“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain

Home

We arrived home on Monday. Unbelievable jet lag, because I’m old. I kept dreaming I was in Pakistan, that I lost my scarf, that I was late for a meeting. It took three days to feel normal. I can’t believe the trip is over, and I am so happy I went.

Over our ten days in Pakistan, the security situation in the country deteriorated. In the week or two before our trip, there was a bombing at a market in Islamabad. The second day we were there, the terrorist attack on the Karachi airport took place, carried out by the Pakistani Taliban. Things became more tense as the week went on, from America resuming drone attacks after a long hiatus, to the military taking over the security in Islamabad the day after we left for Lahore. The day we flew out of Lahore, the Pakistani Taliban released the following statement:

“We warn all foreign investors, airlines and multinational corporations that they should immediately suspend their ongoing matters with Pakistan and prepare to leave Pakistan, otherwise they will be responsible for their own loss.”

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Despite what was happening in the country, I never felt truly unsafe. There was significant security at the hotels where we stayed, and multiple checkpoints throughout the city. There were moments of tension, and the understanding that something could happen at any time, but, in order to experience the country, I had to adjust to the tension and the checkpoints. The Pakistani people have adjusted too, and they go about their lives. We had several alumni in Karachi, and at least one of them was on the first plane out to our conference the day after the attack. It’s wonderful to see how resilient they are, but it’s not right to have to adjust to things like this.

During our time in Pakistan we had the opportunity to have discussions with several government officials about terrorism. One of the officials we talked to discussed our government’s support in the 80’s for the Afghan freedom fighters, which was the group that eventually morphed into the Afghan Taliban. He discussed how the Pakistani Taliban has used the drone attacks in their territory as a reason for their own attacks in and out of the country. He also talked about the limited resources the Pakistani government has to deal terrorism within its borders.

In another meeting, an official talked about 9/11, and what a devastating event that was to the U.S. Then he said that there had been 50 9/11’s in Pakistan since our 9/11, and the bombing and attacks continue every week.

This trip clarified to me how small the world is, and that the decisions our governments make ripple out and affect all of us. The people of Pakistan want the same things we want. They want to feel safe, to provide for their families, to educate their children. They want terrorism to end, and so do we. They want no more bombs in their cities, and we want that too.

There is so much to reflect on after this trip. I’d like to thank our alumni for their generosity and kindness. I’d also like to thank all the Pakistanis we interacted with over the course of our trip. The people of Pakistan welcomed us with warmth and curiosity. It was an incredible experience.

Like celebrities, but without the money or the looks.

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Over the ten days we were in Pakistan, we saw only a handful of Americans, and those we saw were from the embassy or aid organizations. Tourism, understandably, is limited at this point, so when we went out in our van or walked around attractions, we were a curiosity. They would wave at us as they passed us in the van, and approach us when we were walking and ask where we were from. They would have their children shake our hands, and a lot of them – and I mean a LOT- wanted to get their picture taken with us. Teenagers and old people, women with babies, and children. We would stand where they asked us to and they would take multiple pictures, switch cameras with their friends, and take some more. I loved that part of the trip. Not the pictures, but the interactions with the Pakistani people. Our conversations with them were brief, but warm. They seemed curious and genuinely happy to meet us.

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At one monument, a group of teenage boys approached us and asked where we were from. When we told them we were from the U.S., one of the boys asked us why everyone in the U.S. thinks that Pakistanis are terrorists. I wanted to say that they were wrong, but I knew that wouldn’t be the truth. The answer to that question is too long, too complex to answer briefly. All I could do was tell him how I felt. I told him that our group would not be in Pakistan if we felt that way. Short, but true. Then we took some pictures.

Shalwar Kameez are the beautiful long tops and pants that the women of Pakistan wear. My friend Mariam took me shopping for a couple, and I wore them in the heat of Lahore. They are cool and incredibly comfortable. Hoping I can start a trend back home.

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Below are some of my friends in their Shalwar Kameez.

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Shalwar Kameez

Islamabad to Lahore

Thursday afternoon we had plans to fly to Lahore to continue the trip. We got to the airport early. It was quieter than when we arrived because security had been increased since the airport attack in Karachi.

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The 2 flights scheduled before ours had been cancelled, and at about 5 at night, we found out ours was cancelled too. There was a long discussion with our escort about whether to wait until the morning and attempt to get on the next flight, or rent some vans and drive to Lahore. First, we checked with the embassy, then we began the prolonged process to find vehicles. Finally, at 8 PM, we loaded up for the trip.

Frankly, I was a little anxious about our plans. It would be a long drive, at night, through Pakistan. I was concerned about road conditions, and animals, and everything else you can worry about, but driving was the only way to get where we wanted to go.

The traffic getting out of the city was like nothing I’d ever seen before. After about an hour, we made it to the highway to Lahore.

The highway I was worried about? Well, it was pretty much like the Mass Pike. The signs were in English and Urdu, there are rest stops (and the food is incredible!) and they even have fast pass lanes at the toll booths. Lesson learned.

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7 hours later we arrived in Lahore.

Daft Punk

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On our last day in Islamabad, we were able to make a brief run to the Market, and Malik drove us. We asked if we could listen to music in the car, so he turned on the radio for us. We expected traditional Pakistani music, but his playlist was filled with rap music from the US. We were in Islamabad listening to “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” We sang together on the way back to the hotel, and it was a great moment. Music, anywhere in the world, is the universal language.

Tell me something interesting about America

On Tuesday and Wednesday we attended a conference with the alumni from the Pakistani Exchange program. Interesting to note that conference centers look the same all over the world. We spend a lot of time discussing what the alumni had taken from their experience with the exchange.

Then there was the gift giving. So many of the participants had purchased small, personal gift for us. There were shawls, and hats, and wall hangings. They were so kind and thoughtful, and so happy to share with us. The Pakistani people truly are some of the warmest people I have met.

The best part of the conference for me was the time I got to ask the alumni to tell me something interesting about their experience in America. I heard some great stories, and I share some of them below.

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Khaqan

“I attended a meeting were people argued for 3 hours about whether dogs should be allowed to run without a leash in a park. I was surprised that there was such a heated debate about an issue that here, in Pakistan, would never be an issue. There are bigger problems here in Pakistan. People lose their power multiple times a day at times. In American, people look after their dogs, but I wonder if they spend as much time taking care of their parents.

When I was in America they asked me what resources we provided for senior citizens in Pakistan. We do not have that issue here. They stay with us, and we care for them.”

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Aziz

“People in America smile a lot more than we do here. Over here it is an exception. In America, I learned to wear a smile. A smile costs nothing, and it has been a positive change for me.”

What was interesting about America?