Do you ever give yourself advice? It’s a good process. Because you’re much more likely to value what you say to yourself than what other people say. That’s just the way things go.
I’m going to Pakistan on Saturday. It’s been two years. In the scant moments of free time I have while I prepare for the trip, I remember what it was like and I wonder what I need to do to prepare myself for the trip. I drew up a list of advice I am giving myself to make the trip the best it can be. I hope I listen. I should. I’m experienced, after all, having lived completely immersed in rural Pakistani culture for about four years.
- Chill the hell out! Seriously, Matt. Just freakin’ relax. You get too stressed out over tiny cultural annoyances. Yes, people are going to stand too close to you when they talk. Yes, you are going to get offered more food than you want. Yes, people are going to follow you around when you want to be alone because they are afraid that you might be lonely. Deal with it. The problem doesn’t lie in Pakistan, it lies in you.
- Remember it’s more complicated than it looks. When you see poor kids on the street, resist the urge to raise your fist at the first rich guy you see. Issues of global poverty, women’s rights, and religious turmoil are as complex as the cultures they are born from. You think you’ll walk in there from your comfy suburb and have the insight to fix it all? Fat chance. Odds are you’ll just try to work against fringe symptoms and end up pissing people off with no real benefit.
- Go to learn, not to teach. I hate to have to say this, Matt, but someone has to. You are an arrogant S.O.B. I know that you think you have the insight of the gods with which you can smite every root of suffering and injustice. But you don’t. Because, frankly, you’re a bit of an idiot. So stop trying to tell everyone what to do. You’re ignorant and ill-informed. Why don’t you just shut your mouth and take this opportunity to soak in the viable and unique way of looking at the world that Pakistan offers. You cannot put water in a glass that’s already full, after all.
- Quit being right all the time. Remember all those neat cultural quirks that you hated and took it upon yourself to attack? Quit doing that. You can’t get rid of them and you just piss people off. And, let’s face it, you don’t know what you’re talking about anyway. Like when you used to bitch about having to wear nice shoes to church when you just ended up taking them off at the door? Yeah, don’t do that. You’re not right. Or when you rebuked people for doing their work in a way that you deemed inefficient? Yeah, don’t do that. You’re not right. Because when you try to be right all the time, people get the (accurate) impression that you’re just another white guy coming over to tell the natives how they ought to live. For the love of God, Matt, do not be that guy.
- Expectations work against you. What? You expected that Pakistan was full of nothing but charming, quaint people who smile all day and sing Bollywood tunes? What? You didn’t expect that there would be a similar ratio of jerk:nice as there in in Canada? What do you really know about Pakistan? After four years, nothing. Say it with me Matt, ‘I know nothing’. Because you don’t. You read books and you lived there, but you know nothing. It takes a lifetime to know and understand a single individual. It would take a thousand years to understand a culture (by which time the culture would have evolved into something totally different anyway). Don’t expect anything. Don’t fall into the deathly trap of thinking in terms of ‘the Pakistani way vs. the Canadian way’. Just roll, friend. Just roll.
- Eat slowly. Yeah, you remember how long it takes a white stomach to get normal over there. Take it easy, champ.
- Smile. It’s a cool place filled with cool people. Enjoy them for what they are. Laugh with strangers, dance with friends. Give joy and be willing to receive it when it’s offered to you.
- Embrace. The people you meet are more like you than you realize. There is not us vs. them. There is only us. If there is a them, it’s God (or aliens, I suppose). That Hindu fellow in the village who cannot read and works in the fields? He’s a man like you. That Muslim woman, all covered up as she floats through the bazaar? She’s a soul like yours. That kid on the street, that angry-faced preacher, that smiling shopkeeper. They are all carriers of the Divine. And so are you. Look around at that strangers and remember that they are not strange. Greet those strangers and call them ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. Rejoice in the things you have in common. Learn from the things that are different.
- Love. Matt, I realize that your memory isn’t the best. And that’s okay. I love you anyway. So if you manage to forget everything I’m telling you know, just try to remember this last one. Because if you can pull this last one off, you’ll be alright.
See you on the other side.