Hospitality in Rawalpindi

I was recently reminded of the travel writer Dervla Murphy. Her book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle lingered on the shelves of my childhood home. It is a journal entry account of a solo bicycle trip across Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, (West) Pakistan and India. The journey starts in the winter of 1963. Her travel log is far from a dull diary style as her entries are picturesque and informative.

The landscape, as throughout Swat, was very green and we passed through many pinewoods where the aroma of resin mingled in the hot air with the scents of a multitude of flowering wild shrubs and herbs. Weeping willows lined some stretches of the road, granting a brief escape from the sun, ‘Irish’ bramble hedges and ditches induced homesickness, and on the slopes of the grey, round-topped mountains little green bushes like juniper grew thickly.

There were few travel resources when we ventured across Pakistan some five years later. Mostly plans were made based on firsthand accounts from other embassy personnel. Car travel was easy. The roads were uncongested in the countryside, and although city driving was haphazard, it was a slow-as-you-go type of driving. I can’t imagine depending entirely on a bicycle. Although there is the benefit of the pace allowing for lingering views of your surroundings, such as this approach to Murree.

The hour from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m. was unforgettable, with sun set colours tinting the snowy ridges of the Himalayan foothills, and long shadows stretching across the valley’s steep slopes, which were terraced and irrigated in orderly patterns and dotted by tiny mud houses. Then the cool radiance of moon light succeeded the brief dusk as I dragged myself up the last and steepest two miles to the P.W.D. rest-house where I’m now half asleep as I write.

This hill station lies to the northeast of Rawalpindi. The photo below of the head post office is at its town center.

I left Murree at 7.30, having called on the Irish Presentation nuns at the somewhat startling hour of 6.45 a.m. and got a terrific reception. They’re always so pathetically pleased to see someone fresh from Ireland that it’s worth the effort of answering all the usual questions for the umpteenth time. On the way out of Murree a carload of tourists stopped to ask was I the Irish woman? When I said ‘yes’ they asked if I was going to Madras, and I said ‘perhaps’, whereupon they gave me their address and told me I must stop with them.

Every time I’ve read one of Dervla’s accounts I’ve been taken back by her bravery. She shows a steadfast trust in the general good nature of human beings. And although she had a few run-ins over her travels, her adventures confirm that there are more people who are hospitable than not.


I have been a fan of Walter Russell Mead’s Yule Tide Blog since back when he wrote at The American Interest (now the American Purpose). His annual recap of the Christmas Story has something to offer both steadfast Christians as well as those simply curious about the faith and what it entails. Today’s entry starts:

The Christmas story suggests that we can somehow try to be loyal members of our nations, our families, our tribes—and to reach out to the broader human community of which we are also a part.

Just because we all belong to groups, doesn’t preclude us from reaching out to others. In fact there is a desire to do so. Yet a tension arises.

It’s a puzzle. Human beings need roots in a particular culture and family, and those roots shape them; at the same time, human beings have values (like freedom and democracy) and ideas (like the Pythagorean theorem and the laws of thermodynamics) that demand to be recognized as universal. We seem perpetually torn between “cosmopolitan” and “local” values: universal ideas and the customs of the country.

Importantly, within the faith there an obligation to welcome and help strangers.

We think of the trade-off between local identities and universal values as a modern problem, but it is deeply rooted in human experience. In the ancient world, where tribal and family affiliations were very strong, many cultures shared a strong belief in the moral duty of hospitality to strangers, whatever their tribe. Day-to-day life revolved around your own group of close associates, but the duty of hospitality required a willingness to look beyond these limits to recognize the common humanity and worth of all people.

And this is hardly unique to Christianity. The tradition of hospitality runs throughout Islam. Read adventurer Dervla Murphy‘s account of her solo bicycle trip from Ireland to India in 1963, as detailed in Full Tilt.

Her dedication reads: “To the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan with gratitude for their hospitality for their principles and with affection for those who befriended me.”

You can be true to your tribe, true to your group within your group, and still reach outside that structure for all sorts of interactions. Not only can this be true, it is the best form of social commerce. And not everyone has to play. This show-stopper-outrage that has controlled our dialogue, the one that holds up the one offending example, sidesteps the reality that a few bad apples (racists, sexists or otherwise horrible people) don’t monopolize the ability for the rest of us to extend a hand where they won’t.

One doesn’t have to practice in a faith community to believe in the goodness of human nature.