In the Pakistani tradition of giving unsolicited advice in abundance, when I was moving to the US everyone made it a point to tell me that wherever I go, I will find myself an ambassador for my home country. Strange questions will be thrown at me and I would be expected to respond to them with expert ability. Dodging them will not be an option, instead it will be some kind of an affront to my Pakistani identity.
This advice wasn’t wrong. I have often been asked rather hilarious questions, sometimes bordering on the offensive, but nothing that some clever wit cannot handle.
Before I even got here, I had made up my mind that I will not defend Pakistan. Not because most of the stuff is so indefensible and certainly not because it is easy for me to resist the temptation to tell people off.
The reason I made that decision and have stuck to it is because I deem it a waste of time to provide answers to questions that those who genuinely want an answer to can easily find if only they would sift through the internet. There is great reportage from and on Pakistan which can give you a flavor of how diverse the country is and, if one’s intention is to truly gain knowledge of the country, s/he will be able to find it without much work. So instead of going on the defensive, I have started to direct people to sources where they will be able to genuinely learn and understand what is happening in Pakistan and what the country is like.
I can say with some certainty that it is because of this attitude that I have now become good friends with an American classmate who made a rather upsetting comment to me barely two weeks into class. A Mexican friend told me recently that she enjoys discussing and learning about Pakistan from me because I give her a different response than the other Pakistanis she’s met.
After six months of being on the pedestal, I have come to the conclusion that what Pakistanis in foreign lands really need to do is … chill out. What a bunch of foreigners think about your country doesn’t make it any less of the awesome place that it is to you. You have learnt to live with it (and in it), they haven’t and don’t need to either. Be honest to yourself, take pride in the good, acknowledge and condemn the bad and laugh at the absurd. There is no country in the world that is perfect, and none will ever be. Be comfortable in your unique identity (and if you’re an expat, visit often so that your understanding is not frozen in time!).
Maybe my approach is too naïve for other people. Maybe it’s juvenile or plain wrong to others. Maybe I’m too optimistic. But as Baba Michael Jackson says in his historic song ‘Beat It’: “Show them how funky and strong is your fight; It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right.”