Zerky in Quetta

Map of West Pakistan

November 26, 1967
Quetta, West Pakistan

Dear Zerky, tonight we are camped in the middle of Quetta in the yard behind the West Pakistan Government Tourist Office where we stopped to get information. We are rid of our hitchhikers, Eddy and Stephanie whom we were forced into picking up a few days ago. Now we miss them. They were not interested in going to Afghanistan, they wanted to go directly to India. Perhaps their talk about working with Christian missionaries was not just a scam. We had come to consider them friends. Because they had virtually no money at all, they went to the tourist office this afternoon to ask where they might be able to spend the night. The government’s response was for them to come back later at closing time at which point they were welcome to spread their sleeping bags out on the office floor. Thus it has come to pass that in two different Islamic countries in the last three days, like Blanch in “A Street Car Named Desire,” Stephanie and Eddy have “also depended on the kindness of strangers.” Neither Stephanie nor Eddy nor the people in either of those two tourist offices, could have depended on my kindness or generosity.

JoAnne asked the woman at the tourist office here in Quetta, where might we be able to park the bus for the night? The woman suggested we park it in the office’s yard. We offered to pay, but she said no. So you see, Zerky, I have learned a painful lesson about customs and hospitality in the Middle East, and perhaps about Islam as well. I find this one-on-one approach to helping people to be very refreshing. Why is it that in America if you need help you are expected to go to the government rather than to the individual? Why is it that in our own country, charity is anonymous and depersonalized to the point where one’s charitable obligations can be expunged by some government bureaucrat’s allocation of your tax money to some faceless government agency? Why do we not give directly to people in need? Instead, we fund programs. Here in Quetta—and in Zahedan in Iran—two different government tourist offices did not simply just shove full color brochures at Stephanie and Eddy, they gave them tangible assistance instead. Our dictionary defines “help” as a transitive verb and with verbs, you are supposed to do something. There is supposed to be action. Why then is it that in America we tend to treat the word “help” as a noun, as a “person, place or thing.” We don’t do help. Help is something we are supposed to give to others in the form of money.

Like everywhere else we go these days, we find the city of Quetta to be fascinating. Quetta is very different from the cities of Iran because it has the feel of India about it. The buildings here are low and usually single storied and of generally flimsy construction. The streets here are jammed with carts, donkeys, people and bicycles, and everybody seems to be going shopping. The shops contain many strange items but what is most noticeable here is the near total absence of manufactured goods. It is beginning to look like the disappearance of manufactured goods can be read as an index of how far east we are.

Tonight we had curry and tomorrow we will cross the border into Afghanistan.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky

The City of Quetta

The City of Quetta

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