Today’s guest post is by Paul Seaman (read more of his insightful work on Third Culture Kids and the legacy of those who coined the term and imbued it with meaning here). This piece is an excerpt from a longer work and in the piece is about, in his words, “among other things, the importance of connection, how everything is connected, and how stereotypes and prejudice keep us from seeing those connections.” Enjoy, and thank you Paul!
My parents worked in Pakistan as an agriculturist and a nurse from 1963 to 1973. Most of my childhood was spent in that country until I was fifteen. Yet, that cross-cultural experience was also a somewhat sheltered one: I went to a boarding school for the children of missionaries, which itself was geographically isolated in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. Even so, I had plenty of opportunities to interact with the local people, people who admired and envied the United States, and despite an embarrassing amount of stereotypes about life in the Land of Plenty, they were genuinely curious about America. I’ll never forget the many cups of chai, earnest conversations on trains, taking bicycle trips with Pakistani friends, and swimming in the Indus River.
When I returned for a school reunion in 1996, the famed Middle Eastern hospitality was still as gracious and overwhelming as I remembered. In Lahore I took my wife to a Pakistani cinema, for old times’ sake. (Their movies are made with the same melodrama and obligatory song-and-dance numbers that still characterize most of India’s “Bollywood” films.) It turned out to be opening night and the movie was sold out, but two college students—complete strangers to us—offered to help my wife and I get in. They refused any reimbursement, even though the pair of tickets probably cost them the equivalent of $50. Later, when I asked one of them if he could help me get a movie poster as a souvenir, he brought several to our hotel the next morning, just in time for our flight back to the States.
Today, Pakistan is in many ways a different country from the one where I grew up. It has been sad to watch the growing social chaos of the past few decades. The reasons are complex, but knowing that our country’s global policies have contributed significantly to hardening attitudes against the West increases my distress. And when I hear Americans lumping together all Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis and Indians as America-hating religious extremists—egged on by the bigoted, inflammatory rhetoric of radio talk-show personalities and a clueless president—I think of those college boys at the cinema.
Paul Lives in the East Bay area of Northern California with his wife Catherine Lockhart-Seaman.