Green LA
A night that offered contemporary music,
good food and cheerful mood ó Pakistani
community celebrates Aug 14 away from home
By Aoun Sahi
It was August 7, 2010, and one could easily sense that something Pakistani is going on at the Los Angeles Exposition Park. Green and white colours and cinnamon and clove smell filled the park. Packed with more than 5000 vibrant Pakistani-Americans, the night offered good food, loud music and an overall cheerful frenzy. It was August 14 celebrations that brought them to the park. The event was arranged by United for Pakistan Independence Day (UFPID), an umbrella organisation made by several Southern California-based Pakistani community organisations.

 

 

Country roads, take me home

By Farah Zahidi

Moazzam

The first time my husband floated the idea a couple of years back that we travel through Pakistan by road, I freaked out! The idea was generated by our friends, an adventurous couple who love to read travelogues, particularly those by Mustansar Husain Tarar, and have covered the most unheard-of places in Pakistan. They are truly adventurous souls, nature lovers to the hilt, and have travelled by road in Malaysia, South Africa and other countries as well.

While their escapades made amazing conversation over dinners together, I was not so sure this was what we could handle as a family. To begin with, I love nature too, but a confession is in order ó I am a "city person". Take me to Murree for a day trip, but at night I want to be back to civilisation. Spending a few nights on a high altitude hill station seemed a far-fetched idea. The cheeps and tweets of insects and the sound of silence sans fans or air-conditioners scare me a bit. Secondly, travelling by road meant facing my ultimate phobia ó car travel. The moment the speedometer of the car exceeds 60 km, I start applying invisible brakes and my tasbeeh gains momentum. The highway means a speed of at least a 100 km on an average. "Who can handle that?" was my impatient retort. But eventually, months of convincing and promises that the speed would be under control, I decided to give it a try, warning my family not to make it a habit. Little did I know it would become an unexpected joy.

Hours out of Karachi and the pace of life seemed to have slowed down comfortingly, although ironically the car had sped up. The landscape changed as towns sped by. Desert land was replaced by more lush green fields. Vibrant coloured clothes of both men and women in the interior were apparently the popular choice in the drier, more arid parts, perhaps making up for lack of colour due to less plantation. The physical features, the body language and the food items, as well as the crops in the fields differed from area to area. Yet, beautifully woven by a single thread, they were all Pakistan! Names we had often skimmed through in geography books and newspapers were real places with real people ó real people who had one thing in common wherever we went: hospitality, warmth and generosity, even amidst limited resources.

Our trips have till now included stopovers at Khairpur Sindh, the land of dates. We have experienced the City of mangoes, cotton and Saints ó Multan. We have driven to the heart of Pakistan, Lahore, and taken two fabulous motorways, one from Lahore to Islamabad, and the newer one from Islamabad to Murree. Nathiagali, Bhurban and Azad Kashmir have easy access by road. If in mood for more adventure, fly to Skardu, Gilgit or Chitral, provided the weather is on your side and the political conditions are conducive.

Over time, I have begun to appreciate the advantages of travelling by road. To begin with, it is an immensely educative holiday for city-based children who live compartmentalised lives, thinking Pakistan is basically the big cities. My initially cynical-about-road-travel daughter started warming up to the sights and sounds of the towns, cities and villages of Pakistan within a few hours. Rural life, up close and personal, is more than the mere pictures we see in calendars and magazines. Our interest levels would spike at seeing baraats going in trucks, acres of land filled up with dates laid out to be dried, and women carrying water to far off homes.

Another definite plus is that wherever you go, you have your own car with you. With exorbitant rates of car rentals, your own car is an advantage for sure. With the car comes the advantage (or not) of you and your family being in confined within a small space for hours at a stretch. While the thought might be stifling, it actually isnít so bad. We got much more time together than we usually do on an average vacation in any metropolis where we spend most of our time in malls or theme parks, and less actually conversing and sharing exclamations about scenes speeding by.

It is interesting that when abroad, for example in the US, we might be happy about taking a 10-hour drive to Canada from New York, but the same 10-hour drive from Karachi to Raheem Yar Khan is much more uncommon. The most common response we always get from concerned friends is, "Is it safe to travel by road?" But giving it a thought, we realised that Pakistanís cities and public places are much less safer. A sane bit of advice, though, for any one travelling by road, would be to travel during day time, and reach your destination by sunset, keeping a margin of couple of hours.

Before venturing out, make sure that your car has new tires and overhauling has been done, and the car is in reliable condition. Carrying along munchies, snacks and food is a good idea. Water and drinks are available at every fuel pump. For the extra cautious traveller, take along your own mugs and enjoy the tea of the dhaabas which is usually cooked enough to be safe. Loads of hand sanitisers, moisturisers and tissue boxes better be handy.

