Pakistan today is so inhospitable to Americans that our state department discourages travel there, but things were very different in 1975. Our little group of teachers on a two-month educational tour led by Dr. James Sheaffer of Chadron State were treated like honored guests. The governors of three of the four provinces welcomed us to their marble mansion where uniformed servants served us tea from silver platters. We heard lectures from the top professors of the universities; local dignitaries gave us receptions and tours of their industry, like the glass factory in Hyderabad where the heat was so intense that we had to leave after only a few minutes. I especially remember the rug makers in Lahore—little boys as young as five who were considered to be lucky to learn a trade and earn a nickel a day rather than be beggars on the streets.
More revealing of the general attitude toward westerners was how we were treated in the bazaars. Although the women would move off to the side and watch us through the veils of their burkas, the boys and men followed us everywhere. They weren’t hostile, just curious, even though a gun belt and rifle might be slung across their chest. And rather than not wanted to be photographed as I’d heard, they seemed pleased to have their picture taken—though I always asked first to be sure. One time, however, a just a picture and a brief interaction weren’t enough. A man in the old bazaar of Rawalpindi was so excited to meet some Americans that he ran over to us like he’d discovered a treasure and wanted to take us home to show to his grandparents. So, the next day Mohammed Islam took us to their home where we found a courtyard crowded with not only his entire family but most of the neighborhood children as well. Nothing, however, equaled the enthusiasm of the local drug dealers in the smugglers’ market in Landi Kotal on Khyber Pass. As soon as we got off the bus, we were greeted by joyful shouts from the local drug dealers: “Ameri-kans . . .Ameri-kans! Hashish! Cocaine!” And although they didn’t make a sale this time, they too treat us well.
For me personally, more evidence of how we were regarded came when I got when I realized was alone, but then I thought, Oh, heck, nobody’s going to do anything to me with all these people around. So I took my time going back to hotel, watching the venders like the chapati makers and the paan man, and I returned with my camera the next morning—again by myself. But I certainly wasn’t alone. The usual curious crowd followed me from my first stop to my last as if I were a celebrity and actually made me feel even safer.
But of all our interactions and receptions, most memorable and now almost unbelievable, was in Darra, the village near the Khyber Pass that’s famous for its guns. We arrived late in the afternoon, after being warned by the Pakistani government to be out of there by nightfall or it couldn’t be responsible for our safety. First we just wandered about and watched as they made rifles from rebar and were about ready to depart when we were led into a mud-walled courtyard. The malik spoke no English, but he’d heard of our coming on his shortwave radio just a few hours earlier and had hastily organized a reception. We were told that blood revenge was part of the Pathan code of honor and that this kindly looking man had killed at least twelve men in order to qualify as the chief, but also important in the code is hospitality to guests. And tribesmen who would have robbed us and possibly killed us if we met on the road just a few hours later now served us tea and cookies. Today Darra is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth, as perhaps much of Pakistan now might be, but that’s not what we experienced there—I remember instead the open hearts of welcoming people.
Sandy (Sandra) Grubb Chapman – Fulbright to Pakistan 1975