Farhat Zahoor Abbasi – Crushing Stereotypes

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IMG_6873Farhat Zahoor Abbasi is the first Muslim Pakistani woman to join the Las Vegas Police Department, with the distinction of scoring the sixth position (rank 6) among four thousand applicants and then completing the training with a gold medal. Given that we gobble up even the smallest news that reflects in a positive light, this news was bound to be celebrated. We approached Farhat, with the intention of highlighting her achievement as breaking some major stereotypes about Pakistani women; however the interview turned out to reveal that she has been making us proud in many ways.

Born in Malkot village of district Abbottabad, Farhat followed the family tradition and received her education in Rawalpindi, as her home town lacked development due to being ignored  by successive governments. With an academic background in journalism and a bit of work experience in the field (with Daily Pakistan and Pakistan Ausaf) she got an offer from Pakistan Television (PTV), which she didn’t accept because at that point she was working with a World Bank project. Later, she enrolled for a Law degree at Muslim Law College, but had to drop out as she got married when she was in her third year, and moved to the United States fourteen years ago. Married to an oral surgeon from Srinagar, who is also a US army reservist as a Major, there was no need for her to work to help support the family financially and therefore, she decided to opt for the role of a full time home maker.

IMG_7244Along with fulfilling her domestic responsibilities, Farhat was at the same time serving as an ambassador of Pakistani culture. Be it California, where she first lived or in Las Vegas, her neighborhood was introduced to it through example. Whatever she cooked, it was sent over to the entire area. Her kids would ring the bell of any random house and walk in even if it was to play with their dogs. At her Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Academy’s graduation, along with her family her entire street was in attendance, beaming with pride; as she received a gold medal for scoring 395/400 on her final physical exam.

Mother of three and her family being her top priority, she felt that she was not being a very productive individual. Spending her free time on online surfing and shopping was not her cup of tea. Back in Pakistan, her family (full of active professionals in the fields of education, academia, medicine and law) kept on nudging her to do something. Given that she was so active in Pakistan and in the land of opportunities, she turned into a sleeper, neither working nor improving on her education.

“I thought that when all my kids would start full time school, then I would start afresh.”

IMG-20160303-WA0018Last year Farhat’s youngest kid started kindergarten. The same year she touched another benchmark, she turned forty. An age considered to mark the end of a woman’s prime. In fact whenever she used to consider moving back to Pakistan, given her attachment with her homeland, her husband used to respond that once you turn forty, you can consider moving back. Not someone to conform to the mainstream ideas, she decided to search for her options. While the majority around her were interested in the latest fashion trends, who’s wearing which designer and what makeup; she could never gel in fully and would look for company that would be interested in running, Zumba and the like. As for divulging in conversations, her preferences used to be current affairs and what was going on back home and she always makes it a point to stay up to date.

“I was always interested in stuff that was different from the mainstream”.

While searching for her career options, she thought of becoming a commercial pilot, there is a training school near her residence. She even tried out a few introductory flights, impressing the instructor with her confidence and learning skills. Simultaneously, she came across the hiring announcement of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMP) on Twitter and on impulse applied. A couple of weeks later she got an email asking her to show up for her physical test.

“When I got the email I was like, is there no age limit for this? Didn’t they see that I was born in 1973!”

IMG_6874Farhat ended up clearing her physical test and then went on to clear her written test as well. Then came the mother of all the tests, the oral board, which is considered to be the toughest of them all. This two hour long intimidating interview, decides if the LVMP department wants you or not. At the end of the interview, one of the officers, while seeing her off, couldn’t contain her excitement and told Farhat that they were really impressed by her and welcomed her in advance. She ended by scoring 98.5 on the oral test which is a dream score for the candidates.

“This entire process was really amazing, especially given the fact that I had never studied or worked in the U.S.”

IMG_6867By the time the selection process and background check was completed and she along with seventy-one other successful candidates was taken to the academy, she had celebrated her forty-first birthday as well. The age bracket of the rest of the batch was between, twenty-two to twenty-seven.

Initially, her ‘Muslim-Pakistani’ status became a barrier. Her fellow colleagues didn’t interact with her much. However, when they saw her perform exceptionally, be it written tests or enduring hardcore physical training; their curiosity got the better of them and they wanted to know more about her.

“I was asked so many questions, some that I found so silly that I used to laugh. They wanted to know if women were allowed to drive in Pakistan, if we were allowed to go to school or go out without a veil etc. Many a times I used to show them our pictures and Google Pakistan’s fashion shows and actresses.”

Once the ice was broken, Farhat gave them the full Pakistani hospitality experience. They got to eat desi food with her and became friends with her. For them she became the Pakistan. It was during her ranch shooting sessions that the California shooting incident took place highlighting a Pakistani woman responsible behind it and this made Farhat feel uncomfortable, given that she had so much ammunition at her disposal and felt that others would carry some doubt about her too. However, seeing her upset and getting the cause behind it, all of her colleagues and friends asked her to not worry herself. They told her that for them she was what represented Pakistan, her religion and culture and not a random somebody who decided to misrepresent it through violence.

IMG-20160303-WA0017When asked if she had ever come across any unpleasant stereotypical discrimination against her in all the fourteen plus years she has called U.S home, Farhat responded that she has not come across any such incident. This is not to deny that these things don’t happen, just like there is no denying that Pakistan has its own set of issues. However, it is unfair to just keep on highlighting the negativity, as that is not a true representation of any society.

“I am proud to be a Pakistani and I never hide my identity. In fact, I highlight it at any given opportunity and this is my way of contributing towards breaking stereotypes about my country and its people.”

Talking about stereotypes, Farhat has been crashing them big time and we hope that she continues to be a source of pride and inspiration for Pakistanis and all whose lives she touches.

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