The minute I touched down in the land of opportunity -- the United States of America -- I was bombarded with a zillion questions.
They began with an immigration officer at the airport.
"How long will you be staying in the U.S.?"
"Six weeks. Until my program ends," I reply. And suddenly his computer crashes. He loses access to information, looks disappointed, and shrugging his shoulders in dismay he tells me, "This is the third time in a day that my computer has crashed …"
As I suggest a solution, he is surprised and asks, "You understand English?" Without replying to that, I give him some computer tips that help him get his computer running properly, and then I leave. But not before we exchange a "Thank you" and "You're welcome."
People-to-people contacts are always interesting, but if you are a Pakistani visiting the U.S., then believe me, you are a "rare species."
Americans don't know much about us and they want to know what we think about the U.S.
All interactions have been intriguing, but somehow you're more mysterious if your country is undergoing some sort of turmoil. And there is some negativity that comes with that. I've dealt with that since I arrived.
During my four-week stay, I have been asked many questions, but the most frequently asked questions might interest you.
Life in Pakistan
How difficult is it for a girl to lead a normal life in Pakistan?
Are you discriminated against?
Do you listen to music?
Are there any dance clubs there?
To a common Pakistani, who is a terrorist?
Are terrorists liked by the majority in Pakistan?
Do you often see Taliban? Are you friends with them?
Were people sad when Osama bin Laden was killed?
Our 'cave-people' image
Your English is very good. Have you studied in a university?
Are women beaten on the streets usually?
Are girls and boys allowed to hang out together?
Do you have coffee shops?
I would like to believe that I have given satisfactory answers to all my American friends. At times, they would hear me talk and would want to touch me to make sure that I am REAL.
But I am real. I believe I am a contemporary woman in Pakistan who is educated, emancipated and who contributes as much to society as any man does. I also represent the middle-class youth of my country who are similar to the youth here. We do like to go to coffee shops, watch movies, eat out and play outdoor games. We party as well, although giving you the details of that will possibly put me in trouble.
Any layman on the streets of Pakistan has nothing to do with the Taliban. The majority of Pakistanis are not Taliban. So, simply -- no, I don't know any Taliban or terrorists.
That reminds me of the visa application for the USA, with similar queries: Do you belong to any terrorist organization? Are you trained in making explosives? Apparently my application was accepted. I am in the U.S. today, and I assure you that I don't have anything to do with "bad Taliban" or even "good Taliban," for that matter.
So far I have received one pleasing response from a young student at the College of Charleston. After my class presentation on Pakistan she rose and told me, "I liked the audiovisual presentation that you showed … it had colors, it had life, and I could have never associated these things with Pakistan."
It felt good to know that my purpose was being served.
Naila Inayat is a visiting journalist from Pakistan who works with The News International in Lahore. She is part of The International Center for Journalists' Pakistan-U.S. professional exchange program and is working with The Post and Courier. Read more from her at nailainayat.blogspot.com.