Saira, Pakistan and Washington

Saira is a senior President’s Scholar and member of the University Honors Program who is majoring in biology and anthropology in Dedman College. She received a Richter Fellowship to travel to Peshawar, Pakistan, during winter break 2012 to research the health of Afghani refugee children. Then, during spring 2012, she will intern with the U.S. Department of State.

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Landing in Pakistan

The first thing that hit me was the smell. The pungent smell of dirt, dust and human sweat was a familiar one and alerted another one of my senses that I was in Pakistan.  The sight confirmed my nose’s insight- a fog of dirt and dust hung in the air, preventing one from seeing far ahead of the airport platform. Pashto surrounded me, and although it was Pakistan, I felt like I was truly in a foreign country. I couldn’t understand much beyond the passionate gestures of the Farsi-derived language.

I had donned the hijab in the airplane and kept thanking my dad for reminding me to do so. I was one of four women on the airplane from Doha to Peshawar, and even with the traditional garb I could feel eyes curiously looking at me in Peshawar’s baggage claim. I kept my gaze lowered and allowed my brain to go into overgear, creating absurd abduction stories. I only occasionally glanced up and caught sight of the beautiful people around me. Some wore the ­­­keffiyeh, indicating that they had recently come from Saudi Arabia, while others wore the intricately patterned white prayer cap.

After receiving our luggage we were greeted by our driver at the airport, Walee, who was lovingly called Chacha, meaning uncle. His weathered, tan skin and fist-length beard made him appear experienced and older, but his eyes told another story. They seemed knowing, but young and vibrant. It was later that I found out he indeed wasn’t very old; he had two children under the age of 10. He informed us (thankfully in Urdu) that we had a long ride ahead to the house. Being from Texas, we expected our ride to be at least an hour and a half, and I comfortably settled into the back seat with our piles of luggage.

From the safety of the car, I finally allowed myself to openly look at the people around me. The cold weather had caused many of the men to also wear the chaddar that women typically wear for warmth. Their distinct features – piercing green eyes, chestnut-colored hair and light skin – marked them as Afghani immigrants. After leaving the airport, I took in Peshawar’s scenery. Its dusty roads and lack of road rules were all too familiar. Within 30 minutes we had reached home; I soon learned that more than a ten-minute drive in the small city of Peshawar was considered a long trip.  My dad and I settled into our room and allowed our exhausted bodies to rest.

Not more than an hour and a half later, I awoke to the sound of azan, the call to prayer, filling the house. The beautiful Arabic language resonated in the city. One could hear azan from one mosque start and then another and another, so that one could hear the typically five-minute azan for fifteen minutes if they tried hard enough. I got out of bed and thanked God for a safe journey and prayed for a successful project; we had arrived in Peshawar.

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