The New Zealand government categories Pakistan as an area of ‘extreme risk’ and advises against all travel to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. We’ve now spent more than a week here and have found there is great risk of being overwhelmed by the genuine friendliness and goodness of the people of this beautiful country. After coming from India where as a tourist you seem to be the source of inconvenience, if not misery, to the average person, in Pakistan we have met nothing but goodness, kindness and generosity from literally everyone. It’s pretty hard to exaggerate this goodwill as I rate Pakistan as unquestionably the friendliest of the 21 countries I’ve visited. We spent 4 nights in Lahore and then took a 28 hour train to Quetta where we’ve spent the past 3 days – here are a few samples of our hospitality stories during this time.
Crossing the border: We were chased out of India by the immigration officials who were indignant that we arrived at the border only an hour before it closed – right into the waiting Pakistani immigration officer who chatted to us in English and Hindhi/Urdu about the similarities between Islam and Christianity and then offered us a cup of tea.
Asking for directions to our first meal: A young man named Ijaz overheard us asking for directions to ‘food street’. He offered to show us the way, then joined us for dinner, gave us a cellphone sim card (tried to give us a cellphone), invited us to lunch with his family (see below), invited us to stay at his friend’s house (see below), bought us ice-cream, changed USD into Rupees, loaned us a motorbike, was our tour guide for 4 days, paid for all our transport and meals for the remaining time in Lahore!!!!
Accepting a lunch invitation: We were glad to accept an invitation to join a Pakistani family for dinner, what we didn’t know is that we would be covered in gifts… and I do mean covered, we both got given suits and Nuala was given (despite all our protests) shawls, jewelry, a coat and jewelry for our future children insha Allah (God willing)!!!
Staying with a friend for a couple of nights: Ijaz’s friend Tanveer invited us to stay with him for a few nights till we left Lahore. This meant that he fed and looked after us, skipping work at both his jobs to come home and cook us meals or make sure we were safe.
Sharing a train cabin(1): Shortly after saying goodbye to Lahore and setting off on our 28 hour train journey, we struck up a conversation with Saleem, a business man and a Islamic studies student. After a long, enlightening, stimulating, gracious and captivating discussion about Islam, Christianity and the Trinity (perhaps we bit off more than we could chew, even for a 28 hour train ride), he and his friends adopted us, fed us, entertained us and looked after us for the following few days here in Quetta
Sharing a train cabin(2): Mr Gillani was a quiet observer during most of the discussion above, but he slowly and shyly got to know us over the long journey. He too fed us and bought us fruit and gifts over the last few days in Quetta, he was especially good about bringing us yummy food at our hotel after dark when foreigners are not allowed out without an armed police escort.(Something about the risk of kidnapping)
Sharing a train cabin(3): A young Christian banker named Matthew joined us on the train for a few hours, but that was enough for him. He took us out in his native Quetta to the dark side streets where Christians (and some not so devout Muslims)sit in their cars and quietly put away a few drinks over pieces of barbecued lamb.
There are so so many more stories of little deeds of hospitality – friendly cups of tea offered to us everywhere we go and genuinely warm and kind conversations with just anyone on the street who realizes we’re not from Pakistan. The one bizzare aspect is the environment in which this all takes place. There are heavily armed police and army troops everywhere, roundabouts are occupied by machine gun nests, foreigners supposedly need an armed escort, and everyone we meet tells us not to trust other Pakistani people. It’s tremendously hopeful to see goodness flourish in peoples hearts despite the circumstances they live in and it’s saddening to realize that these good people really do deserve more than the raw deal they’re currently getting. Pakistan may be on the ‘wrong side’ of the partition with economically booming India, but we’re convinced that the riches of the spirit of generosity are truly abundant on this side