CIA Spy Accusations
To start off the day, I made my way on foot to a neighborhood called Namak Mundhi for some mutton but ran into a potentially crippling ordeal along the way. As I was strutting around the food district a man invited me into his barber shop for a cup of tea. We were having a normal conversation using body language and the very little Pashto I learned over the course of a few days. Suddenly, the man getting his hair trimmed started interrogating me about my nationality. Upon mentioning I am from the United States of America his expression suddenly turned stark black and he rotated his chair so it was pointing directly at me. “Muerdabad USA” (translation- die USA) he said with a very intense look on his face. “What are you doing in Pakistan?” he asked. When I responded that I was on vacation traveling and learning more about the great country of Pakistan it didn’t seem to help the situation at all. “You are not traveling! You are a CIA spy! Nobody travels in Peshawar, only CIA spies that want to kill Pakistanis and Afghanis come to Peshawar!” he continued as the jubilant shop owner offered me another cup of tea with a smile on his face (I don’t think he could understand the angry man’s English). The shop owner insisted I accept the tea refill and I attempted to explain myself in more detail to no avail. I went on about how I am only “one man” who has no influence on the foreign policy of my country. Furthermore, I explained that I don’t agree with my government’s actions and that if I had a magic wand I would stop all of the wars going on in the world but unfortunately I’m not a magician that can solve complex issues with one wave of a stick. I don’t know how much he understood but he kept on repeating the phrase “USA muerdabad” again and again. “You say you like Pakistan but do you like Muslims?” he inquired in a bloodcurdling tone. As I clarified how Muslim people are just like any other people in the world and I consider many of them my friends I instantaneously gulped down my tea and left that neighborhood without a portion of mutton in my stomach.
One of my main objectives while traveling in hard to reach destinations is spreading peace and positive energy to those around me. Unfortunately, one of the lessons I have learned is that it is impossible to effect everyone I encounter as we all have stereotypes ingrained in ourselves that can be a gargantuan task to change. The only thing I can do is make the best effort possible and I was thankful the situation I encountered at the barber shop did not escalate into anything worse. Attitude is everything and later that day I ended up making a much larger positive impact on a group of locals than I ever would have expected.
Scolding by the Cops
I took a turn down one of the alleyways in order to get a break from all the noisiness and chaos of the main streets. I encountered some older men who greeted me with warm smiles and handshakes. Before I knew it they were offering me tea and a crowd quickly formed around me. One of the people that approached me was a fifteen year old high school kid who was extremely well informed for his age with a high English fluency. At lightening speed he started firing political questions at me when he found out my nationality. He was very quick at translating my answers into Pashto, the local language. As the conversation developed, an audience of thirty local people accumulated into a circle around me while hanging on to my every word. The adrenaline continued to surge through my body as the conversation progressed. Here is how the cross examination went down.
BOY: “Why are you killing Afghani and Pakistani people in Afghanistan?”
ME: “I am not killing anybody. Do I look like somebody that wants to kill Afghani and Pakistani people? Do I look like an angry killer to you?”
BOY: “No you don’t look like you want to kill anybody. You look like a nice man. Why do American people shoot Afghani people?”
ME: “The American people that shoot Afghani people are people that my government sends to do that. I don’t agree with many things my government does and killing people is a horrible thing to do. What about you? Do you like the president of Pakistan and everything he does?
BOY: “No, I don’t like our president.”
ME: “American people are the same way. Many of us do not like the things our president does in Pakistan but there is nothing we can do about it. Can you change the things your president does?”
ME: “Neither can I. I wish there would be no killing in the world but I can’t change the things my president decides to do.”
BOY: “Why do you hate Muslims?”
ME: “I was just having a cup of tea with all the nice Muslim people in this neighborhood and we were smiling and laughing together. Does it look like I hate Muslims?”
ME: “How many American people have you ever met?”
BOY: “You are the first one.”
ME: “What do you think of me? Do I seem like a ‘bad guy?’
BOY: “No. You seem like a very nice man.”
I won the crowd over after a few minutes of intense investigation by the boy and found myself posing for pictures with everyone. All of a sudden a police officer came over and interrupted our picture taking session. The law enforcement officer escorted me out of the alleyway and sat me down behind a barrier of sandbags and barbed wire at a major intersection while giving me a stern scolding. “Don’t tell those people you are American. That is very dangerous for you. Be careful!” he exclaimed. He gave me a lecture on the dangers of disclosing my nationality to local people and then bought me a piping hot cup of tea. His tone abruptly shifted as he asked me more casual questions in a friendly and hospitable demeanor. We had a nice chat for about fifteen minutes or so and then hailed a cab for me. “It is starting to get dark. You better go to your guest house now.” I decided not to put up a fight and end the day off on a high note.
This was an immense triumph for me as I was able to have a positive impact on the local people in that small alleyway. Surely the gossip would spread that a peaceful man from the United States visited their neighborhood with the intention of making friends. Often lack of experience with others leads to misunderstandings and negative attitudes towards groups of people from different religions, nationalities and races. As a result of my experience that day and similar travel escapades, I realized what a large impact a simple conversation can have on world peace. I felt like an ambassador who was spreading his message of peace to the streets of Peshawar. After all, we are all global citizens who are sons and daughters of our Mother Earth.
I have to admit my stunning performance under pressure left me astonished for quite awhile. The situation had the potential to turn hostile very quickly but my communication competency and persuasive speaking skills played a huge role in my survival that afternoon. One of the primary benefits of adventure travel is being placed in high pressure, unpredictable situations and being forced to survive and adjust quickly in exotic or even threatening environments. By doing this, one can also discover untapped talents at a moment’s notice. From that moment on, I have been committed to spreading peace and sharing my experiences one conversation, blog entry and language at a time while developing my communication skills.