Chapter One: “Allah Hoo, Allah Hoo”
Traveling Through Purdah in Pakistan
The chapter begins with me trapped under a capsized raft, hurtling through Class V rapids, struggling to breathe, and fighting for my life. This scene is just one perilous moment in a chapter full of danger as I travel by jeep and white-water raft through Pakistan, a country dominated by men and guns, including the AK-47 wielding guard who protected me from potential kidnappers at the Khyber Pass. But, despite the action sequences and macho settings, this chapter is about women: adventuresome American women who hiked and rafted through Muslim Pakistan dressed in men’s shalwar kameez and the Pakistani women I was fortunate enough to meet. The rules of purdah kept Muslim women off the streets and away from the bazaars and polo matches of Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Gilgit, but deep in the Kalish Valley, I met blue-eyed, fair-skinned, non-Muslim Kalish women (possibly the descendants of Alexander the Great) who lead their lives outside the strictures of Muslim Pakistan. Floating slowly downriver and camping in small villages, I met gracious Muslim women who invited me into their homes and shared tea, chapati, and hospitality. In this period before the Taliban took over the region and bombed and torched schools for girls, I met female teachers and students who proudly showed off their school and excitedly quizzed me about my education and life—Why wasn’t I married? How could that be? Chapter One tells some of their stories and is the start of mine.