Jovago Pakistan recently interviewed Cynthia, an American who visited Pakistan to shoot a documentary. Her experience of Pakistan was fabulous as she enjoyed the culture, friendly environment and the delicious cuisine of Pakistan.
Read her experiences of Pakistan here.
Our first question is who is Cynthia Dawn Ritchie? Tell us a little detail about yourself.
I am a humanitarian and citizen of the world. More specifically, I am a social entrepreneur currently focusing on media projects with objective/optimistic human interest stories.
I am also student constantly learning! I possess a Master’s degree in Education, with advanced training in conflict resolution, clinical psychology and strategic public relations. Born in USA, I wanted to be Indiana Jones as a little girl, and so my fascination for world travel began at a very early age.
What was the primary reason to visit Pakistan?
Several years ago, I was first invited to Pakistan by Pakistani Americans in USA who knew me through mediation cases and a few political campaigns I worked on; this was during the floods of 2010 where I worked on a few humanitarian missions coordinated by the diaspora. I’ve since lived almost 3 years in Pakistan and remain a frequent visitor.
What was your perception about Pakistan before your trip?
Although I’d only heard negative things about Pakistan in the media, I’d done enough work in media to know most of what I hear is propaganda. So I chose to remain a tabula rasa, a blank slate, and let Pakistan reveal itself to me.
How will you describe your trip to Pakistan in three words?
Constant Amazing Adventures!
What makes Pakistan and Pakistanis different from countries you have visited so far?
For some perspective, here’s a partial list of countries I’ve traveled to:
Pakistan is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world. You have desert terrain almost at sea level in Sindh, Baluchistan… then salt mines, vast plateaus throughout Punjab, rocky terrain leading up to majestic mountains in KPK and GB- three of the world’s largest converge in the north.
For the adventure traveler on a budget, you can criss cross Pakistan for a fraction of the cost of many countries and get to experience a plethora of cultures along the way.
The Pakistani people are loving and incredibly hospitable- they are also very emotional! Travelers should realize that, in South Asia in particular, guests are like a special gift from God, and so should avail themselves of invitations to dine with families and communities where possible. Being an adventurous eater helps, too!
How many Pakistani cities you have visited so far?
So many I’ve lost count! Several in every province and a few in FATA.
Which city you liked the most? Why?
It’s impossible to pick just one city as each province has a unique city quite unlike the others. I like Gwadar port for the remarkable waterways and economic development; Karachi (being The City Of Lights); Lahore for its remarkable architecture; Islamabad for being such a green, well-planned city; Chitral and Hunza Valley equally for the beautiful scenery and incredibly literate populations who absolutely adore tourists!
In a video we can see you trying to offer prayers. What is the whole exciting story behind it?
Whenever I travel to someone’s home (or another country) I try to be as respectful and mindful of the hosts’ culture and faith as I possibly can. So in this particular video, you saw members of my adoptive Pakistani family teaching me the Islamic way to pray.
As a Christian, it’s always been important for me to learn about other faiths – and Islam is a beautiful faith of which I have great respect and continue to learn about.
What 3 places you will recommend to every American to visit in Pakistan?
Must visit Hunza Valley/Fairy Meadows/Deosai Plains for mountain scenery/adventure hiking; Wagah Border for the Pakistani- Indian equivalent of a football game every Friday afternoon (the border guards engage in this flamboyant display of what I call ‘pomp and circumstance’ as they raise the border gates, shake hands, and then lower the gates as the crowds shout from the stadiums); and my friend, Yousuf Bashir Qureshi’s Artist Commune is a spectacular place to visit in Karachi for arts and culture, and ‘sufistic’ style Qawwali music.
If you get a chance to visit Pakistan again, which 3 destinations you would like to explore?
I want to explore more of Interior Sindh, Baluchistan, and celebrate Christmas in Swat Valley- this year, 2016, was the first time Swat celebrated Christmas!
What were some of the problems you faced in Pakistan as a foreigner?
As we know, US – Pakistan relations have not been the greatest over the years. Unfortunately, the resulting suspicions can have a negative impact on regular American tourists wanting to travel, or those who want to help in humanitarian capacities. Delays or rejections in visas are one side effect.
Fortunately, however, things seem to be on the mend, and my hope is that my personal history in Pakistan (as an active social worker and adventure tourist aficionado) will continue to speak for itself.
What will be your answer if anyone (especially Americans) asks you, “Why Should I visit Pakistan?”
For the adventure of a lifetime and an education into an often misunderstood culture – do yourself a favour, take a chance and venture off into the vast kaleidoscope of civilization that Pakistan is.
You must have researched on Pakistan before visiting. What is different in the real Pakistan?
There is no way to describe in writing the absolute beauty and hospitality of the Pakistani people; this must be experienced in person to fully appreciate.
Out of the different types of cuisines you had in Pakistan, which one was your favorite?
Magaz!! I love goat brain… but my all time favourite is Doodh Patti– I prefer it with (twice-boiled) buffalo milk and Pakistani Shahed (honey) or the special Kashmiri Chai! I’d like to open up my own Chai shop in Pakistan….
Share one of your most memorable moment or incident in/about Pakistan.
After a long day of filming, our crew was trying to turn into the Fat Burger restaurant parking lot in Lahore. Because we had an extended van, the driver had to back up quite a bit to turn into the lot… as a consequence we were stuck and couldn’t move due to the heavy traffic in Lahore.
Eventually, I got out and starting directing traffic so our driver could back up safely and turn into the parking lot. You should have seen the looks on the driver’s and passenger’s faces! A ‘gori chitti’ directing traffic was a complete shock to them, so much so that many of the drivers got out of their cars thinking something was wrong and came to my aid!
Eventually, we had several people help me stop traffic and guide us safely into the restaurant.
Any ending note for readers?
Keep an open mind when encountering foreigners… many are just as shocked to see you as you are them! And no matter what you hear about another country’s foreign policy, the people are vastly unaware of those policies.
So I encourage everyone – Pakistanis and Americans alike: to not allow the negative press you hear about the other to unfairly contort your views about the people. Separate the people from policy.
With this ending note of Cynthia, Jovago Pakistan ended the interesting interview session.
Image Source: Images are from Cynthia’s social media profiles and published with her approval.