Pakistan Diaries: The Trip Home

We had reached the end of our journey, and oddly, we felt it too short.  We started the long trip home in Karachi at 7pm, flew to Lahore and arrived at 10pm.  We then caught a catnap with my new stepmothers adorable family and lit out for the airport at 3am for a 5am plane. 

And that’s when Sarah finally got ill.

Vomiting hard before we boarded our plane, we found ourselves in a 3 seat row of a 777 with a man I tried to switch seats with.  "Could my wife take the aisle seat?  She’s very ill and will need to get up a lot."

"Let’s wait and see how it goes."

The plane took off and Sarah began puking.  I asked for more airsickness bags because she had used every one in our row.

After filling four air sickness bags, we found we had the whole row to ourselves.  We made the long flight to Manchester England where we were forced to debark and pass through security screening again.  Luckily Sarah was able to buy a change of clothes in Manchester to replace her now unpleasant garments.  To say she’s a trooper would be an understatement.

Feeling better, we both took a walk up the aisle to stretch our legs.  I had heard the pilot give a familiar name, and so when a member of the crew walked by I asked if he was related to my new stepmother.

Yep, the crew member I was talking to was the pilot, and in fact we were now distant relatives by marriage.  In short order we found ourselves in the cockpit being given a personal tour of the 777’s controls.  After a discussion about the protocol for avoiding food poisoning in both pilots and talking about the future of Boeing’s new fuel-efficient "Dreamliner", we headed back to our seats floored by the synchronicity of it all.

We arrived in New York twenty six hours later on New Year’s eve at 2pm. After a little extra special questioning from the American Homeland Security authorities, we rode with the flight crew to Penn Station and bought a ticket on the next Amtrak home.  Hopping a familiar DC cab completed the Travel Trifecta of a Plane, a Train, and an Automobile.  I told the driver that it was very important he not have an accident on this final leg of our journey (he didn’t) and we found ourselves in our own bed after the 30+ hour journey.  We both slept right through the start of 2005 and began the week-long process of re-entry culture shock.

We are both jonesing for Pakistan still, and at home I’m wearing my Pakistani clothing because it’s so damn comfortable.  If I close my eyes I can still taste the lamb at that restaurant in Peshawar.

But we’re back.  I now have a point of reference to understand where I come from, and the culture that birthed my father.  When he talks about appreciating the things you have, and helping out your family, I understand what he’s talking about, and how important it is to him.

Most importantly, I have a shared experience to talk to him about.  Our last shared experience, a pair of messy divorces that resulted in the estrangement of his three children for a fifteen year silence, is not something either of us can broach in conversation.


I highly recommend the Discovery Channel’s Insight Guide to Pakistan as a tour book.  Nearly everything we read jibed with what we found there, and not once did we feel like we had been steered poorly by it’s advice.

For dealing with issues of identity of Indians, Pakistanis, and Muslims, Sarah recommends reading "Imaginary Homelands", a collection of essays by Salman Rushdie.

And for both of us, let me give you some advice that has served us well now that we’ve had two amazing trips to both Cuba and Pakistan that were universally discouraged by our friends and family. 

The rest of the world is not a dangerous place.  Short of traveling to an actual war zone, more of the world is safer than it is not.  Fear of Pakistan by our friends and family turned out to have been many other things.  Fear of Muslims?  Fear of the third world?  Fear of the Middle East?  (Pakistan is not what I would call the Middle East).  Fear of simply not being in America?  Or more accurately, fear of the payback for our hamhanded foreign policy?

It turned out to have been many things, and at times it made me uncomfortable, but you don’t learn anything by staying at home and being comfortable.  By traveling to places where the people, the customs, and the thinking is uniquely different, you are forced to adapt.  To change your point of view.  To exercise critical thought.  And since most of the world is a hell of a lot poorer than you, to feel fortunate for what you have.

I have been outside my comfort zone and I am a better person for it.  You would be improved by it too.  Sarah and I highly recommend that you go somewhere a little "dangerous" on your next vacation.

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