Hanging in Pakistan – Nine Years Later

by Bushra on November 10, 2016

I was wandering through the aisles of Springs Mart, a grocery store in Karachi, Pakistan, studying everything. A supermarket isn’t a big deal but checking one out in another country is always fascinating to me. I saw stuff that I’m used to seeing in markets here but then there were also items I had never seen before anywhere, like variations of iced coffee in the fridge and even unique sandwich spreads (“Twix” spread? What? Why? And can I have some?!). 

It was my first night in Pakistan, nine years after the last time I had been in the country. I was in the market with my cousin and his wife getting bottled water for me, ensuring that I don’t accidentally drink the regular water and end up spending my trip sequestered to my bed, clutching my stomach, and hating life. 

I had just gotten to the country, but I was optimistic. There was a reason I hadn’t been to Pakistan since 2007 but I had decided to get over myself and book a trip to the country so I can see family. I have an uncle and aunts there – my dad’s siblings – and plenty of cousins that I wanted to reconnect with as it had been far too long since I had any real conversations with many of them.

In that sense, when I look back at my trip, it was what I needed it to be. I sat down with my relatives and asked them questions and listened to stories. I talked with my dad’s eldest sister about life in India before Partition in 1947, hearing about living in the city of Bulandshahr and going to the town of Khanpur during the summers to visit their grandparents. I heard about the family’s journey to Pakistan after the borders were created, about leaving everything behind and taking the bus to Agra, a train to Bombay, and then a ship to Karachi.

My uncle even dug up this picture of my grandfather – a group picture with the sports club he belonged to in 1928. That’s him posing on the bottom right. I never knew him as he passed away long before I was born. The only other picture of him I had seen was of him looking very dignified and serious so it was a bit of a trip to see him in this sports club picture.

From 1928 - A picture from the Christie Kutchery Sports Club in Bulandshahr. My grandfather is at the bottom right.

From 1928 – A picture from the Christie Kutchery Sports Club in Bulandshahr. My grandfather is at the bottom right.

I had a nice time talking to my cousins as well. It pained me that I missed so much of everyone’s lives, that I almost knew nothing about what had been up these past years even though we’re all connected on Facebook.

I’m incredibly grateful for being blessed and able to take the time to get over there and see everyone and indebted to my family for all the great conversations. I’m hoping it won’t be another nine years since I next visit the country and see family, InshAllah.

Random Musings:
-There are these chai/paratha* places that have popped up in Karachi in the Defence area (where I was staying) and one of the things on my to-do list was to check out one of them. These places are interesting. The establishments operate out of a kitchen with tables and chairs set up in empty lots to serve their customers. However, they don’t actually own the lots that their customers sit in, just the kitchen in which they cook their food. The one we went to was nice, with families hanging out in the lot, which was well-lit, well into the night. Even though it was late, I got myself a couple of cups of chai with my paratha – the traditional doodh pathi and a kashmiri chai because why not (well, actually, the “why not” should’ve been answered with a “because it’s pretty late Bushra and maybe you shouldn’t be drinking so much chai at this hour.”) Don’t judge but I kinda want to go back just to try all the other places.

Paratha and Kashmiri Chai at Desi Gali in Defence

Paratha and Kashmiri Chai at Desi Gali in Defence

-Dolmen Mall is… interesting. The last time I was in Pakistan, this place didn’t exist. It’s this massive indoor mall that has everything you would ever need. Back in the day, if we wanted to get clothes, we would have to wander through outdoor markets where I wasn’t allowed to say a word in case anyone heard my American accent and increased the price. Now, anyone (even me!) can do their shopping from this place, which houses American brands but also many Pakistani ones. Granted, as it’s a mall, I got completely overwhelmed and went through the stores and said I didn’t like anything and was therefore done shopping, but my bhabi (cousin’s wife) took the time to sift through many clothes and found me stuff that I should try on and ended up liking. I’m a child when it comes to shopping folks and I need someone to hold my hand through all of this.

At Dolmen Mall...

At Dolmen Mall…

*Chai = tea and parathas are these flatbreads that are cooked with ghee and may be plain or stuffed. Either way, they are awesome.


White Helmets – A Documentary Short on Netflix

by Bushra on September 19, 2016

The strife in Syria has been going on for five years at this point. A lot of the story is on the refugee crisis, with millions of Syrians fleeing their country to find a life somewhere else. But, as a picture of a young boy named Omran Daqneesh, who was covered in dust after he was pulled out of rubble went viral a few weeks ago shows, there are still plenty of Syrians who are still living in their country, which has been effectively a war zone these past five years.

And yet, all hope is not lost even as air strikes continuously bombard the country because Syria has the White Helmets. This volunteer group of Syrians conducts search and rescue, digging people out of the rubble, and clearing them away from any danger.

The latest Netflix documentary The White Helmets shows what it’s like to be a volunteer on this team as it highlights several men in the group. These men had previous jobs in their life before the war but now they work as White Helmets, understanding the danger they put themselves in as they go from disaster to disaster, pulling people out from under the rubble. The boy from that picture, Omran, is just one of the many people that the White Helmets have saved.

I can’t even wrap my head around what these men do. Even though many of them have families of their own, they put themselves in danger every single day, whether through the possibility of buildings falling down on them or from being caught in an airstrike themselves. Even though there are members of the White Helmets who have been killed while performing their duty, there are still so many of them that do this selfless work.

A lot of us can’t even understand what it would be like to live in a war zone and I hope we never have to. Our resources may be limited in what we can do to help the Syrians so the least we can do then is to understand the conflict and the stories of the people of Syria. Watching The White Helmets is one of many steps that can be taken to get a glimpse of what daily life is like for people who have done nothing to deserve the constant death and destruction around them. Check it out if you can.

The White Helmets is directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and is currently on Netflix, with a runtime of 40 minutes. Here’s an article on IndieWire written by the director and producer Joanna Natasegara about their experience shooting this documentary: The White Helmets’: How the Stars Of Netflix’s Doc Are Making A Difference in Syria’s Civil War

If you want to support this organization check out their site.

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