Love & Culture

Letters / Dec. 26, 2002 12:00am EST

In Pakistan

Love & Culture

In Pakistan

The ice cream man pedals his cart along the street. His calliope is playing "It's A Small World After All." I can see the blue umbrella of his cart above the security fence.

My room is on the ground floor, in the corner of the hotel near the security guard hut. There are two security guards on duty all the time, day and night. There are also two in the back of the hotel. They wear automatic rifles over their shoulders.

A man singing Islamic prayers is being broadcast over the loud speaker. This is the modern world here in Pakistan. Instead of the call to prayers from the turret of a mosque, loud speakers are installed on every corner like public phone booths in the states. Prayers are offered five times a day. I have a prayer rug in my hotel room, and an arrow on the desk showing me the compass direction toward Mecca.

I have come here by a long strange road. I met Junaid, a Pakistani man, on line before September 11. He is talking about marriage, so I need to get to know him better before I bring him into the US on a fiancé visa. He was refused a visitor visa to the US, so I have come here.

I have already lived through Ramadan, and Eid. I know a lot about his culture, for sure! But now I need to get to know the man. Instant Messenger works well for awhile, but we got to know each other so well that we were arguing all the time.

We are still arguing. I have the entire staff of the hotel helping me out with this. My phone calls to Junaid have to go through the front desk. When he comes to the hotel, the receptionist calls my room and announces, "Mr. Junaid is here." I have to give my permission before he is sent down the hall. Every day, when I need to talk to someone, I tell the front desk what Junaid and I are arguing about. They give me good advice.

There is a general rule about the relationship between men and women here. The man is supposed to tell the woman what to do. The woman is supposed to say that she is trying very hard to do what he says, but she is always making mistakes.

There is real equality between the sexes here. Equality, with a sense of humor.

This is not a vacation atmosphere. It is very dangerous for a US citizen to be in Pakistan. This hotel has guests who work at the U.S. Consulate, so safety is a high priority. The hotel has special drivers to take people to their destination, stay with them, and then bring them back to the hotel.

Junaid is worried constantly about my safety. I feel bad about this, because it means that there are a lot of things we can’t do together. But we have no other choice. Because he is from Pakistan, he can get visitor visas only to other Islamic countries. Security for me would be worse in Yemen or Iran.

Ramadan was quite a test. I came here on purpose for that. I wanted a heavy dose of the Muslim tradition, and I certainly got it! It is a federal crime to eat or drink in public during daylight hours in Pakistan during Ramadan. Whenever I had a bottle of water, I had to drink it by myself behind a closed door.

Ramadan was a test for Junaid, too. I didn’t tell him I was coming. I wanted to surprise him, to see if he was true blue.

Pakistani men don’t like surprises. I called him from the hotel when I got in. He had already figured out that I was in Pakistan, because it takes two days to get here and I hadn’t been on line. He came right over to the hotel, bringing a bouquet of roses. I will never forget my first sight of him, walking towards me down the hotel hallway, carrying so many roses that I was never able to count them all.

He passed the test.

The author, Cathy Mayo, lives in the Battles Schoolhouse out on Battles Brook Road. A writer and photographer, she is 55 years old, graduated with a BS in forestry, and has three children and three grandchildren. She has lived in Vermont most of her life.

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