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Still About Cheeseburgers

Things are getting a little hairy in Pakistan these days, you may have noticed. The government’s attempt to retake Swat Valley back from the Taliban is supposedly only two or three days from over, and fighting is heavy. The last six days have seen a massive suicide bomb detonated in front of a police station in Lahore and seven more throughout the rest of the country. Islamabad has so far remained peaceful, or as peaceful as a city swarming with police checkpoints can be. We were restricted from visiting certain places this weekend, so we spent the last two days holed up in the guest house ordering take-out and…working. Apparently security threats are good for business productivity. So no need to worry about me just yet; I continue to live quite calmly in the bubble that is Pakistan’s capital city, my main personal worries still almost exclusively related to food, sleep, and getting work done–a far cry from the concerns of the people who live near the border, most of whom have been displaced by the violence. We all have our eye on the situation, even as we mow through boxes of Lebanese take-out and I tell the team about the latest candidate for best cheeseburger in Islamabad. (Current favorite: the Bacon Cheeseburger at the American Club at the Embassy. That’s real bacon, cheddar cheese, a nice bun, and pickle–especially good with the macaroni and cheese I strongly recommend you order on the side). I’ll keep you updated! […] Read More

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Incident at the Guest House

In lieu of a thoughtful, substantive statement about my life here or conditions in Pakistan, all I’ve got today is a cockroach story. Hey, it’s been a busy week. Yesterday, while thinking about the different steps needed to design a communications strategy for US government audiences, I looked over and noticed a cockroach the size of a small child crawling along the floor of my office. Attempting to make use of the head waiter that hovers around all day offering diet Cokes and being very disappointed when I refuse (I’m still trying to ixnay the caffeine), I pointed to the roach and asked if he would mind killing it for me.

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Issues

Yes, I’m a sci-fi geek. I’ve been looking forward to the new Star Trek movie since I heard internet whisperings about it early last year. I got all hopped up after I saw the special trailer that has Leonard Nimoy at the end. I love the director, J.J. Abrams (Lost!), I love the original series, hokey uniforms and all, and I’ve loved watching Star Trek movies in the theater ever since I snuck out of “An American Tail” to go watch Star Trek IV back in 1986. (Trek. Time Travel. Whales. That movie will be hard to top.) So in putting together my mental list of “Pros and Cons of Moving to Pakistan,” I have to admit that “missing the release of the new Star Trek movie” was sort of on it. But like so many things I thought I would have to sacrifice when I became a resident of Islamabad (Italian food, driving, jeans) it turns out I can get Star Trek too. However, there are a few issues. Issue #1: Film Quality. If I wanted to, I could be watching all the geeked out action this very second. This is because Pakistan has a healthy and flourishing trade in bootlegged DVDs, and all the big movies basically become available immediately upon release for like 50 rupees (about .60 cents) at Jinnah Market. However, quality varies widely, from a shaky recording of someone who snuck their camera into the theater to a movie you can actually watch. And I don’t want to risk it where Star Trek is concerned. Issue #2: Safety. So this brings us to watching the movie on the big screen, […] Read More

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Last Night, in a Hospital in Pakistan

Turns out my “I’m feeling better!” celebrations from the last post were a little premature. I thought I was basically cured, but as we know by now Pakistan is full of surprises. Instead of that 100% recovery I was expecting, I had a little relapse. It turns out that having a stomach bug for six straight days is the best way to become dangerously dehydrated and get people really concerned. This is how I found myself at one o’clock in the morning last night being hurtled toward the emergency room of Shifa Hospital in downtown Islamabad with an entourage of four: my driver, my boss, my colleague (and acting translator), and our security chief. Overkill? Maybe. But it was really nice of all of them to come to the ER with me. And know we all know how to get there for next time! So, What is the Emergency Room Like in Pakistan? Pretty much like in America, except that it is way better. This particular ER had the huge plus of no waiting. I was ushered right in immediately to my little curtained-off bed and saw the doctor within 3 minutes. When I went to Boston Medical Center in 2001 with what turned out to not be appendicitis, I waited for six hours in the ER with no water or pain meds before anything happened to me, unless you count being poked by med students on their first day of school “anything.” Granted, BMC is in Dorchester, and it is hard to pay much attention to the girl with the tummyache when all the gunshot victims are being wheeled by on gurneys. Advantage: Pakistan. What’s the […] Read More

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Down for the Count

It finally got me. The deadly blister on the heel of the fantastic ex-pat experience. The reason, perhaps, why 70% of Americans don’t own a passport. The inevitable initiation that tests how much you really like your new exotic environment, all the beautiful sunshine, and the exciting development work. The devil-child birthed through the marriage of a new microbial environment and the occasionally dubious sanitation practices of my adopted country. It seems rude to talk about dubious sanitation practices, and it makes me want to retract that statement. On the other hand, many, many people who have lived here for a very, very long time have told me that the most dangerous thing in Pakistan is the food. (They usually say this as a way to minimize concerns about terrorists attacks. As in, “Nah…don’t worry about bombings. The most dangerous thing in Pakistan is the food.”) But, as we all know, I love food. I don’t ever want to be on the wrong side of food. So I started the relationship slowly and carefully, testing things out to make sure I wasn’t going to get burned. And everything went so well at first. I watched, sympathetic but relieved, as one by one, every member of our team went down except for me. It was immediately clear every morning whether a target had been hit: obvious in the haggard look of the haven’t-slept, the grimace at the sight of breakfast eggs, the cautious “Oooh, no thanks, my stomach isn’t doing so well.” I, however, seemed immune. As the days passed and nothing got me, I grew cocky. I thought my naturopath-recommended regimen of probiotics, herbal tinctures […] Read More