Pakistan: Dangerously Enchanting.

Kindness is like electricity. It keeps flowing wherever it finds a connection | Bina Shah, Pakistani’s writer & columnist

What have you heard about Pakistan?

If all that came to mind is the images of bombings, killings, corruption, Moslem extremists, natural disasters, poverty and terrorist attacks, well, you were just like me. Until four days ago, that is, when I landed in Karachi (Pakistan’s City of Bright Lights) and realized that the country has a lot more to tell than what we’ve seen in news reports.

The top of my memory list about Pakistan is the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people. It brushed over me like a sweet nostalgia of being in my own home country. The friendly gesture seeped gently and silently from the side street of Karachi, the market, to the security guards at the hotel lobby. When we were hitting Karachi’s bustling street on midday and taking pictures of a colorful tuk-tuk, the driver turned his head to us, made a peace sign with his hand, and shot us a pleasant smile. At Zainab market, overhearing Dita and me speaking in Indonesian, the shopkeeper told us how he adored Indonesian batik and wished to sell it in Pakistan (which he couldn’t do, unfortunately, due to high customs duty). It’s impossible not to feel optimistic and hopeful when there’s such friendliness around; lifting your mood as you go along.

The second is the positive energy radiated by Pakistan’s younger generation I met during the Social Media Summit. I have faith in Pakistan today, as I have faith in Indonesia 5 – 10 years ago, when things turned ugly. I mean, we’ve been dealing (and still dealt) with more or less the same thing: bombings, killings, corruption, Moslem extremists, natural disasters, poverty and terrorist attacks.

I might have little faith in our government or in the way they rule the country, but I have faith in my fellow Indonesians, especially the younger generation. They’re the ones eager to become a part of a solution instead of being a part of the problem. Maybe, we’ve been so tired of being pessimistic and cynical about a lot of things, and decided to do something about it instead. While our younger generation came up with amazing initiatives like #IndonesiaUnite, Indonesian Youth Conference, Indonesian Future Leaders, and many more, Pakistani youths have also shown their contribution to their beloved country.

One of them is Mehreen Kasana, 20 years old. When I was in Pakistan, the killing of Pakistani youth Sarfaraz Shah by Rangers personnel outside a park in Karachi made headlines everywhere. I met Mehreen during the Social Media Summit at Avari Hotel. She was standing near the coffee table, holding a sign: Stop Killing Your Own People, after coming back from protesting the brutal act. Mehreen is a media student who is loud and opinionated, and she doodles a lot. Her recent blog posting discussed about stereotyping:

I was arguing with a professor once about stereotypes and how they affect us in both direct and indirect ways on discerning levels. After being viewed as a brown Muslim female from Pakistan, I have had my fair share of instances where apparently wise people ended up asking me questions that deserved exasperated sighs and, sometimes, a good punch or two. e.g. “Do you guys in Pakistan kill every girl who wants to study?” and recently “Does everyone wear those black face net things? I heard you can get shot if you don’t.” >> Read more…

And then, there’s Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, 25 years old—who came all the way from Islamabad, City of Angels.

We shared a session on using social media for disaster response and management. Ali and his friends started a youth movement in Pakistan, called Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA). As quoted by The Viewspaper, Ali said:

PYA is silent revolution; it is by no means a rebellious initiative. We don’t like to point, we aim to change! We don’t mean to burn, we aim to spark! PYA is a youth motivated, youth run, and youth centered non-political/ indigenous movement which aims to wake the youth of Pakistan from the sleep of apathy. We have had it with the flaws, we have had it with injustice and we have had it being quiet. The anger in us all boils our inside so much that we wish to scream, but if we come out on streets in an unorganized manner, no one would listen. >> Read more…

Pakistan Youth Alliance played a significant role in 2010 Pakistan floods, when they did online fundraising and distributed donations to different areas blocked by the severe flooding.

And please meet Gibran Ashraf, 25 years old, a journalist at the Express Tribune who interviewed me about Coin a Chance!. When he saw my Canon 550D, we started talking about photography instead.

And this is Khaver Siddiqi, 31 years old. He’s a social media manager in a company called Creative Chaos (don’t you just love the name?). Similar to Indonesia, brands and companies in Pakistan have also started making their way into Facebook and Twitter, especially to reach the younger generation.

