Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pakistan; A Country Just Like All Others by Kelvin Odanz

“Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become" -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I work with a student organization in my university which, among many other things, aims to break racial stereotypes, foster an all-inclusive world by training youths on leadership with international exchange(volunteering) as a major tool. In my various roles in this organization, I have encountered single stories about Nigeria and about many other countries. I am more interested in the single stories about Nigeria because I am Nigerian and I love my country dearly.

But this story is not about Nigeria. I will discuss the single stories I've heard about Nigeria sometimes in the future. This story is about Pakistan, it is about friendship and how far we are from an ideal global village where everyone is not just technologically interconnected, but tolerant and open-minded.

Few weeks ago, I visited the DHL office in my university; not to redeem a parcel (sorry to disappoint you) but to make enquiries about sending some books to a friend of mine in Pakistan. This friend is female, so that greatly limits the chance that we met in a terrorist camp somewhere in Syria, Yemen or the semiautonomous regions of Afghanistan. Myself and Romasa met through AIESEC and have become quite close ever since. We make video calls via Skype, sharing life experiences, sharing our individual cultural experiences and, most importantly, discussing books and authors---from Hawkin's "A brief history of time" to Chimamanda's Americana.I once shared a link to Chimamanda's TEDx talk on Gender inequality and for a while our discussions revolved around the themes of Chimamanda's works--- gender inequality, racism, and most importantly, single stories. One day we decided to exchange books; she will send a book from her country and I will do likewise. After so much wrangling with myself, I decided to send two copies of Chimamanda's books because I have lots of them and my Romasa was already in love with her.

After a long day of work, I decided to make a stop at the DHL office to have an idea of how much it will cost to send two copies of Chimamanda's books to Pakistan. The office is a very small one, hewed out of the base of a larger auditorium with the yellow and red colouring that characterises most DHL properties. Because of its small size, it had few staff -A gentleman flirting with a younger lady.

I walked in, said hello to the two of them amidst their loud giggles and jokes. After few seconds, the lady acknowledged my presence with that characteristic faked smile you see often in banking halls and other public offices. Then they began haggling on who will attend to me; after few harrowing moments of more giggles and jokes, the young man conceded. I walked up to his small desk, exchanged greetings and told him why I was there.

"I want to send some items to a friend of mine, so I just wanted to find out how much it will cost" I said. He gave me that broad, fake office smile---the masculine version of the lady's.

"What country are we talking about here? " he asked

"Pakistan" I replied.

The fake grin disappeared, there was a momentary silence in the small room.

"Pakistan?" he asked and I said yes. He shifted uncomfortably in his small chair, picked up a pen and asked:

"What do you want to send to your friend in Pakistan?"

"Books. Two copies of Chimamanda's novel" I replied.

He was obviously displeased, he didn't hide it; I could see the frown spread across his face. Then he heaved forward towards the edge of his desk. I could feel his eyes on me,ripping me apart, scanning me from head to toe, turning me inside out. At this stage I was already getting amused. The office was silent save for the sound of the young lady typing away on a computer keyboard and the momentary click of a mouse.

"Are you sure it is just books you want to send to PAKISTAN? " he asked, placing so much emphasis on the "PAK" in Pakistan.
"Yes of course" I replied with a half assuring, half amused smile. Then he began murmuring, I could only make sense of words like Pakistan, young man, Nigeria. Then he asked the lady to hand him a chart in the most indifferent way possible. He got the chart, picked up a calculator and began pressing some numbers in between murmurs. For over a minute, he seemed engrossed he didn't look up for once.

At this stage I was already aware of my overtly overgrowing beards. I was still amused, with a smile hanging at the corner of my lips. While he took took his time on the chart and calculations, I was feeding my eyes with the sparse items in the office while gently stroking my beards----A map of the world in yellow and red, a poster telling you how fast and reliable DHL is, another poster reminding you they have been in existence for a long time and how boundless their reach is.

Then a tart voice gave my mind a jolt. It was the young man.

"Hello Sir." And almost immediately, a louder, more tartly "Hello Sir".

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise you were done" I apologised, feigning a mild shock. Then he asked, pretending I had said nothing:

"What is the weight of the books?"

By now, I was looking both confused and bemused. I didn't realise I had to weigh the books. I told him I sincerely had no idea and tried making an analogy with a book on his desk. I asked if he is familiar with Purple Hibiscus and Half of a yellow sun, all by Chimamanda Adichie. He gave me such a blank look that I really felt sorry for asking such question. He turned to his mate to whom he has not said a word to all this while except when he wanted a chart, spoke some words in Yoruba I didn't understand.

"It will cost you twenty thousand Naira Sir" he said to me, throwing a pen into the air with sudden glee. That amount is roughly $116. With that I could buy at least 10 copies of the books I intended sending.

"Twenty three thousand Naira for what Sir? " I asked helplessly.

The reply was quick, tart: "For sending Chimamanda to Pakistan"

I was still trying to suppress the laughter that was already bubbling in me when the lady let out a loud throaty laughter. I could not hold back mine any longer.I laughed out, not as loud as the lady who seemed obviously more amused suddenly.

"When you are ready, you come back" the young man said to me loudly.

"Okay Sir" I replied and left the office feeling amused.

And a week later when my friend Romasa told me she was having beer with her friends, I could not help but recall this event and the young man I met at DHL---How flattened his perception of Pakistan and its people is; I could not help but imagine how stunned he would be if I told him about my friend Romasa---a young, intelligent, open-minded Pakistani Muslim girl from Karachi who also struggles to understand the Taliban and terrorism like the rest of the world, who is modest even without a veil, who goes to the club with her friends for the laughter and light heartedness it offers, who drinks beer, falls in Love with a Hindu from India, takes trips to Nepal. I imagined how he will struggle to come to term with the fact that, above religion and geographical placement, we share a common humanity with those in Pakistan, a common desire for peace, for happiness, for fulfilment; And that bombs, hate speeches and guns aren't the only things that go in and out of Pakistan; that perhaps even the Talibans can also love good authors like Chimamanda Adichie.

The author of this article is Kelvin Odanz. He is a student of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria.
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