Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: travel

Hey Ruth, I guess you’ve arrived.

Must have been a long flight, eh? It’ll be worth it. And even if the trip over was really bad, I bet you earned a couple cool stories, at least.

Avatar1Asha and I had a good day. You know that Golden Avatar record I love that everyone else hates? It turns out Asha loves it, too. And without the baby to worry about, we can crank the volume pretty loud. I hope the neighbours don’t mind 70s Jazz Rock / Fusion.

It’s about 5:30am in Karachi. I hope you and Joe and Dev are asleep. I hope it’s a great sleep that drains away the stress of travel. I think travel mostly feels like a burden when we’re obsessed with the place we’re getting to. We forget that wherever we are is a pretty good place.

There’s a long drive ahead of you when you wake up. I bet it’ll be a crowded one, too. I remember going down that long highway between Karachi and the Interior. I always wanted to stop the car and get out for a little walk in the wide and rocky emptiness. But we were so concerned with getting to point B that we figured nothing along the way would be interesting.

You’ve got a lot of wonderful plans for wonderful things to see while you’re there. I hope you don’t forget that there are wonderful things to see no matter where you are. On a highway to Hyderabad. In a slummy hostel in Saddar. Everywhere you look.

I have arrived–I am home.

My destination is in each step.

Have a mindful second day, Ruth. I’ll say Hey again tomorrow.


     It’s that time of year again.
     The heat seems to come from below, bringing sopping air with it. The smells are pungent and human. Sweat. Dirt. Exhaust. Rooms with air conditioning seem sterile while rooms without seem dirty. It all awakens in me a desire I thought was fading.
     The country has not treated me and mine well, of course. But I’m longing for it again. Why? I can’t figure it out.
     I would lose family and friends again. I would miss out on all my geeky conversations. I would lose my financial stability. I would suffer ridiculous heat. I would trade my own powerful and comfortable culture for a foreign one.
     But I’m yearning, still.
     I could do it, of course. I could start packing and be gone when my lease runs out. There is nothing stopping me. I could get a job teaching English or raise money for some humanitarian project. And then I could live there again.
     I could soak in the poetic Urdu. I could walk through fields of cotton and mangoes. I could drink chai with shopkeepers.
     But do I want to?
     So very much.
     And not at all.
     At the same time.
     It’s not Doublethink. It’s Doublefeel.
     And while I’m doublefeeling about being there, I’m also doublefeeling about being here.

What do you Doublefeel about?

