Autumn means getting up early, as least that is the plan, which however rarely works out. But in any case, my dad always urges us to get into the woods before the Berliners come and take all the mushrooms. Yesterday, as I cycled towards my parents bungalow, a good thirty km from our home, which is exactly 300 m outside the city boundary of Berlin, I was looking at the cars parked at the edge of the forest. They all spotted similar number plates to our own. It seemed like not a single Berliner had even woken up yet. And yet I could hear my dad saying how we had to be there before the Berliners and I started to wonder how often people define their own identity simply by disliking their direct neighbours.
Things that Pakistanis ask when they come to Berlin: “Why don’t you people get drunk every day and all the time?” Things that Berliners reply to such weird questions: “Why should we? We are free to do that every day and all the time. That’s not really exciting”
Just wanted to draw people’s attention to a beautiful photo essay that my friend, Alyna Hasan Jaffery, published in Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper today.
I had also wanted to visit Thatta when I was in Pakistan but, as always, one doesn’t achieve everything that one plans to do when travelling abroad. There must always be something left for next time.
I am a bit chafed that Alyna went there with another German tourist (“The midday sun was high when my group of locals and an accompanying German tourist reached the mosque, a fifteen minute drive from the Makli necropolis in Interior Sindh, Thatta.) when I had thought I was the only German tourist in Pakistan
Brandenburg is my home county and even though I love hopping on the city train to spend time in the multi cultural, arty, vibrant capitol of Germany that’s on my birth certificate, I couldn’t really ever give up the clear lakes, surrounded by lush green forests (where we’ll traditionally go mush room foraging in the autumn) and the spacious avenues where one can cycle without being run over by cars. Now, on Saturday I learned that on top of all these advantages Brandenburg also enjoys the third highest amount of sunshine in all of Germany. But being a Brandenburger comes with responsibility. Responsibility for the sadly high number of people who don’t want to share the lakes, beaches and the sunshine. During these elections it has become clear again that we do have a problem and there is no point in denying it. When one reads that there is more racism in former East Germany one quickly gets into a defensive position – just like those people who didn’t like Malala pointing out the shortfalls of Pakistan in securing access to education for everyone – it’s so easy to say that there have also been attacks on asylum seeker’s homes in West Germany. But that doesn’t help anyone. Pointing the finger at others will not change anything. It will not make Brandenburg any more livable. It will not make it possible for me to take my international friends to the lake in which I learned to swim.
And it will also not allow Brandenburg to develop. The county is currently bleeding out. Young people have been leaving ever since the early 1990s when after German re-unification businesses were closed and the economy went haywire. Where children used to play, you only see old people today. In some areas people don’t have access to basic services anymore as the population has thinned out so much that here is not enough demand. What my county needs is young people coming in and bringing the place back to live. But instead the local population is driven by prejudice and xenophobia and revolting against any outsiders. What in Pakistan is called Taliban is here called NPD. They are different in name and while one has long beards and the other clean shaven heads (speaking of stereotypes). But both have very ‘clear’ ideologies that basically consist of conforming people to a very narrow idea of what a human being should be like. In fact, the criteria of what it shouldn’t be like like more in number than those for what people should be like. Both base their outlook of the world on clearly defining their enemies. They both can only exist because of their enemies. The hatred towards supposedly alien people – be they Christians or foreigners – is all that keeps their followers together. The societies that they want to create will never be peaceful. They are solely based on hate and terror. That’s why we need to educate people to learn to resist the temptations of these pied pipers.
There is a mistake in the sub headline. It should obviously read: “Alcoholism is a growing problem in Pakistan BECAUSE of it being illegal.” For a long time I could never understand why my class mates in secondary school were binge drinking and smoking. Even when I heard that those people with the strictest parents were going wildest at school, I could still not comprehend why anyone would enjoy drinking more than makes you feel good. Until the day that I drank Muree beer from a brown paper bag. When I realised that for the first time in my life I was excited about drinking alcohol I could finally understand the seductive power of the forbidden fruit.
Whenever women are sidelined, discriminated against, taken out of the picture and violated, the online community overwhelmingly comes to the conclusion that religion is the culprit for such injustice. Now that it has been announced that Australia is going to be ruled for the next three years by a cabinet made up solely of men save one lone woman, I am still waiting for the outrage over Australia’s religious fundamentalism.
When I was little, all around me walls were coming down. Stone walls that had been erected long after imaginary walls between ‘them’ and ‘us’ had already been established in people’s minds. The wall was there to protect us from the evil Capitalists on the other side. Funnily enough the shotguns were pointed at us. It was one of us who was gunned down when attempting to cross to the other side. The ‘others’ were allowed to visit and even stay if they had wished so. It was ‘our’ people whom ‘our’ government was spying on in a big way. But the wall was there to protect us.
Likewise in my dad’s child hood, people had suddenly discovered that their neighbours belonged to some mysterious and alien culture. Thus, they had to be eliminated. Strangely, soon after nobody was safe from elimination any more. After one division had been firmly established, others were soon to follow. First it was the Jews, then, soon it was everyone who didn’t nod emphatically when the dark haired Austrian ‘spoke’. Imaginary walls were being erected between each and every person.
