Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Toronto, Canada
Whenever we tell our friends or people we know in Canada that we are going to be going to Pakistan for a family trip, we get a wide range of responses. There are some people who are really excited for us, and then those who are concerned for our safety.
Pakistan's reputation in Western media especially, is that of a backwards, underdeveloped country, which is unsafe for most travellers. As people who travel back to the country often, we know that Pakistan is the exact opposite.
There are definitely issues that the country faces, including lack of access to education for girls and poverty, but that does not mean that the whole country is underdeveloped, nor does it mean that the whole country is unsafe.
Pakistan is not as Underdeveloped, nor as Unsafe as the Media Makes It Seem
Like any country, Pakistan has its strengths and weaknesses. There are many people who lead very comfortable lives there, have access to some incredible schools, colleges and universities, live in lavish homes and work in highly paid jobs or run businesses. There are luxurious malls, beautiful housing communities, high-end restaurants, and everything else that we have in developed countries. There are certain areas of Pakistan (especially at the borders), which can be unsafe, but for the most part, the country is as safe as one can get. For the people who do live in Pakistan who are reading this, they're probably thinking, "What's so special about all this?" because these are norms they have known all their lives. It is important to mention this, however, because there are also people around the world who have never been to Pakistan, and whose perspectives are determined simply through a couple of news-stories about the country. Now that we have told you that Pakistan is not as underdeveloped or unsafe as the media makes it seem, we're going to share the biggest proof of this with all of you.
This year, we went to Pakistan and during our time, we traveled to the following cities:
Our Mom and Aunt Drove us Everywhere we Needed to go
The cities we visited were spread out across different areas of the Punjab, South Punjab and Azad Kashmir regions of the country. We drove in between all these cities (distances which were 4-8 hours), as a group of 5 women/girls. Some of our friends here expected us to have a man going around with us in the country, simply because of the safety issues. "Will you have a guard with you? Will you have a driver?" were the types of questions that we were asked. And honestly, people in our family in Pakistan too, offered to arrange something of the sort for us on multiple occasions. After all, it was unusual for women to be driving these great distances to different parts of the country alone. But this type of freedom was exactly the way we liked it, and so we stuck to it.
We were filming our documentary, attending conferences, visiting family, visiting tourist spots, and so much more during this whole trip. We were based mostly in our village and in Lahore, but had to visit the other cities literally every other day or every week for the various reasons mentioned above. Every time we left our village, our family and friends there, as well as people who helped us around the farm would come see us off. Here is a video from one of their see-offs:
Our mom and aunt were the drivers, while our cousin and the two of us sat in the back seat of our car. We would listen to music, eat ice cream, and tell stories during these journeys, while appreciating all the sights and sounds of the country as they passed by us during these trips. Here is a quick video of us during those road trips:
Breaking Barriers and Overcoming Fears
We had a lot of fun during our road trips. However, it was not all sunshine and rainbows. There were certain moments when we definitely could see why it is not recommended for women to travel all alone. We do not blame the whole country for these types of incidents however, because everyone in Pakistan should not be blamed for the actions of a few. There were several times when we found that men would honk unnecessarily at our car, or refuse to make room for us when we were trying to exit on to a road, or try their very best to go ahead of us when we were driving on the motorway. We're not sure if male drivers face these types of challenges as well, but they happened to us and so that's why we're sharing them. Obviously, there were challenges, but that didn't stop us from continuing our trip exactly how we had first planned it. Just because we faced barriers, didn't mean that we would back down - we would break them and continue our journey.
Google Maps is a Game-Changer
Often we would be visiting cities that we had never been in before, and with the help of locals, and Google Maps, we found wherever we needed to go. We didn't have navigation set up on our car, so the two of us and our cousin would be looking at Google Maps and yelling out directions to our mom or aunt (which made us make more than one wrong turn!). So eventually, we came up with a system in which Maryam would do the talking and things were way less confusing. Still, there were some fears left to overcome.
We were visiting Islamabad, and there's this restaurant way on top of the Margalla hills, called Monal. They're called the Margalla "hills" but are actually mountains. The roads wind all the way up, and they are VERY steep! Our aunt is afraid of heights, and she also had never driven up the side of a mountain like that before. But because we really wanted to go to that restaurant (it's a popular destination for tourists in Islamabad), we encouraged her to keep driving and we finally reached the top. It was worth it - we were one of the only people there that morning because people mostly visit in the evening, and the view was absolutely incredible.
We could go on forever about all the wonderful memories we had in Pakistan - every journey we went on, every road trip we embarked on, was filled with lots of joy, and if we could do it again, we would do it in exactly the same way. The real secret to being able to travel in a seemingly "unsafe" country with 5 women, is to keep an open mind, not let challenges stop you, and believe in yourself. So many times during our trip, our mom and aunt recalled how our grandmother encouraged them to learn how to drive, and, had they not listened to her and not believed in themselves, we would not be having the fun road trip that we did.
Our grandmother passed away in 2010, but her presence is especially felt when her two daughters and three granddaughters get together. We have our ups and downs for sure, but the empowerment one feels when surrounded by other powerful women is incredible. It feels like anything is possible - and it is.
Women are wonderful at problem-solving, thinking on their feet, and most of all, having fun in the process. This trip taught us exactly that. We missed our dad and uncle of course, because both are such incredible people too, but sometimes, it's fun to have just a girls' trip. And there's no better place to do that than Pakistan.