It's been exactly 1 week since I got back from my second trip to Pakistan. I don't know exactly what made this trip so different but it caused a change in me, a transformation. This transformation is similar to a garden of dormant flowers that have been sleeping all winter and are ready to bloom at the first sight of spring. I have so many thoughts and emotions that it is difficult to explain exactly how I feel in one sentence or paragraph. Sometimes I wonder if I was taken care of too well on my visits to Pakistan and maybe I am wearing rose colored glasses but I know that, that isn't true either. I lived with them the way that they live. I used the same bed, bathroom, food and everything else that they did. I sat with the women and children and never put myself above another.
In all honesty I have never compared myself to another, not even while I was over there. I do realize that my life in America is drastically different but until this second trip I didn't realize how drastically different. It is strange because I had been there before 2 years back and I don't remember it having this much of an impact on every part of my being. I think last time I was there I was just visiting and being more of a passive observer. I sort of just let things happen. I wasn't as assertive. I didn't have a list of things to accomplish and I didn't have as much of an international community and organizations surrounding Sister Zeph and I.
This time I went over there knowing what to expect, what I wanted/ liked and didn't want/ didn't like. I made a list of all the places I wanted to visit and more importantly I made a list of all the things I wanted to do with the girls and children at the school. We did another painting together, we also painted a hand tree mural in honor of Tree Sisters and all the incredible work that they do, we did an activity in honor of World Pulse with the women, we honored the Global Sisterhood, I passed out donated laptops from Labdoo, I showed the children all the supplies that I and an anonymous donor got for them, I went with Sister Zeph and her team and bought stationary to last the school 2 to 3 months, I took thousands of pictures and what seemed like hundreds of videos, I hugged hundreds of people (mothers, young women, children), I visited mosques, historical places and churches. I also did more "selfish" things like shopping and going out to eat. Although I wouldn't say that, that is selfish. The shopping over there is amazing although it took me some time to adjust to some differences. I bought some cultural things for the Global Sisterhood Gala that I will be going to in April to show people some cultural things about Pakistan. I also believe that a person should do some shopping when they travel, especially to countries where there is not a lot of tourism because I like supporting the local economy and shop keepers.
On this trip I didn't feel like an outsider, even though I don't speak fluent Urdu or Punjabi by any means! Sister Zeph's family and students feel like they are my family as well. To me all of the children and students there are beautiful. I also think that Sister Zeph is very beautiful although society has taught the women there to not appreciate themselves, that they need lighter skin to be beautiful. I never once had that thought! I think that every skin color is absolutely beautiful and unique. I told Sister Zeph, if God only thought white people were beautiful then this world would be filled with 7 billion + white people... but you look around and you see people with every type of skin, hair, eyes... and in the eyes of an artist there is nothing more beautiful than that.
When I was there it felt like I experienced a lifetime in 3 weeks because we did so much and you can ask Sister Zeph, I must have hugged and embraced around 500 people. Despite all of the negativity towards the country and about the country that is constantly portrayed I have never felt that same sense of community in America unless I am at a special family gathering or going somewhere like church... I experienced so much love and the last day that I was at the school I cried my eyes out. I was telling Sister Zeph in the car that the children are so beautiful and innocent. When I was leaving several of the younger girls gave me a sign that they made that said "I am so proud of my Malee. She is so "cute" and so beautiful". That is when I broke down and cried so much. I don't understand how anyone could hurt them or even think of hurting them. Yet, we forget because we are used to Sister Zeph's way of doing things that so many children over there are beaten and abused, especially at school. At Sister Zeph's school the children are only loved. Every day when the little children walk in they are hugged and embraced by someone. Every time I saw a child crying I would pick that child up and embrace them. Another thing that is amazing is that no one knows their religion. When she takes their admission she doesn't ask, no one asks. It is probably one of the least discriminatory schools in the whole country.
Coming back I didn't cry the whole 30 hour journey back but this whole week that I have been back I have cried so much. I didn't realize how I truly live until I got back to the States and it is sad indeed. My mind is so mixed up. I knew that I would have culture shock but this just takes it to a whole new level! When I was over there (I don't know what made it different this time than the last but it was very different) I realized how truly blessed and full Sister Zeph's life is. Of course she lives in the 4th most dangerous country on the planet for a woman to live... of course the corruption is high, the healthcare might not be as "top notch", the education system isn't great (the government run schools are very discriminatory and there is alot of child abuse in them), there is more pollution (due to lack of regulations and enforcement's by the government), the trash (especially in villages) is pretty bad in certain areas, the water is super sketchy (so you have to double check the bottled water and make sure that all drinking water outside of that is boiled), in the villages there is no running hot water, there is frequent load shedding (one night, in Sister Zeph's village- literally the power turned off and on like 10 times- talk about a sleep disrupter).... and more... I could also complain about the traffic and how it seems that everyone will get in a car accident at any minute (but surprisingly I have never seen a car accident !).
