One thing that is the same all over the world? McDonald’s. Well, kind of. The ubiquitous McDonald’s sundae is actually a hundred times better at its Islamabad outpost: the ice cream is creamier and the whole thing is drowned in hot fudge (U.S. franchises being stingy when it comes to toppings for some reason). There’s another difference: remember when Big Macs came in styrofoam, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were battling it out for supremacy, and you had never heard of global warming? You don’t have to imagine that here. Except for the Cyndi Lauper thing. Pakistan is very up-to-date when it comes to pop music. And finally, there’s one item on the menu that lets you know you’re not in Kansas anymore: the “McArabia” sandwich. McDonald’s answer to local ethnic food is a vaguely Middle Eastern chicken wrap. I haven’t been brave enough to try this yet. Of course, these days I don’t know if I’m brave enough to go to McDonald’s. It has, you guessed it, recently been added to the list of places likely to be blast targets. I’ll be finding my cheeseburgers elsewhere for awhile… […] Read More
In some ways it is getting harder to write about pound cake and muddy feet and the search for a good cheeseburger these days in Pakistan. These are still the things of daily life that are on my mind, but in the background is news, lately every single week, of terrorist violence. Close as it is in some ways, this violence still doesn’t touch the routines of my daily life; I don’t go to the kinds of places that are being attacked, and I am not one of the many Pakistanis who have lost family members in the last few weeks. When you see reports on the news of violence in Pakistan, please don’t be alarmed for me; my insulated bubble is holding up just fine. But of course we think about it. Yesterday an attack in a crowded market in Peshawar killed over 100 people, many of them women and children. Americans generally aren’t allowed to go to Peshawar anymore, and I have never been there. I’ve heard it is a beautiful, historic city. Even though it is only a two-hour drive from here, it seems like a different world, and these days not the safest place to be. This week the Taliban is targeting Pakistani citizens, normal, everyday people, in an attempt to unsettle the government and the nation. Last week it was college students in a cafeteria at an Islamic university. Before that it was an army headquarters building, and before that a UN food program office. I think these things make all of us want to work harder and do more to support stability in this country in any way we […] Read More
It’s like someone at the Avari Hotel has been reading my blog. This time around when I checked into the “Lady Avari” wing, there was my pound cake, snug in a little box waiting for me to devour. It’s the little things that make my stay in the woman-only floor worthwhile, Avari. Good work.I was in Lahore for half the week on a short-term assignment. The work was good, even if the beginning of the trip started inauspiciously. Here I am seconds after stepping into a huge, squelchy, and deceptively innocent-looking pile of mud upon arrival at the Lahore airport. I survived with the aid of my very helpful driver who tracked down a bottle of water and helped me wash off my foot and flip-flop, though the latter will never be the same. This photo also shows way more skin that can ever be shown appropriately in a public place like the Lahore airport. But, ah, American habits–like showing flesh above the ankle–die hard.
