The early morning is filled with sound as I lie in the darkness of my room. Not only do I hear the insistent cackle of the rooster but also for the first time in my life I am hearing the Muslim “call to prayer”. Every morning and several times during the day since we’ve gotten to Islamabad we have heard the cantor’s voice drifting through the city. The quality of the sound is ethereal, I am never sure when it begins and when exactly it stops, or where exactly the voice is coming from. The prayer only adds to the strange quality of my midnight battles with jet lag, which I have been loosing every morning around 2:30 am.
In the last 5 days we have jumped right into a full schedule. I cannot begin to express how intense and beautiful the experiences have been. We have been moving non-stop fitting in travel, interviews, concerts and special dinners. We even managed to fit in a hike! There is too much to tell in just this written form so please keep your eye out for pictures and audio clips.
The first day we arrived we met a wonderful young woman who goes by Natasha Ejaz. She is very focused on music as a career and is overcoming some intense hurdles to do so. Music as a career is just not the same in Pakistan. There are no Café’s or Bars to cut your teeth on as I did for 5 years prior to becoming part of Della Mae. There are no open mic nights to make friends in and become a part of a diverse subculture of musicians. So, for people whose dream it is to become a noted musician, there is no in-between mega stardom or invisibility. You must somehow make it to the top without ever traveling through the important “middle stage”. Not only that, but as a woman Natasha is in a distinct minority. This is not to say that there is no place for her, but she must work that much more to make something happen for herself. She is also in an advantageous position, having attended a music program out of country (there is no music college in Pakistan) and having been in a liberal educated family.
The same day that we met Natasha we played at an all women’s college called Fatima Jinnah University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. About 250 screaming young women filled the auditorium and proceeded to cause such a ruckus that the guards had to open all the doors so they wouldn’t be battered down. Their excitement was the most uplifting way to begin the tour. They paid close attention to the music and were more engaged than many American audiences we’ve encountered. Yet, for those women this concert was something many of them had never before experienced. The hunger for this type of musical release was palpable. These ladies, are enjoying one of the best educations in Pakistan but are tightly controlled by their families. They do not just simply “go out to a concert” like I did as a young woman. They cannot take public transportation as it is too dangerous for a woman, they cannot go out after dark and many times they must be escorted by a male member of the family.
In the few days we’ve been here we have gotten a glimpse of this reality. We are shuttled to and from our destinations in an armored car and spend our down time in a gated and barred compound with armed guards outside. We have not once, left our compound or gone anywhere un-escourted. Many times we have wondered how we are supposed to bridge gaps and create understanding us when we are so cocooned in security. I understand that this is probably for the best, but it seems like a vicious cycle. If women are not to move freely in day-to-day life then how will men learn to relate to them? While traveling we have our special “Ladies only” lane, and are relocated so that we can sit together for our own safety and decency. This has been a frustrating part of the tour, but one that we will have to get used to as we continue our travels from Islamabad to Lahore.
The village of Saidpur in Islamabad was another highlight for us as we traveled on our rest day. Considered a “tourist area” because it is an old village that has been preserved to look as it would have looked historically, we were able to see what life looked like in a very different time. Constructed at the foot of the Margala hills, there were beautiful stonewalls and walkways that connected to a vast village up on the side of the mountain. Our embassy guides Azfur and Rob showed us around the meandering streets and along the way we encountered many smiling children, goats and scraggly chickens. We rounded one corner and came upon an old man who insisted that he get us some water to cool off. As he poured the water other children and men started to come out of their houses and welcome us into their courtyards. Several tours and pictures later we settled down in the living room of one family and cajoled the eldest daughter into singing a song for us. After her performance we sang the children the traditional American gospel song “I’ll Fly Away”, which was received with smiles and giggles. One of the older gentlemen, I believe the grandfather of the small children, specifically wanted us to know that this peaceful and welcoming demeanor was inherent in every Pakistani person. Most importantly, he wanted to convey that Muslims are not correctly understood in the western world. It was a sobering reminder of the uneasy ground that the United States and Pakistan try to stand upon. There is not enough trust, and no one is willing to let down their guard first. Meeting this specific family, and many of the other locals was a wonderful place to start the process of trust from the ground up.
And so, as I kick myself for leaving thousands of beautiful moments out of this blog, I will leave all of you back at home with this; you cannot judge a nation on fear and headlines. The news in America paints a very different picture of Pakistan and its people than what we have experienced here in our short 5 days. Yes, bad things happen here, and we have a long road ahead of us to reach a peaceful middle ground. But, in each person to person instance that I have experienced, it has been as a friend and artist. I think that we will find this more and more as we dive deeper into this trip. Consequently, I hope that you, reader, can dig a little deeper into your own conceptions of who these people are and what they have to offer the world.