“It’s a poor country, but we sure had fun while we were
I sat in a man’s office once, listening to an hour-long
preamble about crab fishing off the coast of Karachi and hunting in the Sindh
province. A few decades ago, his company rented a bungalow in Karachi. He
described for me the solid wood furniture that had been brought from Peshawar
in the north. “You can’t find anything like that coffee table here--I’ve been
trying for years.”
Pakistan is a poor country. But for me, and for others who
love it, it is wealthy. Not only is
Pakistan agriculturally strong, but it has several world heritage sites,
mineral, and natural gas reserves. For my mother, Pakistan is nights when jasmine
flowers bleed perfume and sweet chai in china cups. For my husband, Pakistan is
lush mountain rains and native fruits
whose names can’t be translated into English. For me, Pakistan is a thriving textile industry and a country of
hospitality. Not only will relatives urge you to “Eat more,” but the country
has sheltered as many as five million Afghan refugees at a time.
What does the world know about Pakistan? Pakistan has its
fair share of dirty laundry, which is publicly aired, but the grace of the
country is rarely broadcasted. I know a few things firsthand. For one, you will
almost never find a female domestic worker outside of Pakistan. Laws deter
women from leaving the country unaccompanied by their families to labor in
other countries, where their rights or honor might be compromised for a
paycheck. In fact, when I first came to Kuwait my Pakistani husband encouraged
me to wear a scarf, at least around my neck if not my head, and introduce
myself as Pakistani rather than American. “We have a reputation of modesty,
which will protect you.” And when this ride in Kuwait is over, Pakistan will
always be a part of my future.
But what about Pakistan’s future? Stand near a faucet or
beneath the showerhead and be reminded: this liquid commodity is the most
valuable in the world, but too much of it is hell.
The old woman wiping her eyes with the corner of her shawl,
as if the flood waters that soak her now
pour from her eyes to meet their origins. A woman who can't afford formula for
her infant, who doesn’t even cry. When all the Pakistani men I know are stoic,
a Nowshera man crying because everything he ever had is gone. Another man
helplessly lifting his hands to the sky, asking help not from any government or
charity, but directly from a higher power. So far, at least 15 million have
become victims of the deluge. Fifteen million. That is more than the number of
people who were affected by the recent Haiti earthquake, the 2005 South Asian
tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina combined.
Pakistanis who leave home do so with anticipation or
momentary bravado, but they look back with regret at having forsaken a life
lived on native soil. Not one of the 170 million wants to leave. Most of the
Pakistanis I know worldwide are in a depressed funk. Pakistan is drowned. No
sense of going back, or investing there. But we’re only as strong in the face
of the world as our country is. Otherwise, who are we? What are our origins?
Are we living in a country that is one of the poorest in the world? Or, are
those of us who left doomed to wander, servants to another country and unsure
what heritage to give our children?
When did we forget that the highest expression of love is
helping those in need who don’t ask? The first step to equality, which is the
very basis of the social ideals of faith, is the desire to equalize resources.
The wealthy in Pakistan should not be jetting off to shop in Dubai on the
weekend. The poor should not be without money for bread or shoes. How well does
our religious principle of zakaat, giving alms to the poor, rated at 2.5% of
all savings and gold wealth over a certain amount, provide for the poor in the
world? I paid at least 30% of my annual income in taxes in the United States.
Some countries in the world have nearly 70% tax rates, and in those countries,
the gap between rich and poor has been decreased. We need to give more.
Pakistani Muslims this Ramadan will know what to do with
their zakaat. Maybe other Muslims will give their zakaat to Pakistan, ignoring
the discouraging, fragmenting arguments of race, or not agreeing with the
Pakistani government. Most Pakistanis have no faith in their government either.
As for the argument that Pakistan might be supporting suspicious elements, most
Pakistanis just want to have a decent livelihood and a brighter future for
their children. Political turmoil belongs to, and is the creation of, the
politicians and their plays for power.
I urge all Pakistanis to donate to flood relief in addition
to pledging zakaat. We should be grateful for the aid we're getting from other
countries but we should not demand or expect it. Nearly 7 million Pakistanis
live abroad, not counting their non-Pakistani citizen children. A reported
100,000 Pakistanis live in Kuwait alone. It’s time to take care of our own.
It's our country. Change starts with us.