Since Benazir Bhutto's assassination, and well before, Pakistan has been a nation battered by all sides. The frequent scene of suicide bombings, it has also been suffering under its worst energy crisis ever, often enduring blackouts in its major cities, frequent unrest on its streets and a worrisome shortage of flour and basics.
For all of its problems, it is a beautiful country, the people especially.
|Michelle Kosinski/ NBC News|
|One of the many colorful trucks rolling down Pakistan's streets.|
If there is one image that seems to keep returning to mind whenever I think about Pakistan, it is something that is utterly unique to this place, in a world where such peculiarities are ever more rare: the eye-popping, elaborately painted trucks that suddenly jump out from the dusty brown roads like exotic birds in the sand.
The trucks are riotous explosions of color, motoring along drab city streets.
Colorful works of art
At first, they cause a double-take. They are just regular trucks: haulers, dump trucks, generally dingy work vans and the like. But here, they are not at all "regular." Each truck is a colorful masterpiece in itself. Every square inch is covered in a rainbow of colors from top to bottom and around every curve.
As if that weren't enough, many are built up high in the front, huge facades propped up on metal arms and extra parts – all the more surface area to drape with paint.
Can you imagine if the countless construction vehicles on U.S. roads were suddenly plastered with images of flowers, goats, and geometric designs?
|Mike Terrel / NBC News|
|A truck driver sits on the bumper of his work of art.|
Some have panels painted in splendid pastoral scenes, or incredibly intricate designs unique to certain cities and towns. Others have eyes painted on them, philosophical phrases, electric colors, mythological figures, smatterings of dots, stripes, waves, you name it. The more closely you look, the more you realize how mind-bogglingly complex the patterns and artistry can be.
In the mundane work and endless traffic of daily life, they are an unexpected party on wheels. They give people something to gaze at, besides the old car bumper ahead of you.
It is a tradition believed to date back thousands of years, to when merchants painted their carts along ancient trading roads. Other surrounding countries, like Afghanistan, do a little of this but not to the same extent as in Pakistan.
Some of these trucks take months to paint in specialized workshops. And it's expensive! Some jobs are worth more than the trucks themselves – some costing thousands of dollars, or more than two years of a driver's salary.
All to attract business
But even in times of trouble, truck owners are all for it. Why? It's part art tradition, part business. These trucks go to market and are made to attract attention and stand out from the pack. Part of the hope is that they show customers that they take pride in their products. Some drivers think, who would want to ride my bus or buy my goods if my vehicle looks boring and dusty?
|Some of the artistic detail seen on the side of a truck in Pakistan.|
Funny, there are so many that after a while they really don't stand out from one another. But they always amazed me and made me smile, especially thinking of the reaction the same trucks might get in some other faraway place. If my car was suddenly painted like that on the streets of New York, it might actually cause an accident!
It's just a happy custom here that will not surrender to the uniformity of modern life, and makes the world a bit more colorful – even in the darkest of times.