What is it really like to live in Islamabad, Pakistan?
The main thing I learned from writing my WIIRL series is that it is actually really hard to explain what it is like to live in a whole country. For one, I haven't lived in every single city in any of the places I've mentioned, and therefore it would be unfair to generalize the whole country. For example, while I imagine living in Rome and Milan are very similar, living in Islamabad versus a village in rural, northern Pakistan is extremely different; It would be unfair to lump both experiences into one post, especially if I have no experience with the latter. Therefore, for my final two posts, I will be focusing on the particular places I have lived within these two countries: Islamabad, Pakistan and Pennsylvania, USA, rather than the countries as a whole.
So, what is it really like to live in Islamabad, Pakistan?
1. It's changing rapidly
I hate the word "third world country" for various reasons, and while Pakistan is technically one, I'd prefer to call it a baby country. Pakistan was 'born' in 1947. Prior to 1947, it was a part of one greater nation state known simply as "India" (which was comprised of modern day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). While people obviously lived in "Pakistan" before 1947 and it was filled with immense culture from centuries ago including, but not limited to, the Indus Valley Civilization, it was not "Pakistan" as it is known today. The government was completely different, for example.
Pakistan is a baby country, and just like real, human babies, it is growing and improving at an exponential rate. For example, Pakistan is of the world's fastest growing economies in whole world! Just within the past 10 years I have seen Islamabad change and grow so much. The city is developing, with better public transportation, parks, malls, entertainment areas, and so much more. I'll get into this within the different sections below.
Pakistani, and Islamabadi, culture continues to evolve at a rapid rate. One example of this is language. Urdu and English are both (or were?) the official languages of Pakistan. While many people learned English at school, it was not really commonly spoken otherwise. Now, English is much more widely used there. So much so that the government is planning to make Urdu the sole official language, so that this beautiful language is not forgotten. Pakistan is broken up into various regions, where different dialects are spoken. Islamabad is a melting pot of those different regions. Other than English and Urdu, there are many languages spoken in Islamabad including Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, and more.
As more Afghan refugees come to Pakistan and Islamabad, the more widely spoken Pashto becomes as well, which I think is beautiful.
Fashion is constantly changing all over the world, Islamabad included. When I would visit Islamabad as a child, all adult women would wear colourful shalwar-kameez (traditional clothing). It would be very, very rare to see an adult woman wearing skinny jeans, a sleeveless top, or Western clothing in general. It would also be relatively uncommon to see a woman wearing a full on burkha/niqaab... The last time I visited, Summer of 2015, I noticed that Western fashion is becoming more and more normal in Islamabad. Both branded Western stores such as Berksha and generic stores are available to shop in and purchase clothes you would not have seen here 20 years ago.
That said, Pakistani fashion is also growing rapidly. Before, if you wanted new (traditional) clothing, you would go to an un-stitched clothing store where you would buy cloth. Then, you would either stitch it yourself, or more commonly, give your measurements to a tailor who would stitch it for you. Now, on the other hand, there are so many branded, designer Pakistani clothing stores!
There are also many more women in Islamabad wearing a full on black burkha with a niqaab (as seen in a lot of the Gulf regions of the Middle East). Maybe I just never noticed before, but this is something definitely new for me to see in Islamabad. And honestly, I don't like it at all. Both traditional Pakistani clothing as well as Westernized clothing can be worn in such a way that it adheres to Islamic rulings - there is absolutely no need for a burkha/niqaab in Islamabad. But that's just my opinion, and I think everyone should be allowed to wear what they chose to. I just fear as this potentially becomes more common, more women will be forced into it by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and maybe even mothers, sisters, etc. Maybe I feel this way because I adore traditional Pakistani clothing (and all the colours it shines in!), so to see it change into a generic, black cloth isn't exactly appealing to me.
Islamabad has basically all the food you'd ever want, and it wasn't always this way. With the continuous growth comes more and more food choices. You'll find all the fast food restaurants like KFC, McDonalds, TGIF even, and more, as well as various ethnic foods like Japanese restaurants, Chinese restaurants, American restaurants, Middle Eastern restaurants, Afghani restaurants, and more.
There are also amazing bakeries all over the city, that sell everything from Pakistani sweets to gingerbread men.
There is no city I have ever seen that has houses more beautiful than Islamabad (and I've traveled quite a bit...). Each house there is so unique, in size, architecture, and even color. I could spend an entire day driving around (and yes, women can drive there) just admiring the different architectures and designs of the houses. Most of the houses in the city are also MASSIVE (which just goes to highlight the very clear economic divide the classes). Furthermore, apartment complexes and housing compounds are starting to develop and become more common now there.
6. It's safe
The news usually highlights the negative things happening across the world. You're really likely to hear about the various explosions, suicide bombings, drone attacks, and honor killings in Pakistan and Islamabad, but really unlikely to hear about all the good that's happening there! It's no wonder people have an assumption that *Islamabad* is unsafe.
While perhaps currently, due to political reasons, it isn't the safest place around, it's not unsafe either. You can visit Islamabad without having to fear for your life, or at least not anymore than you would in any other place. There are so many things to do and see there, it is honestly such a shame that Pakistan has such a negative image these days. It houses some of the most beautiful sights in the world.
Basically, what I guess I am trying to say is that Islamabad is just like any other big city (or capital city)! It is beautiful, filled with culture and so many things to do. It is safe. If I ever had the opportunity to spend more time there or live there properly (since the maximum time I've spent there continuously is maybe 2 months, but I've visited almost every single summer of my 22 years) I would take it in a heartbeat. I can't wait to see what my beautiful city grows into, how it continues to improve and modernize, and I hope I can be part of that change.