When I was little, I was happy that the cold war was ending. Of course, I wasn’t consciously aware of that at the time but as I tasted freedom, munched my first Döner, started falling asleep to the sweet sounds of the English language that were incomprehensibly coming out of my radio like from another world, I knew that from now on we could travel everywhere and see with our own eyes how people were living there. No more stories about the miserable lives of people who were living a life style that was irreconcilable with our. People from whom we had to be kept away ‘for our own protection’.
But then Samuel P. Huntingdon came and exclaimed that once again there were people who were practising an alien culture which was a threat to our own. It was already the time of cheap travel and almost the time of broadband internet. And he wasn’t even screaming as loud as the Austrian, who had been turned down at art school and later had most artists killed who couldn’t flee the country quickly enough. Surely, people should have laughed about that political strategist who was apparently worried about losing his job in a post cold war world. After all Francis Fukiyama had exclaimed the end of history, the end of all conflicts. But once again people suddenly discovered that their neighbours belonged to some mysterious and alien culture. Once again they decided to listen to the fear mongering instead of going and seeing for themselves. I went to Pakistan and in five weeks I couldn’t find anything there to be afraid of.
However, my next door neighbour in my block of flats in Potsdam really does belong to a mysterious and alien culture. While most people that I know strongly follow a culture that appreciates fresh and clean air (we like to get out of the house as much as possible to go swimming, running, cycling etc.) and obviously like to dry our clothes in the fresh air on the balcony instead of in the dusty attic. But these weirdos like to take a bunch of dirty dried plant leaves, set fire to them and put them into their mouth. Even though this is really weird, It would tolerate it (Potsdamers have to be tolerant, due to the King’s Tolerance Edict from 1685). Yet, our cultures clash vehemently on the balcony, when we can’t sit there to enjoy the fresh air and my laundry smells of burned leaves instead of fresh air. What to do? Should I inform the German Secret Service about our Clash of Cultures? Should I at least write an influential article about it in Foreign Policy magazine? I am sure late Sam Huntingdon would appreciate that I am using his example to find clashes of cultures all around me and don’t start to naively think that we might just all be human beings and since we’re all a little different but still the same, we might just get along :O
… or how my presentation about Lahore was hijacked by questions about how people acted and felt towards me in Pakistan
I should have really written this at the beginning of July after my four day Post-colonialism seminar on The Reluctant Fundamentalist at uni. But then I got carried away on facebook as it is so much easier to write short snippets on which you get instant feedback, than writing a longer article without knowing how it will be received and without being able to set misunderstandings straight right away.
However, it’s never to late to share my experience with my class fellows, average German students of Anglophone Literature and culture, who know relatively little about Pakistan but often get to hear in the news how Pakistanis despise the US or ‘the West’ in general. As I was re-reading ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ just before the seminar
- the first time I had basically gulped it down – I realised that the others wouldn’t be be able to imagine the setting in Lahore as strongly as I had been, having travelled there only half a year earlier. Thus, I started to mark all parts in the text that featured Lahore and then looked through my holiday snaps in order to provide the real images to go with the fictional text. A slightly painstaking but enjoyable task, that I hadn’t quite finished, when it occurred to me that it’s usually the people that make a place. Thus, I spent the next five hours conducting an interview with the sheikh of Gulberg. Hehe, a real Lahori in the 64th generation to go with the book.
But as I sleep walked into class the next morning, I discovered that technology had let me down a bit as the interview sounded very broken and was barely comprehensible. The pictures and videos went well, but people were more interested in how I had been treated as ‘a Westerner’. Since prejudice is the theme of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, it was actually a fitting question. But also one that I enjoyed answering, as my tired brain didn’t have to think much.
I had never felt so welcome anywhere ever in my life before. People were friendly and very hospitable to me. Wherever I went, everyone greeted me with a smile on their face. I was fed the best food and even given gifts by some people. One day, when my friend and I were staying at her uncle’s place in Okara, he took us to meet some friends of his. They couldn’t speak English but they gave me a scarf. I was treated like a celebrity. As I was beaming with the joy of my memories, I could see in the surprised faces of my class fellows that they couldn’t quite believe that I was talking about Pakistan. After all, I didn’t have German written on my forehead. People could have just as well thought that I was American and thrown rotten eggs at me. But no, they were just so happy that someone had braced the danger to come and see their beautiful country. Especially Lahore had once teemed with tourists. And it is a real shame that they are staying away. I just couldn’t believe my luck at the things that I was seeing, where I would have normally had to fight for space against hordes of other tourists. I wrote into many a guest book, feeling like an ambassador or such.
Only my friends were mean and put me on the first night through the torture of shoe shopping. It’s my worst nightmare on a a normal day, but with jet lag and preceding dress shopping, I was soon at the end of my wits when all pairs that I liked ended up being to small. Yet, when I had finally found one that was okay in width, the shop people adapted the length and then gave me tourist discount. What a contrast to the tourist premium that one normally gets charged on holidays abroad.
Sometimes – when we are confronted with new people or new situations, that seem completely alien to us – we feel like a fish out of water. Unable to breathe, you lie in the sand, yapping for air, the pebbles scratch your sensitive flesh, that is not used to the hot windy air around you. Then, when you have ceased paying attention to the fight for survival, the waves begin to take hold of you and pull you into the ocean. As we start to swim, we realize how our world has just got bigger to the point of being boundless. We have never felt so much like a fish in the water before.