LAHORE: The discussion centered on public space reclamation of women as Aneeqa from The Mad Hatters hosted a meet and greet on World Tourism Day with Alex, solo traveller and blogger of Lost with Purpose at female-run café and cultural space, A piece of cake.
Polish traveller and vlogger Eva zu Beck, who earlier made news in Pakistan for her Kiki challenge video, also stopped by.
Alex is currently visiting Pakistan for the fourth time. She is notorious for never having a plan because she claims her plans never work out anyway.
“Mostly I just start searching on my phone as I’m en route to someplace.”
TOILS OF TRAVELLING IN PAKISTAN:
When asked about how they felt travelling alone in Pakistan, the travel bloggers had a lot to say.
“I’ll be honest. Pakistan is a very difficult country to travel in as a woman. People can be downright creepy. They may follow you in the streets, stare you to death. But people here are also very hospitable and welcoming,” said Alex.
“It takes a while before you are able to culturally navigate the country and know how to maintain a protective distance.”
“You need to learn how to keep a straight face, which admittedly, I am very bad at,” she quipped.
Talking to Pakistan Today, she said travelling alone as compared to travelling with someone had the perk that she could go wherever she wanted without any resistance or conflict.
“But when something bad happens, the impact is also much worse with no one there to support you.”
Unlike Alex, Eva doesn’t travel alone. She has tour guides and a film crew coming along on her travels.
“I don’t really think I have had any bad experiences. Of course, there’s an intrusion of privacy. But that’s not exclusive to Pakistan. It happens in a lot of other countries as well.”
“The one bad thing I’d say is being asked for selfies.” She laughed at the recollection.
Alex finds it important to adapt to the local culture and adopt the local dress code and values when she travels.
“A lot of people will disagree with me on this but I find it important to adapt to the local culture. You need to have people accept you and interact with you and it is harder to do that if you look like an outsider. This way, the conversation can be about what you’re doing and not what you’re wearing.”
“It is also a sign of respect for the local culture.”
“Just yesterday, I went to a party in Karachi. Well, I was the only one there in shalwar kameez. So, I thought, this is awkward,” she laughed.
WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY?
After her fourth time in Pakistan, Alex’s mother seems to be coming around but the rest of her family still think she’s “insane”.
“The first time I came here, my parents texted every day begging me to come back. Of course, I ignored those texts.”
A day earlier, Alex rode a motorbike from Mardan to Peshawar. She laughs as she remembers a scandalised rickshaw driver who was on her heels, screaming something in Pushto
“I think the tiny, mundane things can be the most rewarding.”
In 2017, Alex visited Kumrat valley after a tiresome journey. When she and her companions reached there, the guards were incredulous that she intended to camp in the area.
“You can’t stay here.”
“The men will feel thirsty.”
For Alex, the most frustrating thing is when people tell her, “Oh you can’t do that because girls just don’t do that.”
“I think what made my resentment more emphatic was that just a week later, I had a male friend who visited the same area. And of course, he didn’t need any protection.”
Her status as a woman becomes ever more precarious in Pakistan because she’s a foreigner.
“I have to say, I am very bitter about security here. I hate it when I’m given unneeded protocol. How am I supposed to relax in a beautiful green valley if there are men in Kalashnikovs standing next to me?”
She thinks the biggest fabrication in Pakistan is when she’s told she needs protection as a woman and a foreigner.
“What is this for?
When asked how she funded her travels, Alex laughed: “I have a lot of sugar daddies.”
“No, actually, I live on a pretty tight budget. Sometimes I eat daal chawal every day for weeks, which works out for me because I love it. I couchsurf and stay at cheap places instead of going to fancy hotels.”
Alex lives on a budget of RS2000 per day in Pakistan. She works as a freelance writer and graphic designer when she gets the time. Mostly, she depends on her savings and the revenue generated from her blog to fund her travels.
“When I am not on a nocturnal Lahori schedule, I tend to wake up early to capture a few shots of the sunrise. I also write articles when I am travelling on buses.”
The travelers related some misconceptions about Pakistan prevalent in Western media and their home countries. Alex shared how her relatives equate Pakistan for the Middle-East.
“Even now, when I go back, people ask me: how’s the Middle East?”
Eva had something similar to share.
“Before coming to Pakistan, I thought it was a desert. No, literally! I thought there were no roads and everyone spoke Arabic.”
“If you go by western media, you expect Pakistan to be similar to Afghanistan when it comes to landscape and to Saudi Arabia when it comes to women’s rights.”
“It helps that I think Western media is just awful. So when I came here, there was not so much any unlearning but an instant wave of warmth and curiosity that enveloped me,” she stressed.
When asked why she keeps on returning to Pakistan, Alex said:
“It’s really hard to find the same level of hospitality anywhere else.”
“What is your favourite city in Pakistan?
To audience laughter, she responded. “No, I did not say Karachi when I was asked that there.”