join the military

Culture Shock

by Rizwan Rana

By Rizwan Rana

By Rizwan Rana

It was dark, it was raining. It was two o’clock in the morning and I was in a police station on Toller Lane at the custody desk, explaining myself to the desk sergeant.

I had run away from home yet again, and was found wandering in the darker, shadier parts of Manningham. It wasn’t the first time I had run away from home, but was the first time I had been spotted by a concerned member of the public, who promptly took me to the police station and handed me over to the respective authorities.

“So! Why have you run away from home on this occasion, Rizwan?” asked the sergeant in a soft and concerned manner.

“Well… I just don’t like it at home. I’m not treated well and feel like an outsider, that I don’t belong and am not wanted,” I replied, hiding the fact that things were a lot worse than I was letting on.

“How old are you, son?”

“Fifteen sir, and old enough to know I don’t want to live with them any more!”

He smiled at me compassionately, knowing all to well the anguish and hurt I was feeling. He’d seen it all before.

“The thing is, son, you’re not old enough to leave home and live by yourself. What I would suggest is, that you wait till you are 16, then… (He raised two fingers into the air, to explain his notion).

“Look, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take you home and hand you over to your parents, it’s the only thing I can do,” he said.

“But I don’t want to go home, can’t you just leave me in the cells tonight and I’ll go home in the morning? PLEASE!” I begged.

“There’s nothing I can do, son, I will have to take you home. But listen, I will talk to your family and give them a piece of my mind and make sure they don’t say anything to you again, anything that’s going to upset you, or make you feel like you need to run away from home again. Ok? I promise.”

With that I resigned myself to my fate and reluctantly was persuaded to follow him out of the police station and out into the once again cold February night.

I was scared; scared of the feeling of shame I would be bringing to my doorstep, scared of the aftermath that was sure to ensue, scared that things would surely get worse now, worse, much worse than what they were before. Even though I had these immense feelings of trepidation, I felt that with a police officer by my side, my family would take heed and miraculously heed to his stern advice.

So, there I was, two thirty in the morning outside my front door, knocking.

Almost immediately the door opened and there stood my eldest sister and my brother with looks of consternation and chagrin. First they looked around the neighbourhood, left and right, up and down the street, to see if anyone was looking, peering through their windows at this unusual sight.

It was explained to my family that I had been wandering around Manningham and had been brought to the police station. I was worried about coming home, because of the obvious consequences. He also told them to not to admonish me and to try to work out a solution to my unhappiness.

“All good” I thought, thinking that now they would be very reluctant to say or do anything to me and that I might get away without being punished. They sent me to bed. I slept.

In the morning I was awoken and called downstairs to a “family” meeting regarding my actions and the solution that they had come up with.

THIS was their solution.

“Rizwan, since you are so obviously unhappy with living here, what would you like to do, what do you want?”

As I was fast approaching the age of 16, I said I would like them to get me an apartment, so I could live on my own and away from their restrictions and control, away from the constant hurt I was feeling and experiencing every day.

“Hmm, we could do that… but, wouldn’t you rather go to live in Pakistan? You could live with Zafar (my eldest brother who worked as a bureaucrat) You like Zafar bhai don’t you? AND you’ve always wanted to join the military since you were a kid. So, why don’t you go to Pakistan and join the Military Academy? It’s a great career. They will educate you to a degree level and you will pass out as a second lieutenant. What do you think?”

Pakistan, eh? Hmm, interesting! It was true I had always wanted to join the Army AND I could live with my favourite brother, who was a staunch liberal.

“This could be quite good,” I thought.

There and then I decided it was the better option to live in Pakistan with my eldest brother, than a life by myself in some grotty apartment, not knowing the basics of survival in an urban apartment life and all that it entailed.

“Yes!” I said. “That sounds like a great idea and I think I will be far happier there.”

Within days, my air ticket had been organised and I was out shopping in Bradford for the essentials I would need on my new life, in a new country which up to that point I had only heard stories about; a strange and mythical land, unlike the western country I had been born into and had grown up in.

“This could be quite an adventure, an opportunity to live freely and without constraints, just what I want,” I thought naively, not knowing or knowing WHAT to expect upon my arrival in this far
away land. There was no turning back now, as I had agreed and truth be known, was quite looking forward to said adventure.

On the 8th of March 1986 I boarded a British Airways flight PK702 to Islamabad, Pakistan.

The flight itself was quite unassuming. The only thing I remember about the flight was how red the earth looked. I automatically took that to mean I was flying over Russia!

