By Anum Iqbal
Reading The New York Times or The Washington Post, one would think that life in Pakistan has come to a complete standstill. How can people function amidst all the terrorism and corruption? Bomb blasts and shootings have become a daily occurrence. Yet people adapt, no matter how unusual or how chaotic the situation. Daily life in Pakistan survives and continues to preserve normalcy despite hardship. Pakistani society is multifaceted just as any other, but with huge income disparities between the upper, so-called “elitist,” class and the rest of the population. Although I have grown up more fortunate than many in Pakistani society, I can nevertheless attest that life in Pakistan remains strong despite what is printed in American media.
When I introduce myself to people at UCLA and tell them where I am from, they immediately question how I have been able to live in such a country. I always reply fondly, leaving most with confused expressions on their faces. Can I blame them? When they hear of Pakistan, they hear about the bomb blast in the northern province of Peshawar, or the murder of well-known politicians such as Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto or the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer. While these tragedies greatly affect Pakistan and shape its international perception, now more than ever before, they do not define the life led back home.
Pakistan is a hotbed of political tension. However, the issues that are primarily presented in the media, such as those of terrorism and suicide bombers, are not ones that impinge our daily activities. Although security threats always exist, people get on with their lives as much as possible. Most Pakistanis are concerned about and affected by the same issues: the lack of governance by the democratically elected government, the state of the economy, and the levels of poverty. Nevertheless, life carries on for all segments of society, from fruit vendors with carts on street corners trying to make ends meet to university graduates about to start jobs at multinational firms.
Pakistan has recently faced severe natural disasters. The earthquake in 2005 and the floods this past year have really shaken the country and tested the strength and perseverance of the people. The media’s portrayal of these events has depicted the country as unable to cope with such catastrophes, and has highlighted the level of corruption through sketchy and inaccurate reports of the emergency aid usage. While this may be the case, these depictions usually omit the profound ability of the people to come together and attempt to make a difference on more local scales. After the earthquake left thousands dead and millions homeless, privately funded camps were set up across the country to collect aid materials, which were then transported by the people themselves, rather than left solely to the hands of the government. Similarly, after the floods this past summer, numerous private organizations were formed, which are still working to rebuild the villages destroyed in the affected regions. Students from high schools all over the country have visited various flood sites to provide hands-on assistance, such as painting a new school building. Meanwhile, the adults have helped them organize many fundraisers to raise further funds and draw awareness from all regions.
I am privileged to come from a rather liberal sector of society, where most parents send their children to privately funded English schools and most students eventually study abroad in countries like the U.K. and U.S. Students like me lived in a largely Western-influenced bubble, not truly affected by the rampant inflation and rising unemployment caused by the corruption and political turmoil in the country. This reality made our lifestyles back home very similar to the ones we now lead here in the U.S. The Pakistan I know and love is a country with a rich moral system and an even richer culture. Unfortunately, the Pakistan that is portrayed in the media is not a full representation of the country, and leaves the nation and its citizens widely misunderstood. The political chaos takes attention away from the things that I treasure most about my country: the hospitable nature of the people, the delicious traditional food, and society’s strong familial ties. It is now the duty of my generation to showcase all this and more so the world can see the real Pakistan, the Pakistan I grew up in and miss dearly.