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My Journey to a Conflicted Land

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Coming back to Lahore (one of the main cities in Pakistan) after many years, was something that I was looking forward to and dreading also. I am born American, however coming from a conservative Pakistani family my parents wanted to raise us as three girls in Pakistan. I was 10 when I moved to Lahore and I was 19 when I moved back to California.

For more than a decade the horrific images of Pakistan that the media had been showing seemed so different from the place I grew up in. So when I visited Lahore after so many years, I wanted to soak in the beauty and the darkness of this place -- I decided to write a journal about my trip.

Lahore Journal #1-Contradictions
As I left the airport, everything seemed the same yet different. The people were the same mostly clad in the traditional outfit called "Shalwar Kameez" but then I could also see many in western clothes including jeans, shorts, t-shirts, tank tops and dresses. The roads were wider and more organized yet the same noise of motorbikes and people buzzed through my ears. The same smell of food and humidity filled the air giving it a yummy yet sticky sensation. My heart raced as I saw the roads I once traveled on, the stores I once shopped in and the food places I loved to go to. Some of those places looked new however others were torn down and looked like ruins. Coming back to the place I grew up in was just full of contradictions......

Lahore Journal # 2-Kindness is the Language of Love
A few days ago at Iftar (opening of the fast), I sat in the car outside a crowded shopping center in Lahore. As people closed the stores down to break their fast, a very old man (who was selling fruits on the side of the road ) tapped on my window and offered me his one and only khajoor (date) to open my fast. I told him I wasn't fasting and thanked him , he then went and brought his plate of rice and told me to share some of his food, when I kindly refused he said, "Beti you have to eat something, how can I eat my meal when I see you sitting here and not eating," and insisted that I take some rice. I graciously obeyed and we both smiled and our souls were connected through kindness and a smile.

Lahore Journal #3-Hope and gratitude are the Biggest Weapons against a Defeated Heart
Today my mother carried out her monthly ritual of going to the hospital and giving money to patients who are in the worst financial condition possible. I accompanied her and as I entered the government-run hospital my heart sunk. It was a women's ward where patients suffering from tuberculosis were being treated, there were about 12 beds lying next to each other. Each bed had a woman on it, ages ranging from 16-80. As I passed by each bed and talked to them the thing that hit me the most was that they were in so much pain yet they tried hard to smile. Their eyes seemed empty and their souls were in pain. Some still had a ray of hope in their eyes while others looked like empty vessels. I left the hospital in tears and realized that hope and gratitude are the two biggest weapons against a defeated heart.

Lahore Journal # 5-Memories are the Mirrors of Our Heart
Yesterday I drove by a house I lived in when I was 11 years old. The house was the same - white walls, big yard, the black front gate, the empty road where we played for hundreds of hours, the smell of jasmine flowers, the mosque next door and the numerous mango trees. The house had stood there for so many years and given shelter to so many people after we left. The memories that came to me were so vivid and clear, and I never even realized that this house had lived in my heart for over 30 years. Seeing it was like embracing an old friend, we had shared so many secrets......