s cousin, said, “Bishop is gonna love this! You look like a Punjabi princess!” Once I added the dress, I have to admit that I kind of felt like one, too. We went to the salon the next morning as well, and once again I was transformed into someone I hardly know. I’m sure the changes won’t be permanent, but I have to admit that it might be time in my 47 years of life to learn how to apply a good lipstick. Wow. Lessons I never thought I’d learn in Pakistan.

Thursday was the longest day of the trip, to be sure. The celebration that evening continued into the wee hours—dancing and laughing—and I didn’t get to bed until past 3 am. I don’t remember the last time I did that, but it was the only way to squeeze two days of experiences into 24 hours. And I’d do it again.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pakistan: Day One

We’re back from the wedding in Pakistan, an adventure aptly called a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was exciting and uncomfortable and joyful and scary and absolutely incredible every minute. Every day was filled with new things—food, clothing, people, culture. Instead of a precise, day-by-day travelogue which I’m afraid might be boring to anyone but me, I thought I would share with you my top three “firsts” from each day of the trip. I hope to find time to edit all the wedding photos and post them next week, after I dig out of the mess that always accumulates when you’re out of town for a while.

Wednesday, November 23
We arrived at the Lahore airport at 3:30 am local time, twenty hours since we left JFK in New York. While we were both exhausted, the adventure was just beginning.

My top three firsts from the first day:
The Daniel Family

  1. First time being measured by a professional tailor. Our first stop after four hours’ much needed but insufficient sleep at the hotel was breakfast at the Daniels’ home. I immediately loved their youngest son—he reminded me so much of Hyrum with his chocolate eyes and winning smile.
    Their daughter, Liptka, surprised me with excellent English, and I felt a sweet connection with the mother, Sonia. After finishing our first true Pakistani meal (fried eggs, delicious crispy bread, and a sweet topping that looked and tasted like applesauce but I discovered was made from flour, sugar, and water), Daniel invited me to see his tailoring shop, a small room attached to their home, entered by walking through the small kitchen and climbing through a glassless window. Since I grew up the daughter of a seamstress, I felt immediately at home among the beautiful fabric scraps, random bobbins of thread, and half-finished tunics hanging around the room. Daniel insisted that he measure me so that he could make me my own Pakistani shirt and pants, and I left their small home with a full belly, new friends, and the promise of a Pakistani outfit made just for me. It was a great way to start the trip.
  2.  First time falling asleep on a stranger’s couch in the middle of a conversation. By 5:30 pm that evening, I could not stay awake. Brad left Nosheen’s house to go wash the car with her brother, and I was there in a room full of people I didn’t yet know speaking a language I still do not understand. It’s difficult to stay focused in a room where you understand not a single word being spoken around you (unlike French or Spanish which I don’t know either, but I can contextually understand some things). When jetlagged twelve hours ahead of Phoenix, it wasn’t possible to focus at all. I fell asleep in the middle of the conversation, and I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke, all the women looked at me and laughed not unkindly. Nosheen’s mother insisted that I go take a nap, even though it was 6 pm. I resisted that idea, because I’d heard the best way to conquer jetlag is to stay up until bedtime in the new time zone. Brad returned about this time, and he also insisted I nap, escorting me to a bed where I fell asleep before I could take off my boots. I awoke about an hour later, completely disoriented, boots still on, and covered in a blanket. I walked into the main room to cheers and laughter from the entire group. They must not have been too insulted by my unintentional sleepy rudeness.
     First big celebration of the wedding was the equivalent of a bridal shower. 
  3. See all the beautiful dresses?First time being taken aback by cultural differences. Wednesday night was the first wedding celebration—an all-girls’ party—and I met much of Nosheen’s extended family. Wednesday was the only day I stayed in western dress all day, and people would look me up and down all day long (it didn’t change much when I was in Pakistani dress, to be honest). I loved being included as a member of the family in all of the wedding festivities because it broke down the cultural barriers pretty quickly. One thing I found is that anyone who knew even a tiny bit of English would want to talk to me, no matter how little they knew. As I was sitting on the couch while Nosheen changed into one of her many gorgeous dresses bought by her fiance’s family, someone pointed to my boots. You all know my love affair with boots. I guess boots are completely foreign in that area of Pakistan, because she pointed to my feet and said, “What kind of footwear is that?” I just said boots, and she looked back at me and said, “Those look very uncomfortable. And why did you not put on makeup or lipstick or mascara for the party?” That last comment surprised me. I mean, I’m not a makeup kind of girl on any level (in fact, I bought my first MAC lipstick in Grand Central Station as we left NYC, specifically for this wedding—and the clerk had asked me if they are allowed to wear makeup in Pakistan), but I had been traveling that day for like 952 hours (ok—it was closer to 26, but still), and I didn’t think makeup would be a big deal in the Third World. I could not have been more wrong.  What do you say to comments like that on your first day in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar customs and a bit of a language barrier? I kind of nodded and tried to brush it off. I don’t think she meant to be rude, just making an observation, so that’s how I took it.
Sisters Romeza and Rochelle

What an incredible first day it was. And it just got better every day.