My parents were born in Pakistan and both arrived in the UK in their teens. A decade after my mum arrived in England, I was born. Nearly a decade later I visited Pakistan for the very first time in 2006. My first memory of Pakistan is eating at a restaurant on the way back from the airport. There were lizards and spiders and cats. I hated every second of it, so did my siblings. I remember rushing back to the van and demanding to be let back in. We were laughed at by the rest of the diners. They’d figured out we were from ‘valayt’ (abroad). My family spent 6 weeks meeting family, wandering around the village and visiting famous landmarks. I did not want to come back to the UK after this trip, I recall crying as we left for the airport.
Fast forward to March 2020 and I’m packing for Pakistan 2.0. 14 years after that first trip I was heading back to the motherland with my parents and brother. I created a 10 day itinerary for the trip complete with the best times of the day to visit! Of course this did not go to plan. A 5 hour flight delay in Manchester meant we’d missed our connecting flight from Abu-Dhabi to Lahore and had to wait another 24 hours for the next available flight. The plane journey from Abu Dhabi to Lahore was one I will never forget, I really hated people for those four gruelling hours. The trip was my idea and it was at this point that my brother vowed to never travel with me ever again (we’ll see).
We went through all the checks at the airport (they were carrying out further screening as over the past 48 hours COVID cases had increased exponentially). I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people at the arrival gates waiting for their friends and family. With the help of my uncle we managed to make it out of the airport. We packed our luggage into the minibus and headed to my village which was another 5 hour drive away.
On the way we stopped at a roadside mosque for morning prayer. Hearing the azaan was beautiful. We then had some breakfast at Mian Ji Restaurant. Very well known but it was nothing fancy, just the necessities but the food was so good! Dhaal, parantha, achaar and dudh paati*. What a combo. A few moments later I saw a Pakistani truck and that is when it hit me, I was finally in Pakistan.
I’m not sure what time we made it into the village, we were exhausted but it did not stop the family from coming to greet us. Initially I had no idea who was even greeting me but they all seemed to know me. The all gushed over how much I’d grown since the last time they’d seen me. There was a lot of love and it was a very heartwarming feeling. I was surrounded by family members who I’d not seen in nearly 15 years, they had so many stories to share and I was eager to document them all. Having spent all my life in England, all I’ve known is the British-Pakistani culture. This trip was my chance to learn more about the authentic Pakistani culture, the self sufficient village life. What my life would have been like had my parents not emigrated to the UK. It really was an eye opener as you’ll soon find out.
News spread fast across the village that my family had come to visit and so we were constantly swamped with visitors. After a few days we managed to find some time to walk around the village. We visited lots of family, my mum met with old neighbours and friends. I’d walk into a house with my mum, we’d greet the people yet they’d have no idea who we were. When my mum then introduced herself, they were shocked and suddenly it was round 2 of the iconic 3 part desi hug, this time with a lot more emotion. Everyone had a story to share. It was humbling to walk through the dusty streets where my parents had spent their childhood. I soon learnt that Pakistani’s love the Coca-Cola and fruit combo especially amrood (guava) which very quickly became a staple in our house. It was honestly beautiful, our house was surrounded by fields and each morning we wore woken by the sound of the chickens and buffalos and my uncle knocking on the door with fresh milk. We had the most perfect view of the sunset and at night the stars shone so bright. We’d hear the azaan (call to prayer) from every direction, it was peaceful.
I took a trip to Dinga Shehar (a town close by full of shops) with my brother and uncle and I promise you I’d never seen anything like it. It was bustling with shoppers and drivers owned the road, I was trying very hard not to get run over. There was a shop selling pretty much everything but all I wanted to buy was jewellery and koosay (pakistani slippers). I bought 3 sets of antique earrings, 2 anklets and a set of bangles for 2800 pakistani rupees (£14). I was shocked at how much I would have paid for that back in the UK! Shopping in Pakistan is great but the trick is to not let on that you’re from abroad, if you can master it you’re winning. I don’t think I quite grasped this concept.
My family are from a village in Pakistan, my forefathers were farmers and were fairly self sufficient. Most of what we ate whilst in Pakistan was home grown and it all tasted incredible. The fruit and veg were half the size of what we have here in the UK and would not last more than 2 days. Roti (chappati) was a staple. One day I decided to make myself a potato omelette and all my family were in shock as to why I wasn’t eating it with roti. My older uncle asked me numerous times, I honestly think he was worried for me! The other staple in our diet was street samosas, everyday between 1 and 2pm we’d sit and indulge in the fried goodness and wash it down with Coca-Cola after (I was on holiday, don’t judge my diet!)
For all my relatives in Pakistan I was considered a ‘Lady Doctor’, as much as I corrected them and told them that I am a Midwife they seemed to think I had a cure for every ailment. This one lady came and told me that she was experiencing a lot of pain in her stomach, I asked if she drinks much water to which she replied no. I then told her to drink more water and eat healthily. Two days later she came back and told me that the pain had completely gone and that she was now trying to maintain a healthy diet! I was asked to double check medications that doctors had prescribed even though I’d tell them I didn’t have the slightest idea! Pretty much everyone suffered from joint pains and I was out there on the veranda demonstrating the best stretches and exercises to do! It sure was a sight.
One day I was told off for ironing my own clothes as we had a lady who would come to our house daily to iron, clean and wash up after us. I was shook. It was very weird having someone do that for you especially when you’re not used to it. I was not comfortable with it at all. The tipping point for me was when a family member had asked the lady to get her a glass of water from the kitchen. A million (not so great) thoughts ran through my mind. I was fuming. For the lady, it was her income and the only way she was able to feed and clothe her children. It definitely made me feel uneasy as it was a concept I was not used to. My cousins however were well accustomed to this way of life and knew no different. (More on this in another post).
It is crazy to think that my life would have been very very different had I been born and raised in Pakistan. I have a whole other home thousands of miles away, a whole part of me that I am constantly learning about. There is something about sunset walks through the fields learning about how your grandparents and great grandparents lived their lives. None of my visit to Pakistan went to plan, a 10 day trip turned into a 3 week stay due to Corona virus. The whole country went into lock down just days after we’d arrived meaning I lost out on visiting all the famous landmarks. I was upset about this for days when in reality it meant I got to spend more quality time with family members I’d not seen in forever and who I may never get the chance to meet again. There is nothing more wholesome than sitting in the company of loved ones and just having a good time. We’d play monopoly into the early hours of the morning and sadly I’d lose every time (don’t ever get smug in a game of monopoly, it will backfire)! Pakistan 2.0 was an experience and I cannot wait for Pakistan 3.0 in shaa Allah!
That’s all for now xx
*dhaal – lentil curry, parantha – chappati layered with butter, achaar – mixed pickle, dudh paati – boiled milky tea.