Archive

Tag Archives: kindness

wokka

Technique B: Sincerity

The taxi pulled up outside our front door and the children and I piled in.  We were going to school by cab as our own car was having one of its regular trips to the mechanic.  The driver was a young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, with gentle eyes and a luxuriant beard.  He watched as the children misted the windows with their breath and drew pictures in it.

“Praise God, your children are wonderful” he said kindly.  He enquired where we were from and expressed surprise at our Urdu.

“I can’t believe you would come to live in Pakistan” he said in amazement.  I told him that I loved Pakistan and felt very privileged to live there, which made him smile with gratitude.

We spoke about faith.  Most conversations in Pakistan head in this direction sooner or later.  I told him that I followed Jesus and he nodded with pleasure and admiration.  He loved Jesus too, he said.

He said that he drove the taxi only in the mornings, since he had a full-time job which started later in the day, but since he always went to the mosque for the first prayer of the day he had several hours to fill and would rather spend it working than sleeping.  He was humble but devout.  I liked him very much.

He wanted me to know more about Islam.  It was not everything the media portrayed it to be, a point which I certainly agreed with.  I should take the opportunity of being in Pakistan to learn more about it.

He was happy to listen to me in return and seemed to appreciate discussion.  Having dropped the kids at school we arrived back home and I found myself wishing that I had more time to spend chatting to him.  We exchanged contact details and shook hands kindly.

As a Christian living in Pakistan I am regularly invited to convert to Islam.  I have no problem with this in the slightest.  Why should Muslims who feel strongly about their faith not invite me to be part of it?  Surely this is part of religious freedom.  And when the invitation is presented in such humble and sincere terms, by people who clearly take their faith seriously, it is much more appealing than when the topic is presented aggressively and arrogantly.

I imagine Muslims feel the same way about Christians…

Advertisements

pakistan19

I stopped the car by the side of the road.  There was no fruit at the bazaar; the festival of Eid means that everything shuts down and there are as few supplies in the shops as there would be on Christmas Day in England.  The fruit-seller at the end of our street somehow had his cart piled with apples, peaches, bananas, and the last of the summer mangoes.

He greeted me warmly.  We chatted about prices for a while and then he started to put fruit into the set of scales on one end of his cart: first crisp red apples, then peaches, then mangoes which he said would be the last this year; they seem to disappear with the summer heat.  A kilo of each, plus a dozen bananas, came to about £4.

My daughter, five years old, climbed out of the car and came to stand by my side.  She watched the fruit-seller closely, then whispered in my ear:

“Why is his arm broken?”.

I hadn’t noticed, but his left arm ended below the elbow.  I asked him what had happened.  He told me how he was born in Kashmir near the Line of Control.  One day, as a child, he found a round, metallic object in a field near his house.  He picked it up, and it – a landmine, perhaps, or a bomb dropped from the air – exploded, taking off his left hand.  He told all of these things in the painfully straightforward, unemotional manner in which Pakistanis seem to relate extraordinarily tragic and painful things.

I translated for my daughter and she looked at him, wide-eyed.  He smiled and tickled her on the cheek.

“Praise God, you have wonderful children” he said, smiling.

We drove home in silence.  We stopped outside our house and I turned off the engine.  My son’s voice broke the silence.

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a war-stopper” he said.

taxi

I turned the key.  The engine chuntered, whirred…and stopped.  I tried again, and again.  Same result.  I sighed.  I was stuck by the side of a back street, somewhere in Pakistan, with an immobile vehicle.

This is not an ideal situation.  Before coming to Pakistan we received thorough safety and security training, and much of it seemed to revolve around attempting to avoid precisely the kind of situation in which I found myself.  Alone, stuck, on a hot day.  Diplomats in this position would be calling their emergency contact number and having a helicopter buzz in to pick them up, but people in my position don’t have access to that kind of thing.  The day was hot, and getting hotter.  A trickle of sweat ran down my back in a particularly insidious manner.

