Get Out of My Garden

I ran into Muslim Hedonist via Natalia Antonova’s blog and read the heading “Why Don’t You Just Leave?” I was struck by this because I recently had the deep desire in my gut to hurl this at a foreigner.

I’ve been in Islamabad for nearly a month now, and I’m really enjoying being home. I taught the semester, then I taught Summer, with narry a break in the middle (in which I went to India, though) and just lazing about before the Fall semester is great. So I drive around Islamabad occasionally, visiting a plethora (well, 2) of friends who’ve returned to Pakistan from foreign lands and we all muck about.

The only problematic thing about doing this is the conditions of the roads. There’s massive expansion going on and all single carriage arteries are being made dual carriage, and things are dug up and they’re building an underpass practically right outside my house. So it’s annoying, veering around piles of dirt and whatnot, avoiding recently dug ditches full of monsoon water. By the time you get to your destination, you’re generally in need of some immediate distraction or a stiff drink.

Which is why, when one is driving behind a car with a red liscence plate (used by diplomats) or a blue one (indicating UN people), one wants to get out and go medieval on their ass. Their cars are usually large, especially the UN. This is in itself only a minor annoyance (she says, ducking behind her father’s SUV). What is troubling is that these foreigner cars seem to feel that they can straddle the centre line, flash you from behind if you’re in the fast lane, regardless of whether you’re about to turn form that lane and most annoyingly stand bang in the middle of a street (my street) chatting, asking directions, looking about without worrying that there’s a car (me!) right bloody behind them that would like to get past please and not watch you dick about, wondering how the fuck you ended up in this Godforsaken country!


Being stuck thus in my own street, not 100 feet away from my house, running on CNG and 1000 kilometers past when I should have changed the oil, you can imagine that I had just managed to get up the kind of speed and pick I like from my car when this asshead presented himself to my attention. And I swear to you: I wasn’t PMSing, I didn’t have a migraine, I had not recently fought with my anybody. But I had the deep deep guttural desire to get out of the car, knock on the window and say, “Listen, buddy, if you can’t figure out how to drive properly in this country or don’t care to do so just because you find the laws are lax here, if you’re lost, or are feeling lordy and first worldy, or are scared shitless of, say, me coming up to you in your car even though I’m always flashing a bit of cleavage and carry no bamboo sticks, why don’t you go back home?? Learn how we drive here or bloody well leave!”

Instead I honked like a bitch and the fucker moved. And this was fine.

But it led me to the analysis portion of our blog post: In the US, in liberalism school, we learned that asking someone to get out of our country (the US) was bad. It was a bad thing to do because you were being racist in faintly coded or totally uncoded terms. You were saying, “If you can’t do like the Romans, if you can’t assimilate, if you insist on being who you are and just doing that here, then you best bugger off.” And that’s bad.

Well, it is. I’m not pretending otherwise. I’m just wondering if, as intuition would have it, the rules are different when your residential streets are suddenly populated by diplomats and American marines who need barbed wire around their houses (which, for our American viewers, are already surrounded by high boundary walls, as Pakistani building convention has it) and guards outside post No-Parking signs are shooing away anyone who, as a friend did recently, might be local and asking for directions.

To an extent, I think they are. The anger is a little more righteous (though perhaps mine wasn’t, which in the incident above was completely mental) because circumstances have led to an urbane invasion of your home town, because it’s a capitol city and because it’s in Pakistan, and you’d like to go about your business unmolested by red license plates.

But I do wonder if it occurs to Pakistanis what we’re saying sometimes. Racial (and ethnic and gender and sexuality) slurs come easy to us. People are chinmin (“chinks” I suppose) and kaala (“blackies?” that’s what Brits [“Brits!”] used to call South Asians way back when, but it means black people); a man’s female love/lust interest is a bachchi (child of female gender); a gay man is gaandu (sodomist): and we bandy these words about easily.

I’m not one for self-censorship in the name of political correctness. At some point, any of these terms is relevant and useful, at the very least as humour among friends, one of whom might be a gaandu or a kaala.

But being as homogeneous as we are in terms of general looks and, particularly, religion, it might make it all the more stark. Difference is only tolerated when it can be diminished and reduced to humour, and shoved back into someone’s private life, from where it foolishly peered out. I used to teach middle school and one my students was half Japanese and half Pakistani. He was a complete terror most days, but it was easy to upend his bravado and 13-year-old equilibrium by making comments about his Japanese side – particularly by calling him Japanese, ironically, and saying he’s not Pakistani. Many trips to the principal that one caused.

I don’t have a conclusion. It’s just something I’ve been mulling over since I had the strong urge to grab a foreigner by the scruff of the neck and toss him out the front door of my country for driving arrogantly. We ‘re not really all the same, but we seem to have an even stronger desire for homogeneity than the empire of McDonald’s and the doctrine of multiculturalism.

PS. Check out this discussion of racist and sexist jokes. I wrote my post and then found this, oddly enough. Good stuff.

PPS. The title of this post is a line from a tori Amos song called “Datura”.

Stumble it!


#1 Nadia on 08.19.07 at 3:57 pm

People generally don’t like diplomats anywhere because, I think, instead of adopting/making an effort to adopt the local culture, it’s their job to maintain their difference. And not having to pay parking fines and observe other such ‘minor’ legal things, while it makes our lives easier, doesn’t endear us to the local law enforcement anywhere in the world.

But that only accounts for a tiny bit of the attitude. I’ve really never seen foreigners behave quite as badly as they do in Pakistan (although admittedly my ‘third-world’ experience is limited to South Asia). And I think it has partly to do with the way the Pakistanis themselves present their country. Nowhere else have I seen locals point out their country’s flaws to foreigners in quite the same way. And by locals, I mean not just the ministries and organizations that the diplomats have to deal with but also the ‘elite’ who make it a habit to collect and cultivate foreigners, usually by offering them booze. By openly flouting the country’s laws (however stupid the law may be) in front of these people, they send the message that they aren’t to be taken seriously anyway.

That isn’t the only way they do it, of course, and it isn’t the only factor in the bad behavior of foreigners. More than likely they come in expecting a hell-hole, and then that image is reinforced by their la-di-da hosts who point out their country’s failings and how stupid the ‘locals’ are (because said hosts are usually ‘from’ elsewhere, you see. Their families are almost never ‘local’.).

Is it any wonder then that even people predisposed to give their new home a chance turn on it?

#2 Teeth Maestro on 08.21.07 at 1:35 am

Unrelated to your post: Thank you for recommending me to make the post on Turkey blocking wordpress. Infact last night I had published the entire article on my blog and simply forgot to cross post it to Help-Pakistan.

Thank you

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