Sep 25, 2008 - travel    27 Comments

Things I learned about myself and Pakistan in the summer school

Traveling not only opens the world for you, it also let you discover things about yourself and the part of the world you are from. I have always been fascinated by the kinds of responses I get from people (mostly Westerners) when I tell them that I am from Pakistan. The responses can be as varied as ‘oh, but you look Indian’ to ‘for a Pakistani girl, you are very smart’ to questions as intelligent as ‘Will you let your parents select your life partner (arranged marriage)’ to my personal favourite ‘are you allowed to vote in Pakistan?’

During my latest trip to Italy to attend the summer school, I met people from over 40 countries and their questions made me realise that apart from the requisite questions and assumptions about rights of (or lack of) women, people have some really fascinating questions and ideas about Pakistan. For instance, when I told them I am a Pakistani, a lot of people at the summer school reacted with, “Oh you have the bomb.” Initially I thought people were pulling my leg about something I said, but when I heard the same line for the third time, I realized that they were referring to Pakistan being a state with capability to make nuclear bombs. A Spanish guy asked me about how being part of the nuclear club has impacted my life. My response was, “Wait till I become the President, I wont feel the power unless I hold my finger on that all important button.” Who would’ve thought that there are real people out there who think being part of the nuclear club could have any impact on an ordinary citizen’s day to day life. Bizarre, isn’t it? 

Another question that I have been asked is how can my eyes be so black. Random Italian women have stopped me on the streets and when they found out I am Pakistani, they have asked me to send them the special kohl (kajal) from the homeland. I have accumulated 7 chits with different addresses and will be sending them kajals from Pakistan soon.

Hashmi Kajal manufacturers do not know how big a market they are missing. They should start supplying to Italy, pronto (that’s one of the Italian words I have abused to death in the past weeks). They think all Pakistani women have dark mysterious (their words not mine) eyes after seeing my eyes and believe Hashmi kajal is responsible for that (and I thought it was genes from my mother’s side of family).

Another fact that I discovered was that some of the men think that all Pakistani girls are trained by ISI to be awesome. Imagine ISI training Pakistani girls to go sexy on random men, now that would be a laugh. 

I have learned that there is an Arabic meaning of my name, apart from the Turkish, Persian and urban dictionary versions, which is quite different from the rest.

I have been told that I am the girl with the ability to out swear most; actually I am quite proud of that. Hell yeah! It is not the men’s domain only; we do it with far more style and look way better when we do it.

The question that was asked most was, “Are all Pakistani girls as funny as I am?” Frankly, I have been told that I am funny so many times in the past two weeks that I don’t really know how to take it. I don’t even know if it is necessarily a good thing to be this funny, some people make me sound like a court jester which I am so not. Witty, I can take, I know I am, but funny! Should it be taken as a compliment? What say?

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  • Well, you are funny!

  • I think being called funny is good and you do have beautiful eyes, hashmi surma has nothing to do with it …

  • lols,

    so you can nuke it all … awesome

  • Oh boy I had no idea a Nuke was something to be proud of.

    Well they arent completely wrong. Kajal makes eyes look so amazing, intoxicating! But I am sure you have pretty eyes too, not that I would know but I will take your word for it.
    Btw you dont have to travel abroad to be asked weird questions :

    Most people have trouble differentiating between humor, wit and sarcasm but then its a very blurry line!

  • You’re funny.


    Quirky Indian

  • I just got to the comments to type, “Oh Tazeen, you are so funny” and hopefully piss you off a lil bit more. But I see people got here before me and are doing a good job at that 😛

    Hmmm… I had no idea bout the Kajal bit. Perhaps I should check if it has a market in the USA.

  • che,

    I so agree with you, you get asked all kinda weird questions, esp if you happen to live in a country like India or Pakistan and hold non conformist views.


    there actually is a guy named Biff, I though caricaturish characters in hollywood are named bifff.


    you are so funny, you just make me laugh a bit more

  • HHHahhhhhaa I remember the Spanish guy
    Mean Tazeen leave the poor guy alone PPPP
    For his defense he was a lawyer so meaningless questions are to be expected from him D
    PS1 My fav guy is missing from the harem listtttt Sigh!D
    PS2 Your blog is addictive

  • Thanks adina,

    you just made my day, you are the best.

  • I have heard (from Russel Peters actually) that many dark South Asians are sometimes mistaken for natives in Italy.