Suddenly a taxi approached.  It is always easy to tell when a Pakistani taxi is approaching.  It makes a sound like two pounds of rusty screws inside a tin bathtub being thrown down a flight of stairs.  The rusty bathtub approached and I hailed it with enthusiasm and not a small amount of panic.  I explained to the friendly driver what my predicament was, though no explanation was really necessary: clueless foreigner, immobile car – breakdown.  It’s not as though I was stopping to enjoy the view, which consisted of a few half-dead shrubs, a rusty dumpster, and a great deal of dust.

“No problem” said the taxi driver.  “Push it, it’ll start ok”.

I went to the back of my own car and started pushing, regretting almost immediately my decision to buy a black car.  The taxi driver was in the front seat.  I pushed, and sweated, and my palms sizzled audibly, and the car started moving.  After a few seconds I broke into a slow jog and the engine chugged into life.  The car drove away, slowed down, turned round, and came back to me.  I never once entertained the notion that the taxi driver would do anything else.  Pakistan is rather wonderful in that way.

I thanked him and offered him some money.  He refused, of course.  I insisted, of course, and of course he refused again.  I smiled and stuffed it into his top pocket.

The next day I got the battery changed.  Fewer breakdowns, hopefully, but also fewer opportunities to be blessed by an unexpected person.

_75267470_022525676-1

We were stuck in traffic in Abbottabad.  We had turned off the main road onto a side street barely wide enough for two cars to pass.  A van was parked on the left hand side and when we pulled out to pass it, another van headed straight for us.  He screeched to a halt in front of us.  As I prepared to back up, another van pulled up behind us, and another behind him.  The van in front of us attempted to back up, but two more vans pulled up behind him.  We gazed at each other through our respective windscreens.  The engine idled away.  In the car seat behind me our infant son started to whimper.

It had been a bad week.  The attack in Lahore had shocked us deeply, dragging us into a familiar mood of anger, sorrow, and desperation.  The same evening there was a riot in Islamabad.  Schools were shut, the buses were cancelled, and the city ground to a halt.  We needed a holiday, so we loaded up the car and drove north through the green hills of Hazara District.  And now, a few metres after turning off the Karakoram Highway, we were stuck.

The crucial thing, I knew, was not to lose my temper.  But this is easier said than done when there are four small children in your car who have already driven for four hours, and when your nerves are frayed to breaking point from the stress of driving up one of the most stressful stretches of road in the country.  Pedestrians were filtering through the traffic jam, glaring at us as they squeezed past our car as though we were personally responsible.

There is something about being glared at by a succession of bearded Pakistani men which makes one reconsider one’s life options.  What a peculiar circumstance to find oneself in!  Stuck in traffic in a town four thousand miles away from my own country, eight thousand miles from my wife’s own country, in the town famous for being the final dwelling place of Osama bin Laden.  The men passing our car looked fierce, warlike, with turbans, straggly beards, and default facial expressions of profound grumpiness, as though I had wronged them in a past life.

Surrounded by seemingly hostile people I was struck with a profound sense of not wanting to be there.  Of not wanting to be in Pakistan at all, really.  A sincere desire to be somewhere, anywhere, else, preferably somewhere with a beach and a succession of cold drinks with little umbrellas in.  I couldn’t take it any more.  The heat, the traffic, the unrelenting stream of bombs and protests and overwhelming public anger, the caustic and abrasive daily grind of Pakistani life.

Suddenly the driver of the van in front of us clambered out of his vehicle and came to my window.  He looked angry.  The crowd paused to see what would happen.  I took a deep breath, prayed briefly, and opened the window.

He thrust his hand into our car and shook mine warmly.

“I am most sorry for inconvenience” he said, smiling gently.  “Perhaps if you move car back just a little bit, we will be able to make progress”.

He moved to the back of our car and encouraged the vans behind us to shuffle backwards.  One by one they did, opening up space for us to reverse into.  Once his path was clear he got back into his van and drove off.  As he passed our car he stopped, held his hand out to shake mine, and thanked me warmly.

