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eating local

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Down for the Count

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

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What you Give Up…What you Get

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

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Honeymoon Period

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

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A Normal Monday

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

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First Impressions

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

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Packed

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