A high tale of rolling around with stoners in Pakistan, and being reminded that people around the world are not so different after all.
Through the thick haze of hashish clouds, I survey the room. The scene before my eyes is uncannily similar to bygone days, a scene that any stoner is all too familiar with.
It’s a boxy living room, still under construction, in a small village in the Hunza Valley in Pakistan. A group of men are scattered around the room, sprawled on pillows and makeshift cushions. A patterned rug, covered with crumbs and dirt, adds a splash of color to the floor. Eyes squint, hiding reddish overtones, and giggles and laughter erupt periodically, sometimes at nothing, sometimes at everything. Everyone is supposed to be working, but everyone is high instead.
There are large pots of unidentifiable (but tasty) pasta concoctions in the center of the room to appease munchies-ridden stomachs. Next to the pots are heaping piles of freshly picked fruit, the only discernible difference between a college dorm and the Hunza house. Devouring kilos of fresh cherries is much more preferable than working one’s way through family-sized bags of cheesy puffs.
All of the quintessential stoner characters are present:
At center stage is a man that looks like Ryan Gosling’s alcoholic Pakistani brother. An arrogant local from the village, who spent some time as a city boy in Pakistan’s capital, spins tales about how he destroyed a car the other week, knocked up a girl in a local village without marrying her, and sometimes drinks 1-2 bottles of the local liquor per day. Everyone says he drinks too much, but he provides others with cigarettes and joints, so the complaints are kept to a minimum.
Across from the Bullshitter, a lanky man with bright blue eyes is egging him on with a grin. He doesn’t really believe any of the tales spewing from his mouth, he’s simply enjoying harassing the high storyteller, encouraging him to continue on with his dashing yet dastardly tales.
A proclaimed shaman in a stark white shalwar kameez is slumped against some pillows. He has a thick head of hair despite being 67, his eyes are reduced to red slits, and he often has a silly grin on his face. He is a famous figure in the community, loved by all and often sought out for advice and blessings in exchange for food or money. He is watching the former two with disgust, thinly resisting the urge to punch the Bullshitter in the face (not for the first time).
There is a man lurking against one of the walls, periodically repositioning himself in the line in hopes of getting another puff of the joint. His hash supply has run dry, and his pleads for a gift from the group sparks an argument about who smokes whose hash, and who paid for the hash last time.
A man with long, scraggly, unwashed hair and a thick white beard sits in a patch of sunlight by the window. His English sentences are often punctuated by long yeeeeeeahhhh! and riiiiiiiight!, and he enjoys rambling about abstract topics such as the “universality” of humanity. We met him while smoking the day before, and he was the one to introduce us to the village people. He alternates between smoking cigarettes and rolling joints to share with the crowd.
In one corner, a young boy with a baby face squats next to a pot atop a gas burner. He is the youngest in the room, the lowest fish in the food chain. He is the bitch of the group, currently delegated to making chai for the guests.
The other bitch of the group is regularly sent outside by the Bullshitter to simultaneously fetch more fresh fruit and continue on with the construction work that everyone else in the room is neglecting.
We while away the lazy afternoon hours. Dozens of joints are passed around as conversation flits back and forth between characters. The hippie, our companion for the day, periodically translates snippets of the Burushaski and Urdu conversations for us. Given the Bullshitter’s gift of gab, he mostly translates his escapades with a defeated shake of his head, but the occasional, more poignant question sneaks its way in between his rambling.
One of the men asks if smoking marijuana is a thing in our countries. Sebastiaan responds that smoking is basically legal in the Netherlands–you can buy weed and hashish in stores. When the hippie translates his response, the men’s eyes widen in wonder, and they giggle and elbow each other.
Another man, upon hearing that I’m from the United States, blinks in surprise. “America make Pakistan very bad place,” he says slowly, cautiously. The hippie translates the rest for him: “Is it true? Is Pakistan so bad?”
I smile, spreading my arms. “If I believed everything the news said about Pakistan, I wouldn’t be here, would I?” He grins back.
“People in Pakistan are just people, not terrorists. They are the same as people all over the world.” I gesture around the hazy room, at all of his friends scattered about, “In America, my home, we do the same.” And it’s true–I can easily match a friend’s face to each character in the room, and fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve spent days of my life mirroring this scene. Add a Bob Marley poster on the wall somewhere, and it would be an exact match.
Hours later, we stumble out of the hazy house to a chorus of goodbyes and waves. As we make our way down the rocky village path, my thoughts float back to the room.
There are thousands of different cultures, different languages, different people in the world. We live on an incredibly diverse little planet, one where you can find a completely different culture by flying for two hours in any direction.
Yet, despite the diversity, it’s the similarities that make me smile most. From a party of Georgian girls and guys dancing to Rihanna in their car, to Iranian teenagers giggling when they learn that Dutch teens also watch movies with friends, to Pakistani stoners hanging out, getting the munchies, and shooting the moon, I realize how, at the most basic level, people around the world are the same–not different. Despite differing customs, lives, and languages, we are all just humans.