Sydney University students visit Pakistan

This lighthearted piece was published in 2008, after our first trip to Pakistan in November 2007. It certainly reflects the mood of the trip.

When our lecturer, Dr. Ahmar Mahboob (Department of Linguistics, University of Sydney), asked the six of us: 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 SPELT (Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers) 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 November 1, 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. 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 Dr. Mahboob in taking six women shopping! Next stop came our introduction to Pakistani cuisine: the roll kebab. 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 the 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, 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 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 calender consisted of dinner at Cooco’s Den and Café, sheisha at Jumping Java, a visit to the magnificent Shalamar 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 was awaiting us. We were transported by car through lush agricultural land to where we took the 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 A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. A sumptuous meal had been prepared by one of our hosts’ wives, 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 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? Shukria, Pakistan!

The original link can be found at:


“Your words are guesswork. He speaks from experience.
 There’s a huge difference.” These few lines of the poem, ‘Judge a moth by the beauty of its candle,’ by the twelfth century Sufi poet, Jelaluddin Rumi, potentially highlight one of the main reasons behind many of the misperceptions and ignorance about Pakistan.

Pakistan is a rather misunderstood corner of the planet, with its overrepresentation of negativity and associated images. Undoubtedly, the international mass media has largely contributed to the somewhat distorted image of the country. In short, Pakistan is in need of a major public relations makeover.

Somehow assuming the role of accidental brand ambassador, I have found myself reporting on aspects of the country which are often overlooked and shielded from the international eye. Through my first-hand experiences, my aim has been to portray and provide information about this oft-maligned place in a more balanced way and beyond the media stereotypes. My rumblings have ranged from hard political and economic topics to the downright frivolous. Further, my visits to Pakistan seem to have placed me in the precarious position of bringing a non-Pakistani voice into the equation. My writings have attracted criticism for such an ‘idealistic’ stance, as well as rebukes for even visiting the country in the first place, given ‘the way they treat their women.’ The first point of defence are those last lines of Rumi’s poem… no matter the amount of television news reports and articles about a country; nothing heightens your sensitivity towards a place than first-hand appreciation. Pakistanis both inside and outside the country appreciate the support; my only response is that Pakistan unjustifiably receives a lot of bad press and, frankly, deserves better. The journey starts in 2007……

All comments and feedback are welcome!