Joe Nawaz on Five Days: murder, mystery and culture shock in Pakistan

David Roy chats to Belfast writer Joe Nawaz about his new autobiographical one-man show, Five Days, which finds him grappling with the murder of his father in Pakistan

Joe Nawaz brings Five Days to The Deer's Head next week. Picture by Mal McCann

"I ALWAYS meant to do this show," says Joe Nawaz of Five Days, a sequel of sorts to his acclaimed autobiographical one-man show, Fake ID, which he brings to the Imagine! Belfast Festival next week.

"Fake ID was about me growing up here and trying to fit in somewhere I felt I didn't fit in, " explains the Belfast-born writer and journalist, who’s from a 'mixed faith' family in the Malone Road area: his mother, Eileen, is an Irish Catholic, while his late father, Rab, was an Indian Punjab-born Muslim who came to Belfast to study geology at Queen's University.

"Five Days is about us as a family going to what is the land of our father and the completely alien experience of being there while being culturally from Belfast and the north of Ireland.”

Dr Rab Nawaz worked as a geologist at the Ulster Museum. He married Eileen in 1974 and they raised four children - Joe and his younger siblings Yasmin, Omar and Farah.


Joe's parents, Eileen and Rab


Tragically, Rab was murdered in 2004 while visiting Pakistan and the five Belfast Nawazs then had to fly over to reclaim his body - a fraught five-day visit which also found them attempting to find out more about the circumstances of his death, which were shrouded in mystery.

"I'd only been [to Pakistan] once before, when I was like two-and-a-half or three. I don't remember very much about that, except for a camel spitting in my face,” says Joe (48), who will be performing Five Days at The Deer’s Head in Belfast next week.

"It took us five months to actually get there, because one does not simply walk into Pakistan, which was then the world's seventh most dangerous country or something. You have to get visas and stuff like that.

"So it’s about us being very much fish out of water, and there's also a bit of a mystery going on as well as we try to find out what really happened to him over there."

Two men were tried and convicted of killing Dr Nawaz at the holiday home he had recently purchased, in what was presented to the family as a 'bungled robbery' committed by a gardener and a groundsman employed to do work on the property.

However, the outcome never quite sat comfortably with his family back in Belfast, who were forced to hire lawyers to act on their behalf before finally being allowed to go to Pakistan to reclaim the body and check in on the ongoing trial.

"Even at the time, we were made very aware that the case wasn't necessarily as 'neat' as what we were being told," explains Joe.

"There were conflicting reports of the actual incident of the murder: the coroner's report and the police report told different tales and there were many other anomalies.

“In the end, these two guys went to prison - but there were just so many other possibilities that weren't investigated. The final decision was sort of beyond our understanding and control.”


Joe Nawaz. Picture by Mal McCann


As anyone who saw Fake ID will know, Joe had a strained relationship with his father, complicated by the racist attitudes and abuse the former Methodist College Belfast pupil endured and resented as a child and rebellious teen, which made it extra difficult to just 'fit in' amongst his mainly white peers.

"The 'murder mystery' element of the show is kind of intertwined with me having a very one-sided conversation with my dad, which I guess is me trying to work out Rab 'the man'," explains Joe.

"We had a difficult relationship, it's fair to say, and I left home as soon as I could. So, partly [this show] is sort of an excuse to have a talk with my father that I never did have - and probably never would have, had he survived.

"It's a fanciful one, a bit like 'therapy on the stage', I suppose, that allows me to maybe try and finally lay a ghost to rest."

:: Five Days, March 20 to 22, The Deer's Head, Belfast. Tickets and full Imagine! programmed information available via