Why Did We Move From Canada to Pakistan?

My latest book, Geckos & Guns: The Pakistan Years, will be available within the next couple of weeks. There’s lots of excitement and anticipation.

In preparation, I have been building a launch team. They’ve received advance copies of my book in preparation for launch day. Yesterday one of my team called me. She is about halfway through the book and she had a question for me.

“What in heaven’s name motivated you to move to Pakistan?”

I can understand why she would ask this question. She’s at a point in the book where it seems as if everything is falling apart. She has also been reading about the extreme culture shock our family experienced as green newbies to the expat scene in general, let alone Pakistan. My story is compelling, filled with both joy and heartbreak. I will be interested to talk to her again and gauge her reactions once she has finished the book. I think she’ll see things differently.

In the meantime, how did I answer her question? Here is what I told her:

It was 1990. We didn’t sit down one day and say, “Let’s go to Pakistan.” That part of the world wasn’t on our radar. We were living in a peaceful tree-lined Canadian suburb. My husband, Wayne, and I had good jobs, we were raising young teenagers, life was picture-perfect. Except it wasn’t. 

Wayne felt stuck in the workplace with no opportunities to grow, move forward, or advance. I was having counselling sessions regarding family of origin issues, disinheritance being one of them. Our teenagers were spending more time with friends and less time with us. We all needed a change—more quality family time, more possibilities for advancement, more opportunities to see the world and establish a heritage for our family.

I don’t think we completely understood this need for change at the time. We just felt that this was the life we were living. There was no neon sign out the window that flashed “Pakistan”. Our decision evolved much more organically.

Wayne arrived home from work with one of the many pieces of paper that crossed his desk every day. This one had caught his eye. It was different. The United Nations was looking for an expert in Drug Prevention and Education—a posting in Islamabad, Pakistan for a two-year term. What did I think about that? We sat down and talked. Here was our chance to make a change, give our family a unique cultural experience and better educational opportunities. We could build a nest-egg for the future. This was a valuable opportunity to work for the UN. We saw so many positives. We knew nothing about Pakistan, but it could be an adventure.

And so, after much negotiation and preparation, we moved to Islamabad (despite a couple of hiccups along the way like the outbreak of the first Gulf War). Were we prepared for the adventures that awaited us? Absolutely not! We found ourselves on an unexpected roller coaster ride full of sharp turns, dangerous dives, and joyous highs.

We lived in Pakistan for five years and didn’t return to Canada for almost 15 years. That decision we made in our Canadian kitchen circa 1990 altered the course of our lives and we never looked back. It was the best thing we ever did!