As I’m getting ready to head out for another trip to Pakistan, I realize again what a bad reputation the country has. Friends are usually just shaking their heads, wondering what on earth draws me to a country full of terrorists, religious extremists and bigots. So here are 5 (positive) things about Lahore you probably didn’t know:
1 – There is a critical mass movement. Never heard of it? Basically, it brings people together to ride their bikes through the city. The goal is to reclaim the streets for cyclists and promote environmentalism. Originally, the movement started in the US and has now spread all over the world. While this might sound like an easy ride in San Francisco or London, it takes guts to navigate the crazy Lahori traffic on a bike. Usually, only poor people ride their bikes. Everyone else thinks it safer to behold the unfolding chaos and deafening noise from the back of a rickshaw or an air-conditioned car. Critical Mass Lahore has about 6,900 members on Facebook – and counting.
2 – Lahore is home to an enthusiastic board gaming community. Settlers of Catan is a favorite as I heard, as are Risk, Pandemic and other (mostly German!) games. People meet in coffee shops or at home for an evening of strategic thinking, heated debates, and adventurous moves. Ordering pizza or Chinese food is part of the fun as it is anywhere else in the world.
3 – Organic vegetables and bread are available from the Roshni Association located in Bedian village, just outside Lahore. A Pakistani and a German educationists set up the Anthroposophic community center, organic farm and inclusive school about two decades ago. Eating healthy and organic is a growing trend in Pakistan – if you can afford it, that is.
4 – The Peerzada family’s puppet museum is a marvellous discovery for kids and grown-ups alike. As stated on their website, “the Museum Of Puppetry consists of three stories (!), housing puppets representing more than 65 countries, totalling about 300 puppets displayed.” They also organize regular theater workshops, puppet shows, and festivals.
5 – Last but not least, despite news about religious discrimination and persecution, Lahore has a vibrant Christian community. Terrible attacks, mob violence and other atrocities occur and they are unfortunately part of the political realities. Yet, there is also a regular daily life for the Christian minority, who runs its own schools, churches, community centers, book shops, media outlets, and many other institutions.
Christians are part of Lahore’s social fabric, not a cloistered, cut-off, beleaguered minority. The international media and religious fanatics likewise try to suggest otherwise, but as (predominantly) Punjabis, Christians share a common history, language, and many cultural traditions with other Lahoris. They are not separate or “different” from other citizens, and they contribute in many important ways to public life.