“Thank you so much, sir” he said with a simple smile.  “Welcome to Pakistan”.

praying

In Pakistan the backs of houses are usually where laundry is done.  Guests would be invited into the front rooms, which are decorated and furnished to honour those visiting the family, while menial tasks such as cooking and washing are done at the back.  The rear of our house backs onto the rear of the houses on the street above ours, and so it is that when I go out to put in laundry or check to see if the hot-water boiler is still functioning I inevitably encounter our neighbours.  Their balcony is where they, too, do their laundry, hang their clothes, or come out to lie on a charpai (traditional bed) to warm themselves in the sun.  I try not to linger; the rear of the house is normally the place where women come to relax, and I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable by intruding on their private space.

Our bedroom is also at the back of our house, meaning that our bedroom windows looks out over their balcony as well.  Every morning and evening while tackling the stream of emails that ping into my inbox I look out to the our neighbours come out to pray.  They take down their prayer mat, orient it towards Mecca, and kneel down to go about their prayers.  They close their eyes, their lips moving in silent piety, they bow down, they look left and right, and they go through the simple routine just as millions of Muslims do several times a day, in Pakistan and around the Muslim world.  Their prayer routine is simple, undemonstrative, calm, elegant, and peaceful.

Islam has come under intense scrutiny in recent years.  The actions carried out by a tiny minority of Muslims have resulted in every single Muslim in the world being viewed with suspicion, as if 1.2 billion Muslims are somehow responsible for the violent fanaticism of a few thousand.  No matter that this is blatantly illogical and deeply unfair; no matter that this is akin to considering all Indians culpable for the actions of a handful of rapists or blaming every single Chinese person for the corruption of a few Party officials – this is how the world seems when you absorb the crass and foolish generalisations of the media.  Islam, it seems, stands accused of having a problem.

Except for the overwhelming majority of Muslim people, that is.  After living in Pakistan for four years normal Islam seems, to me, pretty normal.  Quiet, pious, polite, undemonstrative, peaceful.  Confident, yet humble.  These are the characteristics of Muslim people as I have come to know them after living amongst them for four years.  It is a long, long way from the violence and intolerance flaunted around the tabloids of the Western world.

I go out to get the laundry out of the washing machine and my neighbour looks up from his chair where he is sitting to read the newspaper.

“Salaam aleikum!” he calls cheerfully.  “Peace be upon you!”.

And upon you too, friend.

DSCF9711

When we came back to Pakistan we started clearing some old stuff out of our house.  We’re hoping to move soon so it’s a good opportunity to get rid of the clutter which, despite our best efforts, always seems to find a way into our store cupboards.  It’s almost a law of physics: just as things fall to earth when you drop them, just as paper burns when you set a match to it, it is similarly inevitable that clutter will find its way into a house: rickety old tables, bags of broken toys, a sack of Urdu teaching material that I won’t be using again.

And our old pushchair.  Bought from Tesco in a sale, it’s served us well.  It’s travelled to several countries, has been stuffed into cars and thrown on the top of jeeps, and, as you can see above, has accommodated each of our three children at different stages.  It’s also broken.  We bought a replacement off eBay while we were in the UK, rendering our faithful servant null and void.

I tried to throw it out.  I took it downstairs, folded it up, and placed it tenderly in the rubbish bin, before saying a few gentle words of remembrance.  The rubbish collector, a friendly Christian man called Zafar, comes by each morning to take away our rubbish, sorting through it to remove anything of value and disposing of the rest.  I left it there and thought no more of it.

Until the next morning, that is, when I found the pushchair neatly folded and placed on our doorstep.  Zafar simply couldn’t believe that we would want to throw such a valuable thing away.  It might be worth a couple of hundred rupees to the scrap metal dealer, and for a guy living on the poverty line, the thought of simply throwing that kind of money away is illogical.

No matter that we are doing it to help him, knowing that he will sell it for himself and use the money to feed his family.  He’s so scrupulously honest that he keeps returning it, folded and cleaned, to our doorstep, like some kind of sacrificial offering to the wealthy Westerners who are blessed with such unthinkable wealth.