My exposure to Pakistan was limited. I classified it as one of those countries that was created on religious concepts, was racist toward the rest of the world and wanted the Americans dead.
Call me ignorant, but with the way Pakistan is portrayed in the media, as a foreigner it is hard not to be deterred.
Then, by sheer luck and forged destiny, I met a Pakistani woman and fell truly, madly and deeply in love with her.
There was beauty resonating from deep within her and it came out in her dark, soulful eyes.
Little did I know, that in less than a few weeks, my entire life would change because I was not only falling in love with a person but I was embracing a culture, a lifestyle and above all I was going to embrace a country deemed one of the most dangerous in the world.
The first aspect of Pakistani culture I fell in love with was the food. There is nothing in this world that can come close to the comfort provided by haleem, nihari and a warm, buttery piece of naan.
The spices and herbs used in Pakistani food are unique, authentic and jump-start the day reflecting Pakistan’s vibrant culture. Not to mention all sinuses are completely cleared when those green chillies hit the back of the throat.
You know what takes the cake?
After hours of gruelling work I finally made my own batch of haleem and it was delicious.
Moving onto the people; warm, hospitable, welcoming and dramatic in every sense. Pakistani aunties and uncles will make sure us young lads are fed, pampered and shown off like none other.
Some of my best memories from last year are being fed huge amounts of biryani on Eid, dancing with a friend’s family at his dholki and always being the centre of attention.
I was told I did the bhangra better than Pakistanis themselves. I feel like I belong, without even having to try.
Everything is said and done dramatically adding pizazz and flamboyance to language, clothing, conversation and events. Every “Ufffff” is elongated to maximise expression and every “hai Allah” is comical.
My personal favourite is “bussssssssssssss,” with a sizzling hiss at the end to fully convey the dramatic tone being used.
My future mother-in-law sent me a beautiful, blue kurta from Pakistan to wear at a wedding.
Loose and airy around the body, I feel like I am allowed to breathe and walk freely in it. It also has a regal feel, with stunning embroidery work, long, formal sleeves and truly reflects the comfort present in Pakistani culture. It is easier to sit on the ground, cross-legged in a shalwar kurta and personalise the experience of eating with hands, chattering with guests, shoulder to shoulder, enjoying the feeling of being communal and united. I also find digesting food a lot easier after having eaten while seated on the ground.
What shocked me most about Pakistan’s people were its women.
I was always under the impression that most Pakistani women succumb to marriages arranged by their parents, come out to Canada to get away from extremely conservative and patriarchal settings while the ones left behind live under a staunch code of dressing without the ability to truly enjoy themselves and the world they are living in.
On the flip side, I have come across intelligent, smart, ambitious, and sagacious, not to mention confident and beautiful women who believe in themselves and have utmost faith in their country despite all the crime that is committed against women there.
Pakistani women are entering all kinds of fields may it be journalism, politics or filmmaking.
They are curious and eager to bring a change into their country through education and reform. It is inspiring to meet and be in the company of these visionaries, my future wife included, who is charitable and generous toward her community in the most humbling of ways.
What I have learnt from this experience is that judgement cannot be passed on a country, religion, culture or group of people through biased exposure to news reports or because of the actions of a select few.
To attain the bigger picture you have to immerse yourself into their culture, like I have, and then form conclusions.
As far as I am concerned, I have no doubt that when I do visit Pakistan, which will be soon, I will go with an open mind sans fear.
I know I will be welcomed in the most hospitable fashion and I cannot wait to see the beautiful country with my own eyes rather than through documentaries, films, photographs and literature.