Post details: An evening in Lahore

2006-04-24

//Permalink 02:20:15 pm, Categories: Pakistan, 941 words  

An evening in Lahore

Lahore is a nice city. I'm not sure what I had expected, but I do admit that my impression of Pakistan and the Pakistanis was a little more on the hostile side. Known for burning flags as a national sport and providing the Taliban with moral and finacial support - I was very pleasently surprised to be proven utterly wrong.

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Your average pakistani is a friendly, hospitable and helpful man. I say man, because you don't really see much of the women. (Though the few women I did meet seemed to be nice, too).

I was wandering around the Old city of Lahore, a very picturesque place. Narrow alleyways and crooked buildings - small and dirty shops selling everything on earth. A lot of the things are made before your eyes, and you hear the sounds of bashing of metal, sawing of wood and sizzeling of hot food. I was stopped every few meters. Guys on motorcycles, cooks, waiters, instrument salesmen, children, metal smiths, shoemakers - everybody wanted to shake my hand, ask me who, where and why - but most important - could I possibly take their picture?

Of all the places I have visited so far on this trip, rural India and Pakistan have been the best for taking portraits of people. First of all: they don't mind. Secondly: they really want you to. Thirdly: It's something about they way they pose, it's very natural - almost like the most professional models - BE the camera! Whenever you point a camera at a westerner they get all self conscious and bothered - and what you get on film is generally not what they really look like. In pakistan most subjects were just honoured by having their pictures taken - very few asked me to send a copy of the picture to them.

One of the guys I met invited me to tea at a teashop near by. Actually - they all invited me for tea - but I finally accepted this one invitation. He was a polite and well dressed man about my age, had just started a travel agency and wanted to practise his german that he had been studying for the last six months. Now, my german is not what it once was and even then it wasn't very good. But I got what he was saying, and I managed to help him out a little. People would drop by the teashop, acting casually, but I could see that they were evesdropping on our conversation and waiting for the opportunity to introduce themselves. I drank my tea with one hand and shook hands with the other.

After tea, he insisted that I come with him to his house to meet his wife. He was living in a flat near by, so it was not a long walk. We turned the corner of the teashop, proceeded into a narrow and dark alleyway to where his house was. Once inside, it turned out that his whole family was living in that appartment building (and the next!) - they were all related in some way or another. Only the women were home, so on every floor we had to stop - introductions and handshakes, smiles and giggling. There were no doors, only a piece of cloth covering the entryways - so I could see the women making food and going about their everyday buissniss of keeping the household.

Now, my host wanted me to take his picture too. Then a picture of his wife. Then a picture of his wife's sisters. I took the pictures, drank tea and ate biscuits. The woman's sisters were busy on the floor, cooperating on the sewing of a dress for one of them. He wanted some more photos particulary of one of his wife's sisters, so I took some more. Then a big argument broke out between them - and I could tell that my host had a second agenda. I am not sure if he wanted to use the pictures I was taking for marriage purposes (she was not married), but I started to feel pretty uncomfortable. I told the girls, who spoke decent basic english - that if they did not want their photos taken - I would erase them all. They talked for a while, then assured me that I was not to delete anything - they ran off and returned with sunglasses to ask me to take some more pictures.

It had gotten dark by the time I left the house, I had had problems making my way out of there as on every floor I passed - I would have to greet and bid farewell to all its residents. The final floor also had to young women that insisted I'd take their picture. They were thrilled! ..and NOW with sunglasses! It was a great opportunity for me to meet some of the girls in pakistan, so I didn't mind.

On my way back to my hotel, I was walking along the main streets - packed with slow moving cars honking, dust and exhaust everywhere. I was nighttime, dark - and I did not longer have the engergy to stop and talk to everyone that would greet me - I just smiled, said hello and moved on. I packed away my camera - walking past the bazaars. Here and there a helpful pakistani would grab my arm and lead me into a different street, whispering: Many thieves over there, watch your bag! ..go this way! As soon as I was out of the traffic jam I flagged a taxi, and a passer by helped me explain directions to the driver. I was home in no time, eating kebab and going through today's photos.

Pakistan is definetly not what I expected it to be.

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