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 would be screened, and then it was demonstrated (with energetic physical action) that the door to the room next door was securely locked and could not be opened. Um, okay.
Before leaving, my host informed me that only female housekeeping staff would be attending to this room, and should I need anything I should request it immediately. I then turned my attention to eating the little plate of fancy cut fruit laid out on the end table and rifling through the array of free stuff that appears in Lady Avari land: small decorated soaps, a loofah, a manicure set complete with filing boards of various sizes (Is this where I should tell them that I usually cut my fingernails with a toenail clipper and call it a day?), and perfumey beauty lotions of every description.
Why all the fuss? For starters, women don’t travel much on their own in Pakistan (remember, if you will, the special “Unaccompanied Ladies” line at airport customs). I decided that perhaps Lady Avari is designed to counter the horror of the single woman forced to look after herself in a culture where husbands or male relatives are generally around to deal with things. It was only later that I found out several pieces of disturbing information:
- The other rooms of the hotel come stocked with a full pound cake.
- Just to pour salt into the wound left by the pound cake, the other rooms of the hotel come stocked with a box of cookies.
- The other rooms of the hotel come stocked with a huge platter of uncut fruit (apparently men can use knives).
- The Avari Hotel is on guard for prostitutes.
According to my super secret local source, luxury hotels in town used to be ground central for the set-up and management of a complicated call-girl service. Something about a lot of Russian hookers newly arrived in Pakistan. I couldn’t quite follow everything except the salient piece of information that maybe the figurative steel curtain separating Lady Avari Land from the rest of the hotel wasn’t so much for my protection as it was to keep single women “travelers” away from the other guests. Granted, this hooker would have a laptop and a business suit to go along with her heart of gold, but I guess anything’s possible.
On the same night I was enjoying my cut fruit and screened call service, a different 4-star hotel in the city of Peshawar was bombed by terrorists. As a friend back in the States wrote on my facebook wall re: the news headline she saw, Bombing at Luxury Hotel in Pakistan: “They really should be more specific when they post things like that for the public… WHICH hotel in WHICH city and was my friend affected in any way?” Yeah, I wish they could. At the very least, it certainly does make one happy about only having to deal with weird patriarchal hotel policies and people thinking you might possibly be a prostitute.
I’ll leave it to you to decide the true Lady Avari agenda: thoughtful mitigation of a cultural reality (a safe space for single women so their families feel okay about them traveling alone), offensive perpetuation of sexist stereotypes, or the calculated prevention of an elaborate Russian mafia-run prostitution ring. And no matter which option we land on, would it kill them to give us a little pound cake?