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passport

Illegal

Today I am enjoying the feeling of being a law-abiding citizen. It may be the last day of that for awhile. I entered Pakistan on a three-month business visa that expires tomorrow, at which point I have no official documentation to demonstrate my authority to remain in the country. Good times! It’s not like I didn’t do everything I could to follow the rules. I turned in the proper forms, signed the proper stuff, and endured an awkward visit from an agent of the Pakistan government’s Minister of the Interior (MOI). He stopped by our offices a month ago to check me out, presumably to verify that I was, in fact, a development professional and not a high-class Russian hooker. (After the Avari, I feel anything’s possible.) He was then supposed to forward my application to the proper authorities so they could issue me a nice, shining new two-year multiple entry visa. Our office has worked to renew my visa through all the proper channels. So far, they have not been successful. As I contemplate the kind of living quarters one would be assigned should one find oneself on the Pakistani government’s bad side, let’s do a quick scan of my office’s efforts to keep me legal:

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My First Wedding

Even before I got here, I was told it was important that I get invited to a Pakistani wedding. The social scene in this country revolves around private homes and the family structure, and if you’re a foreigner moving to town, you’ve got to break in somehow. Otherwise, your life is limited to the circle of embassy clubs, one of the two expat coffee shops in town, dinners in the sparsely populated restaurants at the Islamabad Marriott, and, of course, working 12 hour days. So I was happy to be invited to my first Pakistani wedding last week, even though it was, ironically, at the Marriott. Pakistani weddings take something like four days to complete, and I don’t understand them at all. Actually, it’s about time for a disclaimer. Disclaimer: This entire paragraph and pretty much the remainder of this post is a mixture of hearsay, limited personal experience, and inference, and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any of the information. (Go to wikipedia if you want to become even more seriously confused on the subject.) But from when I’ve gathered: Each night has separate rituals, separate bridal outfits, and separate things that all the guests do. I attended Night #4, which is the night where, apparently, all the guests sit and watch the bridal couple and their families up on a dais and then disperse to eat a lot of food. The bride wears a really ornate (and very heavy) gown and is supposed to keep a downcast face as she enters and exits. Brides do not generally wear white as that is associated with funerals rather than marriages. Usually they are in red […] Read More

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L’Whore in Lahore

So, they put me on the whore floor. Let me explain. It started out as innocently as any other business trip: board a plane in the morning, arrive in the not-too-distant city of Lahore armed with a full agenda and a small suitcase of hopefully not-too-wrinkled suits. It wasn’t until reaching reception at the hotel after a full day of meetings that things turned a little strange. The front desk cheerfully and efficiently checked in my boss and then turned to me and said, “You’ll need to check in on the third floor.” Confused but ever courteous, I decided to go with it and headed up the elevator alone. Upon arrival on the third floor, I suddenly found myself in a very different environment: one with lots of flowers, soothing music, and the presentation of a glass of cool, sweet melon juice. Third floor check-in isn’t so bad, I thought to myself. It turns out I had arrived in “Lady Avari” land, which is the name the Avari Hotel has given for their women’s only wing of the hotel. The reception desk on the third floor already had a print-out of my passport (weird), but they asked me all the right questions, as in What newspaper would you like delivered in the morning and Do you know about all the different restaurants in the hotel and What is your bust size. Wait, no they didn’t ask that one. But it was starting to feel like it was possible. I was escorted to my room, which was pink and girly and full of small bud vases. It was pointed out to me that all my calls […] Read More

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Real World Islamabad

I finally found a place to live. After hours of driving around Islamabad’s various sectors, tramping up lots of stairs, and poking in corners of countless empty houses, I have found a spot to call home. It’s totally unfurnished, which is crazy because this means I have to buy everything, including such luxuries as a refrigerator and heaters. But it was either this or live in a cramped apartment with furnishings that resemble brothel decor or rejects from a seedy motel in Reno. I just couldn’t do it. This does mean I may be sleeping on the floor for a little while. As I imagine a near future that doesn’t include me living in a hotel room surrounded by 739 pounds of my personal effects in cardboard boxes, let’s take a moment to look back and reflect on the guest house that has been my home for two months. After all, this is the place I have spent the vast majority of my hours upon moving to Pakistan: living upstairs, working downstairs, and trying not to eat anywhere due to my deep suspicions about the sanitary conditions of the kitchen. We’ve all made the joke a million times: “This is the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house in Islamabad, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting Real.” Other than the “taped” part (well, I got what I could on my little Flip camera), that’s scarily accurate. And we’ve managed to have some fun along the way. In addition to putting a roof over my head, this guest house has been […] Read More

Prison

Stir-Crazy

Or, When the Guest House starts to look like Prison. Because of the security situation, we’re not really allowed to go anywhere this week. No restaurants, no hotels, no public markets, no crowded places, nowhere much farther than the few thousand square feet of this guest house that I could now describe in painful detail even with my eyes shut. This means we’re forced to get a bit creative when it comes to entertainment. We’ve already compared and swapped all the DVDs we brought from home (oddly, no one seemed very interested in my collection of sustainable agriculture documentaries. ?!). We’ve sent the drivers out to pick up watermelons so we can remember it’s summer here even though we’re in an air-conditioned cave all the time. We’ve checked out despair.com’s collection of demotivators and picked out our favorite. Mine, most definitely = “It’s Always Darkest Just Before It Goes Pitch Black.” To make things even more boring, today is the day that pandora.com (free, perfectly customized internet radio that I love and am addicted to) decided to stop working in Pakistan. Something about not being “licensed.” Tell it to the shops with the thousands of bootleg DVDs! Since when do we care about licensing around here when I can get a copy of “I Love You Man” for $3? Anyway, my source of hip-hop is now shut off and it looks like I will have to start buying music like everybody else. We can’t go to the gym to work out, so today I decided to solve the problem of the lack of exercise AND the lack of entertainment in one fell swoop. After the “workday” was over […] Read More