We quickly discovered, on our walk from headquarters to the Bazaar (the downtown area filled with thousands of little shops where you can buy anything you could ever imagine except for size 13 sandals–I’ll explain this later) that Pakistan is not a tourist country. I’m sure that for them to see four tall Americans walking down their streets was like something out of a movie.
Let me tell you what I saw.
I wasn’t looking for them at first, but I found myself drawn into their eyes. Where I am from, people are in a hurry scuttling from point A to point B and are to “busy” to look up and see the people that they are walking through. When I am in the big city here, I notice that people keep their eyes down so that they won’t be noticed nor will they have to notice anything around them. I am sure that people that I walk next to walk from point A to point B without looking up once (there is a significant spiritual implication to that).
I was startled by how many eyes that I saw. This may sound strange–who takes note of such a peculiar phenomenon? It wasn’t just their eyes that I was drawn to, though–it was stories that their eyes told.
Curiosity, Anxiety, Trust, Distrust, Appreciation, Indifference, Innocence, Relief, Pain, Friendship….
We were looking for chai and a gas stove and found the people of Pakistan to be nothing like what we were prepared for them to be like. I was expecting to help people, not to become drawn into their story. I think that there is a big difference between the two. It is easy to show up in a different country and be unimpacted by what you see and experience. It is easy to live in Pakistan for two weeks with an American perspective, on an American timeline, eating American food, hanging solely with American people. Where is the fullness in that? What a mistake it would been to brush past the people that we saw in those streets just like we brush past the people in our country that we walk through day after day after day. Their eyes yelled stories to me–stories that rang of pain, desperation, appreciation, and kindness. Stories that they couldn’t nor wouldn’t share with me but that I was able to experience in those few short moments.
As I look back on those initial encounters in Manserah, I am overwhelmed with what I really learned. I discovered what these people were going through, how they viewed me, and what it was going to mean for me to make a difference in my time there. The difference made was going to have little to do with building shelters and much to do with building relationships.
I’ll never forget their eyes. From that moment on, I trained myself to intentionally look into eyes to “hear” their stories. Hardly could I understand their language, yet much could I understand their story.
Imagine if we lived that way every day in this country….