The plane landed. Bump, bump, smooth as it taxied down to the disembarking point. The doors opened and it was like I had been hit with a hot sledgehammer. The only way to describe it is, it’s like opening a pre-heated oven door and feeling this huge smothering of heat! I’d never known heat like this. I felt for a second or two as if I couldn’t breathe and was surely to die from hot air inhalation! I felt my lungs would swell and make my eyes pop! In the old ‘Hammer House’ tradition.

I was ushered to the VIP lounge, where my brother was waiting for me, to see me through customs. “Never been through Customs before! This is going to be exciting!” I thought. When I looked around I noticed that there weren’t many people who would be going through Customs at this point in the airport, however it didn’t seem odd. I saw my brother and he waved at me, then beckoned me to come to where he was standing, next to a Customs Officer. I hugged my brother and made pleasantries.

The Customs Officer was looking at me quite intently before he spoke. “Have you anything to declare anything that you may have to pay a duty on?” As he was saying this, he was shaking his head, as if to say, “Just say NO!” I followed his lead and gave him the answer he was searching for. “No” I said and looked at my brother, who just smiled. The Customs Officer then proceeded to mark a large cross on my baggage and said I was free to go and beckoned the next person forward.

Not knowing it at the time, I had just been cleared by Customs, without actually being checked, without checking if everything was in order and that I was not avoiding paying Customs their due.

“Hmm, strange!” I thought.

The next aspect of clearing the airport was even more surreal. When my brother and I wheeled the suitcase to the airport arrival area, what I saw was least expected. It seemed the whole arrival gate visitors who were awaiting their respective arrivals seemed to me to corralled behind a barrier, outside the airport doors!

Masses of people, six or eight deep in places, were pushed up against the barriers shouting at their relatives coming through the gates, offering profanities to the security guards who were endlessly trying to maintain a modicum of restraint, every now and then lashing out at the more boisterous elements in the crowd and charging them with batons, which to me resembled some kind of riot control! I had never seen anything like this before and it came as a huge shock. The noise was unbearable. Endless streams of abuse, endless shouting, endless screams of pain from the people who were less fortunate to be on the receiving end, of the said batons. I had NEVER heard a noise, a din so loud and bewildering.

With both the heat and the noise, I felt light-headed and almost about to faint, when my brother turned to look at me and said “Rizwan, welcome to Pakistan!” He smiled.

As we approached where the car was parked, huge waves of porters came rushing in our direction offering to carry the luggage for a small fee. My brother nonchantly shooed them away. Then a very dark person came up to us. He had a huge, almost cartoon-like moustache, the kind you see on documentaries about certain tribal warriors. I immediately shrunk into myself thinking this wasn’t safe and moved closer to my brother. He simply took my suitcase strap and offered it to the tribesman, who without a word took hold of the suitcase and walked off in front of us.

“Who’s he?” I enquired, not really sure what was going on.

“He’s my driver… don’t worry”


“Yes, all senior government officers are allocated a driver for their personal use. It’s normal.” He replied.

When we pulled out of the airport car park, the sights that greeted me were alien. Kids with nothing on, or very little, were swarming all over the roads. Dirty, hungry, penniless, yet they seemed to be quite happy and carrying on with their daily lives. They were using the roads as if they were meant for them, the drivers of vehicles avoiding them and not the other way round!

The next thing I noticed was the colours, vivid and lucid, hallucinatorylike; blues, greens, reds, orange, pink, all in their magnificence. Even the grass on the sides of the road looked greener and more vibrant than I had ever seen before.

Swarms of people, going in every possible direction without a care in the world. Shanties built out of everything and anything. Bricks, mud, cardboard, corrugated sheeting, advertisement hoardings advertising Pepsi! Crates, planks of wood, all built in an abstract and chaotic fashion. It didn’t make sense, yet there was a surreal beauty about them… and they worked.

The smell was very strange, too. The only way to describe it would be that it was a mixture of frying pakoras, two stroke engine oil and cow dung! Not a bad smell, but not a good one either… I
suppose it was exotic.

All this overwhelmed me and it seemed my pupils were dilated taking in all that was offered around me. I breathed in the sights, smells, noise and colours. It was like I had landed on another planet, a far cry from what I had left behind in England, which in comparison was grey, brown and drab. There was NO order, but rampant chaos. The air was alive with life and sound. There was a definite buzz in the air.

“Is this what Pakistan was really like?”

I thought thinking through my western sensibilities.

What it was… was CULTURE SHOCK.