Unveiling Pakistan: Oklahoma visitors arrive safely in coastal city

By Joy Hampton

Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series that will follow The Transcript’s Joy Hampton during her travels with an Oklahoma media delegation in Pakistan.

Located on the coast of the Arabian Sea, Karachi is the second largest city in Pakistan. With its suburbs, it is the world’s second largest city at 3,530 square kilometers or 2,193.44 square miles. It is home to more 20 million people of diverse cultures.

As one of several visiting media delegates traveling from the U.S., I arrived as part of a group of travelers in the wee hours of the morning after more than 20 hours in the air. Many of us hail from Norman but we have representatives from Edmond, Tulsa and St. Louis representing various media platforms including print, radio and television.

Pakistan is halfway around the globe and is 11 hours ahead so we lost nearly a day traveling. People were accommodating and friendly, and while certainly the majority of women leaving the airport wore a covering over their hair or veils on their faces, in the ladies’ room, the veils came down. Women were women, tending their children, checking their makeup, joking about their husbands.

The strong family bonds were apparent even in the airplanes and airports as adult children assisted elderly family members and young parents patiently consoled crying children. Fathers actively shared the childcare duties with mothers and grandmothers.

Whatever stereotypes we as Westerners may have about the people who populate these predominantly Muslim nations halfway around the world, a glimpse behind the veil reveals that people are people everywhere.

The first leg of my journey took me from Norman to Dallas, and then in a 15-hour flight from Dallas to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. We spent an hour on the tarmac before ever taking off and by the time we arrived at the massive Abu Dhabi airport, I felt a kinship with my seat mates from the plane.

I sat between a lady in a beautiful golden sari returning home to India and a young man from Texas reporting for duty in Afghanistan. While he is deployed with the armed forces overseas, his wife raises their children and tends to their goats.

On the two hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Karachi, I sat next to a brother and sister who were returning home to Pakistan with other members of their family. The 23-year old woman had two lively children ages 2 and 5. She wanted to know about my life in Oklahoma, my job, my children.

She shared a treat she called sweets with me, though it tasted like a pungent cross between teriyaki and licorice with some other, unidentifiable flavors thrown in the mix.

When, out of politeness, I thanked her and said it was good, she forced several packets on me and told me where to buy it while I was in Pakistan, lest I run out.

I was moved by her generosity. She introduced me to several members of her family and invited me to visit her home during my stay here.

One young girl who cried that her ears hurt as the plane landed, like many of the children, wore pink shoes and a Disney-themed backpack. She could have been anyone’s child. She could have been one of my grandchildren.

My room on the 12th floor of the hotel overlooks tree-lined streets with lively but light Sunday morning traffic. There are more small cars here and more small motorcycles. Young people ride the motorcycles but so do families, with veiled women in black sitting behind their husbands as they wind through the streets. There are a lot of motorized bicycles as well, but the cars are similar to American cars in make and size.

Palm trees line the pool on the hotel grounds, but most of the trees along the street are of the leafy variety. The temperatures are warm here on the coast. This is their winter, but it’s warm enough for swimming.

Karachi is the capital of the province of Sindh and the city has been known by many names stretching back to the times of the ancient Greeks.

The Karachi section of the Express Tribune, the daily English language newspaper delivered to my room this morning, reads much like any American paper. Stories report concerns about the rural water supply and clean drinking water and a major investment in new effluent plants to treat the city’s wastewater.

Persons with disabilities speak out to be counted, to have wheelchairs, to have accessible buildings and contribute to society. Women speak at a conference on the social stigma against working outside the home and of the effects of the glass ceiling when they get a job. Another story relates the heroics of a local policeman saving lives.

People, I note, are people the world over. Something I have known, and yet somehow I had to travel halfway around the world to feel it in my gut, to know that we are more than just the religion we claim or the cultural traditions of our heritage.

Behind the veil, our humanity is revealed, our commonality uncovered.

I look forward to this unique opportunity to explore Pakistan and especially to learn about the culture and look into the lives of Pakistani women thanks to a grant from the U.S. State Department and the University of Oklahoma.

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