The Many Faces of Pakistan

By Ghosheh, Baher; Czejdo, Januz | Focus, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

The Many Faces of Pakistan


Ghosheh, Baher, Czejdo, Januz, Focus


Janusz Czejdo is a professor o Russian language and culture. An avid traveller he travelled to Pakistan and Nepal to expand his understanding of these opaque cultures. Czejdo is of Polish heritage and has had limited exposure to non-western cultures. Upon his return, he sought the assistance of Baher Ghosheh - a professor of geography and a specialist in cross-cultural studies - in making sense if his experiences in Pakistan. Ghosheh's ethnoreligious and academic background allowed him to document Czejdo's experiences in Pakistan in a more meaningful and coherent manner Ghosheh has lived, travelled to, and studied in various Asian and Islamic countries. Ghosheh conducted interviews of Pakistani students at Edinboro University, Edinboro, Pennsylvania USA to ensure accurate readings o cultural attitudes.

As I stood in line to catch my flight from JFK Airport in New York to Karachi, Pakistan, my colleague's warnings kept ringing in my head. My anxiety level increased as I noticed the Pakistani passports in the hands of seemingly everybody else in line - the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" brightly painted on the green documents. In my mind, the term "Islamic Republic" evoked images of Iran, hostages, and anti-westernism. The Pakistani airline stewardess interrupted my thoughts by asking for my ticket and passport. My blood pressure went up rapidly when she, unable to hide her curiosity and surprise, asked "why are you going to Pakistan?" I managed a smile and unable to think of a convincing answer, responded "why not?" I walked to the gate wondering what tomorrow would bring.

While flying over the Atlantic Ocean, attractive flight attendants served dinner. My first introduction to Islamic law was in realizing that no alcohol is served on Pakistani National Airline flights. Although I rarely drink while flying, I felt uneasy having no choice in this matter. The Pakistani food served in-flight was delightfully adapted to western taste. The chicken curry was pleasantly and mildly spiced.

At Karachi Airport, it became evident that Pakistan is run by the army. We passed many inspection stations. I could not help but feel self-conscious about

my newly acquired status as the "minority." Physically and culturally, I was one of a handful of non-Pakistanis at the airport. The sight of the friend who came to pick me up brought instant relief to my exhausted body and mind.

"Picturesque vehicles from dreamland":

driving in Pakistan

Suddenly, I felt totally dependent on my friends. I realized that I could not drive, even if I dared to take on the traffic and knew where I was going. A foreigner in Pakistan is usually compelled to hire a driver for a rented car. Fortunately, drivers and labor in general are abundant and cheap. Amusingly, major intersections are "decorated" by wrecked cars. These modern monuments are supposed to remind people of the wisdom of safe driving. Judging by the way people drive there, the strategy is not working. The only traffic law I observed is the law of the jungle. In Karachi's crowded streets, mule-driven carts compete with the Mercedes and BMW for mastery of the road. I noticed that most traffic accidents seemed to be head-on collisions. Perhaps this is a sign of Pakistan's proud culture where people prefer to die rather than chicken out!

Treacherous Pakistani roads with unexpected speedbreakers, sharp turns and no markings are not a paradise for a driver. Many vehicles do not have rear or front lights and there are no clear passing rules or lane discipline. In addition, the police and the army are unable to protect travelers from bandits (called deciuts), who are active along many trade routes.

Common rickshaws, buses, trucks and bullock carts are transformed into picturesque vehicles from dreamland. Religious texts, paintings of mosques and holy cities decorate trucks and are believed to protect the driver and the cargo against accidents or other misfortunes. …

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