The upcoming book Forever Off Track chronicles Karin-Marijke and Coen’s remarkable 3.5-year overland journey from Europe to Southeast Asia in a rugged Land Cruiser. Join them as they step out of their comfort zones, deal with fears, explore the beauty of the world, and embrace a life of full-time nomadism.
This story is a sample of their journey through Pakistan.
During our first weeks of traveling through Pakistan, we didn’t get to meet and speak with any local women, until we reached a small village where we had to spend the night. That’s when I seized the opportunity.
What Started as a Simple Lunch Along the Side of the Road
For lunch we picked a shady spot along the side of the road, sharing it with tranquil, ruminating buffaloes. A group of youngsters squatted nearby and studied us, open-mouthed. A serious-looking fellow got up and introduced himself. Hashim’s English was fluent. He was an ambitious student who was working hard to obtain his law degree. He was one of four children, but the only one his father could afford to send to university.
Hashim offered to show us around and the three of us ambled through the fields with two dozen children trailing behind. One kid was sent ahead to inform the village head of our arrival. At the edge of the village Hashim’s uncle and some other men were waiting for us on a charpoy, a traditional woven bed that doubles as a seat during the day. The men plied us with milk-tea, naan and curry.
The villagers found it hard to believe we were Dutch. I didn’t match the image they had of Europeans, wealthy people in their eyes. I was too skinny. On the subcontinent only the rich could afford to be overweight, which added to their status.
“Your wife is weak,” the village head, Mr. Faiz, argued.
A boy was sent out to milk a buffalo and under approving glances I drank the creamiest milk I had ever had.
It was getting late and we mentioned the idea of camping at our lunch spot, which Mr. Faiz would not allow.
We had to stay alongside the village walls, which was safer, he said. The inside of the village was forbidden to strange men, including Coen. I was allowed to use a bathroom inside the adobe walls, but he had to take his pee in the fields. When was the last time I had enjoyed a privilege because I was a woman?
After breakfast I asked if I could meet the women. Hashim and I strolled through the tranquil and clean community. The adobe houses were neatly connected to each other with open spaces in front of them. Trees and bushes provided shade for villagers and animals. Newborn goats and calves were fed on grass gathered by the children. Women stood in the doorways, their faces partially hidden behind their dupatta, glancing at this stranger visiting their village. When I greeted them, they stepped outside, smiling.
A frail-looking yet indomitable woman approached me and took my hand, stroking it. She was Hashim’s grandmother. Mr. Faiz joined us and told me I could a picture of her. I politely declined, saying I understood they didn’t want their women photographed. The more I declined, the stronger he insisted.
Hashim was sent to Coen to fetch our camera. It proved to be a perfect conversation piece with people whose language we didn’t share. Hashim’s grandmother encouraged other women to have their picture taken. Seeing themselves on the tiny LCD screen brought about deep laughter and within minutes they were all posing for pictures.
At times I grew tired of this country with its censored way of life, but during an exchange like this I remembered again why we were traveling, and the joy it could bring. We said our goodbyes with smiles on our faces, knowing we had made new friends.
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