June 11, 2019
Lucky enough to pass for a local, I have been polishing my Urdu everywhere I go. All whom I meet are unmercifully treated to an onslaught but instead of taking umbrage, they cheerfully subject themselves to conversations that continue over cups of tea or a soft drink. More often than not, I am the recipient of treats that brook no refusal. You are a Mehman, I am told over and over again. This is Pakistani hospitality, I am told. And then I reached Lahore and found Mehmanism in full throttle.
Unable to find a place to stay that would accept foreigners and not cost an arm and a leg, I was in Chaman Ices pondering my options over a delicious ice cream, when I heard a couple of people speaking English at the next table. I turned around at ultra-high frequency and asked
“Are you tourists?” followed rapidly by “Where are you staying?”
Couchsurfing was the answer. I am no stranger to being invited home in just about every country I have visited, but never have I couchsurfed. Erin, a Canadian woman who has been traveling around Pakistan on her motorbike immediately put in a request to the local CS group. Thanks to her eloquence no doubt, within minutes I was overwhelmed with responses. Despite not being a member, not having a profile, not even a photo, I had a half a dozen people offering me a place to stay. And stay I did; for almost a week I was pampered and thoroughly spoiled by my generous host Mr. Jami. And feted by others in Lahore CS community. A lavish Eid dinner hosted by Usman, chai at popular hangout hosted by Hamza, ice creams in cafes at odd hours, even an invitation to a wedding courtesy of Mr. Jami, are all part and parcel of this extraordinary pool of members.
Usman, a native of Lahore began this initiative after a visit to the Netherlands. He had been staying with a friend and had people dropping by just to see him; to see if he was as dangerous as media portrays. On his return he began a mission to combat the negative image of Pakistan in many western countries. What started as #MissionPositivePakistan on FaceBook seven years ago, has now expanded into a CS community that is twenty thousand strong in Lahore! An active bunch, they go to incredible lengths to welcome their visitors. So much so, that I had to leave Lahore before I began to grow roots, or at the very least needed to buy a whole new wardrobe. They do say travel is broadening! Positive Pakistan indeed.