Tuesday, June 21, 2011

For those thinking of moving here to Pakistan, or south east Asia generally

Asalamu Alaikum,

Thinking about what it is like for me to live here, and trying to put it into words for anyone thinking to do the same is difficult. I don't want to complain too much, because it is just depressing, but it is important to see all sides. I have been here in Karachi for more than 2 years, and I was in the UAE for a year before that. I have never left Karachi and have no experience with what life is like elsewhere in Pakistan.

Also, any Pakistani who would like to comment please do, I think there are some things that only those born to a place will be able to understand. I would like to get input on what you view as the positives and negatives of life here. Please do keep in mind the comment policy of this blog, on the bar at the top of the page. I am not trying to attack Pakistan/Pakistanis, just showing what I view as the negatives of living here, I can only speak to what I have seen and experienced, in my own family and area of the city.

Pakistan is a very difficult place to live. I will not sugar coat it for you. It has some benefits and many drawbacks. You just have to look at your particular situation and decide if you can take the negatives and live with them so that you also get the positive benefits.

I like to see the positives, but for anyone who wants to move here it is important to see all sides, here are some of the negatives-

Water is a big problem, we only drink and cook with bottled water. We have tried to get used to the "meetha pani", that everyone else drinks, but it makes us violently ill every time without exception. You may have to use bottled water as well. This can get expensive, we use the big water cooler types(5/6 gallons), and get eight to ten delivered weekly. They are 70 Rs each.

Food is another issue. What we cook ourselves is no problem but when eating any type of outside food we are very careful, because cleanliness is questionable in many of the smaller restaurants/food stands. Also prices increase all the time, especially during Ramadhan. Last year in Ramadhan sugar was double the price it is right now, and basic foods like chickpeas, besan, dals, got very expensive also.

Electricity is a major issue, in Karachi is it getting worse and worse because it is summer now and in some areas of Pakistan they have no lights for 18-20 hours a day.

Muslim country-this is both a negative and a positive. It is nice to go to the market and find abayat, scarves, niqabs, and modest clothing very easily. I love the fact that I can hear the adhan anywhere in my house. But as a foreigner it can be hard(depends on where you live) to find places that can teach you(especially if you don't speak Urdu very much).

I do like the way I don't get stared at for wearing abaya, but that is because they are too busy staring at me because I am a woman. Even when wearing an abaya/hijab/niqab, I still get cat-called, and stared at as if I were naked. Some store keepers try to brush my hand when handing me my items, or try to flirt by complimenting you on what is visible-white hands/feet, blue eyes, you have to watch out. This is why I prefer to go with my husband rather than his sisters, so they don't try sleazy stuff.

Corruption/bribery-it is endemic, top to bottom it is everywhere.

Begging-beggars are everywhere, it can be heart breaking. It is difficult to tell if they are truly needy or just scamming. I have come home from the market several times in tears, because I just can't help enough, and I don't like to say no. I get depressed because there is no real safety net for people who truly need help, little elderly men and women, who should be at home, being taken care of by family, either have no family or have been turned out as a another mouth to feed.

Healthcare-HMMMMM, Both the baby and I have been ill on multiple occasions(mostly due to the water, and also the milk). Once the baby was so ill he had to have an IV, while we were in the hospital a cat walked right through the room. This was in a medium nice hospital. There are very nice hospitals, but they cost a lot. If you have serious chronic health issues it would be wise to really think twice(or three to four times) about moving overseas.

Since or son is so little and we are planning to go home we have not enrolled him in a school here(we also worry a bit about security issues). I have no real experience of schools here except second hand information from my DH and his sisters about what they learned. There seem to be rather large gaps, for instance WWI and WWII(any Pakistanis please correct me if I am wrong in this). Tariq learned all he knows about it from war movies he watched in the US, and his sisters had only a vague notion that there had been some wars before Pakistan was formed. I guess it would be different depending on what schools you send your children to, and maybe things have changed recently, since Tariq's smallest sister is now 21.

Politics/violence-ugg, I try no to think about this, at the local level political parties can often be run more like gangs. Also, especial in Karachi, there are "target killings", someone from one political party/ethnic group/tribe, will go out and kill someone from another political party/ethnic group/tribe, as a way of taking revenge or scaring a group of people. Last week a couple streets over from us, a man was shot dead in the middle of a crowded street for not allowing a thief to snatch his mobile phone.


Um Zakarya said...

Assalamu Aleykum dear sister,

JazakALLAH Khair for this post, it's really beneficial for me.I have to say that I'm really worried about the water/food illness, the lack of safety in general and especially for women, and health care sides.

Those are the main reasons why I'm reluctant to accept to live there.

May ALLAH SWT make it easy for all of us wherever we are.Ameen.

Rene´s Bare Essentials said...

Salaam Alaikum!

Im new to your blog so dont be surprised if you see random comments from older posts =)

Im also a convert and living abroad albeit Spain.

