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.

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