Kickin’ it in Karachi: III

Hey, welcome back to Karachi.

As my stay in Pakistan finally comes to a close, I have several elements that I feel that I was able to take away from my trip.

On the first day that I arrived in Pakistan, the initial aspect of Karachi that grabbed my attention was the traffic. One month later, as I get ready to leave the country, Karachi’s traffic still stands out as a pivotal concern but point of interest to me. I truly feel that if you have the ability to successfully drive in Karachi, you have the ability to drive anywhere in the world. Karachi has seen an exponential increase in it’s transportation over the years, one that has since filled the streets with automobiles of all forms. The most common vehicles of transportation you will find are motorcycles, rickshaws and cars. While majority of my time was spent travelling place to place via a comfortable air conditioned car, I got the chance to travel by rickshaw as well, allowing me to experience Karachi’s traffic without a glass window (both figuratively and physically). Though rickshaw’s act as a central mode of transportation for many individuals and families, it is of common knowledge that there is an overpopulation of them in Karachi.

Over 50% of rickshaws have the words “sazghar” and “rozgar” written on the back of the vehicles. Years ago, the Pakistani government implemented a scheme to provide job opportunities to lower-class citizens. With a loan, the government offered men (as women do not drive public transportation) with rickshaws. However, today, drivers struggle to gain business in a city where a rickshaw is parked at every corner.

It’s interesting to see the multiple impeding factors that Karachi has implemented to help regulate traffic and to create discipline but unfortunate to see Karachiites fail to obey them. I find that sometimes, its easier to blame a higher power like the government when things are failing instead of recognizing that we (the people) are contributing to the failure ourselves. Similarly, as Karachi citizens complain that the government fails to do their job in cleaning the mass garbage that accumulates all over the city, they neglect the fact that their littering is the cause of it in the first place.

When it comes to road rules in Pakistan, it is essentially, non-existent. There are not many traffic lights indicating when to stop or go and when there is, no one obeys them. On one occasion, my cousins and I were going out for dinner and we got stuck in a traffic jam. Cars and motorcycles were facing all different directions and there was no path out. The cause of the traffic jam was that no one had obeyed the traffic light signalling red. Subsequently, we parked in the middle of the road and waited 15 minutes until traffic police stepped in. Within the past few years, the Pakistani government has enforced traffic police to specifically control the extensive traffic that sweeps the nation. Through their efforts, I find that Karachi streets maintain a little less chaos and a bit more organization.

Karachi roads are always congested and every hour here can be considered “rush hour.” Despite the fact that there are lanes painted on the roads, Karchiites disregard the boundaries and drive where ever they feel fit. In an attempt to create organization, Karachi officials created a thin line of metal barriers that act as lane indicators that can be found all over the city. When going over the lanes, the car impeding feels a bump. Yet, despite the changes, citizens still do not drive within the lanes. Additionally, in order to regulate the speed drivers go on the road, the Pakistani government created hundreds of thousands of speed bumps all over the city. Today, a driver can come into encounter with a speed bump every few miles in Karachi. Finally, Karachi has always lacked safe ways of crossing the road as crossing paths simply do not exist. Consequentially, J-walking is the most standard means of crossing a street. As the traffic here is busy and chatoic at all hours of the day, you can only imagine how dangerous it is for civilians.

As a method to safely provide a way for pedestrians to cross the road, the Karachi government has created overhead crossing bridges that go across long roads in busy areas such as near popular malls. While these pedestrian bridges are few across Karachi and require walking a steep flight of stairs in order to utilize them, I believe that it is a positive step towards making Karachi a more accessible society for it’s citizens.

Ultimately, the most important thing that I have developed during my time in Pakistan is confidence in this city. Prior to my visit, I was advised endless amount of times to take precaution during my stay in Pakistan. I was repeatedly reminded that I was going to enter an extremely dangerous country in which my life is at risk at all times. People warned me to steer away from the food in Pakistan as it will make me sick. People told me to never take valuable goods such as your smart phone out in public as someone will steal it. I was told to never go out at night as outside lies danger. I was told to be cautious of so many things that if I had listened to all of the warnings that people gave me, I would have spent the last month in Pakistan locked inside my home. I really want to emphasize on the fact that most of the preconceived notions of Karachi, of what it is and what it is capable of, are false. I ate out in Karachi virtually every single day and I did not get sick. I took my phone out everywhere, taking countless amounts of pictures and videos without it being taken. And finally, my cousins and I went out practically every single night without trouble. Of course, there is truth to all of the allegations made against Karachi and what it is capable of but I feel that they come secondary as (Alhamdulillah), the conditions in Karachi are well and bettering by the day.

A Karachi police officer with his uniform stating “NO FEAR” on the back. Recently, Karachi has seen a political take over by the Pakistani army. Rangers equipped with weapons and dressed in army gear are a common sight all over Karachi. With rangers, police officers, and traffic police overseeing the city, safety has definitely increased in the city.
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