Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pukhtun Hospitality - Best Thing Ever!

So, as some of y’all know, I spent this last Eid at a Pukhtun friend’s hous. We met on Facebook some years ago, and we’ve been in touch ever since. When I told her I’m moving to this state, she and I were really excited about finally meeting! (You know how you’ve got lots of Internet friends now, and you know that most likely, you won’t ever get to meet a majority of them? The feeling sucks, I know.) Maybe we can talk about Internet Friendships some other time, but for now, lemme talk only on the famous Pukhtun Hospitality, something that Pukhtuns are universally recognized for and something I live every day of my life—and happily so.

So, my friend, whom we’ll call A., had been telling her family I’ll be coming over one of these weekends, so they’d been waiting for me to visit them ever since I moved here (August 20th-ish). I just had to find a friend who lives there and goes home for the weekend so I could accompany them.  That way, I wouldn’t be inconveniencing anyone by asking them to take me. A couple of my friends are from there and go home regularly or visit friends/families there.

My God, when I got there, I can never forget the respect they gave me! It was beautiful!  A’s mother is so sweet and beautiful and kind, and, yet, her extreme generosity and love surprised me! And her dad, too! It was like talking to my own dad. I felt comfortable and happy, as if I was at my own home, you know. A’s mom was really excited and talked about all that she wanted to cook the next day and the day after and where we’ll eat and how it all will be :) I was so happy that I could bring excitement to someone else’s life just by existing.

That night, we visited A’s aunt, who lives close by, and they, too, were very sweet and friendly. We got along right away and we joked and we laughed and we talked and we talked about cool and uncool things.

The next day, A’s mom was making preparations for an Eid party she was to host on Eid, and so we went shopping. Here’s when the part that shocked me most even though it shouldn’t have comes: We’re at a grocery store, and A’s mom makes all these suggestions for me to get this and that and that and I tell her I need to buy some meat to cook at home—guess what she does? :S She buys ALL of these things for me!!!! We’d fight over it, and they’d win. And they gave me lots of meat (including gyro meat! It’s delllllicious, too!) and all this grocery.

That night, we put mehendi (henna) for Eid. It was so much fun! It’s been a long, long time since I was surrounded by girls putting mehndi on. No, wait, I did it in Swat this summer when I went to a wedding –but I meant in America. Eid is almost boring in the U.S. because you really can’t find enough close friends and/or family friends to celebrate traditionally with. But this one was fantastic because of this! We stayed up pretty late doing mehndi, and then A. and I stayed up even longer talking and watching Pukhtun TV after everyone had left. Then we slept. And, of course, when we slept, she slept on the floor and I on the bed. We argued over that too: I prefer the floor, and I didn’t want to sleep in the bed. But it was as though that wasn’t even open to argument. Like, “Scuse me? Of course you’ll sleep on the bed; you’re a guest, and you have to have the best of everything while here.” But while they treated me like a guest, they also treated me like a daughter, like I was their own. It was beautiful to talk to her mother as if she was either my mom or, at the very least, my aunt.

