The journey back to Lahore was draining. I took the earliest morning bus back to Peshawar and we arrived at the tunnel at around 9:30AM. At first, the bus driver was very concerned that he would have to wait at the tunnel entrance until 12:30PM, but I told him the story about the Korean engineer bending the rules for us and letting us through last time via my animated body language repertoire. In Pakistan, marketing for buses and shared vehicle service works much differently from what many are accustomed to in other countries. Public transportation operators yell out their vehicle’s destination name at the top of their lungs while trying to lure passersby to jump on board. The driver was so delighted to have me on board his bus and yelled “Korea” while pointing his index finger in my direction while attempting to entice potential riders. Upon arrival at the tunnel there were no “Korean men” for me to negotiate with and we would have to wait. The driver looked a bit disappointed but this situation was out of my hands. After accepting the fact that we would have to wait for three hours my Pashtun friend came to me as I was sipping tea with the locals- “come here, lets talk with the Korean men,” he stated with a gleam of elation on his face. I followed him up the mountain and he explained to the security officers what we were doing in Pashto and one of the men offered to take us to see the Koreans in his truck. “Lets go drink some tea first before talking to the Korean guys,” he said. I am not one to turn down a cup of delicious Pakistani chai so we sat down with some of the engineers working on the tunnel project- a Chitrali geologist and a Philipino engineer.
We ended up chatting for about forty minutes over tea and biscuit refills. They shared many interesting tales about their work on the tunnel project including one about a Korean engineer who lost his life on a stroke of bad luck sent by mother nature. The man was going back to the office from his sleeping quarters in order to retrieve something and flood waters waded him away- all this on the Philipino guy’s first day on the job in the region. The brute force of nature in the Himalaya took the man’s life. Nature is always to be respected and feared. This just reinforces that we must treat our Mother Earth the way we would also like to be treated.
I eventually had an opportunity to talk to another Korean engineer who seemed only half interested in what I had to say. He wrote a permit for our vehicle to pass through the tunnel early. By the time I made it back down to the bus it was around twelve o’clock, which meant the tunnel would be opening in about thirty minutes. It didn’t matter though, everyone was absolutely thrilled that we were the only vehicle granted permission to pass through the tunnel a few minutes early.
This just shows the importance of knowledge and communication. Even though a modest fraction of the world’s population speaks Korean, my years of studying were put to use and helped me win friends in Pakistan. “When one speaks with someone in their second language, they are speaking to their brain. However, when one speaks with someone in their native language, they are speaking to their heart.” This quote by Nelson Mandela was proven true once again. Even though the older Korean man did not show much emotion, he calmly wrote a permission slip. The granting of favors like this is just one of the languages of love, even though there were no emotions verbally expressed. Never underestimate the importance of foreign language skills when establishing rapport with others.
A Social Blunder
The scenery along the Pakistani Himalaya on the way back to Peshawar was nothing short of spectacular. At one point we stopped at a rest area so everyone could pray and I decided to shed a layer of clothing outside a restaurant as the altitude had sharply declined along the last stretch of roadway and now I was covered in sweat. Upon shedding my shalwar kameez which naturally exposed my inner long sleeve shirt a man ran up to me in panic and said “there are women and children here. Go to the bathroom and change.” Before taking off a layer of clothing I debated doing what he suggested as people everywhere in Pakistan are extremely covered up all the time. I thought it would be okay since I wouldn’t be exposing any more skin than I already was. I suppose he thought I was going to take it a step further. “No problem. I am finished,” I said pointing to my long sleeves. Looks like I caused an accidental uproar.
Another important lesson was learned here. Always aire on the conservative side when unsure about committing a potentially socially unacceptable act. For many of the fellow passengers on that bus I was the only Non Pakistani traveler they had ever come in contact with. Therefore, any positive or negative actions on my part were sure to be etched into their memory for years to come. By traveling abroad, one must accept the responsibility of becoming a global ambassador and cultural sensitivity is of paramount importance.
Crossing The Border To India
I ended up making it back to Lahore at about 6AM and decided to crash for a few hours and chat it up with my friends a bit. I would have liked to relax for a few days and hang out in Lahore some more as I met some very interesting people along the way.
However, it was time to say goodbye- so is life. I was off to the Wagha border again to make my way into India. Once I arrived at the dead silent border crossing there was only one man working. Apparently there was a power outage on the Pakistani side of the border so immigration could not clear me using their computers. I waited patiently while reading a book and chatting up the immigration officer. He liked my shalwar kameez and the fact that I was trying to speak some Urdu and Pashto. I raved about Pakistan, its great people and mesmerizing scenery. After chatting with him for a bit he turned on the backup generator “just for you because you are an honest man and I like your character,” he stated. Next I exchanged the rest of my Pakistani currency for Indian rupees with the same money launderer whom I met on my way into Pakistan. I told the man I remembered him and reminded him of the Korean currency I gifted him for his money collection on my way into Pakistan a few weeks ago. He lit up when I mentioned I remembered him and said “you are a good man, please come back to Pakistan soon.” I have a feeling I will have to take him up on his offer soon!
If there is one word that sums up my experience in Pakistan it would have to be “hospitality.” Free meals and cups of tea on the street, offers of overnight stays in local homes, risking of lives for an adrenaline seeking tourist and genuine concern for the well being of a fellow global citizen. This was humanity in its rawest form. A standard of humanity we should all strive to reach in our daily lives. There is a warm place in my heart reserved for Pakistan and its people. A place warm enough to make you sweat bullets on a frigid night in the Himalaya. With each act of kindness I received over the course of three weeks it became larger and warmer. Due to the mass media, unfortunately Pakistan has become the misunderstood mother in law of our world. Just like any relationship, whether between individuals, cultures or nations, we must seek first to understand and accept. If done properly and with awareness, they will naturally find a way into our heart, which contains the ability to expand with infinite potential. Seek to understand and unleash your heart’s infinite potential!