Despite ALL of that... I come home and this how it goes (and keep in mind I rent a room from my cousin who is currently in Hawaii for 2 weeks)... I come home to a completely empty house (only my cat is here with me). For a frame of reference; I live in a very beautiful location, Vancouver, Washington. There isn't pollution here nor a trash problem (if there is, it is peanuts compared to Lahore for example). There isn't any beggars on the streets coming up to you or your car asking for money or trying to sell anything to you (like cotton candy or socks). People don't come out of their homes in my neighborhood hardly ever, I think because I live in a retired neighborhood. Everyone in my surrounding is basically retired and elderly. The very little crime that we do have always sends people into manic episodes.
I can go anywhere at any time and I will be totally alone with no one to bother me. I can sit in my house totally alone with no one to come visit me or anyone to sit with me. There will be complete silence for an entire week (I know this because it took me this whole week to recover from jet lag and the travel). The only sounds I will hear to disrupt the silence are the sounds of birds and the occasional car passing and an airplane taking off and landing. No one in this neighborhood will come to visit. I only know 3 neighbors names and I am sure that only 3 of all the neighbors here know my name. I could literally die in this house if no one was here and who would be around to bat an eye ? After some time my family would be worried and social media would wonder where I have gone for such a long period of time. Then maybe someone would come check up on me only to find my decaying body somewhere.
I realize now that my life can be so meaningless. I supposedly have it all. I live in a developed country, I am only 5 classes away from getting my bachelors, I can work freely without harassment (for the most part), no one bothers me, no pollution, trash... in fact nothing.. that is how I feel. I have all these privileges which I use to help empower Sister Zeph and the students and young women... I told them when I was there that I see that people in their country use their religion as a weapon (blasphemy for example) ... but I do realize that I have a power as an American and I am using that power for peace and not as a weapon. Sister Zeph translated this to all of them.
I just realized coming back how absolutely mundane our lives can be... even in a "developed country" where women have more rights and I can move here and there freely. I feel so useless at times now. I never wanted to live my life only for myself. The only reason I ever wanted more abundance in life is so I could help people more. I even saw a video of a young man, my age, living in Lahore, Pakistan with muscular dystrophy. He has his own non profit and is probably accomplishing more than I am in life - they said you could donate to him and I even wished I could donate to him because of the physical state he is in.
What is my life if I only live it for myself and I only use my privileges for myself ? Some people are perfectly content just living out the American Dream. I don't even know what that is anymore. I guess it means that you have a good paying job, a house and a car... someone to come home to that you love ? I was never content just having a good job, a house and and a car. In high school I always felt like a total outsider, loser. That is the honest to Gods truth. I felt like a loner loser. I never enjoyed the competition between girls, the fakeness, the pretenses and gossiping.
When I was 14 and 15 years old I have such a vivid memory. I remember we had computer lab and we had to pair up into groups at each computer to do some assignment. Everyone had their pairs, of course I was the loner as usual. Everyone was laughing, joking and playing around on their computers. Meanwhile I was doing research on what women go through in war torn areas. I don't even remember what country it was that I was doing research on but all I remember is that the women were being raped in the streets, sometimes they were being so brutally raped that they would bleed to death right there in the street. I was only 14 or 15 years old when I was choosing to read this. A couple of years later I had a hospitality class and I had another project to do but this time we had to present it before a panel of judges and we had the chance of getting awards. I chose to do my entire project about different cultures of the world. I even made a huge visual representation of different cultures and how they lived, what they wore and more. I got 100/100 and a gold medal for that because I was so passionate.
I never once in my life have taken into account someone's religion, skin color or anything like that. I have only ever been fascinated to the core of my being about how other people live and I have only wanted to experience that with them as much as possible. Mere days after I first met Sister Zeph 3 years ago I went on a cruse in Mexico and I can tell you that I did not enjoy it. I didn't get to be with the people or experience their culture which makes me sad. I don't see how cruse ships help put more money into their local economy. At least when I have visited Pakistan I have spent money at local restaurants and bazaars- which has put some money into their local economy.
Anways, coming home has been a real eye opener. Again, I will say that my life is meaningless. I never thought that I would help empower a woman so much in a dangerous country for women and in reality she is empowering me. I may seemingly have it all but at the core of things I do not. She has a community around her both locally and internationally. She has hundreds of children around her daily to love... what child will I love here? I have none of my own. I have never wished to just get married and have children. I always wanted to wait until I was in my 30's because of the very fact that I enjoy doing the work that I do with Sister Zeph and traveling (and finishing my degree in 8 months!). She has a team around her there. I have no one here. I might have a friend here and there but they live their own lives because we don't need each other here the way that they do there. I live in a very isolated neighborhood and culture. No one seems to need each other. We don't go out of our homes. We watch the news and we are afraid of those that are different than us. Some of us believe everything the news tells us so we don't travel and experience first hand what another culture is like... why do we have to live only for ourselves? I would rather die than only live for myself.
Despite all of the dangers over there my life feels so meaningless without having someone in my life like Sister Zeph. At the very least she teaches me through her example how to live to the fullest. If someone is a very shallow and self centered person they would say that she is lacking in certain areas... but I see that she is richer than most people I know, even in the States. I have learned and it has been strengthened in me that I must have culture, people and meaning in my life in order to truly live. I cannot build a castle around myself and watch the news and be afraid of everyone. I would rather not live if that is the case.....