***Noelia’s Note: This article on “How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry” was written by my cousin, Roxanna Khan.  She grew up in both India & America, then moved to Pakistan after marrying a handsome Pakistani.  This piece highlights her time spent there, & how it disbanded many of her (unknown) prejudices & stereotypes.  Her previously published article, entitled “Growing Up in Two Different Cultures,” is one of the most popular articles ever published on this site.

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry

“Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

 – Mark Twain, From The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

Definition of Bigotry = Intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself.

Tales of Pakistan

When I think about my time spent in Pakistan almost 20 years ago, my mind returns with fondness to people I grew to love, & of stories rich with wonder & detail.  I’m also reminded of stereotypes that were disbanded, after experiencing day-to-day life lived in an utterly new place ~ one that I went into, no doubt, with more than a few preconceptions.

I had moved from La Jolla, CA to Lahore, Pakistan after marrying my college sweetheart, Haroon.  Born in California & raised in Mumbai, India, I suppose part of me assumed that Lahore might be a twin of India.  This was patently not the case.  Little did I know of the rich experiences that were to come, as well as the stereotypes I would need to let go of.

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry, Lahore, Pakistan

Lahore, Pakistan.

Women in Pakistan

One of my first stereotypes to be banished came by working at the Dutch bank in Lahore.  I got the job shortly after my arrival, via my brother-in-law introducing me to the hiring manager; many jobs in Pakistan were obtained this way.  Numerous women worked at the bank: some were single, others married, & not unlike modern-day America, many were the primary breadwinners for their families.  Though I’m unclear of any preconceived expectations I may have had of women in Pakistan, this still surprised me. 

Additionally, my sister-in-law was an MBA professor who regularly gave lectures, whilst raising three young children, & running the home we all lived in.  We were friends with principals of two schools ~ both female; business owners, bankers, & even a Senator ~ all female.  My husband’s family owned a frozen vegetable business & many of its workers were also women; they were diligent & loyal workers.

I was also amazed at the number of women who drove. My sister-in-law & many of her friends did.  American friends of mine from Upstate NY, who were now living in Lahore, drove as well.  Most stereotypes in our culture tell us that women throughout the Middle East, or in predominantly Muslim countries (such as Pakistan, which is 97% Muslim) are kept at home & often suppressed.  And yet, what I found within a few months of living in Pakistan, was that most women I knew worked, drove, ran companies, & even the government!  This was not merely the disbanding of a stereotype: it was a shattering.

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry, Women in Pakistan

Much to my surprise, I found that women in Pakistan drove, worked, ran companies, & even the government.

The Door

My brother-in-law hired a very gifted carpenter to create a handmade door for our home.  During the day, the craftsman worked in the garden area with his electric saw & tools.  Later, I discovered that he also traveled the world as a religious scholar & lecturer ~ a true Renaissance man.  I was between jobs at the time, & home during the day, so I often found myself meandering into the garden with Snoopy, the family’s cocker spaniel, to speak with this kind man.  He was soft-spoken & polite, in addition to being an amazing craftsman; the door is so beautiful, it receives compliments to this day.

My initial assumption was that a Pakistani male, particularly a religious scholar, simply would not engage with me: an American woman accompanied by a small, romping dog.  I never would’ve guessed he’d be so kind to me as I asked him numerous questions about his craft & his travels.  He was kind, respectful, & certainly did not display any misgivings or judgment about this inquisitive “female foreigner” roaming about the house, asking questions.  I’d assumed he might ignore or be indifferent to me, & yet this man, with his quiet, unassuming manner, once again tore my assumptions to shreds.

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry, Girl Who Travels the World

He built a handmade door for our home. In the process, he showed me that Pakistani men can be gentle & kind.

The Gifting of Alms

As one would expect, there were many indigent people living in the streets of Lahore, begging for food.  This set the stage for my witnessing of a dramatic dispensation of alms: a tradition entirely new to me.

I was shopping in the dusty Liberty Market round-about with my sister-in-law, who adeptly maneuvered the narrow side streets in her Suzuki Swift.  It was tiny, maroon, & sparkling thanks to its early morning wash.  We came upon a young woman with a small child harnessed to her petite waist.  The girl couldn’t have been more than 20; her large brown eyes were haunted & vacant.  Dressed simply, her rubber slippers were frayed & catching mud.  The grip on her child tightened as we slowed down. 

My sister-in-law, herself a young woman, possessed a radiant beauty that rivaled any movie star’s: her eyes radiated warmth & kindness.  She reached into the custom-made leather purse bearing her initials, & pulled out crisp, new currency notes: five thousand rupees.  At the time, this was equivalent to $150 US dollars ~ a large sum.  With dramatic flair, she manually rolled down her window & asked the young woman her name in a whisper.  It was Salma.  She then instructed Salma to get new clothes & food for herself and her child for the new year, which was in two days.  She blessed her, then we quickly sped away.  It was over before I could digest what I’d witnessed. 

