Pakistan

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

My long visa saga over, I finally came back to Pakistan, exhausted but happily clutching my stamped passport in hand, just in time to celebrate Christmas. Last year at Christmas I felt very far from home, as the holidays can make you feel when you’re living abroad. I had a lovely dinner with some American friends, but the city seemed a little cold and empty (even though it was 65 degrees) and definitely lacking in the “festive” factor. No presents and no tree: it seemed like any other day. Being stuck in the US for a month changed all of that this year. Trying so hard to get “home” to Islamabad made me love and appreciate my life there all the more. The long journey back was sort of like an international “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” but picture Christmas instead of Thanksgiving, Islamabad instead of Chicago, and recalcitrant government bureaucracy instead of a rental car on fire. My 14-hour layover in the most boring airport in the world (Frankfurt, Germany) intensified the feeling, especially after I walked out of customs in a sleep-deprived haze only to realize I couldn’t get back into the main terminal for another seven hours with only the unwashed masses and a German internet console for entertainment. (Try typing emails without using the letter “y.” Just go ahead and try it.) Just the sheer act of getting back into the country felt festive and put me right into the holiday spirit. A tree (small and fake, but still) and presents followed, as well as peanut butter dog treats for Marlo and Kima. You can see where the tree came from in […] Read More

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Do It Yourself Flood Relief

After my blog post in August on Pakistan’s flood crisis, you responded. Six of my friends back in the U.S. wrote in to ask how they could help. There are tons of great relief organizations working in the area of course, but my friends were looking to do something a little more “hands on.” Enter our grand plan: collect some funds, gather supplies, and get the stuff driven to the flood relief areas ourselves to deliver items by hand to families there. A wee bit more ambitious, but totally do-able with the support of a few friends stateside, a rented car, and my energetic house guy who took three days off from managing my life in Islamabad to launch operation flood relief. The flood-affected families have been receiving a lot of food and water, thanks to the aforementioned flood relief organizations, but it’s starting to get cold in Pakistan (yes, it gets surprisingly cold here) and warm clothes are an unmet concern for people who have lost everything. So we concentrated on getting as many fluffy sweaters, comfy sweatshirts, and woolly pants in the hands of people who would be needing them soon. Our stash looked pretty good before send-off, in Islamabad, complete with (subtly American color-coded) sign. Coming Next: Part II, Handing Out the Clothes. Thank you, everyone who pitched in!! […] Read More

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Sunday Afternoon Observations

Fall has come to Islamabad. You hardy East-Coasters and Midwesterners will scoff, but after spending 18 months in Pakistan including monsoon summers, the low 60’s feel chilly and yesterday I hauled all of my boots and sweaters out of the closet. I met the Swedish Ambassador to Pakistan and she is HOT. How does Sweden do it? A large strip of my lawn has been removed to extend the vegetable garden; there are now 20 different items planted, getting me one step closer to my goal of turning the house into a commune where we can all live off the land. The snow peas are already 5 inches tall after their first week. I made my debut on Friday night in local Islamabad band “Gigistan.” I sang an ’80s classic, “Time After Time” and got a lot of kind comments both on my singing and on my rhinestone-studded True Religion jeans. Sometimes I think the most important thing is looking the part. My vacation to Vietnam starts in two weeks. I still need a visa, but luckily I can see the Vietnam Embassy from the terrace of my house, and will be popping over there tomorrow. I am most looking forward to the food and have heard that Saigon is a foodie paradise. I love the green smoothies from my detox so much I am continuing to have one every morning for breakfast. I am also, however, eating pizza on the weekends. Here’s to everything in moderation! […] Read More

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Detox

I am one week into a three-week detox. That’s 21 days of no caffeine, no alcohol, no dairy, no eggs, no sugar, no wheat. And a few other random no-no’s, like tomatoes, citrus, and soy sauce. No, I have not gone insane and no, I am not hungry all the time, to answer 99% of the questions you will immediately be asking about this process. I got inspired to do the cleanse after months of feeling tired, stressed out, heavy, and headache-y. Would surviving on a liquid meal for breakfast and dinner and a small, wheat, dairy, and sugar-free lunch do the trick? That was the experiment. I have to say so far it has been fantastic. I miss coming home to a yummy dinner (cold carrot ginger soup, anyone?), but I have twice the energy, none of the headaches, and am almost completely relaxed even though work continues to be hectic, stressful, and speed-of-light fast. So it may not be crazy to do a detox, but what about doing one in a country without salad bars, health food, or the concept of eating dinner before 9pm? A breakdown: HURDLE: My detox book (“Clean” by Alejandro Junger) includes 21 recipes at the end for all the smoothies, cold soups, and healthy lunches you will need to make on the cleanse. The recipes are full of ingredients like quinoa, buckwheat noodles, sprouted chia seeds, and blueberries. Yeah, right. ADVANTAGE: The recipes are also full of ingredients like mango, coconut water, and nut milk. Instead of spending lots of cash on packaged, stale versions of the last two, I turn the bounty and resources of Pakistan to […] Read More

