Norway is a fantastic country by all comparisons – no doubt about it! But I am fascinated by Pakistan. Not only because I was born and raised there, but also because it’s a country of contrasts. Life goes on there, no matter what.
Each year I pack my suitcases and take a trip to Pakistan. And each year I get the same questions from my Norwegian friends; where in Pakistan do you travel? How is it like? Aren’t you afraid? So, this is my story, a #nomakeup story of expectations and impressions.
The big yellow chocolate! is always the answer whenever I ask my family and friends what to bring them from Norway.
«The big yellow chocolate!» is always the answer whenever I ask my family and friends what to bring them from Norway. It’s still a mystery to me why the Freia milk chocolate, also known as «the big yellow chocolate» in Pakistan, is so popular there. It’s not sold in Pakistan, so the only source of big yellow chocolate is returning relatives from Norway. Given the fact that even the mother-in-law of a cousin is considered a close relative in Pakistan – and close relatives expect gifts – there is a lot of chocolate one has to bring.
The weight issue
Whenever I start planning my trip to Pakistan, weight is always an issue. Not my weight of course, but the weight of the luggage. There are not only the chocolates, but also other gifts. A returning relative from abroad is a big thing in Pakistan, and relatives have very high expectations when it comes to gifts from a foreign country. And then there is the domestic politics of who got what, so believe me; it’s not a piece of cake.
The weight allowance through most of the airlines is normally 30 kilograms. Now you guys might be thinking that it’s a lot of weight, but it’s not. The suitcase itself, chocolates and other gifts, and you might be reaching the limit even before your own stuff is packed!
The moment of truth comes when you are heading towards the airport and you’re well aware of the fact that your suitcase weighs more than the allowance. Still you hope that the weight machine at the counter miraculously will show a lower number. A substantial overweight might cost you more than the entire ticket.
When you arrive at the counter, you try your best to look nice while dreading about what’s going to happen now. Will I have to open up the suitcase and throw away stuff? What will I throw away? But the receptionist is normally kind enough to send your suitcase on board with a couple of extra kilograms; a sigh of relief comes through your lungs. Hurdle #1 completed, at last!
Chaos and order
I generally travel via Dubai. The first part of the journey from Oslo to Dubai goes smoothly. When you change flights and start the boarding process for the next flight to Pakistan, you get a taste of what is coming. Things become more chaotic. Now the flight consists mostly of Pakistanis, and they are not fond of making queues! And then there are the seating arrangements in the plane itself.
The passengers try to change their seats after boarding the aircraft in order to be seated next to people they know. This normally comes to an end when the flight attendants in a polite, yet firm manner request everyone to be seated at their designated seats. Despite the fact that everyone is occupied with their own stuff, Pakistanis never seize to amaze me with their kind and helping nature. Not once have I lifted my hand luggage into the luggage compartment on this last part of the journey. There is always someone willing to help, without even asking.
Upon arrival at the airport, whether it’s in winter or summer really doesn’t matter, as soon as the plane door opens; you will be slammed in the face with agonizing humidity. It takes some getting used to as you try and stumble your way off the plane’s steps with the massive hand luggage and sweaty palms. Dealing with the heaving crowd is always a challenge, who are relentless and unsympathetic in their rush to get to the passport control.
However, there is order in the chaos. As if an invisible hand is controlling the process, women and children are let forward, while the men, many of them returning migrant workers, politely que up in the back. As one exits the luggage area there is an immense amount of people waiting for their relatives and acquaintances. Suddenly you see a familiar face or two. That’s the moment you know every hazard or trouble was worth it.
Upon arriving at your home, completely jetlagged, you have to face the “positive” criticism of your siblings and relatives about how fat or atrocious you look as compared to your last visit. But the fact that they have come to meet you makes their comments very insignificant. The entire family is gathered because of you, and that’s the fact I love the most.
The taste of Pakistan
Then comes the food, the unbeatable taste of food made by my mother. Suddenly you realize what you have missed out on while living in Norway. And then there is the street food. Nothing can beat the taste of barbeque you find on the roadside with freshly baked naan breads and mint chutney. While I am preoccupied with the local food, a domestic civil war rages over the remaining big yellow chocolates. And this goes on for a couple of weeks – family, local food and the big yellow chocolate.
While I am preoccupied with the local food, a domestic civil war rages over the remaining big yellow chocolates. And this goes on for a couple of weeks – family, local food and the big yellow chocolate.
With the changing times, the media, both international and local, has projected an image of Pakistan as a brutal, war torn and savage country where life is on a standstill. No doubt about it, Pakistan has its fair share of problems, including terrorism. But what astonishes me the most is the hospitality, kindness and informality of many Pakistanis. For most people, life is tough and challenging. But no matter what’s happening around them, life always goes on in Pakistan.