I can sit by the St. Johns River for hours and watch the dolphin fins as they merge into the waves that stretch for miles.
That’s the quiet and peaceful Jacksonville for me — a month-long visitor.
I come from Pakistan. Part of South Asia, sandwiched between India and Afghanistan.
Pakistan is a country with ice cold rivers, the second largest mountain peak of the world (K-2) and locals who would never let a guest pay for lunch.
LIFE AFTER SEPT. 11
After Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistan sided with America in its war on terror.
There was no other option.
Pakistan’s port city became the base from which supplies to the NATO troops in Afghanistan would make way.
Meanwhile, while the search for Taliban commanders began in Afghanistan, some of them crossed into the northern tribal areas of Pakistan through a porous border called the Durrand Line.
Once in Pakistan, they set up their tribal courts and began implementing a crude form of Islam — where women were not allowed to step out of the house and public flogging was not uncommon.
A COURAGEOUS GIRL
Malala Yousufzai, a brave 12-year- old girl in those turbulent times, began writing a diary for the BBC describing how school girls had replaced school uniforms with regular clothes as they walked to school.
The idea was to fool the Taliban.
Even with danger of a gun looming on their heads, the brave girls did not stop going to school.
In the Swat Valley where Malala lived, the Taliban had banned girls from attending school.
For her writings, Malala became a local hero.
For the Taliban, she became a symbol of everything they stood against — female empowerment, Western education and books.
In the year 2012 as Malala mounted a school bus, she was shot in the head.
She survived the bullet.
And when she gave her first speech in the United Nations, she said, “I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists, especially the Taliban.
“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learned from Muhammad, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and lord Buddha.”
This year, Malala was included in the list of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize.
To purge the country of the Taliban, the Pakistan armed forces have conducted two military operations.
We are currently at war with the Taliban, and our troops are deployed in the northern part of the country.
American drones add to the fight by frequently targeting Taliban hideouts.
Whenever a Taliban commander is shot dead, there is backlash in the main cities: Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar.
LIFE IN WARTIME
There are suicide bombings and bomb blasts killing thousands.
Our police officers get blown up.
I have been at blast sites.
And I have survived them.
I know what they smell like — the raw blood, debris and fumes.
I have learned to block out the human emotion and the tears when I see body parts.
I have learned to tell the difference between a firecracker and a bomb blast.
Recently, when I walked through Jacksonville, I watched builders at work.
I heard a loud bang.
I thought it was a bomb blast.
Pakistan has lost 50,000 of its countrymen since the war on terror began.
There is chaos in our cities.
There is uncertainty.
There is crippling fear.
We survive a 9-11 every year, so that another 9-11 does not strike America.
Originally published here during a fellowship sponsored by the International Centre for Journalism