Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Border Crossing

Having never heard of this before, I went into the experience totally unaware, which is a good thing sometimes.
Word came down from above that we would be able to attend the ceremony. We rushed to get there in time. Seems our timing was always a little off. Our van equipped with driver and two guards made our way to the outskirts of Lahore. The markets, broken down buildings, overflow of motorcycles, people, domestic animals told us we were heading into the real Pakistan. I was thrilled.
Many sights could have been a marketplace in any third world country. Surprising how many women we saw here, unlike in Islamabad where few people were on the streets and even fewer women.
We passed a huge trailer stuffed to near explosion full of hay. While the driver and guards were pretty reserved, when we travelled like this, they were animated, obviously eager to help us understand their country and her people better. Their patriotism was heartfelt and I was proud for them.
As we approached yet another police blockade, so common I forgot to mention them, the driver and guards were motioned to get out. The lead policeman was patting down the one guard as he tried to explain something. I realized just before the policeman that he was carrying his gun. The cop became angry then and shouted for us to get out of the van. Our driver and guards shook their heads and stood between the policeman and the van. Later, we found out he didn't like that there was a gun and so he wanted all of us out so that he could frisk us all, but our guards said that wasn't proper, that we were all women and they wouldn't let that happen. So the gun was confiscated, with much talk between the men trying to reassure each other that the gun would be there when they came back to retrieve it. I don't think they believed it would be.
For a second, taller of the guards, the one who escorted me to the bank, kept turning around in his seat. Seemed he wanted to go back for the gun, but there was no one to walk us into the ceremony. We found out later, the other guard wasn't allowed near the border crossing - unclear why.

As we parked and started to get out, we could hear the loud cheers and cat calls. The World Cup in Africa was still going on and it seemed like we were heading to see a match of sorts. We were surprised to find stadium seating and the pomp and circumstance of a soccer match, but the game was who could kick higher, or strut faster, or salute with more flourish...if only our guard were with us to interpret, even in broken Punjabi, it would have helped. But all in all, the crowds, pretty much responded to the wishes of an elderly gentleman and a jovial court jester of sorts. Both waving gigantic flags and shouting for more.
The ceremony attracted thousands of Pakistanis, with a few of us tourists in the front bleachers to make it interesting. Women pretty much filled the stadium seats on one side while men filled the other. We were careful to wear conservative clothing and covered our heads with scarves. We wanted to show our respect.
But the crowds were plenty friendly. Even after the actual flags were lowered, folded and gates between India and Pakistan officially closed for the evening, the crowds that dispersed around us were not at all intimidating. For the most part, no one even glanced our way. Although, at one point, we passed three little girls who heard us talking. One girl spoke in her best Ameriken accent, "I do believe they are speaking the English" and they all giggled wildly.

As we looked around for the guard, whom I thought was very tall, but just average standing next to the Guards at the Gate (easily 6'8" and taller!), we spotted one of the stars of the Gate Closing. Other people were taking pictures with the other guards, so we didn't think it would be improper to ask if we could take a picture with him. He nodded yes when we asked him and we got some attendees to take our picture. Our guard had appeared by now and he got in on the fun. As we walked to the car, the crowds became quite dense. Out of thin air, I had the Pakistani Flag thrust in my hands. I tried to hold on but it's quite large and I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to do with it. It seems the young jester from the ceremony wanted to have his picture taken with me holding the flag! As the crowd got larger, more and more people were using their cellphones and their cameras to snap our picture. I gave my camera to someone who was able to get a few shots which I thought was hilarious! Hundreds of people now had pictures of me holding that Pakistani flag. Too funny! I had to get some pictures so I returned the flag to the gentleman and took pics of the people all around us. A man thrust his children at me, instructing his little girls to shake my hand. So sweet, really.
The entire encounter was so reversed. Here we were interlopers, voyeurs experiencing their ritual as strangers, but so welcomed into the fold. There was no animosity here on this bridge between countries. While India and Pakistan may truly see each other as enemies, in the USA, many people feel that way about Pakistan, don't they?
Our coming to this country would not be just about bringing opportunities to the women of this country, but it would be a sharing of ceremony, experiencing a passage of sorts and seeing for ourselves how alike we really are. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, matter. We are all people crossing boundaries in and out of each other's lives every moment of every day. Today, the gate is closed, but tomorrow, it will open again, maybe not to so much fanfare (we are told, every night thousands come to watch the gate closing ceremony, but no one comes for the opening.)
One day, I'd like to come see that gate open. One day, I'll come back...One day soon.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

What an incredible experience, Cecilia. Thanks for taking us there. I'm hoping to get to India in the coming years (for Asian elephant research) and perhaps I'll get chance to view this ceremony from the opposite perspective.