No Women in Sight
Clank! The curtain slammed shut as several women covered from head to toe in black cloth walked past me at the local juice stand. The worker gave me a discerning glare as I couldn’t hide the flabbergasted expression on my face. “How can those women see?” I thought to myself as they had several pinholes a few millimeters in diameter poked where their eyes should be. Not even a micrometer of skin was exposed on their bodies and I had just realized that I had not seen a women’s exposed skin for several days now. Indeed, this was a great culture shock to me as I am a product of a culture that exploits sex and skin as a means to and promote consumerism and freedom. However, in this region of the world, women are free to cover themselves as they see fit and only expose their faces in the privacy of their own homes with immediate family members. Perhaps this was a different expression of freedom from what I was used to. From my understanding, the burqa is a choice made by a woman in order to reject superficial judgements which are so common in the Western world based on a woman’s outer appearance. Rather than allow themselves to be gawked at by male strangers, Pakistani females choose to defeat the “male gaze” by hiding behind a piece of cloth. This enables them to be seen as individuals and not as objects of sexual desire. Public display of the body may oppressively marginalize many who physically fail to measure up to the current images of perfection in the media. As long as a woman has free will to choose, I have no problem with them covering themselves up as they see fit.
Murder in the Streets of Lahore
Anti-American protests filled the streets of Peshawar. A local man informed me of the horrific news. The previous day an American ambassador shot two Pakistani men on a motorcycle in Lahore after a perceived threat by the two locals. He said the details about what kind of “threat” occurred was not uncovered by the media. Anyway, there were hoards of people on the street due to the violent undertaking and the local man suggested getting into a rickshaw together in order to keep a low profile in the midst of all the chaos. We passed the crowds unscathed as I was now extremely happy I invested in local clothing which I used to transform myself into a chameleon in this Pakistani jungle. I was quickly noticing that things can take a turn for the worse in this unpredictable land before you can finish saying “assalam alaikum.” How lucky I was to meet the man who became my guardian angel in Peshawar’s concrete jungle.
A Humbling Experience With Afghani Refugees
After gulping down my glass of juice and pondering on the mysterious lives of Pakistani women, I found myself wandering into another market district. Along the way, I came across a modest looking bread shack selling chapatti while a group of twenty women covered from head to toe in burqas were sitting on the ground outside the entrance. A man whispered they are Afghani refugees who were waiting for any kind of food people were willing to donate. I decided to buy about 20 rupees (30cents USD) worth of bread, which got me two piping hot pancake sized pieces of food and started giving handouts to the women. All of a sudden, one of the refugees snatched the bread from my hand and shoved as much as she could into her mouth at lightening speed. The other Afghani women all attacked the daring one like a group of wild vultures competing for prey on the Mongolian steppe. I had to aggressively pry open the bread thief’s hands and distributed small pieces to the group in equal rations as best as I could. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the group of women as I have never seen people fight like this for food. It was one of the more humbling experiences I have witnessed in my life. I can’t even imagine what kind of lives these women have lead coming from the war torn country next door. Their desperate lives as refugees escaping the horrors of war belittle the issues I face in everyday life. From that moment on, I resolved never again to complain about the difficulties of my life full of food, shelter, clothing and love from my family and friends.
Upon further investigation on the refugee crisis in Peshawar, the New York Times reports that about 100,000 Afghani refugees who fled their home country in the 1980’s during the war with the Soviets. Approximately sixty per cent left home with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I had just come face to face with the sad reality that war brings to the world.
No Trips to Afghanistan This Time Around
The following day I decided to go to the Tribal Affairs Office to inquire about the possibility of going to Kabul by land from Peshawar. Unfortunately the manager said they are not giving out permits to cross the Kyber Pass (the Kabul-Peshawar border crossing) responding that the situation is currently “too dangerous.” After I offered to pay for an AK-47 armed guard to accompany me the man said that “one guard is nothing and will not help you.” I visited several travel agents that said flights were going for $400USD, so I decided to scratch that idea and check out Afghanistan on another trip. Perhaps this was for the better, as safety should always be my number one concern and I just took it as a grain of fate that was not meant to take place at this point in time.