Near our house is the visa office for most Western countries. Anyone living in Pakistan who needs a visa for the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia or a range of other destinations makes a pilgrimage here, armed with application forms, documents, flight bookings, and a face of grim determination. Every morning I see them queueing up, hopeful and perhaps just a touch desperate. They are eager to leave. Many people are.
One of the many contradictions of which the nation of Pakistan is constructed is that people here feel both a fierce sense of national pride and a strong tendency towards self-criticism. Many Pakistanis love Pakistan deeply and proudly, and yet criticise it without hesitation. Many would leave, given the chance. Many have already left, setting up colonies in Toronto and New York, London and Birmingham and Melbourne. Even the fundamentalists who scream hatred of the USA would give their right arm for a chance to live there.
We have done the opposite, moving from the West to live in Pakistan, and everyone thinks we’re insane. At first I did too, wondering exactly why it was that we had chosen to swap reliable electricity and sensible governance for the myriad eccentricities (if I’m being kind) and baffling illogicalities (if I’m not) of the Land of the Pure. The electricity comes and goes. Corruption is rampant. The police can’t be trusted. It’s hot and dusty half the year, cold and dusty the other half, and everyone stares at me whenever I walk outside.
Yet it would break my heart to leave. Why? What would I miss? The straightforward kindness of the people, for one thing, who have every reason to resent a British man and yet never seem to do so. The kindness and generosity of Muslim people. The smell of rain on dusty ground. The epic monsoon thunderstorms which split the sky asunder with a terrifying roar. The mountains of the north. The chance, the wonderful chance, to do something positive in a place of need, to praise Pakistan, to honour its people, to promote education, to bring peace between Muslim and Christian in a time of great fear and mistrust. The opportunity to see God move in the lives of others, to see him mould and change and refine us, to experience his love precisely when we most need it.
I do not want to leave, not yet. There is so much good here, so much beauty, and we are almost uniquely privileged to witness it when so few Westerners ever come here. I love Pakistan very much. I rather suspect I always will.