It’s felt a little different for me to be in Pakistan lately. This is probably due to the looming specter of my unemployment starting on October 17. It turns out it is slightly more anxiety-producing to be here in the land of the foreign and the unfamiliar without the reassuring comforts of company-sponsored security detail, visa sponsorship, and danger pay. This is the case even though I will be working as a short-term consultant and things are not as grim as this paragraph makes them sound. Short version: despite my griping, it’s not time to worry about me yet. In the meantime I am taking the opportunity to do all of those things in Islamabad that I could never do when I was working 12-hour days. This week that included: Sleeping in. Getting 8 pairs of pants hemmed. Trying a new restaurant other than Nirvana. And most importantly, attempting the grand experiment of cooking for myself. There are all sorts of obstacles to cooking my own meals here, even though cooking is one of my favorite things to do. First there were the rumors of bacteria run amok on everything raw–various sources made me fear for my life were I to get crazy and do something like, say, eat lettuce. I have decided these fears are overblown. Then of course there was the issue of living in a guesthouse for three months. During that period any personal “cooking” was relegated to burning popcorn in the conference room microwave or spraying fresh cherries with a hydrogen peroxide solution before gingerly eating them one by one (see above, dire fears re: bacteria). After getting my own place, […] Read More
No, it totally does not. But that’s the best I can do at an American equivalent. In fact, Eid is actually more like Christmas and Easter rolled up into one. Most significantly (for a hungry expat such as myself), Eid signals the end of Ramadan, a month of religious observation that includes fasting during daylight hours. Ramadan is a little rough–Muslims don’t eat or drink during the day, but then stay up late into the night breaking the fast with an iftar dinner. You can imagine the effect this has on worker productivity. My team was in fact a little groggy all month, but were still so cheerful I could not believe it. Anyone who has seen me delay breakfast by even 30 minutes knows what a grumpy, rotten mess I would be if I had to fast for a whole month. As it was, what Ramadan meant for me was feeling guilty mowing down Chinese noodles in the hallway every day at lunch so my staff couldn’t see or smell them. So that’s all over now, and all the restaurants are open again for lunch. (yay!) Since there are only about 7 restaurants in Islamabad that I go to on a regular basis, having most of those cut out of the mix during Ramadan really hurt. Maybe it is the month of fasting beforehand that makes Eid seem especially joyous and welcome. It lasts for two days, has something to do with a new moon sighting, and is a general time of religious celebration and eating and gifts and spending time with family. (See? Sounds like Christmas.) Women decorate their hands with henna like […] Read More
I’ve been back in Islamabad for 10 days. During that time, the following things have happened: The development project I work on was denied funding by the U.S. government and has been told to close down. I accidently bought a $15 pint of ice cream.
I have just returned from the U.S. after spending three weeks there on my annual R&R. I can’t remember what “R&R” stands for. It’s either Rest and Recuperation, or Rest and Recreation, or Rest and Recovery, or…really I’m just not sure. At any rate, I am entitled to one per year and for sure I am not going to miss a free vacation. If you work directly for the U.S. government abroad (which I don’t), they actually make you take these trips back to the States on a frequent basis so that you don’t lose your patriotism. I would say that living in a place where you’re not allowed to walk around by yourself or wear skirts accomplishes that patriotism all by itself. The thing is though, I missed Islamabad while I was away and am happy to be back in what is starting to feel like home. After three weeks as an ex-pat in America, some observations:
Most things are cheaper in Pakistan. Fresh-squeezed sweet melon juice (.80 cents), getting a couch delivered to your house ($2.40), a housekeeper to come in and clean once a day ($50/month), pedicures ($6.50). Nowhere, however, is this more true than in the realm of home entertainment. Every expat in Islamabad knows about Illusions. It’s an unassuming 2-story storefront in Jinnah Market crammed with a wealth of the latest in movies and TV shows, always guaranteed to be busy on a Saturday night. It’s where you can pick up the entire “Six Feet Under” series for $10, or “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” for 100 rupees (barely more than a buck). The only catch is a certain lack of, how shall we say…legitimacy. The covers do an adequate job of keeping up appearances, but once you pop