Waqas Banoori is a Pakistani journalist who recently completed a stint working at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
and serving as a Daniel Pearl-Saleem Shehzad Fellow.
Out-of-Towners: Pakistani journalist now glad to know all about Pittsburgh
September 6, 2013 12:20 am
By Waqas Banoori
I had never heard of Pittsburgh until I was informed, while living and working 7,000 miles away in Pakistan's capital, that I would be traveling there to work with the Post-Gazette for four months this year.
And now, shortly after the end of my stay, I'm happy to consider myself an honorary Pittsburgh-Pakistani "yinzer" who finds plenty of similarities between the city and my own hilly and beautiful hometown of Islamabad.
When learning of my fellowship opportunity, I hardly had any options to learn about Pittsburgh except to search through Google. That first Internet research showed me the beautiful images of Downtown, the bridges and the South Side.
Soon after my arrival, though, people started warning me about the South Side as a dangerous place to visit. After visiting the neighborhood, I was a little surprised -- in Pakistan we only tell people to be careful when they're going to the land of Taliban, and I was happy that there weren't any Taliban visible on the South Side.
Soon after settling in, I started to blend into life around Pittsburgh. I walked around Walnut Street in Shadyside often, drove around the city a couple of times a week and met people from all different walks of life. I was obviously not a Pittsburgh native, but I found the people hospitable, loving and warm to me. I take those memories back to a place where few people understand that Americans are by all means loving and humane people.
In my first week, I was taken to a baseball game at PNC Park without having any understanding of the sport. The field, positions, rules and scoring were all so dissimilar to cricket, in which a match can continue for days with teams scoring as many as 300 runs.
As my understanding of baseball improved, coincidentally so did the Pirates' performance. I am now a fan who bleeds in black and gold, delighted to see them atop the standings. I'm presumably one of the few Pakistani fans of the team, thousands of miles away and yet an avid follower and well-wisher.
Admittedly, I ran into some language problems. I had read British English throughout my life, but Americans use idioms so differently.
The first clue was when I suggested to someone that we get a cup of coffee, and the response came as: "Can I take a rain check?"
I went out to see if it was in fact raining. I then came back and told my colleague the weather was clear.
She informed me that she meant we should get together some other time soon. To this day, I still find it difficult to understand why people can't simply say "some other time," if that's what they mean.
And while I now embrace Pittsburghers' use of "yinz," I spent a long time initially wondering about it. I've been reading English all my life, and not a single writer ever made use of "yinz."
What struck me is not just the differences but similarities between Islamabad and Pittsburgh. I found that the people here are equally welcoming as in Islamabad. Both cities and their residents are relatively calm in nature. The people in both places tend to drive slowly and give way to other motorists. And they're equally passionate about food.
The view of the city from Mount Washington made me recall the view of Islamabad from Pir Sohawa, a spot on the top of a hill where you also can see the whole city. They're both beautiful views, and the thought of Pittsburgh still stimulates me with its confluence of the three rivers, bridges, the skyscrapers and the lovely people living within it.
My visit showed me an America I'd never expected to get to know. An America where diversity is respected, religious freedom is celebrated, differences are accepted and freedom is cherished.
And by all means, I really do love this America myself, through what the city showed me. When driving away, I took one more look toward Downtown so as not to miss the last sight of the city where I'd spent the past four months -- the city where I proudly became a yinzer.