Do they sell filters in your area? If no, would you be able to order some good ones to use so that you save money long term? When it comes to bathing, do you also use bottled water since our skin absorbs the water? My husband is Moroccan and every time we go to Morocco I get ill. I soon realized that it was due to the bath water since it isnt filtered.

Ive been told by my pakistani/indian friends that the locals stare at all non-locals, especially americans. Even if the woman is pakistani but grew up in the US she will get stared at. That must be difficult having to rely on your husband to go anywhere =/ Do you guys have plans on moving anytime soon?

Take care,

Aishah said...

Wa alaikum asalam,

Um Zakarya- Ammeen.

Rene- we had a smaller filter for the kitchen tap, but there is so much dirt and other stuff in the water that it clogged up every other day. We don't use the bottled water for general bathing, though that would be lovely! For face washing we do occasionally use bottled. The tap water is so heavy, that it leaves chalky residue on everything, ick.

Mostly people don't know that I am not a local, I wear the same things everyone else does and also niqab anytime we go shopping or to less safe areas. I don't speak to the shop keepers, because then they know I am not from here, but will say things in a quiet voice to my translators(SIL or DH). InshAllah we will be going back to the US at the end of the year or shortly after that. But local or not any female is going to get the stares :-(

Adventurous Ammena said...

as soon as I read this post I thought of Um Zakarya's recent post that scared me a little ;) so Im glad she got to read this too alhamdulillah

Um Zakarya said...

@Adventurous Ameena,

JazakALLAH Khair for thinking about me sister :)

Indeed this post has been really beneficial to me, and confirmed my biggest fears about living in Pakistan.Hubby seems to be really serious about us settling in Pakistan for 3/4 years, and I'm quite worried and just plain scared about it.Actually Pakistan scares me to death lol.

Um Zakarya said...


I have recently come across the Pakistani government site and NADRA site, and have read about the "POC", (Pakistan original card), which Pakistani national's spouses are entitled to.Is it what you are applying for right?I've read we can apply for it from Pakistani embassied abrod, I might try this INSHALLAH, but I was wondering if once I have this "POC", could my son also get it as then his mother would have one?Do you know if this card is hard to get from abroad for Pakistani national's spouses?
I'm really sorry if I ask alot!

nafisat_hizan said...

Dear Aishah, i get you very well- i had passed through similar things when lived with my ex in his country Azerbaijan for 3 years. What is worst for me among you mentioned are water problems and gas/electricity problems. Water was ok to use and drink but it was given 2 hours a day at 3 am only. Day time no water at all. So was great problems with laundry and taking bath. regarding to gas - all cookers work on gas so it was ecomomic crisis years and gas was coming so little that was not possible to cook. as well as noone knew when lights will come next time -no timing at all. Hospital where my first son was born had no hot water in taps, cold in chambers, no glass on the window in toilet (winter time with frost outside!) it just was pinned with a fabric. no canteen and relatives had to bring warm food 3 times a day. And very corrupted stuff. i know that people got into debts to take out a woman with a baby home after few days there. They charged for everything including things which had to be free by law but who knew it that time?? As fot staring yes agree it is very unpleasant thing which is hard to tolerate but no way to change society. If you stayed more there i would advise to learn Urdu properly as language is a gate to everything - courses, feeling free to get all information around and so on. i attended islamic courses 6 months in Azerbaijan all in local language. May be it was easier than Urdu but i felt difficult just in the beginning. May be you use Roman letters first. Any way may Allah Taala give you easiness after hardships as soon as possible as He promised in Quran.


Anonymous said...

I am at uae for the last 4 years,but i spent my rest of life in pakistan.I would like to mention that water is a problem in karachi only.Rest of pakistan,water is perfect.and food...yes dont eat out...specially in summer....people may be a problem sometimes...but despite all this..it is our heaven where we are not askedfor visa...for id...etc etc etc

Aishah said...

Salams all,

Um Zakarya,
We did ask about the POC card as that would have been easier, but they are no longer issuing them. Instead you have to apply for what they now call a "stay of husband" visa, but it is not listed on the visa forms, you have to ask them directly.

Nafisa, we have a similar problem with the water from the line gets turn on only for an hour in the middle of the night, so mostly we have to fill the tanks with boring water(ick ick ick). The past couple of months the line water has not come at all and when Tariq gets it fixed for a "fee" then it only works for a week then off again. Very frustrating.

We have not had a problem with gas load shedding here but I have seen on the news that some areas have it in addition to electricity load shedding.

Sara-I agree that for some Pakistan can be a heaven, but even some Pakistanis get so used to living abroad that when they come back they too, have many problems. My DH lived abroad for nine years and has much trouble adjusting to life back in Pakistan. InshAllah we will not spend such a large time away again but will come to visit more often after we are settled back in the US.

The Life of Aaliyah said...

Assalaamu alaikum sister,

Your post brought to light many relevant issues. Some people have a perception of it being easy to settle down in Pakistan and in reality it's not, unless you are willing to adjust and deal with the good and the bad then it will be very very difficult to live there.

