It’s been a busy month here in Botswana as summer turns the corner toward winter and we get ready for the two weeks or so of “fall” that Gaborone usually enjoys. The kids continue to shoot up in size and abilities (the baby is crawling!), and we are busy preparing for a full winter of traveling to Cape Town, the U.S., and Mauritius. But before the trips start, I was interviewed by Mariza Taillefer for the podcast “A Broad, Abroad,” which profiles expat women from around the world.
There is a new Thai restaurant in town called “Mango Tree,” and I tried it for the first time on Friday night. I didn’t go there though: I invited a few of my closest friends over and had the food delivered so we could sit in a cozy room, spread the feast out over a long table, fill our plates, loaf around on the sofas, and catch up. Delivery is called “takeaway” here, not take-out, one of those sneaky remnants of British culture that linger in Pakistan like driving on the left side of the road and the popularity of teatime. We had satay and green papaya salad and tamarind red snapper and curries and noodles. We had chocolate cake for dessert and I steeped a pot of hibiscus tea from Vietnam, the tight buds turning into loose, floating flowers in the hot water. There is only one other Thai restaurant in town, and it is at the Marriott, which has good food but lost its atmosphere after the bombing in 2008. We exclaimed over the peanut sauce, decided we ordered way too much, and pronounced Mango Tree a success.
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
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
It turns out you CAN go to the movies in Islamabad. There are still no movie theaters here, but for ten days a “film gala” is running at the Pakistan National Council for the Arts. The PNCA is housed at a beautiful building right by the Parliament in downtown Islamabad, the film nights are free and include an extensive buffet of tea and fried things (samosas, egg rolls, fish fingers) before the show. I couldn’t pass it up.I went to the opening night of the festival with a group of friends. The movie was “Tin Cup,” telling you right away what kind of film festival this wasn’t (artsy, independent, serious) and what it was (sponsored in part by Pakistan’s new movie cable channel, “Filmax”). Even still, I thought “Tin Cup” was a strange choice. I happen to like the movie, and I know at least one person who considers it his absolute favorite, but a golf movie starring Kevin Costner from 1996 is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think “film festival in Pakistan.” Looking at the brochure, I realized the movie choices only got weirder. Girly teen flicks seemed to predominate, with “What A Girl Wants” and “A Walk to Remember,” but the festival redeemed itself by ending on a high note with “The Wedding Singer.” On Night One, the crowd seemed excited about doing something a little different on a Thursday night in Islamabad (Hong Kong or New York, this isn’t), pleasantly stuffed with fried food, and ready to settle into the adventures of Roy McElroy and his leggy love interest. Things hit a small snag when the disc […] 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
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
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