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A Visit to Pakistan

A Brilliant Time

By Cathal King, nephew of Columban Fr. Tomás King

Last year I decided to go to Pakistan to visit my uncle and get a sense of the work he was doing. Since as far back as I can remember I've been hearing of this uncle who was in Pakistan as a missionary priest and even though he comes home every couple of years, I still could not visualize his life there. I felt that it would be great to not only see what he was up to but also to immerse myself in a completely new culture and environment.

Cathal with his uncle Columban Fr. Tomás King
Cathal with his uncle Columban Fr. Tomás King

Over the two weeks that my aunt Mary and I spent in Pakistan, my uncle, Columban Fr. Tomás King, showed us many parts of the country. We saw bustling cities like Karachi and Hyderabad, and we also saw very barren areas that were not filled with life and people. I saw how people of relative wealth live and what their quality of life is like. However for the most part I met very poor people who did not have much. What struck me about these people is that they were very happy, friendly and welcoming. Even though they had so little, they were willing to give so much to us. It became clear to me early on that there is a tradition to treat guests very well. This tradition is of course in most cultures, but in Pakistan it was on another level to anything that I had ever experienced before.

Pakistan is obviously quite different to Ireland in many ways. I found that the climate was tough to get used to at the beginning. During the day the temperatures ranged from the mid-80s to over 100 degrees! The food was absolutely delicious. I was never into Asian food before, but I had no problem in eating anything that was put in front of me. It was simple food like rice and lentils. Dessert usually comprised of fruit such as melon and bananas. I was in the country just before the mango season. Mirpurkhas, the city that we were in, has a great reputation for growing tasty mangos.

Cathal with primary school students
Cathal with primary school students

The clothing for the most part is much simpler than where I am from. Usually, the people wear a shalwar kameez although it's not at all uncommon to see western clothes. I was lucky enough to get two shalwar kameez suits. I thought they looked nice, and they helped me fit in. A funny moment occurred when I was engaging with some young men my own age. I was wearing clothes that were worn in their country, and they were wearing clothes that were worn in my country. 

The traffic was another aspect of the country that was slightly different from Ireland. There are less rules and regulations regarding the road and road safety. The traffic seemed to be all over the place at times. At one point we were driving along the motorway when not one but two tractors were coming towards us in the other direction on the wrong lanes. I also once saw a family of five on one motorcycle. There are also three wheeled vehicles called rickshaws which operate as taxis.

The influence of women is significantly lesser in Pakistan than in Ireland. I never saw many women in the streets, and I never saw any women driving. Some women even covered their faces in public.

Within the first few days of my stay, I witnessed a wedding in one of the rural villages. That day was perhaps my fondest memory of my time in Pakistan as it summed up what life is like for the poorer people in the country. The whole scene seemed like it was from centuries ago as everything was plain and simple, and there was little or no technology in the village. The wedding was very interesting to see and there was a great sense of joy connected with the occasion as with most weddings. Everything was very colorful, and some of the decorations showed how innovative and resourceful the people are. For example they dyed sawdust to make a colorful substance that decorated the floor underneath the canopy under which the couple were to get married. After the wedding we had chai (milky sweet tea) in one of the mud and timber houses at one of the families in the village. My uncle and I played cricket with a makeshift bat and tennis ball with the children. The village was in very barren desert area, but it seemed very peaceful. I really enjoyed the whole day.

What struck me about these people is that they were very happy, friendly and welcoming. Even though they had so little, they were willing to give so much to us.

On another occasion we visited a primary school outside the city of Mirpurkhas. We were greeted by children singing and dancing. They were singing English songs, though they may not have understood them fully. We headed inside and watched as they got up one by one to sing a song. They had lovely voices, and they had no problem singing for us.

On the same day, my aunt Mary and I attended a Mass that was said in a small Christian area of Mirpurkhas. We waited as the families slowly gathered together for their weekly Mass. As we waited, one of the men took out a microphone and a speaker, which was for the priest. However as the Mass was going to be said in a small room the microphone did not seem necessary. For the next ten minutes we heard the word "HELLO" being repeated over and over as they were testing the microphone.

Another aspect of the trip I would like to mention is the practice of the religion itself. Whenever I was at a Mass, the people had genuine interest in what was being said, and participated well, especially in the singing. They sing with passion and they pray with fervor.

My time in Pakistan was filled with small, amazing, strange and funny moments that together made for an absolutely brilliant visit. I really enjoyed my stay in the country, and it was an experience of a lifetime. It was fantastic to see how my uncle has been living for over twenty five years. I can see how he keeps going. The people in Pakistan are by far the nicest and most friendly people I have ever met. Hopefully he will continue to enjoy his work for years to come. Overall, I had a great time, and I cannot wait to go back when I'm older.

Cathal King, nephew of Columban Fr. Tomás King, provided this article for Columban Mission magazine.