Ramazan started today. I woke early and heard the siren for waking and
eating, and then the one for starting the fast at dawn. The siren sounds
like the siren the school uses for shut down drills. This is a special
month of devotion to God in Pakistan.
Pakistan, the land of the pure, is also now a land of the mobile phone. Gary saw a sweeper, broom in one hand and mobile phone in the other. He thinks of this image as a new image of Pakistan. Beggars are seen with phones also. Being a beggar is big business here. Yesterday a woman waved her bloody arm stump in my face, but I was sure it was paint.
Last weekend our friend from an NGO managed to get us to the Khyber Pass with some help from his influential Pakistani friend. I have now seen Afghanistan, albeit from a distance. We had a police escort and we checked in at Police check posts. At Michin Fort we were given a history lesson reminding us of all the great people who had used the Pass from Alexander to the British. Forts dotted along the Pass have been turned into check posts and are still used. While in Peshawar I found the people to be friendly. There had been kidnappings of rich children for ransom in the area of our guest house, yet as usual most people were going about their normal business.
From International News, Islamabad, 17th Sept, p11:
Ulema-o-Mashaikh wing of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League urged Afghan authorities to strike a deal with ousted Taliban militia for lasting peace. Secretary General of the wing, Maulina Syed Chirga Din Shah, said Taliban are nationals, and peace is next to impossible without their active participation in mainstream politics. When asked he said that suicide attacks were no solution to the problems of suppressed Muslim nations and urged the unity of the Unmah to stop the aggressors from committing atrocities.
It was good to see General President Pervez Musharraf and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the paper shaking hands to work towards peace, including in Jammu Kashmir. They both condemn terrorists and agreed it is a scourge that needs to be effectively dealt with.
Apart from the comments the Pope made that offended Muslims everywhere including here, he did say something interesting in his apology which was quoted in The International News, 17th Sept, p9: he warns secularised Western culture to guard against the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom. I find this an interesting comment because I have never yet heard a Muslim say anything negative about Jesus Christ, yet many Westerners do.
A seminar took place in Karachi last Sunday to discuss honour killings. It was said they have no connection with any monotheistic or revealed religion of the world. However they still occur in some parts of Pakistan.
Back at the school I visited the elementary classes and then we were off to join a World Vision assessment trip up the Karakorum Highway to Kohistan and beyond. We stopped in Dasu to obtain permission from the District Commissioner to visit a Kohistani Valley the next day. These are the side valleys into tribal areas that the travel books say must not be attempted by tourists as there is no police jurisdiction. Unfortunately it rained and there was a landslide so we couldn't make that trip. In the distance we could see the hills of Kala Dhaka (Black Mountain), a tribal area where World Vision have distributed aid. The people in Kala Dhaka have Pukhtoon ancestry, live under a feudal system with Jirgas (council) to decide important matters, where guns are their protection and decoration, and where the Pakistani government has no jurisdiction, nor are there taxes. Yet the relief workers say these people are living their normal traditional lives and not harbouring terrorists as some media sources would have us believe.
Back in Manshera, the headquarters for many of the NGOs here because of the earthquake last October, a young wealthy Pukhtoon put on a 'party' at his house. Guns were fired as guests arrived just as they are at the birth of a son or at a wedding. They seem to be used as firecrackers are in the West. There was barbequed chicken, pillau rice and nan, and later, music, with some of the men taking turns at singing poems, a tabla player (drum) and a rabaab (like a sitar). Some of the men danced. One young educated Pathan was telling me that it was such a pity the Western media is so negative about Pakistan. 'We love people, we have hospitality and honour, we try to be good Muslims. Why does America think we are harbouring terrorists?' I had no answer. I didn't tell him that a traditional use of firearms is illegal in Australia and that many would think he was a terrorist just because he had one.
Another man I met was a major in the army and is a Muslim lay preacher. By the end of the trip he was calling me Bhaji, dear older sister. 'Religion should be about love,' he said, 'and no extremist of any religion should be allowed into power, for the people do not like it.' And on the subject of terrorists he said, 'If you kill one person, you kill the universe. This is from the Koran. These people do not do this for religion. They have other reasons and it is nothing to do with Islam.' This man had to cut short his trip as his cousin was shot by a robber who was trying to steal his mobile phone. Fortunately the shooting wasn't fatal.
The manager of the school that is my host was involved in the court case of the terrorists who attacked this school 4 years ago. His comment: 'It was a difficult dark time, but those men, they will not feel guilty, they believe they were doing a good thing.'
Kala Dhaka, Black Mountain, has given me ideas for another book and we hope to travel to Karachi to see a settlement of children from Kala Dhaka and how they are being educated and saved from the sex trade. Later we hope to be able to visit Kala Dhaka as well.
The Gujars, the nomads, who I also want to see, are taking houses in the summer instead of tents these days.
In Pakistani homes
The driver who took us back to Murree from Manshera first of all invited us home for a cup of tea. Gary was ushered into the megaliss where men sit together and I got to go into the courtyard of the home where the women were cooking and feeding the baby. When the tea was ready I went into the men's room and drank sweet milky chai (tea) and ate roasted corn on the cob and biscuits. The young children wandered in and out and I managed to get a photo of them. But I didn't take a photo of the women. My husband will never know how pretty the man's wife was.
Peshawar has always been renowned for its folktales. There is even a street called Qissa Khwani, the story tellers' bazaar, where stories used to be exchanged. Now many people watch TV instead, and Asha Ahmad who recently compiled a book called 'Pashtun Tales' found it very difficult to find a storyteller to tell her the tales. She finally found Saeed Khan Baba and he brought 'the room alive with princes and princesses, jinn and fairies and far-off mountains, fabulous lands where birds and beasts talk and possess more wisdom than wise men' (12). It is sad that the art of storytelling is starting to die out. With us on our trip to Peshawar was a young man who was related by marriage to the prince of Chitral. I asked him if he knew any stories. 'What about the princess who married an Englishman?' I asked. But he hadn't heard that one. The Pushtun tales reflect the Pashtun code of honour, known as Pakhtunwali, based on revenge (avenging a wrong), hospitality and forgiveness. Hospitality will even cancel out revenge.
A recent Pukhtoon folktale I read called 'Sweeter than Salt' has the same plot as King Lear. Who did the borrowing? They say here that Shakespeare did.
There's KFC in Peshawar. It was bombed some time ago, but we tried it out with our friend all the same – very spicy.