( Continued from Part 1)
“Ah exactly what I was looking for,” Carlo beamed, as he spooned white rice onto his plate. He then picked a round chapati*, burning hot from the girdle. “Have some chicken gravy or spinach,” insisted my mother. “Oh but this is all I need. Chappati with white rice, my favourite,” laughed Carlo as he pinched plain boiled rice with a chappati. I stood transfixed with fascination as our guest enjoyed his unique meal. Imagine a 6-foot-something blue eyed man in black shalwar kameez, often mistaken for being a local Pashtun (and who could doubt this idea when next to him was Mrs Salsedo, his mother, adorning a black abaya in reverence of the modesty code.) However, I have till date, not seen a Pashtun friend savour white rice with chappati; so there is that.
“You must try this, Isabella,” smiled Carlo. Perplexed, I peeked behind myself; perhaps I had missed a guest by the name. “I’m talking to you,” he pointed at me, “You, Ezza is too hard a name for me. But Isabella sounds similar; so I shall call you Isabella…like they do in Italy,” he uttered, after a thoughtful pause. I nodded, very pleased.”And me?” giggled Elishbah, my elder sister. “You are easier. I shall call you Elisha, without the b. You have an easy name,” smiled Carlo.
To share more of the Pakistani lifestyle and culture, we showed Cynthia the American, and Carlo and Mrs Salsedo the Italians, various compartments of our traditional Pakistani house. We began with a walk through the kitchen, with local cutlery (polished earthen pots and wooden ladles) complementing a more modern setting. Afterwards, came the informal lounge, or baythakk; instead of sofas, here we had floor mattresses covered with smooth moonlight velvet surrounding a low wooden table meant for eating. Then came the bedrooms; a wooden bed with side tables and a study desk, furnished with cultural weaved floor mats. There were also memorable photographs on the wall.
One room, however, had abstract paintings on canvases against an ocean blue wall, all designed by Elishbah. As Cynthia and Carlo stood admiring this work of art, I scurried away and fetched a few paper paintings of my own; how could a thirteen-year-old me not desire to wow my guests?
And so I successfully stole their attention, passing devilish smirks to my elder sister. Unfortunately, Carlo caught the sight and chortled about how all sisters everywhere are out ‘to get each other’. It amused me how global sibling rivalry really was. As if they read my thoughts, Cynthia and Carlo shared their own stories of childhood adventures.
Before we knew it, it was six in the evening; our guests would soon leave. But before they did so, we gave Cynthia a broad beaded necklace, typically worn in KPK. It was crafted lovingly by gifted women and men in KPK, Pakistan. Cynthia clasped the beaded necklace joyously, kindness radiating from somewhere within her. And then she finally broke the silence: “so do I wear this here, over my neck, or here, across my forehead?” smiled Cynthia, honestly confused. We all laughed and told her that it is to be worn across the neck. I do not remember what I gave Carlo, but I do remember him joking about how he wanted “the ‘pretty’ present Cynthia had”.
It was something small for our friends to remember us by, for I was certain our paths would never again cross. Though doleful to bid them goodbye, we were all grateful for a memorable evening which for so many reasons, symbolised deeper and more beautiful truths.
By seven in the evening, our guests were ready to leave. As we bid them adieu, with hugs for the lasses and handshakes for the lad, I no longer saw distinct individuals from areas dotted across the globe. Instead, I saw a brother who joyously pranked his siblings and savoured chapati, a young woman who admired art in both paintings and jewellery, and a mother who both earnestly respected the local culture and enjoyed building human connections half way across the world with her son.
Three human beings who skid the first stone in the lakes of my mind, with ripples that infinitely circle outwards.
On that cheery day in late August, I did not imagine an entirely different Cynthia would walk the same steps of our house, years later.
The team, together with members of the community service Rotary Club Abbottabad, then visited Nathia Gali and made prayer in their unique spiritual ways within the walls of St. Mathew’s Church.
To be continued.
Cynthia captions: “Pakistani/Italian/American with three different religious beliefs sat inside this Church and discussed various aspects of our respective faiths (Muslim, Hindu and Christian)”
Chappati: a thin pancake of unleavened wholemeal bread cooked on a griddle; it is a staple food in Pakistan