Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why I'm Not Going To Pakistan on Tuesday

We got the plane tickets and travel visas in order, a process which spanned over four months. I could've gotten liposuction at a celebrity spa clinic for the money we spent.

Then, the border firings in Waziristan started. Unfazed, we kept to our plans. I mean what's a little gunfire between shaky allies? In fact, we were so unfazed that we booked additional tickets to go to Saudi where Tariq's family currently lives.

I jokingly started calling our travel plans the "Department of Homeland Security Terror Tour."

A week later, a bomb exploded in the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. I watched the flames pouring out of the windows of that hotel and the sinking realization came to me that the danger was real. Followed by the sinking feeling that everything had changed.

Again.

Last time I felt that way was after 9/11. Obviously, I'm not equating the Marriott Hotel bombing with the Twin Towers, I'm just saying that the way I felt was the same.

Before 9/11, I had a very specific construction of who I was and how I fit into the world. I knew that construction would be dramatically challenged and irrevocably changed when the identity of those terrorists became public knowledge. Same thought, everything has changed.

I'm aware that a lot has happened in Pakistan before and even since that bombing. But, for some inexplicable reason, all this nonsense started feeling real for me on that day. My family and I still didn't cancel our tickets, though. We talked, and talked, and talked about canceling, but we couldn't do it.

I know now that the root cause of our indecision was based wholly on denial.

We wanted to believe that we could go to Pakistan and be safe this time, too. We desperately clung to the hope that we would travel to Pakistan during this time of unrest and find, as we had in the past, that the media had blown things way out of proportion. We'd get off the plane and find that everyone was carrying on business as usual.

But, this time, everything was shaking us. The question was, should we act on these doubts or not?

I remember being at a dinner party last Saturday and talking to a friend's mother, who is visiting from Pakistan, about the situation. I asked her what I should do, what did she think?

She couldn't give me a straight answer. We live with this, we're used to it. It's harder for you, you're not used to these things, she said.

She's right. If we went through with our plans, we would be in a constant state of fear. Every moment would be spent looking out for suspicious cars, suspicious packages and shifty characters.

I called my cousin in Pakistan at 3a.m. on Monday morning and asked him what he thought. I expected him to laugh at me. He would say I was acting paranoid, and to get a grip and just calm down. He ended up confirming the worst of my suspicions. We're always looking over our shoulders these days. And we're used to this.

How sad. To have to live in a country where you become used to bombings. I felt sorry for them.

Then, I felt sorry for me. I was done being in denial and I knew I had to cancel those tickets.

Last year, I canceled my trip because of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. So, in December, it will have been four years since I last set foot in Pakistan. I'm starting to forget about that place that has always been so important to me.

I always visited in the summer, and the nights in Lahore were and, I imagine still are, amazing.

My favorite place to be was a garden designed by my grandfather who had died years before I was born. Jasmine, guava, roses, mangoes and fruits that I don't even know the English names of perfumed the air. My cousins and I would lay on the grass and breathe in that sweet air as we listened to my grandmother tell us stories about our grandfather and our parents when they were children. As the night slowly passed, my grandmother would go to bed, but we would stay there, laying on the grass and quietly staring at the stars.

I saw so many shooting stars during those summers in Pakistan. More than I had ever seen in America in all of my life. Probably because I never really look at the stars here.

One of my cousins told me that whenever the devil tried to sneak back into heaven, the angels threw stars at him. And that's why there were shooting stars. I guess even the devil, though he chose the place he calls home, sometimes misses the place where he came from.

I have opinions on the politics of Pakistan and its relationship with America. But, today, I don't care about them.

Today, four days after I canceled my tickets, I mourn, no, I weep, for the memories I have not touched with my hands for four long years. Another year will pass and I won't touch the guava trees that my grandfather planted in his garden over fifty years ago. Touching those trees was the closest I have ever come to touching him, and, in many ways, to knowing that he was a real person.

I just want my daughter to touch those guava trees, too. I want her to touch our past and know that it is real. That it is part of her. I want so badly for that to happen, and I'm so afraid that canceling these tickets means that she will never experience that.

Because it will become easier and easier to slip into fear, to rationalize the distance, the time away... until a few years will become decades and my daughter will file Pakistan away in her mind with places like Wonderland and stories of my grandfather with people like Aladdin.

Fictional people and fictional places that exist only in the imagination.

That same mother of a friend said something else that has been echoing in my ears for the past week. What a shame, she said, what a shame that we worked so hard to build a country that our children are afraid to come home to.

From the outside, I just look like a paranoid American who canceled a ticket. On the inside, I feel like the child that's afraid to go home. Or maybe, I've just become someone whose gotten tired of dodging stars just so I can see the place that I came from.

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22 Comments:

Anonymous Zia said...

While this may be controversial, may I suggest that it is not the violence but your family that prevents you from going? I mean, if you were single, you could go, bc no one misses a single person thaaaat much when they die. But if you were single, then you wouldn't have a daughter to show the wonders of Pakistan. Aaaaaah THE IRONY IS DELICIOUS!!!
(the stuff movies are made from).

Sunday, 28 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

oh, you're being controversial? so uncharacteristic of you. for what it's worth, you're probly right.

Sunday, 28 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

p.s. single people have daughters, you know. I realize that's not your point, I just love correcting you.