them open, the plain DVDs numbered in black magic marker inside do little to pretend that the bootlegs you are buying are the real deal. And yet the lack of formality doesn’t affect the viewing experience one bit. This state of affairs utterly changes your relationship to American entertainment. On one hand, I couldn’t tell you on pain on death any movies coming to the screen anytime soon. (I haven’t seen a preview for 4 months.) On the other hand, I’m more caught up on Californication and Weeds than anyone I know because there is only a week lagtime between when episodes air brand new on Showtime and appear in their shiny ghetto packages on the other side of the world at Illusions. I’m both saturated by media and totally out of the loop. Occasionally the gamble does not pay off. […] Read More
No, I didn’t fall off the face of the earth. I just took a vacation, had an especially crazy month of work, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to do very simple things like 1) get rid of the ants in my kitchen and 2) figure out why the internet hasn’t worked at my house for 6 weeks. So at present I’m short any substantive update about the grooviness of life in Pakistan over the last month. But I figured at least I could show you a few vacation pics! The idea was radical: take a long weekend off in a place with no cell or functioning internet service, where no one could do work of any kind and everyone could relax. I got away from the city, gulped down a ton of fresh air, visited the highest plains in the world, and read two books front to back. After four months of working weekends, putting in more than the occasional 12-hour day, and living and breathing my job, getting away felt like a long drink of water in the desert: much needed. The only bad news is that I got trapped in the mountains and started to despair of ever returning to civilization. A ticket to Skardu will cost you about 8,000 rupees, (or 14,000 rupees if you’re an American and don’t have one of your Pakistani friends pick up the ticket for you which luckily, I did. Thanks Fahim!!) Either way it’s a steal. The only downside is that the sole air carrier to the mountain towns is PIA, the government-owned airline of Pakistan where service is indifferent and your trip […] Read More
For the last two years, I have made an effort to eat with the seasons. That means no strawberries in October, no apples in April, no tomatoes in December (when they are hard and smell vaguely like plastic…big sacrifice). If it isn’t immediately clear to you why those items don’t go along with those months, it only means that you live in the U.S. or a similarly developed country and you are a product of your Costco, have-everything-now, big box store environment. It’s true we can certainly have everything now. If by “everything” we mean perfectly shaped, tasteless fruits and vegetables and the crazy desire to fly asparagus in from Chile in August even while a bounty of sweet corn, rich red peppers, or juicy cantaloupes are easily plucked right in your own state or even town during that same month. I understand you’re pretty busy and just reading this blog may count as your requisite non-fiction for the month. You’re probably not overly interested in reading “Omnivore’s Dilemma” or any of the other excellent books on this subject. In that case, just trust me when I say there’s a better way. As soon as I realized that the way we eat in the US is crazy, I decided to stop.
So, it’s the Fourth of July! Well, almost. Though if all the buzz on Facebook is to be believed, everyone in the U.S. got a healthy head start celebrating the holiday weekend. Here in Pakistan, things are a little less festive, seeing how they’re not celebrating anything here. It’s not that Pakistanis don’t recognize the significance of a group of people shaking off the chains of colonial oppression from Great Britan and becoming their own country. It’s just that they did it themselves 60 years ago, and they’re understandably a little more excited about that. Let’s see what that super reliable source Wikipedia has to say about it: Pakistan’s independence day (also known as Yom-e-Istiqlal or یوم استقلال ) is observed on August 14, the day on which Pakistan became independent from British rule within what was then known as the British Raj in 1947. The day is a national holiday in Pakistan, celebrated all over the country with flag raising ceremonies, tributes to the national heroes and fireworks taking place in the capital, Islamabad. (oooh, goody!) The main celebrations take place in Islamabad, where the President and Prime Minister raise the national flag at the Presidential and Parliament buildings and deliver speeches that are televised live. In the speech, the leaders highlight the achievements of the government, goals set for the future and in the words of the father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam, bring “Unity, Faith and Discipline” to its people. So I have that to look forward to.
