Every detail you observe, every person you meet, every fact you learn, makes it that much more difficult to generalize, to presume, to stereotype, to say anything at all. For the more you know, the more you own that knowledge and the more its contradictions confound you. So if I say that Peshawar is one of my favorite cities on the planet, I conjure its rough male-dominated bazaars with smirking blue-eyed Pathans in baggy shalwars with battered rifles slung across their shoulders. If I appreciate the rugged beauty of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province, I think of the barren brown hills where tribal clans make their own laws and enslave their women. I follow news reports of the latest crackdowns between the Pakistani military and tribal militias in the unruly tribal beltway near the Afghan border where Osama bin Laden is allegedly hiding.
I had trespassed in terrorist country. I had flirted with danger. I was lucky to make it back in one piece. So I gather.
It’s all too easy to be discouraged when it comes to traveling alone in Pakistan as a woman. Though the country has developed an extensive network of public transport to access virtually any town on the map, it remains a system reserved primarily for men. Female travelers require a male escort for “protection” and going without an appropriate chaperone is virtually unthinkable, an open invitation to highway robbery, gang rape, and other impending disasters. The fact that I am neither a complete foreigner, nor 100% native, translated in local parlance as a pukka desi, makes matters more complicated.