On The Subway

     A young Indian or Pakistani couple sits down beside me at the next stop. I know they are either Indian or Pakistani from their language. I think it is Urdu or Punjabi or something. I speak Urdu because I married a Pakistani. But I can’t understand them much. They speak too fast. And I’ve been away from Pakistan too long. The girl keeps looking at my computer as I play my game.
     I’m playing Limbo. My character is stuck at a difficult part and I keep dying.
     She turns to the man and says something. I think it’s Urdu, but I can’t understand. He laughs. They talk in low voices. The kind of voices you use when you’re talking about someone nearby. I try to understand them, but they talk too fast and low. I play in my mind what they might have been saying.
     “Ajeeb game xaylraha. Dekho, vo bar bar neechay girjata.”
     “He’s playing a strange game. Look, he just keeps falling.”
     “Han. Vo kyun computer game xalraha hai? Kya vo baccha hai?”
     “Yeah. And why is he playing a computer game anyway? Is he a child?”
     And then I could have said, “Baccha nahin hun. Bas, yeh bara dilchusp game hai. Lekin meh pusgya yahan.”
     “I’m not a child. It’s just that this game is so interesting. But I’m stuck in this part.”
     That would have been nice. But I can’t hear what they were saying. And maybe it’s not even urdu that they’re peaking. Maybe it’s Punjabi or Sindhi or one other those other languages that sounds kinda the same.
     They keep laughing at their secret joke. I get embarrassed and put my computer away. I take out my book to read.
     The Indian couple gets off at the next stop. I miss them. They seemed happy. I wish I was on a bus. That way I could have called my wife and spoken Urdu to her in front of them. Then they would have probably talked to me. It’s not everyday you meet a white guy who speaks Urdu, after all. But everyone knows there’s no cell signal underground. Maybe if we were at Islington where the train gets above ground…
     A pretty blonde girl sits beside me when we stop at Younge. The train is crowded. I never mind when it’s crowded. Even when I have to stand. It’s nice being around so many people. It’s powerful. She sits really close to me because of the large man beside her. My arm touches hers. She brushes against me every time she takes a drink of her coffee. She never looks at me.
     Why is she drinking coffee so late at night? Maybe she works nights like I do. She doesn’t look like that kind of person, though. She looks young and well-off. You don’t choose nights if you’re well-off. Unless she’s a doctor or something. I think they work at night. They’d have to. What if someone got hurt at night? But she doesn’t look overworked, and I hear doctors work a lot. Maybe she’s a student, working nights to help pay for her tuition. I will still be doing nights when I start at U of T. I can do most of my homework and reading at work.
     The large man shifts in his seat. I’ve seen people do that trick when they sit beside people who look nice. You move a bit and pretend not to notice that you’re touching the person next to you. But the pretty girl notices, so she shifts in her seat. Now she’s crowding me. I don’t mind. I don’t mind crowds. Even before I lived in Pakistan I never minded crowds. Crowds are powerful.
     The large man and the pretty girl get off at Dufferin. Most people are off the train, now. I have the bench to myself. I don’t really mind that much, either. I take my computer back out. I try playing Limbo again for a while. My character, a silhouetted little boy, stands on the roof, looking out at the grey cityscape. He can’t go backward. And to go forward puts him on a steep stope that he slips down. I make him jump before he falls off the edge, but there’s nothing for him to land on, and he dies. I try again. I jump further this time. As far as he can go. He hits the spinning saw and is torn apart. I try again, this time I don’t jump. I just let him fall. And he dies. If I make him try his best he is torn apart by the saw. If I let him slip, he hits the ground and dies. In the end, is one death better than the other? I’m the only one watching to judge.
     The man across from me keeps staring. He doesn’t look happy. Happy people are more powerful than sad people. But he’s not sad. He looks annoyed. Or angry. Some angry people are powerful. The happy angry people. But his mouth says that he’s rarely happy. I wonder what kind of life he has, that makes him want to scowl at passengers on the subway. I wonder why he scowls at me. Some people don’t like it when you use a computer in public. Or maybe he doesn’t like my hair. I once had a man spit on me because he didn’t like my hair. Or maybe he was just crazy.
     (Can you be just crazy?)
     It was at Pape Station, where the man spat on me. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked at him. He glared back at me, as if I had called him a dirty name. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything. When you don’t know what you should do, it’s usually best to just keep quiet and watch. So I turned and got on my bus.
     But this man across from me isn’t spitting on me, so that’s easy. I could look up and smile at him, but angry people don’t like smiles. Angry people don’t like anything. Unless they’re happy angry people. Then they like change. Then they like action.
     I was a happy angry person once. I still am, sometimes. Though mostly I’m just happy. At least when I’m not working. It’s hard to be happy or angry when you work all alone and at night. Because it takes energy to be happy or angry. And energy comes from people. That’s why I like crowds. But when there is no energy, you mostly are just sad. It doesn’t take any energy to be sad. Sad is the easiest.
     Does that mean sad is the natural state?
     No. Because we naturally have energy. So being angry or happy or both is more natural.
     The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Preachers say that means you shouldn’t go to bed mad. I think it means you should always stay mad. And not let the sun set on it. Not let its sun go down. Not a dark anger. A shining one, because you’re not letting the sun set on it. The kind of anger that burns against the things that make darkness. The kind of anger that you can hold and still be happy.
     We arrive at Kipling. The doors open. I sling my satchel over my shoulder and get off.

