The Unsettled Life: Barcelona, Spain

Life works in mysterious ways doesn’t it. I have embarked on yet another strange, fascinating and hopefully a rewarding adventure as a researcher in Barcelona, Spain. An adventure that promises to be as exciting as it will be challenging.

The challenge of diversity as a Pakistani

Well, if you have lived and embedded yourself in societies as diverse as Karachi, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong without ever really ‘settling down’ maybe you will get a clue. 

Diversity can be a bitch at times. You know? This sounds counter intuitive but try to put yourself in my shoes. There came a point in Hong Kong where I came really close to a mental breakdown. Academic life is not for everyone. On top of that when you are trying to unlearn values you hold so dear it can get uniquely challenging. 

For context

Check out: How Buddhist practice revealed a fresh perspective on Islam for me.


Check out: Wedding and familial ties. 

There were moments when I thought my brain was literally being pulled apart in two very different directions. Its real folks. Living in Pakistan is really like living in another planet with the censorship, arcane values and deep-rooted and unbending cultural ties enforced upon us by our elders.

Having said that, I have come out the other side a bit wiser, a bit more resilient, a tad more stable, with even less hair, and… a wonderful partner. And, you know what, a better appreciation and understanding of the land of the pure called Pakistan. 

I will write about this transformation more regularly and relate it with the shenanigans here in Spain. I’ve really missed these free-flowing Drawing Room Talks which was the original purpose of this blog; exploring the human side of a struggling academic.

The promise of adventure

Ok so now for the exciting bit. Several years ago, one of the first conversations I had with my would be wife was – look I can’t promise you a luxurious life. But I can certainly promise you a life of adventure. She will join me soon here in Spain where I can God willing fulfil that wedding vow. Meanwhile, I get to check out some of the exhibits, sites and sound here solo. Like I always have.

My arrival in Barcelona coincided with Llum Bcn a lights and art festival which is an annual fixture in town. Various art schools and artists across the country exhibit their highly visual and sensory work that makes use of the wonderfully pedestrian friendly architecture of the city.

I must say however that something feels viscerally different this time as I leave Pakistan. Exploring the city is not the same and I can’t weight for my partner to join me soon. Quite frankly I spend most of my time navigating the tremendous amount of administrative paperwork foreign residents have to do. I also spend a lot of time hunting for an apartment.

A housing crisis

Yes, Barcelona can be brutal for renters, specially first time renters. The city has an acute housing shortage and chronic problem. Remember the Occupy Movement back in 2008? Well, Spain was at the centre of the financial crisis in Europe which led to many Spaniards not able to pay their mortgage and becoming homeless. Many have taken to illegally occupy their properties after Bank foreclosures leading to a Left-wing progressive Okupas Movement.

I will talk about the exciting story of this movement some other time. Bottom line here is that the demand for housing is quite high and supply is very short because new construction has slowed and landlords are extremely picky with tenants.

The crisis is compounded by the tourist hoardes that descend upon Barcelona widely reputed as ‘the party capital’ of Southern Europe. Drinking, pissing and of course, distorting the Real Estate market. I have been searching for an apartment for more than a month now. And, some of my colleagues tell me horror stories of not being able to find an apartment even after three months or even an year.

The silver lining

The silver lining here is that while I schedule appointments with Real Estate agents and landlords I get to explore the city and the numerous satellite towns, which are more budget friendly, along the Catalonia province.

Which is itself an adventure.

The great thing about Spain and Spanish cities in particular is that so much to do is free. Festivals, exhibitions, interests groups of all kinds that you can join, out door events and etc. This hits hard specially for us Karachites boxed in a cage by the Zardari and Military business mafia in Pakistan. We can hardly venture outside the city by ourselves in the Sindhi country side for fear of dacoits. And, the mafias have been mooching off our city without taking care of the dilapidated infrastructure that makes Karachi roads nightmare and commuting hell.

If you are a Pakistani reading this and do not agree with me well kudos to your bravery sir. I suppose you like being taken for a ride as a taxpayer and don’t mind living in that environment. Or, maybe have little choice but to accept things as they are in which case please excuse my rant.

That’s it for now. If you liked this read do leave your comments and feedback. Or not.

Hasta luego! Adios!


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