American Blood Lust
“Militant groups lust for American bloodshed in Peshawar. Don’t go,” the man sitting next to me on the bus pleaded with me. “If you go there I will pray to Allah for your safety,” he said with deep concern in his eyes. “Due to the US government’s support of India in the Kashmir dispute and their backing of Israel you will have a target on your back,” he continued. He explained to me that Lahore is very “second, but humans sometimes get fed up if someone is devastating their situation,” he described. “Even though we are all brothers and sisters descending from Adam and Eve, it is natural for jealousy and envy to occur even within the same family,” he calmly explained. Before getting off the bus and setting off for his hometown, he kept on trying to convince me to visit his home for a few days to see what rural Punjabi life is like. “It would be an honor to have you as a guest in my home,” he stated. I declined his offer this time around as I had limited time to travel and really wanted to see Peshawar. During the course of the seven hour bus ride from one border town (Pakistan-India) to the next (Pakistan-Afghanistan) the bus stopped at a roadside rest area that had a mosque (every rest area in Pakistan has a mosque) for afternoon prayer. At one point the bus driver stopped another time just to pray while everyone else was waiting on the bus. Along the way we had several police checks which involved filming every passenger with a video camera for about five seconds for security measures. I have to admit my conversation with my bus companion made me feel a bit uneasy about visiting the border town of Peshawar, but my thirst for the unknown was far more powerful than any warning from a local man and I was excited to see what was in store for me next. The adrenaline continued to pump through my body as the man left my side. I felt like a fifth grade elementary student high on a sugar rush on Halloween night.
The First Day
We arrived at night in Peshawar and I was lucky to find a cheap hotel near the bus station where I got some solid rest. The next morning as soon as I stepped foot outside of my hotel I attempted to buy some fruit from an Afghani man but he refused my money with a wide smile. I tried to practice some of the Pashto I learned on the bus the previous night- “suh taa noom sey dey?” (What is your name?) “chuh Pakistan hwah hoom!” (I like Pakistan) “Tey Dey Ruh Ha ee” (you are very kind). They were pretty amused by my attempt at speaking the language and I looked down to see some Afghani kids laughing at me. As I continued on my way, a man approached me and invited me to come up to his office nearby for a cup of tea. While we sat at his desk and drank some chai he warned me over and over about the dangers of Peshawar and said bombings happen here all the time. We talked for a bit and he escorted me onto the street after declining his offer to take me to my $2USD per night guest house on his motorbike. I have never been a fan of motorcycles and figured my odds of an accident occurring on his motorcycle are much high that becoming a bombing casualty victim in the border city. After walking for a few minutes in the direction of my guest house (which I wasn’t sure how to get to) he pulled up again on his bike and this time I got on the back. I saw the deep concern in his eyes and changed my mind in a split second, especially after hearing so many warnings in such a short time. While I was on the back of his bike he gave me a bit of a city tour. “There was a suicide bombing at this intersection one year ago,” he said at a traffic signal. “There was also a bombing close to the airport a few days ago so we have to take a different route,” he informed me. He finally dropped me off in front of my guesthouse after a longer ride than expected- it probably would have taken me at least a few hours to find the place on my own so I was glad I decided to take him up on the ride. I made it safe and sound.
Low Cultural Intelligence Equals Danger
The following day I met a Chinese man named Jang who had been in Peshawar for three months. We talked for a bit and then decided to hit the town together. What I had figured would be a good opportunity to get to know the city with someone who had been there for awhile ended up putting me in a number of awkward situations and could have potentially cost me my life. First we went to the clothing bazaar because he was looking for a shirt when I noticed right away he was drawing a crowd with his intense bargaining over about fifty cents. “You are wrong! Do the math!” he raised his voice. One guy that was observing everything going down came over and whispered “shut up” in my ear with a stern look on his face in reference to my companion’s obnoxious behavior. I was getting quite frustrated with him as he was showing very little cultural sensitivity in one of the most feared parts of the world. The Chinese man was even scolded by locals for attempting to take photographs of children without an adult’s permission and proceeded to instigate heated debates on what the Koran says is the accurate age of adulthood. “You see this! Lack of education,” he condescendingly criticized everyone around him. At one point he fumbled around in his backpack while looking for something and pulled out a bottle of liquor in a crowded marketplace. Upon viewing a bottle of the forbidden beverage people had looks on their faces as if a ghost had appeared and started doing a Bollywood dance. I assumed that anyone traveling in this part of the world must have a high cultural intelligence quotient but I was dead wrong. I found it incomprehensible that such a person survived in Peshawar for three months. He was ruining his chance to make a positive impression on the Pashto people as the tourist industry is practically nonexistent in this region of the world due to all the Western media stereotypes. I would have been much better off on my own and it was a shame that the locals probably grouped the two of us together as arrogant outsiders trying to change their multiple century long traditions. “You are who you hang out with” is a motto I abide by as I am normally very picky about the people I choose to spend my time with. I should have known better.