Before I got married (around 2 years ago), my husband and I discussed the possibility of settling down in Pakistan but as time has passed by it's seeming very unlikely that we will. Target killings have increased a lot in Karachi. The last time I was there in July last year, very near to where I was staying there were many killings, fires started and so on. And then there was the aftermath of places being closed, it being unsafe to go out, protests and so on. Also another issue is the sector in which my husband works in is unstable and most people once they qualify move to the Middle East as there are very few jobs in his sector and if there is a job it's likely that there will be some underlying issue.

Water is a big problem for me as well. A family member who lived outside of Pakistan for 8 years+ and then visited Pakistan, could drink boiled water easily but for me I couldn't even drink a drop otherwise I would become ill. I tried sticking to mineral water at all times and on one occasion some shopkeeper sold my husband re-bottled water without his knowledge (so it wasn't mineral water) and I got very ill and didn't eat for days. I would of probably been better off drinking boiled water. As far as I'm aware this is only a problem in Karachi because of the water tanks.

I agree about the stares. I always wear hijab and abaya as I find Western clothes draw attention and I even cover my hands/feet as I've had comments about how "white" my skin tone is when all that people can see is my feet/hands :/ and I never ever speak not even Urdu unless I'm in a place where people are speaking English which tends to be the more affluent areas of Karachi full of the younger generation.

Anyways sorry if I rambled just wanted to add my two cents :)

When are you going back to the USA?


Aishah said...

Salams Aaliyah,
InshAllah we will be in the states around the end of this year beginning of next, INSHALLAH! Everybody please please make dua for us! :-)

HijabiMommy said...

I have a love/hate relationship with Pakistan.

I was born in Pakistan and lived there until the age of 5. Whenever we went back "home", I noticed and hated some of the things you have listed. There are some things I love about my country...and others that I absolutely abhor.

We only drank bottled water. Our parents NEVER let us eat street food, no matter how much we begged. We'd sneak it in pass them and then we'd immediately get sick from it.

The electricity...forget about it. Literally. You may as well pretend it doesn't exist.

The oggling...I've never worn niqaab in the US but when I go to Pakistan, I don it. The men make you feel so uncomfortable and dirty, I feel it's a necessary precaution to protect myself. AND, if the vendors figure out we are from "pardes", they are shocked that we cover so much. Seriously, my sister and cousins and I cover more in America than some women do in Pakistan and that amazes the people there.

And like you, there are times when I have shed tears at the heartbreaking poverty of the country. I mean, you only have to take one look at the dirty child begging in the streets and your heart breaks in two.

The politics of that country? Do not get me started. I think that is the biggest reason why I hate Pakistan so much at times. The "chor" politicians look out only for themselves while the rest of the country goes to hell.

Oh, God, I could go on.

Anyway, I think you've hit the nail on the head.

I pray that the situation in Pakistan changes for the better, Insha'allah. And soon. The hardworking, honest, and God fearing majority deserve a break.

Unknown said...

Asalaam Alaikum sis.

I am not from Pakistan myself but
my husband is from Pakistan and my parents are pakistani, I was born in the UK

Sadly most of what you have said is true. I have been thinking to move to Pak but the water, gas, electricity, bombings etc is putting me off big time.

Unknown said...

Ugh...I feel for you. While I'm in India and not Pakistan I've had some of the same troubles. I only drink bottle water, the food has even started to scare me into not eating, the health care is atrocious and what in the world is wrong with all these rubber-neckers staring like we are strippers on a pole no matter how we dress? But what can you really do but ride it out and deal with it or be lonely on the other side of the planet from the one person who would do anything to make it better. Ugh. Those choices both suck! It will get better, I'm sure. The more we learn to overcome and adapt and the closer we get to leaving, the better it will be lol. I hope things get better for. I would say all the normal things like 'be careful' and 'take care of yourself' but I know those only work in theory on this side of the world. So instead, I really wish that things work out for the best for you and that you don't have too many more bumps in the road to get over.

Blwe said...

I just spent the past 3 months in Pakistan and while I am GRATEFUL to be home, I still miss it a lot. I think that's because we still have relatives (and tons of them) who do live in Pakistan. I don't live in the city there so for me, its a bit different. Water and electricity (yes, a huge problem) were the two things that annoyed the CRAP out of me but I only had to deal with that problem for a month because the second half of my trip, I lived with my other family and they had a UPS so there was no problem with the electricity and the water turned out to not be an issue either. I usually don't drink the bottled water there mainly because I suppose my digestive system DOES get used to it. I was born in Pakistan but grew up the majority of my life in America but everytime I go back, I spend a few days sick and then everything is good after that. I suppose its different for you and for your family or the water in Karachi is different. Otherwise, I completely agree about the beggar situation: it kills me sometimes to see small children or adults begging, its so disheartening to see that. The catcalls don't happen too much where I live but knowing me, I also tend to be a bit oblivious to a few things. Plus I've heard that some people are just sleazier in the cities >.<. But good luck with your life there :) I have honestly thought about moving back myself but for now, I think I just want to get done with my education first.