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Nothing perks up your work week more than the happy news that the anti-American demonstration that was planned at the intersection of right down the street from your Guest House for twelve noon Tuesday has been moved to the next town, over–Rawalpindi! Thanks, Rawalpindi! […] Read More
So I have put myself in a pickle. Let me explain. While trying to decide whether to move to Pakistan, I made a list of all the little things I would have to give up if I came, just to make sure I was ready to make the jump. You’ve heard about them all many times already: pork products, vodka & soda, lettuce, cheeseburgers, driving, skirts, showing your bum in public, a totally Taliban-free life, etc. I thought it over carefully and decided it was worth giving up all these things for a great job and a new, exciting experience. Then I got here. I discovered, first of all, that not everything on my “banned” list was truly banned, thanks to three little miracles called the French Club, the embassy commissary, and bootleggers. Turns out champagne, bacon, and even provocative clothes are not a part of my distant past (you can wear all manner of sexy outfits to the monthly French Club dance party if that is what you are into). Then another thing happened. I realized all the things you can get in Pakistan that you can’t get back at home. This includes: people to drive you around, iron your clothes, plant a vegetable garden and exotic varieties of fruit trees in your yard, help you cook, give you a spa pedicure for $10, sell you beautiful handmade jewelry, patrol your house with large guns 24 hours a day, and carve all your salad vegetables into intricate little designs, all at very reasonable cost. (Is the ability to live like royalty all the time due to a country’s cheap labor conditions problematic? I’m sure it is. […] Read More
Update: I am no longer a woman without a country–my passport’s back. AND all my stuff arrived. AND all my Trader Joe’s stash made it through customs. Things are good. […] Read More
Lately I have found myself saying “fantastic” about twenty times a day. Undoubtedly this is the honeymoon period that several people have warned me about upon moving to a new country. Does this mean I should be bracing for the return to reality when my frustration at not being able to wear jeans in public or find a good burrito place erupts into a discontented malaise? Maybe. But just because you’re on honeymoon doesn’t mean you’re not in love. The energy in Islamabad is intense. This is partly due to the high-threat environment we are living in and the very legitimate concerns about security here. But it is also due to finding yourself in a place where decisions have high stakes and there is a real opportunity to have an impact. Yes, I miss Mexican food and the ability to walk around by myself on the street, not to mention all the people I love that are now far away, but I find that the word “fantastic” keeps popping out of my mouth every few minutes regardless. I just feel like this is my kind of place. Let me give you a few examples. They eat dinner here at nine p.m., ten p.m., whenever-they-feel-like-it-p.m. Last week, before I realized this, I nearly fainted at a work dinner that started at 7 even though the food didn’t arrive until 10. Before it came, I had to hint broadly for a snack and then inhale pound cake while trying to ask intelligent questions about program management design. But now I know better (Rule: Carry Food at All Times) and can just enjoy being around my kind of […] Read More
I’ve been waiting to post until I have time to sit down and write a proper update, but if I wait for that it may never happen. So, I’ll just give you a quick snapshot of my Monday instead. Today was like any other start to a normal work week, except my 8 a.m. meeting was at the Islamabad Gun Club. The Gun Club sounds like a scary bunker shooting range kind of deal, but it’s actually a lovely spot just outside of town with rolling green lawns, stretched skins of leopards adorning the door jams, and a very civilized breakfast buffet. Once there I watched a PowerPoint presentation. That part is probably not very different from your day. While watching the presentation, I had my choice of coffee, tea, or a tall glass of unfiltered apple juice to go along with a breakfast that included chickpeas in tomato sauce. That’s probably a little different from your day (except for the coffee thing). After the Gun Club, my favorite driver, Abdulrahman, drove me back to the office in a car with screens over the windows so I could get back to work designing a plan for my next six months of work. Everything there sounds pretty normal except for having someone designated to drive you around at all times, although in New York they just call that a “cab.” So maybe…not that different. After eating lunch at my desk (not different), I went to the US Embassy (different) for a meeting that went on a little too long until I started getting sleepy and my stomach started growling with hunger (not different). I drank a […] Read More