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Flood

Right now where I live, in Islamabad, the wide, clean streets are dry as a bone, the air is clear, and the sky is sunny. In the rest of Pakistan, massive and continuing floods are threatening to take over the whole country. It’s been raining a lot here in town over the last few weeks too, but Islamabad is in a secure little spot nestled right at the foot of the Himalayas so we’re on high ground. The most flood-related inconvenience I’ve had to endure was stepping in heels over a 4-inch deep puddle in the driveway of my office, which disappeared pretty quickly. Does everyone around the world know how bad the flood disaster in Pakistan is? It has already affected more people than Haiti’s earthquake and the Asian tsunami combined, but maybe because it is a slower disaster, it’s a less exciting story for the media. There isn’t one, dramatic moment of destruction where the buildings fall or the wave hits the shore. Just hour after hour of unrelenting monsoon rain, water inching up slowly and then faster to cover people’s homes, possessions, and millions of acres of crops. The death toll will climb more slowly as well. The first case of cholera was reported today, and children are already dying for that slow, very undramatic reason of lack of clean drinking water. The aid pledged for Haiti and the tsunami victims was in the billions; here the total pledged is about 209 million so far. It certainly doesn’t seem fair that Pakistan has to face this, as if natural disaster ever is fair. (Although how “natural” is this, or the Russian heat […] Read More

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Eureka!

I finally figured out why I am having such a hard time putting up a post lately. It isn’t the new puppies, or the fact that I’ve been sick pretty much the whole month, or the oppressively hot weather that makes me want to lay around like a vegetable, or the news of catastrophic floods all throughout Pakistan that is just more and more depressing each day. No, it’s because I’ve been here too long. I don’t mean that I want to leave or that I don’t like it anymore. What I mean is that I’ve been here too long to give snapshots of what life is like in exotic Pakistan. Pakistan isn’t exotic to me anymore. It feels, in a lot of the ways that count, like home. Here is a list of things that I am totally and completely used to: machine guns, mosques, fancy Pakistani clothes, women carrying large loads of things on their heads. At one point all of these things seemed the height of exotic and cool. After living here for one and half years, I have even caught myself saying “we” and “our” and “us” on occasion when referring to Pakistan. This is the kind of stuff that gives the US government nightmares and is the reason they insist that their diplomats go back home on a regular basis to connect with America. Because of this adopted ownership and my appreciation for the real Pakistan, I now also feel like I have the right to voice complaints about “my” real Pakistan too. But I really don’t. At the end of the day it isn’t actually my country. So here […] Read More

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Fashion Show

Today’s picture of the day explains in part why I haven’t been posting any pictures of the day lately. All my energies were a little wrapped up working on the event in the photo, which went well. Who says fashion shows can’t come to Islamabad?? Check out the U.S. ambassador in the front row. I’m hiding right behind the model and her abundant hair. The event showcased 25 women-owned businesses who underwent a months-long training program to get their products ready for the international export market. 14 international buyers attended the show to place orders and bring these fabulous clothes to the U.S. Look for them to appear soon! […] Read More

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Book Reading

People sometimes complain that there isn’t anything to do in Islamabad (no bars obviously, no movie theater, not a ton of restaurants or shopping, and not nearly the night-life of Lahore or Karachi). But this week I did something that felt so normal and fun, and also reminded me of college. A book-reading!My friend is writing and editing “God’s Goldfish,” a collection of short stories about Muslims by Muslims. The reading was at the hippest coffee house in town, with free cookies and coffee cake for all. Everyone lounged around by the tealights for the reading of two stories, one about the wedding between a London-raised Pakistani girl and her village husband, and the other about an office romance. Yes, the stories were about Muslim experiences, but so easy to identify with. Maybe that is the point. Other than the carrot cake having raisins in it, the reading was a perfect way to spend the evening. I look forward to reading the rest, S! […] Read More

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A Little Game for Ya

Today’s photo is more like a puzzle, called “What is this?” Free samosas for the first person who guesses right. […] Read More

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Gup Shup

Everyone says that Islamabad is a sleepy, quiet little town. Compared to Karachi and Lahore, that’s true. But compared to say, Whittier, California or Brighton, Massachusetts, it isn’t. This is because every single night of the week you will find people up late, eating dinner, having shisha, and of course chatting. Another way to say this here is “gup shup,” a Punjabi term that means something like chit-chat, but encompasses more than that. Gup shup is friendly, open, relaxed conversation and hanging out, and Pakistanis excel at it. It is one of the reasons I feel very at home here: what is better than staying up late at night, eating yummy food and chatting? Today’s photo is of one of the many places you can go for some good old fashioned gup shup in Islamabad. And also, as it turns out, stroganoff pasta, which was the special of the day. I ate dinner there at 10:00 pm (I know, Oprah recommends no eating after six, but I haven’t started my detox yet). My friend had grape shisha and a cappuccino, and a lovely time was had by all. […] Read More