This is my new Pakistani sister, Sundus Rasheed, the manager of programming at an English-language radio, CityFM89 in Karachi. She loves Ariel Peterpan and really upset that Ariel is now behind bars. She was one of South Asia’s young leaders who got invited to join International Visitors Leadership Program for Civic and Political Engagement hold by US State Department.

You can’t lose hope seeing these young free spirits in Pakistan!

Sundus (and her sister) took me out at around 1 AM to roam the old town of Karachi. The town was lively in small hours, with lots of twinkling lights and street stalls. People were walking, talking, eating, and I got to taste Pakistani’s dessert made of milk cream, and savored one of the best Pistachio ice cream I’ve ever had in my life! Karachi streets after midnight were still bustling with life. Sundus told me that people are usually sleeping very late. In one stretch of the street, I could see lines of men with pillows and mattresses. And no, they are not the homeless. They are actually masseurs! :)

And who can resist the food?

Can you imagine? I didn’t really take pictures of the food one by one because I was too busy salivating and attacking mutton curry and chicken masala! And yes, we’re talking about me—who took pictures of almost any kind of food, but was too absorbed in a parade of delicious meals to take a shot of Pakistani food! And it was mango season! I couldn’t describe how sweet and fresh the mangoes were!

And what about these gorgeous sites:

Mazar-e-Quaid (Urdu: مزار قائد) or the National Mausoleum refers to the tomb of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is an iconic symbol of Karachi throughout the world. The mausoleum (Urdu/Persian/Arabic: mazār), completed in the 1960s, is situated at the heart of the city. [Wikipedia]

And this is the breath-taking view of the Jehangir Kothari Parade:

Seth Jehangir Hormusji Kothari, was a member of the Parsi community and one of prominent philanthropists in Karachi, in the days before the 1947 Partition of India. He is remembered today for the gift of his house and adjacent land for the building of a promenade, known as the Jehangir Kothari Parade,[1] on what was then Karachi’s Clifton beach. [Wikipedia]

And this is The Three Swords monument (Teen Talwar):

This impressive monument can be found in the area of Clifton. Karachi has many landmarks, but the Teen Talwar really stands-out. The three white marble swords symbolize (and are inscribed with the dogma of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah) Unity, Faith and Discipline. (“ittehad, yaqeen-e-muhkam, tanzeem.”) This lovely tribute was commissioned by the former President & Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Quaid-e-Awam). The abundance of white, good-quality marble in the city’s vicinity has apparently encouraged its wide use for the creation of many monuments, lending a symbolic nature of grandeur & purity. [TripAdvisor]

And here are some shots from Karachi streets:

Hey, remember those days when Indonesia became the “Travel Warning” country? And then Iwan Esjepe and his wife Indah Esjepe came up with the famous sticker we’re so proud of:

Well, let me tell you this: Pakistan is dangerously enchanting!

It was weird how I missed Pakistan instantly the moment I was in Dubai, waiting for my flight to Jakarta. And I just knew that I’d be back. Not only to Karachi, but also to Lahore, to Islamabad and other parts of Pakistan I’ve never seen before. This morning, at work, after feeding the goldfish and making a cup of coffee for myself, I realized how I wished I was still in Karachi: hitting the streets with some new friends, enjoying the food served at street stalls and attacking another cup of pistachio ice cream, watching concerts…

But, the best part of the visit is: that I’ve taken a bit of Pakistan’s spirit within me. And have kept it close to my heart ever since.

—–

*) thank you for everyone I met during Pakistan’s Social Media Summit, organizers, panelists, and participants, for your warm welcome and hospitality, for making me feel like I’m at home. bahut bahut shukriya.


45 Comments on “Pakistan: Dangerously Enchanting.”

  1. Maha Adil says:

    my home town is karachi,,, i very rarely visit, though i love da whole pakistan,, bt dis post related to karach was awesome

  2. Asma says:

    Lovely to hear about your absolutely mesmerizing experience in Pakistan!

  3. shobz says:

    I am so glad that you had a great time in Karachi. We hope to see you again sometime in the future. :)

  4. umenumen says:

    Awww……love it! :D

  5. unspun says:

    So proud of you Hanny. I too feel the same way about Palistan and the people we met, and your eloquence speaks for us all

  6. SmaLLRiNi says:

    really love your story and great pictures too…makin sukses ya Han!