So many new experiences, so little time to report them. I’ll do my best with a few bullet points for now. After four days in Pakistan, this is what I’ve learned: I wanted a challenging, exciting job that would stretch and engage me intellectually, and I got it. I also got ten-hour workdays. (When am I going to have time to blog?) For some reason I am totally okay with these hours right now. It is a myth that there is no salad in Pakistan! True, there’s no lettuce, but what else can we call that little pile of artfully carved and zigzagged carrots and cucumbers dressed in oil and vinegar that comes with every meal? I am ecstatic to see my old friend – vegetables. Coffee = Nescafe. When’s the last time you poured a heaping teaspoonful of flavor crystals into hot water to get your caffeine fix…like 1980? Welcome to the time machine. I can pull any wrinkled item of clothing out of my overstuffed suitcase and get it ironed, just about any time of the day, for 40 rupees (about .50 cents). It is always men who do the ironing. This is not what I expected. My new favorite thing to do at four o’clock is to have tea and homemade macaroons. I don’t like having a driver on call as much as I thought I would. I miss driving, and I’m itching to try out one of those tiny little cars on the wrong side of the road. The US Embassy in Islamabad reminds me of Disneyland. Equal parts Jungle Cruise ride and those flower beds in the shape of Mickey […] Read More
First communication breakdown: hot milk with my breakfast cornflakes. But if that’s the most I have to complain about on my first day in Islamabad, I have to say things are looking pretty good. My 27 hours of travel time took me from Boston to Washington DC to Doha, Qatar and finally to Pakistan, arriving in the middle of the night. I have only good things to say about Qatar Air, which has nice wide seats, Jet Blue-like entertainment options, and sweet little candies and warm hand towels passed around at every possible opportunity. During my trip I watched 3 sitcoms, one episode of “House,” the pilot of “Life on Mars,” an entire movie (Marley & Me), and read an entire book (Eat Pray Love). (Hey, it’s about an American woman in her 30s who travels abroad alone for a year and learns all sorts of important lessons. Seemed too obvious to pass up.) A quick note about this glut of entertainment. I figured it would be my last American TV for awhile, so I really ate it up. The episode of “House” was fantastic–it guest-starred Mira Sorvino as a scientist with a mysterious illness trapped at the South Pole–and I enjoyed the pilot of “Life on Mars” way more than I thought I would. It’s about a cop who gets into a car accident in 2008 and wakes up in 1973, only no one is surprised to see him there. He finds himself in utterly unfamiliar surroundings, and yet he is immediately presented with a complete set of useful things: an apartment, keys, a car, and a job, and everyone seems to know his […] Read More
What is it about leaving something that makes it seem all the sweeter? Ever since I knew I was leaving, I have been conducting a love affair with Boston, one that has involved candlelit dinners, walks down Newbury Street with smiles for each budding spring flower, and sighs of appreciation and nostalgia for every favorite corner, haunt, and quirk about this city that I have lived in for ten years. After all, thanks to Skype and the fact that calls from Pakistan to the US are only two cents a minute, I can keep in pretty good touch with all the people I love while I’m gone. But I can’t stroll over to Devlin’s for the juicy bacon cheddar burger, and I can’t go to the Public Garden to sit on the brass ducks or make fun of people for going to the “Cheers” bar. I can’t sneak my favorite Cuban sandwich from Yawkey Way into the fancy Fenway seats upstairs before the game starts. I can’t get all excited about ivy on brick buildings, or order pad zeeyou from one of the three excellent Thai restaurants around my house. I can’t go down to Daisy Buchanan’s to sing “The Piano Man” during last call (or to borrow their plunger in the middle of a very crowded Christmas party when we realize we don’t have one). I can’t take Boston with me. Yesterday is a perfect example of this recent love affair. I spent the day with one of my dearest friends doing a bunch of great Boston things. There was a little Newbury Street, a little trafficky Mass Pike, a little Waterfront, a little […] Read More
It’s 4:00 am and the movers are coming in four hours. What’s the point of going to bed at this point? It seems especially useless since my bed is covered in piles of clothes and I’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight anyway. My instructions were to stack up everything I want shipped to Pakistan in a specific location and they would do the rest. (Which, I have to say, is the WAY to pack. How fantastic is not having to scrounge up boxes by hanging around the backdoor of the liquor store? I do not miss this.) So this is what a year in Pakistan looks like, in stuff. Plus all the clothes on the bed, of course. In the end I don’t think I did too badly. Fully 30% of what you see is non-perishable food items. I hit it hard at Trader Joe’s, Shaw’s, and Whole Foods to amass the pile of high quality snacks and absolute essentials you see before you. With it, I can make the following feasts for an ex-pat community hungry for non-naan: Mexican, Italian, Thai, Chinese, American, and Crunchy-Hippie-Vegan. (Note, for example, the Bragg’s Amino Acids. If you don’t know what that is, it just means you’re not crunchy hippie or vegan). I have mac & cheese to get me through those days of homesickness for the US, roasted red peppers to put on my famous zucchini pizza assuming I can ever find gouda in Pakistan, and Celtic Sea Salt because my naturopath told me iodized salt is from the devil. Most people send their couches, bookcases, and beds to their country of posting, I send food. […] Read More