Last Days and the Problems of Pakistan


My Islamabad days coming to an end. This has very much been on my mind: the process of conclusion and preparing for the next phase. It seems that I am not the only person concerned with my departure; others are aware and want to talk about what this means.

My hairdresser, a foreigner who’s been working in Pakistan for five years, asked about my experience in Pakistan. After I shared he asked “but aren’t you going to miss having people do everything for you? The driver, the cook, the cleaners... When I go home, I really hate having to clear the dishes from the table.” When I explained we had someone come to clean our house twice a week he exclaimed in his hairdresser’s animated best “You did not have the full Pakistani experience! That’s the best thing about living here! You can have someone do everything for you!” Indeed you can.

Our guards found out that I am leaving. “I know it’s your last day in Pakistan, madam.” said Haider Rahman after he handed me the receipts from the laundry. “Madam, I have a request” he looked away in the manner of a 10 year old boy who got in trouble on the playground. He waited until I urged him to continue. Then pointing at the other guard seated a few feet away “Madam, me and my friend live in Pakistan.” Hmmm... where is this going? “We live below poverty line.” Again he looked at me, waiting for a cue. “Can you help us out Ma’am, so we can build better our family’s house or improve the education of our cousins?” Oh... I see. “No. I can not give you any money.” I did not apologize. “It’s OK, Madam, never mind” he said smiling bravely and backing away from me. Perhaps I was too abrupt.

The woman who comes to clean our house, is same age as I, has two children, drives a car and speaks English unusually well. Janniaz, one of the driver’s has observed that our “female servant is very rich.” Rehana knows our time in Pakistan is drawing to a close and has asked me several times to recommend her to other foreigners, “to anyone [ I ] know at the embassy.” Like most Pakistanis she overestimates my sphere of influence. She likes to share with me about the problems of her country. She told me about a disabled neighbor boy who can’t go to school. “Please, Barbora, tell people on your project that we need to get education for these people. He has not even a chance to be a sweeper. Nobody wants to take care of him.” When I expressed frustration about the frequency of loadshedding (power blackouts) she informed me that “this is the VIP area and loadshedding happens regularly. In area for normal people power goes off any time of day, for long periods.” Last week we had brown water coming out of our faucet, and again seeing my frustration she explained that at her house “now in the summer time there is very little water from CDA (capital development authority). So we call water truck and buy from him water for one week for 900 rupees (about $12, and about what Rehana makes in the 3 hours she cleans for us). This water is only for washing ourselves, our clothes and dishes. I have to be careful about using it. I don’t do laundry very much.” This week she shared about another “main problem in Pakistan” not related to education or power or water issues. I suggested that Rehana gives her phone number to the real estate agent who brings people here now to show the house. Maybe some of his clients could use her services. “No, Barbora, I do not want to give my phone number to any Pakistani man. Pakistani men are always bothering Pakistani women. Now you are leaving and I can tell you. Like that man next door who is always staring at me!” she pointed frustrated toward the house next door. I knew exactly whom she was referring to. The driver from next door, who aside from one or two errands a day, and the bi-daily car wash, does nothing except squat on a grassy lawn in front of the house, or loiter in front of our gate and stare into our windows. “Every time, I wash the dishes, he is always looking at me. When I get out of the car, he is always looking at me, and he bothers me when I walk by him. Pakistani men think they can treat women any way they want. I do not want to give my information to any Pakistani man. They would bother me and my family. That is the main problem in Pakistan.”

Right now, apparently, the biggest problem in Pakistan is Facebook. Protesters are out in front of the Parliament, not demanding clean drinking water, electricity for their homes, or education for their children. They are demonstrating against sacrilegious imagery on Facebook (which only 1% of Pakistan’s population uses). Perhaps this is the main problem in Pakistan.

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