The Culture of Pakistan: An Interview With Sohail Shah
I am always fascinated with other people's cultures. The
New York or Californian culture always amazes me although
these states are in the United States. These areas of the
nation seem very different than Texas. I do not have any
friends that have recently moved here from another culture
so, I set out to my neighborhood Stop N Go. The clerks at
this convenience store are all from other countries. One
clerk whom I have talked to many times, named Sohail Shah,
always spoke of Pakistan. I often listened to his stories
of being in the Karachi police force or of Pakistan's
different customs. Sohail Shah, a thirty year old male
clerk at the Stop N Go located on North Braeswood near
Chimney Rock, has been in the United States for four years.
He moved here with his wife and two children to "escape
punishment". Sohail claims he was in the secret police
protecting the president when many governmental changes
were made. Many of his co-workers were put in jail for many
years for reasons he would not openly discuss. He has to
work two jobs because his wife does not work. According to
Mr. Shah, she will never work. In Pakistan, women are to
stay home and raise children. Currently, Sohail is
observing the holy month of fasting called Ramadan. This is
observed during the ninth month of the Islamic year and is
ordained by the Koran, the Islam holy book. The fasting
begins every morning at dawn and ends immediately at
sunset. Muslims cannot eat, drink or smoke at all. In the
evening, regular activities resume. The Islam driven
culture of Pakistan shapes everyday life. Each day, all
Muslims pray five times. The first is before sunrise, the
second around noon, the third in the late afternoon, the
fourth immediately after sunset, and the fifth before
retiring and before midnight. They face the Kaaba, which is
a small box in Mecca. No matter where a Muslim is, he will
pause, face the East, and pray when it is time. When Sohail
lived in Pakistan, he lived in a house with his whole
family. As an adult, he lived with his parents and siblings
as well as his wife and children. The house was large
enough to accommodate over fourteen people. All the women
stayed home to keep up the house and prepare meals. If the
women were to go to the market, they would completely cover
themselves except for their eyes. Women were not to be seen
in public without covers. Also, the wives wait for their
husbands to come home before eating. The Koran approves of
polygamy, allowing up to four wives. If a Pakistani decides
to marry a second wife, his first wife must approve of her.
Shah says polygamy is not very common in Pakistan. A
typical day in Pakistan for Shah was to wake up before
sunrise and pray. His wife would prepare breakfast for him
before he left for work. He would leave for his police work
when an armored truck stopped at his house. He was an
officer in the police force before being promoted to the
secret police. Shah rode around Karachi, the largest city
in Pakistan, in the truck with twelve other rifle carrying
policemen the entire day. Although there is nearly zero
crime in Pakistan, the threat of terrorism keeps the police
busy. The crime situation is based on severe punishments
such as amputation of a hand for stealing. In addition, the
people of Pakistan have a very strong conscience. People
leave their homes and businesses unlocked while away. When
Sohail returned home, his wife would have dinner already
made for him and his entire family would eat when all the
men returned from work. While the men are away, the women
take care of the children, bake bread, and make pottery or
baskets to sell at the market. His large family would then
discuss different topics of interest before retiring. I
found that the funeral arrangements are somewhat strange.
First, women may go to the wake when a person dies but may
not enter the cemetery. When a person is buried, he or she
is dressed in white and wrapped in a woven mat made of long
leaves or blades of grass. Then mat is then tied at each
end which looks like a giant sausage when finished. A type
of perfume is sprayed on the resulting package to keep the
decomposing body's smell in check. The Pakistanis do not
embalm the deceased. The body is then, if money allows,
placed in a casket. If the family can't afford a casket,
the corpse is buried in the grass mat. The financial status
of the body's family also affects the depth of the hole the
body will placed in. Some people are buried on level ground
with a concrete slab constructed around them, some are six
feet down. I believe Pakistan has very good points in their
culture. I enjoy hearing of the nearly nil crime rate.
After seeing Houston's crime rate rise year after year, it
would be nice to live in a society free of crime. I also
like the idea that the family is very close. I don't know
if my entire family could live under one roof, though.
During the holidays, tensions build when my whole family is
together(grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins). The
situation of the wife staying home to keep up the home,
prepare meals and take care of children is a positive
characteristic. When my parents were young, their mothers
stayed home to do the same tasks. I believe if the economy
in the U.S. improved, the mothers would stay home, if they
were still married. The way of conducting funerals is sort
of peculiar. Wrapping the body in a grass mat that is tied
shut at the ends is bizarre by my standards. I would prefer
the casket approach to funerals. My feelings towards the
Pakistani culture could be defined as xenocentric. I feel
that the United Stated was once family focused and crime
free. I would like to live in a culture such as Pakistan's
but without such extreme religious influence. I do not
agree that women should be covered up in public or that
they are not allowed into cemeteries. For Pakistan to be my
ideal culture, it would have somewhat the same norms but
freedom of religion and equality for women. 


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