My sister-in-law relayed that this was a local custom she had long practiced ~ that it brought blessings to both the donor & the recipient.  It was a sheer gift to witness this tradition.  I can still see Salma’s silhouette as we sped away, the red dust settling as we turned the corner into Gulberg, our popular neighborhood.  The revelation here was that I did not need to be anesthetized to the poverty that surrounded me.  That there could be meaningful exchange of alms

Growing up in Mumbai, we often ignored the beggars who aggressively chased us into the crowded metropolis.  We gave to charity, but mainly if the organization was known to us.  The beggars I’d seen growing up were often part of an organized syndicate that earned money off the children they were trafficking.  Thus, my association with people living on the street was very negative.  I learned that day that there can be meaningful gifting of alms.  At every turn, it seemed, I was learning how travel is fatal to bigotry & misconceptions of all kinds.  Even my own.

How Travel Can be Fatal to Bigotry, Mumbai

Children in the streets of Mumbai.

Ruby Red

Growing up, I didn’t get in trouble very much ~ but I most assuredly got into deep trouble if I ate street food or sugar cane juice.  Yes ~ juice was squeezed out of an actual sugar cane.  They filled a glass with ice that had been drudged through dirty side streets often filled with gutter water.  I was in deep trouble whenever I confessed that I’d joined my peers in eating flavored street ice. Though I love food, I always had trepidation eating something off the street from then on.

And so we come to the Liberty Market juice story.  One of the vivid tastes of Pakistan is pomegranate juice, typically consumed at midnight.  This was a favorite pastime in the winter months of Lahore.  We would drive up and & negotiate the Liberty Market round-about, with the juice man dashing to our car, taking our order.  Fruits stood tall on display: mango, sweet lime, sugar cane ~ even chikoo, a light brown flesh that felt like cornmeal. 

The “piece de resistance,” though, was the ruby-red pomegranate juice, its texture like a milkshake, containing no dairy: just juice.  Its flavors were sweet & tart; I can still taste their freshness flowing through my veins from that first sip.  The fruit came from Afghanistan, & I’ve never replayed that particular brilliance of pomegranate flavor in my mouth since.  Had I stubbornly held on to my fear of street foods, I would have missed one of the seminal food moments of my life.  

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry, Pomegranate

Ruby-red pomegranate.

India & Pakistan

Though I personally identified as an American while in Pakistan (which I very much am), I need not have been gun-shy about my Indian heritage.  It was clear to me from the start, that the Pakistani people were warm & loving ~ no matter if I hailed from their bitter, next-door rival: India. 

This final story literally brings it home when talking about the divide between India & Pakistan.  Partitioned in 1947, the two countries had since engaged in years of divisive rhetoric, & no fewer than three wars.  Upon my arrival in Lahore, Haroon took me to the Wagah border, a land-space outside the city, near the border of India.  Manned by armed guards & nestled in-between, is an open space called “No Man’s Land.”  This porous border, depending on the political climate, allows cars & trucks to traverse into each country.  Guards stand on each respective side in crisp uniforms.  And daily, around sunset, there is an elaborate ceremony with the guards of both countries, each on their own sides: with music, national anthems, & a flag bearing ceremony.

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry, Haroon

My handsome husband, Haroon.

That day, we arrived at noon & Haroon charmed the guard with his natural charisma, convincing this particular military officer to show his new bride (me) the border.  Amazingly, the guard acquiesced.  He accompanied us, allowing us to walk up to the “No Man’s Land,” vacant space.  At the time, I didn’t realize how special this moment really was.  This was the first of many instances where I felt that the actual people in Pakistan harbored nothing but peace in their hearts for their surrounding neighbors.  In fact, that evening’s ceremony, held on the Pakistan side, emphasized peace for both countries. 

Despite media and political rhetoric, & constant saber prattling between two countries that publicly don’t get along, the simple truth still existed that people on both sides of this man-made “partition” were simply human beings, capable of individual thought & feeling.  And within the complexity of each individual existed vast vestibules of warmth, love, & understanding ~ even for people from the “other side.” 

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry, Pakistan

Pakistan.

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry

“Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain’s quote has long resonated with me, & my time in Pakistan only enhanced my understanding of it.  For myself, I have to say I’m quite glad that I haven’t spent my life “vegetating in one little corner of the earth.”  The farther & wider I’ve traveled, the farther & wider my understanding of my fellow man has grown.  And it has made me less afraid.  

Travel has killed my prejudices.  It has set fire to many of my preconceived ideas.  It has quelled my fears & expanded the reaches of my heart, showing me into the hearts of men & women from all over the globe.

  And I am better for having done it.

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry, Roxanna & Nephew

The author, Roxanna, with her mom & her nephew from Pakistan, Adil.

 

How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry

What have been some of your greatest stereotypes that were later shattered by a travel experience?  Have you heard the Mark Twain quote before, on “how travel is fatal to bigotry” ~ & what are your thoughts on it?  Let us know in the comments below.  

xoxo Noelia & Suggy

Roxanna Khan

Roxanna Khan

Author

Roxanna Khan grew up both in the United States & in India. Today, she lives & works in Palm Springs, CA, & returns to India every few years for a month-long stay. She is very active in her community & is always busy working on her latest creative project.  Her published articles include “Growing Up in Two Different Cultures” & “How Travel is Fatal to Bigotry,” which document her experiences around the world.

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