My friend Elise Harris recently returned from three months in Lahore, Pakistan. She recorded her trip in a travel diary, full of telling and moving human details, and it has just been published by the online, Brooklyn-based literary magazine Harp & Altar.
At 5:45pm, Ahmad and I go out for smoothies. . . . A local high school girl comes up to us. She says that she is doing a photo essay for a school competition. The subject is “cultural deviancy.” May she take our photo?
She does. It’s an embarrassing moment. Ahmad says, “I think it’s true, we are deviating from our culture. But I think values are the more important thing. You can change culture but keep the same values.”
Elise is stalked by a clumsy intelligence agent; accepts a motorcycle ride from a complete stranger to attend a ceremonial confrontation on the India-Pakistan border; and talks long into the night with new friends about romance and sexuality, and faith and skepticism. The diary becomes a kind of meditation, too, on the mix of revelation and disguise that go into reporting. (Since it’s a long piece, and the type on the Harp & Altar website is small, I recommend cutting-and-pasting the whole thing into a Word document in a large and legible font and printing it out.) Highly recommended.