A navigator is a good idea, the role which I played in our case, as the driver gets exhausted with hours of driving at stretch, and may skip a turn or two. The person in the passenger seat needs to make sure that the driver is mentally alert and takes a break every now and then. And seat belts are a must, even though they are annoying and restrictive.

Our highway police are not to be underestimated. They are helpful, cooperative, and also vigilant about over-speeding. So try not to pick up a speeding ticket as souvenir. When they say they have hidden cameras, they actually do. And have your license ready and renewed.

All in all, a trip through Pakistan by road is a wonderful and enriching journey that bonds us further to our beautiful homeland and helps give its tourism a much needed boost. Experiencing is believing.

 

Green LA

A night that offered contemporary music,

good food and cheerful mood ó Pakistani

community celebrates Aug 14 away from home

By Aoun Sahi

It was August 7, 2010, and one could easily sense that something Pakistani is going on at the Los Angeles Exposition Park. Green and white colours and cinnamon and clove smell filled the park. Packed with more than 5000 vibrant Pakistani-Americans, the night offered good food, loud music and an overall cheerful frenzy. It was August 14 celebrations that brought them to the park. The event was arranged by United for Pakistan Independence Day (UFPID), an umbrella organisation made by several Southern California-based Pakistani community organisations.

Over 100 vendor stalls offering delicious Pakistani food, jewellery, clothes, handicrafts, art crafts and sporting goods were set up for the people. Pop stars including Annie known as Princess Annie and Jawad Ahmad along with young Pakistani origin British boxer Amir Khan were the showstoppers of the event.

One could easily fantasise that one was back home somewhere in Pakistan but carefree and smiling faces of young girls and boys and loose security situations were enough to make one realise the ground realities. There were no electricity breakdowns and most importantly no security check-ups and walk-through security gates to get into the crowded park.

"Can we afford to celebrate our independence day with such freedom in Pakistan?" says Waqas Nazir a 35-year-old Pakistani-American. He came to the US in 2004 but couldnít gather the courage since then to go back to see his family. "I love that country but Iím scared of going to Pakistan for the reasons well-known to all of us. I donít want anybody to occupy my freedom," he said.

For 9-year-old Jasmeen, daughter of an American mother and Pakistani father, the country of his father is a bit dirty but she still loves it "I have many cousins over there and they are very nice," she says.

This is the most important and may be the only event of the community that is celebrated every year. "It is good to see the Pakistani community united. The purpose of this function is not only to celebrate the Independence Day but also to remember our roots. We have set up a stall to collect money for flood-affectees and have collected a good amount so far," says Perveen Ali, a mother of three who has been living in LA since 1973.

She believes that the perception of Pakistan is not the best but it hardly affects her relationships with Americans at large. "You can see many Americans attending our events," she says while pointing towards an American woman sitting there. She was dressed up in traditional Pakistani orange shalwar kameez.

The event was a good opportunity to understand the Pakistani community in LA. The estimated number of the community in Los Angeles Consulate is around 150,000. It is the third largest in the US after New York and Chicago. Many of them belong to Ismailia and Bohary sects of Islam. It is probably the most educated, influential and vibrant community of Pakistanis outside country.

It mainly consists of professionals from the fields of medicine and computer software and hardware engineering. Many of them own large businesses in different industries like oil, hotel, textile, information technology, manufacturing, and real estate.

The small-scale businesses owned by them include travel agencies, motels, restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations. They are amongst the first Pakistanis who came to the US in late 1960s and early 1970s and an overwhelming majority are now the citizens of America. This is also the leading philanthropist community of expatriates. The projects like Development in Literacy (DIL), Al-Shifa Foundation/Al-Shifa Eye Hospitals and National Commission for Human Development gets the maximum financial support from LA.

Dr Meher Tabatabai, a Pakistani philanthropist, considers her duty to pay back to the society. "Though we are Americans first, but Pakistan is the binding factor for all of us," she said.

The local administration seems happy with Pakistanis living in LA. "The crime rate is minimal in areas where Pakistani communities are in majority," says Leroy D. Baca, Sheriff County of LA.

Sheriff Leroy loves attending the functions arranged by the Pakistani community. "Three years ago two different groups celebrated the Independence Day only a couple of yards away from each other on the same date. I went to both and told them that I didnít have problem in attending two events on the same day but it would be problematic to be at five or six events simultaneously. They were wise enough and since then they celebrate it communally which has made my job so easy," he says.

Sheriff has visited Pakistan twice and admires it a lot. He believes that Pakistan is a victim of Afghan war otherwise it is totally different from the kind of image that it has in the West. "This event is an evidence of my claim. You have young people dancing on the tunes of contemporary music. They have been cheering the singers and they deeply love their country. This is the real Pakistani culture," he says.


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