I lived in Pakistan in 1993, the beginning of Benazir Bhutto's 2nd term as Prime Minister, and I remember most her contradictions. Harvard & Oxford educated, a strong woman leading an Islamic country, wildly popular across the West and in her own streets ... yet she was a Feudal (a term actually used, despite that I mistakenly considered it a middle-ages concept). Astronomically wealthy, her Pakistani laborers filling her Swiss bank accounts. She was plagued with corruption charges, and as democratically elected prime minister, she rolled back some reforms of her military coup predecessor designed to improve life for the country's illiterate poor (approximately 85% of the population). Here's her BBC obituary.
Her contradictions, of course, were merely grander versions of my own. Living in Pakistan challenged all sorts of lofty beliefs I could safely harbor abstractly at home. The value of cultural diversity. Religious freedom. Live & let live without judgment. The nostalgic value of tight-knit families and clans. Democracy vs military rule. The contradictions I felt about Ms. Bhutto magnified across the my whole life.
As with all travels, I met lovely people who share all the same human love, compassion, and warmth. And as with most travel, I remembered how much more children are loved, valued (and just plain played with) elsewhere than in the U.S. Consistent universals I find no matter where I go.
But I also came away better understanding the 18th Century impulse for Enlightenment. Religion, tight-knit families, strong cultures, social structures ... they can all be kinda oppressive. Laced with a staggering number of Do's and Don'ts, particularly for women. I couldn't get on a public bus if there were no other women riders; I couldn't go downtown alone without a cacophony of scary catcalls; in public I couldn't expose anything but my face. Women were almost invisible: I saw very few local women anywhere, unless amidst throngs of their children, husbands, and extended families. Unless they were buying food at the markets. Or begging on the sidewalk.
I left Pakistan grateful that I did not live there all the time, which felt weird & arrogant & wrong to me. I've traveled to many continents -- rich & poor -- and everywhere else I genuinely appreciated why people called those places Home. The unique beauty of each different place. But this was a place that felt so heavy to me. Lovely, good, warm people. Absolutely magnificent landscapes that still inspire me. Yet seemingly burdened by an ethereal weight that, admittedly, seemed crippling & old & no longer necessary.
My judgments sound horrible, I know. I've wrestled with them ever since that journey 15 years ago. Conflicted and unresolved.
So in the meantime, I genuinely mourn Ms. Bhutto and all the others who died in each attempt to kill her. Genuinely mourn for Pakistan and Pakistanis, as more violence & instability & gut-wrenching trouble seethe. No matter what, no person or place deserves this.