Have you ever done pedicure sitting on the shotgun seat of a moving car? Or did you ever thread your eyebrows taking advantage of the visor vanity mirror, got your clothes ironed from a presser of a far flung town coming between highways while moving towards your destination? Or, you would have bleached your face in the scorching sunlight on a lonely road combating desert storms, or changed your clothes in a forsaken petrol station mosque; Have you? Yes, quite a unique experience yet a feeling common to almost all of us; traveling ecstasy, the excitement attached to long awaited holidays and heart breaking end results invoking us to take some steps or at least realise our responsibility. We had planned to spend our Eid holidays with our friends in Kuwait. I had fulfilled all the prerequisites of getting ready ‘like a lady’ in the moving car to save time. Travelling freaks, expecting to experience another country, perhaps keen to get another souvenir for our decoration rack or another stamp in our passports, not considering the hectic road trip to Madina, packed in the last days of Ramadan, sleep-deprived zombies, me and my husband, were heading forward in an attempt to not waste a single moment of holidays by staying at home, oblivious of what was going to come our way.
During seven hours of drive from Riyadh, conducting a full-fledge traveling beauty parlor session, I had a bemused witness driving in desert by my side, my husband. We reached the KSA-Kuwait border. People living in KSA are authorized to get “on arrival” visit visas whenever they travel to the bordering Gulf countries, as me and my husband attained when last year we travelled to UAE and Bahrain. The place was not a very impressive sight; an old building desperately waiting for new paint, busy check posts where clock seemed to stop ticking, a horde of buses parked and their passengers standing in never ending queues to get their visas stamped, eager to enter the country still alien to us. At the last hurdle, weather suddenly seemed to be very pleasant where the clouds of hope started gathering upon our heads. But that one and a half hour proved to be the most fruitless wait of our lives, when we were refused the visit visa in the end. As we received a big ‘NO NO’, visas were given away like peanuts to other people. My husband was stunned and wanted a valid reason for the refusal. An engineer! Holding an official passport! Deputed in KSA! Having Saudi residential visa! and still getting no visit visa for only 4 days, the answer was simple and of course heart breaking, the person encircled the reason on the computer printout, ‘Pakistani’.
Agonized, ‘a Muslim country stopping another Muslim national and resident to enter’, there was a long silence in our car on our long drive back home and then we both uttered our remorse. This incident reminded me of another incident, landing on the Stockholm Airport, Sweden, both of us were late in reaching the counter, the man at the counter was speaking to us like we were some criminals caught red handed, ‘where were you?’, also checked if we had enough money to sponsor our tour in Sweden in an interview that longed for about 20 minutes. All our happiness of arrival on the Schengen ground for the first time had evaporated. Were we some other nationality, had he not been nice and comforting seeing our puzzled, lost faces? Landing at the London Gatwick Airport, not even late this time, and waiting in quite a long queue we reached the counter, what use?, we were asked to step aside and undergo an interview on ‘terrorism’, ‘extremism’ and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ for about 45 minutes, only for that single reason, ‘Pakistani’.
Both of us, once proud Pakistanis grew up listening to the stories of ‘Pakistan, the fort of Islam’, are shattered from the thoughts of being Pakistani in the international arena after facing the reality of how we are perceived worldwide. Carrying inferiority complex, shame, which we assume doesn’t even belong to us, honest in our dealings, sincere in our faiths, dedicated in our work, capable, hardworking; confused and perplexed, we ask from ourselves, ‘why do we deserve this?’.
But then another series of questions strike my mind; Are we not selfish as a nation, contented in our cozy homes not bothered by the sleepless nights of many in our society. Do we not want to snatch the rights of our brothers, or kill our sisters, have we not lost faith in our religion, are we not worshipping graves, and mere men, are we not killing innocent people in the streets, have we not forgotten our history, lost our ideology, disregarded our culture, our traditions, are we not responsible for our sorry state in the world? Who is responsible for this? Our leaders! Have we not chosen them? ‘Why do we NOT deserve this?’
After this coarse sailing into the stream of questions, the estuary leads me to a stone carved with an unadorned question, “Will we ever realize our responsibility?”
4. Agony Travellers!