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Loaded Down

Yesterday I spent the day driving back and forth from Islamabad to Lahore, which is like driving back and forth from Boston to New York City (4 1/2 hours each way). I could probably post all 40 photos I took en route on Pakistan’s major highway as they were all so interesting, but the rule is one photo a day so I will comply!As much as this photo says something compelling about the state of highway regulations in Pakistan, the upper limit of engineering and physics, and most of all, the question of WHAT is in those bags, it is also impossible for me to post a photo like this without drawing some metaphor out of it. As the truck rolled by, laden with as many goods as I have ever seen on a truck, I happened to be reading a book called “Clean” about doing a three-week detox. The author of “Clean” was making a persuasive case that the continual and repeated onslaught of toxins we ingest through our food, water, and environment loads your body down, becoming a burden that makes you tired, cranky, and miserable. His evidence and argument really made me want to do the detox, despite the fact that I will be eating quinoa for breakfast and something called a “Green Drink” for dinner. Watching this truck roll by just in the middle of this dramatic passage really reinforced the message. Anyone else feeling loaded down? Want to do the detox with me? I could use the moral support. And someone with whom I could compare the finer points of green drink dinners. […] Read More

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Lychees!

It is lychee season in Pakistan so they are everywhere. They are one of the things I remember most about first moving here a year ago…everyone in our temporary office used to walk around, peeling and eating them, while we made start-up decisions and tackled the work issues involved in launching a new project. Sometimes we would be too busy to eat lunch right away, so we would subsist on lychees for a few hours instead.Lychees are a very sweet little fruit, a clear-ish white color inside once you peel off the thin scaly skin, with a pretty big seed. So not a lot of fruit for your effort. But they are delicious once you get there. Also just now noticing the fingerprints in the thick layer of dust in the fruit bowl. Try not to judge the housekeeping. […] Read More

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Bird Flu

Now we know that Pakistan is prepared! Today’s photo is from the avian influenza lab at Pakistan’s National Agricultural Research Council in Islamabad. We got the full tour of the lab, saw lots of complicated machines that spin DNA and so forth, and heard about how the lab is working to prevent outbreaks of bird flu. It was pretty impressive. The colorful display of chicken fetuses and bacteria in the hallway outside the lab was pretty impressive too, just in a gross way. […] Read More

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Chapati

Lately I’ve been using chapatis in place of the flour tortillas that you can’t get here. They’re along the same lines: round, floury, good to make quesadillas with. Perhaps every culture has its version? Anyway, chapatis come freshly made right from the bakery, only cost about 10 rupees each (12 cents) and come wrapped in the newspaper of the day, offering a little leisure reading while you eat. I have to admit that I don’t read the newspaper here very often, but it’s nice to catch the headlines when you unwrap your bread. The headline peeking out from under the chapati–“Who killed BB?”–refers to Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated in December 2007 right before she ran for re-election. The investigation into her death, which occurred during a rally in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s sister city that’s about half an hour away, is Pakistan’s version of the “who killed Kennedy” conspiracy. Although here, of course, the crime scene was hosed down immediately after the shooting. So, there’s that wrinkle. […] Read More

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Working from Home

The terrace is my favorite part of my house. It has a nice breeze, a great view of the mountains, big scary birds circling around and landing on the railing every so often to keep things interesting, and occasionally the sight of monkeys climbing around the balcony next door. The cot is called a charpai, very popular in Pakistan but especially in the villages for lounging and sleeping. I love it. The Punjabi (dialect) word for this small cot is manji (sounds like “mungee”), but when I say this word my guard and driver laugh. I think it is funny for them to hear random Punjabi words coming from a foreigner. It has also occurred to me that I am accidentally saying something like “I enjoy kissing horses.” You never know. You will notice the ashtray on the second shelf of the little table. It’s not for me: I don’t smoke, but you have to have one for visitors. You will also see an empty smoothie glass. The terrace is the best place to enjoy smoothies. All of this helps when you are working 12-hour days. […] Read More

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Boredom is Universal

On my commute home from work, I saw this commute home from work. Isn’t it great how they have to stop at the red light too? […] Read More

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A Photo Every Day

I’m back! My trip to the U.S. was exhausting and invigorating all at the same time, and now I’m officially back in Pakistan for Year 2. In honor of the new start, I would like to announce a new change to the blog. I like to call it, “Quantity, not Quality.” Just kidding. Hopefully we can do both. Every day, I will be posting one photo of my life in Islamabad so you can see what it’s really like for me to live here. If you’re like most people around the world, all the photos you have probably ever seen of Pakistan involve heads of states/terrorism/war. I haven’t seen any of those things here firsthand, happily, so I’ll be able to show you a different side. I hope you enjoy! Today’s photo is of my vegetable garden. You can grow food here year-round, because the climate is amazing and the soil so fertile you/your gardener can basically just throw seeds in the ground and huge bushes will appear a few weeks later. The lettuce, cabbage, radishes, and peas are all gone now, and have given way to eggplants, tomatoes (still green but coming), and lots and lots of basil. I’m planning to make vats of pesto as soon as I have a chance. Pakistan friends: should we have a pesto-themed dinner party?   […] Read More