  7. xohaibhassan says:

    thanks for the beautiful review of your trip to Pakistan .. =)

  8. [...] and was bushwacked by a deluge of warm Pakistani hospitality and enthusiasm. Hanny has written here very eloquently about the welcome we got and the feelings it [...]

  9. sekadarblog says:

    Your photos are dangerously beautiful too :D
    d

  10. felicia says:

    Thank you Hanny, for opening our eyes and giving us a different picture of Pakistan:)

  11. ahkath says:

    Thank you Hanny for writing such a great post about Karachi…!!!

  12. [...] Amazing piece of write-up by Hanny (http://twitter.com/beradadisini) about her visit to Karachi in connection with “Network!! Pakistan 1st Social Media Summit” held on last Saturday, June 11, 2011. Kindness is like electricity. It keeps flowing wherever it finds a connection | Bina Shah, Pakistani's writer & columnist What have you heard about Pakistan? If all that came to mind is the images of bombings, killings, corruption, Moslem extremists, natural disasters, poverty and terrorist attacks, well, you were just like me. Until four days ago, that is, when I landed in Karachi (Pakistan’s City of Bright Lights) and realized that the coun … Read More [...]

  13. nadia says:

    Beautifully written! Thank you for sharing my city so beautifully to the world. I hope it erases a lot of misconceptions created by media.

    • Thank you, Nadia! Your country is indeed, beautiful. We just need to get exposed to more good news from Pakistan. And I know the country has lots of enchanting stories to tell also :)

  14. Thank you for this beautiful
    article. Next time you visit Pakistan, please do take a tour of Northern Areas. I am sure you will be amazed by the natural beauty. :)

    • would love to! some of my friends have told me about their interests in visiting Pakistan! would love to arrange another visit there, but it’s kinda’ difficult to get a visa :(

  15. Asop says:

    Gibran Ashraf?
    Hey, he used my name! :D

  16. Thanks for you kind words … I still wonder why we are trying to attract western crowd … why don’t we attract tourists from Muslim worlds

    • agree! recently a TV station here aired a documentary of a beautiful mosque with Jewish architecture in Karachi. how I wished I could go there! I hadn’t have too much time to venture the city when I was in Karachi, but if I could get a visa, I would looove to go back and visit Pakistan again. not to mention that now I have some good friends there! :)

  17. [...] June 10 and 11, Ong and myself shared a story about how Indonesians have utilized social media in Network!!: Pakistan’s [...]

  18. Very nice post Hanny we really need such great article that represents true image of Pakistan other then what is shown on media today. It was a great pleasure to meet you people form Indonesia Egypt and USA. Please allow me to post your article link on my blog “http://www.pakistanprobe.com” along with some detail. Thank you.

    • My pleasure, Shahzad! :) Thanks a lot for making me feel welcomed. Looking forward to hear more good news from Pakistan. I’ve heard about Jehan Ara’s the P@SHA project. Sounds wonderful! Can’t wait to see great apps. mushrooming from this initiative :)

  19. nilatanzil says:

    love the pictures, coonteel!!! beautiful!

  20. didut says:

    ih postingan ini bikin iri tok *berlalu sambil ngeces* *komen yg begajulan sendiri*

  21. Yawar Abbas says:

    A lovely write-up. keep visiting this great land of beautiful people. Yawar Abbas

  22. astridreza says:

    there is something about the indian continent that make you want to stay forever. or basically you just left part of your soul there and had to return to get it.

  23. [...] post-journey excitement fades away. It is that kind of feeling that stays with me after I got back from visiting Karachi, Pakistan, June last year; and it is also that kind of feeling that remains as I was sitting on the plane, [...]

  24. Everything is very open with a very clear description of the
    challenges. It was really informative. Your website is very useful.

    Many thanks for sharing!

  25. [...] yet comforting and familiar at the same time. In one and other way, India reminded me a lot of Pakistan. The two countries captivated me in an instant to the extent that I would gladly think of them as [...]

  26. […] my mind instantly went to the street-side of Pakistan. After all the news reports I heard about bombings and killings and everything else, I was amazed […]


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