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 people that don’t finish eating until midnight. This was the same dinner that was finished off with a dessert of chocolate ice cream topped with what looked like boiled ramen noodles without the seasoning packet. I didn’t know what to do about that either, so I just ate it. It wasn’t bad, though not as good as the pound cake.
- Forbidden things taste sweeter. The bottle of red wine that you have to call a secret hook-up to have delivered. The party where you are allowed to wear American clothes that would be inappropriate outside the gates of the French Club. (Of course the French have the good parties. Is anyone surprised by this?) The glass of champagne at aforementioned French Club after being told that it is impossible to find champagne in Pakistan. I can only imagine what my next mouthful of bacon will taste like. (I haven’t found a secret hook-up for this yet.)
- Did I mention the stakes are high? There seems to be an article about Pakistan on the front page of every morning’s New York Times, and the location of this country at the epicenter of foreign policy is underscored by the endless stream of important visitors here to look at the place and hear what everyone here is going to do about it. I get to be involved in this. Fantastic.
- It’s so different. The people, the customs, the food, the clothes, the jewelry, the weather, the shisha, the mountains. There is so much newness to take in, it is hard to imagine ever getting bored here. (Ask me again in June when it is 100 degrees and I am trapped in my air-conditioned apartment pacing like a caged tiger.)