My husband and I are Canadians of Pakistani origin and have lived most of our lives in Canada. However, we still have extended families back home so this past December, after almost a decade, we decided to make things interesting and book a 14 hour flight with a flu-stricken child that took us half way around the globe to the land of tandoori chicken, chai, and at least half a million relatives. Pakistan however delivered; it was crazy, chaotic and tandoors full of fun. In summary, it was a blast. Or maybe I shouldn’t say that because it is Pakistan after all and people may misconstrue that to mean that I was in an actual blast. You racist jerks.
Before I talk about what Pakistan did to my parenting perspective, I wanted to share some key observations:
- Minivans are a waste of space and money because you can easily fit a family of five on a motorbike (sans helmets by the way).
- A casual brunch at home with “immediate” family can and will consist of fifty people.
- Road safety is for bozos. When we got on the road the first time, my daughter confused and overwhelmed by the intense driving and lack of road rules screamed at every car and bike, “Get outta the way! Get outta the way! Beep beep beep!”
- When having a discussion about parenting I quite seriously asked a cousin whether women with six, seven or eight children experience post-partum depression. His response was that since they have children so frequently, there is no time left in between post-partum and pregnant to get depressed.
- The food. God the food, is criminally delicious. And the default setting of food in any restaurant is set-your-mouth-on-fire spicy. Apparently, KFC at first introduced a “mild” sandwich and a “spicy” sandwich but since no one bought the mild one, their default became the spicy one. Even fruit cocktails have spice in them. And omelettes made at home could possibly give you a stomach ulcer.
- Fruits and vegetables are tiny compared to Canadian standards but taste ah-mazing. Farming is still fairly organic and baked goods and dairy products are free of preservatives so everything tastes fresh and delicious.
- People drink tea. A lot of tea. Like all the time. Like some people are chain-smokers, Pakistanis are chain-chai-drinkers. My husband who doesn’t drink tea at all got quizzical and concerned reactions from people everywhere every time he turned down a cup of chai. People asked things like, “Are you not feeling well?” “You never drink chai or just don’t want it right now?” “Is it because you don’t drink chai at this time of the day?” “You want just half a cup?” “You don’t like the way we made it?”
You have something seriously wrong with you if you are in Pakistan and refuse a cup of chai.
- People feed you incessantly. Even when you tell them you’re full or that this is your sixth lunch today because you have already visited five other family members or that you really just don’t want to eat right now. Or you have violent diarrhea. Or you are allergic to this food item. Nothing works. “Please eat, please one more, just one more.”
- There is garbage and poverty but there is also beauty.
- There is a warmth, simplicity and genuineness in people that I feel has been eroded in our part of the world. There is an innocence in the way they communicate with each other and show care. They are unbridled when it comes to emotion.
- The culture is unbelievably vibrant. From clothes, to lights, to people, to food, to events; everything is over the top colorful, loud and glitzy.
- It’s a hot mess. Pakistan has its share of issues and it’s seldom portrayed in the West in a positive light but my god, do the people have resilience! If you want to understand the concept of ‘life goes on’, visit a third world country. Through power outages, political upheaval, fraying infrastructure, unbelievably disorganized traffic and violence, people continue to persist, to laugh, to go on marrying and having children, to living life.
In addition to the love, delicious food and vibrancy of Pakistan, the trip was also a learning lesson for me. When I returned to Canada, I realized that I had fresh eyes on my world – and on parenting.
More on that later.