Back in 2007, when only a handful of people had anything complimentary to say about Pakistan, some intrepid students discover a delightfully different reality
When one of our lecturers from The Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney asked six students: Emily Hunter, Jane Harvey, Jana Rezková, Sandy Chang, Yuka Funabashi and I if we would be interested in accompanying him to Pakistan to present our various research papers at the 23rd annual Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers (SPELT) conference, we jumped at the opportunity. While most of us were busy preparing our end of semester papers, the excitement was quietly mounting beneath the manic exterior; for I think now, we all sensed that a unique experience was about to happen.
On arrival at Jinnah International on 1 November 2007, we were whisked away by our surrogate family to the comforts of our new surroundings. We barely had time to catch our breath before being initiated into the frenetic Karachi traffic. First port of call was Bahadurabad to get us attired in shalwar kameez: the three-piece outfit consisting of loose-fitting pants, shalwar, a long tunic or kameez, and a long, flowing scarf called a dupatta. Not ever having seen so many bright colours in the one place before, well, let’s say we were spoilt for choice. As well, it turned out to be an exercise in patience on the part of our lecturer in taking six women shopping! Next stop came our introduction to Pakistani cuisine: the roll kebab. And we were hooked. After many squeals emanating from my colleagues on the trip home, due to the likes of traffic they hadn’t ever witnessed before, we finally collapsed into an exhausted heap, only to be awoken at sunrise by the call to prayer and a welcoming “as-salaam walaikum” as we wearily found our way downstairs to breakfast.
Our days were a mixture of conference commitments, presentations at Karachi and Aga Khan Universities, teamed with site-seeing escapades: camel rides and snake-charming on Clifton Beach while taking in the magnificent sunset; shopping; a visit to Mohatta Palace followed by high tea at The Village, a spot of sheisha at Seaview and more shopping intermingled with numerous visits to the homes of new-found friends. Then there was the very swish soirée hosted by the British Council. Students never had it quite so good! On the final day of the conference when all the formalities were said and done, we managed to escape to the cool of the Prince Theatre to see the acclaimed movie Khuda Kay Liye, In the Name of God, which we all enjoyed immensely for its cultural value.
Along the way, we, the PAC (Pakistan Adventure Club), adopted many names for ourselves: the brood, the kids, the gang, the family; these pseudonyms formed part of the invisible glue binding us together through our new shared experiences.
Since the conference was a moveable feast, the next destination was Abbottabad, which we reached courtesy of PIA through Islamabad. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a lot of Abbottabad itself, but that was counterbalanced by the enthusiastic welcome and generous hospitality offered by our hosts. Leaving Abbottabad, we drove through some magnificent landscape of dramatic gorges and mountains before stopping for lunch in charming Nathia Gali, then onto Murree for more delicious food and naturally more shopping. Since our arrival in Islamabad coincided with Benizir Bhutto’s, as well as the fact that there was a demonstration due to be held the following day, the conference had been cancelled and the city was more or less in lockdown. However, after the security alert had been relaxed, this only gave us the green light for further site-seeing adventures, always accompanied by our generous hosts. We concluded our visit with our presentations at Fatima Jinnah Women’s University in Rawalpindi before departing by bus for Lahore.
Lahore was something else; a city steeped in history. On our ‘must-see’ list was the Wazir Khan Mosque, since it was one of the scenes featured in Khuda Kay Liye; and what visit to Lahore would be complete without looking in on the breathtaking Lahore Fort! Being a Sunday, there was a throng there. We, ourselves, at times became the tourist attraction; the locals just as intrigued by us as we were by them. We befriended Omayr who happened to be staying at the same guest-house as us. Lucky for us he turned out to be a Lahorite and offered to chauffeur us around. Our calendar consisted of dinner at Cooco’s Den and Café, sheisha at Jumping Java, a visit to the magnificent Shalimar Gardens, and our final lunch as ‘a family’ at The Village. Sadly, Jane and Sandy had to depart for the real world. All good things must come to an end. What we had lost though in numbers we made up for in enthusiasm.
Warm faces welcomed us wherever we went and Multan was no exception. After presenting our papers for the final time at Bahauddin Zakariya University, a delicious surprise awaited us; we were transported by car through lush agricultural land to where we took a boat to one of the islands in the middle of River Ravi. What we then feasted our eyes on was nothing short of a scene out of 1001 Arabian Nights. A sumptuous meal had been prepared by the wife of one of our hosts, which we enjoyed in our tent seated on plush carpets. What enhanced our magical experience occurred on our return trip to the mainland. Since the current was strong enough to propel the boat in the desired direction, the engine was switched off, allowing us to drift silently in the hazy darkness. Yet another memorable event was an afternoon shopping expedition stopping off for periodic cups of doodh-patti (milk tea) before our de rigueur foray into the world of bangles – a thrilling event in itself.
What an incredible adventure we had! All in all there were late nights and some very early mornings. Every wink of sleep lost was worth its weight in gold; we wouldn’t have missed any of it for the world; and for the heart-warming welcome we received wherever we went: Shukriya, Pakistan!
The above above has some minor modifications. The original article can be found at: http://sadaewatansydney.com//students-pk.htm