Sunday, 28 September, 2008  
Blogger sybil law said...

Yeah - I think once we have children, we become way more aware of the dangers around us in general - much less to a country mired in conflict.
I can't imagine how hard it must be for you, not being able to go back right now.
But I must admit, I am glad you aren't. I was worried.
It's easy to make ourselves feel like we're caving in to fear, when maybe - it's just our intuition.
Hopefully, it's just what it is - unfortunate all around, but nothing worse.
I am not sure that even made sense.
:)
Anyway, your memories sound so beautiful. Thanks for sharing them!

Sunday, 28 September, 2008  
Anonymous Mik said...

I hope you do eventually get to go.

Here via Avitable's blog.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Avitable said...

And here I thought it was all about coming to my party.

Don't worry - you'll be able to go back at some point in the near future and maybe your daughter will be old enough to remember it and appreciate it, too.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger RW said...

I can't see the way a person gets to the point in their life where it becomes ok to kill and maim innocent people. I can't see how everything gets so bad that people feel they have to hurt one another for their country or their God. I don't understand why we in America have to have our troops all over the world, and why people get so desperate - and in the name of who knows what - that they feel they have to kill people to make a point.

If a person were to stop and think about what they are doing before they pick up a gun and dress in a uniform, or make a bomb and drive it into a city street... the absurdity of it... would it make a difference?

It's so surreal sometimes I just freeze.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Miss Britt said...

I had a comment in my head... but, um - HOW IN THE HELL DID YOU GET RW TO LEAVE A REAL COMMENT HERE?!?!?!

I'm so jealous.

Ahem.

ANYway - I cannot even imagine. I remember how heartsick I was when my grandparents began selling off places that meant so much to me as a child. I couldn't believe I wouldn't be able to pass that on to my own babies.

I have to think that is only 1 tenth of what you are mourning right now.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

sybil: I think that's what made this so hard, I hate not being able to pinpoint my feelings. I think a lot of people are glad we're not going. Even my family in Pakistan.

mik: thanks, me too. was it the curse fest in my last comment that peaked your interest? :)

avitable: you got me. it WAS the party that helped me make that final decision. btw, my daughter is three YEARS old, not three months old. She would've understood and remembered. You need to have a kid so we can relate better. LOL.

RW: I completely and totally agree with you. I suppose we're fortunate that we've never known the level of desperation that drives people to that point?

Britt: Jealous? Please. You're a rock star in my book. I think your Iowa situation is exactly the same. History and legacy are fragile constructions, having tangible proof of them gives us reassurance.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Crys said...

the description of your grandfather's garden is magical and luscious.

you should publish this.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Avitable said...

A kid's memories at three are pretty fragmented. She'd remember and appreciate a lot more at 4, 5, or 6, don't you think?

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

Thanks Crys.

Avitable: You do realize your talking to someone who took her daughter to the Louvre and the British Museum when she was only four months old? I'm a big believer in early childhood education. Like Barack.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Avitable said...

Oh, you are one of THOSE parents.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Komal said...

Yeahhh I smoked my first cigerrate in pakistan...lol...but I miss Lahorie nights and shaheema baji telling me about the vampires that casually walk around. We'd be up until sunrise eating grilled kabobs and hanging out on the table in the backyard. I think I just miss shaheema baji :(. You think 4 months is bad, its been five years since I stepped foot in pakistan. I miss her face and her laugh...I love you and I certainly understand.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Komal said...

and don't make fun of my spelling! :P

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

I had no idea you were such a delinquent, but it's good to know I'm in good company. Wink, wink. And vampires *do* walk around at night in Lahore. MUWAHAHAHAHA. Love you, too.

Monday, 29 September, 2008  
Blogger kiki said...

Faiqa -- this is so powerful . . really, I have no words to express my feelings but I do pray that normalcy returns soon and all of you are able to visit Lahore together.

Tuesday, 30 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

thanks, kiki

Tuesday, 30 September, 2008  
Blogger Tariq said...

So, really what we are talking about here is the risk tolerance of a family. Here is how I would tackle this in the future. Let's use the following variables:
- # of people travelling
- risk weight for the country. Each country should be weighted between 1 and 10 where 10 is the highest risk
- # of vacation days
- # of days planned to spend in large public gatherings

So, the risk formula would look like this:

Risk = (# of people trav. * risk weight of country) / (# of total vacation days - # of days spent in large public gatherings)

The closer the result is to 0, the lower the risk. So, in our case, we would get:
Risk = (5 * 7)/(24 - 9) = 2.3

You can run this as a simulation with different inputs and see if 2.3 is an acceptable risk tolerance level or not.

ENJOY!!!

Tuesday, 30 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

tariq: LOL. I wrote about human suffering and you translated it into a mathematical equation. Think about it. One of us needs therapy. ;)
Everyone else, Please read Tariq's comments and think of it as the disturbing product of an Indian educational system that overemphasizes math and science. Long live the arts!!

Tuesday, 30 September, 2008  
Blogger kiki said...

"disturbing product of an Indian educational system" !!

Tuesday, 30 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

@kiki: :) Joking 'bout that, oc. Tariq (who happens to be Indian) is waaaay more intelligent than me. Than I am. Than I.

Tuesday, 30 September, 2008  

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