Sitting on the express comfy Daewoo bus from Lahore to Multan to Islamabad, I saw from my window the small villages, big green plantations, mud houses, men having chai sitting on handmade woven wooden-cloth beds as the bus rode on the bumpy dirt roads. Although sitting in it for nearly 8 hours made me car-sick, I enjoyed the scenery at some parts and of course, chit chatting with my Aunt :) I always like to think I am Pakistani at heart, whether this means blurting out Urdu phrases with some of my close friends or with the “Pakistani” values I hold dear to my heart from my parents :) Traveling through Pakistan, walking on its streets observing the people around me, I realized there was a lot I had tucked away in the back of my mind.
Much of my time in Pakistan was spent shopping or going out on the streets. As much as I enjoyed all of the shopping for fancy clothing, traditional jewelry and eating spicy fries and samosa chaats, I forgot about the poverty, crowdedness, and filth on these unlit streets. Past midnight on chand raat at Aapara, I saw the young children that lay on corners of streets, on the bare ground. Of them, some were fortunate to have a torn sheet beneath them, while others lay swapping their hands with the flies that surrounded them. I saw a girl, who appeared to be the eldest of 5, selling rose petals, holding her little baby brother. Many sat there with their arms out, pleading for money while giving you well wishes. On the streets of Islamabad, outside the malls and fancy bazaars, poor elderly roamed on wheel chairs or knocked on your car windows selling flower bracelets, fresh cut coconut slices or toys as you waited at a red signal. In America, on the streets of New York City or occasionally in Newark, you will find people and the signs of “homeless & hungry” in front of them, with a metal can to their side. While my heart goes out to people in both countries, in Pakistan the situations were evident, with no sign or jar of coins necessary. Of course some may question whether one is homeless, hungry, or not, but when you see a man in his 70s with a missing leg and hand, or an infant lying literally in dirt, you can’t help but want to do something-- even if it means giving the loose change in your pocket. Many may also argue that this is their way of living and have derogatory views towards helping them, but it’s times like these you need to ask your heart what feels right, with the best and righteous of intentions. My couple of dollars, in rupees, are equivalent to feeding their family for a whole day-- maybe I can sacrifice the kulfi I was craving, from the fancy ice-cream parlor across the street, outside on the steps of where they sat in their ripped dirty clothes. But of course, like every other person helping, truth is there is only one of me, and hundreds and thousands of them on the streets, and an ordinary person cannot ease all of their pains away.
While I love my Pakistan, some parts of it are not always so easy to see. Of course you have the traffic, congestion of people and cars, garbage tossed around all over, pollution, and stares that might tick you off, but there is also a lot of bad that I was glad I saw with my own eyes. Many of us know the realities and struggles these countries face, but actually seeing it hits you like a brick wall. After traveling through Pakistani lands almost ten years later, aside from spending time with family and the excitement of shopping, I couldn’t have had been more thankful to have walked on these streets for shedding light on what may have remained in the dark had I not been there.