It reminded me of my mother’s hospitality. Even when my American/non-Pashtun/non-Pakistani western/non-Muslim friends or other guests are over, my mother treats them with utmost respect.  She forces them to eat a LOT, she makes sure they’re very comfortable (which actually makes them feel uncomfortable, sadly, since they are not used to this form of hospitality), and she’ll make sure we (the hosts) give them our all to ensure they enjoy their time while at our house. And we're like, "Mom, they're not Pukhtuns, so most times, they don't really understand what we're doing and some even don't like it because it makes them feel uncomfortable." And mom goes, "No, no, no - that's not possible. And even if they don't like it, it's not about what they expect; it's about how we're supposed to treat them according to our custom. And we're supposed to treat them very generously." I have some funny examples to share of how ... well, you see, when someone offers you something, you're supposed to insist against it and must not give in easily. This insistence thing, which is not unique to Pukhtuns (it exists among Arabs, too, and I'm sure among other ethnic groups as well), can go on for over 30 minutes sometimes. This reminds me of when we went to Mardan for a cousin wedding, and, since we'd gone from Swat, we were treated even more better than everyone else. We were special and important. We were VIP, you can say. So when we were returning to Swat, an aunt of mine in Mardan was offered tons of money to either a cousin of mine or to my brother (can't recall for sure which one), and the mother to whom it was being given on behalf of the child was insisting against it. The women swore by God and each one swore she'll fast for 30 days or this and that but, one said, she will not leave with the money, and the other said she will not let the other leave without the money (you get it, right?). Many minutes later, my sister joked, "Jo maa la ye raakai no! Waley dumra jang pe kawai!" ("Then give it to me and stop fighting over it!") You see, my sister had made this bet with one of our Mardani cousins that she will not use "jo," the use of which is unique to the Pukhtuns of Swat. And, so, by using "jo" in her statement, my sister lost the bet, haaaa haaa. k, the point of this whole scene was to say that we have this insistence thing, and it can be quite entertaining watching it. When I was in Jordan, one of our teachers showed us this Youtube Video of two men fighting over who will pay for the meal they'd just eaten, lol. Wait, actually, there's also a Simpson episode in which something like this happens.

But, anyway, back to my story ... so, what my mom said and what my friend's mother (and my friend) did is is typical of all Pukhtuns, really, unless they’re too absorbed in the western culture and haven't visited Afghanistan/Pukhtunkhwa in a long time and don't remember what the rights/privileges of their guests are. The western idea of hospitality is very, very different. It’s not necessarily bad—but I prefer hospitality the Pukhtun way :) People talk about Southern Hospitality, and I’m often like, “What hospitality?” I remember during my first 5 years in America when I really hadn’t come to appreciate or fully understand American culture, I’d be like, “This is not hospitality. They should see what REAL hospitality is like! This is nothing.” But now, I realize that it’s simply a different form of hospitality and isn’t necessarily lower in value; it might be lower in a Pukhtun standards, but in American standards, it (southern hospitality) is in fact something to cherish and be proud of.

But like I said, I prefer the Pukhtun version :D (Note: I have also experienced Middle Eastern Hospitality, which I wrote about when I was in Jordan - but I still think nothing beats Pukhtun hospitality.) They make you feel like a queen, even if for a moment :p My God, when I was in Swat!!!! Everyone but especially the little kids treated me like a queen for rrrrrrrrrrrrrreal! They’d even polish my shoes, they’d gather around me and make sure they got me EVERYTHING I ever needed or asked for. And the best part is that an ordinary queen is treated that way because she’s supposed to be treated like that (meaning, that the respect she get may be artificial and not necessarily sincere), but what I got was so from the heart. It was love. They loved me. They respected me. They treated me like I was something very important to them, something that mattered. They’d seek my opinions about everything, they’d share their secrets with me, they’d tell me intimate stories, they’d listen to me attentively and if I ever expressed disagreement with them (which I was careful not to do too much because of the different environments we’re being brought up in), they’d listen to me and think about it and even consider alternative ways of thinking or looking at something. I felt like my opinion actually mattered. And this wasn’t just with the teenage girls or those in their early 20s: this was the case even with female adults, like my aunts.

Anyway, so this last paragraph isn’t necessarily about Pukhtun hospitality but that was just to say how I was “received” in Swat this summer. As for Pukhtun hospitality, it’s the best thing ever created, and you see why in the paragraphs before the last one.

May you, too, be blessed with experiencing Pukhtun hospitality at least once in your lifetime! Aameen.

~ Qrratu


  1. The following landai or tappa fully explains Pukhtun's hospitality:

    Khwdey de zama pa kor melma kra
    Da khushalai ba darta zaan halalawoma

  2. The logic behind being hospitable to guests is that they reserve the most precious thing in their lives called time for you and one feels important. As a matter of fact any human who invests his or her time and talk to us with love and respect should be given the same hospitality.

  3. Thanks for your insight, Anonymous! Bless you!

  4. Awww this is so beautiful, mashAllah. Hopefully I'll get to experience it one day :)


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