“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
- Robert Frost
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost came to mind when I was walking pass Badshahi Mosque, a sacred and historic landmark of Lahore, in my bare foot. Not only was I stunned by its beauty, it also brought back many memories.
Time always flies by while you're on exchange: it’s already my last week in Pakistan. My stay here was neither long nor short; it was just enough time for plenty of sweetness and bitterness.
Aside from the drama of the intern house when I first arrived, the project I worked on whilst in Pakistan turned out to be another disappointment.
Pakistan wishes to promote Pakistani tourism, as well as to rebrand the country in foreigners' eyes, which is why it was required of me as an intern on the project to visit lots of attractions so as to take pictures and write articles about my experiences once a week. However, the fact is that most of time the other interns and I only stayed at the intern house because there was no one to take us out to the attractions.
There were always clichés excuses why we couldn't go to the places where we should go according to the work schedule assigned, including: it’s not safe for foreigners to go there; there is no transport for us; we will get sick in such intense heat ... To make matters worse, I needed their permission to go out and was forbidden to go out with non-AIESEC friends, according to the contract I signed. So even though I made many friends outside the AIESEC circle, I could not come and go as I wish.
Luckily, I was always surrounded by guardian angels. There were many voice messages from my best friend, Hilton, who would scold me, telling me I shouldn't act like a child and that I need to learn to make things work and to make changes by myself. That was a much needed wake up call! There were also many friends I made in Pakistan who were always there to lend a hand.
For instance, my intern-bestie Warda always took other interns - Dee and Erica - and I out after work. She would have the driver from her company drive us or she would ask her friend to come and take us to different places, like to the cinema or to restaurants. Also, my non-AIESEC friends - Samreen, Mehrooj, Ramish and Bilawal - always came to visit me.
Not wanting to waste their effort or kindness, and so I get to know more about this country in the fastest way, I interviewed random people in my daily life. And to my surprise, they were not only willing to share their own stories with me, they also motivated me to become a better journalist. I never realised how a simple interview could meant so much for others until I met them. Almost all of the interviewees thanked me for coming to Pakistan, and exploring the peaceful and beautiful side of their country and people, which mainstream international media is often not willing or interested in covering.
One of the most touching interviews I had was with a tailor. Muslims have strict religious rules between men and women. For example, men and women are not allowed to sit together on public transport, so I was very curious about how this tailor felt about being Muslim and making clothes for women, which would seem like it might violate those strict religious rules. Apart from not minding answer my embarrassing questions, he insisted on getting me me something to drink or eat as he felt I was tired. I was so embarrassed about disturbing his working I asked for water only, but in the end he bought me a cup of falsa juice. I knew he wouldn't take money for the beverage, so I wrote him a letter with "thank you" in Chinese. I wish I could have something better to give him something in return, but I didn't bring anything with me. This was all I could do to express my thankfulness.
Another highlight was with my neighbour, a retired lineman who used to install and maintains electric or telegraph lines. In Pakistan, you will always be amazed by how people have witnessed their country's history, and how they still describe it so vividly as if it were yesterday. Most of all, how they still embrace their country with love, faith and understanding. The retired lineman became my surrogate grandpa in Pakistan after the interview despite our great language barrier. He greets and blesses me every morning when I go out. I have never felt so blissful in someone's company before.
I found myself gaining much more than I deserve in Pakistan; even more than the many beautiful pictures I captured.
John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." Although I am not Pakistani and still a "small potato", I really hope what I am doing and experiencing here can do something for this amazing country.
Finally, as this is my last blog post about my time in Pakistan, I want to thank all the interviewees and friends who made my journey truly meaningful, and for continuing to ignite my passion in journalism and eliminating stereotype.