Why I Rock at Airports

I’m sitting by gate 173 at Pearson right now. Stress-free. I’m always stress-free at airports. I think most people get nervous here. But I love it. The airport is a place that I basically have figured out. I zip through lines and security with ease. So, to pass the time, I figured I’d share my little list of things that make air travel easy.

  • Show up early. The lounge is a comfortable place. Boredom is better than panic. Show up early.
  • Smile. Most nervous people are cranky, irritable people. And that’s a shame. It’s also a time-killer. When I first arrive and go to check my luggage I make a point of greeting the clerk with a wild smile and a hearty ‘good morning.’ And you know what happens when I do that? They smile back. And that’s something special because that poor guy has been standing there for hours listening to cranky, nervous passengers complain about their oversized luggage and how they don’t want an aisle seat. A ridiculously cheerful face will smooth the entire experience more than you would believe.
  • Pack light. The security desk is the next stress-point for most people. I see people taking off shoes and belts and emptying pockets full of coins and pens and keys and God knows what else. And then they still set off the machine and you can see the panic in their eyes as they try to remove more and more from their person. You know what’s in my pockets? Nothing. I’ve no use for coins and my keys are clipped to my carry-on. I don’t wear a belt. I have flip-flops instead of shoes. The only things in my carry-on are things that I’m actually going to use in the airports and on the plane. Seriously, security guards smile when they see me. And it’s great to see them smile.
  • Satchels. I get mocked for my satchel. But when I see poor people fumbling with boarding passes and passports and ID and all those other things you think you need, I shake my head. A satchel is amazingly useful at an airport. My pockets are empty and my passes and passports are close at hand.
  • Relax. So much stress is self-inflicted. Airports are an adventure. Enjoy yourself. Take in the sites. Write a blog. I enjoy looking out the massive windows at the technicians preparing the planes.

That’s really all it takes. Lots of smiles. Little possessions. Almost seems like a good model for life, doesn’t it?

See you on the other side!

Advice for Matt Going to Pakistan

     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.

Pakistan, Productivity and Why I’d Rather Write Books

     My wife and kids are off to Pakistan in a week. I’ll be following them a month later. I’m stoked. I tend to get all glossy-eyed when I talk about Pakistan. Kinda like a high-school girl talking about the head of the football team. What can I say? Pakistan is my lover.

     That tends to freak people out a little. Then they ask what I love about it. And I have a really hard time answering them. I mean, the place is pretty rough. It’s hot. Stinky. There’s a few shady characters. Not much chance for the trendy nerd conversations I like having. But I love it anyway.

     My wife is running an informal little charity thingy. Helping out widows and orphans. She calls it i117, go check it out. That’s one of the reasons we’re going this summer. Hunting down folks suffering in extreme poverty and coming alongside them to make life better.

     I get bothered when I think about how much my country suffers. I have friends who are malnourished. Literally. I have family who had to cut their caloric intake when American bio-fuel companies started buying up all the rice and grain that used to be used for food. For four years I lived among a people who simply did not have enough.

     But now I live in Canada. And we have too much. Way too much. So I don’t really want to be productive. Because we’re producing so much that most of what we work 40hrs a week for ends up in a dump before it goes stale. Because we buy new printers instead of refilling toner. Because the average household drill runs for 16 minutes during its entire life. Because everyone on the street owns a lawnmower that they use once a week in the summer. Because we eat so much we’re dying because of it. We’re just producing too many things. We aren’t even consuming them anymore. And it can’t go on, friends. It won’t.

     So I’d rather write books. I’d rather sing songs. I’d rather dance. I’d rather do plays and cook fancy meals and drink tea with strangers and tell funny stories. Because those things don’t take up space and don’t take away from my friends in Pooristan.

     My old protestant work ethic is yelling at me right now. He’s telling me that hard work and productivity is a virtue. I figure he’s wrong, though. Our craze for being productive has made us the economic lords of the earth, yes. But you can’t have lords without serfs. And I think it sucks to have either.

     So I’d rather write a book.