  • lol @ dark south asians….

    Tazeen def has something Italian bout her… maybe she has ancestors from Sicily?

  • Gosh, you should have shown them pictures of Summayya, walking kohl factory in Karachi. You should become a travelling distributor for Hashmis’.

    Become President, at least people have faith in your intelligence and humor and you are an established writer too. You will write far better than Zardari did in Boston Globe (obviously not by himself).

    P.S. next time I’ll see you, dont mind me staring at your eyes.

  • I am fascinated to read all that stuff and feel like attending the summer school next year. Can u tell me the name & institution of this summer school…….

  • “I have been told that I am the girl with the ability to out swear most; actually I am quite proud of that. Hell yeah! It is not the men’s domain only; we do it with more style and look way cuter when cussing.”

    Now swearing is something to be proud of? What is this world coming to….

  • Even though I am of Indian origin, born in South Africa and now in London, people assume you have to be black to come from Africa….its amazing how lil people know of the world

  • Hashmi Kajal, eh? I would have never guessed that it was the secret ingredient behind your beautiful eyes.

    Please ship some to canada too! Hashmi Kajal please…

    re: funny compliment.

    In a world full of unfunny people, I think it is one of the biggest compliments. It just says that someone out there not actually understands your sense of humor but appreciates it too.

    Tazeen – you are so funny. 😀

  • lol, hashmi kajal zindabad!

    its immensely enjoyable to find out what the world thinks of different people – but man oh man, the ISI training thing – thats somethng i haven’t heard of before, LOL. “yes thank you, i take lessons from the neighbourhood ISI academy after lunch!”

  • erum,

    Darling you can call me funny till the end of the time, I have issues when cute guys call me funny.


    Imagine a Shalwar kameez clad uncle with big moustaches and a beer gut giving you classes in the art of seduction.

  • I remember being asked why all women are locked up.

    When I was asked about nuclear weapons and the alleged transfer of technology to other countries, I showed them my pen drive, saying its a small size mini nuclear device and probably you need to contact the security agencies before I push the button.

    My interactions are more on political issues and at times the religious and social ones.

    Its very interesting when one has the facts right to really silence the annoying sort of people.

    A Swede was once talking about how awful it was of Pakistan to transfer nuclear technology to North Korea. When told that his ABB (a firm with headquarters in Sweden) too had sold technology and/or machinery to North Korea, he was surprised and the surprise soon turned into embarrassment.

    Perhaps some people need to know their own past and present before asking silly questions from others.

  • so true… when you say

    **Traveling not only opens the world for you, it also let you discover things about yourself and the part of the world you are from.**

    I ususally get, do people in india use elephants and camel and mode of transportation…

    and I agree.. I tell them we have special car pool lane and parking for them… and the best… they believe me…

  • P.S: And I don’t even live in the Bible Belt… (south/texas)

  • I get the “you look indian” comment all the time too!

    Anyway, if you haven’t sick of it already – you are funny 😛 or as Kajol put it, “Tussi wadday mazaqi ho!”

  • Can u tell me the name of institution which conducted this summer school in Gorizia

  • “It liberates the vandal to travel – you never saw a bigoted, stubborn, narrow-minded, self-conceited, almighty mean man in your life but he had stuck in one place since he was born”.

    Az, Mark Twain.

  • I’m also from South Africa…Indian, Pakistani, Afghani, Malaysian, Indonesian, Frehc, Irish and Scottish heritage…but mostly, I look Indian/Arab (depends on whos looking 🙂

    I can relate to all the misconceptions that people have about who you are and what you represent. Its the same here. People think that everyone in South Africa lives with Lions and Monkeys in their backyards in the Jungle…and the reality couldn’t be further from the truth 🙂

  • Zooni I just read your blog and I must add my pence to the funny part. I too , to my annoyance heard it and hear it almost every day that ” you are funny” .Before, I use to think that they are being sarcastic and would shut up and now I can’t care any less,, still unsure though about whether its for real, are they being sarcastic or I am the last person they expect something funny from..


  • lol tazeen..u aren’t just funny,you are extremely funny…and you know how blessed you are to have this wit!!…i am in office rightnow and bored to death,hadn’t it been for your blogs i would have died of boredom if nothing else…i like the “nuke it all” bit!!!

    i suppose i will live the rest of my life in lahore and die here,hell i can’t even go to karachi!!lol….

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