Before coming to Islamabad people often asked if I was scared or worried. Most likely these questions were inspired by headlines such as “40 Killed in Religious Procession in Karachi” or “14 Feared Dead in Mosque Bombing in Peshawar.” Completely legitimate concerns. What I feared most when coming here was isolation.
I struggled with isolation when I first moved to DC: not knowing anyone at all, and hardly knowing my husband-to-be. Sometimes the isolation became painful and overwhelming. I would cry from the loneliness of it. I knew in time it would get better, but realized, with Tom’s help, it would require effort to move things along more swiftly, and avoid getting stuck in isolation for too long. Taking classes, going to my internship, getting to know Tom’s friends and staying in touch with my friends and family in CA, all made a big difference.
Without work, without an external purpose, without meaningful conversations and connections with people that pull me out of myself, I feel isolated. That leads to loneliness.
Coming to Islamabad, I knew all these conditions would create a perfect environment for isolation to grow like bacteria in a petri dish. However, for these reasons I was hopeful about overcoming the dis-ease: I know and trust my husband a lot more; I feel much more comfortable and safe in our relationship; navigating the experience in DC gave me more confidence, strength and self-knowledge to prevail this time.
I am now swimming in the petri dish: Isolation in Islamabad. I can’t walk out on the street and wander around the city to become familiar with it. I am driven everywhere by male drivers. While out at a market I avoid making prolonged eye contact with people - lest I be perceived as a floozy or worse. I do not have any friends or work yet. We live in a hotel. I am in a foreign country and don’t speak Urdu.
It is very isolating.
I am not writing this to complain or to gain sympathy, but to squarely confront this feeling. To externalize something that might otherwise eat at me silently. To be sure, it will still eat at me, but sharing about it openly, makes it a more transparent and less powerful of an enemy.