The most rewarding thing about not being pressured by time when you travel is, that you can decide to stop and take a rest from travelling any time when you find yourself in a beautiful place or encounter an extraordinary person.
We were walking through the filthy streets of Gilgit in the northern part of Pakistan, as we suddenly heard someone shouting “Hola!”. After a couple seconds we realized that he meant us. We turned around and we saw an elder man with a full white beard smiling at us. “Como estais? De donde sois?” After a quick Spanish introduction, he invited us to his shop. It was a small shop with dusty carpets lying around and cheap looking jewelry sitting in vitrines waiting for some tourists to release them. While we were sitting in his shop, Qayum told us about his hippie life in the 70s and early 80s in Europe. He waxed lyrical about his countless stories. His glowing eyes revealed that this was probably the best time of his life. He told us his story, how he left Pakistan in his early 20s after getting acquainted with a British tourist who gave him the opportunity to work for him back in England. After a bit more than two years, he decided to move on and travel through different parts of Europe. He travelled through France, Germany, England and Spain, making money by selling self-made jewelry and performing as a street artist playing the flute. The most superb time he apparently had in Ibiza. When he talks about the beach parties and his European girlfriends, his face is gleaming. He invited us to his guesthouse, which was a little bit outside of town. We said we haven´t made up our minds yet, thanked him for sharing his entertaining story with us and we went back to our unpretentious guesthouse. The next day we packed our bags and called him. The private room with kitchen, the big garden to relax and the pool, he was seducing us with – he calls it his little Ibiza – just sounded irresistible. Taking a break from travelling and relaxing a day or two…why not. Little did we know, that the old man´s little paradise would not let us go so easily. When we entered the gate of the guesthouse we understood. It was indeed a little paradise. Qayum´s little Ibiza of the 70s, just without beach and booze. For the first time in the nearly six months we´ve been on the road, we had the chance to cook for ourselves again. We found a comfortable and clean bed. And we have time to relax, read, write, work out and think about where our bumpy road will lead us next. Above all we are treated with the presence of an old man who is in total peace with himself and the world, who´s charging his batteries by telling his hippie stories and spending time with foreigners.
After eight years of hippie life in Europe, Qayum decided to go back to Pakistan, also because apparently it became illegal to sell jewelry on the streets of Ibiza. Going back to his conservative and religious home country after all those years of hippie lifestyle wasn´t an easy step. He managed however. A year after his return he got married (arranged marriage is common practice in Pakistan till today). Today he has six children, three boys and three girls. He opened up a shop where until 9/11 he made good business with tourists who bought his carpets, bags and jewelry. He bought a piece of land in the middle of nowhere for a bargain and he started building a home for him and his family. A life project that is going on until this day. In 2007 he transformed one of the buildings into a guesthouse. However, you can´t find him in any guidebook, nor on any travel website. He sticks to inviting tourists that he encounters on the street and whom he finds at his likes. He doesn´t want his place to be too busy, he says. He wants to maintain the calm and relaxed atmosphere. Qayum is 67 years old now. The past five years he was very lethargic, low on energy and lazy, he recounts. Then a Danish couple came (or was sent by Allah?) and liberated him of his misery. Like so many other guests before, they planned on staying for a couple of days and eventually left after 12. On their second last day, they invited him to smoke a joint with him and this marks a turning point of his life. Suddenly, his eyes start glowing, as he remembers. “I regained my energy and I had visions again!” And from that day on he continued working on his life project. He found the source of his misery and he´s sure that he shouldn´t have stopped smoking in the first place. Life often is strange. We all need to find our energy sources, I guess. Qayum now found his daily routine again. He gets up early in the morning. He works on his house projects, one of which is building a house for two of his sons. Very slowly though he says, step by step, no stress. And he still has a dream. He would like to establish a small hippie commune on his property. Additionally he wants to build a small house where he can giver shelter to handicapped people who don´t have an adequate place to sleep otherwise.
Around midday, after doing some chores around the house, he drives to his dusty shop, his little retreat from home, right in the middle of the busy main street of Gilgit. Not for selling carpets and jewelry anymore though. He sits in his chair, drinks some chai and watches people go by. As soon as he sees foreign faces, he jumps to his feet, gets out of his shop and shouts ‘Hola. Como estas?’ On the door of his shop it says ‘Se habla espanol.’ On the way to his shop and back, he feeds stray dogs and their puppies. He feeds cats and birds. He stops at the side of the road and gives a few Rupees to a handicapped person. Another handicapped guy regularly comes by to spend the night. Qayum gives him something to eat, showers him occasionally and more importantly gives him company. This makes Allah happy he says. Good deeds are good deeds, whatever motive you´re driven by.
Spending time with and talking to an elder person, like Qayum, who expresses absolute content and peace of mind with himself and the world, leaves us thinking. How much time do we, westerners, waste on being stressed, busy, angry or worried every day? How would it change us, how would it change our society, if everyone were just a tiny bit more relaxed, calm and content, like Qayum? Maybe it would free space in our heads and we would be less occupied with our mind-born problems. Maybe it would lift our blinders and we would take more notice of the people around us. Worth a try…
Happiness is seldom found in abundance, but in simplicity.
Meanwhile, more than a week has passed and we are still enjoying this little paradise.
Happiness might be found in abundance but is ephemeral. Contentment, however, is found in simplicity and helping others. Thank you, Qayum, for being a living example of that.