There is one thing to be said for living in Pakistan – it really makes you appreciate the blessing in small things.
Surah Rahman is one of the most poetic sections of the Quran because it repeats over and over throughout the whole chapter “Fabi ayi Allahi rabbi kumaa tu kaziban” which means “Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny?”
Indeed in Pakistan it is difficult to deny the simple blessings in everyday living and at times it feels like God is forcing us to appreciate them by taking them away.
Coming from Australia where everything is available in ten different varieties and the land of plenty offers abundant food and resources, Pakistan is like a permanent boot camp. But there is even a good side to boot camps, and that is that the sweetness of gratitude when they end.
Here we have just been through a long summer of electricity loadshedding, where power is in such short supply that we only have it for two hours in every three. In some cities it is blacked out up to 18 hours a day, and in scorching 50 degree heat every day for months, living without even a fan really is torture. It is hard to believe that the government simply neglected to plan for the gradual increase in electricity usage, but that’s Pakistan for you. However the cheers of excitement and relief when the light comes back – many times a day – are really incredible. As Muslims we say “Al Hamdulillah” which means “Thanks be to God”. That kind of real, meaningful gratitude is rare to find in Australia. It is the gratitude that finally we can get on with managing the basics of our lives….cooking, cleaning, working on our computer and the millions of other little things that we take for granted but rely on electricity for.
It reminds me of when I took my young kids back to Australia for a holiday years ago from Pakistan and we visited Westfield Shopping Centre. They had never been on an escalator, because where we live in Pakistan there is no such thing, and their screams of delight at riding up and down like it was the most exciting thing they had ever seen attracted many passers-by who stopped and marvelled at such simple joy inspired by something that they used day in and day out but never thought twice about.
Likewise at around the same time, we went on our first grocery shopping trip since arriving back in Australia, and the kids were young enough that they rode in my trolley. As we rounded into the vegetable aisle, they began to scream “LOOOOK! Broccoli!!!!!! Mumma can we get some BROCCOLI?????? We LOOOVVVVEEE broccoli!!!” All of the women around me stopped and stared at these bizarre children who were screaming about broccoli like it was chocolate chip ice cream. One even asked me what my secret was. “Absence!” I said.
After almost a full year of electricity loadshedding, we all thought coming into winter that things would be easier. At least even if there wasn’t any electricity we wouldn’t boil….after all, the heaters run on gas. Famous last words! Now we have chronic gas shortages. Between 7 in the morning and 10 at night the gas pressure in the pipes is so low that we can barely run two burners on the stove, let alone heaters or geysers. It means no hot water, and cooking for our family of 15 is an absolute nightmare. Just boiling water for tea takes half an hour. To make matters worse, the electricity is still coming and going every two hours, so we spend an inordinate amount of our day freezing and waiting for the light to come back on.
And STILL, whenever it comes back, we all breathe an enormous sigh of “Al Hamdulillah”.
Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny? Not electricity and gas that’s for sure. But what about water? When there is no electricity we can’t pump water from the underground tank under our house to the tank on the roof from which it feeds our pipes. But that is when the water comes on its daily schedule from the town water supply into our underground tank. There was a month recently when the water just didn’t come. Nobody told us, it just stopped coming. Luckily, there is a healthy business here in Pakistan delivering water in tankers to fill these tanks, so for that month we had to buy our water in. Al Hamdulillah!
In the last year since I have been here the price of basic foodstuffs like flour, rice and dhals have more than tripled in price thanks to a combination of fuel prices, other input costs and opportunism by everyone in the chain (this is not the land of opportunity, it is the land of opportunism – people will take any chance they can of getting a bit more for nothing!) Unfortunately wages have not increased and have remained pathetically low, so that even buying basic necessities to feed their kids has become almost impossible. When the ordinary working people cannot afford to eat, it is a really bad sign. Yet still when food comes, the gratitude is enormous.
While my friends and family in Australia continue to question the decision we have made to live in this country that seems to present only hardship and inconvenience, I stand by my commitment that it is teaching my children the kind of lessons about life that they would not learn in a whole lifetime in Australia. True gratitude for even the smallest blessings in our lives is a precious gift and one that can probably be learned best through their absence.
Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny?