Slimy, Stinky Fish

Though I’m not actually in Pakistan now, I had a number of posts which I wrote while I was there and didn’t have time to post. As a result, I will be writing about my time there for a few more posts, which might be interrupted by others in between. Thanks for reading!


Slimy, Stinky Fish

Wet covers the ground as men, wrapped in shawls, make their way around the piles of fish that lie everywhere. No one has time to stop and gawk at the three oddly-placed foreigners making their way around the press of people. All are busy doing their own business, rushing to buy their fish and get them out to the public. Carts make their way through the crowd, their pushers shouting at whoever stands in the way as they stop constantly for the men squeezing through the small gaps in the mass. One man makes a loud wailing sound, like a siren on an emergency vehicle, as he pushes though. It works for ambulances, so he figures it can’t hurt to put it to use for his fish cart. Others are almost ploughed over as they stand around the piles, only just dodging the carts as they check the mounds of fish. One wheelbarrow, left unattended, is knocked over in the hubbub, but thankfully manages to keep its fish from sliding out onto the ground.

The fish are all so varied. Some of the piles are full of bright pink fish, with yellow streaks colouring their fins like an early sunrise. There are huge fish too —tuna maybe (I’m not very knowledgable when it comes to fish) that look like it would take the full strength of one man just to lug one of the slippery bodies to wherever it needed to go. There are sole, and other fish that look like they spent their lives lying flat on their side at the bottom of the ocean, staring up at the strange world above them. There are others that have large red balloon-like bulges sticking out of their mouths, as if their stomachs exploded out of their bodies on the way up from the water. There are long eels, brilliant blue parrot fish, and barrels of shrimp and prawn, with their tiny black eyes and long wispy appendages. My brother and I glance around at the different fish, having to constantly keep moving, for fear of being run over by the traffic of carts and wheelbarrows all around us. It’s like being in the Sea World of Pakistan.

I’ve never been to Sea World, and I won’t even pretend I know what it’s like. I know its nothing like the Karachi fish market, but all the same, it’s an amazing experience to see the display of sea life — dead. It’s kind of an oxymoron when you think about it. Dead sea life. This is the kind of fishing my dad likes, where everything is already caught for you, sorted in nice little piles. My brother seems to be the only one of us blessed with enough patience to enjoy fishing – though I’m not sure why that patience can’t be put to use in any other areas of his life. I really don’t mind fishing, just like I don’t mind sitting, with my feet in the water, watching and talking, while my brother does all the fishing. I think I would enjoy it even more if I could have a pot of chai with me as well.

While we walk through the market, a wheelbarrow of stingrays passes me on my side, just giving me a glimpse of their flat, grey bodies and long, thin tails. I remember the time we found a stingray on the beach —tired and half dead (or half alive, if you’re being optimistic). Scooping it up with a shovel, we waded into the water and tossed it into the waves, making sure we bravely screamed and ran the other way, so the all-but-lifeless stingray didn’t manage to get us while we stood there in the water.

In the fish market, everyone carries a slimy wicker basket — on carts, wheelbarrows, rickshaws and by hand. A man goes by us with a slimy basket in each hand, a giant tail sticking out of one end, as his shoulders droop with the weight of his fishy cargo. I wonder if there is a special supplier of these slimy fish baskets. I wonder if the fishermen are outraged when they get a new one, because it doesn’t come slick and slippery like all the ones they are used to having.

Stinky, slimy, noisy and busy, the fish market is a must-see for anyone wanting a display of ocean creatures. Roll up your jeans and slop your way through the a raw museum of the Indian Ocean’s dead sea life. For anyone security conscious, this is the place for you. No terrorist would ever look for foreigners there, or even follow you in, for that matter!

My brother, Stephen and I cleaning up the shrimp back at the hut
My brother Stephen and I cleaning up the shrimp back at the hut


Home. There’s something refreshingly normal about being home. Within a few seconds of making my way out of the airport in Karachi and into my parents’ warm arms, everything became so very familiar. Sitting in the back of the car as we pulled out of the airport, I had to remind myself that this is not ‘normal’. You’ve waited to be here, Josh. Now enjoy it and appreciate it like you waited for it. But I do enjoy it. I do enjoy being home. I just enjoy the normalcy of it.

Somehow the familiarity of home adds to the enjoyment, or reflects it, at least. If I was constantly reminded how strange it was to be home, it wouldn’t really be home, would it? But instead, it’s in the places where everything is as expected that I often experience the most joy.

I do feel the shock of transition when it comes to driving here, as we slip though the gaps between trucks and cars, with motorcycles flying by on all sides. Driving feels more like a chase scene out of a James Bond movie – the only difference being that here most of it takes place between forty and fifty kilometers an hour. In these cases, speed and excitement do not necessarily correlate. What, in Canada, would be a slow residential speed turns into a breath-taking and white-knuckled death race amongst the streets of Karachi, dodging the potholes, pedestrians, fruit carts and animals.

However, the rest of my time is so very regular – sitting around the dinner table, or being in the kitchen. The smells, the sounds, and the tastes are all so beautifully familiar. Aching sides seems to be a fairly common ailment while with family, as we bring ourselves to tears laughing at each other’s expense, and usually without any real explainable reason. Already I’ve had to rub my sore cheeks from spells of smiling too long. In some ways I’m glad my time here is interspersed with the occasional argument with my brother, just to make sure my angry, frustrated and annoyed facial muscles get some exercise as well. But that’s all quite familiar too. Quite normal.

Home is normal. Normal is home.

Culture Shock

Prior to returning to Canada, I often viewed the term ‘culture shock’ with some degree of skepticism. When here on furlough, people in Canada would always ask me if I experienced ‘culture shock’ when I went to Pakistan, to which I would always answer truthfully, “no.” Having grown up in Pakistan, I simply imagined culture shock as a show of cultural weakness. Culture shock was when people would become overwhelmed with ideas and practices so different from their own, and would find themselves sitting in the shelter of some home, under a fan, unable to take a step out of their door because of the unaccustomed heat. It wasn’t until I actually read some of the symptoms of culture shock that I realized I had experienced the exact same thing, and continue to go through it at different times in my life.

Reading through symptoms such as boredom, withdrawal, homesickness, irritability, anger and disgust, suddenly so many of my feelings during my first year in Canada began to make sense. Very rarely was I overwhelmed by a culture that I didn’t expect. Canadian culture was relatively known to me. I had been back at different times in my childhood to visit relatives, and even went to school in Ontario for a couple short periods of time. I certainly knew what I was going back to, but simply knowing didn’t make the ‘going back’ any easier. I found I had little patience for aspects of life or culture in Canada that went so much against what I was used to. I hated the stress that was put on individualism, where people pass each other in cars, ignore each other on the streets, and try as hard as they can not to impede on anyone else’s personal space. Whatever happened to squeezing through a crowd in order to go where you wanted? What happened to the sounds, smells and colours that were supposed to fill the outside air? Life in Canada seems so much more antiseptic, cold, and and unfriendly.

I would find myself constantly comparing my life as it had been in Pakistan with what it had become here, in Canada. Canada was always worse, of course. I would feel lost at times, but somehow it was Canada’s fault. I felt alone, or that I couldn’t relate to other people now and then, but I always told myself it was their fault – they were so different, so Canadian, so bland, just like potatoes. I hardly ever make potatoes for myself here, for exactly the same reasons: they are so common, ordinary and banal. I have them everywhere I go – why make them myself? I always make rice. Perhaps I do this partly out of protest and a sense of nostalgia – as another way to remind myself that my eating habits aren’t ‘Canadian’. But at the same time, I do it because I love it. I love that it’s not Canadian and that people don’t eat it all the time here – so I do.

I always felt like a stranger in Canada, though no one around me could tell from the way I looked. Being born a Canadian, with Canadian parents, there’s little I can do about the fact that I look caucasian. Canadians still treat me like a Canadian, which I am not. Worse still are the internationals, who treat me like Canadians as well, not realizing that my own life and experiences are probably very close to their own, and that I might be going through the very same struggles that they are. Often I’ve wished I looked more like a stranger outwardly, so that at least people would treat me the way that I felt about myself. It’s hard when your skin says you should fit in, but your heart and all that’s in it won’t let you.

I hated that everything was clean here. At times I would have to hold back the urge to throw garbage on the ground out of spite for Canada and its perfectness. Cars here weren’t covered in scratches and held together with tape or odd parts. Everything was different. I resisted being Canadian. I didn’t want to be one, and I didn’t want to become like one. I fought the natural tendency to adapt and assimilate, because I wanted to stay the way I was – I didn’t want to fit in. As I made friends and found myself out with them, stopping in at a Tim Hortons, or going sledding in the winter, I would catch myself enjoying normal things and getting used to life in Canada. However, I didn’t actually want to become accustomed to it all. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be Pakistani.

