In 2017, I made what was seen by many as a dumbest decision of my life.
I flew to Pakistan unaccompanied, to meet people I’d never met before, with the aim of making a documentary of sorts.
I’m an adventurer by heart and a bit of a risk taker.
Every single member of my family, my mates and my work colleagues, without fail, tried to convince me not to go.
“It’s not safe”
“It’s full of terrorists”
“ISIS will cut off your head”
“What if you catch some strange disease”
“Blah blah – insert another ignorant comment – blah blah”
None of them knew anything about Pakistan. None had been there before. None had studied it. None had spoken to Pakistani expats about the place.
But everyone had an opinion on the country based on what they’d probably seen on Fox News.
The story of why I went and what I did while I was there is well documented. The actual “shitumentary “ as one critical member of the press called it, is up on YouTube. Search Dennis Does Pakistan. It is worth a watch, if only to help you try and understand a bit more about a place you probably know little about.
What I discovered during my time there was that I hadn’t taken a risk at all. I’d embraced an opportunity.
I’d discovered a part of the world that for a while, I could keep all to myself.
A culture that was overwhelmingly hospitable. A landscape as random as the shape of a snow flake. Traditions older than the universe. Food tastier than your grandmother’s Sunday lunch.
A people who for some reason embraced me as their own. A belonginess that is hard to find back home in Australia.
Now granted, some of this curiosity and warmth provided to me was likely due to the gora card. Gora can be translated to white. And unfortunately, in many parts of the world today, when life’s lottery deals you a set of cards that includes having less melanin in your skin than someone else, it can superficially open doors.
As it did for me.
I reckon there are three types of gora card holders.
There are those that are blissfully unaware that it even exists. They soak up the privileges awarded to them as if people are just being nice for niceties sake. It’s probably harmless in the scheme of things.
There are the evil gora card holders. Those that use it to exploit others only for their own personal gain. Think of the white guy who jumps the queue or gets special VIP treatment in a restaurant. I’ve been accused of being one of these at times. I’d like to think it an unfair tag placed on me. Evil gora card holders continually go looking for ways to elicit favour for purely selfish reasons. I’m pretty sure that’s not me.
Then there are those that understand the good that the gora card can achieve. I’d like to think I’m in this category. Yes, I use the card now and then. But not for any other reason than to promote and share what I have grown to love about the circus that is Pakistan. Being able to do it while having fun and cracking jokes makes it even more worthwhile.
More than that, the gora card has changed me. It has made me a less selfish individual despite it offering me the chance to take more. It has given me see the ability to see that I can help others with it and therefore allow me to give something back. It doesn’t have to be much, but it should be something.
I’ve just landed in Pakistan for the second time in my life. In a few days time, I’ll be working with two wonderful local charities to raise funds to put cricket equipment in the hands of schoolgirls that would otherwise never get a chance to play the sport.
All via a cricket match.
We are playing a benefit match at the most prestigious sporting club in Karachi. The match will be mixed gender. A mixed gender match has never been played in the nearly 150 year history of the club. It will be streamed live. It will have commentators. Famous cricketers have pledged support. Local cricketing royalty have donated signed memorabilia to auction off. The press are covering it.
It’s a proper event.
All of this largely due to the gora card.
If I wasn’t visiting, the match would not be being played. In this instance, the gora card has created an excuse to positively impact lives.
The impact is that young girls from impoverished areas of Pakistan will get the chance to participate in cricket. A sport that gels this nation.
This is happening because I have white skin.
It is not fair. It is no meritocracy. But I don’t make the rules. The world truly makes no sense.
Yet despite all of this, visiting Pakistan petrifies me.
I am scared. Nervous. Agitated.
It is not because I feel unsafe. Far from it.
I feel safer here than many other parts of the world.
No one bothers me much. I’m left to my own devices. I can walk the streets and eat at roadside stalls and take pictures and do all the usual tourist type activities without any fear at all.
Usually, all I get is smiles and a chance to interact with normal everyday people.
I’m not afraid of terrorists or some Islamic boogie man or any other issue. Of course, like anyone in a place that is not their home, I’m mildly alert. However, that alertness is channelled into soaking up the essence of this place.
So what is it that I fear?
If I’m brutally honest with myself, it is the illicit affair that I’m now having.
I’m cheating on my own country and am falling deeply in love….have fallen deeply in love, with a prohibited place.
No one falls in love with Pakistan. What a stupid concept.
Yet I have and it was easy.
I’ve missed not being here. I’ve longed to come back and let it overwhelm me. It is a feeling I rarely get from Australia anymore despite it being the most beautiful object on this earth.
Pakistan offers me pleasures that Australia cannot. Through a gora’s lens, Pakistan’s nuances are all nuggets of gold.
A sight here. A smell there. A sound. A feeling. A belonging.
Like Australia, the culture thrives on humour. Challenging authority is in its blood. Its youth are claiming back the country.
I’ve read that maybe 70% of the population of Pakistan is under 30 years of age. This stat may ne right. It may be wrong. Whatever. It’s close enough. But what it gives us an insight to is why Pakistan is a place where the people are dreaming and have the energy to create a better tomorrow. The current politicians may be old, but they are already yesterday’s men.
On a personal level, Pakistan gives me an ability to make a difference. Maybe this is the secret sauce that this land provides me. I can have impact and I reckon this is the intoxicating substance that I’ve become addicted to.
In Australia, I can support my family well. But to support others is difficult. Like most, I have no voice. No cut through. No platform of substance. The gora card doesn’t work there. The best I can do is donate a dollar to a cause.
But in Pakistan, I can post a tweet that contains an idea, instantly have local elites jump onboard and then two weeks later, through a game of cricket, bear influence and change on a scale that humbles me.
This is the power of the gora card.
I want to do more of this kind of stuff. Giving back to those less fortunate than you is addictive. You should try it. Everyone wins.
But I live on the other side of the world so that reality needs to be respected.
Honestly, I’m feeling guilty about not doing enough already.
And this is why I’m scared of being in Pakistan.
It is screwing with my emotions in so many ways.
Anyone got any advice?