"Listening to Pakistan" By Denise B. Dailey


The relations between the United States and Pakistan have had more ups and downs than the foothills of the Himalayas, or the back roads of Delaware County.  The politics of the Cold War saw a closer relationship between India and the Soviet Union.  So India’s neighbor and rival Pakistan moved closer to the United States, highlighted by a July, 1961 U.S. visit from Pakistani president Mohammad Ayub Khan, who was feted by President Kennedy at a spectacular state banquet at Mount Vernon.  We did treat our friend well.

But lately Pakistan has been wracked by political instability as a war in Afghanistan spills across the border, American drones seek out and bomb Taliban locations — in a few cases killing Pakistani soldiers and civilians.  For a while Pakistan refused permission for trucks carrying supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan to continue their journeys.  The bilateral relation seems to no longer be constructive, while domestically, according to the CIA World Factbook, at least half of all Pakistanis live in poverty.

Pakistan has never been considered one of the world’s choice tourist spots, even though the government and business interests do encourage visitors.  “The United States had cautioned against traveling to Pakistan,” writes Denise B. Dailey, “but they had not prohibited it.

Neither [her husband] Tom nor I represented any press organization or government agencies that would cause authorities to be suspicious of ulterior motives on our part.  Granted, we arrived as American tourists, and I was not so naive as to forget that, as such, we were both unlikely and unpopular.”  In 2006 Denise and Tom Dailey from Walton, NY were among a small group of Americans to visit Pakistan and travel from the capital of Islamabad, through the Khyber Pass, along the legendary Silk Road, into the Autonomous Area of Tajikistan and through the Hunza Valley and Gilgit.  Their trip concluded in Abbottabad, which was later revealed as the final hideout of Osama bin Laden.  All the while, Denise took pictures and kept a journal, and that documentation has gone into her book, “Listening to Pakistan: A Woman’s Voice in a Veiled Land.”
They discovered a harsh land of mountains, deserts, rocky soil and a tough people who have adapted to this environment. But the travelers also discovered some of the world’s most beautiful places, including the Swat Valley. Denise Dailey’s journal and her writing in “Listening to Pakistan” reflects detail and immediacy as well as the creative tensions felt in that “mystical homeland”. Pakistanis were both cordial and suspicious, some were peasants eking out a subsistence and young people striving to get an education. Many of the places they visitedwere, to say the least, off any beaten path.

We drove until we could go no further. Our knowledge of the village [Nagyr] and its people came in retracting our route by foot. Shafiq had told us that Nagyr was a conservative Shiite village and, not being Ismaili, had eschewed any help from the Aga Khan. To us it translated into seeing children looking far poorer in health – poor teeth, cross-eyed, with skin lesions – and in clothing. Many were bare-foot, young girls no more than 7 or 8, with head scarves already in place, were hefting baby siblings on their backs or carrying shovels to their fathers in the fields. The women we saw on the street were laundering clothes next to a small rivulet near their single-storied stone houses. They turned their backs when they realized we were passing through. If only we could have told them what pleasure the colors of their clothes – whether drying on the walls or on their backs – gave us.     — from “Listening to Pakistan”

Denise Dailey grew up in Brazil and moved to Montreal as a teenager. She is fluent in five languages and holds a BS degree in physiology from McGill University and an MFA in writing from Columbia. The mother of three, she he has written children’s stories and fables and has taught courses she designed in English Through Science and Science Through Music. She is a collaborator in the Catskill literary journal “Who Knew?” (Denise created the title) and is presently at work on a memoir of life in Brazil during World War 2, “My Mother’s Voice”.

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