In some ways things haven’t changed. I still hate aspects of Canadian culture that revolve around things like materialism, individualism or selfishness. I still feel that I’ll never be Canadian, but I realize that I’ll never really be Pakistani either. I’ve come to enjoy many things about Canada, and I appreciate my friends and the fun we have. People are people, no matter where they are. I certainly don’t want my life here in Canada to last forever, but I appreciate it for what it is, and I am glad for it during the time that I am here. I suppose a big part of this was realizing that the Canadian and the Pakistani in me don’t have to be at war. I can find aggravating aspects in both cultures and choose to leave them behind, and I can find the parts of each culture that are precious and valuable and choose hold on to them in my life. I don’t have to be one or the other – because I’m not. I’ll always be a little mixed up over who I am, where I belong, or what my culture is, but I suppose that is really my culture after all: that of a third culture kid. I’m always too much at home to be a stranger and too much a stranger to be at home.

Fix Ourselves

Books tell us a lot about ourselves. When I go home to visit my grandparents about an hour from my college, I often go and help out at a second hand store where my Grandmother volunteers. If I’m not needed hauling a heavy box or bag, then I’m with the books, sorting through piles of titles that come in from everywhere. In some ways, it’s like sorting through boxes of treasure, only a large majority seem dull, dusty and all too uninteresting for me to ever spend time flipping through their pages. But even those that are boring often have a story to tell. What’s most interesting about sorting through these books is the way they reflect people, time periods and mindsets.

I’m not always quite sure what to do when I come across a book about how the evil communists in Russia are the antichrist, planning to take over Israel. Or when I find an action-romance novel splayed with a large picture of a Nazi plane engulfed in flames, headed downward to its destruction, while a couple embrace in the foreground. I wonder what kind of stories we will begin to tell ourselves over the years. Will pictures of dying Taliban or exploding North Korean warheads make up the background of our books, while a man and woman gaze into each other’s eyes in the forefront, reminding us that sappy emotional romance is really where our priorities lie?

Books tell us about ourselves. As I place books out on the shelves at the store, I’m surprised at the amount of books there are offering help for the many issues in our lives. Ten steps to a healthy marriage. How to find financial satisfaction. How to reign in your insane children. How to live without stress. How to live without worry. A hundred ways to simplify your life. A thousand ways to spend your money on books that will try to tell you how to fix your family, marriage, business and life. We try to fix ourselves.

The very fact that we have so many books on how to do all these things should perhaps indicate that most people are still looking. Just like the existence of doctors tells us that humans have problems. We see the brokenness of society in the simple laws of supply and demand. We look high and low for something that will finally satisfy, heal and direct. And we look everywhere but up. The true answer to all our confusion and our searching can be found in one Person. But too often we just don’t want to find it.


Tea is such a mysteriously amazing thing. I’m not quite sure what life would be like without it. There’s never a time when a hot cup of tea can’t make life that little bit better. On days when everything seems to overwhelm, when the air outside is cool and chilly, or when your brain is full of questions and heavy with worries, tea is comforting solace from the mess outside and inside.

Tea calms the nerves. I think an important part of drinking tea is the way in which you drink it. Here, in a culture where people are always busy, with no time for anything or anyone, tea can be that break. You stop and boil water. You watch the dark plumes stain the clear water of the cup in a slow and swirling dance. You sip, cautiously at first, letting the vapours reach your nose.

Tea is a chance to sit, to stop and to gaze outside the window at the much anticipated sunshine pouring onto the cold ground. It’s that break, to catch your breath and smell the roses. Forced to slow down, relax and think about things, the mind has a chance to settle. Sometimes people simply go to fast. They don’t take time to think. There is a girl who has come to the coffee shop downtown a couple times while I have been there. She asks for two tea bags and for the hot water to be mixed with cold. “Perfect guzzling temperature,” she says. This way she can drain the cup quickly without having to wait for the water to cool or the leaves to take their time and seep. To me, that’s a waste – a waste of a good tea and a good time.

Tea is a great facilitator. Often the best conversations are held over a couple cups of tea. If you want to have a good talk with someone, have it over a cup of tea. I wonder if there have been wars that could have been avoided with tea ? decisions made by grumpy politicians who would have thought more clearly with a tea cup in hand. We’ll never know. Tea makes people happy, and happy people are friendly people. Have a cup of tea.